Originally Published in the POLITICO Playbook Newsletter on 9/6/2023
Playbook: An Obama vet’s message on Biden bedwetting
JUST POSTED — Vice President KAMALA HARRIS tells AP’s Chris Megerian those who attempted to overturn the 2020 election should be held accountable, including DONALD TRUMP.
“Let the evidence, the facts, take it where it may,” she said in Jakarta, where she is attending the annual ASEAN conference: “I spent the majority of my career as a prosecutor. I believe that people should be held accountable under the law. And when they break the law, there should be accountability.”
ALSO ABROAD — “KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State ANTHONY BLINKEN arrived in Kyiv on an unannounced visit Wednesday, hours after Russia launched its first missile attack in a week against the Ukrainian capital.”
MAN IN THE MITTEN — “Former GOP Rep. Mike Rogers jumps into Michigan Senate race,” by Ally Mutnick: “His decision to enter the race gives GOP leaders a credible candidate in a state where they had been struggling to secure a strong recruit.” Watch the launch video
MESSINA TO DEMS: CHILL OUT — Every day, it seems, there’s new fodder for Democrats looking to freak out about President JOE BIDEN’s reelection prospects: Sagging public views of the economy. Persistent voter concerns about Biden’s age. And erosion in the president’s standing among key minority groups, to name a few.
The man who put the last Democratic president back into the White House — JIM MESSINA, manager of BARACK OBAMA’s 2012 reelect — is back with a reassuring message for his fellow Dems, delivered in a new 22-slide presentation exclusively obtained by Playbook: Relax.
We caught up with Messina last night, and he made it clear he doesn’t see the election through rose-colored glasses. Multiple times he pointed out that (1) no matter who the Republican is, it’ll be a close election and (2) the most likely GOP nominee, DONALD TRUMP, has a strong base and can absolutely win.
But the deck makes a compelling, data-driven case that the sky isn’t falling just yet — with one major caveat, which we’ll get to in a moment.
“I thought it was important to say to my friends and clients and other people, let’s just take a step back and try to be really number-specific and really sort of who has what cards in their poker hand,” Messina told Playbook. “And you would just rather be Joe Biden than Donald Trump.”
“Historically, we’re fucking bedwetters,” he added. “We grew up in the ’80s and ’90s when Republicans won elections all the time. Democrats had their hearts deeply broken when HILLARY [CLINTON] lost and people didn’t see that coming. And so, you know, we continually believe every bad thing people say.”
THE KEY POINTS from the deck, titled “Off to the Races,” and our chat with Messina:
— The economic fundamentals are strong. The “misery index,” a bellwether economic measure that combines unemployment and inflation, is now lower than it was ahead of RONALD REAGAN, BILL CLINTON and Obama’s successful reelections. Messina also gives credit to Biden and team for consistently selling “Bidenomics” to voters, even as voter views remain stuck — likening it to the challenges Obama faced in 2012 as the economy slowly emerged from the Great Recession: “People thought we were crazy to go as early as we did with economic messaging.”
— Abortion is a major X factor. Democrats have long played defense on so-called culture war issues, but after the Dobbs ruling, Messina said, Democrats have an issue to rally voters around unlike anything he’s seen in modern politics. And its staying power, he added, is only buoyed by a Republican primary where a national abortion ban is continuingly put forward as a litmus test.
— The election is a choice, not a wish. Pressed on the dismal voter views of Biden, Messina said he is confident the qualms will wash away as the horse race takes shape. “It’s a choice between two parties, two ideologies, between two people,” he said. “And that choice matters. … People didn’t see the Democratic turnout in 2022 coming.” And while Messina assumes it’s a Biden-Trump rematch, he argues that even another GOP nominee can be painted as extreme and Trump-y.
AND THE BIG CAVEAT is whether that choice gets muddied: Messina is joining many other Democrats and some anti-Trump Republicans in fingering third-party candidates as a underappreciated threat to Biden.
“I don’t care what they do. I don’t care how much money they spend. I don’t care who their nominee is. They’re going to get zero electoral votes. The question is who do they take the votes from?” Messina said. “You just can’t split away votes if you want to beat Donald Trump. And I just cannot overstate how crucial it is to make sure that we don’t create a vehicle that takes enough votes up to elect Donald Trump.”
FUN ONE — “We Asked the 2024 Candidates About the Songs They Love Most,” POLITICO Magazine: “We even made their playlists available on Spotify, so you can download the one you like best.”
