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POLITICO Playbook – POLITICO

With help from Eli Okun, Garrett Ross and Bethany Irvine

BAD NEWS, GOOD NEWS? — “Felonies, Old Age Heavily Count Against Candidates,” by Gallup’s Lydia Saad: “Less than a third of Americans say they would be willing to vote for someone nominated by their party who is over the age of 80 or has been charged with a felony or convicted of a felony by a jury. … These results are based on a Gallup poll conducted Jan. 2-22.”

And yet … “An analysis of the responses of those answering both of these questions suggests that a slight majority of Americans (52%) would be unperturbed by the choice between [JOE] BIDEN and [DONALD] TRUMP.”

BIDEN’S BORDER SURPRISE — There still isn’t any actual text of a bipartisan border deal to look at, but that hasn’t stopped the political posturing around the Senate talks to play out all week long.

It started with Trump and his allies upping the pressure on congressional Republicans to kill the talks. Then Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL acknowledged those MAGA headwinds in private comments Wednesday before — amid an uproar — making clear Thursday he was still behind a deal.

Yesterday, Speaker MIKE JOHNSON sent a Dear Colleague letter all but declaring the deal “dead on arrival in the House” as the Senate negotiators move this weekend to finalize and finally release a proposal.

And then it was Biden’s turn.

In a Friday evening statement, he endorsed the deal no one has yet seen, calling it “the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve ever had in our country” and a “win for America.” He added, “If you’re serious about the border crisis, pass a bipartisan bill and I will sign it.”

OK, sure, sounds good.

But then there was this: “It would give me, as President, a new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed. And if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law.”

As Myah Ward and Burgess Everett report, that statement represents “a ramping up in rhetoric for the administration, placing the president philosophically in the camp arguing that the border may hit a point where closure is needed.”

It also amounts to a perfect way to infuriate forces on both the left and the right who have been working to kill a deal.

As for the right, the reaction was pretty straightforward: Biden already has the authority he needs to clamp down on the border, so just use it already. (Never mind that Trump sought similar additional authorities from Congress when he was president.)

As for the left, well, let’s just say that immigration advocates who had been pleasantly surprised by the Biden administration’s approach after four years of Trump are not pleased. At all.

“President Biden is finally admitting that he’s given up on his campaign promise to enact more humane immigration policies than Trump,” a former Biden immigration official texted Playbook last night. “He would rather adopt Trump’s border rhetoric than continue the work he started as Vice President to fix the border by addressing the root causes of migration.”

The person, who also worked under former President BARACK OBAMA, added: “Even worse, he’s making a promise he will not be able to keep. He is about to lose all credibility on the global stage to tell other democracies to treat migrants at the border fairly and humanely.”

Las Americas Executive Director MARISA LIMON GARZA, who has met with Biden officials for years, called the statement “the most uninformed, short-sighted idea of a solution as could be” and a break from the administration’s prior policy commitments.

“As a person of faith who went to Catholic schools and taught in Catholic schools, it feels like he’s lost his way a little bit, which we all do,” she said. “I know that he cares. I believe him when he says that he values family [but] I think it’s gotten clouded because it hasn’t been convenient.”

So what’s really going on here?

Asked about the blowback, a White House official we spoke with this morning noted that Biden promised to “secure the border” in a fact sheet accompanying his first proposed bill. (Though, we’d point out, that’s a far cry from endorsing a full border shutdown.)

And politically, the imperative is clear: A recent CBS News poll found 63 percent of Americans said the administration should be tougher on immigrants crossing at the border, which is in line with other recent polling showing growing public concern with the issue.

Another veteran immigration advocate Playbook spoke to last night saw things this way: Biden’s statement was “crass and gross,” the person said, but it also signaled that the White House sees passage of a deal slipping away (Trump weighed in again this morning) and that it’s time to start convincing voters who is really responsible for the mess at the border.

“It’s bait designed to get a bunch of liberal advocates to say, ‘Oh my God, the president is terrible.’ And then it’s also designed to get the far right to freak out. And they think that … they’re going to be seen as like the people down the middle,” the veteran advocate said. “There’s just a lot of bullshitting going on right now, because, at the end of the day, it turns out there’s not a policy that, like, Johnson and Joe Biden and CHUCK SCHUMER are going to sign off on.”

