“It’s a f—ing nightmare.”
That was the lament of a staffer working for one of the members of the so-called G-10, the group of 10 Republican senators who insist they’re itching to negotiate deals with the White House.
In the span of a few months, the G-10 has gone from the center of politics in DONALD TRUMP’S Washington to the policy sidelines in President JOE BIDEN’S.
While these senators mostly despised Trump, they were the engine of policymaking for his final Covid relief bill. While they mostly respect Biden, they have so far been irrelevant to his legislative push despite his inaugural promise of “unity.”
It’s been a bewildering change for them. And if you want to understand both why Biden is winning and why his so-far successful formula could be in jeopardy, it’s worth listening closely to the voices within this frustrated and marginalized group of self-proclaimed dealmakers.
Back to the nightmare. It starts with what they see as some hardwired media narratives they can’t shake: that Biden is a reasonable, deal-making moderate and that Republicans talk about compromise but really just want to obstruct. It’s a perception that has given the White House all the leverage.
“Biden is a horrible villain for us,” said the G-10 staffer, meaning not that he was an actual villain but that he was difficult to villainize. “There are deeply entrenched narratives that have some truth but are no longer totally true. Reporters believe them despite all evidence to the contrary.”
They see a White House “constantly rubbing dirt in the face of Republicans” over the party’s lack of interest in bipartisanship while “passing as many partisan bills as they possibly can through reconciliation before they lose the House in 2022.”
Two episodes stand out to them. The first was when they were invited to the White House to discuss the Covid relief bill in February. It was intoxicating. They finally had both a normal president, one who understood the Senate better than any president since LBJ, and one who recognized the G-10 as the center of power in Congress. The staffer joked that they were so giddy about the meeting that they had to be told to “calm down” and “play it cool.”
But the next day, Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER announced the outlines of a plan to pass the bill with just 50 votes. “You do one meeting and 24 hours later they prepare the reconciliation process,” another G-10 staffer complained.
The second episode came last week, when Biden said the 10 senators “didn’t move an inch” off of their initial proposal during the Covid talks. On the eve of fresh negotiations over infrastructure, the president, in their view, was attacking them disingenuously. In a flurry of phone calls among the senators, they vented their outrage and plotted a response.
It can take days for a group of senators to agree on anything, but the 10 of them put out a statement a few hours later respectfully but firmly correcting Biden. “The Administration roundly dismissed our effort as wholly inadequate in order to justify its go-it-alone strategy,” it said in part. It didn’t receive much coverage.
THE NEXT DILEMMA — They are now debating internally how to approach the Biden jobs bill. Their big fear is being used as “props” or “window dressing” at the next White House meeting.
“If you get an invitation to the White House, you go to the White House. But regardless, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” said another G-10 staffer. “When you go to the White House meeting you risk being used in a feigned attempt at bipartisanship. If you don’t go then it’s, ‘Oh, Republicans won’t even meet with me.’ It all pivots on whether it’s a genuine offer from the White House or just part of their messaging strategy.”
Another staffer for one of the group of 10 senators was resigned to a replay of the Covid bill: “You would be hard pressed to find anyone on our side of the aisle that thinks this will end up any differently than last time.”
The staffer who lamented the nightmare of it all had a grudging respect for how effectively Biden had played things so far.
“Everything they support is defined as either Covid relief or infrastructure, and everything they oppose is like … Jim Crow voter suppression and evil,” this G-10 aide said. “And you constantly just feel like you’re in this gaslighting chamber of insanity. But it’s working.”
The “G-10” senators are: SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO of West Virginia, BILL CASSIDY of Louisiana, SUSAN COLLINS of Maine, JERRY MORAN of Kansas, LISA MURKOWSKI of Alaska, ROB PORTMAN of Ohio, MITT ROMNEY of Utah, MIKE ROUNDS of South Dakota, THOM TILLIS of North Carolina and TODD YOUNG of Indiana.
WHY IT’S WORKING — Our latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll suggests that Biden continues to hit the sweet spot in terms of highlighting popular measures, even on fraught issues like gun control. No wonder Republicans are frustrated. Some toplines:
- Sixty-four percent of voters support stricter gun control laws in the United States.
- Sixty-three percent of voters support Biden’s executive order to limit the spread of “ghost guns.”
- A plurality of American voters somewhat or strongly support (46%; 28% oppose) Biden’s executive order to increase regulation of stabilizing braces, which can turn a pistol into a kind of rifle that ordinarily would require stricter government controls.
- Seventy-three percent of voters support employees’ right to bargain collectively for workplace conditions.
- Biden’s overall job approval is 60%. Toplines… Crosstabs
Good Wednesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. For everyone not in the G-10, what’s your main takeaway about how Biden has changed Washington so far? Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.
