September 17, 2021

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POLITICO Playbook: Democrats spar over Biden’s next mega-proposal – Politico

17 min read

For the past three months, EUGENE (along with video producers Krystal Campos and Michael Cadenhead) has been interviewing five freshmen from the most diverse Congress in history for Red, Fresh & Blue, POLITICO’s video interview series that introduces first-term lawmakers from both parties and looks at what makes them tick. Every day this week in Playbook, we’ll highlight one of those lawmakers. Keep scrolling for the first feature, about the first Black Republican elected to the House from Florida …

FAMILY FIGHT — With President JOE BIDEN set to unveil his trillion-dollar-plus “American Families Plan” before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, he’s under intense pressure from Democratic constituencies who want their priorities included — and, even better, highlighted in the speech.

The biggest fight in the run-up to the address is over health care. There are two critical issues for the White House: 1) whether to include a longtime Democratic promise to allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices, which would save nearly $500 billion over 10 years, and 2) what to do with those savings.

Some Democrats, led by Washington Rep. PRAMILA JAYAPAL and Vermont independent Sen. BERNIE SANDERS, want to plow the money into expanding Medicare. Others, led by Speaker NANCY PELOSI, want to use it to shore up the Affordable Care Act.

The prescription drug policy itself will face the wrath of the pharmaceutical industry, and Medicare expansion will come under attack by the health insurance lobby. So how this gets resolved partly depends on how many battles the White House wants to fight at once.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK I: Rep. JOE NEGUSE, a rising star in the House Democratic conference from Colorado, and over 20 House Democrats are sending a letter today to Biden and VP KAMALA HARRIS asking the White House to include these three Medicare-related provisions: allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices; expand Medicare by lowering the eligibility age to 60; and add Medicare benefits such as dental, vision and hearing.

The four members who organized the letter include two progressives — Neguse and Jayapal — and two centrists, CONOR LAMB (Pa.) and JARED GOLDEN (Maine), who is in one of the most competitive House seats. The coalition signals that going beyond the ACA may have broad support in the House Democratic conference.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK II: By all accounts, the American Families Plan will include paid family and medical leave. But progressive groups are not taking any chances.

Paid Leave for All, a consortium of advocates that includes Family Values @ Work, Main Street Alliance, MomsRising, the National Partnership for Women & Families, Paid Leave for All Action and PL+US, will announce today that it’s spending $6 million on a media and organizing campaign “ahead of President Biden’s American Jobs and Families Plan address, doubling down on its commitment to passing a permanent, national paid family and medical leave policy.”

Biden will reportedly call for a $225 billion paid leave plan, which is less than half the size of some Democratic proposals, so these groups feel like they need to keep the pressure on.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK III: The 100-day retrospectives are starting to roll in. We got a first look at Jonathan Chait’s “100 Days That Reshaped America: Learning from Joe Biden’s quiet, seismic young presidency,” which just went live at N.Y. Mag.

Chait sees Biden’s success so far as the result of his avoidance of intense partisan conflict, which means “Republicans can’t stop Biden because he is boring them to death.”

More: “Biden’s strategy of boringness is a fascinating counterpoint to a career spent trying desperately to be interesting. Biden used to overshare, with frequently disastrous results that led him to accurately self-diagnose as a ‘gaffe machine.’ Whether his advanced age has slowed him down or made him wiser, he has finally given up his attention-seeking impulse and embraced the opposite objective. Biden’s success is a product of the crucial yet little-appreciated insight that substantive advances don’t require massive public fights. The drama of inspiration and conflict is not only unnecessary to promote change but even, in certain circumstances, outright counterproductive.”

The key insight here is that talking too much about his agenda, aside from its most blandly popular pillars — Covid and recession bad! Infrastructure and jobs good! — only serves to polarize debate around the issues and provoke a more ferocious backlash from the right. Better to say nothing and ram stuff through Congress in enormous bills than to speak every day making a detailed case for each agenda item.

This dynamic used to frustrate BARACK OBAMA, who gave good speeches and believed he could move voters by aggressively making a moral case for his policies. At one point during the immigration reform debate of 2013, Senate Democrats begged Obama not to discuss the issue in a high-profile speech in Las Vegas because they knew it would damage delicate negotiations with Republicans.

