Thursday, February 22

POLITICO Playbook PM: Jackson gets a boost, Thomas gets a brouhaha


SCOTUS IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Most weeks, the Supreme Court sits atop the quietest branch of government, removed from the daily political churn. But after several days of confirmation hearings for KETANJI BROWN JACKSON and a whirlwind week of hospitalization and controversy surrounding Justice CLARENCE THOMAS, the court’s at the eye of the storm — and there were developments on both fronts this morning.

1. Jackson still looks to be on the glide path to a (narrow) Supreme Court confirmation as she picked up the official backing of key swing vote Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.). “On top of her impressive resume, she has the temperament to make an exceptional jurist,” he said in a statement. “Notably, Judge Jackson and her family spend a great deal of time in West Virginia and her deep love of our state and commitment to public service were abundantly clear.”

2. Thomas was released from the hospital today after a week. The court didn’t provide further information. More from CNN“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/25/politics/thomas-released/index.html”,”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1fe70000″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1fe70001″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>More from CNN

3. But there was some bad news for Thomas on the Hill as Democrats stepped up their criticism in light of fresh reporting Thursday on his wife GINNI THOMAS’ role in trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Sen. RON WYDEN (D-Ore.) said“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://twitter.com/johnkruzel/status/1507378394882842634″,”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1fe70002″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1fe70003″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>Sen. RON WYDEN (D-Ore.) said Thomas’ behavior “looks increasingly corrupt” and he should at minimum recuse himself from any Jan. 6 cases and any 2024 election cases if DONALD TRUMP runs again. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-Conn.) said”,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://twitter.com/costareports/status/1507383265069518854″,”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1fe70004″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1fe70005″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>Sen. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-Conn.) said the justice owed the public an explanation and should consider testifying before the Jan. 6 committee. And top legal scholars tell The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer that the new reporting is a “game-changer” and Thomas should recuse himself from any cases tied to 2020 and Jan. 6.

Republicans aren’t going there, though: At the House GOP retreat in Florida, Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY told reporters that Thomas didn’t need to recuse himself from Jan. 6 cases. “I think Justice Thomas should make his decision like he’s made every other time,” McCarthy said. “It’s his decision based upon law.”

HERE’S WHO MCCARTHY IS CUTTING LOOSE — Following Rep. JEFF FORTENBERRY’s conviction Thursday of three felonies related to lying to federal investigators, McCarthy gave the Nebraska Republican a push out the door today: “I think when someone’s convicted, it’s time to resign,” he said, per Sarah Ferris and Olivia Beavers.

Speaker NANCY PELOSI, too, said that Fortenberry should resign.

Happy Friday afternoon.

TOO HOT TO HANDLE — NYT’s Doug Mills has a great photo of President JOE BIDEN enjoying a slice of pepperoni jalapeño pizza with U.S. troops in Poland. But there’s more than meets the, uh, eye: White House pooler Ashley Parker of WaPo reported that the jalapeños made Biden’s eyes water. They still seemed to be giving him trouble at a subsequent briefing on humanitarian aid.

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WAR IN UKRAINE

LATEST ON THE GROUND …

— Change of plans? Russia announced today that it had finished the first phase of its operation in Ukraine and would now focus on the two eastern regions where separatists claim power. The move “appeared to indicate more limited goals” amid Russia’s ongoing struggles to achieve its goals in the war, per Reuters’ Gleb Garanich and Natalia Zinets.

— But, but, but: The war could soon enter a more dangerous period as Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN “is left with stark choices — how and where to replenish his spent ground forces, whether to attack the flow of Western arms to Ukrainian defenders, and at what cost he might escalate or widen the war,” AP’s Robert Burns reports.

