POLITICO Playbook: Welcome to 2022

Happy 2022, y’all, and welcome to the election year.

The question on everyone’s mind right now is this: How bad will it be for Democrats? Will the GOP simply recapture the House, as the minority party typically does in the first cycle following one-party rule of Washington? Or will this be a beefed-up version of 2010/2014, with a massive Tea Party-like wave sweeping Republicans into power and flipping both chambers of Congress?

Will Democrats have something new to campaign on, like a slimmed-down version of Build Back Better? Or will The Other Joe With Veto Power (Sen. JOE MANCHIN) hold the line? And if the West Virginia senator caves — and should Democrats muster support for some sort of social spending bill — will it even matter to voters? Or will inflation and supply-chain concerns continue to dominate voter fears and motivate ballot decisions, as they did in 2021?

And don’t forget the pandemic that was supposed to be under control by now. How bad is this thing going to get in the coming weeks and months — not only regarding infection rates and death, but in supercharging the culture war? And what will the ongoing pandemic mean for Biden, his agenda and the Democratic Party writ large?

So many questions. And we’ll be following it all in Playbook in 2022.

GOP BRIMMING WITH CONFIDENCE — What a difference a year made in the fortunes of the Republican Party. AP’s Steve Peoples and Will Weissert have a story taking stock of how much has changed: About a year ago, the party of Lincoln had lost the White House and the Senate, and saw their own leader sit back and watch the Capitol burn in a bid to stop the peaceful transfer of power. This year, thanks to Democratic misfortunes — Biden’s sluggish poll numbers, economic worries, a stalled agenda, Covid surges, redistricting woes, dozens of retirements — Republicans are primed for a quick comeback.

That’s to say nothing of the historical tailwinds at their backs: Per Peoples and Weissert, “just once this century has the party holding the White House not lost congressional seats in the first midterm election of a new presidency. That was in 2002, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” In 1994, under BILL CLINTON, Dems lost 54 House seats and eight Senate seats; in 2010, BARACK OBAMA lost 63 House seats and six in the Senate; in 2018, DONALD TRUMP lost 40 Republicans in the House, though gained two in the Senate.

NRSC Chair RICK SCOTT’s (R-Fla.) quote to the pair says it all: “We’re going to have a hell of a year… Every state that Biden won by less than 10 is now a battleground state.” Pin that.

Despite that confidence, there is one prickly issue that most Republicans privately admit continues to weigh them down: Trump, his penchant for revenge and his continued obsession with the Big Lie. The ex-president remains as relevant as ever and has shown that he’s not afraid to wade into GOP primaries nationwide to come after those he deems disloyal, or to bolster candidates who embrace his election falsehoods. That will create a general election challenge that could temper the gains Republicans might otherwise see in November.

Happy New Year. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

BIDEN’S SATURDAY: The president has nothing on his public schedule.

RING IN THE NEW — NYT has a collection of photos and reports from around the world showing how people rang in the new year — including the swearing in of New York City Mayor ERIC ADAMS just after midnight in Times Square.



ROBERTS ADMITS PROBLEMS IN THE JUDICIAL BRANCH — Supreme Court Chief Justice JOHN ROBERTS said in his annual year-end report that he would aim to clean up the ethics and compliance within the federal judiciary, “citing a Wall Street Journal investigation that found hundreds of instances where judges presided over cases involving companies in which they or their relatives held stock,” WSJ’s Jess Bravin and James Grimaldi write.

Roberts, who has long been sensitive to public perceptions of the Judiciary’s credibility, had this to say: “Let me be crystal clear: the Judiciary takes this matter seriously. We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule.”

He also had a message for Congress: Stay out of it. “The Judiciary’s power to manage its internal affairs insulates courts from inappropriate political influence and is crucial to preserving public trust in its work as a separate and co-equal branch of government.”


BIDEN HITS BACK FOLLOWING PUTIN’S THREAT — Biden said Friday that he gave a stern warning to Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN that there would be a “heavy price to pay” if his country invades Ukraine. “‘I’m not going to negotiate here in public,’ Biden told reporters … ‘But we made it clear he cannot, I’ll emphasize, cannot invade Ukraine,’” WaPo’s Meryl Kornfield reports in Wilmington.

FLAG IT: Biden will speak with Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY on Sunday amid the nation’s ongoing standoff with Russia.


