In this week’s politics chat, we’re revisiting the question of who holds sway in the Trump administration, Congress and beyond. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Welcome, all! There have been reports and rumors of a coming Trump administration staff shake-up. So we’re going to replay one of the most substantive, serious chats we’ve ever done … “The ‘Most Powerful Political Players Of 2017’ Draft Extravaganza!!”
From last time:
We’ll have a pool of political figures, and the goal is to draft the team that will have the most influence on America’s political agenda in 2017. That includes legislation considered and passed in Washington and the states, as well as the country’s general political discourse.
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): The time window is still 2017?
micah: Let’s do through the 2018 midterm elections.
harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): Oh, wow, expanding the time window.
micah: Before we pick new teams, though, let’s decide who won the original contest.
Here were the teams:
|1||B. Obama||R. Priebus||M. Pence||D. Trump|
|2||P. Ryan||A. Kennedy||J. Sessions||M. McConnell|
|3||R. Tillerson||J. Brown||S. Bannon||J. Roberts|
|4||I. Trump||N. Pelosi||J. McCain||B. Sanders|
|5||E. Warren||T. Perez||C. Schumer||K. Conway|
|6||S. Mnuchin||C. Booker||J. Manchin||H. Heitkamp|
micah: Everyone gets one vote, and you can’t vote for yourself.
harry: I can say that I clearly won it last time. I’ll be collecting my medal now. Thank you all.
micah: Harry’s team … good god.
clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): I won.
natesilver: Harry’s team is an order of magnitude worse than any of the other three.
clare.malone: Nate’s is good, too, but Barack Obama …
micah: Obama was a bad pick.
micah: Here’s the problem: I think I won, but I can’t vote for myself. Clare clearly came in second, but should I strategically vote for Harry?
No, I vote Clare.
clare.malone: Micah’s is pretty good — I think I vote for his.
harry: I vote for Micah too.
natesilver: I vote Clare.
OK, here’s the pool of people for the new draft, but you can do write-ins too.
Nate, spin the marker to see who goes first.
natesilver: I was “randomly” chosen to go first.
clare.malone: Wow, Nate really cheated on that one, folks.
harry: What a load of horse manure.
With the No. 1 pick …
Nate Silver selects …
natesilver: I pick Trump, Donald J.
micah: Bad pick.
natesilver: I really don’t have to explain this one, do I?
Harry with the No. 2 pick …
harry: I have to choose Vice President Mike Pence.
He’s one of the most powerful vice presidents in history. He could be president by the time this administration is done.
You get the point.
micah: Before 2018, though?
natesilver: Mike Pence is Keyser Soze, I’m convinced.
micah: OK, I have the No. 3 pick.
He played really well on my first team.
natesilver: Very by-the-book selections so far, I’d say.
micah: Nate, you picked Obama third in the first draft.
natesilver: HE WAS PRESIDENT AT THE TIME, MICAH!
micah: Just admit it … that was a bad pick.
Clare, you’re up with No. 4.
clare.malone: Robert Mueller, special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia controversy.
natesilver: I had him as a second-rounder, but not unreasonable.
clare.malone: This is how you know this is an updated draft, folks. Mueller is going to be an important player in Washington over the long term, aka, through the midterms. What his investigations turn up could be pivotal for telling Republicans how to run vis a vis Trump in 2018.
micah: Or even taking down the Trump presidency.
natesilver: I’m up again and am going to invite PAUL RYAN back to my team.
The fact is, Trump’s lack of interest in the substantive details of legislation gives both Ryan and McConnell a lot of power.
clare.malone: I agree with that.
micah: I’d argue my McConnell pick basically nullifies any value Ryan has to your team. Ryan can legislate all he wants. McConnell is the real choke point. (See: care, health.)
natesilver: Well, on the chance that things start going really, really badly for Trump, Ryan is sort of the choke point for impeachment, since that starts in the House.
micah: And is decided in the Senate.
natesilver: His strategy is also more important than McConnell’s to the extent that the House is more in play for 2018 than the Senate.
micah: That’s fair.