Obama “was not happy, to put it mildly,” Sen. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) told Ryan at the time. Biden needs no such warning.

The enormous downside to the death of the bully pulpit and the rejection of inspiration as a presidential tool is that it doesn’t just apply to rallying ideological opponents to support your policies. It applies to other crucial presidential goals as well — like, say, convincing hesitant Americans to get vaccinated.

RELATED — “‘Help is here’: 100 days of the Biden doctrine,” by NBC’s Jonathan Allen

Good Monday morning. It’s a big week for Biden! Thanks for reading Playbook, where we promise never to bully anyone from our daily pulpit.* Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

BACK TO ‘RED, FRESH & BLUE’ — First up in our video series this week is Rep. BYRON DONALDS, representing Florida’s 19th District. One of two Black Republicans in the lower chamber, Donalds went from being an apolitical registered Democrat to a Trump-supporting rising star in the GOP. Eugene and Donalds talked about systemic racism (the congressman doesn’t think it exists), Covid-19 (he doesn’t wear a mask) and the 2020 election (he says Biden was duly elected).

In a fascinating sitdown in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Donalds took issue with the idea that African American members of the GOP turn a blind eye to centuries of discrimination: “One of the misconceptions of Black Republicans, I think, is that we try to ignore history and just look at what’s going on today. That’s not true.”

JOIN US — Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure and climate plan includes boosting investment in clean energy and significantly cutting fossil fuel emissions. Energy Secretary JENNIFER GRANHOLM will join TARA today at 11 a.m. to discuss Granholm’s plans to embrace renewable energy, electric vehicles and new wind and solar technologies as part of Biden’s call for an energy transition. Register to watch live here

BIDEN’S MONDAY — The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m.

— Harris will host Guatemalan President ALEJANDRO GIAMMATTEI for a virtual bilateral meeting at 4 p.m.

— Press secretary JEN PSAKI will brief at noon with NEC Director BRIAN DEESE.

THE SENATE will meet at 3 p.m. to take up JASON SCOTT MILLER’S nomination for deputy OMB director for management, with a vote to invoke cloture at 5:30 p.m.

THE HOUSE is out this week, but HOUSE REPUBLICANS are in Orlando, Fla., for their annual retreat. The day’s lineup includes breakout sessions on how to work with the media, led by former White House press secretaries ARI FLEISCHER and SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, as well as an update on the effort to retake the House by NRCC Chair TOM EMMER (Minn.). They’ll also have sessions on health care, security and energy and keynote addresses from RNC Chair RONNA MCDANIEL and conservative commentator BEN SHAPIRO.

As our Mel Zanona writes from the Sunshine State, the goal is to focus the party on policies that unify the conference rather than divisive issues that lead to infighting. The one big name not present? You guessed it: DONALD TRUMP.

THE WEEK AHEAD — Biden will make remarks on the Covid-19 response Tuesday. He’ll deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. On Thursday, the president and first lady JILL BIDEN will mark his 100th day in office in Atlanta, where the president will participate in a drive-in car rally.

CONGRESS

WALLACE PRESSES MCCARTHY ON TRUMP WITNESS TAMPERING — Fox News host Chris Wallace had a spicy interview with KEVIN MCCARTHY on Sunday, pressing him repeatedly to confirm Rep. JAIME HERRERA BEUTLER’S (R-Wash.) account of his heated phone call with Trump on Jan. 6. McCarthy twice dodged Wallace’s questions without denying JHB’s statement, but Wallace also asked him an interesting question we hadn’t ever thought of: if Trump had ever called him and yelled at him not to discuss the call. That, Wallace said, would be “witness tampering” given the ongoing probes of Jan. 6. McCarthy said it has never happened.

The Daily Beast has the full clip. And WaPo has a story about McCarthy defending Trump’s Jan. 6 response.

SPEAKING OF MCCARTHY … NYT’s MARK LEIBOVICH has a McCarthy story with a Bakersfield, Calif., dateline, going deep on the minority leader’s decision to stick with Trump after Jan. 6. McCarthy, who’s known for loving the social aspects of the job, admitted to friends that he went into a state of depression after the riot, according to the report.

