October 20, 2021

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POLITICO Playbook PM: The McConnell cave is official

Senate leaders agreed to raise the debt ceiling by $480 billion, punting the coming debt-ceiling debacle to later in the year. Speaking on the Senate floor, Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER said it was his “hope that we can get this done as soon as today.” More from Caitlin Emma and Marianne LeVine

The $480 billion figure comes from the Treasury Department, which estimates that’s the amount it will need to pay the government’s bills through Dec. 3, which is conveniently the same day that government funding runs out, per Congress’ recent short-term extension. That means everyone will get to replay the government shutdown and debt ceiling default drama once more between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

— BUT, BUT, BUT: Via NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, Sen. JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas) says the real debt ceiling date is in January: “[email protected] says his staff tells him that lifting the debt limit by $480 bil should take them to January (not December). [He said] we didn’t want to ‘agree to something where they could just throw it into the omnibus. so keeping it separate is pretty important.’”

ONE HICCUP: “Democrats may need help from at least 10 GOP senators to pass the deal on Thursday,” Caitlin and Marianne report. “Some Republicans, concerned about letting Democrats off easy, don’t want to allow Democrats to pass the measure with a simple 51-vote majority on the floor.”

The hunt is on for those 10 lucky Republicans who may be needed to advance the debt ceiling bill, as frustration over Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL’s deal lingers among GOP senators.

“I don’t understand why we’re folding,” said Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), per Fox News’ Chad Pergram. “This is a complete capitulation, and the argument made yesterday was, well, this may be more pressure than two Democratic senators can stand, regarding changing the filibuster rules. That, to me, is not a very good reason.”

GOP DEAL DEFENSE: A Senate GOP aide, responding to some Dem and White House gloating about McConnell backing down, made this case to Playbook today:

“I don’t think this makes Schumer’s life any easier. Adds another headache to shepherding through [President JOE] BIDEN’s increasingly unpopular agenda. And the whole ‘we don’t have time’ to raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation talking point has been blown up. The focus will be back on Biden and Democrats’ war with themselves.”

QUICK REACTIONS:

Axios’ Alayna Treene: “The deal is a temporary band-aid.”

WaPo’s Seung Min Kim: “It’s not even a band-aid. It’s like, the scrap of kleenex that you found lying around that you have to use because you can’t find a band-aid anywhere in your house”

— More Cornyn: “Is anybody excited about this deal?” (h/t Reuters’ Susan Cornwell)

— Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) reiterated for the umpteenth time that he is not and never was for eliminating the filibuster for debt ceiling votes.

Good Thursday afternoon.

JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH

BREAKING — DONALD TRUMP is telling four former aides, including MARK MEADOWS and STEVE BANNON, to defy subpoenas from the Jan. 6 select committee, Betsy Woodruff Swan reports.

MISSED CONNECTIONS — “On Dec. 24, a private intelligence company that works with law enforcement issued a grave warning: Users of a pro-Trump internet forum were talking about turning violent on Jan. 6.” That from Betsy, who reports on “a host of previously unreported documents that circulated among law enforcement officials in the weeks before Jan. 6 — laying out, some with jarring specificity, the threats that culminated in the attack on the Capitol.” The messages indicate that the Capitol insurrection was a failure not of intelligence, but of acting on that intelligence.

In related news:

— Federal prosecutors have formally charged Jan. 6 rioter RILEY WILLIAMS with stealing a laptop from Speaker NANCY PELOSI’s office and selling or disposing of it, reports Kyle Cheney.

— A new report from Senate Judiciary Democrats fingers sitting Rep. SCOTT PERRY (R-Pa.) as a pivotal figure in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Per Nicholas Wu and Kyle Cheney, the report details Perry’s attempts to get DOJ to investigate false election claims and to get Trump loyalists installed at the department. The report recommends that the Jan. 6 committee focus on the actions of Perry, Pennsylvania state Sen. DOUG MASTRIANO and Trump campaign attorney CLETA MITCHELL.

— Meanwhile, at a House Oversight hearing this morning on the Arizona election “audit,” Rep. ANDY BIGGS (R-Ariz.) continued to refuse to acknowledge the reality that Biden won his state last year, saying, “We don’t know.”