NEW YEAR’S EVE JAN. 6 NEWS BOMB — The timing wasn’t exactly great for the social lives of our colleagues Nicholas Wu and Kyle Cheney. But BERNARD KERIK, the ex-New York City Police commission and Trump ally, handed over some eye-popping new docs to the Jan. 6 panel just hours before the ball dropped Friday night. He also turned over “a ‘privilege log’ describing materials he declined to provide to the committee.”

“Among the withheld documents is one titled ‘DRAFT LETTER FROM POTUS TO SEIZE EVIDENCE IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL SECURITY FOR THE 2020 ELECTIONS.’ Kerik’s attorney TIMOTHY PARLATORE provided the privilege log to the panel, which said the file originated on Dec. 17, a day before Trump huddled in the Oval Office with advisers including former Lt. Gen. MICHAEL FLYNN, where they discussed the option of seizing election equipment in states whose results Trump was attempting to overturn.”

SPEAKING OF … Kyle has another story up today about the major challenge facing lawmakers who want to change the way that elections are certified in the hopes of preventing anything like Jan. 6 from happening again: First, they must “at least try to settle a question that’s vexed generations of constitutional scholars: Can the Electoral Count Act’s key provisions be enforced, or can a rogue future Congress — in league with a losing presidential candidate — simply ignore it?”


2024 WATCH — After 2020, many Democrats hoped that Biden would be the new FDR. But now, a year into his presidency, some in the progressive wing see Biden as more of a JIMMY CARTER type, and are already looking forward to the possibility of a 2024 primary against him.

But who would take on Biden? “No one now in office — and none of the top-tier presidential contenders from 2020 — is viewed as a serious prospect to take on Biden. Nor is there any expectation that [Sen. BERNIE] SANDERS or Sen. ELIZABETH WARREN, both of whom have enjoyed a significant amount of influence in the Biden administration, would primary Biden. Few seriously think [Rep. ALEXANDRIA] OCASIO-CORTEZ would risk her political capital in a long-shot challenge to the president, either,” Holly Otterbein reports.

“Instead, liberals believe lesser-known candidates are more likely to primary Biden if he seeks a second term, such as former Sanders campaign co-chair NINA TURNER, 2020 presidential candidate MARIANNE WILLIAMSON or millionaire and $18-an-hour minimum wage advocate JOE SANBERG.


— The U.S. Omicron wave could crest earlier than expected. Using data from South Africa, researchers with Columbia University have new estimates suggesting that Omicron cases in the U.S. “could peak by Jan. 9 at around 2.5 million cases per week, though that number may go as high as 5.4 million,” writes NYT’s Azeen Ghorayshi.

Studies are beginning to reveal why the Omicron variant is generally causing less severe symptoms among those who contract it: In studies on mice and hamsters, Omicron “did much less harm to the lungs, where previous variants would often cause scarring and serious breathing difficulty,” write NYT’s Carl Zimmer and Azeen Ghorayshi.

— Is this pandemic actually making us less prepared for the next one? WSJ’s Betsy McKay, Amy Dockser Marcus, Natasha Khan and Jeremy Page write that Covid-19 has led to a major breakdown in scientific collaboration between the western world and China — hampering the efforts to build a “global early warning and surveillance systems for new viruses, and establish new protocols for sharing information when outbreaks occur.”


COULD FED DEFLATE BIDEN’S ECONOMY? — In 2022, the Federal Reserve “is expected to raise interest rates to fight inflation, and government programs meant to stimulate the economy during the pandemic will have ended. Those policy changes will cause investors, businesses and consumers to behave differently, and their actions will eventually take some air out of the stock market,” NYT’s Coral Murphy Marcos and Emily Flitter write.

UP IN THE AIR — Federal officials want to pump the brakes on AT&T and Verizon’s new planned 5G wireless service over aviation safety concerns, Reuters’ David Shepardson reports. “In a letter Friday seen by Reuters, [Transportation Secretary PETE] BUTTIGIEG and FAA Administrator STEVE DICKSON asked AT&T Chief Executive JOHN STANKEY and Verizon Chief Executive HANS VESTBERG for a delay of no more than two weeks as part of a ‘proposal as a near-term solution for advancing the co-existence of 5G deployment in the C-Band and safe flight operations.’ The aviation industry and FAA have raised concerns about potential interference of 5G with sensitive aircraft electronics like radio altimeters that could disrupt flights.”