Harry … with the No. 6 pick … (This is usually where Harry falls apart.)
harry: Is that nice?! Is that nice?!
natesilver: Pick Ryan Zinke.
harry: I hate all of you.
natesilver: Pick Jon Ossoff.
clare.malone: We’re laughing our Ossoff in here.
harry: I’m choosing Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. The Freedom Caucus showed its power on health care. Conservative legislation has to go through them.
micah: Actually … good pick?
clare.malone: Yeah, I mean, they have certainly punched above their weight, I would say, in the past four months.
natesilver: We are so much less salty than we were back in December when we did this before.
micah: Nate, you like that pick?
harry: I think you can disagree with the pick, but it’s less of a joke than what I put together in December.
natesilver: It’s an overdraft, but he’s above replacement level, at least
micah: OK, with the No. 7 pick, I select … Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
I’d argue he’s had more of an impact than any other administration official.
natesilver: Yeah, and also a trusted voice for Trump on issues that aren’t in the attorney general’s domain.
clare.malone: The Department of Justice is certainly a department where change can be implemented much more quickly and visibly than others.
micah: With the No. 8 pick …
clare.malone: OK, so I’m going to go in a different direction here, a little more 30,000 feet up …
I’m going with Anthony Kennedy, ye olde Supreme Court swing vote.
micah: You stole my pick!!!!
clare.malone: The court is going to be considering partisan gerrymandering, and that’ll be a huge thing to watch as we head toward 2018.
harry: Note: I chose him last time, and everyone made fun of me.
micah: We didn’t make fun of you for that pick, Harry.
clare.malone: We made fun of you for every other one.
micah: Swing vote on the Supreme Court is hard to argue with.
Nate, with the No. 9 pick …
natesilver: Comey comey comey comey comey chameleon.
harry: I’m sorry — is that a sentence?
natesilver: James Comey, former FBI director.
micah: Wait, are you serious?
That’s a sweet pick what are y’all talking about.
clare.malone: Prodigious note-taker James Comey could be key. I kinda feel this one.
micah: Comey’s notebook would be a defensible pick, but not James Comey.
natesilver: Comey can help to turn the intelligence community against Trump, which is not something you want to have happen if you’re president.
And he’s a potential linchpin in any impeachment proceeding against Trump.
micah: They’re already against him.
natesilver: I don’t see how you can praise Mueller at No. 4 overall and criticize Comey at No. 9?
harry: We just did.
clare.malone: I’m with Nate’s logic.
micah: Because Mueller will be deciding what to do with the Comey evidence … not Comey.
clare.malone: The investigations are going to be sprawling. And Comey’s firing could be the linchpin.
natesilver: Mueller’s jurisdiction isn’t necessarily related to the firing of Comey, per se.
micah: Comey has talked to Mueller.
natesilver: I think Mueller was a decent pick, but he’s not a stand-in for “Trump scandals” all by himself. He’s one of a large number of vectors that could cause trouble for Trump.
micah: Once Comey hands over his notes … couldn’t his role be over?
Anyway. Harry, with the No. 10 selection …
harry: This is an odd pick that I’m going to make.
micah: Oh god.
harry: OK, not that odd.
natesilver: Darko Milicic.
harry: No, I’m going with Jared Kushner.
clare.malone: Risky, but interesting.
natesilver: That’s an utterly conventional pick. Not odd at all.
clare.malone: I think it’s risky given the news this week.
natesilver: You’re so bad at this that you think your good picks are bad picks.
harry: I never said it was a bad pick.
micah: So what is the evidence of Kushner’s influence?
harry: It’s pretty clear that he has Trump’s ears on some things. The reporting goes that he probably helped to get Comey fired. (In other stories, Ivanka Trump and he are probably claiming more influence than they actually have because they’re the anonymous sources behind the story.) Further, he could be going down with the ship. And that in itself is newsworthy.
natesilver: Some of the reporting on Kushner has been a little hagiographic, because he’s clearly a good source for reporters who want to connect with what’s going on inside the White House.
natesilver: But I agree that Kushner could be valuable either as an insider or as part of the story that takes down Trump. The risk is that he gets caught in between.
clare.malone: Very Shakespearean.
micah: OK, but to be clear … being “part of the story that takes down Trump” isn’t power. That was my objection to the Comey pick.
natesilver: Wait — yeah, it is. It’s totally power.
micah: Power is active, not passive. Like good writing.
harry: Passive writing can be good, if used correctly.
micah: I have the No. 11 pick …
I’m going with: Gary Cohn.
harry: Great announcer for the Mets.
natesilver: Now that’s the first actually bad pick of the draft.
micah: OK, hear me out.
micah: Chief economic adviser. There’s power in that, by itself.
