POLITICO Playbook: Democratic impeachment managers feeling muzzled

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Democrats who’ve struggled for years to hold DONALD TRUMP accountable are at a crossroads again: Do they go all out to convict Trump by calling a parade of witnesses to testify to his misdeeds? Or do they concede it’s a lost cause, finish the trial ASAP and get on with President JOE BIDEN’S agenda?

Several of the House impeachment managers wanted firsthand testimony to help prove their case that Trump incited the Jan. 6 riot, our sources tell us. But Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER, Speaker NANCY PELOSI and Biden administration officials have been eager for the process to move quickly, we’re told.

It’s been a source of frustration for some Democrats privately. Trump, these people have noticed, is already on the rebound politically, at least among Republicans. The GOP base has rallied to his defense, and many Republican lawmakers who witnessed the terror of the Capitol invasion are back in Trump’s corner.

That’s why there had been talk among the managers about calling individuals who could change minds — if not the minds of 17 GOP senators needed to convict, then perhaps a slice of the GOP electorate that still supports Trump. Some of the ideas floated: having Capitol Police officers tell their stories about fighting the mob, or inviting Republican officials in Georgia who were pressured by Trump to overturn the state’s election tally.

There’s also been chatter about bringing in former White House officials who observed Trump on the day of the riots.


Schumer and other Senate Democrats argue, however, that they don’t necessarily need witnesses since Trump’s crimes were in plain sight and documented in videos and tweets. Privately, senior Democrats also note that 45 Senate Republicans have already decided they think the trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president, so why bother dragging this out?

Marianne LeVine wrote about how the move toward skipping witnesses is a drastic change from the last impeachment, when Schumer insisted that real trials have witnesses.

So where does this leave things? Over the weekend, many Democratic sources were speculating that Schumer and Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL would announce a deal about the trial process at any moment. Few expect witnesses to be called, but expect the format to leave that option open. Meanwhile, the NYT’s Nicholas Fandos reported hints of where this is all going Sunday, writing: “The prosecutors managing his second are prepared to complete the proceeding in as little as a week, forgo distracting fights over witnesses and rely more heavily on video.”

Looks like the managers may have lost this private battle.

PAGING MCCONNELL — CHUCK COOPER, who represented former national security adviser JOHN BOLTON during Trump’s first impeachment trial, has a message for Senate Republicans in the WSJ: “The Constitution Doesn’t Bar Trump’s Impeachment Trial.” “Forty-five Republican senators voted in favor of Sen. Rand Paul’s motion challenging the Senate’s jurisdiction to try Trump. But scholarship on this question has matured substantially since that vote, and it has exposed the serious weakness of Mr. Paul’s analysis.”

SCHUMER HEARTS THE LEFT — The NYT’s Alex Burns has an interesting story about how, in his words, “a glad-handing, graduation-speaking, fund-raising, suburb-adoring establishment tactician is embracing the wealth-transferring, rent-canceling, Green New Deal-endorsing, incumbent-toppling wing of his party.” The piece hits on the change we’re seeing in Schumer as he tries to repel a primary challenge from the left in 2022.

Schumer has been in close touch with activists who could cause him a headache should they turn against him. He’s attended so many press conferences with liberal lawmakers that some New York Democrats have privately chuckled and shaken their heads at how overt the gestures are. As Burns notes, “Over the last week, Mr. Schumer has backed a new push to decriminalize cannabis; signed on to Senator Cory Booker’s Baby Bonds proposal, a plan to address the racial wealth gap; and appeared with Senator Elizabeth Warren and other progressives to call on Mr. Biden to cancel student debt.”

Another interesting nugget from the piece: Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) “has told associates that she has not decided whether to run but that she believes the possibility of a challenge serves as a constructive form of pressure on Mr. Schumer.” In the meantime, expect progressives to take their wish lists to Schumer, hoping he could be their man at the negotiating table.

We would add that Schumer’s shift left has been an end-of-term ritual as he approached reelection — and concerns about a primary challenge — in 2004, 2010 and 2016.

BIDEN’S MONDAY — The president will leave New Castle Air National Guard Base at 8:25 a.m. and arrive at the White House at 9:30 a.m., via Joint Base Andrews. Biden and VP KAMALA HARRIS will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. and take a virtual tour of a Glendale, Ariz., vaccination site at 2:30 p.m.

