In this podcast episode, Hannah talks with political journalist, Kate Andersen Brower about her career and her latest book, Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump.
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HANNAH DEMISSIE: Welcome to the “Women on the Run,” where we talk to different women in politics about their careers, the highs and the lows, and the unforgettable moments that occurred in between. I’m your host Hannah Demissie.
HANNAH DEMISSIE: Today we will be talking with political journalist Kate Andersen Brower about her latest career and her latest book, Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the age of Trump.
HANNAH DEMISSIE: Thank you so much for talking with me, this really means a lot especially since you’re one of my favorite authors, I love love your books and I guess I wanted to start with your early years, like regarding your education and did you always want to be a journalist and writer?
KATE ANDERSEN BROWER: Thank you that’s very kind of you to say. I always wanted to be a journalist I went to Barnard so I was in school in New York and then I went to Oxford and I got my American history master’s in Oxford which people, when I would come through customs, would always make fun of me and say why are you here studying American history in England, but it was about the relationship, I did my thesis on the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 80s. And I always was interested in journalism and you know when holding powerful people accountable and I’ve always loved asking questions and so I started my first job out of school was working the overnight shift from Midnight to 10 in the morning at CBS in New York and I remember when I didn’t know that that was a job that they had hired me for it’s called a broadcast associate and they still have them there called BAs at CBS and I was so excited to get this job and I asked my boss when I should show up and she was like um midnight is good and I my mouth just drop, I couldn’t believe it and it was working for the morning so so it made sense but I was handing out you know stuffing people’s mailboxes at 2 in the morning, it was at one of the mailboxes for Andy Cohen, who is you know the Bravo star and that and it’s cool because I just did his radio show a couple days ago, he’s really into politics which you would never think. So, and then after that I moved to DC and I got a job at Fox News, but I was a producer, so I was booking guest and this was back in 2005, 2004 before things have gotten quite as divided as they are now. And then I went to Bloomberg which is really was a great place because it’s very smart and it just taught me how to write more clearly and think more clearly I think so I left that job and started, I had this idea to write a book about I had this idea to write a book about the White House residence staff, so the maids and butlers and the people of the White House and I came up with that idea because I noticed it this lunch with Michelle Obama she had invited a bunch of female reporters and I was one of them and this butler was coming in and out of the room in the White House and I had no idea that they even existed because you don’t really get to see that side of the White House it was really amazing to see her relationship with this African American older gentleman wearing a you know a tuxedo. So, then I started calling staff and I had never written a book before, my husband new application in DC and I had coffee with him and he’s great and I just gave him, I said this is my idea and he’s like go ahead and write a proposal and let’s see what happens and it worked out but it just as easily could not of worked out but it was just is my favorite book to write because I got the interview so many interesting people.
HANNAH DEMISSIE: And that kind of tunneled into you making kind of like this book series surrounding the White House, the presidency, your newest book Team of Five just came out which I really loved especially, I feel like it came out at such a pivotal moment because the book is so focused on the relationships of the current president and former presidents and you start out your book with you meeting to interview Donald Trump, were there stuff that occurred in that meeting that didn’t make it into the book?
KATE ANDERSEN BROWER: That’s a good question, no, there were off the record stuff that he showed me, there was a letter from Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that he showed me, I did read some of what Kim Jong-un wrote in his note to Donald Trump because I could kind of glance at the English translation and I didn’t put that in the book, because you know Trump, the president said you can’t include this but it was really funny because when he took out this, he said it was a top-secret letter, he meant to show it obviously, that he has this relationship with the North Korean leader and I said to Sarah Sanders who was the press secretary at the time, I said can I take a photo of this, I need to take a photo, and she was like no, you cannot take a photo, she took the letter away from me basically. I mean that was kind of, I struggled with how to write that in the book and whether or not to include what I had read from Kim Jong-un, but you know you really, when something is off the record, you really can’t include it, so.
