MCCARTHY TRIES TO MAKE NICE WITH TRUMP: House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY and former President DONALD TRUMP will meet around lunchtime at Mar-a-Lago — a face-to-face we’re told McCarthy requested after their relationship took a tumble in the wake of Jan. 6. McCarthy initially floated censuring Trump, angering the then-president. It’s their first in-person talk since the riot, and McCarthy hasn’t been shy about promoting it. “Kevin can’t shut up about it,” joked one top Trump adviser when we asked about the meeting. More on this below …
WHITE HOUSE LOOKS TO SPLIT COVID PACKAGE IN TWO — NEC Director BRIAN DEESE and Covid czar JEFF ZIENTS are scheduled to call into the weekly Democratic Senate lunchtime meeting today.
The two Biden aides will face an increasingly impatient caucus.
Deese has run two meetings with bipartisan groups in both chambers in recent days, one over the weekend with senators and another Wednesday with House members. Progressives are wary that President JOE BIDEN is too eager to cut a deal. Moderates are wondering why Deese hasn’t circled back with information they’ve requested.
Here’s what we’re told is the current White House thinking:
The Deese mission is to figure out what a “60-vote package” looks like. Biden aides are clear-eyed that such a deal will be far short of his $1.9 trillion proposal. A 60-vote deal would have skimpier funding for state and local relief (if any), and less money for vaccine distribution, unemployment insurance and nutritional assistance, or SNAP. It would have far more targeted relief checks. We are told by administration sources that a bill of this sort might be in the $600-$800 billion range.
The left would revolt. That’s where Part 2 of the Biden strategy comes into play. Its goal for now is to get the best deal possible that accomplishes a bipartisan result — a high-priority personal goal for the president — and then take everything that’s left out of the skinny relief package and add it to Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan. That would be passed using reconciliation, which requires a simple majority.
Voila! Biden can satisfy moderates with bipartisanship and progressives with the subsequent jobs bill.
BUT … The White House right now seems much more optimistic about the two-bill strategy than are Democrats on the Hill.
Said one progressive Dem senator: “My own judgment is that the space for a deal just doesn’t exist.” Even senior Democrats agree that a bipartisan deal is unrealistic.
The number that everyone keeps mentioning: 8.
That’s how many Republicans are involved in the current talks, which have produced nothing so far. Biden needs 10 Republicans for a 60-vote package.
But according to White House sources, if a 60-vote package never emerges, the backup plan is obvious: use reconciliation for both a large Covid bill and the follow-on jobs bill.
BIDEN’S THURSDAY — The president and VP KAMALA HARRIS will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:45 a.m. At 1 p.m., Biden will sign health care-focused executive orders in the Oval Office, with Harris attending.
— Press secretary JEN PSAKI will brief at 2:30 p.m.
MORE ON THAT MAR-A-LAGO MEETING: The McCarthy-Trump relationship has been quite the soap opera lately, as we and a million other reporters have written. First, McCarthy said Trump was to blame for Jan. 6. Then Trump called McCarthy a “pussy.” Then McCarthy backtracked to say Trump didn’t “provoke” the riot.
Today, McCarthy will try to smooth things over, a process he started a few days ago. In Florida to raise money, the GOP leader plans to drop by Trump’s resort to inquire about the president’s political plans, we’re told. Unlike Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL, who reportedly doesn’t want to speak to the ex-president ever again, McCarthy believes it’s in his interest to be on Trump’s good side. Banishing him could cause problems for House Republicans and imperil McCarthy’s dream of becoming speaker one day. Trump is popular with the base and — as far as McCarthy is concerned — still the leader of the Republican Party. We can’t help but wonder if he’ll bring red and pink Starbursts.
Trump world is ecstatic about the visit, viewing the huddle as proof of a comeback in the making. “It’s the first solid bit of evidence that Donald Trump is still in charge of the party,” said the Trump adviser. The person predicted Trump is “going to give Kevin an earful about the 10 members who impeached him,” and added: “You’ll have Trump crossing his arms and smiling while he reminds Kevin that Matt Gaetz is going out to Wyoming to challenge Liz Cheney and that he could be next.”
