January 24, 2022

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POLITICO Playbook: ‘It’s just completely delusional’ – Politico

13 min read

OVERNIGHT — At 4 a.m. this morning, the Senate adjourned for 2021, officially ending any hope of passing Build Back Better before the end of the year.

But in the rush to finish up before the holiday recess, the Senate finally broke the logjam and confirmed a tranche of President JOE BIDEN’s nominees, including 41 ambassadors (RAHM EMANUEL is now officially headed to Japan), nine district court judges and five members of the administration. Related: “Cruz secures vote on Russian pipeline sanctions in deal with Schumer,” by Andrew Desiderio

— NUMBER OF THE DAY: The Senate confirmed Biden’s 40th judge — the most of any first-year president since RONALD REAGAN, and far more than the 18 judges DONALD TRUMP was able to confirm in 2017. (h/t WaPo’s Seung Min Kim)

‘IT’S JUST COMPLETELY DELUSIONAL’ — The White House has been pretty clear in recent days: Federal student loan payments will resume Feb. 1 as Biden lifts the nearly two-year pandemic-era pause despite pressure from many in his own party to extend it.

Behind the scenes, that political reality has led the Biden administration to conduct Zoom meetings with allies in the student loan forgiveness space in an effort to make the resumption of loan repayments as smooth as possible.

But despite their no-drama intent, the confabs have not always been smooth sailing.

One such “tense meeting,” described by someone familiar with what happened in the conversation, happened Wednesday. Loan forgiveness advocates relayed to members of Biden’s domestic policy and economic teams that beyond the actual economic, legal and policy implications of lifting the loan repayment pause, the move was “bad politically.” They wanted “to sound the alarm to them about what we believe to be a very serious political mistake that they’re about to be making,” a second source familiar with the conversation told me.

Team Biden was not moved. Multiple sources familiar with what was said at the meeting described the administration’s message as effectively that borrowers had two years to prepare for this and knew the pause wouldn’t last forever.

Sources told me that one administration official in the meeting suggested that overall, the pandemic was trending in the right direction, and that resuming student loan payments is part of getting back to normal.

The White House also “pulled that kind of bullsh– of ‘the fundamentals of the economy are strong,’ which is devoid of reality,” the first source familiar with the conversation added. “Yeah, sure, the stock market may be better. Unemployment numbers are better — yes, absolutely. But in terms of real wages, in terms of how people are feeling in their pocketbook, it’s just completely delusional.”

In the eyes of debt forgiveness advocates, the ramifications of lifting the pause are dire. Not everyone is feeling the impact of a rebounding economy. Rising prices and now a new coronavirus variant are causing widespread unease. And going into an election cycle, a decision like this could affect turnout and enthusiasm — especially among younger voters, who are already unreliable midterm voters.

ARISHA HATCH, the VP of Color of Change, did not attend the meeting, but described the political outlook this way: “Our early research showed that people would be making political decisions based on that issue. When you combine it with an entire narrative about the difficulties that Democrats are having [in] pushing forward an economic agenda that actually offers relief to people, lots of folks were wondering: What is the narrative, what is the story, what is the push when you go back to the voters in this upcoming election cycle?”

Some of the debt forgiveness advocates left the meeting feeling like the White House doesn’t yet have a full plan in place. “It felt like the tail wagging the dog,” a third person familiar with the meeting put it. “Like someone at some point, some number of months ago said, ‘We can’t keep this thing paused forever.’ And so everybody went into execution mode, and nobody actually stopped to think about what they were doing. And now we’re here.”

The White House declined to comment on the record about the meeting, but administration officials again insisted that the loan repayment pause was always meant to be temporary, and pointed to actions the administration has already taken in this realm — including forgiving “$12.7 billion in student loan debt.”

One administration official told Playbook to expect announcements “in the coming weeks and months” on what resources will be available so that borrowers who have already been struggling through the pandemic can hop on the right payment plan, including deferment.