Reportedly in the running to replace Reince Priebus as chief of staff.
natesilver: Which is a terrible job.
Like Priebus isn’t even going to get drafted, is he?
micah: And even if he fails to get that, Cohn apparently wants to be chair of the Federal Reserve.
But, Nate, if Priebus is replaced, it’ll be as part of a shake-up, and I would imagine the incoming chief would be empowered.
(Note: Nate just said out loud in the room, “That was kind of a bad pick. I’m not just saying that for the chat.”)
Clare with the No. 12 selection …
clare.malone: Imma pick Bernie Sanders.
The first Democrat to be picked?
clare.malone: Because I think he’s still got the clearest kingmaker role in the Democratic Party during a turbulent time period, and I think that counts for a lot. Losing that primary was still the best thing that’s ever happened to him. It’s given him staying power.
micah: I buy that.
harry: Sanders is fine. But I expect more from Clare given her usually keen insights. This seems like a pick I’d make and think I was a genius because how conventional it is.
clare.malone: Given the power vacuum in the party, conventionality about who its biggest movers and shakers are is just fine. Sometimes the purloined letter is lying right on the desktop, hiding in plain sight.
That’s a tortured comparison, but my defense.
harry: Purloined? You were the kid who English teachers loved, weren’t you?
natesilver: My pick: I’ve gotta go Steve Bannon at this point,
harry: Meh. So unoriginal.
natesilver: He may have lost influence, but for the fourth round, there’s some value there.
And if Trump ousts him, he could still be very influential.
harry: It’s fine. I mean, no one is like, “That’s a terrible pick.”
micah: I am.
harry: Now everyone is eating salad. We’ve become healthy ❤️
micah: That is a TERRIBLE pick.
clare.malone: It’s not terrible.
natesilver: Micah, come on — you’d trade Cohn straight up for Bannon.
micah: I really wouldn’t. Even if Bannon retains whatever influence he has, how much is that? It’s not like Trump is pursuing a populist/nationalist agenda, at least domestically.
clare.malone: I don’t think we know how much influence he’s losing or regaining. Don’t we think potentially pulling out of the Paris agreement is him?
micah: That’s normal Republicanism.
Harry with the No. 14 pick.
harry: Folks, this is where I fall apart: Ben Ray Luján.
micah: I genuinely don’t know who that is.
clare.malone: Did you play Little League with that guy or something?
Owe him money?
Is this spon-con?
natesilver: “harry is typing”
micah: This is definitely the Cory Booker pick of this draft.
harry: Who the heck is Ben Ray Luján? He’s the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. If this is going through the midterms, there’s going to be a lot of talk about recruiting on the Democratic side and how the DCCC is spending money. Luján is going to be at the helm of doing that. We all remember Rahm Emanuel going out and recruiting people in 2006, when the Democrats regained control of the House. If the Democrats are successful, I won’t be shocked if Luján gets similar accolades.
natesilver: This is a draft about POWER, not ACCOLADES.
harry: He’s got a lot of power over the purse strings and deciding where Democrats spend. For example, you’ve heard a lot from the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party that they’re upset that it isn’t spending more money supporting populist candidates. Luján controls some of that money.
micah: I think you got too cute there.
micah: With the No. 15 pick, I select someone with actual power: Tom Price, secretary of health and human services.
natesilver: Meh — does he really have that much power?
harry: At least with my crummy picks, I make you think.
micah: Yes: I think it’s unlikely that Republicans get a real health care bill passed, which will mean that the Trump administration will have to do Obamacare changes through HHS. Trump isn’t gonna get into those details.
natesilver: Maybe Trump won’t decide per se, but you’d think those instructions would still come from within the White House.
micah: Ehhh. I think he’ll run it by the White House, but Price is really the most prominent health care “thinker” in the administration.
natesilver: Good use of scare quotes or bad use of scare quotes?