But there’s also a clear upside for McCarthy: The Trump adviser said the get-together establishes that Trump still sees McCarthy as his guy in Congress.
RELATED: A CASE STUDY IN GOP MESSAGING UNITY — Per our Mel Zanona, “McCarthy urges House Republicans to stop attacking each other publicly”; Per Dan Friedman on Twitter: “Gaetz asks ‘Patriots’ to assemble to ‘STOP RINOs like Liz Cheney.’ That reads ominously after 1/6.”
THE WHITE HOUSE
— “Biden taking first step toward bolstering Obamacare,” by Susannah Luthi: “The Biden administration on Thursday is expected to announce it’s throwing open the doors to the law’s enrollment site, HealthCare.gov, making it easier for the uninsured to get coverage during the pandemic. It is also expected to restore Obamacare marketing funds that the Trump administration had gutted, and it will soon begin the process of reversing the previous administration’s changes to Medicaid.”
— “Biden embraces order and routine in his first week. How will that fit this moment of crisis?” WaPo: “Biden’s first full week in office has showcased an almost jarring departure from his predecessor’s chaotic style, providing the first window into a tenure whose mission is not only to remake the White House in Biden’s image but to return the presidency itself to what he sees as its rightful path.
“The result so far is a 9-to-5 presidency — a tightly scripted burst of activity that was charted over the past few months, as Biden seeks to avoid heated conflict and stick to his plan of lowering the political temperature to a level that many Americans can tune out.”
‘WE’RE ALL TOTALLY FREAKED OUT’: We’re hearing that lawmakers — particularly House Democrats — are reaching their wits’ end over the lack of guidance on how to protect themselves and their families amid heightened security threats. On Wednesday, the Homeland Security Department issued a bulletin that the domestic extremists behind the deadly Jan. 6 riot “could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.” Lawmakers want answers from Democratic leadership, who unlike the rank and file have their own security details. Expect to hear more on this when House Democrats return next week. “We’re all totally freaked out about this,” one tells us. More from the NYT
SARAH FERRIS: “Progressives push Biden for recurring stimulus checks”: “[A] group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), sent a letter to the Biden administration on Thursday calling for regularly delivered checks through the end of the pandemic, rather than a single $1,400 payment that is likely to fall short of expenses like rent or mortgage payments. The letter obtained by POLITICO — which was also signed by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — does not call for a specific dollar amount. But Omar and other progressives have been vocal in their support for monthly $2,000 checks.”
FROM POLITICO INFLUENCE: “K STREET COMES TO CHENEY’S DEFENSE: More than four dozen GOP lobbyists are set to host a fundraiser for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) next month, as the No. 3 House Republican takes on friendly fire for her vote this month to impeach former President Donald Trump. According to an invite for the event obtained by PI, the Feb. 8 fundraiser will require a $500 personal donation to get in the virtual door, $1,000 to be named a co-host and $2,500 to be named a host.”
RELATED: “Trump poll shows impeachment backlash hitting Cheney,” by Alex Isenstadt
— JOHN HARRIS column: “Trump Loyalists Want To Punish Liz Cheney. So?”: “If the Washington news media thinks the Cheneys are doing right by standing up to Donald Trump over his role in the Capitol insurrection, father and daughter surely must wonder privately if they are somehow doing wrong.
“What’s notable, though, is that Liz Cheney has shed her old reputation for living off her father’s name and ideas, and vaulted into her new status — brave truth-teller in a party dominated by craven Trump enablers — mainly by drawing on a family legacy: Indifference to dissenting opinion. Liz Cheney surely knew there would be fierce backlash from within the House Republican caucus, where she is third-ranking leader, over her criticism of Trump and vote to impeach him. Her response, in essence, was: So?”
— “Most House Republicans silent over violent Marjorie Taylor Greene comments as Democrats condemn them,” CNN: “Most House Republicans were silent on Wednesday after CNN’s KFile reported that Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene repeatedly indicated support for executing prominent Democratic politicians in 2018 and 2019 before being elected to Congress.”
THE EFFORT TO EXPEL: “Rep. Jimmy Gomez drafts resolution to oust Marjorie Taylor Greene from Congress,” by Matthew Choi
— “‘He’s Saying One Thing and Then He’s Doing Another.’ Rep. Madison Cawthorn Peddles a Different Kind of Trumpism in a Post-Trump World,” Time: “‘I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation,’ [Cawthorn] wrote to Republican colleagues in a Jan. 19 email obtained by TIME.” Suffice to say this is something not many legislators would put in writing, even if it’s their m.o.
CENSUS UPDATE — “U.S. House data not ready until April, states’ data after July,” AP: “The U.S. Census Bureau is aiming to deliver the long-delayed numbers used for divvying up congressional seats by the end of April, but a holdup on redistricting data could disrupt several states’ abilities to redraw their own legislative maps ahead of upcoming elections, an agency official said Wednesday.”
IMPEACHMENT II (FEB. 8)
ABOUT THOSE IMPEACHMENT ‘ALTERNATIVES’: Some Senate Democrats are eager to be done with impeachment now that it’s become clear Trump won’t be convicted. But they ran into a bit of a problem Wednesday: their new leader. While rank and file spent much of the day floating the idea of censure or banning Trump from running again via the 14th Amendment, Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER insisted those ideas wouldn’t be an end run around a trial. He seems eager to put Republicans on record.
Still, those other proposals could resurface in a couple of weeks, we’re told. Sen. TIM KAINE (D-Va.) is fine-tuning his resolution invoking the 14th Amendment to keep Trump from ever running for office again. And other Democrats are privately talking about this, too, should Trump be acquitted.
While a conviction requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate, the resolution can pass on a party-line vote with Democrats alone. Still, there’s been some discussion about whether the resolution could be subject to filibuster. If it is, Democrats would need to find 10 Republicans willing to buck Trump — a move those GOP senators could find politically painful in the short run but freeing long-term.
LET’S GET THIS OVER WITH: Senate Democrats are coalescing around the idea of a speedy trial. “I would hope we could get this done in a week,” Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.) says in a recap by our Marianne LeVine on the latest trial thinking. But as Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane write in WaPo, “[S]ome Democrats complained that an abbreviated trial would be shortsighted, ignoring the historical mandate to document what happened before, during and after the riot.” Remember: A solid chunk of Republicans still think it’s a good idea to keep Trump around. Do Democrats at least try to persuade them otherwise?
— “‘This is going to be quite a show’: Biden’s arms control team eyes nuclear policy overhaul,” by Bryan Bender: “President Joe Biden is assembling a national security team with an unusually ambitious agenda to negotiate new arms control treaties, scale back the nuclear arsenal, and review decades of military doctrine. …
“But veterans of the last administration fear this newly empowered group of progressives may be naive about what can be achieved without undermining U.S. security, and are already warning them to prepare for a shock when they read the latest intelligence.”
— “Trump Had A Mandate To Target All Undocumented Immigrants For Arrest. ICE Has A New Plan To Change That,” BuzzFeed: “Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have drawn up guidance to direct officers to focus primarily on certain groups of immigrants, such as those suspected of being a national security threat, and require high-level approval for street operations as part of a draft memo obtained by BuzzFeed News that, if implemented, would likely lead to a significant drop in arrests.”
— “Blinken turns away from Trump-era approaches, starting with media relations,” WaPo: “Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried to reset the U.S. government’s relationship with the news media on his first full day in office, calling an independent press essential to the country’s global image and a ‘cornerstone of our democracy. ‘You keep the American people and the world informed about what we do here. That’s key to our mission,’ he said to reporters in the State Department briefing room Wednesday.”
