Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power


Prizewinning journalists John Harwood and Gerald F. Seib show how today's Washington power game really works, through stories of people who are making a difference on Pennsylvania Avenue. These new power brokers, some of whom are rarely seen and are largely unknown, have figured out how to make their voices heard, and how to get things done, amid the complexities of today's gridlocked Washington. With unprecedented access to capital insiders, and with deep insight into the unspoken rules of the political road, ...
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Prizewinning journalists John Harwood and Gerald F. Seib show how today's Washington power game really works, through stories of people who are making a difference on Pennsylvania Avenue. These new power brokers, some of whom are rarely seen and are largely unknown, have figured out how to make their voices heard, and how to get things done, amid the complexities of today's gridlocked Washington. With unprecedented access to capital insiders, and with deep insight into the unspoken rules of the political road, Harwood and Seib explain why progress is so difficult and illuminate what it takes to succeed in the high-stakes game of governing.
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Editorial Reviews

Ted Widmer
Through a series of sharp vignettes and character sketches, the authors of Pennsylvania Avenue, John Harwood and Gerald F. Seib, take the reader behind some of the more imposing facades along the refurbished road, introducing the famous and not-so-famous, and explaining how business gets done in the new Washington. Though they accept the common view that the old rules have changed, their analysis is fresh and stimulating…Harwood and Seib's calm tone and bipartisan focus give Pennsylvania Avenue a neighborly feel as its authors stroll down the street.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
There are plenty of centrists in America, but to judge by Wall Street Journal stalwarts Harwood and Seib, there are very few in Washington. These profiles of 16 of the capital city's fixers, fundraisers, spin doctors and assorted movers and shakers reveal that they agree on little except that they disagree. Americans have always known political divisions, the authors aver, but "today the divisions have taken on a new character. Power is so divided between the two parties that, in a very real sense, nobody has enough control either to paper over differences or to roll past them. Nobody is in charge." Moreover, Republicans and Democrats no longer hang out in the same bars and restaurants, as they once did. Indeed, many, such as Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, no longer hang out in Washington, preferring, in essence, to commute from their districts rather than become dreaded inside-the-Beltway insiders. The furor over the Dubai Ports World affair, whereby a foreign-owned (and Arabic-speaking) company would be in charge of several American seaports, is just one of the partisan cases in point. There was so much shouting involved that few sat down to discuss if there was any merit to awarding the contract to a company that, after all, managed ports all over the world. Some lament the death of collegiality; some true believers applaud it. But the real movers and shakers, this book makes plain without quite saying so, are a tribe unto themselves. Ken Mehlman, one-time Republican Party chairman, is the law partner of one-time Democratic Party chairman Robert Strauss, and he is given to wondering why the two contingents have yet to really make common cause against the "Islamic fascists . . . themost anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic, religiously intolerant force in the world."The culture may change soon. It may not. Policy wonks will enjoy this solid, well-reported portrait of life in the District, while insiders will look for their names in the index.
From the Publisher
“Essential reading for anyone interested in the inside workings of American politics.” —Brian Williams, anchor, NBC Nightly News

“Fresh and stimulating . . . Harwood and Seib take readers behind Washington’s facades, showing how business really gets done.”—New York Times Book Review

“Among their peers, John Harwood and Gerald Seib are respected as the gold standard of deep and honest reporting. Some journalists pretend they know what is going on; Harwood and Seib really do, as they prove once again in this evocative and insightful book.” —David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize—winning author of First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton

“Informative and timely . . . [Readers] will come away with a greater knowledge of how the Washington power game is played.”—Washington Times

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781433213892
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/28/2008
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 1 MP3, 8 hours
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

JOHN HARWOOD is political editor of the Wall Street Journal and author of the Journal’s “Washington Wire” column. He offers political analysis on NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s Newsnight, and PBS’s Washington Week in Review among other programs.

GERALD SEIB is the Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. He writes the paper’s “Capital Journal” column and is a regular commentator on Washington affairs for CNBC. He was part of the WSJ team that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in breaking news for its coverage of 9/11.

William Hughes is a professor of political science at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. He received his doctorate in American politics from the University of California, Davis.

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Read an Excerpt

Pennsylvania Avenue Profiles in Backroom Power
By Gerald F. Seib
Random House Copyright © 2008 Gerald F. Seib
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781400065547

Excerpt from Chapter One


Pennsylvania Avenue, the most celebrated mile of pavement in America, stretches northwest from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, along a path cleared through the Washington swamp two hundred years ago. Every important chapter of American history has played out, in one fashion or another, on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Pennsylvania Avenue is the capital’s best address, the street of status, where the powerful work, and meet, and where the ambitious come to get things done. From the days when it was little more than a muddy path, the Avenue has been populated by smart people, men and women full of passion and drive and strong beliefs, many of them well meaning. Over the span of American history, the powerful have come together here to accomplish great things—to free the oppressed, to win great battles, to launch great public works, to comfort the downtrodden.

