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Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With help from Allie Bice.
The ambassadorship to Japan is often a prestigious but sleepy posting.
Not when RAHM EMANUEL is around.
The former White House chief of staff and Chicago mayor has thrown himself into the job with his signature Tasmanian devil energy that will be on display this week during JOE BIDEN’s first visit as president to Asia.
White House and administration officials tell us Emanuel’s 312 number has been popping up on phones constantly as he has inserted himself into the planning of the trip including the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or IPEF, that the administration considers key to it’s strategy to contain China.
Some officials couldn’t help but notice (and be a tad impressed) that the IPEF is expected to be signed
in Tokyo and Biden will also personally visit — of all places — the ambassador’s residence
next week. “Let's just say the residence is a beautiful, beautiful home,” Emanuel said innocently in an interview.
“I like the late night calls and he’s getting a lot of stuff done,” said one administration official who appreciates Emanuel’s unique energy.
When he was nominated, even some Democrats wondered if Emanuel’s well-earned reputation for sharp elbows and colorful language would make him a bad fit for the ambassadorial corps and Japan in particular.
But Emanuel has found his combative style has a place in modern day diplomacy. In some ways, he has become an American response to China’s new “wolf warrior” diplomats who regularly criticize the U.S. online.
As Emanuel tweeted this week: “Sri Lanka is down to its last day of fuel and falling apart, and they owe China an additional $4 billion and growing. This is what happens when you become a China subject. Any other takers? Please fall in line!”
And when the Chinese state-affiliated Global Times wrote an article this week about Emanuel and the U.S. trying to use IPEF to isolate China, Emanuel clapped back: “When it comes to isolating China, China doesn’t need any help. They’ve done a Class A job on their own — but I’m always ready to assist if they need it.”
Emanuel has quarreled with Russia’s ambassador to Japan and after Japan expelled eight Russian officials, he quipped, “Enjoy the flight home!” Over his first four months, the following of the @USAmbJapan Twitter account doubled.
“Let me say this, the Japanese public loves me,” Emanuel told West Wing Playbook. “And the Chinese party and the Russian ambassador don't like me. I need a food taster for my next meeting.”
Asked about his approach, Emanuel said, “They squirm because of the truth.”
“Japan and the United States are going from alliance protection to alliance projection," he said. And part of that is letting China know we're going to call them out. Letting the Russians know, as it relates to the war, you can believe your own spin but we're gonna pull the curtain back on their fake news.”
Emanuel isn’t just playing the part of an American wolf warrior. He’s crafting it, too. He said he works on and edits his tweets with his team, who sometimes refer to him as just “the Boss.” The tweets are also often noted approvingly in senior staff meetings back in D.C., according to an administration official.
But another administration official was less certain about the Rahm approach. “Can a bull in a china shop — that’s the wrong country. Can a sumo wrestler in a tea room approach work in this job?” the person asked.
But Emanuel has also showcased a, dare we say, softer side as ambassador.
Many of his most popular tweets in Japan are of him riding various trains around the country.
The Armed Forces Network, meanwhile, made a public service announcement out of Emanuel’s remarks to troops at the USS Lincoln. He was a headline speaker at Tokyo’s Rainbow Pride event last month donning a rainbow mask.
And Emanuel gained international headlines when he accompanied Japan’s prime minister, FUMIO KISHIDA, to Hiroshima in March and visited the memorial dedicated to the victims of the U.S. atomic bomb drop in World War II. Hiroshima is also Kishida’s hometown. Emanuel said at the time that he will visit Nagasaki, as well.
"I particularly wanted to do it not on an anniversary, not on a milestone, so that I showed that I wanted to do it,” Emanuel said. “It really touched a chord here like nothing else I've done."
WEST WING PLAYBOOK GOES ON THE ROAD: Alex is going on Biden’s first trip to Asia as president. So over the next several days, West Wing Playbook is going to include several dispatches from the road, including a special edition on Sunday afternoon/evening. Anything about the trip we are missing or we should point out? Text/Signal/Wickr Alex at 8183240098.
TEXT US — ARE YOU FUMIO KISHIDA?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 [email protected].
A tough first lady related trivia for today from reader ALEX PENA: How many first ladies died in the White House and who were they?
(Answer at the bottom.)
TGIF! It’s cartoon feature time. This one is courtesy of BILL BRAMHALL. Our very own MATT WUERKER also publishes a selection of cartoons from all over the country. View the cartoon carousel here.
