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POLITICO Playbook: An insider’s guide to Biden and Israel


BREAKING LAST NIGHT: “New York attorney general adds ‘criminal capacity’ to probe of Trump Organization,” CNN: “New York Attorney General LETITIA JAMES is joining the Manhattan district attorney’s office in a criminal investigation of the Trump Organization, James’ office said Tuesday.

“The attorney general office’s investigation into the Trump Organization, which has been underway since 2019, will also continue as an ongoing civil probe, but the office recently informed Trump Organization officials of the criminal component.”

THE LATEST IN ISRAEL AND GAZA … NYT: “More than 200 Palestinians have been killed and 58,000 displaced in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. At least 12 Israeli residents have been killed in Hamas rocket attacks.”

“Ten days into the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, diplomatic efforts to end the devastating violence gained urgency on Wednesday as a growing chorus of international parties urged the Israeli military and Hamas militants to lay down their weapons.”

HOW TO THINK ABOUT BIDEN AND ISRAEL — On most issues, the younger rising progresive wing of the Democratic Party has found President JOE BIDEN, despite his age, to be an ally — someone who ran as a centrist but has been willing to move left across a range of issues, such as climate, racial justice and government spending.

But on Israel, Biden’s a throwback, increasingly out of sync with a vocal left that’s deeply disenchanted with the Jewish state, which is losing the hearts and minds of rank-and-file Democrats, especially in the House.

In another era, describing Israel as an apartheid state, as Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) did recently, or accusing Israel of committing “terrorism,” as Rep. ILHAN OMAR (D-Minn.) did, would have been met with widespread denunciation by Democrats. Not anymore.

“We have lost the emotional side of the argument,” lamented a staunch Democratic ally of Israel in the House.

Two important things have changed:

1. Former President DONALD TRUMP and Israeli PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHU accelerated the process of support for Israel being turned into a partisan issue where many voters see it more like abortion or gun rights.

Our new POLITICO-Morning Consult Poll out today tells that story:

— Democratic voters tend to be equally sympathetic toward both sides (36%); 12% are more sympathetic toward the Israelis, and 18% are more sympathetic toward the Palestinians.

— A majority of Republican voters (51%) are more sympathetic toward the Israelis, while only 3% are more sympathetic toward the Palestinians; 19% are equally sympathetic toward both sides. Toplines from the poll … Crosstabs

2. The facts on the ground have made the pro-Israel position untenable for many Democrats who crusade for social justice. The U.S. Human Rights Watch, which had long avoided the term, now describes Israel as an apartheid state. Whereas as many progressives previously championed Israel as a lone democracy in a dangerous region, most now see the conflict purely through the prism of a colonial power subjugating a native population. Rep. CORI BUSH (D-Mo.) and Sen. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.) both recently compared the Palestinian struggle to Black Lives Matter. And some Democrats are prodding the White House to halt military aid to Israel.

Top Democratic supporters of Israel are frustrated by the changed circumstances and fear that even Biden, their last and most important redoubt of support, could go wobbly.

“The White House has been excellent in dealing with this issue to date,” said the House Democrat. “But they have invited a lot of progressives into that White House and … if they are going to start dictating foreign policy, we’ve got problems. The longer this goes on the more the pressure on Biden mounts.”

Indeed, on Tuesday night the White House leaked that in a private call with Netanyanu, Biden was tougher than he has been publicly.

BUT, BUT, BUT — Biden appears determined to not allow the conflict to knock him off message. On Tuesday, Biden visited a part of Michigan that is 90% Arab American near the district of Democratic Rep. RASHIDA TLAIB, the only Palestinan American in the House. Per the NYT, Tlaib “confronted President Biden … over his support for Israel amid its bombing campaign against Hamas in Gaza, urging him to stop enabling a government she said was committing crimes against Palestinians.”

Some progressives wanted Biden to meet with local leaders about the Middle East. Instead, the president stuck to touring a Ford electric vehicle plant.

Good Wednesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael BadeEugene DanielsRyan LizzaTara Palmeri.

