With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
Months ago, with the economy in flux, his legislative agenda adrift and his approval ratings mired in the 30s, President JOE BIDEN was ill-positioned to break through with any compelling message to the American people — let alone an existential warning about the state of American democracy.
But Biden’s late-summer bounce has buoyed not only his poll numbers but also his credibility as he chose this week to launch a new broadside against his predecessor and his “MAGA Republican” loyalists. Its centerpiece — his Thursday speech warning against the anti-democratic assault from former President DONALD TRUMP and his core followers — was an election-season clarion call unlike anything in modern American history, Eugene, Sam Stein and Jonathan Lemire write this morning.
The speech was months in the making. Aides said Biden started planning a democracy-themed address in June, but events continued to get in the way of its delivery. Pressure built over the past few weeks, they said, amid a number of developments:
— 2020 election-denying candidates prevailing in GOP primaries.
— GOP support consolidating around Trump since the Jan. 6 riot.
— The FBI’s search at Mar-a-Lago sparking a tide of threats against federal agents.
— Republican lawmakers warning a Trump indictment would cause violence.
The drafting of the speech started about three weeks ago, with JON MEACHAM, the historian who has had a hand in a number of Biden’s highest-profile speeches, helping with the framing.
The Republican attacks began even before Biden took to the lectern and hit a fever pitch after his delivery. JIM DORNAN, a longtime Republican operative and member of the anti-Trump wing of the party, said the speech felt like a “24-minute bitch slap of Republicans.“ (Biden’s care to mark a line of demarcation between “mainstream Republicans” and “MAGA Republicans” has been largely ignored on the right.)
“I was offended by certain parts of it. I think he would have been better off not doing it. He’s not going to gain votes from people like me,” he added — though he agreed with the basic premise of Biden’s speech: that some elements of the GOP are “dangerous.”
Biden and his allies expected this, but they argue it would have been a “dereliction of duty,” as multiple confidantes put it, had the president not spoken up. They also note that Biden has been worried about rising GOP extremism since before Trump’s election and that he made the need to restore “the soul of the nation” the overarching theme of his 2020 campaign.
With nine weeks till Election Day, Biden world will also admit there’s an obvious political benefit to the speech, as well. They say he privately emphasizes the importance to not only call out the danger to democracy but connect it to the need to vote in November. And making it a choice election instead of a referendum on his presidency is another added plus.
And there’s a sense from Democrats that these matters have begun coalescing for voters — thanks to the House Jan. 6 hearings, the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and Trump’s persistent place in the headlines — just as the president has gained the ear of the country in a way that’s eluded him for much of his presidency.
“You have had two patterns that have emerged that are important: One is that Republicans and Trump think they’re above the rule of law,” said CELINDA LAKE, a longtime Democratic pollster. “The second is that the will of the people is being overturned. Two-thirds of Americans or more think Joe Biden won the election. Jan. 6 and Roe v. Wade are dramatic overturns of the will of the people.”
Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.
WHITE HOUSE SHAKE-UP — National climate adviser GINA McCARTHY will leave her post in two weeks, a long-expected move that comes after the passage of a historic climate law, NYT’s Lisa Friedman scooped. ALI ZAIDI, her No. 2, will succeed McCarthy in the top spot. And JOHN PODESTA is back: He’ll join the administration as senior adviser to the president for clean energy innovation and implementation, overseeing the disbursement of those massive new clean energy investments.
POLL OF THE DAY — A new WSJ survey finds that the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade has made 83% of Democrats likelier to vote in November, compared to just 31% of Republicans — another indicator that the abortion bombshell is firing up the left. The poll also shows support for legalizing abortion ticking up in the wake of Dobbs: Sixty percent of voters think the procedure should be legal most or all of the time (up from 55% in March), while just 6% want a complete ban without exceptions (down from 11%).
PHOTO OF THE DAY
NASA’s Artemis I moon launch was scheduled for 2:17 p.m., but it was scrubbed this morning — again — after engineers encountered an issue as they tried to fuel the rocket with liquid hydrogen. Monday and Tuesday are possibilities for the next attempt. Watch more here
9 THINGS THAT STUCK WITH US
1. MAR-A-LAGO LATEST: A newly unsealed court filing showed that among the materials FBI agents seized from Mar-a-Lago were dozens of empty folders labeled as “classified,” and that sensitive records were mixed together with Trump’s personal items at the Florida estate. The new information “raises questions about whether the government was able to recover all of the most sensitive documents from Mar-a-Lago that may have been in Trump’s possession,” Nick Wu and Kyle Cheney report. And it also highlights the role of staff secretary DEREK LYONS, as some of the items were marked “return to staff secretary/military aide.” The filing
— Room rater: The storage room where the documents were held is a large closet-type space in the basement, WaPo’s Rosalind Helderman and Josh Dawsey report in a deep dive on the room. “People close to Trump said a variety of Mar-a-Lago and Trump staffers had access to [an adjoining] area beneath the public living room. Access to the closet where the documents were kept was more restricted.” There apparently was only one key to the storage room.
