Playbook: Can Biden emerge from his ‘cocoon’?

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WORKING WEEKEND — The Senate remains in session today as it grinds through a series of procedural hoops toward passage of the $95 billion supplemental spending bill delivering aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Barring an unlikely amendment deal, there won’t be votes until tomorrow, and final passage might not come until as late as Wednesday. Nearly 20 senators, mostly Republicans, appear to have skipped town for the weekend, based on yesterday’s 64-19 procedural vote. More from Reuters

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While it appears the package has the votes to ultimately pass, the Senate MAGA block isn’t giving up. Sen. RAND PAUL (R-Ky.) is vowing to stretch the process out as long as possible, Sen. MIKE LEE (R-Utah) is rallying social-media followers against the bill, and this morning, Sen. J.D. VANCE (R-Ohio) is out with a new memo arguing that the package “could obstruct future efforts to bring the war in Ukraine to a peaceful conclusion.”

Related reads: “Is the Senate Becoming the House?” by NYT’s Carl Hulse … “Denver Is Furious That Washington Can’t Fix the Border,” by WSJ’s Alicia Caldwell and Michelle Hackman

DEMS TO BIDEN: LEAVE THE BASEMENT — The fallout continues this morning from special counsel ROBERT HUR’s damning report depicting President JOE BIDEN as a doddering old man. To start with, Democratic officials are pushing for a series of tactical changes at the White House.

They want Biden to go on offense.

Unsurprisingly (and with good reason), Biden supporters fret that Hur’s report will cement a narrative that’s already started to crystallize in the minds of millions of voters: that the president simply isn’t mentally sharp enough to handle another term. The only way to defeat it, they counsel, is by getting Biden out in front of a camera — not hiding him away.

No more sidestepping Super Bowl interviews or shying away from news conferences and interviews. Instead, the thinking goes, according to our colleague Myah Ward, the more Biden engages in unscripted commentary, the less likely people will be to obsess over his slip-ups.

“The president has to reassure and build confidence with the public by doing things that he has so far been unwilling to do convincingly,” the NYT editorial board writes. “He needs to be out campaigning with voters far more in unrehearsed interactions. He could undertake more town hall meetings in communities and on national television. He should hold regular news conferences to demonstrate his command of and direction for leading the country.”

As a reminder, Biden has engaged in 33 news conferences compared to BARACK OBAMA’s 66 and DONALD TRUMP’s 52 by this time in their presidencies. The NYT editorial board also points out that Biden has given only 86 interviews compared to Obama’s 422 and Trump’s 300.

All this advice, of course, presupposes that more public exposure to an unfiltered Biden will build public confidence, not erode it further.

That does not appear to be the conclusion that Biden’s closest advisers have reached. Instead, he has been ensconced in a “presidential cocoon,” NYT’s Katie Rogers and Lisa Lerer write this morning. Advisers who once let “Joe be Joe” are now trying to “shield him from verbal slips and physical stumbles.” Biden now takes the short stairs to get onto Air Force One, they point out, and at news conferences loud music is played to quickly shut down questioning.


Inside Biden’s party: Democrats are in a tizzy, as WaPo’s Ashley Parker, Michael Scherer and Tyler Pager chronicle, fearing that “a dangerous and misleading caricature of the president’s performance is at risk of setting in, pushed by the biting prose of a special prosecutor they suspected of seeking political revenge.”

The mood right now? “About as hair on fire as you can imagine,” one Democratic operative tells them. “Worse than I even thought it would be.”

In Trump world: Interestingly, Trump has mostly ignored the conversation about Biden’s mental faculties the past two days. Instead, he’s trained his commentary on the aspect of the Hur decision that affects him directly: a supposed double standard for classified documents prosecutions at the DOJ.

“If he’s not going to be charged, that’s up to them,” Trump said at a National Rifle Association event yesterday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “But then I should not be charged.”

There are, of course, key distinctions between Trump and Biden’s situations, which Hur outlined in his report: Where Biden cooperated, Trump is alleged to have obstructed the probe, held onto sensitive documents and asked associates to destroy evidence. But Trump and his campaign are betting that voters will get lost in the muddied waters. More from WaPo’s Isaac Arnsdorf

Meanwhile, NIKKI HALEY’s campaign will be tweaking the faculties of both Trump and Biden via a mobile billboard rolling outside Trump’s South Carolina rally tonight, Natalie Allison reports: “Haley’s latest trolling attempt, first confirmed to POLITICO, involves the campaign playing a video featuring clips of Trump and President Joe Biden trailing off and otherwise appearing confused during recent public remarks.”