ABOUT LAST NIGHT — Former Biden White House official GABE AMO won the Democratic congressional primary in Rhode Island’s 1st District, all but ensuring he’ll be the first person of color to represent the state in D.C. In national terms, it was a win for the Biden/establishment wing of the party (happily trumpeted by RON KLAIN), as Amo triumphed in a crowded field over progressive frontrunner AARON REGUNBERG, state Sen. SANDRA CANO and Lt. Gov. SABINA MATOS. More from The Providence Journal … Results
— Across the country, the GOP congressional primary in Utah’s 2nd District looks headed for a photo finish between CELESTE MALOY at 38% and BECKY EDWARDS at 36%, with 80% of the votes tallied. Maloy, a former staffer for departing Rep. CHRIS STEWART, earned his endorsement, while Edwards supported Biden in 2020 and would grow the House GOP’s thin ranks of moderates. Latest from The Salt Lake Tribune … Results
BACK IN THE SADDLE — Returning to the Senate amid of flurry of health questions prompted by his recent on-camera lapses, MITCH McCONNELL moved yesterday to quickly shut down any speculation about whether he’s fit to continue serving as Republican leader, Burgess Everett and Ursula Perano report — releasing a new testimonial from the Capitol physician, hosting a meeting of his top leadership deputies and delivering floor remarks where he made only glancing reference to his health woes.
“It reflected a pointed effort to project business as usual during a crucial 12-hour period for McConnell, 81, who faces lingering questions both inside and outside the Capitol about his health and his grip over a fractious 49-member conference,” they write. “He’ll face a tougher crowd Wednesday, when the entire Senate GOP gathers for its first meeting since July.“
While none of McConnell’s critics inside the Senate GOP appear ready to mount an effort to oust him, his efforts to project a unified front were punctured by none other than his fellow Kentuckian, Sen. RAND PAUL, who said McConnell needs to “be more forthcoming with what’s going on.”
“In particular, Paul scoffed at a letter released last week from Capitol physician BRIAN MONAHAN which suggested that McConnell may have frozen up because he was lightheaded or dehydrated. ‘I don’t think it’s been particularly helpful to have the Senate doctor describe it as dehydration — which I think even non-physicians seeing that, probably aren’t really accepting that explanation,’ said Paul, an ophthalmologist. ‘What’s occurring from what I’ve seen, it’s a neurological event.’”
WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY — Just 16 of the 50 biggest donors who supported Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS in his reelection bid last year have contributed to his presidential super PAC Never Back Down — a significant obstacle for DeSantis, according to a new analysis from Alex Isenstadt and Jessica Piper. Another eight have given limited donations directly to his campaign. Among those who have stayed away: BRUCE RAUNER, WALTER BUCKLEY and CHRIS REYES.
STAFFING UP — The Biden reelect is ramping up with new additions, Holly Otterbein scoops this morning: AMMAR MOUSSA as director of rapid response, MARÍA CAROLINA “MACA” CASADO as director of Hispanic media, GRACE LANDRIEU as policy director and CARLA FRANK as director of the national advisory board and surrogate operations. The DNC is adding SARAFINA CHITIKA as national press secretary and MARCO FRIERI as Hispanic media director to replace Moussa and Casado.
NEW ON THE TEAM — DON BOLDUC, who fell short as the controversial GOP Senate nominee in New Hampshire last year, will be Haley’s campaign chair in the Granite State. More from the Deseret News
AND HE KNOWS FROM PRESIDENTIAL DISASTER VISITS — “Chris Christie accuses DeSantis of ‘playing politics’ during Biden’s Florida visit,” on Fox News’ “The Brian Kilmeade Show”
DEPT. OF HEADLINES YOU DON’T WANT — “‘Good To Be On’: Ramaswamy Appears on Anti-Semitic YouTuber’s Podcast,” by The Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman
NO SURPRISE — Alabama said it would appeal yesterday’s ruling ordering a new congressional map to the Supreme Court, per AL.com.
BATTLE FOR THE HOUSE — “Democrats launching $20 million voter registration drive amid race for House control,” by NBC’s Ben Kamisar: “It’ll target young, Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander and Native American voters.”
BATTLE FOR THE SENATE — In Tennessee, Democratic state Rep. GLORIA JOHNSON — who became a national cause celebre when statehouse Republicans almost booted her from the chamber — made official yesterday her campaign to challenge Sen. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-Tenn.), the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Allie Feinberg reports.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — The Republican Governors Association-affiliated outfit Kentucky Values is launching a new 30-second ad hammering Kentucky Gov. ANDY BESHEAR over gender transition-related medical care for kids. Going up on TV and digital, the spot accuses: “Andy Beshear is lying about sex change surgery for kids.” Watch it here
BIG READ — “How American Democracy Fell So Far Behind,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in the Atlantic: “The country’s Constitution was once the standard-bearer for the world. Today, many other countries have much fairer systems for electing their leaders and passing laws.”
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESIDENTIAL HEALTH UPDATE — Biden tested negative for the coronavirus again yesterday, per the White House, though he’s masking indoors, ABC reports.