ON THE WORLD STAGE
— “Biden Re-Examining U.S. Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, U.A.E.,” WSJ: “The Biden administration has imposed a temporary freeze on U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and is scrutinizing purchases by the United Arab Emirates as it reviews billions of dollars in weapons transactions approved by former President Donald Trump, according to U.S. officials.
“The review, the officials said, includes the sale of precision-guided munitions to Riyadh, as well as top-line F-35 fighters to Abu Dhabi, a deal that Washington approved as part of the Abraham Accords, in which the Emirates established diplomatic relations with Israel.”
— “Biden confronts Russia — and Republicans are listening,” by Andrew Desiderio: “Congressional Republicans quietly grumbled for four years that former President Donald Trump’s passive rhetoric about Russia didn’t match the severity of his administration’s actions targeting the Kremlin. …
“Now, President Joe Biden’s more aggressive public posture toward Vladimir Putin is begrudgingly refreshing for Republicans — and it’s something they wish they saw from Trump.”
THIS AND THAT
A MONTH?! — “You can rent D.C. home of Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner for $18,000 a month. Take a look,” by McClatchy
— “Biden brother touts relationship with president in Inauguration Day ad for law firm,” CNBC: “Frank Biden is a non-attorney senior advisor for the Berman Law Group. The firm is based in Boca Raton, Florida. Its ad featuring Frank Biden was printed in the Jan. 20 edition of the Daily Business Review, which is also based in Florida. …
“The ad focuses on a lawsuit the firm is leading against a group of Florida sugar cane companies. It features a photo of Frank Biden, along with quotes regarding his relationship with the incoming president and the family name. … In an email to CNBC, Frank Biden said he has not used his brother’s name to gain clients.”
SAN FRANCISCO DOES SAN FRANCISCO — AP: “The names of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and other prominent figures including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein will be removed from 44 San Francisco public schools, a move that stirred debate Wednesday on whether the famously liberal city has taken the national reckoning on America’s racist past too far.”
FOR THOSE WHO ARE EVEN FLYING — WSJ: “The Best and Worst U.S. Airlines of 2020”
SPOTTED: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) dining indoors at Alberto’s on Capitol Hill on Wednesday night. … Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) having dinner together at Sushi Hachi. … Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) having dinner with Victoria Coates on Wednesday night at the Capital Grille.
MEDIAWATCH — Protocol has launched “Protocol | China,” featuring a slate of stories and David Wertime’s newsletter.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Gillum Ferguson is now deputy comms director for Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). He previously was press secretary for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, and is a Department of Education alum.
— STAFFING UP: Francisco Bencosme is now senior adviser in the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau at the State Department. He most recently was senior policy adviser at Open Society Foundations.
VIRGINIA GOV RACE HEATING UP — Jennifer Carroll Foy’s gubernatorial campaign has hired Sharon Yang as press secretary. She previously was deputy comms director for Jon Ossoff’s Senate campaign. … Glenn Youngkin’s new gubernatorial campaign has hired Matt Wolking as comms director (previously deputy comms director for the Trump campaign), Macaulay Porter as press secretary (previously associate director of comms at the White House) and Robbie Myers as digital director (previously digital director for HUD Secretary Ben Carson).
TRANSITIONS — Patrick Hovakimian is joining Pillsbury’s litigation practice as a partner. He most recently was associate deputy A.G. … Jordan Howard is now legislative director for Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Ala.). He previously was a legislative assistant and scheduler for Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.).
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Sara Roszak, VP of pharmacy care and health strategy at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and VP of research at NACDS Foundation, and Andrew Roszak, executive director of the Institute for Childhood Preparedness, welcomed Rachel Stella Roszak on Tuesday.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Justice Amy Coney Barrett … Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) … Reps. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) … Lael Brainard … POLITICO’s Peter King … Bloomberg’s Justin Fox … former Reps. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) and Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) … Maria Comella … Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service … Millennial Action Project’s Blaine Volpe … University of South Alabama Health System’s Danny Rickert … CNN’s Jay McMichael … USA Today’s Courtney Subramanian … Nicolas Sarkozy … Sheamus
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