THE READOUT — Here’s the most important development that came from President JOE BIDEN’s five hours of meetings with 23 legislators in the Oval Office on Wednesday, according to a senior White House official: “Moderates agreed that they need to coalesce around an offer to the liberals.”
It might not sound like much. But given how dug in both sides have been, the White House views the commitment from the Manch-ema wing as “a real breakthrough.”
In a trio of meetings Biden first hosted Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER and Speaker NANCY PELOSI, then he brought in a bicameral group of centrist Democrats, and finally he gathered key progressives from both chambers. They snacked on individually wrapped cookies with the presidential seal. The president was loquacious, according to one senator present: “It’s Biden, so you know Joe does a fair amount of talking.” The last session ended just after 7 p.m.
The second meeting produced the most news. It started with the president pressing his 11 guests — including JOE MANCHIN, KYRSTEN SINEMA, STEPHANIE MURPHY and JOSH GOTTHEIMER — to give him a specific top-line number for the reconciliation bill. They all refused and instead argued Dems should nail down an agreed-upon list of revenue raisers that would determine the top line. Murphy came to the meeting with a 10-plus-page spreadsheet of ways to fund the bill.
Biden fished again for a top line. “Give me a number, and tell me what you can live with and what you can’t,” Manchin later quoted the president saying. But no luck.
“The president really wanted a top line and was clearly getting frustrated,” said a source briefed on the meeting. “He was very frustrated that they couldn’t announce a number today.” The source added that his boss’s “biggest takeaway” was that Biden acknowledged the top-line number would be less than $3.5 trillion.
WHAT THEY TALKED ABOUT: Almost every policy area in the bill was discussed, according to Sen. JON TESTER (D-Mont.), including housing, taxes, child care, health care and climate.
There was no breakthrough on climate. “I have big problems” with the climate provisions, Manchin said afterward. “Probably [the president] and I are in a different place on that.”
On the big health care standoff between Pelosi, who wants to shore up the Affordable Care Act, and BERNIE SANDERS, who wants to expand Medicare benefits, the centrists made it clear they were on team Pelosi. “They stressed to the president, ‘We’re behind the speaker in this instance,’” said the source. “There was enough in that room to kill Bernie Sanders’ idea.”
Finally, they also asked the president not to rush the reconciliation process and to use his influence in the House to pass BIF.
BIDEN’S ASSIGNMENT: The president sent them on their way with what, from the White House’s perspective, was the most important action item: Come up with a set of principles or framework for reconciliation that will persuade progressives to back down from their threat to kill BIF in the House on Monday. “The goal is to try to get a framework before the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package,” Tester said after he left the White House.
In the final meeting — which included Reps. BARBARA LEE and PRAMILA JAYAPAL as well as Sanders and Sen. RON WYDEN — Biden faced a united front of progressives pleading with him to use his influence to delay the Monday vote.
“It’s weird if you are supposedly for a bill to insist on killing it,” one person in the room told Playbook. “The iron law of legislating is that if you have the votes you take the vote, and if you don’t have the votes you delay the vote. That was done on BIF multiple times at the request of the moderate negotiators. It’s quite standard. It is NOT standard to insist on a vote when you know it will fail. Weird to call yourself a pragmatist and then kill the bill you say you want to pass by not giving negotiators more time.”
How did Biden respond to the requests for delay? “I hear ya,” the president told the progressives, according to Wyden. “I know a lot of you think that’s an arbitrary date. Let me think about it, and I’ll talk to Sen. Schumer and the speaker.”
Several Democratic lawmakers told us that any request to moderates to delay the vote would have to come from the president, not Pelosi.
LOOKING AHEAD: In the near term we see three possible scenarios, based on our conversations with numerous people in the Biden meetings Wednesday:
1) Centrists make a reconciliation counteroffer that’s robust enough to convince progressives to vote for the infrastructure bill early next week.
2) The offer from centrists comes up short, but Biden steps in and convinces the Gottheimer gang to agree to a vote delay until there’s a reconciliation deal.