Related read: “Biden endorses emerging deal to give US new power to clamp down on border crossings,” by CNN’s Manu Raju: “Under the soon-to-be-released package, the Department of Homeland Security would be granted new emergency authority to shut down the border if daily average migrant encounters reach 4,000 over a one-week span.”

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

THE $83.3 MILLION QUESTION — Will this be the legal development that finally moves the needle on the public’s opinion of Trump?

OK, almost certainly not, but yesterday’s blockbuster judgment — $18.3 million in compensation plus $65 million in punitive damages — in the New York defamation case brought by former newspaper columnist E. JEAN CARROLL was still an eye-opening reminder of the very serious legal peril Trump faces.

Trump had left the courtroom before the number was read, but according to the NYT, his “lawyers slumped in their seats as the dollar figures were read aloud.” Carroll, meanwhile, “walked out of the courthouse arm in arm with her legal team, beaming for the cameras” as Trump lawyer ALINA HABBA railed against the verdict. More details from POLITICO’s Erica Orden

Said Trump in a Truth Social statement, “I fully disagree with both verdicts, and will be appealing this whole Biden Directed Witch Hunt focused on me and the Republican Party. Our Legal System is out of control, and being used as a Political Weapon. They have taken away all First Amendment Rights. THIS IS NOT AMERICA!”

Any notion that the judgment — not to mention the underlying account of rape — might derail Trump’s march to the GOP nomination seemed to evaporate when his last credible challenger, NIKKI HALEY, released a statement that didn’t address the substance of the case, only highlighting it as a distraction.

“Donald Trump wants to be the presumptive Republican nominee and we’re talking about $83 million in damages. We’re not talking about fixing the border. We’re not talking about tackling inflation. America can do better than Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” she said in an online post.

At the White House

Biden will travel to Columbia, South Carolina, where he is scheduled to deliver remarks at the First in the Nation Dinner in the evening.

VP KAMALA HARRIS and second gentleman DOUG EMHOFF will travel to Las Vegas, where Harris will deliver remarks on small businesses and attend a campaign event in the afternoon. Harris and Emhoff will return to Los Angeles in the evening.

9 THINGS THAT STUCK WITH US

1. HALEY’S TOUGH MATH PROBLEM: NIKKI HALEY insists that there is still a path forward for her to emerge as the GOP presidential nominee. And while she is correct on paper, the calculus is enough to make your head spin, our colleague Steve Shepard writes this morning.

The road ahead: “The relative lull over the next four weeks before the South Carolina primary is followed by a sprint: Within four weeks after Haley faces former President Donald Trump in her home state, more than 70 percent of the delegates to the Republican convention in July will have been awarded.”

The challenge: “It’s a structural problem, in addition to Haley’s political one: trying to turn out the moderates and independents who boosted her in New Hampshire in states where they are in shorter supply. The door is still technically open for her to dethrone the former president despite his victories in the first two states, but it’s going to close very quickly.”

Related read: “‘Totally unhinged’: Tension grows between Haley and Trump,” by Christine Zhu and Lara Priluck

2. TRUMPED UP: With Trump on a glide path to the GOP nomination, Democratic operatives and candidates in tough House races are licking their chops at another chance to tie Republicans to the former president for a boost with voters at the ballots. “New York in particular will serve as a test case for how far the anti-Trump message will carry as Democrats seek to flip five House seats across the state,” all of which are represented by first-term GOP lawmakers whose districts Biden carried in 2020, Nick Reisman writes. The first litmus for this effort’s potency will come next month in the special election for ousted Rep. GEORGE SANTOS’ seat.

But New York Dems are also trying to paint House GOP Conference Chair ELISE STEFANIK as a deterrent for voters — an effort that Stefanik dismissed, pointing to her own success in a largely rural northern New York district. “I think they’re frosty and upset because I flipped a district that went for Obama,” Stefanik said in an interview. “We put it away year after year.”

3. BIDEN’S MUSLIM PROBLEM: As Biden searches for connections to every possible voter in his reelection bid, he is still facing an uphill battle with Arab American and Muslim voters. “Many Arab Americans and Muslim voters who have spoken to CNN say they will not support Biden’s reelection efforts due to his unwavering support of Israel and failure to call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza,” CNN’s Camila DeChalus writes. “But the problems go beyond that – Democratic strategists who spoke to CNN are warning that the president may struggle to find surrogates willing to take on the task of speaking to key voter groups such as Muslims, Arab Americans and angered progressives.”