WHEN HARRIS BLINDSIDED BIDEN: A DEEP DIVE — By all indications, Biden and KAMALA HARRIS have developed a trusting relationship on the campaign trail and in the White House — but it’s been a long road to get there. We all remember THAT MOMENT from the first primary debate in 2019. Now, an exclusive excerpt from The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere’s forthcoming book on the Democratic presidential primary, “Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats’ Campaigns to Defeat Trump,” reveals what led to Harris’ attack on Biden’s record on busing — and the expletive-laced reaction from Biden and his wife, JILL.

Among the nuggets from the excerpt, published today in POLITICO Magazine:

— Harris’ team had to convince her to go after Biden. But eventually she came around and “thought it was a fair hit. This is a debate, she said, and debates were supposed to be about differences. She wasn’t running for VP, despite what so many people — Biden included — assumed. She was running to be president, to beat Biden and everyone else. She wanted everyone to know that.”

— Biden was truly blindsided (and seemingly offended) by Harris’ attack: “Biden, taken aback, plodded through a response. She was mischaracterizing his position, he said. That’s not what he stood for, and she knew that. He found his way to the end of the answer and stopped speaking. A few minutes later, the moderators paused for a commercial break. Biden leaned over to PETE BUTTIGIEG, at the podium to his right. They barely knew each other, but Biden was looking for someone to share the moment with.

“‘Well,’ he said, according to multiple people to whom the conversation was relayed afterward. ‘That was some fucking bullshit.’”

— As Biden’s aides formulated a response, Jill Biden — aka “Philly girl” — did not mask her anger, according to Dovere: “‘With what he cares about, what he fights for, what he’s committed to, you get up there and call him a racist without basis?’ she said on a phone call with close supporters a week later, according to multiple people on the call. ‘Go fuck yourself.’”

We reached out to the White House, the VP’s office and the office of the first lady, but only FLOTUS’ spokesman, MICHAEL LAROSA, had a comment. “Many books will be written on the 2020 campaign, with countless retellings of events — some accurate, some inaccurate,” he said in a statement. “The First Lady and her team do not plan to comment on any of them.”


Dovere’s book comes out Tuesday.

BIDEN’S WEDNESDAY — The president will leave the White House at 8:15 a.m. for North Kingstown, R.I., receiving the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. on the way. Biden will arrive at 9:40 a.m. and head to New London, Conn., where he’ll deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy at 11 a.m. He’ll leave at 2:05 p.m. and get back to the White House at 4:35 p.m.

— Harris will meet virtually with Guatemalan justice sector leaders at 4:15 p.m. She’ll speak at the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Unity Summit at 6 p.m.

— Principal deputy press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE will gaggle on Air Force One on the way to Rhode Island.

THE HOUSE will meet at 10 a.m. to take up several bills, including the big one to create the Jan. 6 commission. Votes are expected between 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. CIA Director WILLIAM BURNS and NASA Administrator BILL NELSON will testify before Appropriations subcommittees at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively. Energy Secretary JENNIFER GRANHOLM will testify before an Energy and Commerce subcommittee at 10:30 a.m. Emergent BioSolutions leaders will testify before an Oversight subcommittee at 10:30 a.m.


THE SENATE will meet at 10:30 a.m. to take up S.J.Res.13, with a vote at noon. CDC Director ROCHELLE WALENSKY and departing Principal Deputy CDC Director ANNE SCHUCHAT will testify before an Appropriations subcommittee at 10 a.m.


MCCONNELL’S TWO SIDES ON THE 1/6 COMMISSION — Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL told reporters Tuesday that he and his conference are keeping an open mind about whether to back a bipartisan plan for a Jan. 6 commission set for a House vote today. But sources familiar with what transpired at the Senate GOP lunch Tuesday were skeptical McConnell is as open to the plan as he says.

During the lunch, we’re told, McConnell got up and talked about his concerns with the structure of the proposed commission. He also invited Sens. ROY BLUNT (R-Mo.), who has dissed the idea publicly, and ROB PORTMAN (R-Ohio) to discuss how the commission might overlap with work they have already been doing for five months investigating what happened. Both are rankers on the committees on rules and homeland, respectively — and the two chairs told the room that their panels will be releasing a full report on the Jan. 6 riot in a couple of weeks.

McConnell highlighted three main problems in the meeting:

— Commission staff. McConnell said under the current proposal, the commission chair, picked by Speaker NANCY PELOSI and Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER, would get hiring power. McConnell wants the vice chair, a Republican, to have authority to select staff, too.

— Turf issues. McConnell also suggested the commission could duplicate or infringe on the work of law enforcement, which has made arrests stemming from Jan. 6, or Hill committees.

— The calendar. Senate Republicans also discussed fears that the commission’s work could spill into an election year. It’s supposed to wrap by the end of 2021, but there is concern it might bleed into election season, when Jan. 6 is the last thing they want to discuss.

Remember: this thing almost certainly fails without McConnell’s blessing. So this all really hinges on him.


SO MUCH FOR NOT WHIPPING — “McCarthy races to contain GOP defections on Jan. 6 commission,” Melanie Zanona, Nicholas Wu, and Olivia Beavers on GOP leadership’s sudden about-face on muscling votes against the bill: “Now, a last-minute surge of GOP interest is dashing hopes for near-perfect opposition to the independent commission and putting Republican divisions back on full display.

“Dozens of Republicans are privately considering voting for the Jan. 6 commission — which McCarthy himself said he opposed earlier Tuesday, even after he deputized one of his allies, Rep. JOHN KATKO of New York, to strike a bipartisan agreement on the proposal. In a sign of momentum, the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, of which Katko is a member, is expected to encourage its members to back the legislation.”

— The effort to unify GOP opposition comes as Trump released this statement on the eve of the vote: “Republicans in the House and Senate should not approve the Democrat trap of the January 6 Commission… Republicans must get much tougher and much smarter, and stop being used by the Radical Left. Hopefully, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are listening!”

WEDNESDAY LISTEN — Melanie Zanona joins the latest episode of “POLITICO Dispatch” to look at how the commission has become another litmus test for loyalty to Trump. Listen and subscribe

EXPLAINING THEIR LOUSY 2020 — “House Democrats’ 2020 election autopsy: Bad polling hurt and GOP attacks worked,” by WaPo’s Paul Kane: “[Rep. SEAN MALONEY (D-N.Y.),] the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, worked with senior staff to analyze 600 polls in House races last year, matched up against voter files from the November elections, and other state and local data.

“The 52-page PowerPoint report, which Maloney presented to the caucus during a Tuesday evening call, splits the difference on the key question of whether Democrats just had bad polling or a bad agenda that turned away voters. Maloney laid out how Democrats simply underestimated the number of hardcore Trump voters and, with more Trump voters in the voting booths, the Republican attacks against the ‘defund the police’ movement proved more potent than Democrats ever anticipated.”

AWAITING BIDEN’S SIGNATURE — “Anti-Asian American hate crimes bill passes House, heads to Biden,” by Nicholas Wu

UH-OH … “Feds investigating alleged illegal donations to Collins’ re-election bid,” Axios: “A recently unsealed search warrant application shows the FBI believes a Hawaii defense contractor illegally funneled $150,000 to a pro-SUSAN COLLINS super PAC and reimbursed donations to Collins’ campaign. There’s no indication that Collins or her team were aware of any of it.

“Collins helped the contractor at issue, then called Navatek and since renamed the Martin Defense Group, secure an $8 million Navy contract before most of the donations took place. Former Navatek CEO MARTIN KAO was indicted last year for allegedly bilking the federal government of millions in coronavirus relief loans. Federal prosecutors say Kao used a shell company to funnel $150,000 in Navatek funds to a pro-Collins super PAC called 1820 PAC.”