3) The offer from centrists comes up short, the infrastructure vote goes forward, and progressives follow through on their promise to kill the bill. (Or we find out they were bluffing.)
Good Thursday morning, and thanks for reading Playbook. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff chose Beck’s “E-Pro” over Salt-N-Pepa’s “Whatta Man” and Cali Swag District’s “Teach Me How to Dougie” for his campaign walk-on song. Drop us a line and tell us what you would have picked: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.
JOIN US — The killing of 20-year-old Army soldier VANESSA GUILLEN, who had told family she was being sexually harassed by several soldiers prior to her disappearance at Fort Hood last year, has galvanized calls to change how the military deals with sexual assault and harassment. Sens. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-N.Y.) and JONI ERNST (R-Iowa), a veteran and a sexual assault survivor, have long pushed Congress to act on the issue. Their efforts are gaining steam but still face opposition. Join Rachael today at 1 p.m. for a Women Rule virtual joint interview with Ernst and Gillibrand to discuss the state of their proposed legislation and what it will take to curb sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military. Register here
— 9:30 a.m.: The president and VP KAMALA HARRIS will receive the President’s Daily Brief.
— 12 p.m.: Biden will receive his weekly economic briefing.
— 12:30 p.m.: Biden and Harris will have lunch together in the private dining room.
— 11:15 a.m.: Harris will meet with Ghanaian President NANA ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office.
— 3:15 p.m.: Harris will meet with Indian PM NARENDRA MODI in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office.
Press secretary JEN PSAKI will brief at noon.
THE HOUSE will meet at 10 a.m. Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m. House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY will hold his at 11:30 a.m.
THE SENATE is in.
THE WHITE HOUSE
THE LOOMING CLIFF — Biden isn’t panicking about the prospect of defaulting on the nation’s debt, Chris Cadelago reports. The White House is instead letting Hill Democratic leaders take the lead on raising the debt ceiling, setting up calls between Republicans and Treasury, and coordinating outside pressure on the GOP to fold. “Inside the White House and among allies, there’s an overarching belief that there is still time to resolve the matter and that Americans care far less about the process of raising the debt ceiling than whether it gets done.”
PICKING UP WHERE TRUMP LEFT OFF — The deportations of Haitian migrants “are a stark example of how Mr. Biden — who declared on Feb. 2 that his goal was to ‘undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration’ — is deploying some of the most aggressive approaches to immigration put in place by [DONALD] TRUMP over the past four years,” NYT’s Michael Shear, Natalie Kitroeff, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Eileen Sullivan report.
“Having failed in his attempts to build a more ‘humane’ set of immigration laws, Mr. Biden has reacted in a way that few of his supporters expected. In case after case, he has shown a willingness to use tough measures, even as he struggles to confront a challenge that has vexed presidents for decades: securing the borders while living up to U.S. humanitarian obligations to migrants fleeing economic hardship, political instability and violence.”
ALSO: “Charges of racism swirl as Haitian Americans, allies unite to protest Biden’s border crisis,” by WaPo’s Tim Craig, Sean Sullivan, Silvia Foster-Frau and Abigail Hauslohner
FILLING THE SWAMP
The WSJ recently reported that LANNY DAVIS and former Rep. BOB LIVINGSTON (R-La.), two men famously at odds over the BILL CLINTON impeachment in the 1990s, have teamed up as foreign agents representing KHALIFA HAFTAR, a “Russian-backed warlord vying for power in Libya.” The Journal added that “[h]uman-rights organizations and international prosecutors have accused Mr. Haftar’s forces of war crimes” and that the “lobbying campaign is an effort by Mr. Haftar to regain some of the influence he has lost since the collapse last year of his 14-month long offensive against the country’s internationally-recognized government in Tripoli.”
Davis, who has a long history of representing controversial foreign clients, sent Playbook the following statement about his latest: “Our lobbying mission, as summarized in our FARA filing, is limited to expressing Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s support of free and fair, UN-supervised elections on December 24 – to facilitate a peaceful, stable, unified, democratic Libya, under the rule of law, with human rights accorded to all men and women.