— Barr speaks: Former A.G. BILL BARR pooh-poohed the Trump legal team’s request for a special master to be appointed in the case, telling NYT’s Glenn Thrush that the argument is “a crock of shit.” And Barr said criticism of DOJ’s moves might not be warranted: “As more information comes out, the actions of the department look more understandable.” Barr also told Fox News’ Sandra Smith and John Roberts on Friday that the special master was “a bit of a red herring” and “a waste of time.”
— Meadows tangent: Former chief of staff MARK MEADOWS gave the National Archives many more texts and emails that the agency had requested within a week of the Mar-a-Lago search, CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Kristen Holmes, Jeremy Herb and Evan Perez report. There’s no evidence that the two situations were connected, and Meadows’ materials weren’t classified, but “it’s an awkward position for Trump’s former chief of staff to be in, as Meadows also has been engaged in efforts to get Trump to return documents to the National Archives since last year.”
2. JOBS REPORT: “U.S. Employers Add 315,000 Jobs as More Workers Join Labor Force,” by Bloomberg’s Reade Pickert: “The unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to a six-month high of 3.7% … Despite moderating job growth, the still-solid employment gain points to a healthy appetite for labor amid high inflation, rising interest rates and an uncertain economic outlook. … However, the jump in participation, which could lead to a further cooling in monthly wage growth, added to signs that inflation pressures are slowing. That’s welcome news for the Fed as it debates its next rate decision.”
3. FUNDING FIGHTS: The Biden administration made public emergency funding requests to Congress that add up to $47.1 billion, including a higher-than-expected sum of $11.7 billion in military and budgetary aid for Ukraine. The biggest line item is $22.4 billion for Covid-19 response. They’re also asking for $6.5 billion for emergency disaster relief and $4.5 billion to fight monkeypox. The requests will color the Hill’s debate this month as it takes up a short-term stopgap funding bill. More from Roll Call
4. MIDTERMS ROUNDUP: The latest campaign-trail stories to check out:
— Trump world: Trump is expected to mount a big midterms push, with rally appearances, robocalls and more particularly ramping up in October in what amounts to a significant GOP gamble that he’ll be more boon than burden, WaPo’s Isaac Arnsdorf, Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey report this morning. Strategists are focused on deploying him specifically in rural areas and MAGA territory where he’s most popular.
— New Hampshire: Senate Leadership Fund is reserving $23 million in ad buys to take down Democratic Sen. MAGGIE HASSAN in the general election, Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser scooped. It’s a big GOP investment in a key swing seat where Republicans don’t yet know their nominee. Meanwhile, Democrats are jumping into the GOP primary: Senate Majority PAC put out a new ad, part of $3.2 million in ad buys, that bashes establishment favorite CHUCK MORSE, Joseph Gedeon reports. It’s not exactly the Democratic meddling that’s drawn attention elsewhere, but the ads could help far-right DON BOLDUC in the primary or amount to an early general-election play against Morse.
— Texas: Once again, BETO O’ROURKE is making a big push to try to cut into yawning GOP margins in rural Texas — which may be essential if he has any chance at dethroning Gov. GREG ABBOTT, reports The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek. O’Rourke is drawing big crowds in small, rural counties, and Dems say his messaging has gotten more targeted and effective. But Republicans aren’t worried, and polls don’t show rural numbers budging.
— Alaska: SARAH PALIN’s ranked-choice special-election defeat amounts to a warning sign for Republicans, who noted with chagrin that barely half of GOP voters who supported the less polarizing NICK BEGICH III were willing to back her over a Democrat, David Siders reports. “Her defeat was the firmest evidence yet this year that at least some Republicans may be turned off enough to vote the other way in the midterms and potentially, beyond.”
— Arizona: Tens of thousands of newly naturalized citizens over the past several years could make a difference in Arizona’s elections, per a new report out this week: More than 64,000 were added between 2016 and 2020, NBC’s Zachary Schermele reports.
— California: Abortion could play a key role in motivating and swaying voters across a suite of crucial House districts in November, The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein reports from Cerritos. Republicans are hopeful that economic concerns will carry the day, especially in blue-collar, inland districts. But GOP candidates are notably misaligned with public opinion in the state on abortion, and a proposition on the ballot could juice Dem turnout.
5. THE JAN. 6 INVESTIGATIONS: The House panel is withdrawing its subpoena against the RNC and Salesforce that sought info on GOP email campaigns, deeming the effort moot, WaPo’s Jackie Alemany and Josh Dawsey scooped. A court had blocked the committee this summer from getting RNC materials.