HALFWAY ACROSS THE GLOBE FOR... THIS:New York Times reporter PETER BAKER had the bad luck of testing positive for Covid right as he arrived in South Korea. That means the rest of the presidential press corps will leave him behind in Seoul as he has to quarantine for at least seven days. He was a class act and called all the reporters he interacted with on the way to tell them.
OFF TO A ROCKY START: Two U.S. Secret Service officials “were involved in conduct that ended in a confrontation with South Korean citizens and have returned to the U.S.,” a person familiar with the matter told WaPo’s PETER HERMANN and MIN JOO KIM. The incident occured when the employees were not on duty, but it “may constitute potential policy violation,” the Secret Service said in a statement.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: Bloomberg’s new piece on U.S. economic growth outpacing China’s for first time since 1976. It was quickly shared on Twitter by multiple Biden communications officials, including senior National Economic Council adviser JESSE LEE, who noted “a lot of tough talk from Trump on China even as he was getting rolled by them over and over, thanking them for their transparency on COVID, folding to them on trade deals. But what do ya know…”
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: A new AP-NORC Center for Public Research poll published Friday showing Biden with his lowest approval rating since taking office. According to the poll, Biden has a 39 percent approval rate, a drop primarily driven by Democrats, whose support now hovers around 73 percent (for context, the AP said the president never received lower than 81 percent approval among the same cohort in 2021).
KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: As West Wing Playbook noted yesterday, JOHN KIRBY has been spotted around the West Wing recently, leading to speculation that he could be up for a bigger communications role in the White House.
Sure enough, the Washington Post reported later Thursday night that the Pentagon press secretary was headed to the White House in a senior communications role. There’s clearly some confusion about Kirby’s place in the hierarchy and what his duties will actually be. CNN’s EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE reported that Kirby was joining the National Security Council staff and his job would be comparable to the role BEN RHODES occupied in the later Obama years.
Kirby, for his part, declined to confirm anything Friday. "I don’t have any personnel announcements to make," he told Pentagon reporters. Our colleagues over at Nat Sec Daily have a good primer on who may replace Kirby at the Pentagon.
FIRST IN WEST WING PLAYBOOK: There have been a number of personnel changes and promotions in the White House Presidential Personnel Office, DANIEL LIPPMAN scoops. MEREDITH JACHOWICZ has been promoted to be the new special assistant to the president for boards and commissions. She most recently was senior associate director for candidate recruitment. NINA SRIVASTAVA, associate director for domestic agency personnel, is moving to chief of staff RON KLAIN's office as an adviser after Memorial Day.
ATISSA LADJEVARDIAN, who was associate director for boards and commissions, is moving over to be a senior associate director on the economic agencies team. MARK OGLESBY, formerly a staff assistant, has been promoted to be associate director for strategy and operations. EMMA TURNER, a staff assistant, is being promoted to associate director within the economic agencies team. MATT GROUM is being promoted from assistant to associate director for candidate recruitment.
White House Press Secretary Gets a New ‘Flak Jacket’: A Women’s Blazer (NYT’s Michael Grynbaum, who also profiled new White House press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE)
DHS concerned it may need $2B to deal with migrant surge at border, documents show (NBC News’ Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff)
The Liberal Obsession With ‘Disinformation’ Is Not Helping (NYMag’s Sam Adler-Bell)
Biden arrived in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, and toured a Samsung Electronics campus that’s a model for a new plant being built in Texas, alongside Korean President YOON SUK YEOL.Biden and Yoon also delivered remarks at the campus.
Biden left Pyeongtaek for Seoul in the evening.
She headed to Meridian High School in Falls Church, Va., where she delivered remarks. EPA Administrator MICHAEL REGAN joined her.
Harris then headed to give remarks at the AAPI Victory Power Fund’s first ever victory celebration.
Believe it or not, Transportation Secretary PETE BUTTIGIEG didn’t do a ton of rebellious things as a teenager.
He admitted on The Ellen Show back in February 2020 that the most rebellious thing involved his musical instrument choice as a kid. “I was supposed to be studying piano, and decided I was into guitar instead,” he said.
To which host ELLEN DEGENERES replied: “God, you’re wild.”
Three first ladies — LETITIA TYLER, CAROLINE HARRISON and ELLEN WILSON — have died in the White House.
A CALL OUT — Thanks to Alex for this question! Think you have a more difficult one? Send us your best question on the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.
Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein