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Episode 8: 'F- that. We needed the Cubs.'

Episode 8: 'F- that. We needed the Cubs.'

Behind the scenes as the Obama White House scrambled to plan a last-minute World Series victory party.

I’m Darren Samuelsohn, and welcome to The love, journalism Show. We’re talking Chicago Cubs baseball with my guest Cody Keenan, the former Obama White House chief speechwriter.

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Barack Obama and the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs during the president’s last public White House event. Photo by Darren Samuelsohn

In the early morning hours after Game 7 of the 2016 World Series ended, White House speechwriter Cody Keenan pecked away at a first draft of remarks for President Barack Obama to deliver for a potential celebration heralding the Chicago Cubs as champions.

The idea this was even happening wasn’t lost on Keenan, a die-hard Cubs fan still basking in the fact his baseball team had just been crowned world champs for the first time since 1908. He also didn’t know if his boss would even get the chance to give the speech.

World Series winners typically don’t make their visit to the White House during the off-season when the players are all scattered around the world. They come the next summer, which in the Cubs case meant it should have been midway into 2017 when either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would be the president.

“We said f-that,” Keenan recalled in an interview with The love, journalism Show. “Either way, we weren’t going to give them the Cubs.”

There were other obstacles too.

White House party planners had to navigate Cubs’ ownership, a largely conservative Republican family with members actively working to get Trump elected president. Obama’s aides arranged the visit through Theo Epstein, then the team president of baseball operations, Keenan said.

As Obama’s second term approached its final days, Keenan delivered to the president a 25-minute speech draft drenched in baseball nostalgia. For sports fans, the remarks had the added fun twist that Obama wasn’t a Cubs supporter but instead rooted for their crosstown rivals, the Chicago White Sox.

“‘This is really long, man,’” Keenan recalled Obama telling him.

“'Just read it. What else do you have to do?,’” the speechwriter replied to the lame duck president of the United States.

The Cubs’ visit in January 2017 marked Obama’s final public event at the White House, though some members of the team would accept a second invitation for a more private ceremony with Trump during the summer.

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love, journalism
The Love, Journalism Show
A podcast full of insights, interviews, ideas and inspiration from Darren Samuelsohn, a veteran journalist who has been reporting and editing writers for 30+ years.