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Inside Trump's surprise endorsement

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Oct 06, 2023 View in browser

By Ryan Lizza, Rachael Bade and Eugene Daniels

Presented by

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

Listen to today's Daily Briefing


BREAKING OVERNIGHT — AP: “Imprisoned activist NARGES MOHAMMADI won the Nobel Peace Prize Friday for fighting the oppression of women in Iran.”

MILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION — POLITICO Magazine: “Why Do Republicans Keep Destroying Their Own Leaders?”

Donald Trump appears to be lining up behind Rep. Jim Jordan in the speaker race. | AP

INSIDE VS. OUTSIDE — The speakership race between Reps. STEVE SCALISE and JIM JORDAN is turning into a test of two very different strategies.

Scalise is running the way successful speakers always have: by focusing assiduously on the inside game of member-to-member lobbying. In Scalise world, the way to win next week’s secret ballot election is to break down the conference into granular Scalise-friendly factions that he can cobble together into a majority.

Scalise is the second-most-prolific GOP fundraiser after KEVIN McCARTHY, and his team is making sure the recipients of his largesse remember that. He’s a former whip in a chamber where serving on a whip team is a bonding experience. He’s a southerner in a party that is dominated by that region of the country. He’s targeting colleagues who sit with him on the Energy and Commerce Committee. He’s counting on committee chairmen who are close to leadership and wary of Jordan’s Freedom Caucus roots. And despite the fact that he once led the Republican Study Committee, the jovial Scalise is wooing moderates freaked out by the idea of making Jordan the face of their party.

There are lots of ways that members bond that defy the typical GOP categories, and you hear a lot about these relationships from Scalise world. “@SteveScalise and I were elected to Congress together through special elections and became close friends,” Rep. ROB WITTMAN of Virginia said on X last night. “I am proud to support him for Speaker of the House.”

It’s not that Jordan doesn’t have similar pockets in the House to target. He does. He’ll do well with most of the nine other Republicans in the Ohio delegation, with the MAGA right, with Judiciary Committee colleagues who will want to support their chair, with some McCarthy allies who had beef with Scalise.

But Jordan is running much more of an outside game, trying to leverage the modern conservative media world and its best-known influencers to pressure Republicans to back him. And early this morning, he won the backing of the ultimate GOP outsider: DONALD TRUMP.

HOW TRUMP GOT THERE: Rep. TROY NEHLS, the leader of the “draft Trump” movement, told Playbook last night that he had originally pitched Trump on the speaker idea the same day McCarthy was ousted. “I called him and I said, ‘Sir, I'm nominating you for the Speaker of the House,’” the Texas Republican recalled. “I said, ‘I think that you would do a great job fixing the brokenness we see in the Congress.”

Nehls said he even researched the question of whether Trump’s criminal indictments would be a problem and assured the former president that an internal House GOP rule about that could be easily smoothed over. Trump, who was busy at his civil fraud trial in Manhattan this week, was non-committal.

In the next two days, as the Trump-as-speaker idea took off, Trump leaned into it. He told Fox News’ Brooke Singman he was coming to town. But behind the scenes, House GOP sources told Playbook, Trump allies on the Hill talked him out of it, arguing that he would not succeed in the secret ballot election, that the embarrassing loss would damage his political brand and that the way for him to have influence was to make an endorsement instead.

Nehls tried to talk Trump into it one more time last night: “I said, ‘You know, you made America great again. You can come in and make Congress great again.” But the former president instead listened to the other House members urging him that it would be a catastrophic mistake. (Nehls told Playbook that he still thinks Trump could end up as speaker if there’s a deadlock. Gotta admire his tenacity.)

The pivot was first publicly teased last night by SEAN HANNITY, moments before interviewing Jordan on Fox News, and Trump made it official a little while later on Truth Social in a post that curiously focused largely on Jordan’s wrestling career.

Jordan’s outside gambit makes sense for him. He can’t match Scalise in terms of relationships, fundraising prowess, and leadership organization assets. So he needs Breitbart and “War Room” and Fox News — and now Trump — to help even the score. And it comes naturally to him. The Freedom Caucus co-founder rose up through the House leveraging populist voter rage against the GOP establishment.

WILL IT WORK TO MAKE HIM SPEAKER? Most of the late-night discussions we had across the GOP conference were about whether the Trump endorsement — and Jordan’s larger outside strategy — helps, has no effect, or actually hurts him.

Helps: The argument here is that the rules have changed and that if Trump makes a sustained effort to whip the vote for Jordan and push members to go public, he could create a stampede for the Ohioan, nationalizing the speaker’s race with the help of the right’s major media organs, turning it into a high-profile litmus test about loyalty to Trump. But this was a minority opinion. Most people who have been through one of these elections emphasize that they remain insider contests and that the views of anyone outside the House GOP conference are irrelevant.

Hurts: Trump’s Jordan endorsement will push moderates, especially vulnerable members of the New York delegation, into Scalise’s arms, the thinking here goes, while getting Jordan no new supporters.

No effect: The MAGA crowd was already with Jordan, this theory holds, and by the end of this weekend, Trump will have lost interest in the speaker’s race and be back to focusing on his presidential campaign and his criminal trials. The brief Trump interlude of the House leadership election will be forgotten.

But even Scalise may now be wondering whether these leadership contests have fundamentally changed and questioning whether he can cede all of the outside attention to Jordan. After staying off TV this week and spending all his time calling individual members, per an aide, he’s booked himself this morning on “Fox & Friends.”

TO THE VICTOR GO THE FOILS — “The next speaker’s big challenge: Avoiding McCarthy’s fate,” by Sarah Ferris, Anthony Adragna and Nicholas Wu


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Happy Friday. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

TALK OF THIS TOWN — Michael Schaffer’s latest Capital City column: “The New Cold War Has Come for Washington’s Pandas”

THE PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW: MARTY BARON — On Playbook Deep Dive this week, we sat down with the former Washington Post executive editor to discuss his new book, “Collision of Power: Trump, Bezos, and the Washington Post” ($34.99). You can listen to the full interview on the podcast here. What follows are some key excerpts:

— Why he thinks the press should start filing more defamation lawsuits: “I'm tired of being a sitting duck. … If other people are going to exploit those laws to try to intimidate us and inflict severe damage on us — financial damage and reputational damage — then, you know, we have the right to defend our reputations. … And if people like [Florida Gov.] RON DeSANTIS want to make defamation victories easier? Well, fine: Why don't we use that to our benefit?”

— On BOB WOODWARD: “Was he a little looser in [his Trump] commentary than I would want for somebody on our staff? Yeah. … When he was described as [a Washington Post] ‘editor,’ it looked like he was the editor of the Washington Post. People thought that he was speaking for the Washington Post. And in truth, Bob was speaking for himself. And I think he would say the same.”

— On whether it’s a double standard to allow Woodward to make those comments at the same time young Post journalists were reprimanded for voicing their opinions online: “They actually do work for the Washington Post. That's the difference. And in their Twitter accounts, they are identified with the Washington Post. And the reason that they have a following is because they work for the Washington Post.”

— On the major clashes over Post journalists’ use of social media: “It was a very troubling issue for me. I just totally disagreed with the position of … a large number of people on my staff. There was an uprising against me. … My view is if you have guidelines, and you tell the public you have these guidelines and you don't enforce the guidelines — number one, you've rendered the guidelines meaningless. And number two, you're lying to the public. You're telling them that you actually have standards when, in fact, you don't enforce those standards. … Maybe we should just tell the public we have no standards.”

— How those fights contributed to his desire to retire: “I wouldn't want to say that [large newsrooms] are ungovernable, but I would say that I didn't want to govern one anymore.”

— One of JEFF BEZOS’ first pieces of advice for him: “Don't be boring.”

— On the content-mill approach to journalism: “It's easy to produce stories. It's much harder to produce stories that people will read.”


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On the Hill

The House and the Senate are out.

3 things to watch …

  1. When it comes to the rough-and-tumble world of House leadership races, it’s important to work the phones with individual members, but wooing key factions and caucuses matters, too. Those meetings will continue to play out today and through the weekend, with the Freedom Caucus, Western Caucus and GOP freshman class all seeking to meet with candidates, per Olivia Beavers.
  2. President JOE BIDEN’s surprise move to resurrect border wall construction is already generating tough criticism from his Democratic allies in Congress. Today, eyes will be on party leaders in the House or Senate to see if they join the outcry. One person the White House is probably less concerned about right now: indicted Sen. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.), who said yesterday that Biden took “pages from Trump’s anti-immigrant playbook.”
  3. As Jordan fights for the speaker’s gavel, he’s also warring with the Justice Department over testimony the Judiciary Committee is seeking from an FBI special agent, ELVIS CHAN, who is alleged to have been a key intermediary between the government and social media platforms during the 2020 election. CNN reported yesterday that DOJ is accusing Jordan of “needless escalation” as he threatens contempt proceedings against Chan for seeking to have a department attorney present for his testimony.

At the White House

Biden will speak at 11:30 a.m. about the September jobs report and National Manufacturing Day, followed by a confab with visiting German President FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER at 4 p.m. to celebrate German-American Day.

VP KAMALA HARRIS will travel from San Francisco to St. Louis, where she’ll have a moderated conversation at the DNC fall meeting and then speak at a campaign fundraiser, before returning to Washington.


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Donald Trump reportedly has shared “potentially sensitive information about U.S. nuclear submarines” after leaving office. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

SIREN — Trump’s loose lips are allegedly spilling America’s nuclear secrets, ABC’s Katherine Faulders, Alexander Mallin and Mike Levin report. Sources tell the network in an explosive story that Trump shared with Australian billionaire ANTHONY PRATT “potentially sensitive information about U.S. nuclear submarines” at Mar-a-Lago after leaving office — and Pratt then relayed the details to nearly four dozen other people, including foreign officials and “three former Australian prime ministers.” Special counsel JACK SMITH’s team and other feds are aware of the alleged disclosure and have interviewed Pratt.

The information reportedly included precisely how many nuclear warheads are on U.S. subs and their range of movement without detection by Russia. It’s not entirely clear whether the details Pratt says Trump told him are correct.

Meanwhile, there were new developments across many of Trump’s major legal fronts yesterday:

  • The election subversion case: “Trump argues ‘presidential immunity’ to try to dismiss Jan. 6 related criminal charges,” by Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone
  • The classified documents case: “Trump Asks Again to Delay Documents Trial Until After Election,” by NYT’s Alan Feuer … Plus: “Trump replaces the gatekeepers of his presidential records,” by Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein
  • The hush money case: “Trump moves to have ‘meandering’ New York hush money case dismissed,” by NBC’s Adam Reiss and Dareh Gregorian
  • The business fraud case: “Ex-Trump executive grilled in court as former president skips,” NBC
  • The MICHAEL COHEN case: “Trump files to dismiss $500 million lawsuit against his ex-lawyer,” by Reuters’ Kanishka Singh and Karen Freifeld


Many Democrats in cities inundated by migrants are pressuring President Joe Biden to take more action on immigration. | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

IMMIGRATION FILES — The Biden administration offered a major one-two punch of border announcements yesterday that yanked policy rightward, moves that infuriated liberals but will surely not satisfy conservatives positioning immigration as a major source of Biden criticism.

In addition to restarting construction on a border wall, DHS is resuming direct deportation flights to Venezuela, CBS’ Camilo Montoya-Galvez scooped. And in Mexico, Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN tried to get Mexican President ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR to step up in the fentanyl fight — “but it was unclear whether he received a meaningful commitment,” the L.A. Times’ Tracy Wilkinson reports.

The flurry of action comes as the political ground is shifting rapidly on immigration, thanks in part to a recent surge of border-crossers. Despite anger from some progressives at new restrictions, many Democrats in cities inundated by migrants are pressuring Biden to take more action, NBC’s Natasha Korecki and Gabe Gutierrez report from Chicago. And he’s also getting squeezed by Republicans in Congress who want to link border policy to Ukraine aid — neatly tying the West Wing’s two biggest headaches together, Myah Ward reports.

More top reads:

  • “Army Plans Major Cuts to Special-Operations Forces, Including Green Berets,” by WSJ’s Gordon Lubold
  • “Biden team weighs using State Department grants to fund weapons for Ukraine,” by Lara Seligman, Paul McLeary and Connor O’Brien

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CASH DASH — Third-quarter FEC reports are starting to come in fast and furious now, offering crucial glimpses at fundraising progress for key campaigns. Some that caught our eye yesterday: Sen. JACKY ROSEN (D-Nev.) raised $2.7 million. … Sen. BOB CASEY (D-Pa.) raised $3.2 million. … Colorado Democrat ADAM FRISCH raised $3.4 million. … California Democrats WILL ROLLINS raised $830,000 and GEORGE WHITESIDES raised $700,000, our California Playbook colleagues scooped.

2024 WATCH

Reid Hoffman led a Zoom this week with dozens of donors strategizing about how to effectively counter the Biden-alternative campaigns. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

SPOILER ALERT — With no fewer than three potential independent candidates spooking Democrats that they could hand the election to Trump, national Dems are stepping up their efforts to counter CORNEL WEST, No Labels and ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., Elena Schneider and Jonathan Lemire report this morning. Dozens of donors got on a Zoom led by REID HOFFMAN this week to discuss the matter, with the LinkedIn co-founder trying to raise $3 million to $4 million to stop No Labels. American Bridge is also scrutinizing the group, while other top Dems plan a pressure campaign.

As the general election draws nearer, Democrats plan to target ads at key demographic groups warning them about throwing away their votes. But the worry is real on the Biden campaign and in the White House, especially about West, who could peel off disaffected young voters of color already souring on Biden. (If he’s able to get on the ballot in enough states.)

More top reads:

  • “Ramaswamy says angry protesters rammed his car in Iowa; police say no evidence crash was intentional,” by AP’s Thomas Beaumont and Margery Beck


THE LATEST MENENDEZ TWIST — After new reports emerged this week that NADINE ARSLANIAN, Menendez’s wife, hit and killed a man in 2018, the New Jersey AG’s office is now examining how law enforcement handled the situation at the time, NBC New York’s Jonathan Dienst reports.


FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and first lady Casey DeSantis. Panel: Ben Domenech, Francesca Chambers, Kevin Walling and Mary Katharine Ham.

MSNBC “The Katie Phang Show”: Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) … Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas).

MSNBC “Inside with Jen Psaki”: Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) … Ben Rhodes.

ABC “This Week”: Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) … Chris Christie. Panel: Donna Brazile, Sarah Isgur, Astead Herndon and Julie Pace.

CBS “Face the Nation”: Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) … Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) … NYC Mayor Eric Adams … Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker … Bob Gates.

NBC “Meet the Press”: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Panel: Garrett Haake, Peggy Noonan and Kimberly Atkins Stohr.


GO INSIDE THE CAPITOL DOME: From the outset, POLITICO has been your eyes and ears on Capitol Hill, providing the most thorough Congress coverage — from political characters and emerging leaders to leadership squabbles and policy nuggets during committee markups and hearings. We're stepping up our game to ensure you’re fully informed on every key detail inside the Capitol Dome, all day, every day. Start your day with Playbook AM, refuel at midday with our Playbook PM halftime report and enrich your evening discussi

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Inside Trump's surprise endorsement


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