“The Department of Education is taking a number of steps to ensure that it’s not just some sort of cold turkey” situation, the official said. “We are trying to take every step possible to do right by the borrowers.”

As for the Department of Education’s review of whether Biden has the authority to unilaterally cancel at least $10,000 of student debt per borrower — which Biden campaigned on — administration officials tell me that conversations are still happening and no final determination has been made. An official did say that Biden is still ready to sign a $10,000 student loan forgiveness bill into law if Congress can pass it.

Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

KAMALA ON CHARLAMAGNE — On Friday night, VP KAMALA HARRIS joined “The God’s Honest Truth,” hosted by CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD, for a wide-ranging interview that touched on all sorts of policy issues (BBB, maternal health, lead pipes, etc.), but which will instead be remembered for a fiery exchange that erupted after Charlamagne asked multiple times whether Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.), not Biden, were the “real” president.

That question didn’t land well. Initially, a Harris aide seemed to attempt to cut the interview off — it had apparently already run over time — but the veep didn’t back down. Harris got Charlamagne all the way together (as my family would say), telling him off with a flash of anger before ticking off the administration’s accomplishments and plans.

Harris: “Come on, Charlamagne. Come on. It’s Joe Biden.”

Charlamagne: “I can’t tell sometimes.”

Harris: “No, no, no, no. It’s Joe Biden. It’s Joe Biden. And don’t start talking like a Republican … asking whether or not he’s president. And it’s Joe Biden. And I’m vice president, and my name is Kamala Harris. And the reality is because we are in office, we do the things like the child tax credit, which is going to reduce Black child poverty by 50%. … We do things that are about saying that our Department of Justice is going to do these investigations and require that we end chokeholds and have body cameras. It is the work of saying we’re going to get lead out of pipes and paint because our babies are suffering … It is the work of saying people who ride public transit deserve the same kind of dignity that anybody else does. … It is the work of saying that we have got to bring down prescription drug costs because folks who have diabetes should not be dying because they don’t have enough money in their pocket. It’s about saying Black maternal mortality is a real issue that must be treated by everybody — including the White House — as a serious issue. OK? So I hear the frustration, but let’s not deny the impact that we’ve had, and agree also that there is a whole lot more work to be done and it is not easy to do. But we will not give up and I will not give up.”

Charlamagne: “I just want you to know: That madam vice president, that Kamala Harris is the one I like. … That’s the one I’d like to see more often.” Full video here (fireworks start around 18:10)

BIDEN’S SATURDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule. (Though the president is spending at least the weekend in his favorite place: Delaware.)

HARRIS’ SATURDAY — The VP has nothing on her public schedule.

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p class=”cms-textAlign-center”>PHOTO OF THE DAY

9 THINGS WE READ THAT STUCK WITH US:

— Harris: “We didn’t see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn’t see Delta coming,” the VP told L.A. Times’ Noah Bierman. “We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.”

— Amazon’s strategy for thriving in China has led the company to partner “with an arm of China’s propaganda apparatus” to “further the ruling Communist Party’s global economic and political agenda,” Reuters’ Steve Stecklow and Jeffrey Dastin write in a special report drawing on internal documents and new interviews.

— Investigators with the Jan. 6 select committee believe that RICK PERRY was the author of a text message sent to then-White House chief of staff MARK MEADOWS urging the Trump campaign to push for the GOP-controlled legislatures in three states to overturn the results of the 2020 elections and grant their electors to losing candidate Trump. CNN’s Jake Tapper and Jamie Gangel report that “multiple people’” confirmed that “the phone number the committee has associated with that text message is Perry’s number.” Related: “‘Stop the Steal’ founder told Jan. 6 committee about contacts with GOP lawmakers,” by Kyle Cheney

— The Jan. 6 committee is “weighing whether to hire staff members who can analyze social media posts and examining the role foreign adversaries played in sowing divisions among Americans over the outcome of the presidential election,” report NYT’s Katie Benner and Luke Broadwater. “The new avenues of inquiry come as the committee, which currently has about 40 staff members, continues to subpoena testimony and documents.”