TICK TOCK — “Clock ticking on Biden as second GOP infrastructure meeting yields little progress,” by Marianne LeVine, Sam Mintz and Laura Barrón-López

CALLS TO END BIPARTISAN TALKS CRESCENDO — “Liberals to Biden: Ditch the infrastructure talks with Republicans,” by Burgess Everett and Sarah Ferris: “House progressives sent their own warning shot Tuesday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, arguing in a letter that Democrats should pursue a multitrillion-dollar megabill sweeping Biden’s priorities together, ‘a single, ambitious package combining physical and social investments hand in hand.’ It’s the strongest sign yet that a growing number of liberals are done with trying to cut an infrastructure deal with Republicans that costs $800 billion at most and kicks other priorities down the road.

“If Tuesday was any indication, Biden and Republicans are miles away from a deal. During a meeting at the Capitol between a half-dozen GOP senators, Commerce Secretary GINA RAIMONDO and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the two sides discussed the basics of how to pay for a bill but didn’t settle on a topline number or other basic elements of the bipartisan negotiation.”


AT THE BORDER — “U.S. eases asylum restrictions at border amid legal challenges,” AP: “[T]he Biden administration is reshaping how it’s using pandemic-related powers known as Title 42, named for a section of an obscure 1944 law that former President Donald Trump tapped to effectively end asylum while health officials sought to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

“The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday confirmed it was taking steps to ease more than a year of asylum restrictions that have led border authorities to rapidly expel single adults and many migrant families with older children from the country. Unlike Trump, President Joe Biden has exempted unaccompanied children.”


CAUGHT ON CAMERA — “A GOP congressman compared Capitol rioters to tourists. Photos show him barricading a door,” WaPo: “Rep. ANDREW S. CLYDE (R-Ga.) last week downplayed the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, comparing the mob’s breaching of the building to a ‘normal tourist visit.’ But photos from that day show the congressman, mouth agape, rushing toward the doors to the House gallery and helping barricade them to prevent rioters from entering. The images have resurfaced in recent days on social media amid a wave of disbelief and outrage over Clyde’s comments, including from several Republicans.

“He noted that he helped barricade the door and that the House floor wasn’t breached. But … [o]bservers on Twitter, including lawmakers and anti-Trump super PAC the Lincoln Project, mocked and denounced Clyde’s comparison, questioning why the congressman would have hurried to barricade the door to tourists.”


NUNES VS. WAPO — “Lawyers square off over Devin Nunes suit,” by Josh Gerstein: “[Rep. DEVIN] NUNES alleges that both those contentions were false. Indeed, after the suit was filed, the newspaper corrected the article to note that the now-ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee maintains that his trip took place ‘during daylight hours; and that he has said he does not believe Trump Tower was wiretapped.

“Despite those concessions from the paper, Nunes has pressed on with his suit, prompting the hearing on Tuesday before the U.S. District Court Judge CARL NICHOLS, a Trump appointee. During the session, Nunes’ attorney, STEVEN BISS, insisted that the corrected report was even more damaging to Nunes’ reputation than the original one.”

— “Justice Department drops subpoena for information on Devin Nunes parody Twitter account,” L.A. Times

MAKING THE MERGE — “With AT&T’s WarnerMedia-Discovery deal, Jeff Zucker poised for a comeback,” NBC: “What [JASON] KILAR didn’t know then — and wouldn’t know until a few days ago — is that the very same month that Zucker announced his intention to step down, an effort had begun that is almost certain to put Kilar out of his job and open the door for Zucker to keep control of CNN and more. …

“Now, the talk at the highest levels of WarnerMedia and CNN is not so much over whether Zucker will stay or go, but rather what position he might have in [DAVID] ZASLAV’S new company: global chairman of news and sports? Chief content officer?”


PITTSBURGH MAYOR GOES DOWN — “Ed Gainey upsets Mayor Bill Peduto in historic win,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Beating a two-term incumbent in a race centered on equity, state Rep. ED GAINEY won the Democratic primary on Tuesday, which should pave the way to becoming Pittsburgh’s first ever Black mayor.

