POLITICO Playbook: Former Harris aides: Foreign trip exposed her political weakness

JUST POSTED The must-read of the day is Bloomberg’s Josh Green going long on DONALD TRUMP’S post-presidency in Florida: “Welcome to the Trump Coast.” We got an exclusive early peek:

“He’ll show up to anything. In recent weeks, Trump has popped into engagement parties and memorial services. A Mar-a-Lago member who recently attended a club gathering for a deceased friend was surprised when Trump sauntered in to deliver remarks and then hung around, apparently enjoying himself.

“This insular feedback loop, amplified by the worshipful validation he gets for doing Newsmax or OAN TV hits, doesn’t appear likely to diminish as he settles into his New Jersey golf club for the summer and prepares to resume his trademark rallies. ‘Donald Trump needs the adulation of the crowd the way you or I need oxygen to breathe,’ says MICHAEL COHEN, his estranged former lawyer. By all accounts, Trump’s life after the White House doesn’t resemble that of a typical ex-president so much as a foreign monarch cast into exile—like NAPOLEON at Elba, but with golf and a bigger buffet.” With cameos from Brad Parscale, Eddie Vale, Andy Surabian, Sean Spicer, Hogan Gidley, Sam Nunberg, Joe Budd and Thomas Peterffy

ASSESSING THE VEEP’S TRIP — KAMALA HARRIS’ trip to Guatemala and Mexico — like just about every foreign trip by a president or VP — was a mix of policy and politics. On the policy, her aides, her allies and those in the immigration advocacy space tell us she did what she was supposed to do. On the politics, they admit her performance could have been smoother. (Though they will also remind you the bar is much higher for a woman of color.)

First, the policy: Harris spent an hour-and-a-half talking to Guatemalan President ALEJANDRO GIAMMATTEI. And in Mexico, before an hourlong bilateral with President ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR, we’re told Harris called an “audible,” telling her staff, “I’m going to talk to this guy,” according to an aide present. She did so privately for 30 minutes and then again for 40 minutes after the bilat.

Two aides on the trip insisted the ensuing conversations went well, especially considering her lack of foreign policy experience. Harris took flack — including from some far-left Democrats — for advising Guatemalans “do not come” to the United States right now, the official policy of the administration. But the advisers downplayed that dustup.

As for the politics: For months, Republicans have been trying to pin the entire immigration quagmire on Harris, despite the fact that her assignment from President JOE BIDEN was actually much narrower. Folks at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. have grown increasingly frustrated by it, but they also recognize Republicans weren’t to stop beating the “why isn’t she going to the border” drum.

They also knew it was bound to come up in media interviews, including the one where NBC’s LESTER HOLT pressed her about going to the border. A clearly frustrated Harris eventually said, “I, and I haven’t been to Europe. And I mean, I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”

Two former Harris advisers said that exchange with Holt fit a pattern. One of the former aides from her Senate office put it like this: “It sometimes takes her a while to land on the right message, and sometimes she can be a little undisciplined in her message. But she eventually gets there.”

Some folks in Harris’ orbit think Biden isn’t doing her any favors. The president has been largely able to dodge the issue of immigration and the border, as Harris absorbs almost all the incoming.

After the trip wrapped up, we spoke with a few people who worked for Harris in the past and want her to be president in the future. They said more performances like this could complicate her path.

But if you’re expecting a different tack on the politics side of things, don’t hold your breath. Ever since Biden selected her for VP, Harris has intentionally tried to focus on the work and ignore politics — as much as that is possible.

“The trip was a success. Was there one moment in one interview that is taken out of context and being used? Yes, but she did what she came to do,” a White House official told us Wednesday night.

One aide who has been briefing Harris on the Northern Triangle countries put it this way: “The narrative and the substance of the work are not always the same thing. We may or may not be able to control the narrative, but we can control what we focus on.”

Good Thursday morning, and thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

POPPING LAST NIGHT: Several interesting stories that are worth highlighting this morning …

— CBC BLOCKS BLACK REPUBLICAN FROM JOINING: Kadia Goba, who recently left Axios to return to BuzzFeed, has a scoop about Rep. BRYON DONALDS’ (R-Fla.) failed attempt to join the Congressional Black Caucus — a group currently comprising all Democrats but that has included Republicans in the past. Other Black lawmakers who were elected in 2020 were inducted six months ago. Donalds, who objected to Biden’s election win on Jan. 6, has yet to hear back about his bid to join the powerful group that’s at the center of the police reform negotiations.

— ABOUT TRUMP’S LAFAYETTE PHOTO-OP: ABC reports that a government watchdog has determined that — despite media reporting at the time — police did not clear Lafayette Park last summer so Trump could pose for his now-infamous photo holding a Bible. “The Interior Department’s inspector general did not determine whether law enforcement acted inappropriately against demonstrators last year and did not focus on individual incidents of police use of force, but found that poor communication between agencies and ineffective dispersal warnings ‘may have contributed to confusion during the operation and the use of tactics that appeared inconsistent’ with initial plans.”

— CNN’S SECRET FIGHT WITH THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Add CNN to the list of outlets aggrieved by the Justice Department’s questionable attempts to seize phone records and emails in a direct contradiction to the First Amendment. WaPo explains: “CNN revealed Wednesday that it waged a secret court battle with the Trump administration over a Justice Department demand for one of its reporter’s email records — and ultimately agreed early in President Biden’s tenure to turn over a ‘limited’ set of materials.

“The network’s disclosure Wednesday shed new light on federal prosecutors’ use of heavy-handed and controversial tactics to figure out who was disclosing classified information to journalists. According to CNN, its own lawyer was bound by a court order preventing him from sharing with anyone except the network’s president, top attorneys at CNN’s corporate parent and attorneys at an outside law firm any details about the Justice Department’s request and the ensuing court battle.”


— 1:30 p.m. British Summer Time: The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief.

— 2:55 p.m.: The president and first lady JILL BIDEN will depart St. Ives, Cornwall, U.K., en route to Carbis Bay, Cornwall, U.K.

— 3 p.m.: The Bidens will greet British PM BORIS JOHNSON and his wife, CARRIE.

— 3:10 p.m.: Biden and Johnson will view the Atlantic Charter.

— 3:15 p.m.: Biden and Johnson will participate in a bilateral meeting.

— 4:30 p.m.: Joe and Jill Biden will depart Carbis Bay en route to St. Ives, where they will arrive at 4:35 p.m.

— 6:15 p.m.: The president will deliver remarks on Covid-19 vaccination efforts and the global response.

THE SENATE will meet at 10:30 a.m. to take up a couple of judicial nominations, including a vote on KETANJI BROWN JACKSON at 1:45 p.m. The Judiciary Committee will vote on several nominations and bills, including DAVID CHIPMAN for ATF director, at 9 a.m. Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. MARK MILLEY will testify before the Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. HUD Secretary MARCIA FUDGE and acting FDA Commissioner JANET WOODCOCK will testify before Appropriations subcommittees at 10 a.m. HHS Secretary XAVIER BECERRA will testify before the Finance Committee at 10 a.m.

THE HOUSE is out. FBI Director CHRISTOPHER WRAY will testify before the Judiciary Committee at 10 a.m. Treasury Secretary JANET YELLEN will testify before an Appropriations subcommittee at 2 p.m.

BIDEN ABROAD — “Biden, Johnson to stress close ties, manage differences,” by AP’s Jonathan Lemire, Aamer Madhani and Jill Lawless: “Biden once called the British leader a ‘physical and emotional clone’ of Trump. The British government has worked hard to overcome that impression, stressing Johnson’s common ground with Biden on issues such as climate change and his support for international institutions. But Johnson, the host for the Group of Seven summit that will follow his sit-down with Biden, has been frustrated by the lack of a new trade deal with the United States.

“The two men had planned to visit the spectacular island of St. Michael’s Mount but that had to be scrapped because of the weather. But when they do meet, they were expected to announce the creation of a U.S.-U.K. task force that will move toward resuming travel between the two nations … [T]here may be one more, though admittedly small, obstacle to nurturing the ‘special relationship’ — the very phrase itself. Johnson has said he did not appreciate ‘special relationship,’ used by the U.S. president, because to the prime minister it seemed needy and weak.”


TOP PRIORITY FOR THE DOJ — “Attorney General Garland vows billionaire tax leak to ProPublica will be ‘top of my list’ to investigate,” by CNBC’s Tucker Higgins: “The former federal judge said that at the moment he knew nothing more than what he learned from reading the sprawling article, which revealed that in some recent years billionaires such as Amazon CEO JEFF BEZOS, Tesla CEO ELON MUSK, and businessmen MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, CARL ICAHN and GEORGE SOROS paid no federal income taxes.”

Related: “An Exposé Has Congress Rethinking How to Tax the Superrich,” NYT

THE OP-ED THE RIGHT IS READING — “Biden Bungles His Crisis,” by Daniel Henninger in the WSJ: “The Manchin mess and spending spree are a White House misreading the political moment.”


THE NEGATIVE VIEW OF THE NEW BIPARTISAN INFRASTRUCTURE TALKS: On Wednesday, we laid out a few reasons why optimists say this new Senate group searching for a bipartisan infrastructure deal could be successful. Here’s the pessimistic side:

— The rift over taxes. On Wednesday, Republicans in the bipartisan group said that tax increases Biden has prioritized are still a red line for the GOP. Well, that should tell you all you need to know. Biden had told Sen. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R-W.Va.) that tax increases are a must. These fundamental differences aren’t going away.

White House chief of staff RON KLAIN doubled down on the tax stand in a tweet Wednesday, linking to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll showing strong support for a minimum tax on corporations.

Washington Examiner reporter David Drucker had it right when he tweeted this Wednesday: “Asking a Republican to raise taxes is like asking a Democrat to vote to repeal Obamacare. There are just some things the parties aren’t going to do — in service of almost any conceivable compromise on any conceivable issue.”

— Who does this group speak for? Even if the subgroup can come up with a plan, there is no guarantee that 10 Senate Republicans — not to mention every Senate Democrat — would get behind it.

— Finally, on Wednesday we saw multiple Senate Democrats insist that climate has to be part of the equation. Our Anthony Adranga has more on this.

SINEMA IN THE SPOTLIGHT — “Kyrsten Sinema gets her make-or-break moment with Republicans,” by Burgess Everett: “The Arizona Democrat has kept the president and his top aides apprised of her own efforts for weeks, according to a source familiar with the conversations. And now that Capito’s talks with Biden are over, it’s time for Sinema’s long-running behind-the-scenes conversations with Sen. ROB PORTMAN (R-Ohio) to take center stage in what’s become Washington’s endless Infrastructure Week. Except at this point, time is painfully short for the new duo and their larger group of senators to strike a bargain.”

OMAR INFURIATES JEWISH LAWMAKERS … AGAIN — “Jewish Democratic lawmakers consider condemning Ilhan Omar for likening Hamas to Israel and U.S.,” by Ron Kampeas at Jewish Telegraph Agency: “Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House … met Wednesday to discuss antisemitism. The 25 members of the unofficial caucus ended up fulminating about a fellow Democrat, ILHAN OMAR of Minnesota, for appearing to liken Hamas and the Taliban to Israel and the United States…‘We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,’ Omar posted. ‘We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.’

“A number of lawmakers at the meeting want to name Omar in a statement saying that her claim ‘discredited’ the party, two sources said. Such a statement would be unprecedented since the Gaza conflict… Among those pressing to condemn Omar by name were BRAD SCHNEIDER of Illinois, BRAD SHERMAN of California and DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ of Florida. JAMIE RASKIN of Maryland, a leading progressive, appeared to be hesitant, but did not outright oppose a statement, the sources said.’”

— A Playbook tipster sent us the full statement being circulated among Jewish members, which we are told could land as soon as today. It reads: “Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided. Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice. The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups. We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the US and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.”

