POLITICO Playbook: The Manchin dance continues on Christmas

Merry Christmas, Playbookers. As the resident Jews on the Playbook team, we’re filling in for the regular crew today.

It’s a big day for astronomy. Per Scientific American: “At 7:20 A.M. (ET), the rocket carrying the largest, most ambitious space telescope in history cleared the launchpad in French Guiana, and the members of mission control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore roared their relief.” Dubbed the James Webb Telescope, it’s the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

On a light news day, a few key reads today:

MANCHIN IN THE MIDDLE — A Christmas gift for progressives? WaPo’s Jeff Stein reports that Sen. JOE MANCHIN’s (D-W.Va.) Build Back Better offer to the White House last week included support for some kind of a billionaire wealth tax. Still, it’s not Manchin but other Democrats — most notably Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (Ariz.) — who have been the biggest impediment to new taxation as a revenue raiser. Stein reports that she’s also raised questions recently about “whether owners of ‘pass-through’ entities … should be exempted from a new ‘surtax’ intended to fall on the very rich” — which could potentially wipe out billions in revenue for the plan.

One other nugget from the story: Manchin is being advised by ALAN AUERBACH, director of the Robert D. Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance at Berkeley. He was deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Joint Committee on Taxation in 1992, according to his bio.

FIRST AMENDMENT FIGHT — A New York judge on Thursday upheld his highly unusual decision blocking the NYT from reporting on Project Veritas, ordering the newspaper to return internal documents to the conservative provocateurs and destroy electronic copies of them. CHARLES WOOD said privacy and attorney-client privilege concerns overrode freedom of the press. The Times promised to appeal the ruling, which has drawn outrage from First Amendment advocates. More from Reuters

The NYT editorial board responded to the rare instance of prior restraint: “This is a breathtaking rationale: Justice Wood has taken it upon himself to decide what The Times can and cannot report on. That’s not how the First Amendment is supposed to work.” (WaPo’s Erik Wemple calls it “a monster lump of First Amendment coal.”)

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SIGN OF THE TIMES — In a strange sequence of events, an Oregon father named Jared on the annual White House Santa tracking call with military families said “Let’s go Brandon” to JOE BIDEN. The president, either unaware or playing along, responded, “Let’s go Brandon, I agree.” The caller then apparently hung up. Sitting next to the president, JILL BIDEN seemed to roll her eyes.

ERICK ERICKSON wrote in response: “Confession: I find it in poor taste to tell the President of the United States ‘Let’s go Brandon’ when the man just wanted to wish you Merry Christmas. Good manners should still matter. … And yes, I did laugh, because I do think it is funny, but I also think it is bad manners. If the president of the United States calls to wish you a merry Christmas, be flattered you get to speak to the president of the United States.”

BIDEN’S SATURDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.



BLUE CHRISTMAS — The pandemic has forced the White House into a much less festive approach to the holidays, as the Bidens “have replaced the packed parties and overflowing buffet tables of the past with food-free open houses, face masks and testing for the unvaccinated,” reports AP’s Darlene Superville. The holiday decor went unseen by the usual public tours (now on hold), and the dozens of holiday parties and receptions vanished or went virtual. It’s a fitting cap to a year that has forced the White House to scale back most of its typical social calendar.

— Still, the Bidens made a surprise visit Friday to Children’s National Hospital to spread some holiday cheer. They “met with and read a story to hospitalized children and their families,” per The Hill. It was the first time the president has joined what is typically a first lady-only tradition.

— For Christmas, the first family is staying in Washington, at the request of the Bidens’ grandchildren, reports CBS’ Arden Farhi. As is family tradition, they had a pasta dinner and sleepover after mass Friday, and Biden is draping the Christmas tree in fake snow. After opening presents today, Biden family members will take homemade bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches on the road to visit loved ones elsewhere.

PROMISES MADE … NBC’s Lauren Egan has a roundup of the promises Biden made about what he’d do in his first year vs. what he’s actually done.

