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Obama's Right: Belgium Really Does Need a Politico

Alex Wong/Getty Images

In 2009, when I was a bright-green congressional reporter for TPM, and Josh Marshall and David Kurtz told me I’d be covering the health care reform debate full time, it felt like trial by fire. In hindsight, it was the opportunity of a lifetime, but one of the things that made it such a daunting assignment was having to compete with Politico every day.

Not, as you might imagine, because Politico trivialized the story, or reduced it to gossip and palace intrigue. To the contrary, it was because their coverage was vast, comprehensive, and uniformly excellent. And much of the credit for that goes to Carrie Budoff Brown, who led, or helped lead, the team of reporters Politico assigned to the story. Brown is tireless, and her mastery of the policy and the tortured legislative process made her stories touchstones for the dozens of other reporters covering the debate.

I mention this because Brown, now stationed at the White House, is the reporter Obama teased at his year-end press conference Friday, regarding the news that she’ll be moving to Brussels to help launch a European Union Politico next year.

"I think there's no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico.”

The briefing room convulsed in laughter because, to many reporters, Politico has come to represent a kind of narrow narcissism that’s unrivaled in the international news realm, and because Obama has never really pretended to respect the often petty obsessions that play out in its pages.

But he directed the joke at the wrong reporter. The truth is that E.U. politics, like American politics, are also byzantine and really could use the kind of saturation coverage Politico specializes in—especially of the quality Politico brought to the fight over the Affordable Care Act. That Politico sees an opening here reflects an awareness on the part of its editors that the difficulties unfolding within the monetary union, and the complexity of E.U. politics more broadly, are extremely consequential stories—far more consequential than America’s peculiar resistance to letting everyone in the country see a doctor. And the fact that Carrie Budoff Brown will be helming their efforts suggests they’re approaching the endeavor with real seriousness.

Like everyone watching in the briefing room—or in my case, on the White House's live feed—I thought Obama’s crack was pretty hilarious. But I also think he hit on an unintended truth.