Earlier this year, two of the most unlikely pairings in America started on a journey that we here at Playbook have been watching closely: Bennifer and BIF.
JENNIFER LOPEZ and BEN AFFLECK’s first clandestine meetings were reported in the spring. Around that same time, some Republican senators began quietly meeting with their Democratic colleagues to discuss infrastructure. Both reunions were so improbable that they needed to be shrouded in secrecy lest they fall apart under the glare of public scrutiny.
In the end, Bennifer went public before BIF. The couple made it “Instagram official” Saturday, but we’re still waiting to see the full details of the bipartisan infrastructure framework.
There’s still no legislative text or CBO score (the rough equivalent of “IG official” for a bill). The bipartisan group has blown past every deadline, but they promised last week that Monday was the big day.
Here’s what we know about whether BIF will have its celebratory Bennifer-on-a-yacht moment today:
— Sen. MARK WARNER (D-Va.) was optimistic Sunday: “We’re down to the last couple of items, and I think you’re going to see a bill Monday afternoon.”
— Sen. ROB PORTMAN (R-Ohio) said that the bipartisan group was “about 90% of the way there” to a final agreement. He added, “We have one issue outstanding and we’re not getting much response from the Democrats on it. It’s about mass transit.”
— But a Dem source close to the talks said Sunday there was much more than just transit to hammer out. “On Sunday night, Democratic negotiators, including the White House, sent the Republicans a global offer to finish every major open item,” they emailed Playbook. “The major unresolved issues include: highways/bridges, water funding, broadband, Davis-Bacon, using unspent Covid [money] as [a] payfor, infrastructure bank and transit.” (A reminder, per the WSJ: Davis-Bacon is “a requirement that contractors on federally funded projects can’t pay their employees anything less than the locally ‘prevailing wage’ for their services.”)
— Democrats in the Senate and White House are pushing to have all these issues settled today. If that happens, Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER can call a new vote whenever he wants. But it’s a one-shot deal: If the vote fails (again), he’d have to file cloture (again) and wait the required two days before the Senate can vote on it.
— BUT, BUT, BUT: A GOP source familiar with the negotiations sent us this warning late Sunday: “Republicans have made fair and reasonable offers to increase transit funding above the percentage increases that highway and safety programs received. This is on top of the unprecedented $69 billion in Covid spending on transit over the past 18 months, $39 billion of which remains unspent. These are historic increases. Unless Democrats show more flexibility, this deal is unlikely to happen.”
As we’ve often said, it’s foolish to bet against a deal. These infrastructure negotiations have been declared dead too many times, and, like the phoenix tattooed on Affleck’s back, they always rise from the ashes.
When we teased a senior White House official Sunday night that it was amazing that Bennifer became official before BIF did, they retorted, “True, but we’ve been waiting since the original Bennifer for infrastructure.”
Good Monday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.
WORTH THE FOLLOW: White House Covid-19 data director CYRUS SHAHPAR, @cyrusshahpar46. He recently pointed us to this new CDC interactive on county-level vaccination coverage and Covid cases, which tells the story — bright red on the map — of vaccine hesitancy and surging delta infections at a glance.
JOE BIDEN’S MONDAY:
— 10 a.m.: The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief.
— 11:10 a.m.: Biden and VP KAMALA HARRIS will speak in the Rose Garden to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
— 2 p.m.: Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with Iraqi PM MUSTAFA AL-KADHIMI in the Oval Office.
Press secretary JEN PSAKI will brief at 12:30 p.m.
THE SENATE will meet at 3 p.m. to take up TODD KIM’s nomination as an assistant A.G., with a cloture vote at 5:30 p.m.
THE HOUSE will meet at noon, with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m.
BIDEN’S WEEK AHEAD:
— Tuesday: The president will address the Intelligence Community workforce and leadership in a visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
— Wednesday: Biden will head to Lower Macungie Township, Pa., to speak about manufacturing, jobs and buying American.
WILL IT HAPPEN? — CNN’s John Harwood sees BIF’s success or failure as a “test of will” of “decisive players to act on their convictions when political cross-winds grow fiercest.”
A POSSIBLE HURDLE FOR RECONCILIATION — “Biden says ‘remains to be seen’ if immigration measure part of wider budget bill,” Reuters: “Biden on Sunday said he remained adamant about the need to create a pathway for U.S. citizenship for so-called Dreamer immigrants, but it ‘remains to be seen’ if that will be part of a $3.5 trillion budget measure.”
— “Second House Democrat Insists on Immigration Path in Budget Bill,” by Bloomberg’s Sophia Cai and Steven Dennis: “Democrat LOU CORREA of California … joins Representative CHUY GARCIA of Illinois, who earlier insisted any budget deal must include a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.”