Omar spox JEREMY SLEVIN told us she was simply doing her job: “It is the Congresswoman’s role as a Member of Congress conducting federal oversight to follow the facts, ask questions of the Administration and work to make sure the public understands our government shouldn’t deny any person from seeking justice.”

Omar herself tweeted late Wednesday night that she was getting death threats. “Every time I speak out on human rights I am inundated with death threats. Here is one we just got. ‘Muslims are terrorists. And she is a raghead n*****. And every anti-American communist piece of s*** that works for her, I hope you get what’s f***ing coming for you.’”

SEPARATELY — “‘The feeling is devastating’: Tucson synagogue vandalized with swastika, anti-Semitic slur,” by the Arizona Republic’s BrieAnna Frank

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST — “Senate’s latest attempt at a gun control deal falls apart,” by Nicholas Wu


THE TESTIMONY NADLER WANTED TWO YEARS AGO — The House Judiciary Committee released a transcript Wednesday night of its interview with former White House counsel DON MCGAHN last week. The upshot was this: McGahn told investigators that he refused to ask DOJ officials to fire ROBERT MUELLER at Trump’s behest because he worried it would trigger a series of events that would damage the presidency, testimony Chair JERRY NADLER (D-N.Y.) would have LOVED to have in early 2019 when he was seeking to impeach Trump for obstruction of justice.

Here’s the WSJ: “Asked about the Mueller report’s finding that Mr. McGahn ‘considered the president’s request to be an inflection point and wanted to hit the brakes,” Mr. McGahn said he saw it as ‘a point of no return,’ and could potentially cause events to spin out of control. If Mr. Rosenstein ‘received what he thought was a direction from the counsel to the president to remove a special counsel, he would either have to remove the special counsel or resign,’ he told lawmakers, according to the transcript.”

“He added: ‘It seemed to me that it’d be easier for me to not make the call and take whatever heat or fallout there would be than to cause, potentially, a chain reaction that I think would not be in the best interest of the president.’”


‘RODNEY DAVIS = DUFUS’ — It appears that committee markups aren’t only tedious for the poor CQ committee reporters covering every single one of them. (We can say that because we have been there, too.) Apparently Rep. GARRET GRAVES (R-La.) got a little antsy at Wednesday’s House Transportation Committee markup of the panel’s $547 billion surface transportation bill — and turned his boredom on his friend Rep. RODNEY DAVIS (R-Ill.).

Our James Bikales writes that five hours into the markup, Graves typed “RODNEY DAVIS = DUFUS” into a Word document, then angled the computer toward the camera so everyone could see. That came after Graves praised Davis for “finally coming up with a good idea” when he offered an environmental permitting amendment. Bikales reports that Graves noted the “C and D+ grades U.S. infrastructure gets in report cards released by groups like the American Society of Civil Engineers,” before adding: “While Rodney Davis’s parents would be ecstatic to see those types of grades, it’s unacceptable for other Americans to be living under those conditions.”

SPOTTED I: Former VP Mike Pence at Cafe Milano on Tuesday night. … Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill on Wednesday night. Pic … Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) at Bullfeathers on Wednesday. Pic

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Paramount+’s “Stephen Colbert Presents: Tooning Out the News” is debuting a new segment called “Smart Talk Tonight” tonight with a Salman Rushdie interview. In the exclusive preview clip, Rushdie criticizes Biden for his handling of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, saying Biden “made a mistake.”

SPOTTED II: Dominican Ambassador to the U.N. and Melania Trump pal Paolo Zampolli hosting World Oceans Day on Tuesday at The Kennedy Center Reach pavilion, with speeches from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Qatari Ambassador Meshal Al-Thani, Kathleen Kennedy, Brock Pierce, OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro, Portuguese Ambassador Domingo Teixeira de Abreu Fezas Vital, Michael Muller and opera singer Mary Millben, who performed. Also there: Adrienne Arsht, John Arundel, Amra Fazlic, Mark Vlasic, Christine Warnke, Kandy Stroud, Lauren Miller and Vinoda Basnayake.

