I didn’t quite know what to expect when Eric Holder came to the Monitor Breakfast on Feb. 7. Sure, I had seen him on TV during his six years as President Obama’s attorney general. But I had never met Mr. Holder in person. How would he feel about facing a room packed with reporters – 35, including me, the host – bursting with questions about the Mueller investigation, “memo wars, ” criminal justice reform, race, and gerrymandering?
Oh, and one more: Will Holder run for president in 2020?
More on that in a moment.
It was gerrymandering – the drawing of oddly shaped legislative districts to favor one group or party – that brought Holder to the Monitor Breakfast as we kicked off its 53rd year. He’s chairman of a new group that is working to elect Democrats to state legislatures and governor’s offices in key states this November. Holder’s good friend Mr. Obama is helping out, as Democrats look ahead to the next round of redistricting in 2021.
Holder was relaxed and personable as he took the hot seat. When the hour ended, he turned to me and said, “That was fun. Why didn’t I do this when I was attorney general?”
Maybe that’s why he stayed an extra 20 minutes, talking to reporters individually and in little scrums. I’m glad he did, because his comments made more news. For example: Did special counsel Robert Mueller have enough evidence to bring an obstruction case against President Trump – even just a technical one? “I think so,” Holder said, quickly adding that “if you’re a prosecutor, you make sure that you are building the best case,” not just a “technical case.” The Politico reporter standing next to me soon filed a story.
My story focused on redistricting, gerrymandering, and the deeper issue of partisan polarization. My colleague Peter Grier also filed, examining the raging “memo wars” in the House Intelligence Committee.
But the instant headline out of the breakfast was Holder’s answer to my question: Are you thinking of running for office? “I’ll see,” he responded, adding that he will decide by year’s end. “President?” another reporter chimed in. “We’ll see,” Holder said. At this early stage, most people thinking of running for president insist they love their current job and couldn’t possibly consider doing anything else. But Holder actually answered the question.
Our next guest, on Feb. 14, will be Rep. Adam Schiff (D) of California, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. Looking ahead, we have invitations out to prominent Republicans. We have hosted several in recent months – from a senior Trump White House official, to a major GOP committee chair, to a cabinet secretary. Mr. Trump, for the record, is welcome anytime.
As the new host of the Monitor Breakfast, I’m looking forward to sharing the experience with you through notes like these. I’ve attended many breakfasts in my 30 years in Washington, and learned a lot from watching my predecessors at the table – David Cook, who just embarked on a well-deserved retirement, and the late Godfrey “Budge” Sperling Jr. , who invented the Washington power breakfast back in 1966. I owe them a debt of gratitude. As this breakfast concluded, I shared Holder’s reaction: That was fun.