In Biden world: Biden and his top aides continue to lash out at Hur — and at the man who appointed him, AG MERRICK GARLAND. As Jonathan Lemire and Sam Stein write, Biden himself has told close advisers that Garland “did not do enough to rein in” Hur’s report in what is only the latest point of tension between the AG and the White House. (Though as a practical matter, Betsy Woodruff Swan, Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein note, Garland “burying or censoring the report would have been untenable.”)

The upshot: “[M]ost of the president’s senior advisers do not believe that the attorney general would remain in his post for a possible second term.”

Meanwhile, White House communicators are hitting back hard at the mental fitness questions, quoting Republicans who’ve complimented Biden’s acuity in the past. We’ve obtained a new memo being circulated this morning from deputy press secretary ANDREW BATES that quotes former Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY and others calling Biden “cogent” and “well-versed.”

Biden also got a boost yesterday from Sen. MITT ROMNEY (R-Utah), who defended Biden for mixing up names while pointing out that Trump recently and repeatedly confused Haley for Rep. NANCY PELOSI (D-Calif.).

The campaign, meanwhile, is blaming a favorite scapegoat: the media.

Responding to Trump’s NRA comments last night, Biden 2024 senior adviser for comms TJ DUCKLO released a statement that included a “list of lies” spouted by Trump on stage while tweaking reporters for their coverage.

“Every single time Donald Trump opens his mouth, he’s confused, deranged, lying, or worse. Tonight, he lied more than two dozen times, slurred his words, confused basic facts, and placated the gun lobby weeks,” he said.

“But you won’t hear about any of it if you watch cable news, read this weekend’s papers, or watch the Sunday shows. Beltway reporters may be numb to Trump’s horrifying candidacy defined by chaos, division, and violence — but the American people are the ones who will suffer and die if he’s allowed anywhere near the Oval Office again.”

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

SURPRISE — “In shock result, allies of jailed ex-leader Khan win most seats in Pakistan election,” by CNN’s Sophia Saifi and David Shortell

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Former Google CEO ERIC SCHMIDT is the anonymous buyer of the historic Georgetown mansion that JACQUELINE KENNEDY ONASSIS used to own and that sold at auction for $15 million in November, a Georgetown neighbor familiar with the purchase told Daniel Lippman. The N Street house is formally called the “NEWTON D. BAKER House” after a former secretary of War and also known as the “Jacqueline Kennedy House” since she lived there for a year after JOHN F. KENNEDY was killed (she paid around $175,000).

The compound now comprises three row homes connected to each other via five “secret passageways” and a tunnel and has more than 16,000 square feet and 13 bedrooms and bathrooms.

The house has had quite the assortment of owners over the years, including a Maryland congressman, an admiral and ambassador, an ex-Miss America and a former spy for the KGB turned New Republic publisher. Former Massachusetts Gov. BILL WELD and his wife LESLIE MARSHALL used to rent one of the three houses in the compound; SALLY QUINN has also long lived across the street.

The neighbor told Playbook that there is no sign of Schmidt living there yet, but after stories popped last year that it was Onassis’ former house, tourists started taking more selfies in front of the manse. Another neighbor said they recently saw two big moving vans parked outside the house. A spokesperson for Schmidt declined to comment.

The Georgetown property joins an expansive portfolio of homes Schmidt reportedly owns, including multiple mansions in LA, an estate in Montecito, California, several houses in Miami Beach and a couple of NYC penthouses, including one that got a cameo in the “Wall Street” sequel in 2010.

Schmidt has spent more time in Washington in recent years as he served previously as chair of the U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and now as chair of the Special Competitive Studies Project based in Arlington. Schmidt and his wife WENDY also last month launched the nonprofit Schmidt Sciences.


At the White House

Biden has nothing on his public schedule.

VP KAMALA HARRIS will receive briefings and have internal staff meetings.



1. MIDDLE EAST LATEST: In some of the most candid contrition yet heard from the Biden administration on the Israel-Hamas war, a recording reveals deputy national security adviser JON FINER saying this week that the U.S. made “missteps” and “left a very damaging impression” of how much it cares about Palestinians, NYT’s Reid Epstein and Erica Green report. He made the comments to Arab American leaders in Michigan, adding that he didn’t think Israel would really move meaningfully toward Palestinian statehood. But the White House then tried to soften Finer’s and Biden’s recent criticism of Israel, per the AP.

Substantively, the Biden administration’s next move is dispatching CIA Director WILLIAM BURNS again to try to hammer out a cease-fire/hostage release deal: He heads to Egypt next week, per Axios’ Barak Ravid. U.S. officials also told community leaders in Michigan that it wouldn’t resume funding for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency until a probe into its staffers’ Hamas ties is complete, per Reuters’ Andrea Shalal.

Really interesting read: WaPo’s Isaac Stanley-Becker dives deep into how the Trump administration’s moves helped usher the Middle East toward war. Though the Abraham Accords took a big step toward improving Israel’s ties to several Arab neighbors, they also “contributed to Palestinian alienation that hastened the attack by Hamas.”

2. IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED: “House Republicans to take another stab at impeaching DHS Secretary Mayorkas,” by NBC’s Rebecca Kaplan and Zoë Richards: “House Majority Leader STEVE SCALISE, R-La., on Friday indicated that the second impeachment vote would come on Tuesday night. … Scalise is expected to return to Washington next week after undergoing treatment for blood cancer.” Tuesday, of course, is also the day when Republicans could lose a seat in a New York special election.

3. RFK IN THE SPOTLIGHT: News of a possible flirtation between ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. and the Libertarian Party has sparked plenty of speculation about whether the independent might turn to an existing party for ballot access, ABC’s Will McDuffie reports from Las Vegas. He’ll attend the California party convention this month. But it’s not clear whether their policy positions align closely enough: There’s plenty of daylight on a number of key issues between Kennedy and the Libertarian faithful, despite a certain shared vibe, Semafor’s Dave Weigel reports.

Democrats are taking the Kennedy threat seriously: The DNC filed a FEC complaint yesterday alleging illegal coordination between his campaign and super PAC (which RFK’s team denied), per AP’s Will Weissert.

4. GAETZ-GATE: “Chief Witness Against Gaetz Is Cooperating With House Ethics Investigation,” by NYT’s Robert Draper and Michael Schmidt: “FRITZ SCHELLER, a lawyer for [Rep. MATT] GAETZ’s former friend and political ally JOEL GREENBERG, said he provided documents to the committee related to claims Mr. Greenberg has made about Mr. Gaetz. Mr. Greenberg previously told federal investigators that he had witnessed Mr. Gaetz having sex with a 17-year-old girl.”

5. TO RUSSIA, WITH LOVE: Despite Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN’s clear message to Tucker Carlson that he wanted to strike a peace with Ukraine — very much on Moscow’s terms — the Biden administration is having none of it. U.S. officials say they don’t think Putin is serious about negotiating right now and that they support Ukraine’s resolve to keep fighting to reclaim its invaded territory, NYT’s Michael Crowley reports. As for Putin’s comments about EVAN GERSHKOVICH, the State Department responded simply that Russia needs to release the detained WSJ journalist and PAUL WHELAN, per WSJ’s Gordon Lubold and Louise Radnofsky.

At the White House, Biden and German Chancellor OLAF SCHOLZ presented a united front in urging Congress to pass critical Ukraine aid, per NYT’s Zolan Kanno-Youngs and David Sanger.

6. QUOTES THE BIDEN CAMPAIGN WILL REMEMBER: “Trump tells NRA members ‘no one will lay a finger on your firearms’ if he returns to the White House,” by AP’s Jill Colvin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: He “bragged that during his time as president he ‘did nothing’ to curb guns. ‘During my four years nothing happened. And there was great pressure on me having to do with guns. We did nothing. We didn’t yield,’ he said as he addressed the NRA’s Great American Outdoor Show.”

7. BEYOND THE BELTWAY: A major focus for GOP-dominated state legislatures this year is clamping down on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at public universities and institutions, AP’s Michael Goldberg reports from Jackson, Mississippi. Beyond just college campuses, “the legislation also would limit DEI in K-12 schools, state government, contracting and pension investments. Some bills would bar financial institutions from discriminating against those who refuse to participate in DEI programs.” In blue states, Democrats are pushing some bills to boost DEI, but to a much lesser degree.

8. WHAT COULD GO WRONG: “Election officials go on offense to prevent disruptions of 2024 vote,” by WaPo’s Yvonne Wingett Sanchez in Phoenix: “Arizona Secretary of State ADRIAN FONTES is preparing them for a series of worst-case scenarios, including combat. His office is coordinating active-shooter drills for election workers and has sent kits to county election offices that include tourniquets to stem bleeding, devices to barricade doors and hammers to break glass windows. … Around the nation, those who run voting operations … say they are preparing for the types of disruptions that historically had been more associated with political unrest abroad than American elections.”

9. BIG SHIFT: MARK ZUCKERBERG is stepping his social media colossus back from politics. Meta said yesterday that Instagram and Threads will stop recommending any political accounts or political posts from other accounts, WaPo’s Taylor Lorenz and Naomi Nix report. Though they’ll all still be available to followers, the algorithmic downgrade is “alarming news and politics-focused creators and journalists gearing up for a crucial election year.”

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 18 funnies

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“His Best Friend Was a 250-Pound Warthog. One Day, It Decided to Kill Him,” by Texas Monthly’s Peter Holley: “Austin Riley spent decades raising exotic animals in the Texas Hill Country. In a split second, the animal he thought he knew best changed his life forever.”

“How the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Drove a Wedge Into the Democratic Party,” by NYT Magazine’s Ross Barkan: “Members of Congress, and candidates for their seats, have been drawn into bitter political clashes over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“How Kennedy Narrowly Defeated Nixon — and Why the Alternative History Would Have Been Devastating,” by POLITICO Magazine’s Jeff Greenfield: “The 1960 election was closer than you think. And had Nixon won, it might have meant nuclear war.”

“Abraham Lincoln’s Oft-Overlooked Campaign to Promote Immigration to the U.S.,” by Harold Holzer in Smithsonian Magazine: “A few weeks after the president delivered the Gettysburg Address, he called on Congress to welcome immigrants as a ‘source of national wealth and strength.’”

“The puzzling afterlife of Britain’s last executioner,” by Francisco Garcia in FT Magazine: “What the enduring cult of Albert Pierrepoint says about the appeal of capital punishment in the UK.”

“How Jack Dorsey’s Plan to Get Elon Musk to Save Twitter Went South,” by Bloomberg Businessweek’s Kurt Wagner: “An excerpt from Battle for the Bird shows how Twitter’s two most prominent leaders contributed to its current dilemma.”

“Old-Style Football with a Modern Face,” by City Journal’s John Hirschauer: “In Sunday’s Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers will carry the banner for a newly traditionalist — yet highly innovative — style of offensive play.”

“The brain is the most complicated object in the universe. This is the story of scientists’ quest to decode it — and read people’s minds,” by Nicholas Kelley, Stephanie Sheir and Timo Istace in The Conversation


Donald Trump endorsed Tim Sheehy.

John Avlon may be running for Congress.

Fani Willis played hard to get for her House Judiciary subpoena, while Ashleigh Merchant newly claimed Willis wasn’t truthful about the timeline of her Nathan Wade relationship.

Marcus Flowers is primarying David Scott.

C.J. Pearson, now running for the Georgia state House, is facing some money questions.

Joni Ernst welcomed her first grandchild.

IN MEMORIAM — “Peter Silberman, high-ranking Washington Post editor, dies at 93,” by WaPo’s Adam Bernstein: “In a three-decade career at The Post, he led the business and national desks and retired as the No. 3 newsroom editor.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) (6-0) … George StephanopoulosGlenn Beck (6-0) … Bob Iger … POLITICO’s Greg Mott, Melissa Rosales, Kaitlyn Tibbetts, Selby Schnobrich and Jessica Meyers … The Atlantic’s Margy Slattery … Reuters’ Aram RostonEmily HorneIzzy Klein Mindy Finn Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice … Susan Crabtree John YangKyle Trygstad Cathy Gillespie … CNN’s Mallory Thompson … WSJ’s Michael Gordon … WaPo’s Marisa Kashino … Merck’s John Cummins Erin Logan Cavan Jones of the American Society of Anesthesiologists … Alex Davidson of the Beer Institute … Jo-Marie St. MartinJake Silverman of Rep. Nikema Williams’ (D-Ga.) office … Joanna BelangerNatalie Knight of House Judiciary … Eric StoreyTim GrahamMatt HoltSteve BeynonJim Cramer Jeff Jacoby Scott Sendek John SturmJim Pfaff Franco Ripple of Direct Impact

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

CBS “Face the Nation”: Nikki Haley … Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) … Bob Bauer … Michael Morell … Samantha Vinograd … David Becker.

ABC “This Week”: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu … Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) … Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Legal panel: Sarah Isgur and Preet Bharara. Panel: Rick Klein, Donna Brazile, Reince Priebus and Rachael Bade.

NBC “Meet the Press”: DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas … Mitch Landrieu … Chris Christie. Panel: Peter Alexander, Brendan Buck, Amna Nawaz and Jen Psaki.

Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures”: Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) … John Ratcliffe … Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) … Woody Johnson.

MSNBC “The Sunday Show”: California Gov. Gavin Newsom … Blair L.M. Kelley.

CNN “State of the Union”: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) … Rod Rosenstein. Panel: Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Alyssa Farah Griffin, Adrienne Elrod and Scott Jennings.

FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) … Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.). Reporter panel: Brit Hume and Chad Pergram. Panel: Matthew Continetti, Mary Katharine Ham, Jeff Mason and Juan Williams.

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 Playbook Daily Briefing producer Callan Tansill-Suddath.

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