Playbook: 4 reasons to be wary about Hill dealmaking

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With help from Eli Okun, Garrett Ross and Bethany Irvine


NEW THIS MORNING — POLITICO’s senior foreign affairs correspondent Nahal Toosi pens her inaugural Compass column with exclusive new details about sensitive talks between the Biden administration and the Israeli PM: “How the U.S. is ‘Bibi-sitting’ an Israeli leader losing control: BENJAMIN NETANYAHU is waging a war while struggling to avoid prison, salvage his legacy and keep his political partners happy.”

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM — Congress returns tomorrow from its three-week recess to some good news: House Speaker MIKE JOHNSON and Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER finally reached agreement yesterday on topline spending numbers, the first step toward avoiding a government shutdown later this month. More from Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes

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What’s more, bipartisan Senate negotiators appear to be making progress on the border talks that have held up the White House’s request for a $106 billion national security supplemental. According to Sen. JAMES LANKFORD (R-Okla.), they’re hoping to release text this week. More from Burgess Everett

But don’t pop that champagne yet. Major hurdles remain that could easily trip up either negotiation, either reigniting a shutdown scare or upending the drawn-out debate over Ukraine and Israel aid — or both.

To name a few …

1. UNHAPPY CONSERVATIVES: In a Dear Colleague letter yesterday, Johnson’s team touted the caps deal as a conservative victory, calling it “the most favorable budget agreement Republicans have achieved in over a decade.” As Caitlin and Jen write, Johnson did indeed notch some wins, securing $30 billion more in cuts than the Senate wanted.

“The result is real savings to American taxpayers and real reductions in the federal bureaucracy,” Johnson said in his letter, touting cuts to the IRS as well as recissions of unused COVID aid.

The right, however, isn’t buying it. They’re furious that Johnson didn’t hold the line at the base numbers written into last year’s Fiscal Responsibility Act instead codified the “side deal” then-Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY struck with the White House.

“Don’t believe the spin,” the Freedom Caucus tweeted. “This is a total failure.”

Further complicating matters: Some conservatives are also now pushing Johnson to refuse to fund the government at all unless and until Democrats embrace a crackdown at the border. That brings us to …

2. JOHNSON UNDER PRESSURE: Have no doubt, Johnson could bypass his right flank and push through the 2024 spending bills under suspension of the rules. After all, conservatives were probably never going to vote for any deal Democrats would accept anyway.

But you’ll recall that the same maneuver is what kicked off the October coup against McCarthy, and Johnson, too, could find his speakership in jeopardy if he, too, passes approps bills with mostly Democratic votes.

That could force the rookie speaker to draw a harder line on other matters to save his skin. Take note of his “Dear Colleague” letter yesterday, where he suggested he would continue fighting for GOP policy riders. He didn’t get into specifics, but this could be where his conference’s penchant for tackling the border could get tricky.

Judiciary Chair JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio) is among those who are floating attaching language halting the processing and release of migrants into the U.S. onto any spending bill that hits the House floor.

“I think it boils down to the will of Republicans in the United States Congress,” Jordan told reporters last week at the border.

Speaking of the will of Republicans, what do you think the appetite is inside the GOP for a border compromise with Democrats on top of a bipartisan spending accord?

3. THE CALENDAR AND THE COUNT: There might be topline numbers, but there’s also only eight legislative days to turn them into legislation. Four of the 12 bills will need to be written and passed by Jan. 19, with the remainder due on Feb. 2.

That’s not a lot of time to figure out how to dole out $1.7 trillion, and while Congress is usually pretty good about giving itself a few extra weeks to finish its work, Johnson has said he won’t support more short-term CRs.

Senate negotiators have a solution: Have the House swallow the 12 bipartisan bills already negotiated and advanced by the Senate Appropriations Committee, as opposed to the partisan bills advanced by House appropriators. Read back above for reasons why that’s probably not going to fly.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s slim majority is about to get slimmer. Majority Leader STEVE SCALISE is out for several weeks for cancer treatments, and Rep. BILL JOHNSON (R-Ohio) is set to resign Jan. 21 — at which point the GOP will have a bare 218-seat majority.

4. POLITICAL THEATRICS: Democrats privately are commending Johnson for how he handled the spending talks over the holidays, that he was “realistic” about governing in a divided Congress and that he largely kept McCarthy’s deal rather than follow his hardliners down a rabbit hole of unrealistic demands.

But consider the backdrop to all of this incipient bipartisan dealmaking: On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee will hold its first hearing in a push to impeach Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS. On the same day, the House Oversight Committee will vote on holding HUNTER BIDEN in contempt of Congress.

And don’t forget about the effort to impeach President JOE BIDEN, which could come to a head later this month just as Johnson is visiting the White House to put the finishing touches on a border deal with the president he’s trying to oust.

On top of that, presidential primary season is here: The Iowa caucuses are a week from today, and New Hampshire voters head to the polls just over a week later. Even before the caps deal, desperate GOP presidential hopefuls were teeing off on House Republicans for their supposed fecklessness.

Ask yourself: Is this an environment where big bipartisan bills can get done?

Good Monday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

DSCC’S FIELD TRIP — Democrats are making a major move to protect two of its most-vulnerable incumbents against Republicans circling the seats in Montana and Ohio as must-win pickups to flip the chamber this fall.

“The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is set to invest seven figures in building out a ground game this fall to aid the reelection bids of Sens. JON TESTER (D-Mont.) and SHERROD BROWN (D-Ohio),” Burgess Everett scoops this morning. Given the states’ deep-red tilt, the Biden campaign is not expected to focus on either in the coming months, making the early investments all the more important.

The details: DSCC Chair GARY PETERS (D-Mich.) said the new investments will pay for staffers to focus on field training, volunteer recruitment and organizing, as well as analytics, data, voter access and voter outreach. “Though the DSCC did not provide a precise figure for its spending, ultimately the Senate Democratic campaign arm plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on its field programs, according to an aide.”

THE WEEK — Today: Arguments begin in National Rifle Association civil trial in New York. Fox News holds town hall with NIKKI HALEY. … Tomorrow: Fox News holds town hall with RON DeSANTIS. … Wednesday: CNN hosts debate between DeSantis and Haley in Des Moines. Fox News holds town hall with DONALD TRUMP. … Thursday: December consumer inflation numbers released. HUNTER BIDEN arraigned on federal tax charges in Los Angeles. … Friday: JOE MANCHIN appears at “Politics and Eggs” at Saint Anselm’s College in New Hampshire. NOAA and NASA release 2023 global climate analysis. … Saturday: Taiwan holds presidential election.


On the Hill

The Senate will meet at 3 p.m. to take up JOHN KAZEN’s judicial nomination, with a cloture vote at 5:30 p.m.

The House is out.

3 things to watch …

  1. FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: The Senate Banking Committee is bringing in a high-profile witness for its Thursday hearing on fentanyl. JASON DeFORD, aka JELLY ROLL, is set to testify about his experiences with communities that have been impacted by the opioid. DeFord, a rapper/country music sensation, has been open about his personal and familial struggles with addiction in the past. Panel Chair SHERROD BROWN (D-Ohio) and ranking member TIM SCOTT (R-S.C.) are aiming to sanction the traffickers of fentanyl and its precursor chemicals.
  2. More on the uproar surrounding Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN in a moment, but for now the official Hill reaction to his secret hospitalization has been measured. The leaders of House Armed Services, Chairman MIKE ROGERS (R-Ala.) and ranking member ADAM SMITH (D-Wash.) issued a statement yesterday calling on Austin to answer questions about the situation ASAP: “Transparency is vitally important.”
  3. Rep. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-Colo.) is again in hot water back home, facing allegations that she engaged in a physical altercation with her ex-husband at a restaurant in her district over the weekend. Colorado police confirmed yesterday that there is an “active investigation” into the alleged altercation, the details of which Boebert denied to The Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger.

At the White House

Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief in the morning before departing New Castle, Delaware, for Charleston, South Carolina, where he is scheduled to deliver remarks on his reelection campaign at Mother Emanuel AME Church, the site of a 2015 mass shooting.

In the afternoon, Biden will travel to Dallas, Texas, to attend the memorial service for late former Rep. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON (D-Texas). The president will return to the White House in the evening. Press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE and JOHN KIRBY will gaggle aboard Air Force One en route to South Carolina.

VP KAMALA HARRIS will receive briefings and conduct internal meetings with staff.



AUSTIN PITY LIMITS — The fallout surrounding Austin’s covert hospitalization continues to unfold as new details about the episode trickle out this weekend. The latest drip about the actual chain of events comes from CNN’s Natasha Bertrand, Oren Liebermann, Haley Britzky and Kevin Liptak, who report that Deputy Secretary KATHLEEN HICKS “was among the senior leaders kept in the dark about Austin’s true whereabouts until Thursday, three days after the secretary checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.” Also: “The military service secretaries, who are in the chain of command, were not notified until January 5, four days after Austin checked into the hospital.”

As for the actual procedure itself, the Defense Department released limited details yesterday, saying only that he “had a medical procedure Dec. 22, went home a day later and was admitted to intensive care Jan. 1 when he began experiencing severe pain,” per the AP’s Tara Copp, Colleen Long and Kevin Freking. A DOD spokesperson said Austin was held in intensive care “due to his medical needs, but then remained in that location in part due to hospital space considerations and privacy.”

And the questions about the lack of communication are only continuing: “White House officials declined to say what Biden or his top aides, even now, knew about Austin’s current condition or the reason he was hospitalized,” WaPo’s Missy Ryan, Dan Lamothe and Matt Viser report. While the DOD statements said Austin is receiving necessary information while in the hospital, it gave no timeline for his release. Trump, meanwhile, said last night Austin “should be fired immediately for improper professional conduct and dereliction of duty.”

More on the saga from our colleagues Lara Seligman, Alexander Ward and Connor O’Brien: “‘He’s a cipher’: How Austin’s need for privacy just backfired”


IMPEACHMENT IMPETUS — House Republicans are shifting away from a plan to impeach the president this year and instead setting their sights on a plan to “swiftly impeach Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS early this year, as key swing-district Republicans express fresh openness to the idea amid a recent surge of migrant crossings at the southern border,” CNN’s Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju and Annie Grayer report.

“The emerging plan, according to multiple GOP lawmakers and aides, is to run the Mayorkas impeachment effort entirely through the House Homeland Security Committee as opposed to the House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment articles typically originate, though it is not constitutionally required.

“The reason for that strategy — which sources said has been green lit by House Speaker Mike Johnson — is largely related to internal politics. Senior Republicans are confident they will have the votes to advance impeachment articles through the Homeland Security Committee, whereas there are still key Republican holdouts on the judiciary panel.”

2024 WATCH

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK, PART I — The Republican Accountability PAC is going up with a new six-figure ad campaign attacking Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The ad is set to run today on Fox News during the network’s planned town halls this week with Haley, DeSantis and Trump. The 30-second spot features footage of Trump’s remarks just before his supporters marched on the Capitol interspersed with clips of Republican lawmakers MITCH McCONNELL, TED CRUZ and MIKE GALLAGHER condemning the former president. Watch the ad

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK, PART II — PENNY NANCE, the president of Concerned Women for America, is announcing her personal endorsement of Trump in the GOP primary today. In a video touting her support, Nance stands in front of the Supreme Court to tout Trump’s cascade of judicial confirmations that led to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, pushing the former president as a staunch anti-abortion and pro-Israel candidate. Nance met with Trump earlier this year at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

More top reads:

  • While the Trump campaign machinery does its due diligence in the Hawkeye State, the former president’s camp is also looking ahead, WSJ’s Alex Leary writes. “March brings two major voting days across numerous states, including Super Tuesday on March 5, when more than half the delegates needed to win the nomination will be in play.”


REDISTRICT ROUNDUP — Our colleague Zach Montellaro breaks down the redistricting storylines to watch as a handful of states are still waiting for their final congressional maps to be drawn, with some of the biggest question marks hanging over New York, Louisiana and South Carolina. “So far, post-2022 redistricting has likely netted Republicans two or three seats. But depending on how the final maps are configured, that number could change yet again — and even perhaps tilt the field, ever so slightly, toward favoring Democrats.”

HISTORY REPEATS — In 2022, NYC Mayor ERIC ADAMS and the RUPERT MURDOCH-owned New York Post were both vocal about a rise in crime — and the rhetorical duo played a significant role in handing Republicans unexpected wins. Now, New York Dems are having déjà vu,” our colleagues Emily Ngo and Janaki Chadha write from New York. “The moderate Democratic mayor rarely lets a week go by without issuing new pleas for Washington to help stem the flow of migrants into the nation’s biggest city. Neither does the Post, an influential conservative tabloid that seems equally fixated.”

BACK LIKE SHE NEVER LEFT — “With Time Running Short, Liz Cheney Implores Republicans to Reject Trump,” by NYT’s Maggie Astor

HAPPENING TODAY — “Florida Republicans vote on removing party chairman accused of rape as DeSantis pins hopes on Iowa,” by AP’s Brendan Farrington


MIDDLE EAST ON EDGE — “From Lebanon to the Red Sea, a Broader Conflict With Iran Looms,” by NYT’s David Sanger and Steven Erlanger: “American and Israeli officials, and a dozen countries working in concert to keep commerce flowing in the Red Sea, are confronting a newly aggressive Iran. After launching scores of attacks, from Lebanon to the Red Sea to Iraq, the proxy groups have come into direct conflict with U.S. forces twice in the past week, and Washington is openly threatening airstrikes if the violence does not abate.

“Meanwhile, though little discussed by the Biden administration, the Iranian nuclear program has suddenly been put on steroids. International inspectors announced in late December that Iran initiated a threefold increase in its enrichment of near-bomb-grade uranium. By most rough estimates, Iran now has the fuel for at least three atomic weapons — and American intelligence officials believe the additional enrichment needed to turn that fuel into bomb-grade material would take only a few weeks.”

ON THE GROUND — Israel said yesterday that Hezbollah “struck an air traffic control base in northern Israel,” AP’s Julia Frankel, Samy Magdy and Najib Jobainh report, adding that the Israeli military “warned of ‘another war’ with the Iran-backed militant group.”

Related reads: “Blinken seeks to avert wider war, Israel says it is not fighting a single enemy,” by Reuters’ Simon Lewis, Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Emily Rose … “Al Jazeera says Israeli strike killed another child of Gaza bureau chief,” by WaPo’s Louisa Loveluck, Hajar Harb, Heba Farouk Mahfouz and Jennifer Hassan in Jerusalem … “Israel Presses Egypt to Better Secure Borderland Against Hamas Smugglers,” by WSJ’s Summer Said and Carrie Keller-Lynn


TALES FROM THE CRYPTO — “Donald Trump may be crypto’s unexpected savior,” by Jasper Goodman: “GOP lawmakers and conservative groups have drafted regulatory proposals in line with the industry’s wish list, and Republicans are already floating the names of potential regulators who would play a key role in turning the tide.”

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK — “Nation’s Top Economists Are Short-Term Happy, Long-Term Glum,” by WSJ’s Gabriel Rubin

AD ASTRA — “NASA and private industry aim for moon landings in 2024,” by WaPo’s Christian Davenport


Mehdi Hasan signed off.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Speaker Mike Johnson’s office has announced his political staff for 2024, adding Billy Constangy as executive director, Sam Spencer as political director, Hunter Mullis as director of operations, Chase Davis as political assistant, Katie Delzell Haulsee as national fundraising adviser, Coleman Covington as finance director for external affairs, Amelia Hawkins as finance director for major donors, Sarah Grace Prestwood as finance coordinator, Jordan Bell as deputy director of operations and Greg Steele as comms director.

Anna Breedlove is now an associate director at Feldman Strategies. She previously was comms director for the Kentucky Democratic Party.

Nikki Goldschein is joining the Michigan Democratic Party’s leadership team as senior adviser. She most recently was political director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

MEDIA MOVES — Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux is joining the AP as editor for surveys and polling. She previously was a senior editor and senior politics reporter at FiveThirtyEight/ABC News. … Dave Clarke is joining Punchbowl as a policy editor. He previously was editor of WaPo’s 202 newsletter franchise and is a POLITICO alum.

TRANSITIONS — Celia Morté is joining SMI as a director. She most recently was national security adviser for Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), and is a Kevin Cramer alum and Air Force veteran. … Charlotte Law is now comms director for Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.). She most recently led comms for Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) and is a Rick Scott and NRSC alum. … Riya Vashi is now press secretary for Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s Florida Senate campaign. She previously was deputy upstate press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. …

… National Public Affairs has added Alexis Haridopolos and Lexie Weinkopff as account managers. Haridopolos most recently was an associate with the Prosper Group. Weinkopff most recently was a legislative aide with the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus. … Marc Ross is joining the Center for AI Policy as comms director. He currently is chief comms strategist at Caracal and is a U.S.-China Business Council, American Chemistry Council and the National Mining Association alum.

WEDDINGS — Mia Wright, assistant director of U.S. public policy at the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, and Cooper Real, software engineering manager at Capital One, got married over the weekend in a waterfront ceremony at Isla del Sol Yacht Club in St. Petersburg, Fla. The pair met in 2019 on Bumble. PicAnother pic

— Noelle Garnier, director of public policy for National Religious Broadcasters and a Trump White House alum, and Garrett Huizenga, a national media strategist for Salem Media and son of Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), got married at the Hay-Adams in D.C. on Dec. 23. The couple first met at a birthday party in Garrett’s backyard on Capitol Hill.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: White House’s Anita Dunn and Andrew Bates John PodestaHeather Podesta Adam HechavarriaMaría Peña of the Library of Congress … Elizabeth López-Sandoval of USAID … David Chavern … POLITICO’s Joel Kirkland … USA Today’s Nirvi Shah … Fox News’ Casey StegallJane Lucas … former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos … former Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) and Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) … Avra SiegelAngelo Mathay … former Ohio Gov. Bob TaftDeborah Mazol … WaPo’s Emma BrownDavid P. WhiteLaura Pinsky James Reed … Boeing’s Nicole Tieman Ted Leonsis

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, producer Andrew Howard and Playbook Daily Briefing producer Callan Tansill-Suddath.

Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter misspelled Sam Spencer’s name.

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