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POLITICO Playbook: Sunday best: Bidenworld schadenfreude, and on the ground in Brownsville


SPOTTED: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), both masked, keeping an eye on their pooches at a dog park in D.C. on Saturday. Pic (h/t Mel Zanona)

Best of the Sunday stories:

1) Remember how big a scandal BILL CLINTON’S final-day-in-office pardon of financier MARC RICH was? By comparison, DONALD TRUMP’S deluge of eleventh-hour pardons made Clinton’s look like he let MOTHER TERESA off the hook. Yet the Trump ones were largely lost in the uproar over stolen election claims from the right, euphoria on the left over his defeat and peak scandal fatigue. In a deep dive on today’s NYT front page, Ken Vogel and Nick Confessore revisit the collection of people who secured pardons from Trump — and the levers they pulled to make them happen.

“The efforts to seek clemency for these wealthy or well-connected people benefited from their social, political, or financial ties to a loose collection of lawyers, lobbyists, activists and Orthodox Jewish leaders who had worked with Trump administration officials on criminal justice legislation championed by Jared Kushner,” the pair writes. “That network revolved around a pair of influential Jewish organizations that focus on criminal justice issues — the Aleph Institute and Tzedek Association — and well-wired people working with them, including the lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz, Brett Tolman, a former U.S. attorney for Utah, and Nick Muzin, a Republican operative.” Read the piece here

2) WaPo’s Mike DeBonis and Meagan Flynn look at how the cause of D.C. statehood, “once a fanciful dream of local activists, now enjoys near-unanimity inside the Democratic Party. Many congressional Democrats mention it in the same company as the party’s other top voting rights priorities, putting it at the center of the internal battle over whether to change Senate rules to allow for major legislation to pass with a simple majority.” The Electoral College and redistricting have given Republicans an enormous built-in advantage in the competition for power despite their declining numbers nationally. And Democrats, with their control of the White House and Congress, have a narrow window to level what they see as a tilted playing field. (Read New York magazine’s fascinating interview early this month with David Shor for a lot more on this topic.) D.C. statehood is a huge part of the equation.

“The jolt of momentum stems in part from an increasingly urgent desire among Democrats to act while they have power to erode what they see as Republican structural advantages in the nation’s democracy — including the Senate. D.C. statehood would probably result in two additional Democratic senators, shifting the dynamic in a chamber where members from conservative, rural states can wield disproportionate influence over legislation, federal courts and presidential nominations,” DeBonis and Flynn write.

3) Our own Sabrina Rodríguez has a rich, on-the-ground dispatch from Brownsville, Texas, where she interviewed local officials as well as several asylum-seekers themselves. The takeaway: Give us less politics and more solutions. “Local officials and community leaders … [say] they’ve managed to hold chaos at bay. But they worry the situation is getting out of control as the number of migrants swells and conditions worsen accordingly at U.S. Border Patrol facilities. They insist it’s way past time for leaders in Washington to come up with long-term solutions that will help create better conditions in the migrants’ home countries and allow those that still want to come to the U.S. to enter via a smooth and fair process.

“‘There’s no question Donald Trump’s strategy was inhumane, brutal and un-American,’ said Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), who represents a border district. ‘But what we’re doing now is also a failure.’” Read the story here. (Also, WaPo takes a broader look at the Biden administration’s “failure to contain the border surge.”)

Bonus: Maureen Dowd’s delicious NYT column on President JOE BIDEN, generally viewed as a “goofball and windbag” by the “cool kids” in the Obama White House, getting the last laugh now. “President Biden is being hailed as a transformational, once-in-a-generation progressive champion, with comparisons to L.B.J. and F.D.R. aplenty, while Obama has become a cautionary tale about what happens when Democrats get the keys to the car but don’t put their foot on the gas,” Dowd writes. “The collective smirk was wiped off the face of Obamaworld this past week, as former aides expressed their irritation at the retrospective dissing, and while Biden’s inner circle enjoyed an unfamiliar sensation: schadenfreude. Now the friendly fire once aimed at Biden is coming toward Obama.”