Related read: “To mask or not to mask? Biden goes both ways after first lady tests positive for COVID-19,” by AP’s Colleen Long
POTUS ABROAD — “Biden didn’t protest or fight in Vietnam. Now he’s making a crucial visit,” by WaPo’s Matt Viser: “The trip will not be complicated by the personal history that many Americans of his generation have with the region. … Yet the visit could cement a remarkable shift in U.S.-Vietnam relations, from bitter enmity during America’s most polarizing war to a pivotal alliance.”
THE DAILY TUBERVILLE — Fresh off a WaPo op-ed, Air Force Secretary FRANK KENDALL, Navy Secretary CARLOS DEL TORO and Army Secretary CHRISTINE WORMUTH sat down with CNN’s Jake Tapper to excoriate Sen. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-Ala.) for his mass holds on military nominations. Kendall said Tuberville was helping America’s enemies, and that China was taunting the U.S. over the blockade.
Said Del Toro: “He’s playing Russian roulette with the very lives of our service members. … I would have never imagined that actually one of our own senators would actually be aiding and abetting Communist and other autocratic regimes around the world.”
The pressure campaign ain’t working on Tuberville, though: He told NBC’s Sahil Kapur that their op-ed didn’t change his mind, that “I’m stronger now than I was,” and that Republican leaders aren’t pressuring him to end it.
MOTION TO VACATE WATCH — @RepMattGaetz: “We’ve got to seize the initiative. That means forcing votes on impeachment. And if @SpeakerMcCarthy stands in our way, he may not have the job long.”
INCOMING — “Vance to introduce measure preventing federal officials from imposing mask mandates in schools, on airplanes,” by Fox News’ Kyle Morris … Speaking on Fox News’ “Hannity” last night, Vance said he plans to bring the proposal to the Senate floor this week and “force the Democrats to vote on it,” likely via a unanimous consent request.
JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH
DON’T DO THE CRIME — “Enrique Tarrio, Proud Boys leader on Jan. 6, sentenced to 22 years for seditious conspiracy,” by Kyle Cheney: “The sentence, the lengthiest among hundreds arising from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, is a reflection of prosecutors’ evidence that the Proud Boys, helmed by [ENRIQUE] TARRIO, played the most pivotal role in stoking the violent breach of police lines and the Capitol itself.
“‘Mr. Tarrio was the ultimate leader of that conspiracy. Mr. Tarrio was the ultimate leader, the ultimate person who organized, who was motivated by revolutionary zeal,’ U.S. District Court Judge TIMOTHY KELLY said as he handed down Tarrio’s sentence. ‘That conspiracy ended up with about 200 men amped up for battle encircling the Capitol.’”
JACK SMITH’S NOT DONE YET — Though the special counsel has already indicted Trump on 2020 election subversion-related charges, his investigation is continuing: CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Paula Reid scooped new details that indicate more people could yet face charges. In particular, prosecutors have been talking to multiple witnesses recently about
SIDNEY POWELL and “how money raised off baseless claims of voter fraud was used to fund attempts to breach voting equipment in several states.”
In court, meanwhile, Smith’s team warned that Trump’s refusal to stop talking about his case publicly “threaten[s] to prejudice the jury pool,” CNN’s Tierney Sneed reports. The comment came as part of a legal fight yesterday over how quickly filings in the case should be made public.
In Georgia: All 19 defendants in the Fulton County case have now pleaded not guilty, obviating the need for arraignments originally set to take place today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Tamar Hallerman reports. MARK MEADOWS and JOHN EASTMAN filed their pleas yesterday.
In New York: AG TISH JAMES yesterday asked a court to sanction the Trumps and their legal representation $20,000 for “frivolous and sanctionable” motions in her civil case against them, including repeatedly rejected arguments, Axios’ Jacob Knutson reports.
TRUTH SOCIAL LIVES TO SEE ANOTHER DAY — “Trump media company set to save $300 million after investors approve Tuesday extension,” by the Washington Examiner’s Rachel Schilke
CONTEMPT CONTRETEMPS — “Peter Navarro heads to trial with gutted defense and mounting bills,” by WaPo’s Paul Duggan
SHROUDED IN SECRECY — “Appeals court reverses part of ruling on DOJ access to Perry’s phone,” by Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone
LINA KHAN’S BIG MOVE — The FTC is heading for a major antitrust lawsuit against Amazon later this month, WSJ’s Dana Mattioli scooped, after what’s known as a “last-rites meeting” yielded no breakthrough.
TURNING THE IRA INTO REALITY — “The $53,000 Connection: The High Cost of High-Speed Internet for Everyone,” by WSJ’s Ryan Tracy: “Officials doling out billions of dollars for broadband in rural America are struggling to decide when a new hookup costs too much.”