FLASHING SIREN FOR DEMS — “‘Death by 1,000 cuts’: Dems face mounting crisis over GOP voting laws,” by Maya King, David Siders and Daniel Lippman with an Atlanta dateline: “Interviews with more than three dozen Democratic elected officials, party operatives and voting rights activists across the country reveal growing concern — bordering on alarm — about the potential impact in 2022 of the raft of new laws passed by Republican legislatures, particularly in some of the nation’s most competitive battleground states. …
“Democratic efforts to model midterm turnout under the new laws remain in their infancy. But even without a sophisticated understanding of the practical effect, there is widespread fear that the party isn’t doing enough to counter these efforts, or preparing for an election conducted under, in some instances, a dramatically different set of rules governing voter access.”
CRITICAL RACE THEORY MAKES AN IMPACT — “‘People are scared’: Democrats lose ground on school equity plans,” by Maggie Severns: “Democrat-leaning or politically moderate suburbanites interviewed by POLITICO in six states, all but one of which were won by Biden … are up in arms over their school systems’ new equity initiatives, which they argue are costly and divisive, encouraging students to group themselves by race and take pro-activist stances. Proponents of the initiatives say they are a long-overdue step toward getting rid of systemic racism in the school system. …
“Democrats appear to be underestimating parents’ anger in places where critical race theory is top of mind. Objections to new equity plans are not the sole province of conservatives but extend to many moderate and independent voters … Parents who are showing up to school board meetings and have helped launch a spate of recall elections say they are angry about a host of issues, including what they see as a myopic focus on diversity at school boards, ongoing frustration over a year of closed schools and school lesson plans that they say are becoming too progressive, too fast.”
TOP-ED — “‘Law and Order’ has Worked for the GOP Before. This Crime Boom Might be Different,” by Joshua Zeitz for POLITICO Mag: “It’s true that crime might function as a mechanism to motivate the conservative base. But to move voters from the Democratic to the Republican column, it will need to capture the independent voters who swung from [DONALD] TRUMP to Biden in the last election. And here the historical analogy breaks down.”
MANCHIN IN THE MIDDLE — “Manchin weighs another term as his influence peaks,” by Burgess Everett: “JOE MANCHIN strongly signaled in 2018 that his brutal reelection campaign that year was his last. Now, as he marshals the entire Senate in his centrist direction, he’s not so sure he’ll call it quits. The West Virginia Democrat is steadily padding his campaign coffers, raising $1.6 million in the first six months this year and sitting on nearly $4 million for a potential race that wouldn’t occur for three years. His colleagues say he’s not acting like a senator in his last term …
“Manchin now says Washington has ‘accomplished more than we have for the 10 years I’ve been here.’ ‘You never know. You don’t know. There’s always a chance, absolutely,’ Manchin said in an interview. When it comes to a potential reelection campaign alongside a presidential race in 2024, Manchin said: ‘You better be prepared, that’s all I can say. And I’m being prepared.’”
THE WHITE HOUSE
POLITICAL JARGON WATCH — “White House Shifts Messaging on Inflation as Republicans Attack,” by Bloomberg’s Nancy Cook: “Out: wonky words like ‘transitory’ and complicated statistical explanations for price indicators. In: plain-language explanations from the president himself, who sought in remarks last week to acknowledge ordinary Americans’ jitters about higher costs — for items ranging from housing, food and gas to lumber and used cars — while reassuring them that the increases will fade in time.”
STEADY AS SHE JOES — “Analysis: Joe Biden’s approval rating simply hasn’t moved in six months,” by CNN’s Harry Enten: “The lack of a topsy turvy first few months has translated to Biden’s approval rating. It’s been the most stable for any president since the end of World War II.”
SPORTS BLINK — “Jill Biden brings a dose of normalcy to Olympic Games amid a pandemic,” by CNN’s Kate Bennett in Tokyo: “Like many moms of Olympians past, she overdid it all just slightly — the cheering, the clapping, the swag, the euphoric pride, the tortured facial expressions over a missed goal or tight pass, a lap of swimming that came down to the wire. There weren’t arena-wide chants of ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’ but seated essentially by herself, there was Biden with a lone whoop and a cheer. She was doing it louder and harder than she might have if she weren’t the only physically present support system, a parent for all 613 of America’s Olympians.”
GEARING UP FOR A SHOWDOWN — “Jan. 6 select committee to open investigation amid political chaos and controversy,” by WaPo’s Karoun Demirjian: “It’s unclear when a roster [for the House select committee] may be finalized, and Democrats running the committee have yet to articulate specific plans or timelines for their investigation. Nevertheless, on Tuesday, four police officers — two from the Capitol’s protection squad and two from D.C. police — are set to provide the first public testimony before the select committee.”
