With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
DON’T SLEEP ON AUGUST — This was a dizzying week in political news. Normally, we would all be looking forward to an August respite. But don’t count on it. While Congress may be out of town, the next month will be crucial to answering some big questions about all of the main characters in American politics right now. There’s a lot in the news today that provides clues to some of these summer cliffhangers, so let’s catch up:
JOE BIDEN …
The president and first lady finally acknowledged their seventh grandchild, NAVY JOAN ROBERTS, the daughter of HUNTER BIDEN and LUNDEN ROBERTS. The method? A late Friday statement to People Magazine.
The NYT’s Katie Rogers, who first gave this story national attention, and her colleague Michael S. Schmidt, report that a “person familiar with the situation said the president would say that he had seven grandchildren going forward.”
The White House is framing this as the natural result of the end of a contentious custody battle. But it looks much more like typical Biden world political efficiency. They respond to political blindspots when they become major issues, which happened in this case as a result of Rogers’ reporting and a tough column from Maureen Dowd. One of the old Washington norms Biden still adheres to is respecting elite opinion about him. More from AP, WSJ and POLITICO
Will the general election turn on such issues? Doubtful, but the Hunter problem is not going away, as the WSJ’s Annie Linskey nicely explains this morning in a piece about the president’s difficulty balancing political concerns about his wayward son with his fatherly instincts.
Still, the economy is the key to Biden’s reelection, and that story continues to be a drip-drip-drip of positive news — the Fed’s favorite inflation indicator dropped further yesterday, economic growth beat expectations for Q2, and the labor market is gently cooling.
The WSJ this morning wraps up the whole picture in a piece titled, “How the U.S. Economy Is Sticking the Soft Landing,” which notes the markets are loving what they are seeing: “The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index have risen for three straight weeks, with the broader index closing Friday at its highest value since April 2022.
Meanwhile, Biden has decided to escalate his fight with Sen. TOMMY TUBERVILLE, whom the White House sees as a very good foil. As we reported yesterday, there could be real consequences for military readiness if the Alabama Republican continues to hold up hundreds of appointments over his abortion-relation dispute with the Pentagon.
As the WaPo lays out, Biden is seizing on Tuberville “to criticize other right-wing Republicans he characterizes as extreme, obstructionist and willing to jeopardize the country’s national security” and used a Thursday speech at the Truman Civil Rights Symposium to amplify the contrast: “Something dangerous is happening,” he said. “The Republican Party used to always support the military, but today, they are undermining the military.”
DONALD TRUMP …
The analysis of the superseding indictment filed Thursday by special counsel JACK SMITH has been brutal for the former president.
His ex-lawyer TY COBB told CNN, “This is such a tight case, the evidence is so overwhelming,” while t he NYT quotes ANDREW GOLDSTEIN, who was ROBERT MUELLER’s lead investigator on the potential obstruction charges against Trump, saying this:
“‘Demanding that evidence be destroyed is the most basic form of obstruction and is easy for a jury to understand. … It is more straightforwardly criminal than the obstructive acts we detailed in the Mueller report. … And if proven, it makes it easier to show that Trump had criminal intent for the rest of the conduct described in the indictment.”
On the other hand, Trump’s opponents are still too scared to associate themselves with Smith. Check out the headlines from the latest cattle call in Iowa: “Trump and his top 2024 primary rivals mostly ignore the case against him during key Iowa GOP event” (AP); “Trump insulted their governor and may be indicted again. They love him.” (POLITICO); “Trump, Spared Attacks by Rivals in Iowa, Doesn’t Return the Favor” (NYT).
Trump’s rivals barely mentioned him at the event. If you covered the 2016 GOP primaries, you might be experiencing some deja vu.
RON DeSANTIS …
The Florida governor’s reboot/death spiral news cycle continues with not a single positive headline out there. DeSantis started the week with headlines about Nazis, and he ended it with headlines about slavery, which is usually bad in American politics. Three new stories sum up his dire position:
The Florida governor’s latest problem is an ascendant TIM SCOTT, whom DeSantis targeted for attack this week to uncertain effect. “The remarks by Mr. DeSantis — who has been in a defensive crouch — plunged him deeper into a fight about slavery and education with two prominent Black Republicans,” the NYT notes.
MITCH McCONNELL …
The Senate Republican leader’s health issues continue to attract attention, with the NYT using it as a way into writing about our current gerontocracy: “Reluctant to Retire, Leaders Raise a Tough Question: How Old Is Too Old?”
We suspect there will be a lot of tough conversations inside the Senate GOP over the recess.