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
BORDER SONG — “Texas ‘Floating Border Wall’ Fails to Deter Migrants,” by WSJ’s Santiago Pérez and Michelle Hackman: “More asylum seekers are wading across the shallow waters of the Rio Grande and skirting the 1,000-foot-long chain of buoys.”
REALITY BITES — “OAN and Chanel Rion Settle Lawsuit Over Their Bonkers Claims About a Dominion Exec,” by The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona
Ken Paxton pleaded not guilty in his impeachment trial and won’t have to testify.
John Fetterman wore an unusual Bob Casey homage.
NEW NOMINEES — The White House announced Biden will nominate Jack Lew as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. A former Treasury secretary, White House chief of staff and OMB director, Lew has most recently been at Lindsay Goldberg LLC and Columbia University. … Biden will also nominate David Huitema as director of the Office of Government Ethics, Christopher Fonzone as assistant AG of the Office of Legal Counsel and Erik Woodhouse as head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination.
MEDIA MOVES — John Lansing will retire from his role as CEO of NPR at year’s end, per NPR’s David Folkenflik. … Daniella Cheslow is now a deputy technology editor at POLITICO. She previously was a D.C. audio reporter at the WSJ. … The Allbritton Journalism Institute is adding Tara Golshan as a senior editor and Byron Tau as a reporter. Golshan previously was a senior editor at Vanity Fair. Tau previously was a reporter at the WSJ, and is a POLITICO alum.
TRANSITIONS — Christopher Huntley has landed at the Human Rights Campaign as their new Vice President of Executive Communications. He’s formerly a speechwriter for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign and most recently at Blue State. … Niall Brennan is now senior adviser to the CDC director. He most recently was chief analytics and privacy officer at Clarify Health Solutions and is a CMS alum. … Kristina Sesek is now senior director/counsel at SAP America. She most recently was legislative director/chief counsel to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). …
… Justine Liebenson is now adviser for strategic engagement at the Office of Legislative Affairs at DHS. She previously was director of strategic engagement for Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) … Maxwell Nunes is now an EVP and head of paid digital at SKDK. He most recently co-led his advertising and digital media firm, Steamship Media, and is a Pete Buttigieg alum. … Michael Harinstein is joining Think Big Media as a managing director of public affairs. He previously was chief marketing officer for Marathon Strategies. … Jamie Fly is now a senior counselor to the CEO at Palantir Technologies. He most recently was president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
ENGAGED — Reid Nickle, partner at fundraising firm 814 Consulting, recently proposed to Victoria Callahan, senior analyst at SILC, on Chapin Beach in Cape Cod, Mass. They met celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Dupont Circle. Pic
— Francisco Garcia, legal assistant at Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick, and Kaitlin McNiffe, legislative assistant for Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), got engaged Friday in Carolina Beach, N.C. They met in undergrad at UNC Chapel Hill. Pic … Another pic
WEDDINGS — Christian Datoc, White House correspondent at the Washington Examiner, and Cailyn Kreitz, senior system analyst at Covington & Burling, got married Saturday at the Tidewater Inn in Easton, Md. They met on Bumble in 2017. Pic … Another pic
— Abigail Marone, comms director for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and Joe Jackson, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), got married in Jackson, Wyo., over the weekend in a small ceremony with their families. Pic … Another pic
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Abby Kohlman, chief of staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs at DOJ, and Troy Zieman, senior development associate at GW Real Estate Partners, on Saturday welcomed Palmer Gibbons Zieman, who joins big sister Eliza and big brother Tee. Pic … Another pic
— Jon Conradi, a managing director for public affairs at Plus Communications and FP1 Strategies, and Kelsey Conradi, senior director for government relations for Samsung, welcomed George Timothy Conradi on Sunday. Pic … Another pic
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. Bill Keating (D-Mass.), Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) … former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie … Carly Fiorina … Brittany Bramell Punaro … Ryan Mahoney … Lizzie Ulmer … Peter Barnes … Dan Ronayne … Jana Barresi of Lowe’s … Elizabeth Vargas … Bloomberg’s Jason Schechter … POLITICO’s Krystal Campos and Jack Larsen … AgencyIQ’s Kari Oakes … NYT’s Paul Volpe … Meredith McPhillips … NAW’s Liz Shrum … CNN’s Tala Alrajjal … Camilo Vilaseca … Fox News’ Gillian Turner … Clyde Prestowitz of the Economic Strategy Institute … Brian Abrams … WaPo’s Brianna Tucker … NPR’s Claire Harbage … former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter … Jessica Goldstein … former Reps. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), John Kline (R-Minn.) and Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) ... Kevin Rieg ... Scott McCrary … Douglass Daniel … John Hagner … Howard Zucker … Rokk Solutions’ Eva Miller … Kathy Grannis Allen … Joshua Baca