“This is the first time I think I’ve ever been depressed in this job,” McCarthy told his ally Rep. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-N.C.) right after the siege. “Patrick, man, I’m down, I’m just really down.”

McCarthy is incredibly candid in the on-the-record interview. He openly discusses Trump’s fickle feelings about him, saying the former president “goes up and down with his anger.” “He’s mad at everybody one day. He’s mad at me one day,” he told Leibovich. McCarthy was also frank about his belief that he needs to keep Trump happy lest he undermine the entire party: “He could change the whole course of history. … This is the tightest tightrope anyone has to walk.”

KNOWING SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO — Burgess Everett goes right at it with his lede: “Everyone in politics studies Joe Manchin’s every utterance these days. They should also start tuning into the other senator from West Virginia.”

That’s because Capito is the face of the GOP’s counteroffer to Biden on infrastructure. So if you want to know how talks are really going, you need to pay attention to her.

More: “It’s a new gig for Capito, a heads-down senator suddenly tasked with simultaneously uniting conservative Republicans around negotiating with Biden and steering big-spending Democrats away from leaving the GOP in the dust.

“Capito said Manchin ‘is flashier than I am. And that’s fine for him. So I have to be what I am.’ She is a self-described ‘worker bee’ who would rather broker deals than join Senate leadership, even though she’s close to Senate GOP leader MITCH MCCONNELL. Her colleagues in both parties say she’s less talk and more action, an uncommon trait among many members of Congress these days.”

— Capito also isn’t afraid to chide her own GOP colleagues, as she did on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday when she called out Sen. RON JOHNSON (R-Wis.) for appearing to downplay the need for adults to get vaccinated. “Well, I definitely think that comments like that hurt. I believe that we should all have confidence, that we should — to not just protect ourselves, but our communities and our neighbors. We should get vaccinated.”

THE WHITE HOUSE

VEEP FILES — “Kamala Harris cements her place in Biden’s inner circle during a consequential week,” CNN: “Nearly 100 days into their tenure, Biden and Harris have worked to deepen their relationship, spending five hours or more together per day in meetings at the White House, according to aides. Both Biden and Harris shunned work travel in the early days to set an example during the pandemic — forcing them into closer proximity than their predecessors.”

— ON IMMIGRATION: “Harris does plan to travel to Central America in June, officials said, and will meet virtually with leaders from Guatemala this week. … While details of the trip are still being configured, a source familiar with discussions said she’s been urged to not only meet with government officials in the region, but to also engage with civil society organizations, anti-corruption organizations and women’s groups, shining a light on Afro-descendants and indigenous people.”

LOOKING AHEAD — “Harris to tell U.N. body it’s time to prep for next pandemic,” AP: “Vice President Kamala Harris will make the case before United Nations members on Monday that now is the time for global leaders to begin putting the serious work into how they will respond to the next global pandemic.”

PENDING NOMS — “Scoop: Biden close to naming ambassadors for EU and NATO,” Axios: “President Biden is leaning toward nominating MARK GITENSTEIN to be his ambassador to the European Union and JULIE SMITH as his envoy to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, people familiar with the matter tell Axios. Some Biden advisers want to have the EU and NATO ambassadors announced ahead of Biden’s first foreign trip as president, when he heads to the United Kingdom for the G-7 and then Brussels for a NATO summit in June.”

POLICY CORNER

SCOTUS IS ON SNAPCHAT NOW — “A cheerleader’s Snapchat rant leads to ‘momentous’ Supreme Court case on student speech,” by WaPo’s SCOTUS whisperer Robert Barnes: “The high school cheerleader relegated to the JV squad for another year responded with a fleeting fit of frustration: a photo of her upraised middle finger and another word that begins with F. ‘F— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything,’ 14-year-old BRANDI LEVY typed into Snapchat one spring Saturday.

“Like all ‘snaps’ posted to a Snapchat ‘story,’ this one sent to about 250 ‘friends,’ was to disappear within 24 hours, before everyone returned to Pennsylvania’s Mahanoy Area High School on Monday. Instead, an adolescent outburst and the adult reaction to it has arrived at the Supreme Court, where it could determine how the First Amendment’s protection of free speech applies to the off-campus activities of the nation’s 50 million public school students.”