VP FILES — In an advance clip of the CBS interview airing Sunday with KAMALA HARRIS, the VP says she regrets not being able to leave D.C. more and travel around the country to be “in touch with what people need at any given moment.” Watch here


DEMOCRACY WATCH — State and local election officials are trying to push educational efforts to help people understand how secure voting is around the country, amid plummeting Republican faith in the nation’s electoral systems, reports WSJ’s Alexa Corse. Info sessions and social media initiatives aim to provide reassurance that widespread voter fraud is not, in fact, real. But some officials “worry that voters might give up on participating and lose confidence in America’s democracy” outright.

EYES ON THE PRIZE — Democrats have been saying since the Obama era that they needed to pay more attention to crucial state-level elections. With existential battles over democracy increasingly taking place outside Washington, the level of alarm is even higher post-2020. But, writes NYT’s Blake Hounshell (in his debut story), it may be too late — and it certainly remains to be seen whether Dems can motivate their voters to turn out for less prominent races. Now, “the missed opportunities of 2020 and earlier election cycles loom large in the rearview mirror.”


ANOTHER COUNTER-EFFORT — Trump spokesperson TAYLOR BUDOWICH sued the Jan. 6 committee Friday to prevent the House panel from accessing his financial records, which it has subpoenaed, Fox News’ Tyler Olson scooped. Budowich said he’s already cooperated with the committee by testifying and providing documents. Unlike other lawsuits that have come the committee’s way, Budowich is aiming to block J.P. Morgan from handing over his records. His statement


SPOTLIGHT ON UKRAINE — Twenty-two members of Congress met virtually Friday with Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY. The same day, Sens. ROB PORTMAN (R-Ohio) and JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.) wrote a WaPo op-ed declaring that the U.S. must stand with Ukraine. They called on the Biden administration to send more weapons to Ukraine and “seriously reconsider the imposition of sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline.”

Andrew Desiderio notes: “Will be interesting to see if Shaheen and other Dems vote for TED CRUZ’s Nord Stream sanctions bill when it gets a vote in the Senate in early January. The Biden admin opposes this effort.”

— Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Friday that “we expect our opponents in Washington to provide specific answers to our proposals in January,” referring to Russia’s demands that the West guarantee Ukraine won’t join NATO, per the AP.

PULLOUT FALLOUT — In an extensive retrospective, WSJ’s Yaroslav Trofimov and Jessica Donati explore how the Taliban triumphed in Afghanistan, outmaneuvering the West diplomatically and consolidating gains on the battlefield. “Seeking an exit, U.S. officials found it expedient to paint Taliban behavior in the best possible light while exaggerating the strength of the Afghan republic they had brought to life. Recognizing this opening, the Taliban leadership learned how to obfuscate their true intentions in the comforting language that appealed to foreign diplomats and negotiators.”


POLICING THE POLICE — Despite the mass social movements of 2020 and some recent high-profile convictions, the number of fatal police encounters in America has held roughly steady, report NYT’s Tim Arango and Giulia Heyward. On average, about three people are still being killed daily by police, and racial disparities have persisted. “That underscores both the benefit of the doubt usually accorded law officers who are often making life-or-death decisions in a split second and the way the law and the power of police unions often protect officers.”


HOPEFUL SIGN — In Sunday’s Playbook, we included a dispatch from WaPo’s Chico Harlan in Denmark, which has one of the world’s best coronavirus tracking systems and was flashing Omicron warning signs for everyone. A week later, though, the news is looking better out of Copenhagen: Harlan now reports that the country seems to have steered away from the worst-case scenarios, as case numbers have leveled off and hospitalizations are “on the very low end of what was projected.” (Plenty of caveats remain, of course.)

SCHOOL’S IN — Having seen how damaging extended remote learning can be, school districts around the country are trying to avoid closures amid the Omicron surge, report WSJ’s Douglas Belkin and Scott Calvert. “School officials are studying case counts, the severity of the illness, vaccination rates and vaccine efficacy. Administrators are also considering how much control they could exercise to prevent large gatherings outside school.”

THE YEAR IN FACES — POLITICO Magazine has a fun photo gallery of 21 masks that illuminate the year’s political currents.

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 16 funnies

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“Modern America’s Most Successful Secessionist Movement,” by Antonia Hitchens in The Atlantic: “In rural Oregon, voters fed up with their state’s leftward turn have embraced a simple and outlandish idea: What if we were just Idaho?”

“The Students Returned, but the Fallout From a Long Disruption Remained,” by NYT’s Erica Green: “‘They’re like, “The world’s out of control, why should I be in control?”’ the principal of Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pa., said of some of his struggling students.”

“The Republican Axis Reversing the Rights Revolution,” by The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein: “We are witnessing a reordering of American life not seen in half a century.”

“A Peace Corps worker killed a woman in Africa. The U.S. helped him escape prosecution,” by a USA Today investigative team: “A hasty evacuation kept Tanzanian authorities from charging the American after the 2019 incident, which left two injured and one woman dead.”

— From the archives: “The Welfare Queen,” by Slate’s Josh Levin, Dec. 19, 2013: “In the 1970s, Ronald Reagan villainized a Chicago woman for bilking the government. Her other sins—including possible kidnappings and murders—were far worse.”

Meghan McCain and Candace Owens sparred on Twitter over Donald Trump’s pro-vaccine remarks.

Don Young and his wife, Anne, offered up a very hearty Christmas greeting.

Roger Stone is still auctioning off autographed rocks (and other memorabilia).

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Lucy van Schaijik, director at White House Writers Group, and Nick van Schaijik, an MBA candidate at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, welcomed Maeve Laraine van Schaijik on Dec. 13. Pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Mike Donilon Karl RoveWintta Woldemariam, deputy assistant A.G. … Tim Miller … Jones Day’s Brian Rabbitt Charlton BoydBill Bailey of the Walt Disney Co. … Stephanie Mathews O’Keefe … USAID’s Sophia Lalani … NBC’s Hilary KriegerScott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing … Atlas Strategy Group’s Michael BlakeRachael Slobodien of the America First Policy Institute … CNN’s Natalie PahzDaniel Fisher of the Associated Equipment Distributors … Garrett Bess of Heritage Action … Amanda Munger of the AM Group … Miranda Margowsky of Precision Strategies … Google’s Anne WallZachary HooperRebecca Pilar Buckwalter-PozaKristen ShatynskiJames Fitzella … former CEA Chair Christina Romer … DLA Piper’s Irene ShermanSarah Levin Scott Cottington Whitcomb Johnson … Canadian PM Justin Trudeau (5-0)

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

  • CBS

    “Face the Nation”: VP Kamala Harris. Panel: David Martin, Jan Crawford, Ed O’Keefe, Weijia Jiang and Nikole Killion.

  • CNN

    “State of the Union”: Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) … Surgeon General Vivek Murthy … Huma Abedin.

  • FOX

    “Fox News Sunday,” guest-anchored by Mike Emanuel: Ashish Jha … Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) … Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Panel: Jason Chaffetz, Catherine Lucey and Charles Lane.

  • ABC

    “This Week: Anthony Fauci … Ashish Jha. Panel: Rick Klein, Terry Moran and Averi Harper.

  • NBC

    “Meet the Press,” with a special “Schools, America and Race” edition: Nikole Hannah-Jones … Jelani Cobb, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) and Brenda Sheridan … Joshua Johnson and Keith Mayes.


    “The Sunday Show”: Senate Chaplain Barry Black … Michael Curry … host Jonathan Capehart’s Aunt Gloria … Mandy Patinkin and Kathryn Grody … Sheryl Lee Ralph and Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Hughes.

  • Gray TV

    “Full Court Press”: Jane Oates … David Downey.

  • CNN

    “Inside Politics”: Panel: Amy Walter, Phil Mattingly, Astead Herndon and Lauren Fox.

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