POLITICO Playbook: Trump’s closing argument

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HOW CAN YOU SAY you support masks, if the Covid-stricken president of the United States walks into the White House and takes off his mask publicly before filming a video without said mask — even if he was standing far away from everyone?

HOW CAN YOU SAY you trust scientists, and then tell scientists their standards are too onerous?

HOW CAN YOU SAY Covid is not a big deal as your doctors say when you’re not yet out of the woods less than a week after you get the virus?

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HOW CAN YOU SAY don’t let Covid “dominate” your life — as President DONALD TRUMP did in a video Monday night — when you’ve just left a hospital in which you were pumped with experimental medicine that almost no one can get, under the care of a team of world-class physicians in a hospital wing that’s for you and you alone?

CNN’S JAKE TAPPER on the TRUMP VIDEO: “I would like to know who at the White House watched this and said, ‘Yes, that’s great, he caught the virus to lead, this is a winning message, post it.’”


NYT’S MAGGIE HABERMAN and ANNIE KARNI, with a Political Memo bug: “Trump’s Campaign Saw an Opportunity. He Undermined It”: “On Friday, even as President Trump had trouble getting enough oxygen and aides prepared to move him to the nation’s top military hospital, some of his campaign advisers saw a potential opportunity.

“If Mr. Trump recovered quickly from his bout with the coronavirus and then appeared sympathetic to the public in how he talked about his own experience and that of millions of other Americans, he could have something of a political reset. The health crisis, one campaign official said, was a setback in a re-election campaign that polls have shown him losing for months, but also a chance to demonstrate a new stance toward the virus that might win over some voters.

“And the president could use that to show from now until the second presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 15, that the disease is serious but can be combated, and that he was ready to re-enter the campaign.

“While that was the hope, it was severely undermined over the last few days by the president’s own behavior — no more so than Monday when he tweeted to the nation ‘Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life!’ without acknowledging that, as president, he gets far better care than the average citizen. His comments signaled a far likelier reality: that the erratic handling of his illness by Mr. Trump and his aides will remind voters of his administration’s failures and efforts to play down the deadly pandemic for six months.”

HAPPY TUESDAY. We have some personal news. (Is that how this goes?)

AFTER FOUR YEARS at the helm of Playbook, and 11 years for JAKE and nine for ANNA at POLITICO, we’ve decided it’s time for a new adventure. We’ll pass the baton and leave POLITICO at the end of this year.

WHEN WE TOOK OVER in July 2016, we knew we were taking over a unique platform — but we didn’t quite understand how special it was. Playbookers hail from all over the planet, come from all walks of life and have been waking up every morning, rain or shine, holiday, weekday or weekend, to the POLITICO Playbook for 13 years.

WE’RE REALLY PROUD of what we’ve all been able to do here: Playbook readership has tripled since 2016, we created a popular audio briefing and afternoon edition, hosted events across the country and in D.C. with governors, the vice president, senators, members of the House and nearly every congressional leader. Tax reform. Impeachment. The midterms. USMCA, which was, as you’ve heard, the president’s top legislative priority. The wall. The shutdown. Infrastructure weeks (plural). Two presidential elections. And Covid.

WE’RE VERY GRATEFUL that you have come along for the ride. And what a wild ride it’s been — more than 1,500 Playbooks, dozens of events and a best-selling book.

POLITICO is a massive newsroom filled with loads of talented journalists — a crew we’ve been very proud to have been a part of. But, as a smart man once said, this has all been wonderful, now I’m on my way. Thanks to Robert Allbritton, Carrie Budoff Brown, John Harris, Matt Kaminski and Patrick Steel. Most of all, our gut check and terrific editor Blake Hounshell, John Bresnahan and the Hill team and our intrepid Playbookers Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.

WHAT’S NEXT? Playbook has grown significantly over the last four years, and we have no doubt that will continue. As for us — Anna and Jake — we’re excited to take on a new challenge and we’ll have more to say about our next steps soon enough. But first, we have an election to cover, a post-election to report on, a lame duck to help navigate and leadership elections to get in the middle of. Buckle up, it’s going to be a hell of a ride. Read the note to staff from Matt and Carrie here

AND NOW back to our regular programming. … 28 DAYS until Election Day — four weeks from today.

NEW: SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI told House Democratic leaders on a conference call Monday evening that her negotiations with Treasury Secretary STEVEN MNUCHIN were going “very slowly,” according to sources on the call. MNUCHIN and PELOSI are scheduled to speak again today.