BIDEN’S WEDNESDAY — The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. In the morning, he’ll also accompany first lady JILL BIDEN to “a common medical procedure at an outpatient center.” He’ll deliver remarks on Afghanistan at 2:15 p.m. He’ll visit Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery at 3:05 p.m.
— VP KAMALA HARRIS will lead a virtual experts roundtable on the Northern Triangle at 10 a.m.
— The White House Covid-19 response team and public health officials will brief at 11 a.m. Press secretary JEN PSAKI will brief at 12:30 p.m.
THE SENATE will meet at 10:30 a.m., with votes on GARY GENSLER for the SEC at 11:45 a.m. and BRENDA MALLORY for the Council on Environmental Quality at 3:30 p.m. The motion to invoke cloture on the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act will also come around 3:30 p.m.
— DNI AVRIL HAINES, CIA Director WILLIAM BURNS, FBI Director CHRISTOPHER WRAY, NSA Director Gen. PAUL NAKASONE and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. SCOTT BERRIER will testify before the Intelligence Committee at 10 a.m. The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of KRISTEN CLARKE and TODD SUNHWAE KIM to be assistant A.G.s at 10 a.m.
THE HOUSE will meet at 10 a.m. Agriculture Secretary TOM VILSACK will testify before an Appropriations subcommittee at 10 a.m. The Judiciary Committee will mark up a reparations bill at 10 a.m. The Oversight Committee will mark up a D.C. statehood bill at 10 a.m. Puerto Rico Gov. PEDRO PIERLUISI will testify before the Natural Resources Committee at 1 p.m. at a hearing on Puerto Rico statehood. Rep.-elect JULIA LETLOW (R-La.) will be sworn in at noon.
THE WHITE HOUSE
WHILE PUBLICLY DISMISSING LARRY SUMMERS — “The Biden Administration Is Quietly Keeping Tabs on Inflation,” NYT: “Armed with their internal data and conclusions, administration officials have begun to push back on warnings that a stimulus-fueled surge in consumer spending could revive a 1970s-style escalation in wages and prices that could cripple the economy in the years to come.
“Yet they remain wary of the inflation threat and have devised the next wave of Mr. Biden’s spending plans, a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, to dispense money gradually enough not to stoke further price increases right away. Administration officials also continue to check on real-time measures of prices across the economy, multiple times a day.”
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: PELOSI INVITES BIDEN TO ADDRESS CONGRESS — Speaker NANCY PELOSI formally invited Biden to address a joint session of Congress on April 28. It’ll be like a State of the Union address, but much smaller and socially distanced. An official involved in the planning said there would be a limit on the number of lawmakers allowed to attend to comply with coronavirus protocols. (Another person told us they believed that number could be as low as 200 rather than the typical 535 members of Congress, but those details are still being worked out.)
Lawmakers will also be barred from bringing guests. And the entire event will be designated as a “national special security event,” meaning extra protection for everyone present.
WOKE SENATE REPUBLICANS? NOT SO MUCH — Many Senate watchers were certain Republicans would mount their first legislative filibuster of the year this week by blocking Sen. MAZIE HIRONO’S (D-Hawaii) bill targeting anti-Asian hate crimes. Instead, GOP senators announced they’ll vote to advance it today — possibly seeking some minor tweaks before passage.
“As a proud husband of an Asian American woman, I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem,” Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL said Tuesday. Nicholas Wu, the latest addition to POLITICO’s Congress team, has more.
Historically, Republicans generally haven’t supported hate crimes legislation. So what changed? Public pressure after the recent surge of violence against Asian Americans? More likely: Knowing that a showdown over the filibuster is likely looming, Republicans are loath to hand Democrats ammunition by blocking a bill that’s tough to oppose on its face. Better to hold off for a bill they really want to stop.
SPORTS BLINK — NBC: “Sens. Cruz, Hawley, Lee seek to strip Major League Baseball of antitrust exemption”
REPARATIONS ON THE TABLE — “House panel to vote on slavery reparations bill for first time, supporters are calling it an important milestone,” WaPo: “The debate over whether to pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved people will take a step forward Wednesday when a House committee votes on legislation to create a commission to study the issue, which has been fiercely debated over the past year on the campaign trail and in several communities across the country. …
“The bill would establish a 13-person commission that would study the effects of slavery and racial discrimination in the United States from before the country’s founding to today. The commission would then submit to Congress its findings and ‘appropriate remedies’ on how best to compensate Black Americans.”
JOEL GREENBERG LATEST — “Indicted Gaetz Associate Is Said to Be Cooperating With Justice Dept.,” NYT: “A former local official in Florida indicted in the Justice Department investigation that is also focused on Representative Matt Gaetz has been providing investigators with information since last year about an array of topics, including Mr. Gaetz’s activities, according to two people briefed on the matter.
