When Punchbowl news, a Politico veterans start-up, launched earlier this month, has promised politics from another DC perspective: the Capitol, often overshadowed by national media coverage of the chaos at Home White.
Their focal point has turned out to be a bit fortuitous over the past month, with the Capitol siege, a second arraignment and inauguration – and much more in February.
“Anna and I have a very deep and consistent belief that Congress and legislation are the center of the political universe,” says Jake Sherman, who founded the site with Anna Palmer and co-founder John Bresnahan.
On Monday, Sherman and Palmer will launch an early morning podcast, The daily punch, for Entercom’s Cadence 13, in which they’ll be setting up what they see as the events of the day in DC. The non-partisan focus is “the insiders in Washington and the way people wield power, but in a really accessible way,” says Palmer.
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“We don’t chase shiny objects,” she says. “We write about things that move political markets, so to speak, and that is our North Star – power, people and politics and the consequences of those things.”
What sets their content apart is the emphasis on the pace of Congress (Punchbowl is the nickname for the Capitol Hill Secret Service), which they have covered for over a decade, the past four years as authors of the “Politico Playbook” newsletter and in 2019 as the authors of the bestseller Hill to Die: The Battle for Congress and Trump’s America’s Future.
Palmer and Sherman shared their thoughts on what has been one of the most memorable months on Capitol Hill lately, as well as what lies ahead.
DEADLINE: We are over three weeks away from the Capitol headquarters. What memory is still marked on you that day?
JAKE SHERMAN [who was at the Capitol along with Bresnahan, while Palmer was at her home nearby]: From a point of view of 30,000 feet, [we] have worked together in this building for over a decade, and it would be like people walking into your home and terrorizing your home. This is the place we know the most and people were knocking on our door and knocking on the door outside. They smashed the glass of one of the front doors 50 meters from us. So these images will stay with me for a long time, and frankly, a lot of people in the press struggle with that. It was quite a traumatic experience.
ANNA PALMER: It’s a place where there are rules and decorum, almost from another era, which are followed, and usually with a heavy police force. I always said, whenever there were demonstrations … it was the safest place in all of Washington. I think that bubble really burst this month.
DEADLINE: There is now an intense security situation at the Capitol, with National Guard troops and fences around the complex. Do you think a lot of this becomes permanent?
SHERMAN: Yes. I don’t think it’s going to be permanent like it is now, but I don’t think we’ll ever get back to exactly where it was.
PALM: I was at the Capitol in 1998 when the two policemen were shot. Anytime there is some sort of attack or something that happens during a security breach, things just go away. It is more difficult to enter the building. I mean, it’s really like a war zone right now with National Guards. I honestly hope this is not the case [permanently], but I see it for the foreseeable future until they understand more clearly what exactly happened.
DEADLINE: How do you think this will change for journalists?
SHERMAN: We hope they don’t come after and limit our access, and we don’t anticipate that they will. But it has become more difficult, between that and Covid. Our jobs will change. Sounds cheesy, but not the mission. We still have to get information from members of Congress.
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DEADLINE: This week you heard about the visit of Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy to Mar-a-Lago. From the siege, it appears Republican lawmakers are returning to backing Trump or stifling their criticism. What happened?
SHERMAN: The grassroots and the grassroots are still in tune with Trump, period. I think McCarthy represents a Republican House conference that still walks with Trump and still comes from districts where Trump is extremely popular. It is a political imperative for him to be with Trump. To be honest, that won’t change. People who want McCarthy to be some kind of Never Trumper after losing Trump – that just won’t happen. You see what happened to Liz Cheney [who voted for Trump’s impeachment]. A lot of people turn against her and she could lose her leadership position for opposing Trump. So I think the idea that people are going to turn on Trump is a fantasy. Some will do it when it is in their best interests, but most people will not.
DEADLINE: What are people misunderstanding about Mitch McConnell?