The people of Pennsylvania Avenue can be vain, greedy, downright nasty as well. Sometimes the Avenue is where they manage to stop things from getting done. Interspersed with the moments of great glory are those occasions when fear, mistrust, or simple disagreements run out of control to produce confrontation and gridlock on Pennsylvania Avenue.

In recent years, such occasions have become more and more numerous, to the point where, simply put,Pennsylvania Avenue doesn’t work very well these days. For a complex set of reasons, it has become an avenue divided—divided by party, ideology, money, technology—so that even the best of intentions these days often produce the worst of results.

To some extent, this complex of forces is well known to those who watch the nation’s political machinations through the pages of newspapers and magazines or the shouting heads that have come to dominate political talk shows. What’s less well known is the existence of a new kind of power broker on Pennsylvania Avenue, backroom power players who confront these forces and who strive to vault over them and, indeed, sometimes even succeed in doing so—in making Washington work.

Many of these people are new to the national scene, having moved into the power structure thanks to the political upheavals of the last two decades. Over that time, the old establishment in Washington has been pushed aside, starting with Ronald Reagan’s conservative sweep into Washington in 1980, followed by the Bill Clinton years, the Newt Gingrich revolution in the House in 1994, and the Democratic comeback of 2006. The capital’s old wiring has been ripped out, and replaced. It is the lot of today’s power players to have assumed positions of import at a time when, by all accounts, it has become harder and harder to get things done in the nation’s capital. Some of these backroom power brokers have mastered the new rules of the road on Pennsylvania Avenue, and perhaps profited from them; others have figured out how to get things done despite Washington gridlock, by breaking away from the traffic patterns that have produced that gridlock.

What all of these powerful people on Pennsylvania Avenue have figured out, amid great conflict along that 1.2-mile stretch of road, is a way to make their voices heard.

This is a book about some of those people on Pennsylvania Avenue, people who are rarely seen, often unknown. Through these profiles in backroom power, we mean to show how a new network operates in Washington today, and by a new set of rules.


But first a story, one that shows some of the changes that have transformed Washington, and some of the forces that have created gridlock on America’s Main Street.

This story unfolded in February 2006, with a furor like that of one of those summer thunderstorms that periodically sweep across the nation’s capital, seeming to arise out of nowhere, building rapidly to a loud and frightening climax, and then moving out again, leaving Washingtonians to wonder what had hit them. The episode became known simply as “the Dubai Ports deal.”

The story began quietly enough: A company few in Washington had heard of, with headquarters in a country most Americans never thought about, agreed to a corporate transaction that once might have passed unnoticed. The deal involved the purchase of terminal operations at a handful of American seaports. In the modern global economy, overlaid by new national-security fears and today’s instant and shrill political jousting, this particular transaction lit a fire of rebellion and disunity.

A firm called Dubai Ports World—DP World for short—had emerged as the winner in a bidding contest to take over a British firm, Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, for $6.85 billion. Both companies were in the business of operating the giant oceanside ports that increasingly send and receive the massive shipments of goods that keep the new global economy running.

P&O, a firm with a long and illustrious history in shipping, had long-run shipping terminals at ports around the globe. DP World, in turn, was a company created and owned by the government of Dubai, a tiny Persian Gulf emirate, to do the same thing. Dubai had used some of its billions of dollars in oil money to build a world-class port of its own, and then created DP World to buy and manage other port operations. DP World was run largely by Westerners on the emirate’s payroll.

What P&O owned, and what DP World coveted, were terminals at some key ports around the globe. Most important, P&O owned port operations in booming China. The fact that DP World would gain access to terminals at six American ports also run by P&O was seen largely as a fortunate by-product.

It was hardly a secret that P&O was selling out; that had been noted in The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers, though in routine stories on inside pages.1 More important, the company approached the U.S. government in mid-October 2005 to inform it that a sale affecting American port operations might be coming.

That, too, was a routine move. Foreign firms attempting a takeover or merger that might affect national security must get a stamp of approval from a little-known group called the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, a panel of representatives from across the government run by the Treasury Department from its grand building on Pennsylvania Avenue, next to the White House. CFIUS, as the group is known, has representatives from twelve different Cabinet departments and White House offices. Under its procedures, lower-level career officials in the departments study proposed foreign investments to see whether they pose any security threats. If those officials agree among themselves, a deal is approved. If there are disagreements, a proposed investment deal is kicked upstairs, where higher-level officials, normally political appointees, can take forty-five days for a second investigation, and the decision is ultimately put on the president’s desk.

As it happened, CFIUS had been racked by dissension in the previous year or so. Officials from the Defense Department and other security agencies, who tend to be more sensitive to foreign threats than are their counterparts at the government’s financial agencies, felt that their views weren’t being heard enough in the process. They wanted more scrutiny of deals. Their counterparts at the Treasury and elsewhere, in turn, felt they were under pressure from the White House to decide on deals without pushing them up the line where they would bother higher-level officials and land on the president’s desk. In the months before the DP World deal arrived, the officials running CFIUS had been busy changing their procedures to better ensure that security agencies would have their views heard.