“Joel Greenberg, a onetime county tax collector, disclosed to investigators that he and Mr. Gaetz had encounters with women who were given cash or gifts in exchange for sex, the people said.”
NO CONSEQUENCES … YET — “Gaetz’s glare stings House GOP — but his future’s safe for now,” by Melanie Zanona and Olivia Beavers: “While top Republicans acknowledged the serious nature of the allegations surrounding Gaetz, just one sitting GOP lawmaker has so far publicly called on him to resign: Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. Instead, Republican leaders on Tuesday were quick to defer to the ongoing Justice Department probe, noting that the Florida Republican would automatically lose his committee assignments if he were indicted.
“The restraint from GOP leadership … suggests it’s unlikely that Gaetz will suffer any intra-party consequences until the investigation is complete.”
ABOUT THAT TRIP — “New details shed light on Gaetz’s Bahamas trip,” by Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon
THE J&J PAUSE
THE FALLOUT — “Biden officials bracing for possibility of weekslong disruption to J&J vaccine supply,” by Erin Banco: “[T]wo senior administration officials told POLITICO that the Biden administration is preparing for a potentially lengthy disruption in use of the J&J vaccine, particularly for certain groups — such as women ages 18-48 … The CDC is waiting for its independent vaccine advisory panel to make a determination on Wednesday about whether and how to restrict eligibility for the J&J shot …
“The administration’s preparations for a potentially lengthy stoppage highlight the level of concern among senior government scientists — especially after reports of similar rare but serious reports of blood clots among recipients of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 shot, which uses the same technology as the J&J vaccine. The situation also presents a major political challenge for the Biden administration as it tries to balance the best scientific advice with concerns that the pause could dent public confidence in vaccines or lead to further infections or deaths.”
THE TICK-TOCK ON THE DECISION — “Why Biden health officials decided to pause J&J’s coronavirus vaccine,” WaPo: “When top Biden administration health officials gathered on a Zoom call Monday night, they knew they faced a difficult decision. … Initially, some suggested the government could just issue a warning to consumers and doctors. They didn’t want to undermine confidence in vaccines given the danger of covid-19. But as they talked, two big worries emerged. They feared there might be additional cases of brain blood clots they didn’t know about. And what if the government didn’t act quickly, and as a result more people got the wrong diagnosis and treatment and were hurt or died?
“Their unanimous agreement to recommend a pause in using the J&J single-shot vaccine early Tuesday morning set off a fierce debate. … The federal officials who made the decision said their goal was to be open and transparent with the public — and to ensure health-care providers know about a rare side effect that should be treated differently than ordinary blood clots.”
THE AFGHANISTAN PULLOUT
TOP-EDS … “History will cast a shadow over Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan,” by WaPo’s David Ignatius: “Biden sometimes comes across as a genial gaffer, pliable in the way of a career politician. But Tuesday’s announcement shows that he is also a stubborn and resolute man. Friends say he was bruised by the Afghanistan battles of a decade ago and took away some grudges. When convinced he’s right, he’s prepared to take big risks — as he has this week. …
“Can the CIA maintain a clandestine force in Afghanistan that’s strong enough to operate against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups? Will drones be effective, if they must now be based in the Persian Gulf, with long flight times to Afghanistan and much shorter periods over potential target areas? We don’t know the answers. Biden is rolling the dice.”
— “Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal could be the first step to a Taliban takeover,” by WaPo’s Max Boot
— “Biden Can Redeem His Mistake,” by The Atlantic’s George Packer: “In April 1975, as a first-term senator, he was an outspoken opponent of using American money and risking Americans’ safety to rescue the tens of thousands of South Vietnamese who had bet their lives on American promises. …
“[T]he Biden administration has given itself almost five months [to leave]. That’s enough time to save [17,000] Afghans who risked everything to help the United States in their country. But there isn’t enough time to save them just by speeding up the review of visa applications. These Afghans have to be extricated from the country and taken to an overseas U.S. military base, where their cases can be heard in safety, beyond the reach of the Taliban.”
JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH
YIKES — “Capitol Police Told to Hold Back on Riot Response on Jan. 6, Report Finds,” NYT: “The Capitol Police had clearer advance warnings about the Jan. 6 attack than were previously known, including the potential for violence in which ‘Congress itself is the target.’ But officers were instructed by their leaders not to use their most aggressive tactics to hold off the mob, according to a scathing new report by the agency’s internal investigator.”
A disturbing nugget from the story: “Three days before the siege, a Capitol Police intelligence assessment warned of violence from supporters of President Donald J. Trump who believed his false claims that the election had been stolen. Some had even posted a map of the Capitol complex’s tunnel system on pro-Trump message boards.”