HAPPENING THIS MORNING: JAKE and ANNA will interview House Democratic Whip JIM CLYBURN (D-S.C.) and former A.G. ERIC HOLDER at 9 A.M. in the latest Playbook Interview. Watch

MARKET WATCH … WSJ: “U.S. Stocks Close Higher on Signs of Muted Political Risk,” by Anna Isaac and Logan Moore

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK … THE LINCOLN PROJECT is launching a $1 million digital ad campaign in Texas focusing on Trump’s “encouragement of violence, extremism, and white supremacist organizations as well as the malice he has shown in both his initial response” to the coronavirus and “his blatant disregard for others when he knowingly exposed countless people to the virus after he knew he was infected.” Some ads will be released in Spanish and they will run for a week, with the potential to continue through November. The three ads


GOP DIGS IN … WAPO’S BOB COSTA: “Republican recalcitrance about the virus persists even as GOP faces growing turmoil”: “Widespread Republican recalcitrance about federal health guidelines showed few signs of waning on Monday, even as the party faces growing turmoil following President Trump’s hospitalization and as more White House aides test positive for the novel coronavirus.

“White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and at least two of her deputies have now contracted the virus, further derailing the functioning of a West Wing plunged into crisis and adding to a long list of top Republicans who have been infected. But many Republicans continue to dismiss calls for alarm — and for changes to the party’s message on the virus and its operations.

“Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who tested positive last week, said in an interview with a conservative talk-show host that there is ‘a level of unjustifiable hysteria’ about a virus that has killed nearly 210,000 Americans and asked, ‘Why do we think we actually can stop the progression of a contagious disease?’” WaPo

“A U.S. senator kept taking off his mask on a Delta flight, raising questions about safety oversight,” by WaPo’s Michael Laris and Lori Aratani: “The chairman of the Senate committee that oversees airlines and U.S. transportation policy had his mask off for extended periods on a Delta flight to Mississippi on Thursday night, according to another passenger, and the company said he had to be reminded twice by a flight attendant to follow the airline’s mask requirement.

“The next day, the Trump administration rejected a union petition calling for a federal mandate requiring masks be worn on planes, trains and buses, saying the Department of Transportation ‘embraces the notion that there should be no more regulations than necessary.’”

UP NEXT … THE VP DEBATE … CHRIS CADELAGO: “Harris preps to take on Pence”: “Harris’ tone toward the laid-up president is expected to mirror Biden’s of late, according to aides and allies. The Democratic presidential contender and Harris have wished the president a speedy recovery. Their campaign pulled negative TV ads and implored staff to refrain from piling on to reporters and on social media, though as Trump emerged from the hospital late Monday, Biden suggested he would not let him off the hook for not wearing a mask and flaunting social distancing protocols.

“The grim circumstances don’t change Harris’ overarching objective: to methodically yolk Pence to the Trump administration’s months of failures to contain the virus, zeroing in on his role as chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The legal threat to the Affordable Care Act — clarified by the battle over the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat — will be another focal point for Harris. And after Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito lamented Monday the ‘ruinous consequences for religious liberty’ of the court’s decision that granted marriage rights — and signaled that the ruling should be reconsidered — the VP contenders’ sharply divergent records on same-sex marriage are likely to surface.

“Harris’ aides view Pence as a far more polished and disciplined orator than the president. Unlike with Trump, they say, when Pence says something untrue it is packaged in language that makes it harder to spot and counter in real time. But Harris will attempt to pin him down on Trump’s stewardship of the sputtering economy and explosive remarks on race and groups tied to white supremacy.”

CNN’S MANU RAJU on the trail with LINDSEY GRAHAM in South Carolina, with ALEX ROGERS and ALI ZASLAV: “Graham, vulnerable in South Carolina, tells liberals: ‘We’re gonna kick your ass’” The piece that aired on CNN


AP’S WILL WEISSERT and BILL BARROW in Miami: “The Democratic presidential nominee made his second trip to Florida in a little over two weeks on Monday. His visit to Miami was designed to encroach on some of Trump’s turf, even swinging through Little Havana, a typically conservative area known for its staunch opposition to the communist government that Fidel Castro installed in Cuba.”

— SABRINA RODRÍGUEZ and MARC CAPUTO in Miami: “Biden mounts late fight for Miami”: “After months of dire warnings that Donald Trump is making gains in this liberal bastion, Joe Biden is finally listening to South Florida Democrats. For much of the campaign, Miami Democrats have been sounding the alarm at Biden’s relatively tepid support among Democratic-leaning, non-Cuban Hispanic voters here and throughout Florida. The problem was compounded by Trump’s outsized support among Cuban Americans.