— “Liz Cheney’s role on Jan. 6 committee grows after GOP pulls participation,” by NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, Garrett Haake and Haley Talbot
— “Rep. Adam Kinzinger agrees to join panel investigating January insurrection at the Capitol,” by Chicago Tribune’s Rick Pearson
COVID IN CONGRESS — NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell (@LACaldwellDC): “[email protected] confirms that he’s contracted COVID for a second time. While he’s encouraged vaccines, he has refused to say if he’s vaccinated and in April said he has natural immunity from his last time with COVID.” (Note: It’s unclear if Higgins was previously diagnosed with Covid by a medical professional, but he believes that he had it in January 2020.) Higgins’ announcement
FLIP-FLOP — “Nancy Mace Called Herself a ‘New Voice’ for the G.O.P. Then She Pivoted,” by NYT’s Catie Edmondson in Mount Pleasant, S.C. … The Atlantic’s Elaine Godfrey with a similar story last week
BUBBLING OVER — “‘No justification’: Fed pressed to stop pumping cash into booming markets,” by Victoria Guida: “[T]he Fed is still pumping billions into the economy. Why? That’s what a growing number of lawmakers, investors and even some Fed officials themselves are demanding to know. They are warning that the central bank’s vast purchases of government bonds and mortgage-backed securities are feeding financial bubbles in the housing, stock and even cryptocurrency markets, and stoking higher consumer prices, with little apparent benefit to ordinary Americans. …
“Fed policymakers, who will gather this week for a closely watched meeting on their next steps, are now grappling with how and when to start slowing their bond buys, which amount to a staggering $120 billion a month. The question has touched off a heated debate within the central bank itself.”
UNEXPECTED CLIMATE OBSTRUCTIONISTS — “Toyota Led on Clean Cars. Now Critics Say It Works to Delay Them,” by NYT’s Hiroko Tabuchi: “Toyota, one of the world’s largest automakers, has quietly become the industry’s strongest voice opposing an all-out transition to electric vehicles — which proponents say is critical to fighting climate change. … Even as other automakers have embraced electric cars, Toyota bet its future on the development of hydrogen fuel cells — a costlier technology that has fallen far behind electric batteries — with greater use of hybrids in the near term. That means a rapid shift from gasoline to electric on the roads could be devastating for the company’s market share and bottom line.”
LONG-TERM DISASTER — “The Delta Variant Is the Symptom of a Bigger Threat: Vaccine Refusal,” by NYT’s Apoorva Mandavilli: “America is one of the few countries with enough vaccines at its disposal to protect every resident — and yet it has the highest rates of vaccine hesitance or refusal of any nation except Russia. … Delta is by no means the wickedest variant out there. Gamma and Lambda are waiting in the wings, and who knows what frightful versions are already flourishing undetected in the far corners of the world, perhaps even here in America.
“Every infected person, anywhere in the world, offers the coronavirus another opportunity to morph into a new variant. The more infections there are globally, the more likely new variants will arise. The United States will be vulnerable to every one of them until it can immunize millions of people who now refuse to get the vaccine, are still persuadable but hesitant, or have not yet gained access. The unvaccinated will set the country on fire over and over again.”
IN STATE CAPITALS — “As coronavirus surges, GOP lawmakers are moving to limit public health powers,” by WaPo’s Frances Stead Sellers and Isaac Stanley-Becker
THE VIEW FROM 1600 PENN — Ron Klain (@WHCOS): “Vaccinations picking back up — about 790k in past 24 hours per @CDCgov report. Might be the biggest 24-hour period since early July. Thanks to everyone involved.”
THE TREATMENT PUZZLE — “Covid-19 Pill Race Heats Up as Japanese Firm Vies With Pfizer, Merck,” by WSJ’s Peter Landers: “Shionogi starts human trials for a once-a-day drug designed to neutralize the coronavirus in less than a week”
AMERICA AND THE WORLD
PULLOUT FALLOUT — “U.S. prepared to continue airstrikes against Taliban, top commander says,” by WaPo’s Alex Horton in Kabul: “Marine Gen. KENNETH ‘FRANK’ MCKENZIE, head of U.S. Central Command … reiterated that U.S. airstrikes in support of Afghan forces will cease Aug. 31, when President Biden has said the mission will end and the U.S. withdrawal will be complete. … But McKenzie stopped short of saying he was certain the United States would not strike Taliban targets in support of embattled Afghan troops.”
— “Afghanistan curfew imposed as Taliban militants advance,” BBC
DANCE OF THE SUPERPOWERS — “U.S., China Head Into First Talks in Months Still Trading Blows,” Bloomberg: “Deputy Secretary of State WENDY SHERMAN, the U.S.’s No. 2 diplomat, is set to meet Foreign Minister WANG YI on Monday in Tianjin, about 60 miles east of the capital Beijing. … Sherman intends to raise concerns about human rights in places such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang while seeking to reassure Beijing that the U.S. isn’t building an anti-China coalition.”