TRUMP ENDORSEMENT DRAMA — Ahead of Alabama Rep. MO BROOKS’ announcement Monday alongside STEPHEN MILLER that he’s running for Senate, an outside dark money group is trying to ward off a Trump endorsement of the congressman. Trucks paid for by the American Exceptionalism Institute have been rolling around Huntsville, Ala., adorned with Brooks’ picture and a reminder of what he said during the 2016 campaign: that Republicans “will be very regretful of voting for Donald Trump.” It states in big red letters to “Let Mo know he was wrong.” Trump has been leaning toward endorsing Brooks over his former ambassador LYNDA BLANCHARD, who held a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago last weekend. Pic

Happy Sunday morning. Got a news tip? A document to share? Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

Best of the Sunday shows …

DHS Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS making the rounds … on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “The border is closed. We are expelling families. We are expelling single adults. And we’ve made a decision that we will not expel young, vulnerable children.” More from Zachary Warmbrodt

— On CNN’s “State of the Union”Dana Bash: “Can you give me a date that you hope to be up and running, so that these children have better facilities?” Mayorkas: “Dana, as soon as possible.”

— On “Fox News Sunday”: “It takes time, because the entire system was dismantled. We are working on it and we will succeed because that is what we do.”

Sen. TOM COTTON (R-Ark.) on “Fox News Sunday”: “It’s rich that Secretary Mayorkas won’t let press travel with him to the border but he will come on your Sunday morning show and peddle the same kind of nonsense that has created the Biden border crisis in the first place. I mean he’s basically saying the United States will not secure our border, and that is a big welcome sign to migrants from across the world.”

Sen. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-Ga.) talking about the Georgia shootings on “Meet the Press”: “We need reasonable gun reform in our country. This shooter was able to kill all of these folks the same day he purchased a firearm. But right now, what is our legislature doing? They’re busy under the gold dome here in Georgia trying to prevent people from being able to vote the same day they register. I think that suggests a distortion in values.”

BIDEN’S SUNDAY — The president and VP KAMALA HARRIS have nothing on their public schedules.

ATLANTA SHOOTINGS LATEST

ON THE GROUND — “Nation stricken by metro Atlanta massacre,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution

WHO THEY WERE — “What we know about the victims of the Atlanta shootings,” WaPo

SCENES FROM AROUND THE U.S. — “Protests Across U.S. Call for End to Anti-Asian Violence,” WSJ

FOR YOUR RADAR — “Spa shootings could be first test of Georgia hate crimes law,” AP

THE WHITE HOUSE

NOT EVERY POCKET — “Biden’s top aides unlikely to qualify for relief payments,” AP: “Most of Biden’s senior West Wing advisers made far more than the threshold that would qualify them for direct payments from the president’s COVID-19 relief bill, according to White House financial disclosure forms released Saturday. The disclosure period runs through 2020.

“The documents paint a portrait of advisers whose wealth is dwarfed by those that surrounded President Donald Trump but do not quite line up with Biden’s image of ‘Middle Class Joe.’” With details

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

AUSTIN ABROAD — “Pentagon chief makes surprise stop in Afghanistan as generals warn of premature drawdown,” by Lara Seligman in Kabul: “President Joe Biden is still weighing a decision on whether to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, the deadline stipulated by an agreement he inherited from the Trump administration. But violence in the country remains too high, Austin told reporters after meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.

“‘It’s obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country, we’d really like to see that violence come down,’ Austin said. ‘If it does come down, it can begin to set the conditions for some really fruitful diplomatic work.’ Austin declined to say whether the Taliban are meeting the conditions of the February 2020 agreement negotiated by the previous administration, but stressed that he wants to see ‘a responsible end to the conflict.’”

CONGRESS

COLLINS CHRONICLES — “Sen. Susan Collins Sees ‘Poor Strategy’ in White House Rebuffing GOP,” WSJ: “‘If there really is a friendship, and a level of trust, that should make it easy for us to work together,’ she said of Mr. Biden. ‘I have been a bit concerned that perhaps some of these left groups, or perhaps members of his staff, are tugging at him constantly to try to move him further to the left than I think is wise.’

“A White House official said aides have been in touch with Ms. Collins and her team multiple times every week. Conversations have been on a range of issues, including convening a meeting with her and the Maine delegation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration focused on fishing, the official said. … Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Ms. Collins, said the senator and Mr. Klain on Friday had ‘a constructive conversation.’”

POLITICS ROUNDUP

GOOD START FOR JAIME HARRISON — “DNC reports best-ever February fundraising for a non-presidential year,” by Ben Leonard: “The Democratic National Committee said it raised the most money it ever has in February in a non-presidential election year, $8.5 million, according to a DNC spokesperson. February’s haul was also the second highest the DNC has ever seen, period, according to the spokesperson.

“Combined with January’s numbers, the DNC has raised the most it ever has in January and February at $18.4 million, according to the spokesperson. The numbers, obtained by POLITICO ahead of the monthly filing deadline Saturday evening, come on the heels of the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff Senate elections, which Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock swept. They also come under the stewardship of new DNC chair Jaime Harrison.”