FOR THAT REASON, I’M OUT — In a surprise move on Friday, FDIC Chair JELENA MCWILLIAMS, a Trump appointee, announced that she will resign her post after “partisan strife at the bank regulator, in a move that will give Democrats control of the agency in the coming weeks,” Victoria Guida reports. “Her departure, effective Feb. 4, means that FDIC board member MARTIN GRUENBERG will become acting chair — his third stint atop the 88-year-old independent agency that insures trillions of dollars in deposits at the nation’s banks.”


BIDEN’S CHINA DILEMMA — In 2020, Beijing promised to step up its purchases of U.S. goods and services. But the timeline on that pact ran out on Friday, and China didn’t meet its expectations, leaving Biden with a decision to make, WSJ’s Josh Zumbrun reports. “The White House could potentially reinstate certain tariffs that were cut as part of the trade deal, but that could backfire if China cut back U.S. purchases or took measures against American companies doing business there. Alternatively, the U.S. could ignore the shortfall, which could send a signal to Beijing that it won’t face consequences.”

— Meanwhile, China is moving ahead with another Asia-Pacific regional trade pact that could leave the U.S. on the sidelines, WSJ’s Yuka Hayashi writes.

THE BRAVE NEW WORLD — China is tapping into social media and other internet platforms to bolster its surveillance capabilities and “equip its government agencies, military and police with information on foreign targets,” WaPo’s Cate Cadell reports. “The software primarily targets China’s domestic Internet users and media, but a Washington Post review of bidding documents and contracts for over 300 Chinese government projects since the beginning of 2020 include orders for software designed to collect data on foreign targets from sources such as Twitter, Facebook and other Western social media.”


MAJOR COLORADO WILDFIRES — “Colorado residents driven from their neighborhoods by a terrifying, wind-whipped wildfire got their first, heartbreaking look at the damage the morning after, while others could only wait and wonder whether their homes were among the more than 500 feared destroyed. At least seven people were injured, but remarkably there were no immediate reports of any deaths or anyone missing in the aftermath of the blaze outside Denver,” AP’s Brittany Peterson, Patty Nieberg and Colleen Slevin report in Superior, Colo.

How it happened, via WaPo’s Jason Samenow, Jacob Feuerstein and Becky Bolinger: “The fire was fueled by an extreme set of atmospheric conditions, intensified by climate change, and fanned by a violent windstorm. … [E]xceptionally warm and dry conditions through this fall, including a historic lack of snowfall, created tinderbox conditions ripe for a fast-spreading blaze.”

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 13 funnies

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“‘An American Tradition’: Lessons from a year covering conspiracy theories,” by WaPo’s Jose Del Real: “A reporter reflects on conflicts over truth, trust and belonging in America.”

“The Cruel Failure of Welfare Reform in the Southwest,” by Eli Hager for ProPublica and the Las Vegas Sun: “A ProPublica series has found that in Nevada and neighboring states, boom times hastened the demise of cash assistance for the poor — but not poverty.”

“He Was the West’s Most Important Undercover Spy. An Affair Brought It All Down,” by Tim Tate for POLITICO Magazine: “How a Polish double agent defected and became an even more valuable asset to the West.”

“Your DNA Test Could Send a Relative to Jail,” by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi for NYT Magazine: “Thanks to ‘genetic genealogy,’ solving crimes with genomic databases is becoming mainstream — with some uncomfortable implications for the future of privacy.”

AOC TO CRITICS: YOU JUST WANT TO DATE ME — It was among the most bizzaro Twitter fights of the week. First, a bunch of conservative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez critics appeared to try to shame her for vacationing in Miami and enjoying a drink with her BF outside — criticism that seemed a bit silly given that she was following CDC guidelines and all politicians are enjoying downtime right now.

But then AOC took personal offense after former Newsmax host Steve Cortes criticized her boyfriend, Riley Roberts, for having “gross pale” feet. And she went on a Twitter tangent accusing her critics of having “sexual frustrations” because they can’t date her: “If Republicans are mad they can’t date me, they can just say that instead of projecting their sexual frustrations onto my boyfriend’s feet. Ya creepy weirdos…. It’s starting to get old ignoring the very obvious, strange, and deranged sexual frustrations that underpin the Republican fixation on me, women,& LGBT+ people in general. These people clearly need therapy, won’t do it, and use politics as their outlet instead. It’s really weird.”