— Several organizers of the pro-Trump Jan. 6 rally are expected to comply with subpoenas from the Jan. 6 committee, report ABC’s John Santucci, Benjamin Siegel and Katherine Faulders.

CONGRESS

RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES — Manchin met with Biden at the White House this morning, per WaPo’s Seung Min Kim.

THE STRUGGLE ISRAEL — Sen. RAND PAUL (R-Ky.) continues to be the lone senator holding up $1 billion in aid for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. As Andrew Desiderio reports, the roadblock hinges on his belief that the money should come from reappropriating foreign aid meant for Afghans — which divides Republicans and puts the party in an awkward spot on an issue they were previously using to hammer progressives.

POLITICS ROUNDUP

THE WINDSOR KNOT — NYT’s Trip Gabriel has a new profile of liberal activist LAUREN WINDSOR, who has lured GLENN YOUNGKIN, TOMMY TUBERVILLE and other Republicans into saying revealing things on hidden camera by posing as a conservative. Critics paint her as a left-wing version of Project Veritas, but Windsor considers herself an “advocacy journalist” whose targets are more powerful and methods more transparent — and she has a personal history with Veritas.

2021 WATCH — New Jersey Gov. PHIL MURPHY is leaning on the GAVIN NEWSOM recall playbook in his own reelection campaign, banking on the popularity of his Covid-19 restrictions in the Democratic state, Sam Sutton and Matt Friedman report from Newark. Murphy’s trying to cast GOP opponent JACK CIATTARELLI as lackadaisical on pandemic efforts amid the Delta variant surge. And putting Ciattarelli on the defensive over mask mandates and vaccines has helped Murphy deflect attention from criticism of his earlier handling of the pandemic.

— Pandemic policies will also be put to the test in Virginia, as CNN’s Dan Merica reports. Even more than the high-profile gubernatorial contest, it’s the lieutenant governor race that will reveal voters’ Covid-19 attitudes: The more conservative GOP nominee WINSOME SEARS is strongly opposed to vaccine mandates and refused to disclose whether she’s vaccinated. That could make life a little more complicated for Youngkin at the top of the ticket.

THE NEW GOP — The Republican State Leadership Committee is commencing a new national effort to diversify the party by mentoring up-and-coming party leaders in the states, AP’s Meg Kinnard reports. The advisory council for the new Right Leaders Network includes former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. NIKKI HALEY and Sens. MARCO RUBIO (R-Fla.), TIM SCOTT (R-S.C.) and MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-Tenn.).

DEMOCRACY WATCH — The Fairness Project is launching a $5 million “Ballot Measure Rescue Campaign.” The initiative will fight efforts in state legislatures like Arkansas and South Dakota to make it harder for ballot measures to pass/take effect.

NEW ON THE LEFT — Former BERNIE SANDERS campaign staffers BILL NEIDHARDT, ANNA BAHR and KARTHIK GANAPATHY are launching a new progressive consultancy, Left Flank Strategies, per The Hill’s Hanna Trudo.

THE ECONOMY

THE UNEMPLOYMENT PICTURE — Good news: The number of new unemployment filings last week dropped to 326,000, the largest decrease since late June and lower than economists predicted. It could be an indicator that “the labor market recovery was regaining momentum after a recent slowdown, as the wave of Covid-19 infections began to subside,” writes Reuters’ Lucia Mutikani.

— But Black women and people without college degrees are struggling to rebound in the labor market, report WaPo’s Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam. Their job losses remain more severe than those ever experienced by college-educated workers during the pandemic. In interviews with women of color, “[t]he most frequently mentioned problems include child-care struggles, health concerns, overlooked and ignored online applications, and too many jobs that pay minimum wage or barely above it.”

FED FILES — The recent drumbeat of progressive criticism of Fed Chair JEROME POWELL — along with a trading scandal among other top Fed officials — has made his route to renomination trickier, report Bloomberg’s Nancy Cook, Jennifer Jacobs and Saleha Mohsin. But “[f]ive sources familiar with the White House’s search for a Fed chair said the trading scandals and Warren’s criticisms have not affected Powell’s standing — nor do people see a decision happening imminently.”

