Welcome to the Moe Vela era
With help from Allie Bice
Welcome to POLITICO’s 2021 Transition Playbook, your guide to the first 100 days of the Biden administration.
If you're a reporter covering politics and you happen to have an email account, there is a strong likelihood that the name MOE VELA rings a bell.
Vela was an Obama administration official. He worked as a lobbyist and deregistered in 2017. He’s now the president and CEO of MoeVela LLC. But, for the past year, he's been best known by a job he held prior to all that: former adviser to JOE BIDEN.
The reason Vela is known for that job is, frankly, he has pointed to it as a reason for why he should be quoted in newspaper articles and on cable. As soon as a major news cycle hits, a PR agency is offering up reporters the opportunity to talk to Moe about what that cycle means for Biden.
It can be a helpful resource to have. And, truth be told, Vela is not the only former Biden aide eager to give a quote. But he has been the most accessible, to the point that his accessibility has become a topic of conversation at various editorial meetings at various publications.
Since last April, when Biden clinched the nomination, Alex has received no less than 68 offers to interview him. Reporters in and out of POLITICO’s newsroom say they have received a similar number of emails.
Just in the past few weeks, the PR firm Elkordy Strategies has offered up Vela to speak about a wide range of topics: Biden’s picks for Agriculture and Education secretaries, the inauguration, the Georgia Senate runoffs, the congressional stimulus deal, Russia’s hacks of the federal government, Trump’s coronavirus adviser, and “the Trump administration’s meddling with CDC reports.”
He’s been successful. He’s been quoted in The Guardian, The Hill, CBS News, Fox News, The Boston Globe, and, yes, POLITICO too.
“I've been in POLITICO a lot lately,” he noted.
And while he clearly wants to be quoted, there are some stories that don’t interest him as much; mainly, this one. “No, no, no, no, no, no,” he said, when told that this story would be about him. “Don't do that. Don't do that. Don't do that.”
But here’s the thing about Vela. He does have standing to talk about Biden. He worked closely with him at the start of the Obama administration as the director of administration. It was his second stint working for a vice president, having also worked in AL GORE’s office.
After Biden’s 48 years in Washington, there are a lot of potential Moe Velas out there. Having a connection to Biden is the new coin of the realm inside the Beltway, and Vela is likely more of a pioneer than an outlier.
His success in becoming the Moe Vela also offers a look into the sausage-making of reporting, in which someone can become a go-to expert quote by virtue of being easily accessible.
“It appears that there aren't a whole bunch of people who are willing to do it. So I think it makes me look like I'm out there the most, right?” Vela said.
Some Biden folks feel that the best thing they can do for their former boss is stay out of the press or at least only talk off the record. Other Biden folks haven’t gone to the trouble of hiring a PR firm. And many aren’t talking because they are following the dozens of other former Biden aides into the administration.
It’s not clear Vela was offered a spot in the new administration but he says he’s not interested anyway. “It's time for me to move over so that your generation can have those experiences,” he said.
He said he spoke to Biden “several months ago” but otherwise has largely been talking to the media on his own initiative. “Throughout the entire campaign, I never really ever conversed with their communications department. I never ever saw their talking points. I don't even know what they were. I spoke from the heart,” he said.
But the Biden White House may not mind Vela being out there. He is effusive about his former boss. “I love the Bidens so deeply,” he said. “I'm not a religious person, but I do believe that this was his destiny.”
Are you going into the Biden administration? Are you working on one of the agency review teams? Are you VANITA GUPTA? We want to hear from you — and we’ll keep you anonymous: [email protected]. You can also reach Alex, Theo, Megan, Alice, Tyler and Daniel individually if you prefer.
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In the White House State Dining Room, where he discussed his executive orders on the economy and his Covid relief bill proposal, which he noted former Trump Council of Economic Advisers chairman KEVIN HASSETT had endorsed. The bill “almost doesn’t have a partisan piece to it,” he said. (We wouldn’t go that far.)
With Biden in the White House.
With the Center for Presidential Transition
Which former White House press secretary wrote the following about the job?
“The briefings were also a challenging game of wits, but I wasn't playful enough from the podium. I failed to learn how to deflect difficult questions with humor or to develop an ironic “wink” — the successful press secretary's ability to serve two masters, to defend the president while giving the press the impression that he's on their side too.
“[The president and his wife] perceived the press as the enemy. Instead of co-opting reporters, they wanted a confrontational stance — and I took it.”
(To make it harder, we didn’t give you multiple choices this time. Answer at bottom.)
EDUCATION DEPARTMENT SENIOR STAFF ANNOUNCED: The Biden administration Thursday announced several senior leadership picks for the Education Department, MICHAEL STRATFORD reports. PHIL ROSENFELT, a long time career official, will remain as the acting Education secretary while MIGUEL CARDONA awaits Senate confirmation.