SHERMAN: I think people get a lot wrong. I think the whole Mitch McConnell maxim is ‘beat me if you can, and if you can’t shut up’. One thing Mitch McConnell cares about is winning. He’s got an ideological outlook, obviously – he’s a conservative, he’s a republican. His vision of the world is very black and white, that is to say that he will use his power at his maximum effort and at his maximum speed, and the only way to stop it is to have the votes. to stop it. We have seen it with the Supreme Court. We have seen this all the time. Right now we see his power diminish a bit, but that’s his maxim. People overanalyze it when it’s really black and white.
DEADLINE: Same question on Nancy Pelosi. What don’t people understand about her?
PALM: The politics of Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell couldn’t be more different, but they execute power in a very similar fashion, where they have one goal in mind and work at it on their own. They are not driven by political winds or popularity, even within their own conference or caucus, and they are politicians of a generation, of a lifetime. And we’ll probably never see two leaders as powerful in Congress as we have with them in our lifetime.
SHERMAN: People also try to characterize her as a “limo liberal,” like a rich woman from San Francisco – and she is a rich woman from San Francisco. It is a fact. But she grew up in Baltimore with a father who was party leader, who was a congressman and mayor of Baltimore. And that’s how she learned about politics. She was brought up to understand the kind of inner workings of big city politics.
DEADLINE: We are a week in Biden’s presidency. Is this bipartisan spirit already waning, or has it never even been there to begin with?
SHERMAN: I think it probably wasn’t there to start, but there are things they can do together, and there are overlapping areas of political interest, I’m thinking of Covid relief and maybe be in infrastructure, and things of that nature. But it’s not The west wing. It’s real politics and complicated people with complicated motives. They are dishonest, a lot of them. They are not being honest about why they are doing things. They can be honest personally, but it’s difficult to analyze the situation any differently. People will help Biden when it’s in their best interests, but they’re not going to help him just to help him.
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DEADLINE: How is the environment different now for an impeachment trial compared to a year ago?
SHERMAN: That hasn’t changed a ton. Republicans will not vote to condemn Donald Trump in large numbers. They are going to vote to acquit him, and there is nothing that will change that, that we can see now. I wonder when people are somehow going to realize this. You saw almost all Republicans a few days ago vote to declare the impeachment trial unconstitutional. So, the idea that there is a movement to throw Trump overboard and ban him from his future positions, there is no evidence of that at this time. When I talk to the people of Capitol Hill, they don’t understand how people get it so wrong.
DEADLINE: Marjorie Taylor Greene is getting a lot of attention, in part for the recent revelations of what she previously wrote on Facebook. Have you met her and what is she like?
SHERMAN: I met her. We look at her through the prism of leadership and what leadership is going to do about it, because she’s someone who’s expressed all kinds of inappropriate views. I can’t tell you what she is right now, but she has been a follower of QAnon – the awkward and dangerous movement of QAnon. Kevin McCarthy knew this when she came to Congress. He said he was going to have conversations with her and begged the press to give him a chance. We’ve kind of given it a chance now. And whether you see it as luck or not, she has proven that these are in fact her beliefs.
PALM: I think this will be something we’ll cover closely as I think it says a lot about the future of the Republican Party. … I think it will be a real challenge for them in the future. So far Kevin McCarthy doesn’t like to put the hammer on people; it is not his style. So it will be very informative on how he deals with them now.
DEADLINE: Is this a challenge for you? How much attention do you pay to a QAnon associate member?
SHERMAN: It’s something we struggle with in real time. We try to focus on the people who make the decisions. Marjorie Taylor Greene is in no way sensitive to the governance process. But we need to cover it to educate our readership on the leadership of the Republican Party. So that’s how we think about it.
PALM: We are really trying to find the signal through the noise. You could be chasing shiny objects all day, and I think we’re trying to stay very focused on leadership, the White House, the industries that are trying to influence them. As far as we cover other people, it’s really through the lens of, “Why is this important? What kind of impact do they have on the overall governance, leadership and power structure? “