“We were told by the Field Marshal’s senior advisor that the Field Marshal categorically denies all allegations about him in the unproven Virginia complaint filed in court some time ago and that he is confident he will prove these allegations to be false and without basis in fact.”
The lobbying duo insisted that they would not have taken on the $160,000-per-month account absent that categorical denial. Furthermore, their message to Washington is that the warlord — sorry, field marshal — “has consistently opposed radical Islamic extremists in Libya and elsewhere, including ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
HEADS EXPLODING — An anti-abortion group is spending six figures on an ad campaign thanking Manchin for opposing changes to the filibuster — “a move sure to make filibuster reform advocates’ heads explode.” So write Daniel Lippman and Anthony Adragna for POLITICO’s Congress Minutes, a cool new platform to keep you up to date throughout the day on key goings-on on the Hill. Check it out here and follow @politicongress on Twitter.
— Sen. SUSAN COLLINS (R-Maine) said she won’t back the Democrats’ abortion rights bill — Congress’ response to the six-week abortion ban in Texas, LAT’s Jennifer Haberkorn reports. The House is likely to pass the bill Friday, but it faces certain defeat in the Senate if it reaches a vote.
CONSIDER IT A WARNING — JOHN PODESTA, former chief of staff for Clinton and longtime political insider, said Democrats need to dial back the price tag of their $3.5 trillion budget proposal, NYT’s Jim Tankersley reports: “If they do not, he warned, they risk failure to pass the legislation — and the loss of their congressional majorities next year.”
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — A group of progressive and grassroots organizations is sending a letter to Congress today urging members of the House to vote no on the BIF without the reconciliation bill. “Passing just that small bill alone wouldn’t be a compromise; it would be a capitulation,” the letter says. “We strongly support the position of the Congressional Progressive Caucus that two bills must pass together, as a critical step on the journey toward tackling the climate crisis and furthering racial and economic justice. We urge progressives to hold strong. We will have your back.” The letter is signed by 90 organizations, including MoveOn, Indivisible, Greenpeace, the Sunrise Movement, the Working Families Party, People’s Action, Center for Popular Democracy and the Green New Deal Network. The letter
‘IT’S TIME … TO PAY ATTENTION’ — As redistricting battles heat up around the country, the AP’s Cacia Coronado and Nick Riccardi zero in on Texas as a case study of the push by Latino advocates to grow their numbers in Congress. The message: “Latinos accounted for slightly more than half of all U.S. population growth in the last decade, and it’s time for the political system to pay attention.”
CAMPAIGNING IN THE TIME OF COVID — In the tightening Virginia governor’s race, Democrat TERRY MCAULIFFE is stepping up his attacks on Republican GLENN YOUNGKIN for not supporting pandemic-related mandates, Zach Montellaro reports this morning. The escalation comes on the heels of California Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM’s victory in the recall election, in which he made vaccine mandates a centerpiece of his campaign.
GETTING HIS HEAD IN THE GAME — Despite facing one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country, West Virginia Gov. JIM JUSTICE has his sights set on coaching the boys’ varsity basketball team at Greenbrier East High School. There’s just one problem: The school board voted not to hire him, NYT’s Campbell Robertson reports. “The issue is not whether Mr. Justice, a Democrat turned Republican in office, would be good at the boys’ coaching job, but whether it is something he should really be focusing on right now.”
Bernie Sanders’ famous Inauguration Day outfit “is the inspiration behind a racy Halloween costume sold by Dolls Kill, an online store primarily known for Gen Z’s beloved ‘e-girl fashion,’” according to Page Six.
Ritchie Torres — not AOC — is New York’s “true superstar progressive,” opines conservative NYT columnist Bret Stephens.
Karen Bass, the Democratic congresswoman and short-lister for VP last year, is “seriously considering” running for L.A. mayor.
Mitt Romney loves Jon Tester so much that he’s ready to run his 2024 campaign.
Cindy McCain will serve as a guest host on ABC’s “The View” — as the show searches for a successor to her daughter Meghan.
Jonathan Chait has a problem with Jonathan Franzen.
