by Philip Wegmann
The president loves baseball, and has said the earliest memories he has are of the sport: a glove under his pillow the night before his first game and a too-big Little League jersey that hung past his knees. Given a chance to pick between an inning on the mound in the majors or the vice presidency, a much younger Joe Biden wouldn’t hesitate.
“I would have pitched!” the then-vice president told a crowd gathered for the final game of the 2009 Little League World Series, before following through with his trademark addendum, “By the way, I’m not kidding.”
Biden’s whimsical yearning was a variation on an old anecdote told by Dwight Eisenhower, and the crowd laughed appreciatively. He told them how he started at shortstop in elementary school but was playing centerfield by high school. The lesson he learned along the way, Biden said that day in Williamsport, Pa., is that “we owe our best to whoever is watching.” Here, Biden was paraphrasing Joe DiMaggio, as he acknowledged, adding that he hoped “I have done that in my career.”
Almost a dozen years later, Biden is in the Oval Office. Mixing sports with politics, however, may have led to a few errors in his still-new presidency.
It included an ESPN interview; he said he would “strongly support” pulling the All-Star Game out of Atlanta to protest new voter laws in Georgia. It ended with an extended rundown, caught between angry fans and legislators. The White House now insists, contrary to fact, that Biden never weighed in on where the “Midsummer Classic” should or should not be played.
Like most Democrats, Biden opposes the new voting law, which requires a photo ID to cast a ballot, sets limits on absentee voting, and reduces the number of ballot drop boxes. But the president erred when he said during his first press conference that the law “ends voting early” at 5 p.m. (it actually extends early voting hours and keeps Georgia’s 7 p.m. Election Day voting hours intact). He called it “un-American.” The Washington Post fact-checker gave his claim “four Pinocchios.” The error has not been acknowledged, let alone corrected, and corporations have started making business decisions in response to public pressure on the issue.
Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and Home Depot oppose the law. Outside of Georgia, Apple, JPMorgan, and United Airlines issued similar statements. This kind of posturing isn’t unusual and usually only spooks the local chamber of commerce when a company actually decides to act instead of issue press releases. Late last week, Biden was asked about “the possibility that baseball decides to move their All-Star Game out of Atlanta because of this political issue” by ESPN’s Sage Steele.
“I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly. I would strongly support them doing that. People look to them, they’re leaders,” Biden replied.
The exchange was almost Trumpian. No, Biden didn’t shout. But he went beyond politics. He talked about sports and politics, almost like a talking head — and exactly like his press secretary promised he never would act. When reporters pressed Jen Psaki earlier this year on the impeachment trial of former President Trump, she demurred, saying Biden wouldn’t comment because “he is not a pundit.”
The answer about the All-Star Game, however, has opened the president up to a host of related topics. Now that he’s weighed in on baseball in light of the Georgia voting law, for instance, will he do the same regarding the U.S. participating in the Beijing Olympics given the anti-democratic tendencies of the Xi regime?
RealClearPolitics put that question to Psaki on Friday, and while the press secretary punted, saying that the U.S. Olympic Committee would play a “big role,” she insisted that the president “did not” weigh in on baseball.
“I don’t know if you heard the answer, the question and the answer that happened a few minutes ago where we addressed this, and I answered the question. And I give a little more context, but maybe you weren’t paying attention to that part,” Psaki replied.
Another reporter had asked earlier in the briefing if Biden believed businesses should consider pulling out of Texas as that state considers a bill similar to Georgia’s new law.
“Well, first, he didn’t call for businesses to boycott. Businesses have made that decision themselves, of course. He also was not dictating that Major League Baseball move their game out of Georgia. He was conveying that if that was a decision that was made, that he would certainly support that,” Psaki said.
But the president had weighed in on the question, and less than an hour after the briefing wrapped, MLB announced that there would be no All-Star Game in Atlanta.
Georgia Gov. Kemp laid the decision at the feet of Biden, saying that it was “the direct result of repeated lies from Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams about a bill that expands access to the ballot box and ensures the integrity of our elections.”
Abrams, a Democratic activist and former gubernatorial candidate who led the opposition to the law, released her own statement praising the league and its players “for speaking out.” At the same time though, she added that she was “disappointed” that the MLB is relocating the game due to its economic impact. She wasn’t the only Democrat to do so.
Newly elected Sen. Jon Ossoff broke with Biden, telling National Review, “I absolutely oppose and reject any notion of boycotting Georgia. Georgia welcomes business, investment, jobs, opportunity, and events.” The solution, he said, was to “stop any financial support to Georgia’s Republican Party, which is abusing its power to make it harder for Americans to vote.”
Republicans reacted at the national level by condemning the move, and South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan even announced he was drafting legislation to strip MLB of its federal antitrust exemption. And while that is a doomed effort so long as Democrats control the House, it was indicative of a shift on the normally corporate-friendly right.
The Georgia House of Representatives threatened to pull Delta’s tax cuts on jet fuel, the Texas GOP is reportedly mulling a similar response to corporate criticism, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threw a brush-back pitch at the business community. He argued in a statement that corporations were acting like a “woke alternative government” with their boycotts.
If that continued, McConnell warned, their actions would “invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from the constitutional order.” At a moment when Republicans are fighting to keep the White House and Democrats in Congress from increasing the corporate tax rate, McConnell likened the threatened boycotts to “economic blackmail.”
Psaki responded to that statement Monday by saying, “We’ve not asked corporations to take specific actions. That’s not our focus here.” And without going into details Tuesday, she declined to comment on MLB moving the All-Star Game to Colorado even though that state has laws similar to Georgia’s, other than to say “the Georgia legislation is built on a lie. There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election.”
The White House has not backed down from Biden’s false claim that the Georgia law limits voting hours. But the president appeared to moderate his tone and acknowledge the economic harm that boycotts cause to local communities.
When asked about a different sport in the same state, the president demurred. And if he was a cheerleader who was “very supportive” of MLB’s decision to can the Georgia All-Star Game, he was more libertarian this week when it came to golf.
Should the Masters tournament relocate? “I think that is up to the Masters,” Biden said after remarks about the pandemic in the State Dining room at the White House. Talking sports this time, he was more cerebral, weighing the pros and cons of boycotts.
“Look, you know, it is reassuring to see that for-profit operations and businesses are speaking up about how these new Jim Crow laws are just antithetical to who we are,” he said. “The other side to it too is: When they, in fact, move out of Georgia, the people who need the help the most — people who are making hourly wages — sometimes get hurt the most.
“I think it’s a very tough decision for a corporation to make or a group to make, but I respect it when they make that judgment, and I support whatever judgment they make,” he started to conclude, before adding that “the best way to deal with this is for Georgia and other states to smarten up. Stop it. Stop it. It’s about getting people to vote.”
Before Biden spoke to reporters, State Department spokesman Ned Price announced that the U.S. is considering a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in 2022. The president had previously said that his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, didn’t have “a Democratic bone in his body,” and Price told reporters that a boycott “is something that we certainly wish to discuss.”
State then appeared to quickly flip-flop. A senior department official, speaking anonymously, told CNBC in that “our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners.”
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Philip Wegmann is a reporter at RealClearPolitics.