The White House Covid-19 response team and public health officials will brief at 11 a.m. Press secretary JEN PSAKI will brief at noon.


COVID RELIEF LATEST — “Senior Democrats to unveil $3,000-per-child benefit as Biden stimulus gains steam,” WaPo: “Senior Democrats on Monday will unveil legislation to provide $3,000 per child to tens of millions of American families, aiming to make a major dent in child poverty as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package. …

“Under the proposal, the Internal Revenue Service would provide $3,600 over the course of the year per child under the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per child of ages 6 to 17. The size of the benefit would diminish for Americans earning more than $75,000 per year, as well as for couples jointly earning more than $150,000 per year. The payments would be sent monthly beginning in July, a delay intended to give the IRS time to prepare for the massive new initiative.”

LIZ DOUBLES DOWN — AND SOME TRUMP ALLIES UNHAPPILY EYE MCCARTHY: Just days after House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY gave a full-throated endorsement for Rep. LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.) to keep her job, the House’s No. 3 Republican doubled down on her anti-Trump rhetoric. Now, some Trump allies are unhappy and privately griping about McCarthy’s move to protect her.

CNN reported over the weekend that “a stir-crazy Trump has spent the last two days livid and fuming to aides and allies about what he views as a betrayal by McCarthy for standing by Cheney and not punishing her for her vote to impeach.” This was before her appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

After her Sunday interview, DONALD TRUMP JR. told Playbook he’s gearing up for a trip to Wyoming to take on Cheney.

“I hear it’s lovely during primary season,” he said.

Expect to hear more on this front in the coming days. Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.), notably, redirected his fire from Cheney to McCarthy, retweeting a message Sunday that read: “Kevin McCarthy vouched for Liz Cheney. Everything she says is on him.” Gaetz added: “Kevin put it all on the line for Liz. Every House Republican knows it.”


“Inside Biden World’s plan to punish the GOP for opposing Covid relief,” by Christopher Cadelago and Natasha Korecki: “Democrats are plowing forward with plans to pass a massive covid relief package. And if Republicans don’t join them, they won’t forget it.

“Already, there’s talk about midterm attack ads portraying Republicans as willing to slash taxes for the wealthy but too stingy to cut checks for people struggling during the deadly pandemic. And President Joe Biden’s aides and allies are vowing not to make the same mistakes as previous administrations going into the midterms elections. They are pulling together plans to ensure Americans know about every dollar delivered and job kept because of the bill they’re crafting. And there is confidence that the Covid-relief package will ultimately emerge not as a liability for Democrats but as an election-year battering ram.”

“U.S. moves to rejoin U.N. rights council, reversing Trump anew,” AP: “The Biden administration is set to announce this week that it will reengage with the much-maligned U.N. Human Rights Council that former President Donald Trump withdrew from almost three years ago, U.S. officials said Sunday. The decision reverses another Trump-era move away from multilateral organizations and agreements.

“U.S. officials say Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a senior U.S. diplomat in Geneva will announce on Monday that Washington will return to the Geneva-based body as an observer with an eye toward seeking election as a full member. The decision is likely to draw criticism from conservative lawmakers and many in the pro-Israel community.”


TRACKER: The U.S. reported 1,471 Covid-19 deaths and 96,000 new coronavirus cases Sunday.

THE COMING STORM — “U.K. coronavirus variant spreading rapidly through United States, study finds,” WaPo: “The coronavirus variant that shut down much of the United Kingdom is spreading rapidly across the United States, outcompeting other strains and doubling its prevalence among confirmed infections every week and a half … Florida stands out in the study as the state with the highest estimated prevalence of the variant.”

FRIGHTENING — “South Africa pauses AstraZeneca vaccine rollout after study shows it offers less protection against variant,” CNN: “Early data released Sunday suggest two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine provided only ‘minimal protection’ against mild and moderate Covid-19 from the variant first identified in South Africa … The statement said the company believes its vaccine will still protect against severe disease.”


