POLITICO Playbook: The United States of Uncertainty

USA

HAS THERE EVER BEEN this much uncertainty 165 DAYS before a modern-day presidential election?

UNEMPLOYMENT is nearly 15%, and even the president’s top advisers say they expect it to rise. … CITIES, STATES AND MUNICIPALITIES have suggested they may have to lay people off if Congress doesn’t pass a new economic stimulus package. … REPUBLICAN MEMBERS OF CONGRESS are split on whether they need to pass more aid. Some of the president’s allies say more aid is plainly unnecessary. Others want to wait. Others are calling for a massive public works program. …

… WE HAVE NO IDEA whether either party will be able to hold an in-person presidential nominating convention. … WE HAVE NO IDEA whether President DONALD TRUMP will agree to participate in the traditional presidential debates, or whether he’ll push for alternative arrangements. …

… COVID-19 has killed nearly 100,000 people, and we have no idea whether the outbreak will spike again in the fall. … WE HAVE NO IDEA whether it will be safe to go to polling locations to vote in November. … OR IF KIDS will be going back to school … WE HAVE NO IDEA if the federal government will back some sort of plan to bolster remote voting. … WE HAVE NO IDEA if the United States Postal Service will be solvent. … WE HAVE NO IDEA if most Americans will view the election as legitimate. … THERE’S NO CLEAR FAVORITE to win the Senate. … A VACCINE could be on its way by the fall, but what’s Plan B if not?

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND. Playbook PM will be off Monday.

LITTLE NOTICED YESTERDAY … SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-Iowa) told WaPo’s PAUL KANE and CNN’s LAUREN FOX that negotiations over a potential additional coronavirus package will not begin until the third or fourth week of June. “If we have to do more, we’ll do more,” he said, but he sounded skeptical that they will have to do more.

KNIVES OUT FOR JOVITA CARRANZA … WSJ: “SBA Under Spotlight as Frustrations With Small-Business Aid Programs Grow,” by Amara Omeokwe

— LOOKING TO UNDERSTAND some of the issues with the PPP? Check out this report by CNN’s PHIL MATTINGLY. 3:37 clip

THIS SEEMS IMPORTANT! … WAPO: “Virus ‘does not spread easily’ from contaminated surfaces or animals, revised CDC website states,” by Ben Guarino and Joel Achenbach: “The coronavirus primarily spreads from person to person and not easily from a contaminated surface. That is the takeaway from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which this month updated its ‘How COVID-19 Spreads’ website.

“The revised guidance now states, in headline-size type, ‘The virus spreads easily between people.’ It also notes that the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, ‘is spreading very easily and sustainably between people.’

“The CDC made another key change to its website, clarifying what sources are not major risks. Under the new heading ‘The virus does not spread easily in other ways,’ the agency explains that touching contaminated objects or surfaces does not appear to be a significant mode of transmission. The same is true for exposure to infected animals.”

WSJ’S MICHAEL GORDON: “U.S. Plans New Arms Talks Aimed at Limiting Russian, Chinese and U.S. Nuclear Warheads”: “President Trump’s new arms-control negotiator is planning to meet with his Russian counterpart soon to discuss a new U.S. proposal for a far-reaching accord to limit all Russian, Chinese and U.S. nuclear warheads, U.S. officials disclosed Thursday.

“The talks will mark the first time the Trump administration has opened negotiations on an agreement to replace the New START accord, which covers Russian and U.S. long-range nuclear arms and is due to expire in February. …

“Marshall Billingslea, who took up his post last month as Mr. Trump’s senior envoy on arms control, will launch the new talks with Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister. They have been working to finalize the agenda for the meeting, which is likely to take place in Vienna.”

EYES EMOJI, via Marianna Sotomayor, NBC’s JOE BIDEN embed: “At tonight’s fundraiser with Wall Street donors, former Vice President Joe Biden delivered roughly five minutes of remarks focusing on how unprepared President Donald Trump was to handle the health and economic consequences brought forth by the global pandemic.