FED UP — “The Fed’s Next Test Is Breaking the Ice Over Policy Shift,” WSJ: “As the economic recovery evolves from forecast to reality, the Federal Reserve will face a question that has vexed it in the past: how to signal its eventual tightening of the money spigot. The process of ending the Fed’s giant bond-buying program, and subsequently raising interest rates, will take years unless inflation unexpectedly surges.

“Its first step down that road will be to start talking about it in the coming months or weeks — Chairman JEROME POWELL’S next big test with financial markets. Officials will begin by debating how and when to scale back, or taper, the $120 billion-plus of Treasury and mortgage bonds the Fed has been buying each month since last June to hold down long-term borrowing costs.”

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

TURKEY HITS BACK AT BIDEN — “Turkey says it will respond in time to ‘outrageous’ U.S. genocide statement,” Reuters: “U.S. President Joe Biden’s declaration that massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide is ‘simply outrageous’ and Turkey will respond over coming months, Turkey’s presidential spokesman said on Sunday. ‘There will be a reaction of different forms and kinds and degrees in coming days and months,’ IBRAHIM KALIN, President [RECEP] TAYYIP ERDOGAN’S spokesman and adviser, told Reuters in an interview.”

WOW — “Iran’s Foreign Minister, in Leaked Tape, Says Revolutionary Guards Set Policies,” NYT: “In a leaked audiotape that offers a glimpse into the behind-the scenes power struggles of Iranian leaders, Foreign Minister Mohammad JAVAD ZARIF said the Revolutionary Guards Corps call the shots, overruling many government decisions and ignoring advice.

“In one extraordinary moment on the tape that surfaced Sunday, Mr. Zarif departed from the reverential official line on Maj. Gen. QASSIM SULEIMANI, the commander of the Guards’ elite Quds Force, the foreign-facing arm of Iran’s security apparatus, who was killed by the United States in January 2020. The general, Mr. Zarif said, undermined him at many steps, working with Russia to sabotage the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and adopting policies toward Syria’s long war that damaged Iran’s interests.”

POLITICS ROUNDUP

BLACK DEMS DIVIDED ON H.R. 1 — “Black Democrats, Conflicted on a Voting Rights Push, Fear It’s Too Late,” by NYT’s Astead Herndon: “In interviews, more than 20 Southern Democrats and civil rights activists described a party that has been slow to combat Republican gerrymandering and voting limits … But Black leaders are also facing some unexpected resistance from lawmakers who fear that the sweeping bill in Congress, known as the For the People Act, would endanger their own seats in predominantly Black districts.

“Republicans have often used the redistricting method to pack Black Democrats into one House district. The practice has diluted Democrats’ influence regionally, but it also ensures that each Southern state has at least one predominantly Black district, offering a guarantee of Black representation amid a sea of mostly white and conservative House districts …

“The doubts flared up last month when Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, a Democrat whose district includes Jackson … surprisingly voted ‘no’ on the House’s federal elections bill. Recently, other Congressional Black Caucus members have urged Democratic leadership to focus more narrowly on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act … rather than pushing for the sweeping provisions of the For the People Act, officially known as H.R. 1.”

EYEING THE GOV MANSION — “Joe Cunningham confirms plans to run for SC governor; announcement set for April 26,” Post and Courier: “Former U.S. Rep. JOE CUNNINGHAM confirmed to The Post and Courier that he will announce his 2022 campaign for governor of South Carolina on April 26.

“The move puts an end to months of speculation about whether the ambitious one-term congressman would enter the political arena again. Now, he’s challenging Republican Gov. HENRY MCMASTER in a bid to become the first Democrat in the South Carolina governor’s mansion since 1998.”