— PAT CIPOLLONE and PAT PHILBIN went before the federal jury in the DOJ’s Jan. 6 investigation for a total of about four hours Friday. “Cipollone became the highest-ranking White House aide known to appear before the grand jury” thus far, notes WaPo’s Spencer Hsu.
6. 2024 WATCH: “Biden has tamped down talk of a primary challenge, for now,” by WaPo’s Yasmeen Abutaleb: “After a string of legislative and policy wins applauded especially by liberals, along with dropping gas prices and rising poll numbers, more Democrats are accepting that Biden will likely be the party’s standard-bearer for one more presidential election.”
7. DANCE OF THE SUPERPOWERS: Biden is expected to sign an executive order as soon as this month that could sharply restrict Chinese technology and American investments in China, Semafor’s Reed Albergotti scooped. It will likely cover Iran, North Korea and Russia as well. Other executive orders could limit data collection by Chinese apps, including TikTok, and limit tech sales to China. “But the impact of the executive orders will depend on their details: They could simply serve as tough-on-China political statements before the November election, or could accelerate the decoupling of the U.S. and Chinese economies.”
Related read: “Biden’s U.S.-Pacific island summit targets China’s growing influence,” by Phelim Kine
8. THE BRAVE NEW WORLD: NBC’s Ben Collins and Kat Tenbarge peel back the curtain on Kiwi Farms, an extremist internet forum founded by a former 8chan administrator whose aggressive doxxing, swatting and harassment campaigns regularly target transgender people, several of whom have killed themselves. A new push is urging Cloudflare, so far unsuccessfully, to stop providing services to the message board. “Experts fear Kiwi Farms is starting to target other communities — and that their tactics are being duplicated throughout the political world to intimidate political enemies.”
— Posts from CHAYA RAICHIK’s Libs of TikTok Twitter account have led to a campaign of harassment against children’s hospitals after posts accused hospitals in Boston and D.C. of offering procedures to transgender children, WaPo’s Taylor Lorenz, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Peter Jamison report. Raichik says she “100 % condemn[s] any acts/threats of violence.”
9. REALITY CHECK ON GUNS: “Red flag laws get little use as shootings, gun deaths soar,” by AP’s Bernard Condon: “[The] trend [is] blamed on a lack of awareness of the laws and resistance by some authorities to enforce them even as shootings and gun deaths soar. AP found such laws in 19 states and the District of Columbia were used to remove firearms from people 15,049 times since 2020, fewer than 10 per 100,000 adult residents. Experts called that woefully low and not nearly enough to make a dent in gun violence.”
CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 17 funnies
GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:
— “John, Yoko, and Me: In an excerpt from his new memoir, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner reveals John Lennon’s history with the magazine and how he helped make it a success.”
— “The Party’s Over,” by Fintan O’Toole in The New York Review of Books: “Boris Johnson’s short and flippant dalliance with power will have very long and serious consequences.”
— “The Last Days of Sigmund Freud,” by Patrick Blanchfield in The New Republic: “Danger surrounded Freud in Nazi-occupied Austria. Why did it take him so long to see it?”
— “How Justin Tucker Became the Greatest Kicker in N.F.L. History,” by Wil Hylton in the NYT Magazine: “The confidence, persistence, and all-out obsession required to play the least understood position on the field.”
— “The Humiliating History of the TSA,” by Darryl Campbell in The Verge: “There’s no evidence two decades of pat-downs and shoe removal have made travelers any safer — so why does the theater of airport security persist?”
— “Trump’s Second Term Would Look Like This,” by The Atlantic’s Jonathan Rauch: “The former president and his allies have explained their plans quite clearly.”
— “The Lessons of Uzbekistan’s Lost Sea,” by Henry Wismayer in the WaPo Magazine: “One of history’s worst environmental disasters is now a tourist attraction. What can it teach us about the fate of humankind?”
— “Failure to launch,” by NBC’s Denise Chow in St. Marys, Ga.: “How a Georgia county spent seven years and millions of dollars to join the space race.”
From the archives:“Big Man Walking,” by Neal Ascherson in the London Review of Books.
— “Nickel-and-Dimed,” by Barbara Ehrenreich in Harper’s: “On (not) getting by in America.”
IN MEMORIAM — “Barbara Ehrenreich, Explorer of Prosperity’s Dark Side, Dies at 81,” by NYT’s Natalie Schachar: “One of more than 20 books written by Ms. Ehrenreich, ‘Nickel and Dimed’ bolstered the movement for higher wages … Ms. Ehrenreich noticed those millions [of workers] throughout a writing career in which she tackled a variety of themes: the myth of the American dream, the labor market, health care, poverty and women’s rights. … Ms. Ehrenreich’s anger at inequity remained unabated late in her life.”