THE PANDEMIC

BEHIND THE BOOSTERS — Part of the impetus for the Biden administration’s big vaccine booster push is research showing long Covid occasionally developing from breakthrough cases, per WSJ’s Stephanie Armour and Felicia Schwartz. Such cases remain rare, but several new studies indicate they can happen, particularly with the Delta variant, making preventing long-term disabling conditions another factor in the booster debate beyond just warding off hospitalization and death.

NEXT UP — Pfizer and BioNTech have officially submitted a request to the FDA to get emergency authorization for their vaccine for kids ages 5-11. An independent advisory committee is expected to discuss the request Oct. 26. More from NPR

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

DANCE OF THE SUPERPOWERS — U.S. troops have been secretly training forces in Taiwan for at least a year, WSJ’s Gordon Lubold scoops. The special operations forces and Marines “are a small but symbolic effort by the U.S. to increase Taipei’s confidence in building its defenses against potential Chinese aggression.”

— Today, the CIA announced two new mission centers — one focused on China and the other on “transnational and technological threats,” per CBS. As part of a reorganization, two existing mission centers — one focused on Iran, the other on North Korea — will be folded back into regional centers, making China the only country to have its own dedicated CIA center.

— HUAWEI OR THE HIGHWAY: The yearslong pressure campaign by the U.S. government to undermine Chinese telecom giant Huawei has paid dividends, reports WSJ’s Dan Strumpf. Its revenue and market share are dropping; supply chains are hobbled; and the company is trying to pivot in new directions. Even so, the company remains profitable.

BEYOND THE BELTWAY

KNOWING DAMIAN WILLIAMS — The newly confirmed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York will immediately begin overseeing high-profile investigations, including one into RUDY GIULIANI. Williams, the first Black person to lead the office, is a former MERRICK GARLAND clerk who’s won big convictions while remaining low-key and frugal, reports NYT’s Benjamin Weiser in a big profile. Among those quoted: close friend NATALIE PORTMAN.

POLICE REFORM FIZZLING OUT — After the mass protests last year over GEORGE FLOYD’s murder, ending qualified immunity for police emerged as a top policy priority in many state legislatures. More than a year later, a heavy lobbying campaign from police unions has helped quash the efforts, killing nearly three dozen bills, according to a new analysis from WaPo’s Kimberly Kindy. Just seven have become law, and Colorado is the only state to have ended the legal defense completely.

MEDIAWATCH

SUZANNE SCOTT SPEAKS — The Fox News CEO sat down for a rare interview with The Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie. Many at Fox credit Scott with making the network a better, less toxic workplace, although critics accuse the network of helping to weaken democracy in America. Scott says she tunes out the noise: “You know what I always say? I sleep well at night.”

One nugget that caught our eye: ARNON MISHKIN, the respected head of the network’s election decision desk whose call of Arizona for Biden enraged conservatives, will stay on the job for 2022 and 2024, per Scott.

PLAYBOOKERS

PLAYBOOK METRO SECTION — Acting in apparent self-defense, Woody Harrelson punched a man on the rooftop of the Watergate on Wednesday night, according to police. The man allegedly was intoxicated, was taking pictures of Harrelson and his daughter, and lunged at the actor after he told him to stop. NBC Washington has more

MEDIA MOVE — Stephen Labaton is joining NBCUniversal News Group as EVP of comms. He previously was EVP of corporate affairs at Booz Allen Hamilton.

WHITE HOUSE ARRIVAL LOUNGE — Camilo Haller is now special assistant for advance in the office of the first lady. He most recently was confidential assistant in the office of legislative and intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Commerce.

TRANSITIONS — Antitrust litigator Charles Tompkins is now a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. He previously was at Williams Montgomery & John. … Clé Diggins is now a digital services expert at the U.S. Digital Service. He most recently was director of product and technology at Get Us PPE. …

… Alanna Conley is now state press secretary for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). She most recently was an associate at Nation Consulting. … Guneev Sharma is joining the National Park Foundation as senior manager of government relations. He previously was a legislative associate at Thorn Run Partners, and is a Heidi Heitkamp alum. … Jacob Fischler will be marketing and comms manager for Greenberg Traurig. He most recently has been PR manager at Hogan Lovells.

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