Republicans had a heyday with what they called her Twitter “meltdown.” Matt Whitlock, the former aide to Orrin Hatch, wrote that “AOC has had some bizarre tweets but this one is a hall of famer.” An editor at Daily Wire tweeted to AOC directly that he didn’t want to date her, prompting AOC to come after him, too.

“People enjoying the @aoc Miami meltdown, not necessarily in this order: 1) Conservative critics of AOC 2) Chuck Schumer,” wrote Rich Lowry.

MEANWHILE … Andy Cohen rang in the new year by going off on Bill de Blasio as his CNN co-host Anderson Cooper laughingly discouraged him.

TV icon Betty White died at the age of 99 on Friday. Biden told reporters of White: “It’s a shame. She was a lovely lady. … 99-years-old. As my mother would say: God love her.”

The House Judiciary GOP deleted its tweet dissing booster shots, which we flagged in Playbook on Friday.

CLICKER — Invariant’s Heather Podesta‘s annual holiday card of funny politics-related New Year’s resolutions. Some of our favorite zingers on this year’s card: “Quit swearing, start saying ‘come on, man’” and “Explain to my early 2000s self that Liz Cheney is a resistance hero.”

TRANSITION — Andrew Isenhour is now deputy comms director for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. He most recently was comms director for Stand Together.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Annah Aschbrenner, a White House, Congress and national politics editor at USA Today, and Joel Aschbrenner, an attorney at Denton’s Davis Brown Law Firm and a Des Moines Register alum, welcomed Ethan Arthur Aschbrenner on Dec. 21. Pic Another pic

NEW YEAR’S BIRTHDAYS: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) … Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Diana Harshbarger (R-Tenn.) … Vinay Reddy … BuzzFeed’s Jonah PerettiMax Richtman … WaPo’s Brady DennisJames GlassmanKevin McGrann of Forbes Tate Partners … Stephanie PennTodd Webster of Cornerstone Government Affairs … Dan Koh of the Labor Department … Brian Frederick of the ALS Association … Shannon WattsPriscilla Ross of the American Hospital Association … Kate Beale Maguire … C-SPAN’s Nicole NinhAndy Maner of Avantus Federal … Alison (Howard) CentofanteJustin Bartolomeo of JMB Public Relations … Margot FriedmanDana Klinghoffer of NBC News comms … Gary Johnson … former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine Hannah Schwartz … former Reps. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) and Martin Frost (D-Texas) (8-0) … POLITICO’s Alex DiNino … POLITICO Europe’s Giulia Chiatante Elizabeth Belk Doggett J.D. Bryant of Bully Pulpit Interactive … European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

  • NBC

    “Meet the Press,” with a special “January 6: One Year Later” edition: Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) … Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) … Fiona Hill … Barton Gellman. Panel: Yamiche Alcindor, Jonah Goldberg, Garrett Haake and Brandy Zadrozny.

  • ABC

    “This Week”: Anthony Fauci … New York Mayor-elect Eric Adams … Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) … Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). Panel: Chris Christie, Donna Brazile, Yvette Simpson and Sarah Isgur.

  • FOX

    “Fox News Sunday,” guest-anchored by Trace Gallagher: Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson … U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger … Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Panel: Howard Kurtz, Jason Riley and Susan Page.


    “The Sunday Show”: Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) … D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser … Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn … Barbara McQuade … Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

  • CBS

    “Face the Nation”: Education Secretary Miguel Cardona … Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) … Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) … Scott Gottlieb … Robert Pape.

  • CNN

    “State of the Union”: Anthony Fauci … Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) … Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

  • Gray TV

    “Full Court Press”: Jeanne Marrazzo … Sean Tucker.

  • CNN

    “Inside Politics”: Panel: Hans Nichols, Tarini Parti, Alex Thompson and Jackie Kucinich. … Leana Wen.

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

CORRECTION: An earlier version of Playbook incorrectly stated how many Senate seats Republicans gained in 2018. It was two.

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How this kitchen item got politically polarizing in, uh, something like 72 hours.

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