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CNN’s new CEO, CHRIS LICHT, was in the network’s Washington bureau this week to meet with staff and oversee election night coverage.
But the new boss also had another important trip to make while in town.
Multiple people with knowledge told West Wing Playbook that Licht visited the White House to meet with CNN’s White House reporting team, as well attend as a private meeting with President JOE BIDEN’s chief of staff RON KLAIN.
While he just recently started his tenure atop the cable news organization, Licht has made getting to know leaders of both parties a top priority. One source said Licht has met in recent days with top congressional Republicans and other Democrats.
Licht’s trip to the White House comes amid a careful internal balancing act at CNN. He’s sought to endear himself to network staff still shell shocked by the abrupt and acrimonious departure of former boss JEFF ZUCKER. Licht has visited the D.C. bureau multiple times since taking on the top job, and sat down with top talent one-on-one (he was one of anchor JAKE TAPPER’s guests at last month’s dinner hosted by the prestigious Gridiron Club). He’s also had to assuage staff still frustrated by the disastrous rollout and demise of CNN+ just weeks after the streaming service’s launch (even though Licht wasn’t even technically on the job yet).
But as Puck’s DYLAN BYERS notes, he’s still learning the internal rhythms of the network. He has attempted to distance himself from rank-and-file staff, a deliberate break from Zucker’s hands-on approach to programming that’s intended to empower producers and journalists.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment about Klain’s meeting with Licht. But the discussion comes as top Biden aides are ramping up press outreach in order to help move the president’s poor approval ratings, which have tanked amid rising inflation and gas prices.
In recent months, senior administration officials have seemed more open to engaging with journalists behind the scenes. Klain in particular has granted more on-record interviews and met with other major political media figures like MSNBC host JOE SCARBOROUGH.
During his first 16 months in office, Biden hasn’t engaged in much behind-the-scenes messaging and correspondence with media personalities. When West Wing Playbook called DAVID BROOKS earlier this year, the New York Times columnist and longtime Biden favorite said he hadn’t heard from the president since they chatted for a piece last year.
But Biden’s personal frustration with the news coverage of his administration may be compelling him to change his approach.
He took time last week for an off-the-record chat with New York Times columnist TOM FRIEDMAN, whom the president has long read and respected. The move yielded positive results for the president: Friedman published a column in which he did not share details of the meeting, but offered a defense of Biden’s mental acuity and praised his handling of the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He also revealed he ate a tuna sandwich.
TEXT US — Are you new CNN boss CHRIS LICHT? We want to hear from you. And we’ll keep you anonymous. Or if you think we missed something in today’s edition, let us know and we may include it tomorrow. Email us at [emailprotected].
WHAT YOU TEXTED: FRED DUVAL, deputy chief of protocol during BILL CLINTON’s first term, wrote in with some of his own tales of foreign gift giving:
In the ‘great’ gifts category this: When President NELSON MANDELA (who boxed to stay in shape while imprisoned on Robbin Island) came to Washington after the fall of apartheid and his ascendence to the Presidency, President Clinton gave him a collection of letters signed by all the living heavyweight champions expressing their admiration. He was so touched he cried.
In the gifts gone wrong category: On a trip to Saudi Arabia President Clinton was given Arabian horses that couldn’t be flown home on AF1. You will have to ask then U.S. Ambassador RAY MABUS what became of them.*
*We reached out to Mabus but he did not respond in time for publication.
Which president built a heated swimming pool at Camp David?
(Answer at the bottom.)
It’s Friday, and you know what that means. Cartoon time! This one is courtesy of KEVIN KAL KALLAUGHER. Our very own MATT WUERKER also publishes a selection of cartoons from all over the country. View the cartoon carousel here.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: Some semi-good news regarding inflation rates. This MarketWatch story from JEFFRY BARTASH notes that “a key measure of U.S. inflation rose just 0.2 percent in April to mark the smallest increase in a year and a half, aided by lower gasoline prices. There were additional hints that a surge in U.S. inflation might be abating.”
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: While that figure may be reassuring, Americans still aren’t seeing relief at the pump. This NYT story by CLIFFORD KRAUSS states that gas prices are actually hitting new highs ahead of the holiday weekend: “The price for regular gasoline in California has already risen to more than $6 a gallon, and it is virtually impossible to find gas for under $4 anywhere else. Nationwide, prices have risen by nearly 50 cents a gallon over the last month.”
BONUS CONTENT: Our BEN WHITE also has a write-up breaking down who or what is actually to blame for the inflation.
STUDENT DEBT RELIEF BUZZ: Biden's team has a plan to cancel some student loan debt, but White House aides are waiting for the president to decide whether or not to move forward with it, CNN’s EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE reports.
While there’s been some speculation the president will make an announcement about debt relief this weekend during the University of Delaware’s commencement ceremony, people tell Dovere a final decision will likely “take more time.”
Dovere writes that nearly every internal conversation in recent weeks about what to do has eventually turned to asking if canceling the debt will feed inflation just at the moment when Democrats are hoping the rates will start to tick down ahead of the midterms.
@NEERA’S TAKE: NEERA TANDEN, senior adviser and staff secretary to Biden, took to Twitter on Friday morning to tell GOP lawmakers to move on gun reform following the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. “Saying nothing will change helps ensure nothing will change. Never take the pressure off the GOP to pass gun safety laws,” she wrote.
“The difference of living with this insanity and not is just a matter of whether they will act. Or enough of them.” The president, notably, has not yet directly called out Republican lawmakers for blocking new gun laws.
ADDITIONAL UKRAINE AID: The Biden administration is considering sending Ukraine advanced, long-range rocket systems, but a final decision hasn’t been made, as neither the president nor Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN have approved the final batch of aid.
But people tell our PAUL MCLEARY and LARA SELIGMAN that the U.S.-made Multiple Launch Rocket System and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is being considered as part of the package sent to Ukraine.
Baby-Formula Ingredient Supplies Are Limited by War in Ukraine (WSJ’s Liz Essley Whyte)
Biden tells Naval Academy grads Putin ‘NATO-ized Europe’ (AP’s Zeke Miller)
Blinken stresses importance of concluding Israeli probe into reporter's killing (Reuters’ Kanishka Singh)
Vice President KAMALA HARRIS and Second Gentleman DOUG EMHOFF’s visit to Buffalo, N.Y., this weekend to attend the memorial service for RUTH WHITFIELD, a victim of the Buffalo mass shooting.
He traveled to Annapolis, Md., where he addressed the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2022 graduation at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
He headed to Wilmington, Del., in the afternoon.
She has no public events scheduled.
GINA McCARTHY, Biden’s climate adviser, is a big fan of not taking your work home with you.
“Through eight years [as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency] in the Obama administration, I just didn’t,” talk about work at home, she told FastCompany in December 2020.
“I don’t think my husband knew what I was doing for a living until I was in the Obama administration, because then he could read some things in the news, and it’d be like, ‘Oh, you’re doing this?’” she added.
Was… was Gina McCarthy the inspiration for “Severance?”
President RICHARD NIXON built a heated swimming pool adjacent to the president’s cabin on the property.
A CALL OUT — Think you have a more difficult trivia question? Send us your best question on the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.
Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein