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Will Dems keep standing with Israel?

Presented by Amway: The unofficial guide to official Washington.
Oct 10, 2023 View in browser

By Ryan Lizza, Eugene Daniels and Rachael Bade

Presented by

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

Listen to today's Daily Briefing


ISRAEL LATEST — 11 Americans dead; some “likely” taken hostage … IDF estimates 1,500 terrorists dead inside Israel … U.S. begins arms shipments … Skirmishes on Lebanon border … Hamas leader denies direct Iran involvement ... Saudi deal in limbo

IF YOU READ ONE THING — “‘We’re Going to Die Here,’” by the Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg: “A firsthand account of tragedy and heroism from the slaughter that left more than 900 Israelis dead.”

The White House is lit in blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag, to underscore U.S. solidarity with Israel, Oct. 9, 2023, in Washington. | Jon Elswick/AP Photo

THE COMING DIVIDE — Last night the White House was lit up in blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag, a bold visual reminder by President JOE BIDEN of his unflinching support for one of America’s closest allies and a clear sign about how he sees the conflict.

Away from the lights, Democrats in Washington are deeply concerned that the outpouring of goodwill toward Israel in the wake of the horrific attacks by Hamas may be fleeting.

Earlier this year, Gallup reported on an important public opinion milestone: “After a decade in which Democrats have shown increasing affinity toward the Palestinians, their sympathies in the Middle East now lie more with the Palestinians than the Israelis, 49% versus 38%.”

Biden, who has been defying that trend for years, will now have to defend Israel against skeptics in his party the same way he has been defending Ukraine against skeptics in the GOP. He’ll have his first chance when he speaks about the conflict at 1 p.m. today.

Biden’s relationship with Israel stretches back much farther than that of most living Democrats. He first visited the country as a freshman senator in 1973, and often likes to tell the story of how the hour he spent with then-prime minister GOLDA MEIR was “one of the most consequential meetings I’ve ever had in my life.” A few weeks after he left, a surprise Arab attack on Israel started the Yom Kippur War.

His vice presidency and presidency have coincided with the most strained period of relations between the Democratic Party and the Israeli government, yet Biden has generally resisted the advice of younger aides who have urged him to snub PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHU. During a trip to Israel as vice president, Netanyahu seemed to purposefully embarrass Biden by announcing an expansion of housing in East Jerusalem, but Biden declined to retaliate by leaving the country early as some aides wanted.

The relationship has been further tested in his presidency. The key episode to revisit is Israel’s May 2021 incursion into Gaza after a major Hamas rocket attack. Biden backed Netanyahu unequivocally: “Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory,” he said.

But with each passing day of the conflict, as violence in Gaza mounted, the criticism from some Democrats in Congress escalated, and Biden felt more pressure in his private conversations with Netanyahu to push for a ceasefire, which came 11 days after the initial attack.


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The scale of Hamas’s attack on Saturday is far greater and more barbaric than any recent violence against Israel, but several House Democrats we spoke to last night are convinced that this political cycle will repeat itself.

“For the last couple of days we've seen all the pictures of girls who were killed at this festival and the children and the parents and the Holocaust survivor and the elderly, and the hundreds of people who are dead and the stories about them being raped,” one Democratic congressman told Playbook. “That's over. Okay? The media is going to turn from all of that real soon. And the only images we're going to see for the next couple of weeks are dead Palestinians.” The member added, “So that's when the Progressive Caucus will get all ginned up.”

The most pro-Palestinian Democrats already see the conflict in starkly different terms from Biden and are using language that equates the Hamas attack and the Israeli response. Rep. CORI BUSH (D-Mo.), for instance, decried lives lost on both sides “following attacks by Hamas militants on Israeli border towns and Israeli military bombardment of Gaza.” She joined a handful of others on the left in calling for a “ceasefire and de-escalation” rather than reinforcing Israel’s right to retaliate and prevent future attacks.

Another Democratic member told Playbook that such views remained on the fringe but could easily spread, the same way that Ukraine aid skeptics went from the GOP’s fringe to its mainstream.

“Everyone just presumes that they're going to play to type and say what they're going to say. I don't think anyone's surprised about that. The key is making sure that it doesn't grow and metastasize,” this Democratic congressman said. “The question is, a week from now or five days from now, what are we looking at when the counterassault begins in earnest?”

This tension among Democrats between backing Israel unequivocally and calling for restraint exists not just in Congress but within the Biden administration, as well. Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN deleted a tweet urging a “ceasefire” on Sunday, while State’s Office of Palestinian Affairs deleted a tweet urging “all sides to refrain from violence and retaliatory attacks.”

That tension also hangs over Biden’s fragile legislative strategy that started to take shape on Monday, as NBC and other outlets reported, of potentially tying aid to Ukraine with aid to Israel.

Currently, there are a lot more Republicans who are hostile to financing Ukraine’s defense than there are Democrats who are hostile to financing Israel’s defense. Daring Republicans to vote against a combo package seems to make sense. But one pro-Israel Democrat warned that the administration had better think through the strategy carefully.

“I will not hold up funding for Israel if that becomes a vote problem,” the lawmaker said. “Then I will support decoupling them.”

The timing of any new Israel aid package is up in the air. White House spokesperson JOHN KIRBY told reporters on a call last night that there’s enough money in the pipeline right now. “We have existing authorities and existing appropriations to continue to support Israel,” Kirby said. “If we need — and it's an if — if we need to go back to Capitol Hill for additional funding support for Israel, we will absolutely do that.”

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

THE RFK EFFECT — “RFK Jr. goes independent. Does that hurt Biden or Trump?” by Steven Shepard: “Kennedy’s support so far is coming roughly evenly from Biden and former President Donald Trump. But third-party candidacies can be unpredictable, and Kennedy’s anti-vaccination stance gives him more room to draw from Republicans than Democrats.”


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On the Hill

The Senate and the House are out.

3 things to watch …

  1. The race for the speaker’s gavel is set to take real shape today following a GOP conference meeting last night that might best be described as a bitch session (more on that below). Republicans will reconvene this evening to hear from contenders JIM JORDAN and STEVE SCALISE, with hopes still alive of completing the election this week.
  2. Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER took a victory lap yesterday after the Chinese government strengthened its denunciation of the Hamas attack following his admonition to Chinese President XI JINPING. Watch how Schumer continues managing the fallout in the mideast as the bipartisan codel he is leading continues to South Korea and Japan.
  3. What is KEVIN McCARTHY up to? The former speaker summoned reporters to the Capitol yesterday for remarks that were ostensibly about the attack on Israel but also served as something of a live trial balloon for a comeback attempt. As Olivia Beavers and Sarah Ferris reported, that’s highly unlikely. But he’s someone to keep an eye on today.

At the White House

Biden will receive the president’s daily briefing at 11 a.m. with VP KAMALA HARRIS attending. In the afternoon, the President will deliver remarks on the terrorist attacks in Israel and deliver virtual remarks at the U.S. Fire Administrator’s Summit.



Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) speaks with reporters as he departs a House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol, Oct. 9, 2023. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

THE RUMBLE FOR THE GAVEL — While House Republicans convened yesterday for a discussion about the party's leadership dilemmas, they seemed nowhere close coming together behind a new speaker before following McCarthy’s deposal last week.

“Multiple GOP lawmakers described it as a mostly civil, yet cathartic, meeting ahead of an intense week in which House Republicans are slated to crown their next GOP leader,” Sarah Ferris and Olivia Beavers report. “But it was clear that Republicans are still fiercely divided over how to move forward with their perilously thin margin — including whether they will rally around a consensus pick should [Scalise or Jordan] fail to reach 217 votes on the floor.”

Meanwhile … NYT’s Luke Broadwater has more on McCarthy’s impromptu news conference in the Rayburn Room, where his comments on the unfolding violence in Israel gave way to further remarks on the infighting inside the GOP conference: “Let’s be honest about our conference,” McCarthy said. “Is our conference just going to elect somebody to throw them out in another 35 days?”

“Asked if he wanted to reclaim his gavel, Mr. McCarthy said that the decision was not up to him, and that he would support whatever his fellow Republicans wanted. ‘I’ll allow the conference to make any decision,’ he said.”

More top reads:

  • “Dems’ bad dream: Menendez taunts party with potential reelect,” by Burgess Everett and Ursula Perano: “Indicted Sen. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) is torturing Democrats trying to hold the Senate as he openly weighs a reelection bid. So far, though, most in the party are doing little about it other than cross their fingers and hope he goes away.”


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at Capitol Hill on Sept. 21. | Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo

MATERIEL CONCERNS — The Army is pushing Congress to sort itself out as the chaos in the House continues to eclipse urgent requests for weapons from Ukraine and potential aid to Israel, Paul McLeary and Connor O’Brien report.

“Pentagon leadership is still in the early stages of evaluating what Israel might need to battle Hamas militants … But whatever Israel needs, those requests will run headlong into the dysfunction and uncertainty enveloping Capitol Hill.”

But, but, but … “Even if Congress approves more money for Israel, it’s still an open question whether the industrial base — already straining from the effort to arm Ukraine — can deliver for Tel Aviv over the long term.”

More top reads: 

  • The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser is out with a lengthy interview with White House National Security Adviser JAKE SULLIVAN, where he discusses his “trial by combat” as he helps guide the West Wing through the war in Ukraine. 
  • “Putin banks on wavering support for Ukraine, amid a race against time,” by CNN’s Nathan Hodge: “In remarks Thursday … [VLADIMIR] PUTIN predicted that Ukraine would collapse if the West turns off the taps of military aid and economic assistance.”
  • “Putin Offers Muted Response to Attack on Israel. That Speaks Volumes,” by NYT’s Anton Troianovsky: “The stark shift sheds light on one consequence of Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine: the sharp decline in the relationship between Moscow and Israel over the past year and a half.”

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2024 WATCH

President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 1. | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

LEGACY MOMENT — As the White House scrambles to respond to the violence in Israel, war in Ukraine and a looming government shutdown, West Wing aides and Biden allies are “keenly aware” the president’s response could define his legacy and the trajectory of his reelection bid, Jonathan Lemire, Adam Cancryn and Jennifer Haberkorn report this morning:

“The culminating crises that Biden faces will provide one of the sharpest tests to date of his team’s theory that the public will recognize and ultimately reward a steady, not flashy, hand at the helm … While such a formula hasn’t always translated while he’s been in office, Biden has deployed it time and again, including over the past few days.”

More top reads: 

  • Former Texas Rep. WILL HURD (R-Texas) suspended his long-shot presidential bid last night, writing on X that the GOP needs to “consolidate” around a candidate to defeat Donald Trump. Hurd endorsed former South Carolina Gov. NIKKI HALEY, stating she has shown a “different vision for the country than Donald Trump and has an unmatched grasp on the complexities of our foreign policy.” More from the AP’s Will Weissert


THE OTHER SPECIAL COUNSEL — The White House announced Monday that Biden has been interrogated by ROBERT HUR, the special counsel investigating how confidential materials ended up at his house and an office he once used as VP.

“As we have said from the beginning, the President and the White House are cooperating with this investigation, and as it has been appropriate, we have provided relevant updates publicly, being as transparent as we can consistent with protecting and preserving the integrity of the investigation,” the White House said in a statement.

The context: “Interviews of this magnitude with the focus of the investigation would typically signal the inquiry is close to the end,” Eugene and Josh Gerstein write. “The investigation began last year after documents were found by the president’s attorneys in an office he used after he’d left the Obama administration and before he ran for president.”

“While it’s rare for criminal investigators to interview sitting presidents, many other recent leaders have sat down with prosecutors conducting sensitive inquiries.


TIMELINE TIFF — In a new court filing, DOJ special counsel JACK SMITH’s office pushed back against Donald Trump’s legal efforts to delay his classified documents case until after the 2024 election, NBC News’ Dareh Gregorian and Daniel Barnes report. “The defendants make numerous allegations regarding their access to classified discovery arising from the status of secure facilities, their clearances, and other considerations. Most of the allegations are inaccurate or incomplete; collectively they are misleading,” Smith said in a filing on Monday.

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE —  “Team Trump Is Using 'Fyre Festival Strategies' in N.Y. Fraud Case,” by Rolling Stone’s Adam Rawnsley and Asawin Suebsaeng

OFF ON A TANGENT — “What war? Trump is busy talking about whales, weightlifting and the Patriots,” by Lisa Kashinsky and Sally Goldenberg: “The attack on Israel may have been consuming much of official Washington. But in the small auditorium in a performing arts center in Wolfeboro, N.H., where Trump rallied his base of voters on Monday, it was not topic one, two or even 13.”


PHANTOM CANDIDATE — “It's now a 2-person Mississippi governor's race, but independent's name still appears on ballots” by AP’s Emily Wagster Pettus

DEEP IN THE HEART — “Mexico to send diplomatic note protesting Texas border truck inspections causing major delays,” per the AP: “President ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR claimed Monday that Texas Gov. GREG ABBOTT’S decision to enforce additional truck inspections was ‘very irresponsible’ and politically motivated.”

WHEN IKEA ISN’T AN OPTION — “Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders Has a $19,000 Lectern Problem” by WSJ’s Adolfo Flores


AI ON THE BRAIN — “The Government Can ‘Get It Right’ on AI,” Ganesh Sitaraman and Ramsay Eyre write for POLITICO


IN MEMORIAM — “'Tough old bird': Straight-talking former Montana governor Ted Schwinden dies at 98,” by the Billings Gazette’s Jeff Welsch: “Schwinden, a fiscally conservative Democrat who was famous for keeping his home number listed in the Helena phone book and responding to every letter written to him, first served in public office in the Montana House from 1959-63. … Appreciated by members of both parties for his frankness and honesty, a Republican rancher once reportedly said, ‘I don't agree with Ted, but I trust the son of a bitch!’”

HAPPENING TODAY — The E2 Summit founded by Mitt Romney and now hosted by Paul Ryan kicks off in Park City, Utah. Among the “Experts and Enthusiasts” speaking at the off-the-record event: Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Doug Burgum, Brian Kemp, Spencer Cox, Bill Barr, Robert O'Brien, Joseph Dunford, Michele Flournoy, Christopher Waller, Dario Amodei and Alex Wang.

MOVING DAY — C-SPAN’s venerable “Washington Journal” moves today to a new studio in its North Capitol Street headquarters building. The network paid tribute to the old corner-office space, with its iconic view of the Capitol dome, in a worth-your-time montage of prominent guests through the years.

PLAYBOOK REAL ESTATE SECTION — “Madeleine Albright’s Washington, D.C., Home Is Up for Sale,” by WSJ’s E.B. Solomont: “The longtime Washington, D.C., home of the late former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is coming on the market for $4 million. … Built around 1853, the roughly 4,000-square-foot house has four bedrooms.”

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Savannah Glasgow Plafker is joining Targeted Victory as a director on the public affairs team. She most recently was comms director for Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and is a Doug LaMalfa and Gus Bilirakis alum.

TRANSITIONS — Maju Varghese is now a principal at NEWCO Strategies. He previously was chief operating officer of the National Endowment for Democracy … Kyle Wiley is now head of government affairs at Avianna. He previously has been a founding partner at Connector Labs.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Pema Levy, a reporter at Mother Jones, and Ben Schifman, an attorney-advisor at the Interior Department, recently welcomed Eve Carolyn Schifman. She joins big brother Isaac. Pic ... Another pic

— Sarah Lynch, a Justice Department correspondent at Reuters and Thomas Palafox, senior associate at KPMG, recently welcomed Vesper Brianna Palafox. Pic

WEEKEND WEDDINGS — Allan Smith, an NBC politics reporter, and Rachel Premack, editorial director at FreightWaves, got married Saturday at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. They met while working at Business Insider. Pic … SPOTTED: Liz Johnstone, Josh Jamerson, Jen Calfas, Austen Hufford, Myles Udland, Manny Fidel, Maxwell Tani, Jacob Bogage, Brett LoGiurato, Colin Campbell, Bob Bryan and Maggie Tennis.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: California Gov. Gavin Newsom … Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) … Fox Corp’s Brian Nick … NYT’s Adam Nagourney … White House’s Natalie Montelongo … Alexandra LaManna … State Department’s Spencer Anderson ... Matt Rohan of th

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Will Dems keep standing with Israel?


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