4. A MORE PERFECT UNION: Teamsters President SEAN O’BRIEN is planning to meet with Trump for a second time this month, a move that has “rankled some of the union’s leaders and members,” as the two candidates duke it out for the influential union’s endorsement ahead of November, WaPo’s Lauren Kaori Gurley reports. Biden was also invited for a meeting with the group, but left-leaning members are pushing back on the Trump confab given his history with unions and after O’Brien met privately with the former president at Mar-a-Lago a few weeks ago. The Teamsters endorsed Biden in 2020.

5. WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN: The White House is trying to give Biden an economic boost as the general election looms, and is planning “to award billions of dollars in subsidies to Intel, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., or TSMC, and other top semiconductor companies in coming weeks to help build new factories,” WSJ’s Yuka Hayashi reports. “The grants are part of the $53 billion Chips Act, intended to reshore production of advanced microchips and fend off China, which is fast developing its own chip industry.” Industry executives told WSJ they expect some of the announcements to be set before the State of the Union address in March.

6. TRUCES WILD: Rep. SUSAN WILD (D-Pa.) is one of the most vulnerable Democrats on the ballot this November. Which is all the more reason that she doesn’t want to see Speaker Mike Johnson ousted by a band of conservative House Republicans. “I really am not inclined to help a member of the Republican Conference who wants to oust the speaker over something like either Ukraine aid or a funding deal with the Democrats,” she told NBC’s Scott Wong. “It’s been a very difficult year, and it’s been a very difficult year for the American people to watch the Congress be incredibly dysfunctional.”

7. WAR IN UKRAINE: After a languishing year for the Ukrainian forces in their counteroffensive against Russia, U.S. officials are mapping out a “new strategy that will de-emphasize winning back territory and focus instead on helping Ukraine fend off new Russian advances while moving toward a long-term goal of strengthening its fighting force and economy,” WaPo’s Karen DeYoung, Michael Birnbaum, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Emily Rauhala report. “The emerging plan is a sharp change from last year, when the U.S. and allied militaries rushed training and sophisticated equipment to Kyiv in hopes that it could quickly push back Russian forces occupying eastern and southern Ukraine.”

8. THAT’S A MOUTHFUL: “The online roots of the conservative ‘ZYNsurrection,’” by Semafor’s David Weigel: “Democrats, who generally try to avoid conservative media influencers, might not have known how popular ZYN had become in that space. There, it’s seen not as a vice, but as a work-enhancer — addictive, but well worth the trade-off. It fits in with a broader class of medically questionable supplements, dietary fads, and brain-boosters that have become tightly associated with right-wing and wellness podcasts in recent years.”

9. MEDIAWATCH: “Los Angeles Times Owner Clashed With Top Editor Over Unpublished Article,” by NYT’s Ryan Mac, Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson: LAT owner PATRICK SOON-SHIONG and former executive editor KEVIN MERIDA’s “relationship was strained in part by an incident in December when Dr. Soon-Shiong tried to dissuade Mr. Merida from pursuing a story about a wealthy California doctor and his dog, three people with knowledge of the interactions said. The doctor was an acquaintance of Dr. Soon-Shiong’s, the people said.”

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

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“Trump Haters Turned Trump Voters,” by N.Y. Mag’s Olivia Nuzzi: “Why do so many Americans seem open to giving him a second chance?”

“Ripples of hate,” by WaPo’s Ruby Cramer: “A chance encounter at N.Y. playground leaves a father asking, ‘What is justice now?’”

“‘Every Politician Has Got to Have Somebody That’s the Hit Man,’” by Ian MacDougall for NYT Magazine: “A Republican state lawmaker devised a bribery scheme that ended in a trial and a death — and showed why corruption has become harder to prosecute.”

“How a Lucky Break Fueled Eli Lilly’s $600 Billion Weight-Loss Empire,” by Bloomberg’s Madison Muller: “The company’s new obesity shot, Zepbound, is expected to be the bestselling drug of all time.”

“Is Kim Jong Un Preparing for War?” by Robert L. Carlin and Siegfried S. Hecker for 38 North: “The situation on the Korean Peninsula is more dangerous than it has been at any time since early June 1950.”

“Under the Shadow of the Extreme Case,” by Bolts’ Piper French: “On his first day in office, Los Angeles DA George Gascón rolled out a suite of blanket bans against some severe punishments. The ensuing years have been a crash course in the politics of reforming prosecution.”