micah: OK, Clare, you have the No. 16 pick.
natesilver: Zin-KEE Zin-KEE Zin-KEE
clare.malone: So, I’m gonna go with Rex Tillerson.
micah: No governors picked so far.
natesilver: Stole my pick Clare.
micah: Oh. Hmmm.
natesilver: But bad pick.
clare.malone: He’s still the secretary of state, and Trump has a changing vision for America’s interaction with the world, and I think that remains a powerful job.
micah: I’ll ask my Kushner question: Is there any evidence that Tillerson is actually influencing policy?
clare.malone: Well, I think North Korea could flare up in the next year and a half.
And State could get increasingly important … That said, maybe I should have picked an intelligence person because of that.
Regardless, given my shitty place in the draft, this is my pick.
natesilver: I think Tillerson may be going around cleaning up a lot of Trump’s messes.
clare.malone: Adult in room.
micah: And that constitutes “power”?
clare.malone: Yeah, of a kind.
micah: Nate with the No. 17 selection.
Pick a governor!
natesilver: John Glover Roberts Jr. (born January 27, 1955) is the 17th and current Chief Justice of the United States.
harry: That’s nice.
micah: Good late-round pick.
natesilver: Went in the third round last time — what value here!
harry: I mean how often is he the deciding justice?
micah: I was gonna pick him when I picked Cohn, but I didn’t want to pick all the same people.
natesilver: Also — although it probably won’t come up before 2019 — note that the chief justice would administer an impeachment trial in the Senate.
He has a lot of power to set the court’s agenda — what cases it does and doesn’t take up.
micah: Harry, No. 18, go.
harry: OK, folks.
This is it.
The big one.
Are you ready?
I’m going off the list.
natesilver: BAD PICK
harry: Rachel Maddow.
clare.malone: Oh, Harry.
micah: Let’s end this chat.
natesilver: You’re just trying to get on her show.
harry: I’ve already been on her show.
clare.malone: The whoring happening right now
natesilver: She is the first woman picked, so there’s that.
harry: Here’s my thought process: She has the top show on the No. 1 network right now.
natesilver: Only Clare and I have competitive teams at this point.
harry: I’m just saying that if we think cable news has an outsize role with this president. How could you not choose the No. 1 person on television right now?
micah: My team has by far the most impact on people’s lives.
You’re thinking too “in the beltway,” Nate.
clare.malone: That’s very Silicon Valley billionaire of you, Micah.
micah: I have the No. 19 pick.
If we were going through 2020, I’d pick John Kasich.
clare.malone: No comment.
natesilver: Pick Osssofffffff.
harry: Pick Archie Parnell.
micah: I’m going with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
harry: That’s some weak sauce.
micah: This is my she’ll-often-be-a-crucial-vote-on-bills-in-the-Senate pick.
natesilver: But the thing is you need three senators to break the GOP majority.
micah: Can I get Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Dean Heller in a package deal?
harry: No, you cannot.
micah: Clare, No. 20.
clare.malone: OK, Micah has instructed us to pick up the pace.
So I’m going with my gut — Rupert Murdoch.
natesilver: Oh shit that was gonna be my pick!
You’ve done that TWICE now.
clare.malone: He’s the money and power behind a media empire that wields vast influence over a good portion of the country.
And Sean Hannity …
natesilver: Clare and Nate understand how POWER works — Micah and Harry, not so much.
clare.malone: The direction Fox goes will be key.
micah: Nate, you can’t glom onto Clare’s team.
harry: HURRY UP, NATE.
micah: Nate, No. 21.
This is where the true talent is shown.
natesilver: HILLARY CLINTON.
clare.malone: Who dat?
micah: Between your Obama pick in the first draft and Clinton now, I’m starting to worry that you don’t realize it’s not still 2016.
natesilver: Since Obama is Jet-Skiing and there’s a power vacuum in the Democratic Party right now, she’s still the de facto party leader.
harry: For those wondering, Nate is conscious at this point. He is OK. Please don’t send in concerns about his health.
micah: I mean, nothing against Clinton, but let’s be serious.
natesilver: No, my real pick is Ivanka Trump.
micah: Harry, No. 22.
natesilver: Wait — no take-backs?
micah: Nate, you can’t change picks.
harry: I choose Ivanka Trump. Just to troll Nate.
micah: So you have husband and wife, Harry?
harry: I am a fan of love.
natesilver: That’s actually your best pick.
micah: For the record, that was going to be my pick and you gave Harry the idea, Nate.
natesilver: I’ll trade you Hillary for your pick.
harry: The Cowboys wanted to draft Jerry Rice in 1985, but the 49ers got there first, Micah.
micah: OK, No. 23.