“New Biden rules for ICE point to fewer arrests and deportations, and a more restrained agency,” WaPo: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is preparing to issue new guidelines to agents this week that could sharply curb arrests and deportations, as the Biden administration attempts to assert more control over an agency afforded wide latitude under President Donald Trump …

“Agents will no longer seek to deport immigrants for crimes such as driving under the influence and assault, and will focus instead on national security threats, recent border crossers and people completing prison and jail terms for aggravated felony convictions. … Agents seeking to arrest fugitives outside of jails and prisons will need prior approval from the agency’s director in Washington justifying the decision.”

“As Biden Decides What to Do With Trump’s Border Wall, Landowners Are in Limbo,” WSJ: “Mr. Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office to stop construction of the border wall temporarily … Stopping construction for good, however, is complicated. …

“Recently, government lawyers have withdrawn their requests for immediate possession in some of the cases. However, the cases remain pending, with several hearings set for March.”


MEDIAWATCH — “Big Publishing Pushes Out Trump’s Last Fan,” by NYT’s BEN SMITH: “If you were a certain kind of distinctly Trumpy public figure — say Donald Trump Jr. or Corey Lewandowski — looking to sell a book over the last four years, there were surprisingly few options. The Big Five publishing companies in New York, and even their dedicated conservative imprints, had become squeamish about the genre known as MAGA books, with its divisive politics and relaxed approach to facts. And small conservative publishers probably couldn’t afford you.”

BEYOND THE BELTWAY — “The South Dakota Attorney General Killed a Man. Everything Else Is a Mystery,” The Daily Beast: “It’s been five months since Joe Boever was fatally struck on a remote highway, and the demand for answers is growing.”

TOP-ED — “The martyrdom of Mike Pence,” by Sidney Blumenthal in The Guardian: “No evangelical leader has stepped forward to defend his honor. No Republican leader has vouched for his virtue, obligations and higher loyalty. Abandoned and alone, the object of hatred, the target of threats. Pence had taught his flock to worship its lord and cast out heretics. He delivered everything to Trump, and Trump delivered Pence to the mob as a scapegoat. Pence had shown them the way to follow Trump as a true servant. And they did.”

NRA WATCH — “Disgruntled NRA Donors Push to Oust LaPierre,” The Washington Free Beacon: “Disgruntled NRA donors will petition a bankruptcy court to purge the group’s leadership. David Dell’Aquila, who is leading a class-action suit over accusations of financial impropriety, told the Washington Free Beacon he will request a court-appointed trustee to temporarily oversee operations.”

DESSERT — “Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had a ‘secret’ meeting with Gavin Newsom in the run-up to the election,” The Sun: “The meeting came as reports in America claimed Governor Newsom was being urged to find a black woman to replace Harris as her departure left no women of colour in the Senate. He eventually chose Mexican immigrants’ son Alex Padilla as the state’s first Hispanic senator. It has long been rumoured Meghan wants a career in politics, with some suggesting she has even set her sights on being President.”

MORE DESSERT (literally) — “Vanilla Gets its Day in Court,” WSJ A-hed: “A battle over vanilla flavoring is raging in federal courts, where plaintiffs’ attorneys say items from ice cream to cake mix actually have no real vanilla at all; the Rocky Road, Tutti-frutti argument.”

BETTER THAN THE GAME — “The 8 best Super Bowl commercials, from an ‘Edward Scissorhands’ sequel to Michael B. Jordan’s Alexa,” WaPo

EXTREMELY ONLINE — White House chief of staff RON KLAIN, who previously worked for tech mogul STEVE CASE at Case’s venture capital firm, Revolution LLC, is emerging as the most active social media persona in the Biden White House. A heavy Twitter user, Klain over the weekend raised eyebrows when he retweeted WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin speculating about a 2028 Harris-PETE BUTTIGIEG ticket. (Was that a subtle hint to Kamala world that Biden will indeed be standing for reelection in 2024, when he’ll turn 82 years old?)

But even more interesting: Klain on Saturday joined the invite-only audio chat room app Clubhouse. New users need to be nominated by current Clubhouse members, and Klain was recommended by Case, the former CEO of AOL. We noticed Clubhouse has seen a flood of political journalists, operatives, and celebrities join over the last week, including Maggie Haberman, Dave Weigel, David Plouffe, Roger Stone, Tom Arnold and Mindy Kaling.