ON THE ROAD Florida Gov. RON DESANTIS keeps brushing aside talk of 2024 aspirations. But he’s starting to add out-of-state visits to his calendar. Pennsylvania news outlets reported late last week that the Republican governor is slated to speak to the Allegheny County Republican Party on May 20. Meanwhile, former Nevada A.G. ADAM LAXALT’S PAC — Morning in Nevada — announced that DeSantis will be a featured speaker at the 6th Annual Basque Fry on Aug. 14 in Nevada. Laxalt, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, has been good friends with DeSantis for years. (h/t Gary Fineout)

VAL’S MOVES — Last week, Democratic Rep. Val Demings told us she was seriously considering a statewide bid in Florida against Sen. Marco Rubio or DeSantis. Now we’re getting word she’s building a team for that by hiring a new adviser, Zack Carroll, who managed current DNC Chair Jaime Harrison’s 2020 South Carolina Senate campaign. (h/t Marc Caputo)

SHOT … “Befuddled Larry Kudlow Rails That Biden Will Force Americans To Guzzle ‘Plant-Based Beer,’” HuffPost

CHASER … @SenSchumer: “Excited to be watching the Oscars with an ice cold plant-based beer. Thanks Joe Biden.” (Pic included!)

THE OTHER WINNER IN LOUISIANA: Democrat Troy Carter won the special election runoff for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District on Saturday, fending off an opponent on his left. It was the first of what are sure to be many establishment vs. progressive battles this cycle, and it’s worth noting that Carter’s media firm was SKDKnickerbocker, which is close to the White House and is Anita Dunn’s former — and likely future — home. In an email to his colleagues obtained by Playbook, Doug Thornell, a partner at SKDK, celebrated the victory: “Huge win when you consider we were heavily outspent the last three weeks. First of many wins this cycle.”

SPOTTED: Trump golfing with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Sunday morning at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Fla. (h/t Daily Mail)

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Chuck Ross and Joe Simonson will be senior investigative reporters at The Washington Free Beacon. Ross most recently was a reporter at The Daily Caller News Foundation, and Simonson was a reporter at the Washington Examiner.

— TRUMP ALUMNI: Brian Morgenstern is now general counsel at Wentworth Management Services, a financial services firm based in Frisco, Texas, and a senior adviser at the America First Policy Institute. He most recently was deputy comms director and deputy press secretary for the Trump White House, and is a Treasury alum.

Brendan Daly is now VP of comms at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He most recently was chief comms officer for the Recording Industry Association of America and is a Nancy Pelosi alum.

TRANSITIONS — Emma Vaughn is rejoining the RNC as national press secretary. She most recently was comms director for Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.), was a 2020 spokeswoman for the GOP in Florida and is a Dave Joyce alum. … Dina Cappiello is now managing director of comms and marketing at Rocky Mountain Institute. She previously was EVP and editorial director at Edelman, and is an AP alum. …

… Lia Parada is joining the Immigration Hub as director of legislative advocacy. She previously was director of government affairs for the Center for American Progress. … Tala Goudarzi is now COO and director of outreach for Rod Dorilas’ Florida congressional campaign. They’re both Trump Commerce alumni — she was senior adviser to the chief of staff. … Charlie Townsend is now director of strategic engagement at KCE Public Affairs Associates. He previously was community, business and engagement manager at Famicos Foundation in Cleveland and is a Hillary Clinton and Sherrod Brown campaign alum.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Former first lady Melania Trump State Department’s Suzy George … AKPD Message and Media’s Larry GrisolanoLuke Frans (4-0) … FDA’s Karas Gross … NPR’s Domenico Montanaro and Ben Fishel … NYT’s Russell Goldman … Texas congressional candidate Sery Kim … Bloomberg’s Colin WilhelmJohn Leganski (3-0) … Emily Schultheis … U.S. News and World Report’s Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder Ebbie Yazdani … Rich Feuer Anderson’s Jared Sawyer … Prosek Partners’ William Szczecinski … WSJ’s Eliot Brown … WaPo’s Paulina Firozi Chris CurryNicole Elkon … Google’s Charlotte Smith Maggie Sherouse of the Herald Group … Morning Consult’s Vlad Gorshkov Jonathan Rauch … NBCUniversal’s Phil Tahtakran Ben Schwerin of Snapchat … Ginger Hervey Shana Teehan former Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) … former Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) … Meagan McCannaJoe PaolinoJon Batterman Jay Howser of GPS Media CNN’s Jessica SchneiderNick Penniman Jackson RichmanAlex Morgan of the Progressive Turnout Project … Kristi Stone Hamrick … former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey

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