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AND THEN THERE WERE TWO — LLOYD AUSTIN became the second Biden Cabinet nominee confirmed by the Senate today. CONNOR O’BRIEN and BRYAN BENDER report that the vote was 93-2, despite lingering bipartisan concerns about appointing another recently retired general to lead the Defense Department.
ANOTHER VANILLA DISCLOSURE FILING: The finances of MIGUEL CARDONA, Biden’s nominee for Education secretary, are a little simpler than his predecessor’s. When BETSY DeVOS, Trump’s Education secretary, filed her first financial disclosure in 2017, she needed 108 pages to describe her and her husband’s assets and income. An accompanying ethics agreement required her to divest of 102 different assets.
Cardona’s disclosure, which became public this morning, runs 13 pages and includes only his salary as Connecticut’s education commissioner, plus between $238,020 and $802,000 in investments and retirement funds. His ethics agreement doesn’t mandate any divestments.
MORE PROGRESSIVE AGITA — Biden's expected nomination of former Treasury Department official MICHAEL BARR to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is triggering fierce opposition from progressive activists, who say the president's choice is too closely tied to the finance industry, ZACHARY WARMBRODT reports.
Nominating Barr would also be a break with Sen. SHERROD BROWN (D-Ohio), who is in line to chair the Senate Banking Committee, which will vet Barr. Brown has been advocating for a competing candidate, law professor MEHRSA BARADARAN, an expert on the racial wealth gap who has called for the delivery of banking services through the U.S. Postal Service.
SCHIFF AIDE LANDS ON NSC: The top legal adviser to Rep. ADAM SCHIFF (D-Calif.) is joining Biden’s National Security Council as its senior director for intelligence, a key role that serves as the day-to-day connective tissue between the intelligence community and the White House, NATASHA BERTRAND reports.
MAHER BITAR, who has served as the general counsel for House Intelligence Committee Democrats since 2017 and played a key role during Trump’s first impeachment, is set to begin in the new job in the coming days. His official title will be senior director for intelligence programs.
CYBER TEAM: ERIC GELLER reports that Biden is expected to appoint former officials with extensive cyber policy experience to three crucial positions as his administration grapples with digital security threats including the massive SolarWinds hack:
— JEN EASTERLY, a veteran of the National Security Council and the military and intelligence communities, to lead a newly created White House office that will guide his strategy and oversee agencies’ digital security.
— ROBERT SILVERS, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, to head DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
— ERIC GOLDSTEIN, another DHS veteran, to lead CISA’s Cybersecurity Division, filling one of the most important mid-level roles at the agency, according to a person familiar with the matter.
MEANWHILE, AT THE OTHER END OF PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE — Biden wants to secure the votes of at least 10 Republican senators to pass his Covid bill without using reconciliation. Republican senators say it’s not going to happen, BURGESS EVERETT reports.
“I don’t think it can get 60. Because even the people on our side that would be inclined to want to work with the administration on something like that, that price range is going to be out of range for them,” said Sen. JOHN THUNE (R-S.D.), the Republican whip. “Absent some change and economic conditions, etc., I think that would be a very heavy lift.”
THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP: Alex has a piece in POLITICO Magazine on Biden’s decades-long relationship — don’t call it a friendship — with Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL.
Jerry Brown would like to see a “Rooseveltian” Biden presidency (The New York Times)
Former Trump CEA chairman backs Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan (CNN)
BIDEN’S MONEYBALL GUY: BHARAT RAMAMURTI is a deputy director on Biden’s National Economic Council but he once thought of using his quantitative skills for baseball rather than the global economy.
Fresh out of law school in 2007, Ramamurti snagged an internship with the Red Sox’s front office. The team was on the cutting edge of the analytics revolution under General Manager Theo Epstein and Ramamurti was a data-cruncher. “They gave me data to massage, looking for patterns,” he told The American Prospect last year.
It was also the year the Red Sox won the World Series.
Ramamurti eventually chose public policy over baseball and became one of Sen. ELIZABETH WARREN’s closest advisers. He still uses those numbers chops for some fun, however.
During the presidential campaign, he won big playing poker at the Encore in Boston. After Warren dropped out of the campaign, staffers went out to Sacco’s Bowl Haven in Somerville and racked up a nearly $1,000 bar tab. A former Warren aide told Alex that Ramamurti pulled out a huge wad of dollar bills and paid most of the bill in cash.
That was GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, who was the de facto press secretary at the beginning of BILL CLINTON’s administration. DEE DEE MYERS held the title of press secretary but Stephanopoulos conducted the briefings for the first few months, until he made some mistakes and Clinton took him off the podium.
Stephanopoulos recalled in his book, “All Too Human,” that “I went back to my apartment and called my parents to let them know what was coming. ‘There might be some stories in the paper tomorrow that will look bad,’ I told them. ‘But I think it will turn out OK.’ This was the hardest conversation of the day. It's no fun to think about having your parents read about your failure on the front page of the Times.”