“This pool report was written based just on his opening remarks because your pooler was quickly kicked off the phone call when Biden said he was ready to take questions from any of the 25 donors present, a move that goes against traditionally covering these pooled fundraisers in their entirety. Also, reporters heard Biden over the phone, not through Zoom as has been common practice in the virtual campaign era.”

— BIDEN was on “The Late Show” with STEPHEN COLBERT on Thursday night. The full show

WSJ: “Global Business Activity Starts to Steady, but Recovery Looks Far Off,” by Paul Hannon and Sarah Chaney: “U.S. and global business activity and labor markets suffered a little less in May than in prior months, offering signs that damage to the global economy from the coronavirus pandemic is easing but will require an extended time to overcome.”

UH-OH … WAPO, by Perry Stein: “Students in the nation’s capital should not return to full, in-person learning until there is a reliable vaccine or cure for the novel coronavirus, according to recommendations released Thursday by a group of advisers appointed by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.” The ReOpen D.C. recommendations

PRETTY INTERESTING … STRIPE has paired with experts at Stanford and Harvard to do Covid-19 modeling that takes into account a large set of data — cases, severity, mobility, hospital demographics — and predicts hospitalizations, deaths and prevalence rates on a state-by-state basis.

— FOR EXAMPLE: The model predicts that if New York returns to normal without social distancing, there would be 141,000 deaths by Dec. 1. If New York continues at current social distancing levels for three months, there will be 86,000 deaths by Dec. 1 and if it decreases distancing to relaxed levels indefinitely, there will be 71,000 deaths by Dec. 1. Check out the model

TRUMP ON THE TRAIL — “Trump, not wearing mask, tours plant; touts pharma production, slams mail-in balloting,” by Detroit News’ Melissa Nann Burke, Jordyn Grzelewski and Daniel Howes: “President Donald Trump during a visit to southeast Michigan on Thursday touched on themes that have been hallmarks of his presidency and more recently of his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The president emphasized the need to revive American manufacturing, vowing to make the United States the world’s ‘[premier]’ pharmaceutical manufacturer and drug store, a bid to create American jobs and effectively reshore critical pharma and medical device products from overseas.

“He blamed China, site of the first known cases of COVID-19. And he repeatedly stated his desire to reopen the country, as stay-at-home orders remain in place in some states including Michigan.”

LAT’S ELI STOKOLS, in Michigan, and CHRIS MEGERIAN: “Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford scored a breakthrough of sorts Thursday when he got President Trump to briefly wear a protective face mask during a tour of a converted factory now churning out ventilators and other medical gear for the coronavirus crisis.

“But Trump, who has conspicuously refused to cover his face in public during the pandemic, was defiantly unmasked when he stepped in front of reporters and cameras soon after. Trump showed a blue mask with the presidential seal that he had worn behind the scenes, but he wouldn’t put it on in plain sight.”

— WAPO’S PAUL FARHI: “Of course Trump didn’t wear a mask on camera: How the president subverts the ritual of the political photo op”

TRUMP ON MASKS — @realDonaldTrump at 11:14 p.m.: “The Wacky Do Nothing Attorney General of Michigan, Dana Nessel, is viciously threatening Ford Motor Company for the fact that I inspected a Ventilator plant without a mask. Not their fault, & I did put on a mask. No wonder many auto companies left Michigan, until I came along!”

… at 11:20 p.m.: “Do nothing A.G. of the Great State of Michigan, Dana Nessel, should not be taking her anger and stupidity out on Ford Motor – they might get upset with you and leave the state, like so many other companies have – until I came along and brought business back to Michigan. JOBS!”

TIM ALBERTA in Ypsilanti, Mich: “Life at the Trump Tailgate: Spiked Slurpees, Culture Wars and the Coronavirus Hoax”

NATASHA KORECKI: “Defense lawyers look to reopen cases where Tara Reade testified as an expert”: “Under the name Alexandra McCabe, Tara Reade has for years testified for the prosecution as an expert in domestic violence cases. But a number of California defense attorneys are considering challenging the convictions of their clients amid questions about whether Reade misrepresented her credentials under oath.

“Reade, the former Joe Biden staffer who recently accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1993, stated she had an undergraduate degree that her college says she never earned and appears to have exaggerated her role in Biden’s office, according to trial transcripts in two court cases reviewed by POLITICO.

“Six cases involving Reade’s testimony are already under review by the Sixth District Appellate Program, Executive Director Patrick Murray told POLITICO Thursday. The state-funded office oversees appointed defense counsel in appellate cases covering four California counties, including Monterey County, where the prosecution often tapped Reade as an expert witness. The review will determine whether the attorneys can petition a judge to review their clients’ conviction, and potentially order a new trial.” POLITICO

— NYT, via Lisa Lerer, Jim Rutenberg and Stephanie Saul: “As Tara Reade’s Expert Witness Credentials Are Questioned, So Are Verdicts”: “Roland Soltesz, a criminal defense lawyer, says he believes Ms. Reade’s testimony made a significant difference in the outcome of the 2018 trial of his client Victoria Ramirez. Both Ms. Ramirez and her co-defendant, Jennifer Vasquez, received life sentences for attempted murder, arson and armed robbery.

“‘People have been convicted based upon this, and that’s wrong,’ said Mr. Soltesz, adding that he ‘could care less about the politics of this whole thing.’”

LOEFFLER SPEAKS — “Plagued by stock trades, Loeffler vows she won’t drop out,” by Marianne LeVine and Burgess Everett: “Kelly Loeffler is behind in the polls and best known for her fortuitously timed stock trades. But the Georgia Republican insisted during a 25-minute interview that she’s not going anywhere.

“‘Not only am I not dropping out, but I’m gonna win,’ Loeffler said Thursday. ‘And no one’s going to intimidate me into thinking that that’s the right course for our party, for our state, for our country. I’m working hard to help reelect the president. I’m working hard to win my seat and keep the Senate in Republican hands.’” POLITICO

ALEX ISENSTADT: “Trump advisers warn McSally is in trouble”: “Senior political advisers to President Donald Trump warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday that Republican Sen. Martha McSally is falling dangerously behind in the critical swing state of Arizona.

“Trump’s campaign team was meeting with the president at the White House to discuss the state of play in a handful of battleground states. Toward the end of the meeting, Trump pulled McConnell, who was at the White House to meet with him on another matter, into the Roosevelt Room. The discussion turned to Arizona, where recent polling has shown Trump and McSally trailing.

“Trump himself said he was concerned about McSally, according to three people familiar with the discussion. His political advisers told McConnell about recent survey numbers in Arizona and stressed she was losing to Democrat and former astronaut Mark Kelly. McConnell appeared to stand by the senator, noting that it’s only May and the election is still a ways off, people familiar with the meeting said.”

TRUMP’S FRIDAY — The president will participate in a ceremony honoring veterans and prisoners of war in the Blue Room balcony at 11:30 a.m.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY will hold a press briefing at 2 p.m.

TV TONIGHT … PBS’ “Washington Week” with Bob Costa: Dan Balz, Ayesha Rascoe, Stephanie Ruhle and Jonathan Swan.

SUNDAY SO FAR …

  • FOX

    “Fox News Sunday”: Mark Parkinson. Panel: Josh Holmes, Donna Brazile and Jonah Goldberg. Power Player of the Week: Tom Day.

  • NBC

    “Meet the Press”: Panel: O. Kay Henderson, Andrea Mitchell and Jeh Johnson.

  • ABC

    “This Week”: Panels: Jonathan Karl, Pierre Thomas, Julie Pace … Chris Christie and Rahm Emanuel.

