With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
With Congress out this week and news expected to slow down (at least in theory), we’re turning this morning to a closer look at three ambitious Republicans looking to climb the ladder — and their strategies for getting where they want to be.
1. DeSANTIS CONFRONTS HIS ‘LIKABILITY’ PROBLEM —RON DeSANTIS’ stock might be on the rise, with many Republicans eyeing him as the preferred DONALD TRUMP alternative for 2024. But the Florida governor has always had one major problem threatening his ambitions: He’s seen as cold. Charmless. He spurns the backslapping retail politics that’s the hallmark of successful politicians — especially those with dreams of success in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. And party donors and would-be endorsers privately scoff that they’ve been missing the love.
This morning, our Jonathan Martin has the inside dish about DeSantis tackling his vulnerability head on: During a recent meeting with hundreds of major donors, JMart writes, “DeSantis, a food-lover with Italian roots, flew in the crew from Carbone, the trendy, New York-founded restaurant chain that moved to Miami last year, to both make a point about companies relocating to Florida and to offer a treat to contributors who gave at least $25,000.”
Then, in a departure from his typical speak-and-run approach, “DeSantis and his wife, CASEY, went table to table greeting and thanking the attendees.”
That would be unremarkable coming from almost any other politician. But as JMart writes, DeSantis’ “glad-handing illustrates that he’s absorbed the critique about his aloofness and is making an effort at rebutting it. [Donors’] delighted response about an unremarkable show of gratitude demonstrates how little of it he’s done to date; and the relish with which his glancing interactions were recalled indicates how low the expectations bar is for DeSantis and what it means to an important constituency when he clears said bar.”
As former Rep. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-Fla.), the wealthy businessman and former ambassador-turned-congressman, told JMart: “Donors are used to a lot of care and feeding … Ron is a little reserved and dry compared to GEORGE W. BUSH and BILL CLINTON. He is what he is. So what he needs to do is organize his campaign to minimize that characteristic.”
2. BANKS LEANS INTO THE CULTURE WAR WITH SENATE BID — Today, ambitious Indiana Republican Rep. JIM BANKS launches his bid to replace retiring GOP Sen. MIKE BRAUN. (Watch his announcement video here.) The 42-year-old former chair of the Republican Study Committee is widely seen as the favorite in the race, which has already attracted interest from fellow Rep. VICTORIA SPARTZ. But he could face a challenging primary if former Hoosier State Gov. MITCH DANIELS jumps in. Banks will roll out endorsements from Rep. LARRY BUCSHON (R-Ind.) and Sen. TOM COTTON (R-Ark.) sometime today.
In a story that just posted, our colleagues Olivia Beavers and Burgess Everett write that the Indiana primary will be something of a microcosm of the GOP’s identity crisis:
“The party is caught between two seemingly irreconcilable groups: a base animated by populist and provocative Trumpism, and influential independent and suburban voters. Indiana’s primary will be a vital marker for where the GOP ends up.”
Banks is fine with that — and leaning into it. While Daniels once called for a “truce” on social issues, Banks, a frequent guest on Fox News, enjoys stoking the culture wars, and has called for cracking down on transgender athletes in women’s sports and banning schools from teaching “critical race theory.”
“I’ll never be calling for a truce on social issues or cultural issues,” Banks told Olivia and Burgess.
Already, the Club for Growth has promised to spend $10 million to ensure that if Daniels runs, he doesn’t get past the primary. And Daniels’ allies are taking potshots at Banks. “For the sake of my country, I hope Mitch runs and beats Banks to a pulp,” Daniels ally MARK LUBBERS told Olivia and Burgess.
3. MTG’S INSIDER MAKEOVER — There have been a number of interesting stories lately about Rep. MARJORIE TAYLORGREENE’s (R-Ga.) transition from bomb-throwing outsider to D.C. insider whipping votes for Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY. Over the weekend, WaPo’s Ashley Parker and Michael Scherer had a great read about MTG’s “remaking” — and her intentional decision to form an unexpected alliance with McCarthy in a bid to “position herself as conduit between the populist base and her party’s leaders.”
Part of that makeover has meant taking on her former allies, who lined up in opposition to McCarthy. This morning, The Daily Beast’s Ursula Perano and Zachary Petrizzo have a jaw-dropping scoop about just how far Greene was willing to go to try to arm-twist fellow conservatives into backing the GOP leader — including reportedly verbally accosting fellow Freedom Caucus member LAUREN BOEBERT (R-Colo.) in the bathroom.
