Top White House Aide Has A Secret Beer With Rep. Paul Ryan

White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan discussed the budget over beers at Brasserie Beck

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Pete Souza / The White House

President Barack Obama meets with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough in the Oval Office, Jan. 25, 2013.

On April 10, the day President Obama released his 2014 budget, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough held a secret meeting with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan at a K Street restaurant, Brasserie Beck, to talk, among other things, about possible resolutions to the deficit reduction standoff.

As I report in this week’s TIME magazine, an article that is only available to magazine or tablet subscribers online, the meeting was productive, even if it produced no breakthroughs. “He’s a Minnesota Irish Catholic guy, and I’m a Wisconsin Irish Catholic guy,” Ryan told me, after the conversation. “It quickly dawned on me that we can work together.”

“It was the first time I have had a candid conversation or a substantial conversation with a member of the Obama administration since they came into power,” Ryan added.

The discussion, over beer, included talk about spending levels and paths to reaching a deal, but was not intended as a negotiating session. Rather it was part of a large scale outreach effort by the White House, coordinated by McDonough to increase communication between the White House and Congress, and between Democrats and Republicans.

The Belgian restaurant lists 115 beers on its menu, but not Miller Lite, Ryan’s beer of choice. “I ended up getting some lager I’d never heard of,” said Ryan, who mistook the place for a French joint. But it turned out McDonough had done his homework in other ways. He knew that Ryan had graduated from Miami University in Ohio the same year as his own wife Kari. Both men hailed from former frontier towns in the upper Midwest, and both had been drawn to Washington as young congressional aides. They were nerds, in the best sense of the word, and they were fierce competitors.

At the same time McDonough and Ryan met, President Obama hosted a dinner at the White House for a dozen Republican Senators. Since then the outreach effort has continued, both in public and private. The President golfed Monday with two Republican Senators, and McDonough has been up to the Hill to meet with other Republican Senators. Much more is happening behind the scenes, in conversations between staff, and outreach from the White House. On Wednesday night, Obama hosted House Democratic leaders in a dinner at the Jefferson Hotel, where he met with Republican Senators in March.

Among the other tidbits in my TIME story on McDonough’s tenure as Chief of Staff:

  • Borrowing from the intelligence community, McDonough has organized “red team” drills inside the West Wing to look for policy or political holes in the State of the Union Address and the budget. In both cases, staff were assigned to analyze the documents as if they were political opponents.
  • McDonough put himself in the hospital during the 2008 campaign while planning candidate Obama’s foreign trip, due to a bad reaction to a sleeping pill after too many days of little sleep. Doctors advised him not to go on the trip, advice which he disregarded.
  • McDonough used to have a standing bet with CIA director John Brennan when they both worked on national security in the White House basement. Once a week, they would promise each other to get home to their families by 7 p.m. Often they both failed.

For much more, pick up a copy of the magazine, or the tablet edition, by subscribing online. $30 a year. Or $2.99 a month. Well worth the price, in this reporter’s humble opinion.

11 comments
Sherm
Sherm

"Having a beer" is so egalitarian.  Who beside politicians would ever feel the need to do it in secret?

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

“He’s a Minnesota Irish Catholic guy, and I’m a Wisconsin Irish Catholic guy,” Ryan told me, after the conversation. “It quickly dawned on me that we can work together.”


 Excuse me, I need to go throw up.

fitty_three
fitty_three

Headlines:

"The Beer Was So Secret Ryan Had To Wear A Paper Bag Over His Head"

sacredh
sacredh

"For much more, pick up a copy of the magazine, or the tablet edition, by subscribing online. $30 a year. Or $2.99 a month. Well worth the price, in this reporter’s humble opinion."

I've kept up my subscription since I joined swampland. More "1000 Words" please.



 

gysgt213
gysgt213

A productive meeting that produces nothing.  Goes good with the e-book by the Romney insider who never worked as an insider.  God, I feel more and more like I'm inside the movie "Idiocracy" starring Barrack Obama and his band of inept White House policy advisors, Jamie Dimon, Goldman Sachs, the GOP, the NRA, the Heritage Foundation, the media and guest starring the democratic caucus in a non-speaking role.

DerekHologram
DerekHologram

Obama is going to need an outreach program for Democrats if he keeps talking to the obstructionist Right about entitlement reform.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

"For much more, pick up a copy of the magazine, or the tablet edition, by subscribing online. $30 a year. Or $2.99 a month. Well worth the price, in this reporter’s humble opinion."

Is this the main point of this post? Aw c'mon, Michael, you're better than that. You write a lot of good stuff and have a dark sense of humor I admire, but the High Sheriffs asking us to pay for an article of a meeting, however interesting, that "was productive, even if it produced no breakthroughs" is too much. Too many media biz models are falling in love with the paywall idea (add WaPo to list) no thanks to WSJ and NYT success. But many readers are still out of work or otherwise cash strapped and can't shell out money to everyone ...especially when aggregates and overseas sources are still out there. Learn to advertise and monetize better as some readers here already know. I buy the dead tree edition when i can ...and would like to buy the International edition... but this topic (granted, I bet you were assigned to this) is NOT a game-changing scoop. Post "1000 Words" or cat videos (you linked a good one in 2010) and we'll be just as happy.


gysgt213
gysgt213

McDonough to Ryan:  Let's work together to screw the American people.  Your rubes will blame me and my rubes will blame you.  Its a win win, a lose lose both sides do it trifecta.  The press will eat this up. Just like always.  You call TMZ and I will call Politico.

bobell
bobell

It's hard to think of quaffing beers in a K Street restaurant as "secret."  I'd settle for "unannounced," or "off the record."

The underlying question is: Why is Obama's outreach to the Republicans failing (as surely it is)?  And that question is really: Who's to blame for the failure of the Obama outreach to Republicans?  Hint: Their symbolic color is RED.

gysgt213
gysgt213

@deconstructiva I wonder when they will figure out that the American people can handle only so many individual subscriptions.  This paywall stuff is going to start showing diminishing returns reall soon.