— Why is Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL suddenly legitimizing the Jan. 6 committee, especially after he effectively blocked a proposed bipartisan 9/11 Commission-style investigation? WaPo’s Aaron Blake digs in and finds no easy answers.

— Amid a surge of street crime, homelessness and drug overdose deaths that have provoked national outcry and media coverage, San Francisco Mayor LONDON BREED declared a “state of emergency” in the city’s troubled Tenderloin District. “More than 700 people died of a drug overdose last year — a city record,” report the Chronicle’s Mallory Moench and Rachel Swan. “This year is on track to be almost as deadly. Nearly a quarter of overdose deaths during those two years occurred in the Tenderloin.”

— “A Miami activist Gov. RON DESANTIS’ office handpicked to amplify his criticism of critical race theory has espoused views aligned with QAnon conspiracy theories and appears to support those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6,” reports Gary Fineout.

— Wesley Lowery and Clint Smith discuss the “battle happening about how we tell the story of this country” in a new interview for GQ. The piece is part of a series of interviews with “artists, activists, and agitators whose radical courage defined 2021.”

— As the Omicron variant spreads rapidly, booster shot efforts lag behind. “Of American adults who are fully vaccinated and eligible for a booster shot, only about 30 percent have received one,” report NYT’s Shawn Hubler and Amy Harmon, who note that “the lag is alarming because Omicron infections appear to evade regular one- or two-dose vaccinations.”

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 16 funnies

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“America Is Not Ready for Omicron,” by The Atlantic’s Ed Yong: “The new variant poses a far graver threat at the collective level than the individual one — the kind of test that the U.S. has repeatedly failed.”

“How the Taxi Workers Won,” by Molly Crabapple for The Nation: “The 45 days of fierce protest, shrewd organizing, and ferocious solidarity that ended the debt nightmare that had engulfed the taxi industry.”

“The Lost Diary of Anthony Bourdain,” by Alexander Darwin for Rolling Stone: “For years, the chef and TV star posted anonymously to a martial-arts forum on Reddit — but his voice was too singular to go undetected for long.”

“Jamie Raskin’s Year of Grief and Purpose,” by WaPo’s Caitlin Gibson: “A son’s suicide, an attack on the Capitol and a congressman’s renewed sense of mission.”

“How McDonald’s Made Enemies of Black Franchisees,” by Bloomberg’s Susan Berfield: “The company, once celebrated in Black entrepreneurial circles, is settling with Black owners who say they were blocked from the best and most profitable locations.”

“A QAnon con: How the viral Wayfair sex trafficking lie hurt real kids,” by WaPo’s Jessica Contrera: “An Internet mob wanted to rescue a 13-year-old girl. Instead, they terrified her, derailed real trafficking investigations and incited ‘save the children’ violence.”

“Living in Limbo,” by Bruce Mehlman: “Anticipating the top 2022 risks in politics and policy.”

“Obituary: Renay Mandel Corren,” by Andy Corren: “A plus-sized Jewish lady redneck died in El Paso on Saturday. Of itself hardly news, or good news if you’re the type that subscribes to the notion that anybody not named you dying in El Paso, Texas is good news. In which case have I got news for you: the bawdy, fertile, redheaded matriarch of a sprawling Jewish-Mexican-Redneck American family has kicked it.”

R.I.P. Tortilla Coast. The longtime hangout for Capitol Hill’s interns and 20-something staffers is closing. Barred in D.C. reports that today is the last day it is open to the public.

Sean Spicer posted an Instagram ad urging his followers to “roll over” their IRAs or 401(k)s into gold coins.

Pete Buttigieg will attend next month’s buzzy CES conference in Las Vegas.

The Jonas Brothers teamed up with the White House for a pro-vaccine video featuring Joe Biden himself and riffing on some TikTok trend we won’t pretend to understand.

