With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
COUNTDOWN —Election Day is seven weeks away. Today, we’re launching a new special Election 2022 section featuring all the essential midterm news, insights, polls and ads to help you understand the key dynamics as Nov. 8 approaches. Read on for a close-up look at what the Democratic voter registration surge really means.
COVID CONFUSION — With four offhand words, “the pandemic is over,” President JOE BIDEN touched off a firestorm during his Sunday “60 Minutes” interview.
The White House cleanup attempt was swift.Obviously the president wasn’t saying the American people shouldn’t take Covid seriously, it told reporters. Sure, he could have been more nuanced, but he was simply saying we’ve hit a different phase.
Among those manning the spin machine was ANTHONY FAUCI, Biden’s chief medical adviser, who told our Erin Banco on Monday night that “what he really meant is that the very severe stage of the pandemic of having … 3,000 deaths a day — that stage is no longer present,” but that “people should not be cavalier that we’re out of the woods.”
Indeed, Biden and his administration have been striving for months to project a new sense of normal for the country, that Covid “no longer controls our lives,” as he put it in a March 30 speech. That effort got a boost last week from TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, the World Health Organization director-general, who said “the end is in sight.”
And yet: A summary declaration that the pandemic is kaput carried implications that Biden did not appear to fathom as he walked the floor of the Detroit Auto Show with SCOTT PELLEY. For one, more than 300 Americans are still dying from the disease each day as the nation’s public health establishment works to convince Americans to get the new bivalent booster shot ahead of a possible winter wave.
The remarks also did nothing to convince Republicans to back an administration request for $22 billion in new Covid relief funding, a fight that will come to a head in the coming days. As Sen. JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas) told CNN’s Manu Raju on Monday: “If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money.”
The implications go beyond dollars and cents: Sen. RICHARD BURR (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate HELP Committee, sent a letter to Biden pointing out a host of federal policies “that do not align with your announcement” — ranging from federal worker vaccine requirements to enhanced Medicaid funding to mask rules for Head Start programs.
“Without a clear plan to wind down pandemic-era policies, the deficit will continue to balloon and the effectiveness of public health measures will wane as the American people continue to be confused by mixed messages and distrust of federal officials,” Burr wrote.
The mixed messages have been a problem inside the administration, as well. In a must-read story, our Adam Cancryn and Krista Mahr write that administration aides have been working out a “delicate, step-by-step process they hoped would guide the U.S. out of its pandemic era” — that is, until the Biden interview upended it.
Behind-the-scenes tidbits from the story:
— Many senior health officials heard about the remarks from the media. “The president had not originally planned to make major news on Covid, nor had he discussed with his health advisers announcing an end to the pandemic soon.”
— The White House didn’t give the Covid team a heads-up about the key comment, even though the interview was taped days before it aired.
— The comments revealed a schism among administration health officials. Some “sarcastically applauded themselves for a job well done,” while others said it was about time the declaration came.
EYE OF THE STORM — Hurricane Fiona kept lashing Puerto Rico on Monday, as buckets of rain triggered flash flooding and much of the island remained stuck without power, NYT’s Laura Pérez Sánchez and Patricia Mazzei report from Salinas. Three deaths were reported across Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Now, “most Puerto Ricans face the daunting prospect of spoiled food and medication, sticky nights and the other familiar risks and indignities of being plunged into darkness.”
— The blackout has prompted another round of recriminations over the island’s electric grid, which remains in disrepair five years after Hurricane Maria, our Gloria Gonzalez reports. “Residents have directed their anger for months at Gov. PEDRO PIERLUISI … but also at LUMA Energy, the private entity that took over management of the electric grid in June 2021.”
— The White House says Biden spoke by phone Monday night with Pierluisi, promising to increase the number of federal personnel on the ground in the territory in the coming days. FEMA Administrator DEANNE CRISWELL is headed to Puerto Rico today.
— The new crisis is likely to spark calls for a new round of federal disaster aid for the island, which received some $20 billion from Congress after Maria. Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) told Latino Rebels’ Pablo Manríquez on Monday it would take a “very large amount of investment” to rebuild adequately: “Frankly, this is an opportunity to fund a just transition on the island and not just try to build things back the way they were.”
Introducing Election 2022: From now until Election Day, this section will highlight one key campaign story each day, drawing on the expertise of Playbook’s authors as well as our POLITICO colleagues, while also walking you through all the key headlines, polls and ads that will help you make sense of the midterms.
Nearly three months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, political analysts are still struggling to hash out what impact the decision is going to have on November’s results. Touting an apparent surge in enthusiasm and engagement from abortion-rights supporters, Democratic strategists have highlighted a spike in voter registration since the Dobbs decision came down. But POLITICO data journalist Jessica Piper crunched the numbers and is out this morning with a reality check, noting that Democrats are simply “digging out from under major Republican gains in the previous 18 months.”
“Democrats have had a rush of new voters and clear momentum there,” Jessica told Eugene on Monday night. “But when you look cumulatively at voter registrations and party switches — at least in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, two swing states that make it possible to analyze their recent voter data — Republicans have made greater gains since the start of 2021 even with the post-Dobbs boon for Democrats.”
Jessica offered a caveat: “There’s a lot we don’t know about what the electorate will look like,” she said, noting that varying turnout rates could have a significant impact. September and October tend to be the busiest months for voter registration, Jessica notes, so she plans to keep watching those stats, as well as other indicators, such as absentee ballot requests.
THE BIG PICTURE
THE LATINO VOTE — Vox is out with a big package today on Latino voters ahead of the midterms, including a trio of stories from Christian Paz, who profiles the always quotable Rep. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-Ariz.). Asked if he’s thought about the prospect of working in a House led by KEVIN McCARTHY, Gallego says, “No, in some regard because it’s hard for me to imagine someone that dumb being speaker of the House.” As for Dems’ slippage with Latino voters, he says: “Everyone calm the fuck down. We didn’t lose the Latino vote. We didn’t win by as much. That’s the difference.”
That analysis is in line with the weekend’s NYT/Siena polling, as well as a new memo from Equis Research, which says Republicans have failed to build on their gains with Latinos since 2020 — but Democrats have failed to reverse them. Siren: “Dems need levels of Latino support in Arizona and Nevada beyond those they are getting today.”
BATTLE FOR THE SENATE
HOW McCONNELL SEES IT — Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL told the Chamber of Commerce privately Monday that he’s cautiously optimistic about flipping the Senate, Axios’ Hans Nichols reports.
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENTS — In Columbus, Wis., AP’s Tom Beaumont finds that many independents are feeling alienated from the GOP over abortion, DONALD TRUMP and threats to democracy. That could spell trouble for Sen. RON JOHNSON: Multiple voters tell Beaumont they were repelled by reports that his office talked about being involved in a fake elector scheme to overturn the 2020 election. (Johnson has said he had nothing to do with it.) One 29-year-old says she’s “being forced to” vote for Democrats because of the end of Roe v. Wade. The GOP is hoping economic concerns carry the day nonetheless.
HEADS UP — Democratic Iowa nominee MIKE FRANKEN was accused of misdemeanor assault by a former campaign staffer, who said he kissed her nonconsensually, the Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel and George Shillcock report. But police closed the case and deemed it “unfounded.” Franken says the allegation from KIMBERLEY STROPE-BOGGUS, which was first reported Monday by Iowa Field Report, simply “didn’t happen.”
BATTLE FOR THE STATES
GEORGIA ON MY MIND — STACEY ABRAMS told The 19th’s Barbara Rodriguez and Errin Haines that she’d welcome Biden or Harris on the campaign trail with her “because that’s one of the ways we show Georgia what the Democrats have delivered for our state.” Abrams also defended her actions following her 2018 gubernatorial loss: “I refuse to concede a system that permits citizens to be denied access. That is very different than someone claiming [a] fraudulent outcome.”
NOTABLE DONATION — Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS’ PAC got $20,000 from ROBERT HERRING, founder and CEO of One America News, The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona reports. Herring told Baragona in an email, “It means that we support De Santis as a vice President. I believe that President Trump was the greatest President in My eighty years.”
— Wisconsin: Democrat MANDELA BARNES is ahead of Johnson 48% to 47%, per Spectrum News/Siena College, while Democratic Gov. TONY EVERS is up by 5 over Republican TIM MICHELS, 49% to 44%.
— Texas: Republican Gov. GREG ABBOTT has extended his lead over Democrat BETO O’ROURKE and is up 47% to 38%, per The Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler.
— CA-22: Congressional Leadership Fund, the GOP super PAC, heads to the gas pump to hit Democrat RUDY SALAS, who is challenging GOP Rep. DAVID VALADAO in the Central Valley. Our Steve Shepard notes: “Though some recent reporting asserted that high gas prices had all but disappeared from GOP ads, there’s one place it still works: California.”
— Florida: DeSantis’ reelect is up with a new ad centering the dangers of illegal immigration and open borders, with the story of a man killed in a car crash when he was hit by an undocumented immigrant, Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser scooped.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
OH DEARIE — Trump’s treatment from U.S. District Judge AILEEN CANNON was close to the best-case scenario for his legal team — but special master RAYMOND DEARIE and an Atlanta-based appeals court, though also conservative, could prove less hospitable, Kyle Cheney reports. After Dearie laid out some questions for his document review ahead of a preliminary hearing today, Trump’s team raised multiple gripes in a filing Monday night — with his timeline, his request for information about Trump’s declassification claims and more. This is despite the fact that Dearie was one of Trump’s proposed special master picks.
CANNON FODDER — Cannon’s moves in the Mar-a-Lago case have elicited backlash even from the legal right, who have deemed her rulings “far out of the conservative judicial mainstream,” Josh Gerstein reports this morning. Federalist Society types and others who advocate for an expansive view of executive power don’t think classification decisions should be made by the judiciary — and Josh gets some striking quotes. “To many conservative lawyers, Cannon’s orders … smack of a deference to the former president that targets of national security-related investigations never receive.”
TOLD YA SO — Former Trump White House lawyer ERIC HERSCHMANN told Trump in late 2021 that he needed to return White House materials, especially classified documents, or he could face legal vulnerabilities, NYT’s Maggie Haberman reports. “The account of the conversation is the latest evidence that Mr. Trump had been informed of the legal perils of holding onto material.”
DEMOCRACY WATCH — Congress’ window to codify civil service protections, out of fear that Trump or another future GOP president might try to strip them from the bureaucratic workforce, is rapidly closing, The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey reports. Though the House passed the bill last week, Democrats face steep odds in recruiting 10 Republicans to join them in the Senate. Experts have warned that Trump’s radical plan for the civil service if he wins another term in the White House would politicize huge swathes of government services.
— Reps. LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.) and ZOE LOFGREN (D-Calif.) officially introduced their legislation to revamp the Electoral Count Act, a bill that’s grown out of the House Jan. 6 committee but is competing with a bipartisan Senate effort, WaPo’s Marianna Sotomayor and Leigh Ann Caldwell report. Speaker Nancy Pelosi backs the House bill. “But with only a few weeks left in the current congressional term and competing bills in both chambers, the pathway for such changes to be signed into law remain[s] opaque.”
The House could vote on its version as soon as Wednesday, report Nick Wu, Kyle Cheney, Marianne LeVine and Jordain Carney, who dive into the specific differences between the two bills. It’s “likely to set up an intense period of wrangling with the Senate.”
WHETHER PERMITTING — Senate Republicans may not provide the votes Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) needs to pass his energy infrastructure permitting reform, Caitlin Emma, Burgess Everett and Sarah Ferris report. Any bill is expected to drag into next week. Republicans generally support his legislation’s policy goals, but the GOP is lining up behind Sen. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO’s (R-W.Va.) proposal instead — in part as explicit revenge for Manchin’s deal with Dems on the Inflation Reduction Act. “There’s not a lot of sympathy on our side to provide Sen. Manchin a reward,” Cornyn said.
THE NEW GOP — House Republicans plan to investigate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — long one of House Republicans’ top allies — if they flip the chamber in November, The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reports. “The probes … will marry Republicans’ newly formed hostility to the Chamber with the party’s mission to undermine the growth of the ESG investment sector.”
2024 WATCH — MIKE POMPEO will be at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics’ “Politics and Eggs” series this morning, where he’ll blast Biden for the president’s recent speech about the MAGA movement’s threats to democracy, Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser scooped. “Treating your countrymen like enemies is a rejection of the principles that make America great,” Pompeo will say. “While none of us know the president’s heart, we do know his ideology. Because we see the impact every day. I can sum up the president’s principles in three words: woke, weak and waffling.”
— Could Rep. LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.) credibly mount a 2024 campaign? One of her biggest liabilities will be her family’s neoconservative foreign policy legacy, which would likely turn off many of her anti-Trump compatriots from supporting her for higher office, Andrew Desiderio reports. “That may leave Cheney in a political no-man’s-land: Democrats won’t overlook her policy views just because she was a useful foil to Trump, and the vast majority of Republicans despise her for her anti-Trump efforts alone.”
SCOTUS WATCH — We could be headed for a major Supreme Court case on technology companies’ efforts to censor material on their social media platforms, WaPo’s Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow report. Rulings at lower courts are now at odds with each other after an appeals court last week upheld Texas Republicans’ law restricting Big Tech, raising the likelihood that the matter will be kicked up to the high court. Legal experts said the decision “is at odds with long-standing court precedent and warned that the Texas law would force the companies to disseminate what they consider misinformation and harmful content.” Florida’s challenge of a ruling that went the opposite way will arrive at SCOTUS this week.
MYPILLOW TALK — A judge said Monday that Smartmatic’s defamation case against MIKE LINDELL may proceed, forcing the MyPillow CEO to face a lawsuit over his unproven claims of election fraud involving the voting machine company. More from Minnesota Public Radio
BARRACKS ROW — The judge overseeing TOM BARRACK’s criminal trial for acting as an unregistered foreign agent said Monday that Trump may be called to testify in the case, per Reuters’ Luc Cohen. Barrack stands accused of having “tried to exploit his ties to Trump to advance UAE interests.”
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
OFF THE VINEYARD — The Bexar County, Texas, sheriff’s office announced Monday it’ll investigate the transport of migrants from San Antonio to Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, with criminal charges possible for those involved with the scheme, per the San Antonio Express-News. DeSantis’ stunt was meant to push the burden of caring for migrants on blue states, but reports that the migrants were enticed under false pretenses made his move a national lightning rod. “They were lured by promises of a better life with the knowledge they could cling to whatever they were offered just to be exploited and hoodwinked,” Sheriff JAVIER SALAZAR said.
— The migrants taken to Martha’s Vineyard were given a misleading brochure that dangled aid opportunities for refugees (a status these immigrants don’t have), Popular Information’s Judd Legum scooped, calling it a “smoking gun.” “The brochure, which is crudely designed to resemble a government document, does not explain that these benefits described are only available to specially designated refugees.” If the document, obtained by Lawyers for Civil Rights, amounts to false pretenses to get migrants onto a flight, there could be criminal repercussions.
— DeSantis’ move was aimed to shake up the midterms, placing immigration once again at the fore of American politics, and bolster his standing nationally with Republicans ahead of 2024, NYT’s Lisa Lerer and Michael Bender report. It “suggests that he believes his re-election effort is operating from such a position of strength that he can afford to potentially repel some moderates in his state.”
BORDER SONG — Two million. That’s the headline statistic from the latest CBP data released Monday, which showed that the number of arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year crossed that threshold for the first time in history, per CBS. Migrant surges from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua have helped push the numbers higher, as have a growing number of migrants making multiple attempts to cross the border. In August specifically, arrests rose to nearly 204,000, halting a trend of declines in the previous couple of months.
Tim Ryan tried to dunk on J.D. Vance for holding a rally during an Ohio State vs. Toledo game — but it turns out Ryan wasn’t watching the game, either.
Donald Trump said he would have gotten a better seat than Joe Biden at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.
Greg Norman will pitch the conservative Republican Study Committee on Wednesday on the LIV golf tour.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — The Partnership for Public Service is announcing this year’s winners of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, or Sammies — considered the Oscars of the federal government workforce. The winners will be feted at the 21st annual awards gala tonight at the Kennedy Center, where MSNBC’s Alicia Menendez will emcee and presenters will include second gentleman Doug Emhoff, Anthony Fauci and VA Secretary Denis McDonough.
Gregory Robinson is the winner of the top prize, Federal Employee of the Year, for steering NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope program. The other awardees: Cliff Lane of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for career achievement; the CDC’s Amanda Cohn, Anita Patel and David Fitter for overseeing Covid vaccine distribution; the Labor Department’s Krista Kinnard for a “technology transformation”; the VA’s Barbara Morton for management excellence; the State Department’s Hilary Ingraham, Holly Herrera and Kiera Berdinner for coordinating Afghan refugee resettlement; and the EPA’s Cindy Newberg for curbing hydrofluorocarbons.
IN MEMORIAM — “Remembering a pioneer in political journalism,” by NBC’s Chuck Todd: “Bob Balkin, a pioneer of modern political journalism, died Sunday at age 60 following a battle with cancer. Balkin was a former editor and a founding staffer for The Presidential Campaign Hotline (as it was first called) when it was introduced in November 1987. Balkin joined The Hotline fresh from a stint with the first presidential campaign of then-Delaware Sen. Joe Biden that same year.”
OUT AND ABOUT — With 50 days to the election, End Citizens United hosted a “Night for Democracy” reception Monday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that if Dems pick up seats, they’ll pass the sweeping election reform For the People Act. “The best way to save democracy is to make a decision that money is the root of all evil in politics,” Pelosi said at the event. SPOTTED: Tiffany Muller, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.), Gene Karpinski, Jessica Post, Tim Persico, Ramón Cruz, Nathalie Reyes, Jess Mackler, Yasmin Radjy, Shane Larson, Adam Green, Val Hoyle, Maxwell Frost, Max Rose and Don Davis.
— The Atlantic Council gave out its Global Citizen Awards at Cipriani Wall Street in New York on Monday night to honorees Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson, Sundar Pichai and Forest Whitaker. The evening also featured tributes to the late Shinzo Abe and Queen Elizabeth II.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Christopher Lydon is now director of government relations at IperionX. He most recently was senior policy analyst at J.A. Green & Co., and is a Mike Enzi alum.
STAFFING UP — Jessica Jennings is now spokesperson for USAID. She most recently was head of comms for D.C. Public Schools, and is a Biden inauguration, Democratic National Convention and Clinton 2016 alum. … Kristin Lynch is now deputy assistant Treasury secretary for public affairs. She is a Cory Booker, John Hickenlooper and Hillary Clinton alum.
TRANSITIONS — AnnaLou Tirol will be a partner in O’Melveny’s white collar defense and corporate investigations practice. She previously was deputy director of the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. … Sam Paisley is now deputy comms director for Sen. Maggie Hassan’s (D-N.H.) reelect. She previously was press secretary for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). … Carter Elliott is now comms manager for Wes Moore’s Maryland gubernatorial campaign. He previously was press secretary for Alex Lasry’s Wisconsin Senate campaign.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Francesca Craig … CNN’s Van Jones, Kristen Holmes and Cathy Straight … Brent Perrin … the White House’s Stephanie Epner … Michael Kikukawa … Peter Flaherty … Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt … Scott Kozar … NBC’s Rachel Glasberg … Deborah Roberts … Washington Times’ Rowan Scarborough … Shaun Waterman … NPR’s Neda Ulaby and Lauren Hodges … Bloomberg’s Drew Singer … Dan Henning of Sirius XM Radio … Lloyd Blankfein … WaPo’s Colbert King, Caroline Kitchener and Sophia Nguyen … Adam Howard … Edelman’s Tracy Sarria … Joe Mansour … Lisa Bloom … Sophie Buzzell of Everfi … TikTok’s Maureen Shanahan Atchison … Graham Vyse … Valerie Lapinski of Vox … Henry Samueli … Ashley O’Connor … Caitlin Blair … Clay McClure … Plus Communications’ Brian Wanglin
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Correction: Saturday’s Playbook misspelled Annie Linskey’s name.