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS — “Disinformation for Hire, a Shadow Industry, Is Quietly Booming,” by NYT’s Max Fisher: “Back-alley firms meddle in elections and promote falsehoods on behalf of clients who can claim deniability, escalating our era of unreality.”
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
2022 WATCH — “Republicans are desperate for Gov. Chris Sununu to run for Senate. What’s stopping him?” by NBC’s Henry Gomez in Alton, N.H.: “‘Everyone’s just kind of wondering,’ [Gov. CHRIS] SUNUNU said of his decision. ‘And I am, too.’ … [H]ow does he, a relative moderate who at times has criticized Trump, fit into a party where accommodating the former president and his grievances — and, if you’re a senator, facing daily questions about Trump — is often required? Can Chris Sununu go to Washington and still be Chris Sununu? … Sununu has said that he could wait until winter [to decide]. In interviews with NBC News … he sounded torn.”
— “Pa. Republicans see a big opportunity in 2022. But some are worried their candidates might blow it,” by Philly Inquirer’s Jonathan Tamari
— “In Broward, Charlie Crist rips Gov. Ron DeSantis over Florida’s COVID spike: ‘We don’t have leadership,’” by South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Anthony Man
FUN STORY — “What Joe Biden’s 1988 White House Rivals Think of Him Now,” by N.Y. Mag’s Gabriel Debenedetti: “If he called you tomorrow for advice, what would you tell him to do? [DICK] GEPHARDT: ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’ [MICHAEL] DUKAKIS: ‘We have to start getting ready for next year’s elections. Stay at it, but get very serious about precinct-based grassroots organization all over the country.’ [GARY] HART: ‘I’d just say to him I want to be helpful any way I can. He does, on top of everything else, have to be bolder on climate change.’”
IN MEMORIAM — “‘May his light continue to guide us’: Civil rights leader Bob Moses dies at 86,” by Mississippi Today’s Kayleigh Skinner and Bobby Harrison: “Moses, a New York native, was a field secretary for SNCC in Mississippi. He also served as co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations … Through his work with both of these organizations, Moses was instrumental in the Mississippi Freedom Summer …
“In response to the state Democratic Party denying access to Black Mississippians, Moses, along with Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker and others created [the] Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. … In addition to his civil rights work, Moses taught math to students in Tanzania from 1969 to 1976. In 1982, Moses went on to found The Algebra Project. … In 2000, Moses was honored by both the Mississippi House and Senate, whose members in past years had passed laws that he fought to overturn denying voting rights and other basic rights to African Americans.”
MEDIA MOVE — Grace Segers is now a staff writer for The New Republic, covering Congress and politics. She previously was a political reporter at CBS.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Anheuser-Busch is adding David Caruolo as senior director of federal government affairs. He most recently was a policy adviser for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Teresa Skala is also moving up to be director of federal government affairs.
TRANSITIONS — Robert Byrne is now senior strategist at Break Something Inc. He’s an alum of LGBTQ Victory Fund, Bernie Sanders and numerous progressive races. … Former Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) is joining College to Congress as interim CEO. … Brad Kennedy is now national finance director for Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.). He most recently was national finance director for Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) during his primary, and is a DNC alum. …
… Katie Parrish is now senior comms officer at the McKnight Foundation. She previously was deputy comms director at Public Citizen. … Ross Pilotte is now SVP at The Permitting Institute. He most recently was a senior policy adviser at the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council. … Alisa La is joining McDonald’s as a manager for multicultural stakeholder engagement. She most recently was special assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and is a Hillary for America alum.
ENGAGED — Reece Marsden, director of absentee and early voting for the RNC, and Bethany Berntson, director of scheduling and operations for Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), got engaged Saturday at a riverside spot in Great Falls Park. They met in Ohio while working on the Trump reelection campaign. Pic
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) … Thomas Tsaveras … Molly Conway … Amber McCloskey … Maura Corbett of Glen Echo Group … Erin Gloria Ryan … ABC’s Dan Harris (5-0) … Patrick Gaspard … Bill Raines … Nick Muzin of Stonington Global … Namrata Kolachalam … Mike McConnell … RSLC’s Andrew Romeo (28) … Benjamin Hong … Elsa Hoffacker … Sonny Bunch … State’s Richard Buangan … Allison Dong of Sen. Mike Braun’s (R-Ind.) office … Kerri Briggs … David Mayorga … Lia Seremetis … Shakila Khalje … Don Neal … Karen Besserman … PJ McCann … Emily Kane of Sen. Maggie Hassan’s (D-N.H.) office … Oscar Goodman … Chad Jones … Michael Zachariades … Michael Leffel … Libby Burmaster … Julie Anbender … Scott Sforza of Scott Sforza & Associates … Andrew Gillum … POLITICO’s Lara Costello … New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern … former Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.)
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