— Local officials said the Russian attack on the Mariupol theater — the one with “Children” written outside to deter bombers — is reported to have killed around 300 people. Russian strikes continued unabated today on several cities, even as Ukrainian forces tried to mount a counteroffensive and retake some towns near Kyiv. More from NPR“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.npr.org/2022/03/25/1088735408/mariupol-drama-theater-deaths”,”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1fe90008″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1fe90009″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>More from NPR

— Astonishing: A Western official is telling the press that a senior Russian military official was run over, apparently killed by his own troops, amid plummeting morale and heavy losses in the unit. Sky News’ Deborah Haynes has more“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://twitter.com/haynesdeborah/status/1507374658877857805″,”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1fe9000a”,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1fe9000b”,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>Sky News’ Deborah Haynes has more

— Life under siege: In heavily shelled Kharkiv, “a bustling metropolis just a month ago,” these days “large areas of the city resemble Stalingrad more than Stuttgart, as Kharkiv falls victim to what locals and experts say is a Russian strategy of targeting civilians,” reports CBC’s Neil Hauer.

ALL POLITICS

RED-LIGHT REDISTRICT — For the first time in state history, a Maryland judge today threw out Democrats’ congressional map as an “extreme partisan gerrymander” and ordered a new one by Wednesday. It’s a big setback for one of Democrats’ most eye-popping gerrymanders in the country, though WaPo’s Meagan Flynn reports that the case will likely go to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

FOLLOWING THE LEADER? — In the wake of his un-endorsement of Rep. MO BROOKS’ Alabama Senate campaign, Trump is grappling with an exceedingly wide field of loyalists he’s backed — such a big group that his aides warned he’s “not only threatened his brand but diluted its impact, exposing him unnecessarily to political risk,” NYT’s Shane Goldmacher and Jonathan Martin report. He’s the party’s most powerful figure — but can he still play kingmaker? Trump world is now focused on May as a real make-or-break month for his hold on the GOP, when his picks are in tough primary races for Georgia governor, Idaho governor, Alabama Senate, North Carolina Senate and more.

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WHAT DINA POWELL IS UP TO — Under the tag “MAGAudacity,” N.Y. Mag’s Shawn McCreesh reports that Powell’s establishment friends are wondering how she got so Trumpy recently — with the hiring of STEPHEN MILLER on her husband DAVID MCCORMICK’s Pennsylvania Senate campaign coming as a particular shock. “No matter how [HOPE] HICKS characterizes it, Powell is all-in. You don’t conquer Washington and Wall Street and wrap the media around your fingers to then sit on your hands while your other half reaches for the Russell building,” he writes. “But some of her admirers — among other people, reporters love her, she’s real fun to have a drink with — are left feeling queasy.”

TRUMP CARDS

THE INVESTIGATIONS — New York A.G. TISH JAMES will have a difficult task in proving potential fraud charges against Trump related to real estate valuations, experts tell Janaki Chadha, “with appraisals inherently subjective, and successful fraud cases related to valuations few and far between.”

LEV LATEST — Former RUDY GIULIANI associate LEV PARNAS today pleaded guilty to wire fraud relating to a business venture that, as Josh Gerstein notes, was ironically named “Fraud Guarantee.”

BEYOND THE BELTWAY

THE NEW GOP PUSH — Republican bills aimed at limiting LGBTQ rights or discussion in schools are soaring, with the number of pieces of pending legislation around the country four times what it was three years ago, WaPo’s Kimberly Kindy reports. “The explosion of legislation is in part the culmination of efforts by a trio of conservative organizations, which are helping state legislators write and promote the bills.” The Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation and the Family Policy Alliance are among the organizations helping to coordinate the GOP legislative effort in statehouses.

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

POTUS IN EUROPE — War in Ukraine isn’t the only agenda item during Biden’s trip abroad: The U.S. and the EU are announcing a major initial deal on data privacy today, WSJ’s Daniel Michaels and Sam Schechner report. The arrangement, if it holds up in court, could allow American companies to store Europeans’ data on U.S. soil. “If successful, the data agreement would resolve one of the last big [points] of contention in U.S.-EU relations of recent years.”

MARK YOUR CALENDARS — Singapore PM LEE HSIEN LOONG will visit the White House on Tuesday, they announced this morning.