“Without a big winning margin and high turnout in populous Miami-Dade County, Biden would have little chance of winning the state. So over the past two months, Biden’s campaign responded by embarking on a hiring spree in South Florida, giving more local-press interviews and, in combination with outside groups, pouring $23 million into TV commercials in the Miami media market, according to data from the tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

“Ad Analytics data show that Biden’s campaign significantly outspent Trump in Spanish-language television ads in Florida over the last five weeks — spending a total of $3.1 million to Trump’s $2 million — and is blanketing African American newspapers and Jamaican and Haitian radio stations with ads.” POLITICO

“Florida voter registration system crashes on last day for filing,” by Gary Fineout

TRUMP’S TUESDAY — The president has no public events.

ON THE TRAIL — JOE BIDEN will attend a virtual fundraiser in the afternoon. Afterward, he will travel to Gettysburg, Pa., to deliver a campaign speech.

— WHAT BIDEN WILL SAY, per an aide: “Biden will call on Americans to come together. He’ll highlight the need for people to work together and to reach across the aisle in order to address the crises we face. He’ll remind voters that we are in a battle for the soul of the nation — but it’s a battle that we’ve won again and again throughout American history, and that we can and will come together and win again.”


ACB WATCH — “‘I’ll go in a moon suit’: Covid outbreak leaves GOP unfazed in SCOTUS fight,” by Marianne LeVine: “Senate Republicans are still moving forward with confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court — and they’re making no apologies for it. Senate Republicans, in statements and interviews Monday, defended their decision not to slow down their timeline for Barrett’s confirmation even as the coronavirus rips through Washington. …

“The majority of Republicans want to see Barrett confirmed before the Nov. 3 election and not a single GOP senator suggested Monday that the coronavirus cases in the Senate would throw them off track. ‘I don’t think anything’s changed, I think Senator Schumer wants to vote in February, most of my Republican colleagues want to vote Thursday,’ said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who plans to attend the hearing in person. ‘I figure we’ll meet in the middle and vote some time before the election.’ …

“[Sen. Ron] Johnson (R-Wis.), who revealed Saturday he has coronavirus and will stay isolated until his doctor gives him the all-clear, said in an interview with The Ross Kaminsky Show that he would do whatever it takes to vote for Barrett, even with a positive diagnosis. ‘If we have to go in and vote, I’ve already told leadership I’ll go in a moon suit,’ said Johnson, who canceled his in-state events to prevent having to go into self-quarantine before the vote. ‘I would certainly try to find a way, making sure that everybody was safe … where there’s a will there’s a way.’”

BIG SCOTUS MOVES LAST NIGHT … JOSH GERSTEIN: “The murky legal concept that could swing the election” More from Zach Montellaro on the South Carolina decision

NYT’S ANA SWANSON: “Top China Critic Becomes Its Defender”: “For decades, Robert E. Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, was reliably one of Washington’s toughest critics when it came to China and its trade practices.

“But since brokering a trade deal with Beijing in January, he has become one of China’s biggest defenders within the administration, emerging as an obstacle to lawmakers and other top White House officials who want to punish China over its treatment of ethnic Muslims and begin trade talks with Taiwan.

“Over the past several months, Mr. Lighthizer has pushed back on several proposed policy measures that rankled Beijing, arguing those efforts could disrupt the U.S.-China trade pact that he and President Trump spent more than two years trying to forge, according to several former government officials and other people familiar with the conversations. Mr. Lighthizer has also curtailed his public criticisms of China, instead touting Beijing’s efforts to uphold the trade pact and live up to its end of the deal.”

SWAMP READ — “IRS Investigating NRA’s Wayne LaPierre for Possible Tax Fraud,” by WSJ’s Mark Maremont and Aruna Viswanatha: “The Internal Revenue Service is investigating longtime National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre for possible criminal tax fraud related to his personal taxes, according to people familiar with the matter.

“Mr. LaPierre was paid $2.2 million by the NRA in 2018, the most recent year available, the nonprofit group’s public filings show. His total reported pay from 2014 to 2018 was $11.2 million.

“In August, he was charged in a civil suit by New York Attorney General Letitia James with taking millions of dollars of allegedly undisclosed compensation from the NRA and its vendors, in the form of free yacht trips, private jet flights for his family, exotic safaris and other benefits.

“Asked at a news conference announcing the lawsuit whether she believed Mr. LaPierre had evaded personal taxes, Ms. James declined to comment but said she was referring the matter to the IRS.”

BEYOND THE BELTWAY — “‘It is not acceptable’: Cuomo, de Blasio at odds as Covid surges in New York,” by David Giambusso, Sally Goldenberg and Amanda Eisenberg in New York: “New York City is reliving some of the nightmares it endured earlier this spring as coronavirus cases begin to surge, and once again Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are pointing fingers and offering conflicting guidance.

“The latest outbreaks have sparked fears of a second wave in America’s biggest city, once the national epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak. Nine zip codes with large Orthodox Jewish communities have formed the nucleus of rising cases, and city officials have warned for weeks that it’s begun to spread to surrounding neighborhoods — a Pandora’s Box that could send the city back to the days of overflowing morgues and war-zone hospitals.” POLITICO

MEDIAWATCH — “L.A. Times Editor Norman Pearlstine to step down,” by LAT’s Meg James: “Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine announced that he would soon step down and that the paper was launching a search for a new top editor. Pearlstine, who celebrated his 78th birthday over the weekend, made the announcement Monday morning during a meeting with top editors and then in a note to staff members. …

“In his two years at the top, Pearlstine stabilized a newsroom that had been battered by years of layoffs, cost-cutting and mismanagement under its former owner Tribune Publishing … He led a dramatic hiring spree, replenishing the paper’s beleaguered ranks, recruiting top editors and working to improve technology used to generate a larger audience for its journalism. But Pearlstine’s efforts became overshadowed in the last six months by a series of controversies.”

— Jeffrey Gedmin, Francis Fukuyama and Adam Keiper have started a new magazine called American Purpose, which aims to support liberal democracy in the U.S. and abroad and also offer writing and criticism on history, biography, arts and culture and science and technology. Release


Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at [email protected].

TRANSITION — Jasmine Cooper is now VP of internal diversity, equity and inclusion at the American Bankers Association. She previously was senior manager of diversity, inclusion and corporate social responsibility at Steptoe & Johnson.

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Emily Davis, VP of congressional and public affairs at the Millennium Challenge Corporation. A fun fact about her: “During college, I underwent third-party aptitude testing and learned that my color differentiation aptitude is considered extraordinary. Among the careers best for my aptitudes, I was informed that I could be an excellent … tattoo artist. I instead opted to join the D.C. circus of politics and policy, but if anyone wants to know if something is black or navy, just ask me!” Playbook Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is 55 … Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) is 74 … Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) is 61 … WSJ’s Eliza Collins … Jonathan Alter is 63 … Artur Orkisz, president of American Polish Forum and senior adviser for congressional affairs and public diplomacy at the Polish Embassy, is 42 … Ben Kenney … The Daily Beast’s Will O’Connor … Adam Sneed … U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Evan Williams and Patrick O’Connor … Ashley O’Sullivan … Aric Newhouse, NAM’s SVP of policy and government relations … TIAA’s David Nason … Darrell West is 66 … Stephanie Genco of Forbes Tate Partners … CBC’s Alex Panetta … Nicole Venable (h/t Heather Podesta) … Kathleen Connery Dawe, COS for Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) … Ruby Mellen … Ansley Lacitis, comms director/deputy COS for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) … Moshe Lion is 59 …

… Kristen Gentile, COS for Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) … David A. Andelman is 76 … Tracy Sefl, Democratic comms consultant … Sara Rogers … Brenda Wood (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Tara DiJulio, senior director of global corporate comms at GE … Haley Guion … Jen Rokala … Miles Radcliffe-Trenner … BBC’s Rowan Bridge is 48 … Llewellyn King is 81 … Gerry Adams is 72 … POLITICO’s Cara Collins … Mollie Glick is 41 … Taylor Kiland … Tucker Martin … Brett Gerson … Jeff Ostermayer … Lynette Gilliam … Ted Osthelder … Kevin Rader is 52 … Lauren Whittington … WaPo’s Amy Gardner … George Onuorah … Veronica Wong … Jonathan Wilcox … Megan Humphries … Debora Murray … Carlos Diaz Barriga … Steve Grand … Megan Piwowar … Robert Stacy McCain is 61 … Anjani Nadadur … GOP pollster Wes Anderson … Nolan Treadway … Brenda Larsen Becker … Tony Marcano … Matt Brock … Doug McPherson

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