“Mr. Gainey was beating incumbent Mayor BILL PEDUTO 46% to 39% as of 5 a.m. Wednesday … Mr. Gainey is almost certain to win in November, with no Republican filed to run in the primary and the city’s dark blue demographics making it unlikely a challenger could oust him — though it’s possible a Republican will have emerged from the write-ins.”

PHILLY DA HOLDS ON — “Philly DA Larry Krasner beats primary challenger Carlos Vega by wide margin in closely watched race,” Philly Inquirer: “Philadelphia District Attorney LARRY KRASNER easily defeated Democratic primary challenger CARLOS VEGA on Tuesday, taking a giant step toward winning a second term after campaigning on his record of criminal justice reform.

“The Associated Press projected Krasner as the winner over Vega late Tuesday night. With 22% of the projected votes counted, Krasner held a wide advantage, 65% to 35%. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one, Krasner is now very likely to win November’s general election. He won the 2017 general election with 75% of the vote.”

WHERE ARE THEY NOW — “St. Louis attorney famous for waving gun at protesters is running for U.S. Senate,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch


SPOTTED: Andrew Giuliani and his consultant Adam Weiss at The Stand in Manhattan for Dave Chapelle after the launch of Giuliani’s New York gubernatorial campaign.

HOT TICKET: Sally Quinn says Washington’s social scene is dead, but God bless British Ambassador Karen Pierce for still trying. Pierce landed in D.C. just days before the lockdown and has been trying to make inroads in Washington throughout the pandemic with uber-exclusive events, typically outdoors and following Covid-19 protocols. Now that the mask mandates are lifted, it’s fitting that she would launch the first real bash of the season on May 26, a “Summer Sparkling Reception” in the garden of her residence. According to the invite, supper will be passed out in small bowls “to allow guests to mingle socially-distanced on the terrace.” The invite notes there will be “Covid-19 precautions,” which may be a regular disclaimer on invites for a while, but that plus-ones are welcome. Now we’ll have to see if she can reel in any senior administration officials who are dying to get out of their houses.

MEDIA MOVES — Josh Meyer, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, NBC News and POLITICO, is joining the USA Today Network in the newly created role of domestic security correspondent. … Mohana Ravindranath is joining Business Insider to cover digital health. She most recently has been an eHealth reporter at POLITICO.

MOONEY’S 50TH FUND-RAGER: Rep. ALEX MOONEY (R-W.Va.) turns 50 on June 6, so to celebrate he’s naturally turned it into a fundraiser. The party in Harper’s Ferry starts on June 5, but he plans to party until midnight to actually ring in his next decade. Mooney writes: “You may know that I love to dance, so we have a DJ coming for the afternoon dance party portion, so please bring your dancing shoes so I don’t have to be on the dance floor all alone.” Tickets range from $1,000 to $5,000, but: “If you can’t afford the larger donation levels listed on the invite, please consider giving $50 for my 50th birthday.” We want a pic of Mooney dancing.

STAFFING UP — Bridget Bartol is now deputy director of public affairs at the Department of Energy. She most recently was a VP at SKDKnickerbocker.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Walt Cronkite, a director at FTI Consulting, and Abby Cronkite, an account executive at Fox 5 DC, welcomed Elizabeth Wyntje “Winnie” Cronkite on Sunday. Pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) … Yebbie Watkins … Allie Brandenburger … Breitbart’s Charlie Spiering … Brian Harrison … Sydney Simon of the German Marshall Fund … Brian McKeon … Ernst & Young’s Bob Schellhas … Jessica Jennings of the National Association of Counties … Mary Hager of “Face The Nation” … Mike Reilly of MVAR Media … David Marin of Viatris … Samira Damavandi of Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) office … Anton Becker … Crosby Armstrong … John Hlinko … Cynthia Alksne … Bob Juliano … Beth Rossman … Amilcar Guzman … Amanda Byrd … DSCC’s Margaret O’Meara … Brendan Martin … Carol Guthrie of the OECD

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