POLICY CORNER

BALANCING ACT — The FDA’s fast-track approvals of hundreds of drugs are coming under increasing scrutiny from Congress and critics who say it moves faster than the science, NYT’s Christina Jewett reports. The topic has gotten particular attention recently in light of regulators OKing a controversial Alzheimer’s drug. But any efforts to restrict the process would run into resistance from the pharmaceutical industry and advocates who say it’s a crucial tool to hasten treatments for life-or-death medical conditions.

THE PANDEMIC

WARNING SIGN, PART I — New Covid-19 vaccinations, including booster shots, have fallen to their lowest levels in America since they became available, WaPo’s Brittany Shammas, Dan Keating, Salvador Rizzo and Lenny Bernstein report. Despite the possibility of another surge coming soon, only a minority of Americans have been boosted. “This is an unforgivable liability that we did not get people boosted at a much higher level,” ERIC TOPOL tells them.

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WARNING SIGN, PART II — If a new wave does crash on American shores, it may be more difficult and take longer to detect it, AP’s Mike Stobbe reports. There are a number of reasons, including fewer people taking PCRs, fewer CDC labs looking for new variants, patchwork wastewater surveillance and Congress’ failure to appropriate more funds. Still, “[s]cientists acknowledge that the wide availability of vaccines and treatments puts the nation in a better place than when the pandemic began, and that monitoring has come a long way.”

PLAYBOOKERS

IN MEMORIAM — “Former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley Dies at Age 68,”“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.hstoday.us/federal-pages/dhs/former-tsa-administrator-kip-hawley-dies-at-age-68/”,”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1ff10003″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1ff10004″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>“Former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley Dies at Age 68,” by Homeland Security Today’s Bridget Johnson: “Beginning a month after the 9/11 attacks, the former administrator advised DOT in the creation of TSA. From 2002 to 2005 Hawley served as chairman of the Air Traffic Services Board at the Federal Aviation Administration. He became TSA administrator in 2005 and led the agency through the end of the George W. Bush administration.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS — Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will be the closing speaker at the Gridiron Club’s annual spring dinner next weekend (joining the previously announced Chris Sununu and Jamie Raskin).

SPOTTED: Robert Redfield having dinner Thursday night at Cafe Milano in Abu Dhabi.

OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at a party Thursday night in Arlington for John Della Volpe’s new book, “Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America” ($28.99“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250260468/fight”,”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1ff20000″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1ff20001″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>$28.99), hosted by Brian and Kate Keane and Mike Holtzman: Paul Volpe, Carl Cannon, Peter Mirajanian, Phil Elwood and Lindsay Hamilton, Julia Kennedy, Ali Della Volpe, Jeremy Deutsch, Meredith Parnell, Paris Parnell, G. Nagesh Rao and Steve Johnston.

Ford’s Theatre opened its season Thursday night with “Grace,” a musical about a family gathering to say goodbye to their matriarch, written by D.C. playwright Nolan Williams. SPOTTED in the opening night audience: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sandy Cornyn, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Secretary of the Senate Ann Berry, Elaine Chao, Joe Crowley, Heather Podesta, Margaret Carlson, Chris Matthews and Kathy Matthews, Elizabeth Baker Keffer, Gloria Dittus, Sharon Malone, Carla Hall and Joyce and Thomas Moorehead.

MEDIA MOVES — POLITICO is elevating Sudeep Reddy to senior managing editor, overseeing policy coverage and E&E News. He most recently has been managing editor for policy and is a former Playbook editor. Staff announcement“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.politico.com/f/?id=0000017f-c1fb-d9e9-a57f-c1fb68960000″,”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1ff20002″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”0000017f-c2ef-de39-afff-f6ff1ff20003″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>Staff announcement … NBC News/MSNBC are adding George Solis and Maggie Vespa as correspondents based in Philadelphia and Chicago, respectively.

TRANSITION — Christy Gamble is joining Forbes Tate Partners as SVP to head the research and policy analysis department. She previously was director of research, policy and practice at HUED, and is a House Oversight alum.

BONUS BIRTHDAYS: Chris Whipple Pete Van Vleet



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