HANNAH DEMISSIE: For me, your book came out I’d like the most I feel like in such a perfect timing cause what were in right now is kind of unprecedented, not only dealing with this Black Lives Matter movement taking such turn but also with a pandemic which we have not seen on this scale in over a 100 years, since the Spanish flu and it feels like it would be now Trump would rely on former presidents, now more than ever especially particularly Obama cause the black lives matter movement took shape during his presidency and he did deal with Ebola, H1N1, and the Zika virus, what do you think the former presidents are thinking right now because a lot of them have had to step because Trump is not uniting the American people in ways that they have in similar situations in the past?
KATE ANDERSEN BROWER: Yeah, I mean that’s is a very astute question, I think that you know, I wrote a an op-ed for the New York Times before my book came out about how Trump contempt for the former presidents is dividing us and how the former presidents have no official role. You know their only job is there, to sort of give us is there is their moral authority especially combined when they’re all together, Democrat and Republican, there’s something really powerful and we saw that after hurricane Harvey, during that fundraiser, the tsunami in Asia, we see that again and again and the fact they can’t do that and that Trump won’t ask them to do that, is a problem and from my reporting recently it looks like you know they all do want to get together and do a fundraiser or something like that but for pandemic relief, and I’m sure you know Barack Obama can do so much with the Black Lives Matter movement and like you said that happens that started while he was president so that would make sense for Trump talk to Obama about it, but they can’t because they feel like their hands are tied, they feel like if they do something it only helps to motivate Trump’s base, and so you know. I think Bush and Obama especially, cause Clinton got all the bad blood with Hillary and it’s just more complicated and Carter is very old and not doing that well, I think Bush and Obama especially could be a really powerful duo and I think they just are incredibly frustrated that they can’t because Trump is kind of, he’s just changed the presidency and upended the norm so much of respect and empathy that you know anything that the former presidents did now would be would be eclipsed, I mean it would become a whole story about the former presidents uniting against Donald Trump and that’s not what they want.
HANNAH DEMISSIE: I guess like before we end off, one last question I had was regarding your future plans, do you have any other place to write another book, would it still be centered around the presidency and the White House?
KATE ANDERSEN BROWER: I do you have another book that I’m going to start working on soon and it is actually, it’s about a celebrity who of a famous woman who passed away about a decade ago but I haven’t signed the contract yet so I don’t want to jinx’s it, but it’s not about, she did a lot of good work and so it’s about an inspirational woman. I feel like writing about politics right now, I will continue to do it, I’m a CNN contributor, I love politics and studying it obviously but I just want to take a break from it right now because it’s so divisive and I have a children’s books for 8 to 12 year old’s coming out in December so that’s really fun and it’s about the resident staff and first lady and their contributions, so that was great to do, because I think history, it’s so great that, that it’s so important that you like it as much as you do and I wish more people read about it and were kind of interested in the past and including the president but it would be good if he read more about history too.
HANNAH DEMISSIE: Do you think you’ll ever maybe down like a few years from now, when Trump is really out of the public eye, might write a book about his presidency just cause any time I’m thinking about someone writing about not just 2020 alone, but the Trump presidency it seems so overwhelming and daunting because there’s so many factors and variables to take into consideration.
KATE ANDERSEN BROWER: Absolutely I would love to write a book about the resident staff and what they’ve see because I know them, I know some of them. I would love to talk to them when Trump is out of office because then they can just say what they saw and now they’re all afraid of being fired so they don’t really talk much and I don’t want to get anyone fired. So it’s just, yeah that would be the angle I would take, I’m sure there will be a ton of other books about it I think that you have to kind of carve out your lane and try to stick there and do what you do well, and kind of stick with that if you can.
HANNAH DEMISSIE: Well thank you so much for being with me, I appreciate it so much, is there anything else you want to add before we end it here.
KATE ANDERSEN BROWER: No, I just, wish you the best of luck you ask such a wonderful question that were as good as any questions I’ve been asked by anyone at CNN or MSNBC, you’re very good at this so thank you for having me.
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HANNAH DEMISSIE: Thanks for listening to today’s epsiode, to stay up to date on the podcast, follow us on Instagram at women on the run to find out who our next guest will be.
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Kate Andersen Brower – Kate is a journalist and New York Times Best-Selling Author. She is a CNN contributor and covered the Obama administration for Bloomberg News. Kate has previously worked at CBS News and Fox News, she has written for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Washington Post.