KEVIN McCARTHY …
The odds of a government shutdown seem high, but perhaps the embattled House speaker can use the recess to turn down the temperature on his right. “We’ve got ’til Sept. 30. I think we can get this all done,” McCarthy said this week, per this morning’s AP report on how there is “no clear path to avoiding a shutdown this fall.”
He also may want to try and turn down the temperature on his left. The Daily Beast reported this week that McCarthy recently got into a heated spat with Rep. ERIC SWALWELL (D-Calif.) outside the men’s bathroom off the House floor. McCarthy warned Swalwell that he would “kick his ass” if he ever called him a certain name. Swalwell then did exactly that, and the speaker moved on rather than follow through on his threat. (We have confirmed this story with someone who heard about it immediately after it happened.)
Hope these two don’t run into each other back in California during the recess!
Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line about your plans for August: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — The DNC is running a new five-figure ad campaign in Pennsylvania today ahead of DONALD TRUMP’s visit to the state. The ads will contrast Trump and Biden’s performance on issues like job creation and investments in infrastructure. Watch
PHOTO OF THE DAY
7 THINGS THAT STUCK WITH US
1. OLD BULL ON THE LOOSE: “An ‘institution guy’ in the House, Steve Womack is fed up and might retire,” by WaPo’s Paul Kane: “Rising in power and respected on both sides of the aisle, [Rep. STEVE] WOMACK, 66, has grown so fed up with his party’s leadership kowtowing to a small band of hard-right lawmakers that he is considering retiring next year. Expecting to make a decision around Labor Day, he will weigh whether Republican dysfunction is ‘so unpleasant’ that he can no longer ‘be a difference maker’ in the chamber he loves. … “Life is too short to sit in misery,’ Womack said. His friends are giving him space to make the decision but worry that his retirement would lead to his conservative northwestern Arkansas district replacing him with a more fire-breathing Republican. And some fear that Womack’s would not be the only retirement from the workhorse wing of the House GOP.”
2. OH YEAH? MAKE ME: “Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court’s Plain-Spoken Defender,” by WSJ’s David B. Rivkin Jr. and James Taranto: “Justice [SAMUEL] ALITO says he voluntarily follows disclosure statutes that apply to lower-court judges and executive-branch officials; so do the other justices. But he notes that ‘Congress did not create the Supreme Court’—the Constitution did. ‘I know this is a controversial view, but I’m willing to say it,’ he says. ‘No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court—period.’”
3. SUNSHINE ON SLAVERY SPAT: New Florida standards for teaching African American history have come under fire recently, particularly sections that instruct students to be taught enslaved people developed “skills” that personally benefited them. But a majority of the members of the group that developed those standards opposed the inclusion of that language, NBC News’ Janelle Griffith reports.
“The work group members who spoke to NBC News said that only two members of the work group … advocated for the criticized language. … Two members said the matter was tabled for a later discussion and did not recall it ever being voted on. One of those members called the language in the final product ‘problematic’ and said the group ‘could have done a better job’ if it had been given more time to work.”
4. OLE FAITHFUL: “Trump aide Carlos De Oliveira’s journey from failed witness to defendant,” by WaPo’s Devlin Barrett, Spencer S. Hsu and Josh Dawsey: “The series of discussions between [CARLOS] DE OLIVEIRA and investigators highlight how prosecutors led by special counsel JACK SMITH have approached Trump employees with a mixture of hope and suspicion: hope that the former president’s employees could explain what had happened inside Mar-a-Lago, and suspicion that whatever misdeeds may have occurred, they might have been aided by servants who stayed loyal to the boss — even after the FBI came knocking.”
5. MISINFORMATION NATION: “Election disinformation campaigns targeted voters of color in 2020. Experts expect 2024 to be worse,” by AP’s Christine Fernando: “In addition to general misinformation themes about voting machines and mail-in voting, groups are catering their messaging to communities of color, experts say. … Other vulnerabilities include language barriers and a lack of knowledge of the U.S. media landscape and how to find credible U.S. news sources, several misinformation experts told The Associated Press. Many immigrants rely on translated content for voting information, leaving space for bad actors to inject misinformation.”
6. DEEP DIVE: “Move fast and beat Musk: The inside story of how Meta built Threads,” by WaPo’s Naomi Nix and Will Oremus: “Now that Threads’ daily users have plummeted, the team behind it faces a new test: turning a bare-bones Twitter clone into a thriving social network with its own identity and staying power.”
7. APPLE NOT FAR FROM THE TREE: “Meet the student who helped boot the president of Stanford,” by WaPo’s Lisa Bonos: “‘My parents have always included me, even when they had no obligation to,’ [THEO] BAKER said. He’s had firsthand lessons in the demands of the 24/7 news cycle. Baker has seen his parents cut short vacations and dinners because of breaking news. … ‘He had the velocity of the news cycle ingrained in him from an early age,’ [SUSAN] GLASSER said of her son. As a middle schooler during the Trump administration, Baker had multiple news alerts set up on his phone and would often text his parents during the school day, inquiring about the implications of the president’s latest announcement or executive order.”
CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 15 funnies
GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:
— “Home Is Where the Revolution Is,” by The Free Press’ Olivia Reingold: “A growing number of Americans are rejecting processed foods and living off the land.”
— “The Ongoing Mystery of Covid’s Origin,” by David Quammen in the NYT Magazine: “We still don’t know how the pandemic started. Here’s what we do know — and why it matters.”
— “Workers Wanted A Union. Then The Mysterious Men Showed Up,” by HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson: “Persuader work is big business these days. The number of union elections in the U.S. has surged amid an organizing wave over the last two years. Employers are now paying upwards of $3,000 a day, plus expenses, for each persuader.”
— “My Search for the Snow Monkeys of South Texas,” by Texas Monthly’s Sarah Bird: “In the half century since a troop of Japanese macaques arrived in Texas, a truly wild tale has played out.”
— “A funeral for fish and chips: why are Britain’s chippies disappearing?” by The Guardian’s Tom Lamont: “The origin question, wrote the historian John Walton in his definitive history of the dish, ‘is a matter of murky and probably insoluble dispute.’”
— “How to Have Your Most Fulfilling Vacation Ever,” by The Atlantic’s Arthur Brooks: “Turning your leisure into learning offers the happiest holiday experience of all.”
— “AI in Hollywood Has Gone From Contract Sticking Point to Existential Crisis,” by Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw: “As the strikes grind on, actors and writers are worried about technology encroaching on their jobs.”
— “The AI-Powered, Totally Autonomous Future of War Is Here,” by Wired’s Will Knight: “How a US Navy task force is using off-the-shelf robotics and artificial intelligence to prepare for the next age of conflict.”
— “American Carnage,” by Sean Wilentz for the New York Review of Books: “Jeffrey Toobin’s book about Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing traces the path from Ronald Reagan’s antigovernment ideology to today’s radicalized right.”
— “No One Can Believe Barack Obama Listens to Ice Spice,” by WSJ’s Ashley Wong: “The former president has styled himself as a tastemaker since leaving office. But after years of seeing his favorite-song roundups, some struggle to grasp his Top 40 inclinations.”
— “The Unapologetic Brilliance of Sinéad O’Connor,” by The New Yorker’s Amanda Petrusich: “I think what O’Connor sought in her music was anguish, laid bare, and then a gorgeous moment of communion.”
POLITICO staff won the Batten Medal from the News Leaders Association for their Supreme Court coverage.
The Tammy Duckworth household features three Barbie dream houses.
Dan McKee’s got your summer Rhody trip playlist.
Megyn Kelly pushed Ron DeSantis pretty hard on the Mouse.
TRANSITION — Sean Farrell is starting his own firm, East Capitol Advisors. He previously was chief of staff to Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) … NBC’s Peter Alexander … White House’s Herbie Ziskend … Ja’Ron Smith of Dentons Global Advisors … Ken Burns (7-0) … Lise Clavel … Carol Eisenberg … Sheila Dwyer … Jim Hake of Spirit of America … POLITICO’s Tejus Gangadhar and Kelsey Brugger … CNN’s Kristin Fisher (4-0) … Rick VanMeter … Laura McGann … Alexah Rogge … Rob Hennings … Hilton’s Katherine Lugar … Laura Nichols … Bloomberg’s David Westin … AP’s Aaron Kessler … Garance Franke-Ruta … former Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) … Washington Lt. Gov. Denny Heck … former Sens. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and Nancy Kassebaum Baker (R-Kan.) … Marilyn Quayle … Lyndsay Polloway … Nathan Sell of the American Cleaning Institute … Nate Rawlings … Michael Hancock … Karl Douglass
THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):
ABC “This Week”: New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu … Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.). Panel: Donna Brazile, Sarah Isgur, Asma Khalid and Jonathan Martin.
NBC “Meet the Press”: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) … Will Hurd … Chuck Rosenberg. Panel: Leigh Ann Caldwell, Stephen Hayes, Faiz Shakir and Amy Walter.
FOX “Fox News Sunday”: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum … Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) … Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Panel: Marie Harf, Julia Manchester, Susan Page, Karl Rove, Jonathan Turley and Tom Dupree.
MSNBC “The Sunday Show”: Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.).
MSNBC “Inside with Jen Psaki”: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) … Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) … Harry Dunn.
CBS “Face the Nation”: Nikki Haley … Asa Hutchinson … Neel Kashkari … San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg … Rikki Klieman.
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 and producers Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.