SPOTTED at the Former Members of Congress’ annual Statesmanship Awards on Wednesday night at D.C.’s Potomac View Terrace: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), Billy Long (R-Mo.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Blanche Lincoln, Joe Donnelly, Charlie Dent, Donna Edwards, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, John Faso, Elizabeth Esty, Dennis Ross, Belgian Ambassador Jean-Arthur Régibeau and Jo Ann Jenkins.
SPOTTED at the online premiere of “Not Going Quietly,” a documentary on Ady Barkan’s activism, on Wednesday night: Barkan and Rachael King, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Martin Sheen, Richard Schiff, Marlee Matlin, Mary McCormack, Dulé Hill, Joshua Malina, Bradley Whitford, Amy Landecker, Patton Oswalt, Rosario Dawson, Steve Kerr and Christine Pelosi.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Samantha Keitt is joining Left Hook as a VP of public affairs. She previously was director of public affairs at SKDK.
MEDIA MOVE — Natalie Allison is joining POLITICO as the new Senate campaigns reporter. She currently covers state politics at the Tennessean.
STAFFING UP — Saule Omarova is expected to be nominated as comptroller of the currency, per Victoria Guida. She’s a Cornell Law professor who’s criticized financial institutions’ power and, if confirmed, would oversee the country’s banks.
— The Biden administration is tapping Kerry Doyle as ICE’s principal legal adviser, per the Washington Free Beacon.
— The White House announced several new nominations: Michael Adler as U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Erik Ramanathan as U.S. ambassador to Sweden, Calvin Smyre as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Mary Lu Jordan as commissioner of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, Susan Harthill as commissioner of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, Joseph DeCarolis as administrator of the Energy Information Administration, Maria Robinson as assistant Energy secretary in the Office of Electricity, and Christopher Frey as assistant EPA administrator for the Office and Research and Development.
TRANSITIONS — Mary Ellen Callahan is now deputy COS for DHS Deputy Secretary John Tien. She most recently was assistant general counsel for the Walt Disney Company and is an Obama DHS alum. … Valerie Chicola is now senior comms adviser for Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.). She previously was broadcast comms adviser for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. …
… Jesse Poon is now assistant director of government relations at Brown University. He previously was a principal at Lewis-Burke Associates, and is a David Cicilline campaign alum. … Ben Rosner is launching Anabasis Partners, an international marketing and comms consultancy, as partner and head of the U.S. He previously was head of strategy and crisis comms for the Israel Defense Forces.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Joshua Karp, a Democratic comms strategist and founding partner at Hone Strategies, and Dorian Karp, director of policy and advocacy at Jewish Women International, welcomed Rory Shoshana Karp on Tuesday. She came in at 7 lbs, 2 oz, and joins big sister Ellie. Pic … Another pic
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. Al Lawson (D-Fla.) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) … Kristen Silverberg … Elise Jordan … Todd Ricketts … Helen Tolar of Mehlman Castagnetti … Nick Everhart of Content Creative Media and Medium Buying … NYT’s Mike Schmidt … Richard Viguerie … POLITICO’s Bernie Becker, Sam Sabin, Emily Martin and Brandon Winrow … Sean Spicer (5-0) … Corey Tellez of Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) office … PwC’s Todd Metcalf … Tom Martin of the American Forest Foundation … Abbey Watson … Darryl Nirenberg of Steptoe … Ralph Hellmann (6-0) … CNN’s Greg Wallace … David Harris of the American Jewish Committee … Kyle Wiley of CRW Consulting … Saunji Fyffe … Karen Czarnecki of the Mercatus Center at George Mason … Serenety Hanley of 43 Alumni for America … NBC’s Julia Ainsley … former Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) … Siraj Hashmi … Brooke Brogan … CBS’ Anne Hsu … SoRelle Wyckoff Gaynor … Gabriella Schwarz … Julius Niyonsaba … Ryan Shucard … Loretta Solon Greene … Matt Hirsch … Katrina Mendiola … Dale Leibach … Nicole Mata of Rep. Ro Khanna’s (D-Calif.) office … Ana Marie Cox … Kelly Sackley … Amanda Cox
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