  • CBS

    “Face the Nation”: Geoff Ballotti … Eric Rosengren … Scott Gottlieb.

  • Sinclair

    “America This Week with Eric Bolling”: Megyn Kelly … Roger Stone … Rudy Giuliani … Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) … Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) … Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

  • Gray TV

    “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren”: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) … Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.).

L.A. TIMES: “UC makes landmark decision to drop ACT and SAT requirement for admission,” by Teresa Wantanabe

POLITICO MAG’S FRIDAY COVER … MATT DIXON in Tallahassee, Fla.: “The Presidential Race Florida Is Really Talking About”: “In August 2018, then-Governor Rick Scott threw what appeared to be a lifeline to the man who desperately wanted to be his successor. Adam Putnam, the baby-faced scion of political and citrus royalty, was the establishment choice going into the GOP primary, but he was struggling to shake an upstart congressman who had made a name for himself on Fox News defending the president in the Russia probe.

“To have Scott standing beside him for a photo—both men in light blue, button-down shirts, sleeves rolled up in classic Florida-pol style—was the kind of last-minute endorsement that he hoped might salvage his candidacy.

“Putnam didn’t know it, most people covering the event didn’t either, but that appearance at a warehouse in the I-4 corridor just outside of Orlando wasn’t really about Putnam and his bid for governor. Indeed, when asked by reporters Scott denied what looked exactly like a political endorsement was an actual endorsement. Scott’s objective, say people close to the former governor, was, at least in part, more strategic and long-term.

“He was delivering a brush back to Putnam’s opponent Rep. Ron DeSantis, a man 26 years his junior whom Scott’s political team already suspected had national ambitions equal to his own. Scott to this day publicly denies there were underlying motivations, but there is one person who saw them clearly: DeSantis.” POLITICO

DRIP, DRIP, DRIP … “Pompeo Quietly Visits Conservative Donors and Political Figures on State Dept. Trips,” by NYT’s Edward Wong and Lara Jakes: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a secretive trip in January to a Florida retirement enclave populated by prominent Republican donors while on the tail end of a diplomatic trip to Latin America. He held the same kind of quiet meeting in December with Republican donors over a hotel dinner on a State Department trip to London. And last October, he huddled with Charles G. Koch, the Republican billionaire and a longtime supporter of his, while on an official visit to Kansas aboard a government aircraft.

“In each of those instances, Mr. Pompeo did not put the visits on his public schedule. He and his aides avoided telling the reporters traveling with them about the meetings, though some news organizations reported them afterward. And they took place as Mr. Pompeo was considering a run for the Senate from his adopted home state of Kansas and as he nurtures plans for a presidential bid in 2024.

“Mr. Pompeo, President Trump’s most loyal and powerful aide, has not tried to hide his political ambitions. But he has chosen not to disclose certain meetings that appeared to be linked to those plans while on taxpayer-funded trips. The exact number of the meetings is unclear, though there is a pattern of activity.”

BEIJING MAKES ITS MOVE — “China to impose sweeping security law in Hong Kong, heralding end of city’s autonomy,” by WaPo’s Shibani Mahtani, Anna Fifield, Tiffany Liang and Timothy McLaughlin with a Hong Kong dateline: “China’s Communist Party will impose a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong by fiat during the annual meeting of its top political body, officials said Thursday, criminalizing ‘foreign interference’ along with secessionist activities and subversion of state power.

“The move is the boldest yet from Beijing to undercut Hong Kong’s autonomy and bring the global financial hub under its full control, as it works to rewrite the ‘one country, two systems’ framework that has allowed the territory to enjoy a level of autonomy for the past 23 years.”

— HMM … SCMP: “Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Friday that Beijing would establish a sound legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong. But Li made no reference to the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, in his work report, the first time he has not done so since he took office in 2013. Last year, Li made clear that Beijing would ‘act in strict compliance with China’s constitution and the Basic Laws of the Hong Kong and Macau special administrative regions.’ That phrase was omitted this time around.”

— WSJ’S LINDSAY WISE: “Senators to Propose Bill Sanctioning Chinese Officials Over Hong Kong Security Law”: “U.S. senators are introducing a bipartisan bill that would sanction Chinese officials and entities who enforce the new national-security laws in Hong Kong, and penalize banks that do business with the entities.

“Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said they had been working on the bill, which aims to defend human rights in Hong Kong and pressure China to preserve the territory’s special status. They said Thursday’s developments made the legislation more urgent, and they will press Senate leaders to take up the matter quickly.”

BOOK CLUB — “Bill Clinton and James Patterson Are Writing a Second Book Together,” by NYT’s Concepción de León: “‘The President’s Daughter,’ set for release in June 2021, will follow a former U.S. president living in rural New Hampshire whose daughter is kidnapped. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.”

Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at [email protected].

TRANSITIONS — Drew Wallace will be chief of staff to Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). He currently is legislative director, which Lauren Arias will move up to fill. Current chief of staff Bianca Ortiz Wertheim is leaving to become secretary of New Mexico’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Liz Sidoti, managing director at Abernathy MacGregor, and Andy Davis, manager of the Cato Institute’s print production center, welcomed Norah Quinn Davis on Thursday. She came in at 6 lbs, 13 oz and 20.5 inches. Pic

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Tom McMahon, partner at NP Strategy Group. A trend he thinks doesn’t get enough attention: “I’m not sure it’s a trend, but the void in American leadership on the world stage, during a time of great uncertainty, has been disheartening. When I started in politics, there seemed to be more leaders with political courage — people who could be counted on to do things on principle and not politics. I think we need to demand more of that from our elected officials.” Playbook Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is 63 … Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) is 51 … Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) is 4-0 … Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) is 58 … Jay Carney is 55 … Anne Brady Perron … Bernard Shaw is 8-0 … McClatchy’s Michael Wilner is 31 … Peter Gosselin … Jimmy Ryan … Kerry Rom, comms director for Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) (h/t the party room) … Peter Bhatia … Florian Eder, author of POLITICO Europe’s Brussels Playbook … Joe Pompeo … Jennifer Garson … Jillian Lane Wyant, COS for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) … Irwin Stelzer is 88 … Connie Bruck … Drew Griffin, COS for Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) … Yahoo News’ Jon Ward is 43 … Janice Cotter … RAGA’s Johnny Koremenos is 29 (h/t Kelly Laco) … Jim Popkin … Brian Weeks (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … Anthony Reyes … Richard Keil, managing director of global issues and crisis management at Accenture (h/ts Tim Burger and Randy Whitestone) … Alex Dilley …

… Oren Cass … Bobby Mattina, comms director for Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) … Jon Jukuri of the National Conference of State Legislatures … Charlie Johnson, director of development at Everytown for Gun Safety … Greg D’Alba … Victoria Din … Mark Mazzie is 65 (h/t Hilary Kendrick) … Dan Jameson is 62 … former Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-La.) is 72 … Ted Dick … Ron Nehring … John Michael Gonzalez … Philip Rubin is 71 … Hugo Schwyzer is 53 … Noah Feldman … Sandy Cardin … Dustin Moskovitz is 36 … Matt Butler … Bryan Petrich, comms manager at the Managed Funds Association … James Crabtree … Kelly Cullinane … Lauryn Higgins … Stephanie Anderson … Audrey Degregorio … Hallie Golden … Peter Walker Kaplan … Clare Krusing … Paige Gance … Emma Kaplan … Christiane Klint … Austin M. D. Quick … Brandon MacGillis … Jessie Mangaliman … Chad M. Barth is 42 … Gene Fynes … Osha Gray Davidson … Stephanie Cope … Kevin Davitt

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