THE HOUSE SPECIALS IN LOUISIANA — “Julia Letlow wins special election to replace her late husband in Congress,” by Ally Mutnick: “She took 62 percent of the vote in the 12-way race, a commanding victory that cleared the majority threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Her election brings the number of Republican women in Congress to 31 — a stunning turnaround from the end of last cycle, when there were just 13.”

“Troy Carter, Karen Carter Peterson in runoff for 2nd Dist. Congressional seat,” WWL-TV: “The two were among 15 candidates seeking to fill the seat [Cedric] Richmond left empty when he accepted a position as an adviser to President Joe Biden.”

BEYOND THE BELTWAY

RACIAL RECKONING — “In City After City, Police Mishandled Black Lives Matter Protests,” NYT: “[M]onths after the demonstrations that followed the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police in May, the full scope of the country’s policing response is becoming clearer. More than a dozen after-action evaluations have been completed, looking at how police departments responded to the demonstrations — some of them chaotic and violent, most peaceful — that broke out in hundreds of cities between late May and the end of August.

“In city after city, the reports are a damning indictment of police forces that were poorly trained, heavily militarized and stunningly unprepared for the possibility that large numbers of people would surge into the streets, moved by the graphic images of Mr. Floyd’s death under a police officer’s knee. The mistakes transcended geography, staffing levels and financial resources.”

JAN. 6 FALLOUT — “When the Capitol Riot Came Home,” N.Y. Mag: “The trouble in Troy started hundreds of miles away that day, when David Ellis talked to a reporter. … His few words to me would soon upend the little town that he has looked after for three decades, snowball into the statehouse, and roil New Hampshire politics. A clash over one unexpected question — what to do about the lawman who was closer than he should have been to an insurrection? — raised others about the viciousness of our politics and how much the Trump years have warped us.”

SPOTTED: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) at Spruzzo in The Ben Hotel in West Palm Beach on Friday night, before a round of golf with Trump on Saturday. … Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night, despite the partial Covid-19 shutdown at the club caused by wild parties, according to The Daily Beast.

CABINET SECRETARIES, THEY’RE JUST LIKE US! — BUTTIGIEG in the WSJ: “How Little We Communicate With Words”: “I’m among the Americans who have learned some surprising lessons of telework: that a video meeting can be less intimate than a phone call, that not commuting to work can be strangely exhausting, and that having more time doesn’t mean getting more done. …

“Meanwhile, my husband Chasten and I learned the basic negotiations of marriage all over again, swapping the challenges of absence and constant travel for the equal and opposite challenge of being in each other’s presence all the time. … As we contemplate returning to a world without masks and constant telework, will our capacities to interact with each other be profoundly weakened, like unused muscles, and need to be retrained? Or will our old ways of sensing one another be intact and even enhanced by the new ones we have been forced to evolve?”

TRANSITIONS — Amanda Fitzmorris is now press secretary for Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.). She previously was a special adviser in the Office of Research and Development at EPA. … Adam Fortier-Brown will be a consultant in Deloitte’s government and public services practice. He previously was government relations manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. … John Elizandro will be director of strategic comms and data at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. He previously was senior adviser and comms director for Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.), and is an Erik Paulsen alum.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The Dispatch’s Jonah Goldberg (52) … CNN’s John Berman (49) … WaPo’s Amy Joyce … The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur (51) … POLITICO’s Beatrice JinMelissa MattoonNed BrownMike CollinsSayeh Tavangar Alex Spillius … BCW Global’s Brian Ellner … Narrative Strategies DC’s Ken SpainDan Wilson, SVP at Mercury (38) … Scott RaabDina Rasor … Alex WilkesLisa CaplanDana Martin (37) … Andrew Brown … Morgan Lewis’ Fred Fielding (81) … Lynn HidalgoElizabeth Hines … Pfizer’s Sharon Castillo Katie Vicars

… Andrew Bleeker, president and founder of Bully Pulpit Interactive … Matt Gerson, principal at FocusDC and founder of Tracy’s Kids … Ross Kyle, COS at Van Scoyoc Associates … PCCC co-founder Adam Green Kaitlyn ShimminSarah CottrellJames McMasterKeith RabinPatrick Rhode (52) … John Kalitka Talin SardarbegianEric Stecklow Nicole BohannonJason Scism … former Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) (61)

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected]. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler and producers Allie Bice, Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.



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