MEDIA MOVES — John Harwood, a longtime White House correspondent, announced he’s leaving CNN and would “look forward to figuring out what’s next.” At the network, his departure was seen “as the latest evidence of a shift to a less politically charged tone under new leader Chris Licht,” WaPo’s Jeremy Barr reports, as Harwood’s contract wasn’t up yet.
On the air on Friday, Harwood said the thrust of President Joe Biden’s Thursday speech was “true” and that former President Donald Trump is a “dishonest demagogue”: “We are brought up to believe there’s two different political parties with different points of view and we don’t take sides in honest disagreements between them,” he said, perhaps in an example of the kind of analysis Licht wants less of. “But that’s not what we’re talking about. These are not honest disagreements.”
— Allahpundit is leaving Hot Air after 36,591 posts. He’s heading to The Dispatch. “Never forget, it’s not the 30 percent of Trump worshipers within the party who brought the GOP to what it is,” he wrote in his farewell post. “It’s the next 50 percent, the look-what-the-libs-made-me-do zombie partisans, who could have said no but didn’t. I said no. Put it on my tombstone.”
— Andrew Kerr, an investigative reporter, will join the Washington Free Beacon next month. He most recently was at the Washington Examiner.
WHITE HOUSE DEPARTURE LOUNGE — Lisa Barrow has left the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, where she was a senior economist. She has returned to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, where she is a senior economist and economic adviser.
NEW NOMINEES — The White House announced several new nominees, including Richard Revesz as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB, whose selection is seen as a win for moderates and institutionalists (background here from Adam Cancryn last month). They also announced Nickolas Guertin as assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, Gene Rodrigues as assistant secretary of Energy in the Office of Electricity, Danté Quintin Allen as commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration at the Department of Education, George Kent as ambassador to Estonia and Donna Ann Welton as ambassador to Timor-Leste.
WEDDING — Jafer Ahmad, a director of foreign policy at the Special Competitive Studies Project and a DOD alum, and Nida Hussain, a software engineer at Google, recently got married in Sacramento, Calif. They met in California at a dinner party hosted by mutual friend Kosar Jahani.
BIRTHWEEK (was Thursday): Rokk Solutions’ Erickson Foster … (was Friday): Rokk Solutions’ Rachael Payton
HAPPY BIRTHDAY:Brian Stelter … Time’s Edward Felsenthal … Rick Perlstein … John Mercurio of the MPA … POLITICO’s Katherine Foley … E&E News’ Jennifer Yachnin … Lucia Alonzo of Michael Best Strategies … John Zogby … CBS’ Erica Brown … Rita Hite of the American Forest Foundation … Dominic Hawkins of TIAA … Roll Call’s Mary C. Curtis … NBC’s Adam Reiss … AFSCME’s Tiffany Ricci … Paul Merski of ICBA … Bruce Moyer … WSJ’s Kristina Peterson … Teresa Davis … Tiffany Waddell of the National Governors Association … Tripp Donnelly … former Reps. Michael Barnes (D-Md.), Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), John Olver (D-Mass.) and Michael Huffington (R-Calif.) … Mara Stark-Alcala … Joshua Gross … Flin Hyre … Kathi Wise … Jayne Visser … Melinda Warner … Graeme Crews of House Oversight … Kathleen Stanton of the American Cleaning Institute … Jeff Dinwoodie … Michigan state Rep. Mari Manoogian (3-0) … Kelsey McKinney … Jamie Simpson of House Judiciary … Robert Sugarman … Stuart Malec of the Progressive Policy Institute (3-0) … Jonathan Silver … Airbnb’s Kim Rubey
THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):
FOX “Fox News Sunday,” guest-anchored by Mike Emanuel: DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) … NRCC Chair Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) … New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. Panel: Marc Short, Francesca Chambers, Howard Kurtz and Marie Harf.
MSNBC “The Sunday Show”: Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre … Jeffrey Nussbaum … Damian Paletta … Miles Taylor … Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) … Ruth Ben-Ghiat … Stacey Stevenson … Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta … Rachel Vindman.
CNN “State of the Union”: FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell … Tiffany Smiley … Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Panel: Alyssa Farah Griffin, Stephanie Grisham and Olivia Troye.
ABC “This Week”: Keisha Lance Bottoms … Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) … Jackson, Miss., Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba … Richard Besser. Panel: Rick Klein, Susan Page, Astead Herndon and Meridith McGraw.
CBS “Face the Nation”: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) … Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson … Deval Patrick … Jared Holt … Karen Kornbluh … focus group with Trump voters.
NBC “Meet the Press,” with a special edition focused on policing in America: Paul Butler … Jason Johnson … Rebecca Brown … Roger Mitchell.
CNN “Inside Politics”: Panel: Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Margaret Talev, Gabby Orr and Christopher Cadelago.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism