POLITICO Playbook: Congress is back, but the leaders are still far apart

July 20, 2020

TRANSITIONS — Reginald Darby is joining the Millennial Action Project as VP of programs. He previously was deputy chief of staff and legislative director for Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.).


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP will get some company in Washington this week, as Congress — which has been on an elongated July Fourth break — returns to town.

THIS MEANS HUNDREDS of lawmakers running around the Capitol complex, reporters looking for reaction to each of the president’s utterances and, most importantly, the beginning of negotiations over the next large-scale coronavirus relief package.

THIS WILL BE THE HARDEST ONE YET. Republicans and Democrats are singing from different song sheets at the moment, and it will be up to Speaker NANCY PELOSI, Senate Majority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL, Senate Minority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER and House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY to chart a course that could produce a bill that the president will sign. Read Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris on the negotiations

THE WHITE HOUSE will be represented by Treasury Secretary STEVEN MNUCHIN and chief of staff MARK MEADOWS in negotiations. Figuring out what the president wants is a difficult task, especially since it is liable to change from day to day.

IT’S NOT ENTIRELY CLEAR who has the upper hand in these talks. MCCONNELL has said he needs a liability overhaul to get a bill through the Senate. Democrats have been a bit more circumspect in what they want — no red lines, they have said — but have suggested they need state and local money and enhanced unemployment benefits.

THIS PACKAGE will be the last train leaving the station, so to speak — perhaps the last big bill before Election Day. As NYT’S ERIC LIPTON points out on today’s front page, lobbyists all want a piece.

HERE’S THE SCHEDULE, at this point, for this week:

— TODAY: MCCONNELL and MCCARTHY will meet with TRUMP at the White House. MEADOWS will be on the Hill this evening for meetings.

— TUESDAY: MNUCHIN and MEADOWS are scheduled to attend the Senate lunch. There’s buzz of a TRUMP appearance at the lunch in the Capitol, but TBD. HOUSE DEMOCRATS have a caucus call at 9 a.m.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR … AT SOME POINT, expect to see some outreach to the House and Senate Democratic leadership. We were told late Sunday night that nothing is firmed up, but the administration is eager for an in-person read into what PELOSI and SCHUMER want.

REPUBLICANS believe that SCHUMER and PELOSI have gotten the best of the TRUMP administration in previous negotiations.

THE WHITE HOUSE’S main play is to try to pit SCHUMER against PELOSI — and it rarely works, since they know it’s coming, and work hard to stay together.

THAT’S THE POINT of a new pep-talk letter we got our hands on that SCHUMER is sending to his Democratic colleagues.

— SCHUMER’S LETTER: “It has been over three months since the Republican-led Senate has considered major COVID-relief legislation while Americans face perhaps the greatest public health threat since 1918 and the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression. While the Democratic-led House has acted, and Senate Democrats continue to press our colleagues to provide relief for families and workers, Senate Republicans have been missing in action. …

“During the debate over the CARES Act, it was our unity against a partisan, Republican first draft that allowed for significant improvements to be made—improvements that have benefited millions upon millions of Americans. I hope we will not have to repeat that process. But we will stand together again if we must. Our Democratic colleagues in the House are ready to work and we know that a bipartisan, bicameral process will result in a much better bill for the American people.” The full letter

Good Monday morning. GUESS WHAT: Major League Baseball is scheduled to start this week. Cross your fingers and pray.

INSIDE THE ROOM … PELOSI raised $14 MILLION for the DCCC, lawmakers and candidates this summer during four “Hold the House” virtual events. JOHN LEGEND executive-produced the events, and former President BARACK OBAMA headlined the finale Sunday night.

— OBAMA ON KEEPING THE HOUSE: “One good reason to keep the House is to keep Nancy Pelosi speaker, and that would be enough. But look, if you look at the last two years or year and a half … the House has been the bulwark against a lawlessness that we’ve seen and a disregard for basic democratic norms that has come not just from the White House, but has been enabled by the Republicans in the Senate and, if they had their druthers, the Republicans in the House.”

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NEW … SENATE LEADERSHIP FUND, run by McConnell allies, raised $30.2 MILLION in June and has $97.3 MILLION on hand. The fight for the Senate is real, and is going to be pricey.

BIDEN NEWS — 11 STATE PARTIES have signed agreements with the Biden Victory Fund, the joint DNC/Joe Biden/state party fundraising operation. Supporters will now be able to give $730,600 to the account. The states are: New Mexico, Indiana, Maine, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Missouri, North Dakota and South Carolina.

WSJ ED BOARD: “John Lewis’s America: The arc of his life shows the racial progress the country has made”: “We had differences with Lewis on policy, not least his opposition to the 1996 welfare reform when he predicted a catastrophe for the poor. The reform, passed by a GOP Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, is the most successful bipartisan reform of the last 30 years.

“But these differences are trivial compared to the significance of Lewis’s life and contribution to America. He famously forgave George Wallace, Alabama’s segregationist Governor in the 1960s, in an example of reconciliation all of us should emulate. He never gave up his belief in nonviolence, despite the violence used against him. He never lost faith in the capacity of American democracy, despite its flaws, to strive for a more perfect union.”

FRONTS: N.Y. POST … NYT, with this headline in the lead slot: “ALLIES OF TRUMP START TO BREAK RANKS ON VIRUS” … WSJwith these headlines: “Congress Pressed For Time On Next Virus Aid” and “Businesses Are Gearing Up For A Longer Road to a Rebound”

IT’S GOING TO BE REALLY HOT TODAY. Capital Weather Gang says highs will be between 98 and 101. ABC says it will feel like 114 degrees by 5 p.m.

BIG PICTURE, NYT A1: “As Trump Ignores Virus Crisis, Republicans Start to Break Ranks,” by Alex Burns, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman: “President Trump’s failure to contain the coronavirus outbreak and his refusal to promote clear public-health guidelines have left many senior Republicans despairing that he will ever play a constructive role in addressing the crisis, with some concluding they must work around Mr. Trump and ignore or even contradict his pronouncements.

“In recent days, some of the most prominent figures in the G.O.P. outside the White House have broken with Mr. Trump over issues like the value of wearing a mask in public and heeding the advice of health experts like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, whom the president and other hard-right figures within the administration have subjected to caustic personal criticism. …

“A handful of Republican lawmakers in the Senate have privately pressed the administration to bring back health briefings led by figures like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who regularly updated the public during the spring until Mr. Trump upstaged them with his own briefing-room monologues. And in his home state of Kentucky last week, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, broke with Mr. Trump on nearly every major issue related to the virus. …

“Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, said he wanted the administration to offer more extensive public-health updates to the American people, and condemned the open animosity toward Dr. Fauci by some administration officials, including Peter Navarro, the trade adviser, who wrote an opinion column attacking Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

“‘I want more briefings but, more importantly, I want the whole White House to start acting like a team on a mission to tackle a real problem,’ Mr. Sasse said. ‘Navarro’s Larry, Moe and Curly junior-high slap fight this week is yet another way to undermine public confidence that these guys grasp that tens of thousands of Americans have died and tens of millions are out of work.’ Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, was more succinct: ‘The more they turn the briefings over to the professionals, the better.’”

— “Endangered GOP senators under pressure as Senate considers new coronavirus measures,” by WaPo’s Seung Min Kim, Rachael Bade and Erica Werner: “The spiraling pandemic and the increasingly virulent politics around Washington’s handling of the novel coronavirus are raising the pressure on Senate Republicans as they try to craft a fresh coronavirus relief package. …

“The election-year politics over the pandemic will be entwined with the contours of the next coronavirus package — a complicated dynamic McConnell will have to manage along with disputes within his conference over aid to states and localities, as well as a persistent negative view by the public of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic.” WaPo

Playbook PM

BAD NEWS FOR TRUMP … THE ECONOMY — “U.S. Companies Lose Hope for Quick Rebound From Covid-19,” by WSJ’s Chip Cutter and Doug Cameron: “Big U.S. companies are deciding March and April moves won’t cut it. The fierce resurgence of Covid-19 cases and related business shutdowns are dashing hopes of a quick recovery, prompting businesses from airlines to restaurant chains to again shift their strategies and staffing or ramp up previous plans to do so. They are turning furloughs into permanent layoffs, de-emphasizing their core businesses and downsizing production indefinitely.

“Delta Air Lines Inc. curtailed plans to add more summer flights and said it doesn’t expect business flying to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is adding staff and changing operations to accommodate more to-go business. Vox Media, the publisher of New York magazine and several news websites, said it would lay off 6% of its workforce as the company confronts a prolonged drought for its lucrative events business.”

— “Trump’s Hot-Button Fed Pick Faces Senate Committee Vote This Week” by NYT’s Jenna Smialek: “Judy Shelton, an unorthodox economist who was an adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, could move one step closer to a seat on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors this week.

“While her fate is far from guaranteed, the Senate Banking Committee is expected to approve Ms. Shelton’s nomination on Tuesday, putting her one simple-majority vote in the full Senate away from confirmation at a moment when the central bank is employing vast powers that she has a track record of questioning.”


— THE U.S. SURPASSED 140,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 over the weekend, with confirmed cases rising to 3,773,260. The Johns Hopkins map

— “L.A. County continues dangerous coronavirus surge as Garcetti warns of new restrictions,” by LAT’s Howard Blume and Alex Wigglesworth: “Los Angeles County public health officials on Sunday reported 2,848 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with the majority of those infected under the age of 41, as related hospitalizations reached a new high. There are currently 2,216 people hospitalized with the virus, the county health department reported. This is the fifth consecutive day with hospitalizations higher than 2,100 and the first time hospitalizations have surpassed 2,200. Among those hospitalized, 26% are in intensive care units and 19% are on ventilators.”

— NYT: “Vulnerable Border Community Battles Virus on ‘A Straight Up Trajectory,’” by Caitlin Dickerson with photographs by Lynsey Addario in Edinburg, Texas

EXPANDING THE FIELD — “Biden eyes GOP supporters while Trump focuses on his base,” by AP’s Steve Peoples: “In the four months since Joe Biden effectively won the Democratic presidential nomination, he has focused on consolidating the party’s divergent and often warring factions. As the closing stretch of the campaign nears, that effort will expand to include Republicans disaffected with President Donald Trump.

“Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and frequent Trump critic, has been approached and is expected to speak at the Democratic National Convention on Biden’s behalf next month, according to a person with direct knowledge of the plans who requested anonymity to discuss strategy. Kasich is among a handful of high-profile Republicans likely to become more active in supporting Biden in the fall.

“Trump, meanwhile, is doing virtually nothing to expand his appeal beyond his most loyal supporters. Some GOP operatives believe the suburbs are lost while a contingent of high-profile Republicans are openly questioning the president’s reelection message. In an acknowledgment of the mounting challenges, Trump named a new campaign manager last week.” AP

— KASICH! A former Republican presidential candidate, governor and House Republican committee chair.

VEEPSTAKES … BOSTON GLOBE’S JESS BIDGOOD: “How Elizabeth Warren has kept eyes on her for the vice presidential nod”: “Warren has carefully maneuvered delicate questions of representation while campaigning for the role, calling herself an ally and engaging directly with the civil rights protests after the brutal killing of George Floyd fueled an urgent reckoning around racism in America. She attended demonstrators in Washington, offered up policy proposals intended to tackle structural racism, and reached out to Black activists with private phone calls and virtual events.”

TRUMP’S MONDAY — The president will depart the White House at 5:50 p.m. en route to the Trump International Hotel. He will participate in a roundtable with supporters of a joint fundraising committee at 6:15 p.m., returning to the White House at 7:25 p.m.

DON’T MISS – POLITICO’S NEW “FUTURE PULSE” NEWSLETTER: The coronavirus pandemic accelerated long-simmering trends in health care technology and one thing is certain: The health care system that emerges from this crisis will be fundamentally different than the one that entered. From Congress and the White House, to state legislatures and Silicon Valley, Future Pulse spotlights the politics, policies, and technologies driving long-term change on the most personal issue for voters: Our health. SUBSCRIBE NOW.


PHOTO DU JOUR: A boy lays a candle at a memorial Sunday as part of a large vigil in Atlanta to honor the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). | Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

E-RING READING … LARA SELIGMAN: “Mark Esper moves to shed his ‘yes man’ reputation”“Almost exactly a year since his unlikely promotion to the top job in the Pentagon, the man known derisively in some national security circles as ‘Yes-per’ has started to show some backbone. [Esper] narrowly avoided losing his job in June after publicly opposing the use of active-duty troops to quash civil unrest, two days after the president threatened to do just that. On Friday, he issued a new policy that effectively bars the display of the Confederate flag on military installations, despite Trump’s support of such displays as ‘freedom of speech.’

“Esper’s efforts to stand up to his boss have seen limited success, but his willingness to stake out an independent position has gained him some respect among his underlings, and led some to believe that a man who seemed destined to be the ultimate transitional figure may yet leave a mark on the vast department that he oversees.”

BEYOND THE BELTWAY — “Son of federal judge slain, husband in critical condition,” by the New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein: “The husband and son of U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas were shot this evening after a gunman dressed as a Federal Express delivery driver entered their North Brunswick home, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

“Daniel Anderl, the judge’s 20-year-old son, is dead. He was a student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Her husband, Mark Anderl, 63, a criminal defense attorney and former Assistant Essex County prosecutor, is in critical but stable condition after undergoing surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick. Salas is unharmed, the Globe was told.”