Pentatonix recorded a pro-booster shot ditty at the White House.

Donald Trump’s website signal-boosted a post titled: “ICYMI: ‘Marjorie Taylor Greene Calls Mitch McConnell ‘Biden’s B*tch’ Over Debt Ceiling Vote.’”

Southwest Airlines revealed that CEO Gary Kelley tested positive for the coronavirus just one day after he testified maskless on Capitol Hill. In his testimony, he said that “masks don’t add much” on planes.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Raffi Freedman-Gurspan will be deputy director of public engagement at the Department of Transportation. She most recently was deputy state director of the All on the Line campaign of the National Redistricting Action Fund and is an Obama White House alum, where she was the first openly transgender White House staffer ever.

STAFFING UP — Justin Ramirez is now program manager for public engagement in the office of the secretary at the Transportation Department. He most recently was deputy chief of staff for Long Beach, Calif., Mayor Robert Garcia. … The White House announced Biden has nominated Paul Monteiro as director of the Community Relations Service at DOJ.

WHITE HOUSE ARRIVAL LOUNGE — David Nurnberg has returned to the White House to be associate director in the office of the social secretary. He most recently was a consultant for principal engagement at the DNC.

TRANSITION — Benjamin Rosenbaum is now a VP at Porter Group. He was previously deputy chief of staff and legislative director for Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.).

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Council of Economic Advisers Chair Cecilia Rouse … Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) … Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers … Matt SchlappJennifer Scoggins Hanks … WSJ’s Jeanne Cummings and Andrew RestucciaNick GealeRobb Watters of the Madison Group … POLITICO’s Ryan McCrimmon and Edward Klump … CNN’s Rachel Streitfeld, Ali Main and Lisa Respers France Liz Halloran of Cornerstone Public Affairs … NRCC’s Mike Thom Paul Windsor of Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-Iowa) office … Rich LuchettePhilip Bennett of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) office … Danielle MoonNaomi Lake of Rep. Rep. Chuy García’s (D-Ill.) office … John CoxMatthew Ceja of Rep. Mark Takano’s (D-Calif.) office … Adam WilczewskiNoelle Verhelst of Rep. Lloyd Smucker’s (R-Pa.) office … Tyler LechtenbergS.K. Bowen of Rep. Brett Guthrie’s (R-Ky.) office … Jim Carter of the America First Policy Institute … Morning Consult’s John Leer … AP’s Will Lester Wes Coulam of Washington Council Ernst & Young … Frank ColemanElissa Dodge of Qorvis Communications … Max MounkhatySpencer Sharp of 718 Media … Apple’s Fred SainzNoam Neusner Sarah Shulman Dov Zakheim

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

  • CNN

    “State of the Union”: Anthony Fauci … Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) … Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) … New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu … Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).

  • FOX

    “Fox News Sunday”: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy … Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) … Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan … NIH Director Francis Collins … Morrill Worcester. Panel: Doug Heye, Jennifer Griffin, Gerald Seib and Mo Elleithee.

  • ABC

    “This Week”: Anthony Fauci … Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). Panel: Yvette Simpson, Sarah Isgur, Robert Costa and Rachael Bade.

  • NBC

    “Meet the Press”: Anthony Fauci … Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. Panel: Donna Edwards, Amna Nawaz, John Podhoretz and Philip Rucker.

  • MSNBC

    “The Sunday Show”: Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) … D.C. A.G. Karl Racine … Martin Luther King III … Laurence Tribe … Sophia Nelson.

  • CBS

    “Face the Nation”: NIH Director Francis Collins … Scott Gottlieb … DEA Administrator Anne Milgram … Hamdullah Mohib.

  • Gray TV

    “Full Court Press”: Catherine O’Neal … Donna Berrent … Donna Talla.

  • CNN

    “Inside Politics”: Megan Ranney. Panel: Jonathan Martin, Seung Min Kim, Catherine Lucey and Jeremy Diamond.

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