“When Journalism Dies,” by Sebastian Junger for National Review: “Journalism is important because reality is important, and reality is something that many generals and politicians have a complicated relationship with.”

“The New Story of the Milky Way’s Surprisingly Turbulent Past,” by Ann Finkbeiner for Scientific American: “The latest star maps are rewriting the story of our Milky Way, revealing a much more tumultuous history than astronomers suspected.”

“The Woman Who Spent Five Hundred Days in a Cave,” by The New Yorker’s D. T. Max: “Beatriz Flamini liked to be alone so much that she decided to live underground—and pursue a world record. The experience was gruelling and surreal.”

“The Hunt for Tupac’s Killer: Confessions, Conspiracies, and Confusion,” by John Smith for Rolling Stone: “Why did it take decades to charge anyone in the shocking murder of the rap superstar?”

MUST BE ALFALFA WEEKEND … SPOTTED: Warren Buffett, Mitch McConnell, Condoleezza Rice and Jim Mattis coming out of Bourbon Steak’s private dining room last night.

OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at an Capitol Hill AI happy hour hosted by EqualAI and Washington AI Network at Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar last night: Miriam Vogel, Tammy Haddad, Liz Johnson, Max Katz, Megan Smith, Maryam Mujica, Caroline Edwards, Elham Tabassi, Kevin Cirilli, Elizabeth Kelly, Oma Seddiq, Jen Howard, Ollie Stephenson, Robby Burke, Johanna Thomas, Tina Huang and Virginia Coyne.

NobleReach Foundation hosted a book launch party celebrating the release of the “Venture Meets Mission” ($30), co-authored by Arun Gupta, Thomas Fewer and Gerard George, at its headquarters in Tyson’s on Thursday night. SPOTTED: Terry McAuliffe, Aneesh Chopra, Lisa Disbrow, retired Lt. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, Simon Davidson, Pat Tamburrino Jr., Glenn Gaffney, Linda Bixby, Rebeca Lamadrid, Alex Gallo and Victoria Virasingh.

MEDIA MOVES — Olivia Olander will be a senior reporter covering state government at the Chicago Tribune. She most recently has been a labor and employment reporter at POLITICO. … Mike Siconolfi is retiring after a 40-year career at WSJ. More from Talking Biz News

TRANSITIONS — Hayley Edmonds is joining Frontline Strategies as digital director. She previously was deputy director of operations for Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign. … Aleis Stokes is joining the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board as chief external relations officer. She previously was SVP of comms for the Independent Community Bankers of America.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Chief Justice John RobertsMeredith Kelly of Declaration Media … C-SPAN’s Howard MortmanJessica Fink Kitty Di Martino … Circle’s Jared FavoleErin LindsayEmily Skor of Growth Energy … The Paley Center’s Kayla ErmanniJamal WareNomiki Konst … White House’s Matt Lee-Ashley … DLCC’s Will Rusche Connie Partoyan of Targeted Victory … Ben Owens Heather NauertLisa Kaplan of Alethea … Akin Gump’s Josh TeitelbaumMorry Cater … WaPo’s Holly Bailey … former Reps. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), Zack Space (D-Ohio), John Mica (R-Fla.) and Dick Ottinger (D-N.Y.) (95) … Kevin Downey … American Conservation Coalition’s Michael Esposito … World Relief’s Chelsea Sobolik Rachel Dumke of Sen. Steve Daines’ (R-Mont.) office … Global Counsel’s Florence ChalkerScott Backer

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

ABC “This Week”: Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) … California Gov. Gavin Newsom … Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. C.Q. Brown. Panel: Rick Klein, Donna Brazile, Ramesh Ponnuru and Juana Summers.

CBS “Face the Nation”: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) … Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) … Amos Hochstein … Shawn Fain … Janti Soeripto.

FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) … Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) … Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) … NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Panel: Francesca Chambers, Julia Manchester, Kevin Roberts and Juan Williams.

CNN “State of the Union”: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) … South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Panel: Bakari Sellers, Scott Jennings, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and David Polyansky.

NBC “Meet the Press”: Nikki Haley … Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Panel: Cornell Belcher and Matt Gorman.

MSNBC “The Weekend”: Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.).

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton, producer Andrew Howard and Playbook Daily Briefing producer Callan Tansill-Suddath.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this newsletter misspelled Marisa Limón Garza’s name.




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