PLAYBOOK METRO SECTION — “They got tested for coronavirus. Now, they wait. Growing delays have put lives in limbo,” by WaPo’s Erin Cox: “A Capitol Hill woman canceled her vacation because she couldn’t get timely proof she wasn’t infectious. A biologist from Charlottesville threw caution to the wind and visited his elderly parents anyway. A young D.C. man, exposed to a sick family member, has waited more than 10 days to find out if he is a coronavirus carrier.

“The nationwide surge in coronavirus cases has throttled testing turnaround times not only in hot spots, but in places that haven’t seen a dramatic spike in infections recently — including the greater Washington area. Private labs have been hamstrung by supply line shortages and overwhelming demand. Some labs have prioritized hospital patients or contracts with big employers, including the NBA, placing the general public at the back of a line that can grow longer by the day.” WaPo

ACROSS THE POND — “Everybody loves Merkel. Her likely successors? Not so much,” by Matthew Karnitschnig

MEDIAWATCH — HILLARY CLINTON will be on the premiere of MSNBC’s “The ReidOut,” JOY REID’S new 7 p.m. show.

— NYT’S BEN SMITH MEETS ALEX BERENSON: “An Ex-Times Reporter. An Ohio Wedding Provider. Covid Contrarians Go Viral,” with this nugget: “Playing devil’s advocate works on Twitter, though, and on Fox’s powerful shows, and has helped Mr. Berenson sell more than 100,000 copies of his self-published booklet, ‘Unreported Truths about Covid-19 and Lockdowns.’ Tesla’s founder, Elon Musk, helped shame Amazon into allowing the booklet onto its platform in June, and the two men have also discussed starting a new publication. Mr. Berenson even began preliminary conversations about hiring reporters, an associate of Mr. Berenson’s told me, but did not pursue the plan.”

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Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at [email protected].

WHITE HOUSE DEPARTURE LOUNGE — Dan Schneider has left the White House, where he was associate director of comms at the Council on Environmental Quality. Andrea Woods is now in that role. She previously was deputy press secretary at the EPA.

TRANSITIONS — Reginald Darby is joining the Millennial Action Project as VP of programs. He previously was deputy chief of staff and legislative director for Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.). … Nora Super will lead the Alliance to Improve Dementia Care, a new group the Milken Institute is launching with the AARP, Alzheimer’s Association, Biogen and the John A. Hartford Foundation. She is senior director of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Franklin Foer, staff writer at The Atlantic. What he’s been reading: “I read Camus’ ‘The Plague,’ which holds up magnificently. It really does anticipate how we have behaved in the face of pandemic. We made all the mistakes that he captured so many decades ago in French Algeria — and we have responded with the same denial, followed by grudging acceptance of mass death. Also, I just read Ottessa Moshfegh’s ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation,’ also corona-relevant, since it’s about a woman who disengages from her fellow humans for a long stretch.” Playbook Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Tom Friedman is 67 … Katrina Pierson, senior adviser for the Trump 2020 campaign … CNN political director David Chalian … Anita Decker Breckenridge … Katie Price, White House production assistant … Lucas Baiano is 32 … former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is 84 … Stuart Elliott … Barry Lee Myers is 77 … Andrew Do … Jon Kuhl … Julia Pyper … Anne MacDonald … POLITICO’s David Giambusso, Aloise Phelps and Bridget Friendly … Patrick Kelly, director of speechwriting and publications at the AFL-CIO, is 27 (h/t Tarah Patz) … Hunter McKay, manager of research at Pinkston … WaPo’s David Lynch …

… Christopher Harvin … Carl Gershman … Robert Jones, VP at GS Strategy Group … Tom Engelhardt … Don Seymour, North America politics and government outreach manager at Facebook … Jamal Simmons … NBC News PR’s Joya Manasseh … Meg Rich … Stephen Brokaw … Steven Perlberg … Amy Elinski … Leah Grace Denny … Ashley Morgan … Paula Cino … Julie Sarne, director at Hamilton Place Strategies … Richard Kolko … Justin Dews, senior counsel for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy … Chris Hartmann … Jeff Liszt … Katie Paris … Julie Edwards … ABC News’ Kirit Radia … Tom Diaz … Carrie Simms … Carol Littell

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Rep. Sara Jacobs


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