We reached out to Klain about how he plans to use the buzzy new app that is growing exponentially and is known for its more civil conversations and Ted Talk-like discussions, but no word back yet.

Klain follows only 51 people so far, but he has participated in something of a Clubhouse rite of passage by making two of his first follows Gayle King and M.C. Hammer, two early adopters and prominent users of the app.

AP: “Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen bury the hatchet on his podcast ‘Mea Culpa’”: “‘Both of our stories will be forever linked with Donald Trump, but also with one another,’ Cohen tells her. ‘Thanks for giving me a second chance.’”

IN MEMORIAM — “George P. Shultz, Influential Cabinet Official Under Nixon and Reagan, Dies at 100,” NYT: “George P. Shultz, who presided with a steady hand over the beginning of the end of the Cold War as President Ronald Reagan’s often embattled secretary of state, died on Saturday at his home in Stanford, Calif. He was 100. …

“Mr. Shultz, who had served Republican presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower, moved to California after leaving Washington in January 1989. He continued writing and speaking on issues ranging from nuclear weapons to climate change into his late 90s, expressing concern about America’s direction.”

SPOTTED AT TRUMP INTERNATIONAL HOTEL FOR THE SUPER BOWL: no one of note. (h/t Eugene, who tried)

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Compass Coffee to launch a new virtual event series, titled “Common Grounds,” bringing together one Republican and one Democrat to “explore critical issues or challenges facing the business community and the nation.” The first event will feature Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) talking infrastructure with Chamber EVP and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley on Feb. 23. Details

Sarah Matthews is now comms director for the House Climate Crisis Select Committee GOP. She most recently was deputy White House press secretary in the Trump administration.

Ashley Lantz is joining Brady PAC as political director. She previously was chief of staff for Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), and is a Jay Rockefeller, Alan Mollohan and Chris Pappas alum.

Andrew Mamo is now comms director for Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.). He most recently was comms director for Rep. Andy Kim’s (D-N.J.) reelect, and is a Pete for America alum.

TRANSITIONS — Lauren Passalacqua is joining Magnus Pearson Media as SVP. She most recently was comms director at the DSCC. … Mark McDevitt is rejoining Rep. Lori Trahan’s (D-Mass.) office as chief of staff. He previously was comms director for political intelligence at Morning Consult. …

… Reed Howard is now director of comms at the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service. He was previously with the Lincoln Project. … Rachel Levitan is now comms director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Dems. She most recently was deputy director of comms and a senior adviser for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

ENGAGED — Cory Feldman, administrative director of Medstar Medical Group Pathology, proposed to Ali Javery, a principal comms consultant at Fireside Campaigns and Sheldon Whitehouse alum, at Stowe Town Winery on Saturday, in the presence of friends and family and in front of a heart-shaped lake. They met four years ago on Bumble and had their first date at the Brixton rooftop. Pic Another pic

WEEKEND WEDDING — Lauren Valainis, manager of government affairs at SoftBank, and Jared Sawyer, principal at Rich Feuer Anderson, got married Saturday in Spartanburg, S.C. They met at Orangetheory Navy Yard in 2018. Pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and John Joyce (R-Pa.) … Will Levi … AWS’ Matthew HaskinsAmos SneadTed KoppelLisa Jackson … Salesforce’s Matt JaffeMark CoralloHeather Zichal Scott Bennett Greg Brower Stephanie Cherry … Walmart’s Brian Besanceney Elliot Schwartz … L.A. Times’ Melissa EtehadSarah-Anne Voyles … POLITICO Europe’s Arnau Busquets GuàrdiaAnthony Paranzino … Morning Consult’s Samantha Smith … BBC’s Sarah Montague Alexandra Brodsky … USAID’s Adam Kaplan … Hudson Institute’s John Walters, Michael Pillsbury and Sarah May SternJohn Kartch Justin Kramer, press assistant to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) … Scott Nelson John Williams

Got a document to share? A birthday coming up? Know how the Senate parliamentarian would rule on including the minimum wage in reconciliation? Drop us a line at [email protected] or individually: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler and producers Allie Bice, Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.

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