Kathy Griffin. (j/k)
natesilver: No take-backs.
Clare, your pick.
natesilver: Quick, Clare — pick.
micah: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
micah: Yeh. He’ll have influence over Kennedy according to one theory that’s totally speculative.
natesilver: I’d note that two FIRST-ROUND picks from last time have not been drafted yet.
micah: They were bad picks, Nate
clare.malone: This has gotten difficult. Things are so in flux.
micah: Clare with the last pick.
Clare, your team is pretty weak so far. You need a good one here.
harry: Clare selects … Jerry Brown.
clare.malone: My team isn’t near-sighted like some others. It’s got long-term staying power.
harry: Quit stalling.
micah: Obama? Pick Priebus just so it’s not depressing for him.
natesilver: Sean Spicer!
clare.malone: OK, I’m going to go with … Dan Coats.
clare.malone: Director of national intelligence.
natesilver: That’s a Harry pick.
natesilver: That’s a Harry pick. Stop trying to explain it — you’ll just make it worse.
clare.malone: I say this because given the apparent ineptitude of the president when it comes to understanding issues of national security, it gives the people dealing with intelligence behind the scenes an awful lot of power.
I would have chosen H.R. McMaster, but he seems … perhaps on the outs?
micah: You should have chosen Priebus.
clare.malone: eh. naw. I’m making thought-provoking picks, you guys.
harry: What about Tom Perez?
micah: Some interesting non-picks.
natesilver: Top picks from last time NOT chosen in this draft: round 1, pick 3: Barack Obama; 1-4: Reince (sp?) Priebus (sp?); 3-4: Jerry Brown (?!?); 4-2: John McCain; 4-4: Nancy Pelosi; 4-5: Kellyanne Conway; 5-2: Chuck Schumer; 5-3: Elizabeth Warren; 5-4: Tom Perez.
micah: For example, the person Nate picked FIRST in the last draft wasn’t even selected.
natesilver: But Micah, that was a 2017 draft
micah: Nice try.
natesilver: This is a mid-2017 through November 2018 draft. Like if I drafted Michael Jordan No. 1 overall, that wouldn’t be a good pick now.
micah: Here are the teams:
|1||D. Trump||M. Pence||R. Mueller||M. McConnell|
|2||P. Ryan||M. Meadows||A. Kennedy||J. Sessions|
|3||J. Comey||J. Kushner||B. Sanders||G. Cohn|
|4||S. Bannon||B. R. Luján||R. Tillerson||T. Price|
|5||J. Roberts||R. Maddow||R. Murdoch||S. Collins|
|6||H. Clinton||I. Trump||D. Coats||N. Gorsuch|
clare.malone: Obama is the most important in the wearing-suits-without-ties power draft for 2018.
harry: I’m pleased with my draft.
micah: Clare, your team is way worse than last time.
clare.malone: It’s eclectic.
natesilver: C’mon I win.
I got POTUS.
I got CHIEF JUSTICE.
And I got HOUSE SPEAKER.
micah: Yeah, Nate’s team is good.
clare.malone: You rigged the order, Nate.
micah: Very true.
clare.malone: I watched you do it.
micah: Harry again has the worst team. At least you’re consistent, Harry.
harry: I had massive improvements.
natesilver: On a more substantive note, it’s interesting how few Democrats were chosen.
micah: Fewer Democrats, yeah. And fewer senators?
natesilver: Like I don’t think we realized in the winter just how little power the opposition party has, when it doesn’t control Congress or anything.
micah: But, Nate, what about Ben Ray Luján?
harry: Yo, Congressman Luján, let’s get a drink when you’re back in New York.
— Your friend, Harry.
clare.malone: Ditto to Maddow.