In the case of the ports deal, the question was whether foreigners
operating American ports could be counted on to make sure the ports
weren’t being used by terrorists or rogue states to sneak into the
United States either people or materials for terrorist attacks. So, when
the ports deal arrived, CFIUS went into action. The Department of
Homeland Security was chosen to take the lead in vetting the deal,
because it was in charge of port security. P&O and DP World twice
briefed officials from all the agencies and departments in CFIUS on
the proposed deal. The Central Intelligence Agency and its sister intelligence
services were asked to provide written assessments of
whether the deal posed problems. Meetings were held, memos exchanged;
the system did its job.

By mid-December, when P&O and DP World formally filed their
request for government approval, the American government already
had been considering the deal for two months. Questions had been
asked and answered, security guarantees sought and delivered. In
early January 2006, DP World sent a dense three-page, single-spaced
letter to the Department of Homeland Security promising to abide by
all the U.S. government’s port-security programs already in place.
More than that, the company agreed to keep its American port
operations under management by American citizens “to the extent
possible,” to open up its files on the “design, maintenance of the
Companies’ U.S. facilities, equipment or services,” and to give the
government “any relevant records” it might seek regarding directions
the port managers received from abroad.2 Security officials felt that, if
anything, they would end up having a tighter security arrangement
with DP World than with any other port manager in the country. By
mid-January, a poll had been taken of all the government agencies involved
in CFIUS, and the decision was unanimous: The deal should
be allowed to go forward.

It’s not hard to understand why the bureaucrats saw no threat to
American national security, given the way they viewed the deal. DP
World was seen in the shipping business as a smart and well-run company–
and one that actually had been very cooperative with Home-

land Security in setting up a program to monitor shipping containers
that are sent from abroad to U.S. shores. The tiny sheikhdom of
Dubai, just a few years earlier known as a place that looked the other
way as extremists transferred money through its banks and Iran
shipped weapons parts through its ports, had transformed itself into
the Gulf state most openly cooperating in the war on terror. Among
other things, it publicly allowed the U.S. Navy and Air Force to use its
ports and airfields. As such, Dubai actually was a favorite of the folks
at the Pentagon who might normally be the most keen to suspect
national-security threats in a foreign takeover.

Moreover, given the recent turmoil among the officials who ran
CFIUS, if objections weren’t registered by the Defense and Homeland
Security officials, who had been so annoyed that their concerns
weren’t being heard on other deals, why should anyone else stand in
the way of this one? At that point, perhaps 250 officials, at the second
and third tiers of government, had reviewed the deal, and their consensus
was that it didn’t pose a problem.

The substantive, logical, and bureaucratic considerations all ignored
one thing: the chance that the politics of the deal, inflamed by
a polarized electoral system and media culture, could explode in controversy.
Whether DP World was a safe partner or not, how would it
look to Congress and the American public, in the midst of a war
against terrorism emanating from the Middle East, to sell operations
at some of America’s most important ports to an Arab country? Worse,
how would it look to sell those operations at a time when the administration
was being criticized specifically for not doing enough to be
sure terrorists weren’t smuggling bombs, or even people, into America
through the nation’s ports?

This separation of political passions and bureaucratic decisionmaking
wouldn’t last. And it was a sign of the times that those passions
exploded in the face of a man who had seen, in his life and
career, the erosion of the sensible center, and the emergence of gridlock
on Pennsylvania Avenue.


Excerpted from Pennsylvania Avenue by Gerald F. Seib Copyright © 2008 by Gerald F. Seib. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

I Washington Writ Large

1 Gridlock On America's Main Street 3

2 The Fixer: Ken Duberstein 23

3 The Businessman: David Rubenstein 40

II Working The System 49

4 The Democratic Strategist: Rahm Emanuel 57

5 The Party Captains For 2008: Chris Van Hollen And Tom Cole 68

6 The Fund-raising Phenom: Debbie Wasserman Schultz 78

7 The Republican Strategist: Karl Rove 86

III Power Outside The System 97

8 The Advocate: Hilary Rosen 106

9 The Social Secretary: Lea Berman 111

10 The Netroots Warrior Meets The Establishment: Eli Pariser and Kyle McSlarrow 121

11 The Lobbyist: Ed Rogers 131

12 The Industry Man: Billy Tauzin 136

IV Roles Redefined 143

13 The Policy Adviser: Elliott Abrams 149

14 The Spinner: Brendan Daly 163

15 The Political Operators: Jim Jordan and Terry Nelson 173

V Changing The System 185

16 The New Republicans: Sam Brownback and Pete Wehner 195

17 The New Democrats: Mara Vanderslice and Jim Webb 207

18 The Deal-Makers: Bernadette Budde and Andy Stern 218

19 The Tax Men: Charlie Rangel and Jim McCrery 227

20 The Chairmen: Robert Strauss and Ken Mehlman 235

Acknowledgments 239

Notes 241

Index 249

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