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
APRIL FOOLS’? — “‘NY Touch’ prank results in Corning Tower crackdown to prevent repeat,” Times Union: “Days after someone pulled off a prank apparently directed at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — changing the ‘NY TOUGH’ light display on the Corning Tower to ‘NY TOUCH’ — state maintenance workers used zip ties to secure window blinds in the building, including ones that were lowered last Friday to execute the caper.
“State government officials have declined to explain how or why the building light display — which faces Cuomo’s Capitol office on the north side of the tower — was briefly changed on Friday evening. The incognito change in wording drew wide attention and took place two days after the Times Union published a story detailing a female aide’s account of allegedly being groped by the governor at the Executive Mansion in November.”
SIGNATURE POLITICS — “DeSantis wants voters’ signatures to match. Would his pass the test?” Tampa Bay Times: “If the Florida governor gets his way, mail-in ballot signatures would have to match the most recent signature on file with the state. His own signature history shows how autographs evolve.”
WHOA … “Gov.’s campaign settles with ex-spokesman,” Albuquerque Journal: “Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s gubernatorial campaign has paid at least $62,500 as part of a settlement with a former staff member who had accused her of sexual mistreatment during a staff meeting …
“[James Hallinan] accused Lujan Grisham in late 2019 — about a year after he left the campaign — of pouring a bottle of water on his crotch and then grabbing his crotch through his clothes as she laughed, an incident he said took place in front of other campaign staffers. … Lujan Grisham, [Dominic] Gabello and the campaign organization itself ‘strenuously deny that there is any merit or truth to Mr. Hallinan’s claims, including his claims about difficulty finding or keeping work after the campaign,’ [a campaign spokesman] said.”
TWEET OF THE DAY — @tedcruz: “Some smart-ass dropped off a copy of Boehner’s new book at my office. It’s even signed! I filed it in the appropriate place.” See the pics
STAFFING UP — “Biden To Make Historic Census Director Pick With Latinx Statistician Rob Santos,” NPR
MEDIAWATCH — Katherine Finnerty is joining the WSJ as deputy editor of live journalism events. She most recently has been a senior producer at WaPo. Talking Biz News … Bloomberg Law reporter Jacob Rund has left for LabCorp corporate comms. Talking Biz News
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — The RNC is announcing four new regional co-chairs joining its leadership this cycle: Caleb Heimlich for the Western region, Dan Lederman for the Midwest region, Demi Kouzounas for the Northeast region and Michael Whatley for the Southern region. They’re currently the state party chairs in Washington state, South Dakota, Maine and North Carolina, respectively.
TRUMP ALUMNI — William Crozer will return to BGR Group as a VP on the government affairs lobbying team and managing director of state and local advocacy. He most recently was special assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
TRANSITIONS — Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) has promoted Jason Tuber to chief of staff and added Carlos Barrezueta as senior adviser for Latino affairs. Barrezueta most recently was dean for the social sciences, business and history division at Union County College. … Austin Vitale is now correspondence manager for Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.). He previously was digital press assistant/legislative correspondent for Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.). …
… Doug Campbell has been named managing director at Blue Star Strategies. He most recently was deputy staff director for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. … Toni Michelle Jackson is joining Crowell & Moring as a partner. She most recently has been D.C. deputy attorney general. … Jon Romano is now a partner at the Department of Here, a strategic advisory firm. He’s a Gina Raimondo and Obama DOT alum.
WEEKEND WEDDING — Elizabeth Dews-Haymore, deputy chief of staff/scheduler for Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), and Tyler Haymore, chief of staff for Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), got married Saturday afternoon in Cashiers, N.C. They met when they both worked for Budd, who participated in the ceremony. Pic of Elizabeth’s father giving her away
BIRTHWEEK (was Tuesday): David Carmen of the Carmen Group
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) … NIH Director Francis Collins … departing border czar Roberta Jacobson … Laura Keehner Rigas … NBC’s Garrett Haake … Joe Rospars of Blue State Digital … Boeing’s Betsy Stewart … Sasha Issenberg … WaPo’s Matt Zapotosky … Mike Duncan (7-0) … Amy Brundage of SKDKnickerbocker … USTR’s Adam Hodge … Ellie Hockenbury … CNN’s Adam Levine … Lumen’s Brad Schweer, who’ll celebrate with his newly vaccinated parents, friends and homemade artwork from his four kids (4-0) … Keith Appell … Steve Glickman of Develop LLC … Ashok Pinto … Kaye Foley of “Last Week Tonight” … Nick Merrill … NAM’s Erin Streeter … David Medina … Signal Group’s Blake Androff … Lina Francis … NYT’s Eileen Sullivan … Jorge Castro … Jeff Schogol … Neil Sroka … Shari Redstone
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