There’s a trio of stories this morning that, taken together, point to the inherent struggle that Dems are facing in the midterms — and beyond.
— A disconnect on style: When President JOE BIDEN was on the campaign trail, he promised he would move to provide student loan relief. But for now, that promise is left unfulfilled as the president and his advisers debate the best way to tackle the issue. The considerable time spent mulling the issue has become a part of Biden’s playbook on many issues — and it’s starting to fray his support within the party.
“The president’s tendency to proceed with caution — a deliberative style he honed during his time as vice president and his decades in the U.S. Senate — has annoyed some of his own aides at times, WSJ’s Andrew Restuccia, Catherine Lucey and Natalie Andrews report. “Democratic lawmakers have also expressed both public and private frustration that the White House isn’t acting faster on a host of policy fronts.” Stating the obvious: “They say Mr. Biden needs to do everything he can to notch policy victories ahead of the midterm elections.”
— A disconnect on the midterms: AP’s Will Weissert and Zeke Miller have a nice stepback piece looking at the current state of the party’s fortunes as midterm election season heats up. Biden’s “predictions of a rosy political future for the Democratic Party are growing bolder,” they write. The president’s “assessments, delivered in speeches, fundraisers and conversations with friends and allies, seem at odds with a country that he acknowledged this week was ‘really, really down,’ burdened by a pandemic, surging gas prices and spiking inflation.”
“Few of Biden’s closest political advisers are as bullish about the party’s prospects as the president. In interviews with a half-dozen people in and close to the White House, there is a broad sense that Democrats will lose control of Congress and that many of the party’s leading candidates in down-ballot races and contests for governor will be defeated, with Biden unable to offer much help. The seeming disconnect between Biden’s view and the political reality has some in the party worried the White House has not fully grasped just how bad this election year may be for Democrats.”
— A disconnect on 2024: And there’s yet another story up this morning featuring Democratic insiders wringing their hands over whether Biden is the right person to lead the party into the next presidential election. WSJ’s Joshua Jamerson and Tarini Parti have the download:
“Against that backdrop, some potential candidates are visiting key presidential-voting states and building a national profile in case Mr. Biden forgoes a re-election bid. But conversations with Democrats in Washington and in primary states found most don’t see a better or realistic option than the incumbent to top the 2024 ticket.” Most notably: Illinois Gov. J.B. PRITZKER found his way to New Hampshire this week, where he gave a keynote address at the Dems’ annual state convention.
“Key Democrats also said they doubted many top-tier candidates would try to push Vice President KAMALA HARRIS aside if Mr. Biden chose not to run, and early polls suggest she would likely be the initial front-runner in such an event. But her own poll numbers aren’t better than Mr. Biden’s, and Democrats have mixed views of how strong she would be leading a ticket.”
House Majority Whip JIM CLYBURN (D-S.C.): “Right now, I’m for Biden, and second I’m for Harris — that’s one and two on the ticket, but that’s one and two in my heart as well. … So I don’t care who goes to New Hampshire or Iowa, I’m for Biden and then I’m for Harris — either together or in that order.”
Good Sunday morning. And happy Juneteenth Day and Father’s Day! Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop me a line at [email protected] or get in touch with the rest of the team: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE: “4 meaningful ways to observe Juneteenth this year,” by WaPo’s Janay Kingsberry: “It’s not just a Black holiday,” said ALICIA AUSTION, executive director of the Juneteenth Foundation. “It’s a national holiday, an American holiday that we all should lean in and really acknowledge and support.”
— Related read:“Juneteenth Is a Federal Holiday, but in Most States It’s Still Not a Day Off,” by NYT’s Maria Cramer: “One year after President Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday, more than 30 states have not authorized the funding that would allow for state employees to take the day off.”
TODAY’S TOP READS …
1. Florida GOP Gov. RON DESANTIS is, ostensibly, raising money for his reelection campaign this fall. But in reality, his campaign coffers may have more of an eye toward 2024 rather than 2022. And many of the ones filling his pocket are “key financiers of Trump’s reelection bid or backers of high profile Republican candidates and causes,” our colleague in Florida Matt Dixon writes, drawing on an analysis of campaign finance data.
“A DeSantis-aligned political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, has received $3.4 million this election cycle from 10 donors who collectively spent $24 million on Trump’s reelection bid. Most of the high-dollar donors had never given contributions in state-level Florida elections, while those who have previously provided funds have significantly increased their spending for DeSantis during the 2022 midterms.”
Former Rep. and longtime GOP donor FRANCIS ROONEY: “I think Ron’s fundraising really speaks for itself. … It is possible Trump’s percentage of the Republicans keeps going down and I think it’s possible people will start looking elsewhere.”
Trump campaign alum SHIREE VERDONE: “I know a lot of donors who are kind of in wait-and-see mode. … They really, really like DeSantis, who is very popular, but you don’t want to upset Trump.”
2. The bipartisan gun safety framework hinges much of its success on the federal background check system. But there are signs that the system is fundamentally flawed, raising questions about what the gun safety package will actually deliver.
“The National Instant Background Check System — three gargantuan, interlinked databases containing state and federal records collectively called ‘NICS’ — is an administrative marvel, even its critics concede,” NYT’s Glenn Thrush and Serge Kovaleski report. “Yet for all its strengths, the system was designed nearly three decades ago to run at a fraction of its current capacity.
“It operates with serious built-in limitations inserted by the gun lobby, which pushed to speed up gun sales — inserting a provision that allows gun dealers to give purchasers their weapons if an investigation is not completed within three business days. And while all 50 states participate in the system, it remains technically voluntary, so the federal government has no authority to order states to provide any records — or dictate a timetable for data to be delivered.”
3. The Fed this week raised interest rates by the highest level since 1994. In doing so, “it did more than declare war on inflation,” WaPo’s David Lynch writes. “The U.S. central bank also launched a high-stakes test of the economy’s ability to shed its dependence on limitless credit and tolerate higher borrowing costs for consumers, businesses and the government.”
“As the economy adjusts, more tumult lies ahead. Consumers, already feeling the pinch of higher prices, will pay more for credit card balances and auto loans. The least creditworthy companies will struggle to raise money needed to hire and expand. And Uncle Sam will face tens of billions of dollars in higher annual interest bills. … The jump in rates has closed the door on mortgage refinancings, a source of added cash for millions of homeowners over the past year, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”
LIZ ANN SONDERS, chief investment strategist for Charles Schwab: “Stocks, bonds and cash — we’re in a bear market for all three.”
SUNDAY BEST …
— NEC Director BRIAN DEESE on Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia, on “Fox News Sunday”: “What’s behind this is a very simple proposition, which is when it is [in the] U.S. interest for the president to engage with a foreign leader, he will do so.” More from David Cohen
— Energy Secretary JENNIFER GRANHOLM on whether it’s “appropriate” for Biden to meet with Saudi Crown Prince MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: Granholm said it is “her understanding” that Biden and MBS would meet. “The president is very concerned about that, and I’m sure will raise that issue. But he’s also very concerned about what people are experiencing at the pump. And Saudi Arabia is head of OPEC. And we need to have increased production, so that everyday citizens in America will not be feeling this pain that they’re feeling right now.”
— Rep. ADAM SCHIFF (D-Calif.) previewing Tuesday’s Jan. 6 hearing, which will focus on Trump’s push to install pro-Trump electors in states, on “State of the Union”: “We’ll show evidence of the president’s involvement in this scheme. We’ll also, again, show evidence about what his own lawyers came to think about this scheme.” He also said it’s a “possibility” that the committee could subpoena former VP MIKE PENCE. More from Myah Ward
— LARRY SUMMERS on how to address inflation, on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “If at long last we can have some kind of bipartisan budget bill with three elements, with reduction of pharmaceutical prices which will help health care and will also reduce the inflation rate. That’s within our reach if we just use the government’s large purchasing power through Medicare, number one.
“Number two, put in place the partial repeal, not the full repeal, but the partial repeal of the Trump tax cuts, which would take some demand out of the economy, increase confidence and reduce pressure on the Fed. And number three, an all-in more energy supply approach that emphasizes freeing up fossil fuels in various ways in the short run and making, with government support, the ultimate pivot to renewables.
“All of that would take pressure off the Fed, would bring down the inflation rate, would operate to restore confidence, and would I think be a very positive contribution. And I’m not privy to all the discussions and negotiations that are going on in Washington, but surely the most important thing for any public-spirited people is to try to find a deal along those lines.”
BIDEN’S SUNDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.
HARRIS’ SUNDAY — The VP has nothing on her public schedule.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
7 OTHER THINGS YOU SHOULD READ TODAY …
1. BIG GREEN’S BIG GOP PROBLEM:Zack Colman is up this morning with a big look at the environmental movement, which he writes is “at a crucial juncture” as it struggles to “stitch together the necessary votes” to enact its highest hopes of congressional action. Groups like the Sierra Club, Audubon, Greenpeace and others are now “widely believed to be a tool of the Democrats alone, leaving little hope for Republican support in the Senate or leverage between the two parties. A looming Supreme Court decision that could gut executive branch actions to rein in climate change raises the stakes for congressional action before the midterms even higher.”
The stakes: “If the current legislation fails and, as expected, Republicans win back one or both chambers of Congress, that would leave the environmental movement completely stranded,” Zack writes. “‘I don’t know that we are as a movement well-positioned to handle that — in fact, I think I feel safe saying we are not,” said COLLIN REES, U.S. program manager at the environmental group Oil Change International. ‘That’s going to be a bit of a moment of reckoning. And that will both test some of the transformation that’s happened so far and require new ideas and new ways of working.’”
— Related read: “Republican Drive to Tilt Courts Against Climate Action Reaches a Crucial Moment,” by NYT’s Coral Davenport: “A Supreme Court environmental case being decided this month is the product of a coordinated, multiyear strategy by Republican attorneys general and conservative allies.”
2. AT THE TEXAS GOP CONVENTION: Rep. DAN CRENSHAW (R-Texas) and his staff were the subject of physical and verbal abuse at the Republican Party of Texas convention on Saturday, Mediaite’s Caleb Howe writes. “In two videos from the event, [ALEX] STEIN and other individuals can be seen shouting things like ‘Eyepatch McCain’ — an insult coined by Fox News host TUCKER CARLSON — and calling him a traitor. One individual says Crenshaw needs to be hung. A witness told Mediaite that not only was there shouting and jostling, but shoving and hitting people with cameras, and a female staffer was ‘pushed aggressively into a pillar,’ part of which can be seen in the video.”
Crenshaw’s response: “This is what happens when angry little boys like @alexstein99 don’t grow up and can’t get girlfriends,” he tweeted.
The big picture from the convention: “Meeting at their first in-person convention since 2018, Texas Republicans on Saturday acted on a raft of resolutions and proposed platform changes to move their party even further to the right,” The Texas Tribune’s Sewell Chan and Eric Neugeboren report. “They approved measures declaring that President Joe Biden ‘was not legitimately elected’ and rebuking Sen. JOHN CORNYN for taking part in bipartisan gun talks. They also voted on a platform that declares homosexuality ‘an abnormal lifestyle choice’ and calls for Texas schoolchildren ‘to learn about the humanity of the preborn child.’”
3. GUNS IN AMERICA: When you think of the gun lobby, one organization likely comes to mind: the NRA. But WSJ’s Lindsay Wise and Julie Bykowicz report that a lesser-known name in the space is helping shape the congressional gun safety legislation this time around: the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Who they are: “Like the NRA, the group is a powerful force in representing gun rights. But it is backed by gun manufacturers and retailers, while the NRA’s potency comes from its membership of gun owners.”
How they’re operating: The NSSF “takes a less confrontational approach to lawmakers who favor gun-control, a stance that has given it clout as Congress seeks to enact new gun measures in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, according to members of Congress and aides.” And while the organization hasn’t yet taken a public position on the bipartisan framework, it “has been involved in setting the deal’s general parameters and has been helping with technical details, members of Congress and aides said.”
4. THE CHALLENGE OF PROSECUTING TRUMP: As the Jan. 6 select committee continues laying out what it says is evidence of DONALD TRUMP’s involvement in inciting the Capitol attack, the former president is taking lengths to shore up his defense. In a statement this week, he stressed that the actions of his supporters were “to hold their elected officials accountable for the obvious signs of criminal activity throughout the election.”
“His statement, while unfounded, carried a particular significance given the intensifying focus on whether he could face criminal charges,” NYT’s Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman write. “If the Justice Department were to bring a case against him, prosecutors would face the challenge of showing that he knew — or should have known — that his position was based on assertions about widespread election fraud that were false or that his attempt to block the congressional certification of the outcome was illegal.” And yet: “As a potential defense, the tactic suggested by Mr. Trump’s statement is far from a guarantee against prosecution, and it presents obvious problems of credibility.”
— ON THE COMMITTEE: “Pete Aguilar’s rising star status meets the moment at Jan. 6 hearing,” by WaPo’s Paul Kane
5. MEDIAWATCH: “Fox News agreed to a roughly $15 million settlement with a female former host who complained about gender-based pay disparities at the cable news network, according to documents,” WaPo’s Sarah Ellison reports.
“Although the kind of sum won by MELISSA FRANCIS, an on-air personality for several shows on Fox News and Fox Business Network from 2012 to 2020, is unusual in television news, it underscores perennial concerns that women do not prosper as well as men in this industry — an issue Francis says she personally attempted to investigate by researching what her peers earned at Fox.”
— A statement from Fox News: “FOX News has always been committed to the equitable treatment of all employees which we have demonstrated consistently over our 26-year history, and we are extremely proud of our business. We parted ways with Melissa Francis over a year and a half ago and her allegations were entirely without merit. We have also fully cooperated with the New York State Department of Labor’s investigation and look forward to the completion of this matter.”
6. HELPFUL VISUALS: “What Hundreds of Photos of Weapons Reveal About Russia’s Brutal War Strategy,” NYT
7. BEYOND THE BELTWAY: The long-term impact of the extensive flooding in Yellowstone is coming into view: “The scope of the damage is still being tallied by Yellowstone officials, but based on other national park disasters, it could take years and cost upwards of $1 billion to rebuild in an environmentally sensitive landscape where construction season only runs from the spring thaw until the first snowfall,” AP’s Lindsay Whitehurst and Brian Melley write.
Jake Sullivan tested positive for Covid. The NSC says he has not recently been in close contact with the president.
IN MEMORIAM — “Mark Shields, TV Pundit Known for His Sharp Wit, Dies at 85,” by NYT’s Clyde Haberman: “Mark Shields, a piercing analyst of America’s political virtues and failings, first as a Democratic campaign strategist and then as a television commentator who both delighted and rankled audiences for four decades with his bluntly liberal views and sharply honed wit, died on Saturday at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 85. His daughter, Amy Shields Doyle, said the cause was complications of kidney failure.”
OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at the annual Good Pants Ranch summer party on Saturday afternoon hosted by Ron and Sara Bonjean at their house at Hillsboro, Va.: Don and Shannon McGahn, Shannon and Sheldon Bream, Liz Johnson, Dan Ronayne, Matt Gorman, Doug Heye, David Drucker, Caitlin Carroll, Ian Tuttle, Tait Becker, Tracey Schmitt, Eli Yokley, Zachary Todd, Scott Mulhauser and Kara Carscaden and Rodell and Sheena Mollineau.
— SPOTTED at Lisa Vedernikova Khanna and Harry Khanna’s biennial Summer Solstice Party on Saturday night: Roger Lau, Opal Vadhan, Alex Hornbrook, Anatole Jenkins, Pilar Melendez, Maryland Del. Vaughn Stewart, Will Jennings, Meg DiMartino, Ofirah Yheskel, Karuna Seshasai and Saumya Narechania.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) … Reuters’ Jeff Mason … USAID’s Jennifer Hazelton … WaPo’s Anne Gearan … Alex Kisling of the Atlantic Council … POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt, Jonathan Custodio,Melissa Cooke and Salim Ajarrag … Protocol’s Becca Evans … E&E News’ Laura Maggi and Zeina Mohammed … CyberScoop’s Tim Starks … David Di Martino … Lara Spencer … Patrick Rooney of ITG Brands … Cragg Hines … CBS’ Christina Ruffini … Ben Castagnetti of Sen. Maria Cantwell’s (D-Wash.) office … Geri M. Joseph (98) … Hodan Omaar … Mary Dalrymple of Eagle Hill Consulting … Mike Naple … Michelle Ringuette … Michael Akin … Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy’s Aimee Strudwick Gilroy … Marcus Brauchli … former SEC Chair Mary Schapiro … Emily Hoffman of SoftBank … Michael Robbins of Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International … Zac Rutherford of Rep. Diana Harshbarger’s (R-Tenn.) office … Zara Branigan (18)
Did someone forward this email to you? Sign up here.
Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Eli Okun, Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.