SPOTTED III: At Meridian International Center’s inaugural culturefix awards show celebrating how the arts and culture help fix global challenges faced by people, communities and the planet: Kal Penn, Jonathan Capehart, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Megan Beyer, French Ambassador Philippe Etienne, Jordanian Ambassador Dina Kawar, Adrienne Arsht, Stuart and Gwen Holliday, Lee Satterfield, Chris Miner, Cathy Smith, Robert Pullen, Luke Frazier, Reggie Van Lee, Randi and Jeff Levine, Sue Hostetler Wrigley and Beau Wrigley, Eric and Lisa Gioia, Josh and Sarah Eastright, Marlene Malek, Grace Bender, Marcia Carlucci, Michael Schaffer, Jean Yves Thibaudet, Divinity Roxx, Terry Harvey, Fred Tomaselli, Debra Kraft and Rob Liberatore.

AND on Twitter: Newly minted House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Trump posing for a photo together. “One team. SAVE AMERICA!!” Stefanik wrote on Twitter.

MEDIAWATCH — Joe Mathieu is joining Bloomberg as a Washington correspondent. He previously was host of Morning Edition for WGBH Radio in Boston. Jodi Schneider will become political news director for Bloomberg TV and Radio, and Annmarie Hordern will become a Washington correspondent.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Tom Donohue, the former president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is rejoining the Hudson Institute board of trustees.

Kyle Daly is now director for technology comms at Finsbury Glover Hering. He most recently was tech editor at Axios.

STAFFING UP — The White House announced several new forthcoming nominations, including Amanda Howe as assistant EPA administrator for mission support, Guy Kiyokawa as assistant VA secretary for enterprise integration, Damon Smith as HUD general counsel and Javier Ramirez as director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

TRANSITIONS — Zeenat Rahman will be executive director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. She currently is director of the Aspen Institute’s Inclusive America Project, and is a Hillary Clinton and John Kerry State Department alum. … Michelle Strucke is now principal director for stability and humanitarian affairs in the office of the undersecretary of Defense for policy. She previously was senior policy manager for aid and development finance at Oxfam America. … Samantha Heyrich is now senior director at Black Rock Group. She is a Treasury and Pat Toomey alum. …

314 Action Fund has added a slate of new hires: Alexandra De Luca will be comms director, Brittany Grimm will be strategic gift officer, Brendan Koch will be senior finance adviser, and Jacob Sarkozi and Ben Young will be campaign advisers. … Chatrane Birbal is joining the HR Policy Association as VP of government relations. She previously was VP of public policy for the Society of Human Resource Management. … Lucy Byrd is now marketing and comms manager at private equity firm Spectrum Equity. She previously did comms for the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, and is a U.S. News and World Report and Atlantic alum.

ENGAGED — Sarah Bauer, counsel for Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) staff, and Greer Mackebee, an associate at Amis, Patel & Brewer, recently got engaged in Longboat Key, Fla. The two met when they played against each other in the 2012 Jeopardy College Tournament. Pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and Ellie Kaufman … White House Social Secretary Carlos ElizondoJoe TrippiJames Rockas of the American Center for Law and Justice … Jeff GreenfieldStef Weiss … former Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) … Land O’Lakes’ Michael Daniels … NBC’s Shannon Pettypiece and Kate Snow … NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe … Facebook’s Meredith CardenJennifer Donnelly of the Aspen Institute … Edelman’s Matthew Streit … NAM’s David O’Brien (35) … WSJ’s Corinne RameyDaryn IwickiShirlethia FranklinThomas ShowalterAl Mottur Teryn NorrisKylie BohmanAlex Goldman Hillary VaughnPaula Burris of the American Association for Justice … Ben DeMarzo … former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (5-0) … John Edwards Eliot Spitzer … POLITICO’s Javier Ruiz and Shannon Lambert Thulasi ManavalanSasha Obama (2-0)

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected]. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Allie Bice, Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.

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