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Power Up: Why Hollywood execs (and Oprah) are still dreaming of a Bob Iger 2020 run

with Brent D. Griffiths

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The Campaign

HOLLYWOOD BUZZ: Bob Iger keeps saying he’s not interested in running for president. At least, not anymore.

But there’s still a small but influential push in Hollywood to get the Disney CEO to change his mind, according to two entertainment executives. 

They see him as a successful — and likable — businessman who could actually take on President Trump. And be a more appealing alternative than some of the far-left populists now dominating the Democratic primary — especially as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), starts leading in some polls.

  • Split screen: “He’s a smooth guy, the right age, a supersmart team builder,” one senior television executive told Power Up. “And put him up against Trump? Bob ran a G-rated corporation and took it to new heights.”
  • “Democrats are a train wreck,” the executive said. “The second Warren goes up in the polls — no one in corporate America will vote for her.”

While there’s so far no public quest to solicit donations or support, the talk has created so much buzz in Hollywood that it keeps forcing Iger to address the topic in recent interviews, appearances, and awards ceremonies. 

  • While being honored at a gala for Save the Children earlier this month: "Iger, who recently revealed that he’s had conversations with former President Barack Obama and his family about a potential run, joked upon taking the stage, 'Oprah, I am reminded of something that Ronald Reagan said to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential debate, ‘There you go again,’" Variety's Ashley Hume writes. "Please, I am not about to become the 25th or the 30th person seeking the presidency in 2020." (Iger did not respond to Power Up's request for comment.) 

Oprah has taken the pressure campaign public: “If Bob Iger had decided to run for president, I would be canvassing in Iowa right now,” Winfrey told Iger to his face in an interview on her OWN channel last month. “I would be going door to door. More than ever, every day, I wish you had done it.”

  • She’s been talking about this — loudly — for more than a year. “Um, I'd have been happy to be in his cabinet,” she told Vogue last spring. She “really, really pushed him to run for president” — and even offered to “go sit and have tea with people” to convince them to vote. 

Iger has said his inner sense of patriotism initially led him to consider running for the high office. "I am horrified at the state of politics in America today," he told Vogue last April.

  • A centrist?: "I, maybe a bit naively, believed that there was a need for someone in high elected office to be more open-minded and willing to not only govern from the middle but to try to shame everyone else into going to the middle.” 
  • Ultimately, Disney's acquisition of 21st Century Fox, which prolonged his stay at the company until 2021, prompted him to rule out a presidential bid. (Though he did admit to playing coy with Rupert Murdoch, telling the Fox mogul he wasn't considering running -- when he actually was, Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times last month.)
  • Another big deterrent: "Aside from [his wife Willow] Bay’s reluctance, Mr. Iger doubted that the Democrats would support a successful business person," Dowd writes. “I think the Democratic Party would brand me as just another rich guy who’s out of touch with America who doesn’t have any sense for what’s good for the plight of the people," Iger told Dowd. 

But Iger still seems to be egging on some speculation in the way he answers questions about a possible run. 

  • During an appearance this month on Jimmy Kimmel Live to promote his new book: "Kimmel asked Iger about Winfrey's recent comments, to which Iger responded, 'I will run for president if you also join Oprah,'" AOL's Jennifer Kline writes
  • "Iger, 68, has rarely, if ever, appeared on late night TV, but he's currently promoting his new memoir, 'The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company.' All of the book's proceeds will go toward educational initiatives," Kline writes. "It's perhaps worth noting that just about all presidential candidates publish memoirs before entering the race." 
  • Iger recently laid out what his 2020 message would be — if he were running: At The Atlantic Festival in Washington, Iger told Laurene Powell Jobs last month that “America is gravely in need of optimism, of looking at the future and believing that so many things are going to be all right, or that we as a nation can attack some of the most critical problems of our day. And that could be the environment, that could be income disparity, that could be the technology’s impact on the world from a disruption perspective. It could be the cost of education, availability of affordable housing, healthcare. You name it."  
  • And Iger, in his new book, wrote that he consulted with "former members of the Obama administration, some members of Congress, pollsters and fundraisers, and staff from previous campaigns,per Deadline’s Ted Johnson. “He even studied ‘like crazy’ on a variety of pressing issues, and read past great presidential speeches."

Why Hollywood wants him to run anyway: Iger's personal story is compelling, as the sources who want him to run pointed out to Power Up. 

  • “I am very lucky. I was a lower middle class kid or middle class. My father had manic depression so he had trouble holding a job. I started as a $150-a-week employee at ABC 45 years ago and rose up to be CEO of this company. It is a great story, but it is not necessarily because I was extraordinary,” he told Powell Jobs. 
  • Iger has also spoken out against Trump: Iger left the president's Advisory Council after the administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord and criticized his decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
  • But not on everything: But he's also seemed to come out in support of Trump's tax reform that provided a lower tax rate for corporations. He provided Disney employees with a one time cash bonus of $1,000 after the law was enacted. 

Oprah is not the only boldfaced name who has spoken on the record about Iger. Jeffrey Katzenberg, a cofounder of DreamWorks SKG, former Disney chairman himself and a major Democratic donor, said this past April that he "begged" Iger to run for president. 

At The White House

MULVANEY SAYS THE QUIET PART OUT LOUD: Our colleague Toluse Olorunnipa reports on how acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney turned the press briefing room into "a sort of confession chamber" for nearly 40 minutes, "openly admitting to several acts that could deepen the legal predicament for the president." He confirmed that Trump withheld security aid to Ukraine because he wanted an investigation of Democrats and the Democratic National Committee's computer server -- and that it was the Trump himself who suggested his Doral resort be considered to host the G-7 summit. 

He answered affirmatively when asked if there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine. “I have news for everybody: Get over it,” he said. “There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

  • This is part of a trend: “In admitting that Trump had personally intervened to award a multimillion-dollar summit to his own company, and that the president had also used taxpayer money as leverage to push a Ukrainian investigation into Democrats, Mulvaney embraced a classic Trumpian tactic: saying the quiet — and potentially illegal — part out loud,” Toluse writes.
  • But not everyone was pleased: Jay Sekulow, Trump's personal attorney, later said in a statement: “The President’s legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s press briefing.” And the Justice Department official added, “If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us.”
  • Key quote: “He literally said the thing the president and everyone else said did not happen,” one unnamed GOP lawmaker told our colleague about Mulvaney's apparent admission of a quid-pro-quo.

Clean up, clean up: As frustration with him mounted, the White House released an official statement from Mulvaney “blaming the media for misconstruing his words “to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump,” our colleagues Karoun Demirjian and John Hudson report.

AT THE TOP OF THE NOTEPAD: Power Up asked our Post colleague and Pulitzer-prize winner David Fahrenthold, who has spent years now investigating and reporting on Trump's business ties, to take us through the decision to host the G-7 at the Doral -- what may be president's boldest move yet when it comes to mixing official and personal business. 

The announcement is unparalleled, as David writes: “The move by Trump is unprecedented in modern American history: in effect, the president awarded an enormous federal contract to himself, in secret. The decision will bring hundreds of diplomats, media and security personnel to Trump’s financially struggling resort at one of the leanest times of its year: June, when Miami gets hot and tourists stay away. The hotel reported just 38 percent occupancy in June 2017. Now, of course, it will be full.”

Here's want David says he still wants to know: 

  1. What other sites did the government consider? If they considered only other sites with obvious flaws, it could seem like the fix was in for Doral.
  2. What will the Trump Organization charge Trump’s government (and foreign governments) for rooms and food?
  3. Will the Trump Organization ask the U.S. government to pay for upgrades? One obvious problem: they’ve got eight world leaders coming, and only two presidential suites.

AND RICK PERRY RESIGNS: "Energy Secretary Rick Perry notified President Donald Trump on Thursday that he’ll leave the post this year," Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs, Jenny Leonard, and Ari Natter scooped. Trump later made it official at a rally in Texas.

  • Wait a minute: Perry's possible departure as been reported as far back as April. The New York Times's Maggie Haberman summed it up perfectly as "longest goodbye in Trumpland."

Global Power

A CEASE FIRE IN SYRIA: Turkey agreed "to a cease-fire that would suspend its march into Syria and temporarily halt a week of vicious fighting with Kurdish forces, while allowing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to carve out a long-coveted buffer zone far beyond its borders," our colleagues Kareem Fahim, Karen DeYoung and Seung Min Kim report.

Almost everything Erdogan wants: The agreement "appeared to hand Turkey’s leader most of what he sought when his military launched an assault on northeastern Syria just over a week ago: the expulsion of Syrian Kurdish militias from the border and the removal of a U.S. threat to impose sanctions on Turkey’s vulnerable economy," our colleagues write. Pence added that the sanctions imposed earlier this week would be withdrawn once “a permanent cease-fire was in effect."

  • A look inside the room: As Vice President Pence met with Erdogan, "the two men refused to smile, even a little, as their meeting got underway, as if to communicate failure before their negotiation had begun," our colleagues write. "But afterward, a Turkish official briefed by participants in the talks said the Turkish side was surprised and relieved at how easy the negotiations were."
  • Key quote: “We got everything we wanted,” the Turkish official told our colleagues.
  • The most important detail: The agreement does not require a Turkish withdrawal.

BACK AT HOME: Democrats and some Republican lawmakers torched the agreement. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said the deal "is far from a victory" and added "serious questions remain about how the decision was reached precipitously to withdraw from Syria and why that decision was reached.”

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it a "sham cease fire": "President Erdogan has given up nothing, and President Trump has given him everything," they said in a statement. "The Turks have stated that ‘this is not a ceasefire,’ and made clear that they ‘will pause the operation for 120 hours in order for the terrorists to leave’ – referring to the courageous Kurdish fighters who have suffered nearly 11,000 casualties in our fight to defeat ISIS."

Meanwhile, Trump continued to celebrate the temporary cease-fire at his rally in Dallas last night: He argued "it had been wise for him to allow Turkish forces to invade and attack Kurds because 'sometimes you have to let them fight a little while,'" our colleagues Phil Rucker and Jenna Johnson report.

  • “Like two kids in a lot, you’ve got to let them fight and then you pull them apart,” Trump said. He marveled at the fighting, saying “it was pretty vicious,” and adding, “It was nasty. … It’s not fun having bullets going all over the place.”

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) died at the age of 68 on Oct. 17. He will be remembered for his many powerful and poignant speeches. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

On The Hill

THE LEGACY OF ELIJAH CUMMINGS: "Elijah E. Cummings, a Democratic congressman from Maryland who gained national attention for his principled stands on politically charged issues in the House, his calming effect on anti-police riots in Baltimore, and his forceful opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump, died Oct. 17 at a hospice center in Baltimore. He was 68," our colleague Jenna Portnoy writes

PK chronicles Cummings incredible rise: "His parents were sharecroppers in South Carolina, toiling on the same land where their ancestors had served as slaves. In the 1940s, they moved to Baltimore and raised seven children, sending young Elijah to special-education classes because he struggled in elementary school," our colleague Paul Kane writes. "About 60 years later — after becoming an honors student at Howard University, serving 14 years in the Maryland General Assembly, winning a special election in 1996 to the U.S. House — Cummings could scare the president of the United States."

  • On why Cummings didn't run for the Senate: "Maryland had never elected a black senator, and Cummings had a good sense of his chances to win," Paul writes. "But he sometimes responded to inquiries by asking whether someone knew the average life expectancy of a black man in America. It was about 69 years old, the age Cummings would have turned in January."

More from his former colleagues:  

  • “He would always just calm the waters,” Pelosi recalled.
  • “I can’t tell you how many friends would call me and be in fear because they got a letter from Cummings. But he was a man of fairness,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said during tributes on the House floor.
  • From former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) who tussled with Cummings over the House's Benghazi investigation: 

A view from Maryland: Power Up asked Erin Cox, who covers Maryland state politics for The Post, what she'll remember most. "Congressman Cummings had a scar above his eye, left there from a bottle thrown at him when he was a child trying to integrate a Baltimore public pool," she writes. "It always struck me that Maryland’s most beloved politician was physically marked by its ugliness, and he dedicated his life to figuring out how to make the state better for children who came behind him."

  • And from Baltimore specifically: "As this city has endured a litany of political and police corruption scandals in recent years, Cummings distinguished himself as the rare local leader whom many residents felt they could still trust," our colleague Paul Schwartzman writes. "During crises, he had the capacity to express the city’s anguish with eloquence and passion, his presence a measure of reassurance to many who worried that chaos was overwhelming Baltimore."

The Investigations

SONDLAND TESTIFIES ALL ROADS LEAD TO RUDY: “During nearly nine hours of testimony, [E.U. Ambassador Gordon] Sondland said he reluctantly indulged what he described as the president’s efforts to run Ukraine policy through his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani,” Politico's Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney report. “He indicated that he opposed Trump’s orders to reach out to Giuliani, who was pushing the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rivals.”

  • The knives are also starting to come out: “I would not, on my dime, send a private attorney looking for some server in a foreign country,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close Trump ally, told Politico, adding that “the question a lot of us are trying to grapple with” is whether Giuliani’s actions were appropriate.


MATTIS GOES THERE: Former Defense Secretary James Mattis let loose on Trump at the Al Smith dinner last night. “I earned my spurs on the battlefield ... and Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor,” Mattis joked. More from The Asssociated Press's Tim McElroy here.


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