If the headline to the story doesn’t make you click — “The Bathroom Fight Fueling Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert’s Break-Up” — the details will: According to the report, on the first day of the new Congress, the pair got in a shouting match in the ladies’ room off the House floor when Greene walked out of a stall, saw her former friend and “confronted Boebert about taking money from McCarthy for her re-election and then turning against McCarthy when it came time to vote,” per the story.
“You were OK taking millions of dollars from McCarthy, but you refuse to vote for him for speaker, Lauren?” Greene asked, per the story.
“Don’t be ugly,” Boebert replied, then stormed out.
FOR YOUR RADAR — “Failed Republican candidate arrested in shootings targeting Democratic politicians’ homes,” by the Albuquerque Journal’s Elise Kaplan, Ryan Boetel and Jessica Dyer: “The suspect, SOLOMON PENA, is a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for office in November, has made repeated claims that the election was rigged and appears to have attended the Jan. 6, 2021, riot in Washington, D.C. … [Pena] is accused of paying four men to shoot at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators, Police Chief HAROLD MEDINA announced Monday evening. Investigators also believe Pena was present for at least one of the shootings.”
STAT OF THE DAY — “China’s population shrinks for the first time since 1961,”Reuters
VEEP FILES — “Why Harris world thinks she may be the biggest winner of the midterms,” by Eugene Daniels: “After spending much of her time in office managing bad headlines, staff turnover and persistent questions about her portfolio and position in Biden world, [VP KAMALA HARRIS] is in a better place, her allies and aides say. She no longer is tied to the whims of an evenly split Senate, where she had been called to cast more than two dozen tie-breaking votes. And they say she no longer feels her every move is being eyed in the context of a potential 2024 Harris presidential campaign since her boss is highly likely to seek another term.”
JUST POSTED — For the newest N.Y. Mag cover story, Platformer’s Zoë Schiffer and Casey Newton and The Verge’s Alex Heath have a deep dive into ELON MUSK’s first three months at Twitter. The trio spoke to more than two dozen current and former Twitter staffers to get the download on what exactly life is like at Twitter under Musk’s regime.
“In three months, Musk has … largely destroyed the equity value of Twitter and much of his personal wealth,” they write. “He has indicated that the company could declare bankruptcy, and the distraction of running it has caused Tesla stock to crater, costing him $200 billion.
“If ‘free speech’ was his mandate for Twitter the platform, it has been the opposite for Twitter the workplace. Dissenting opinion or criticism has led to swift dismissals. Musk replaced Twitter’s old culture with one of his own, but it’s unclear, with so few workers and plummeting revenues, if this new version will survive. As one employee said in December, ‘Place is done for.’”
SPEAKING OF — “Taliban start buying blue ticks on Twitter,” by BBC’s Abdirahim Saeed
LATER THIS WEEK — “Biden to visit devastated areas of California on Thursday,” AP
PHOTO OF THE DAY
THE WHITE HOUSE
INSIDE 1600 PENN —CNN’s MJ Lee and Kevin Liptak are up with a peek into the White House as Biden and his aides deal with the ongoing fallout from the discovery of classified documents from his VP days in his private offices.
“Behind the scenes, sources said Biden’s grown frustrated at how the saga has played out, particularly the way his administration’s handling of the story has overtaken what had been a positive stretch. People close to the White House say there is currently a mood of quiet resignation among Biden aides — an ‘It is what it is’ mentality — as they, too, wait to learn if news of more misplaced classified documents will surface in the coming days.”
Former Sen. DOUG JONES (D-Ala.) told CNN that the White House had committed a number of “unforced errors,” and had this advice for White House staffers: “Gosh, come on y’all. You’ve got to do a better job when sh*t like this happens.”
FLOTUS FILES — “Jill Biden’s skin cancer could fuel advocacy in cancer fight,” by AP’s Darlene Superville
DIGITAL DOWNSWING — “Billions at stake as online fundraising practices turn off voters,” by Jessica Piper: “The rate of return on individual appeals is falling compared to a few years ago, as candidates and outside groups find themselves targeting the same pool of donors. And congressional campaigns spent more on fundraising as a share of their total spending in 2022 than in the previous election cycle, according to a POLITICO analysis of FEC records.
“Doubling down on mass emails and texts is still a way to raise significant cash, and federal candidates and committees raised a combined $3.3 billion on ActBlue and WinRed, the parties’ primary online fundraising platforms, during the 2022 cycle. But people who work in the field are growing concerned that fundraising appeals are crowding out newsletters, volunteer efforts and other forms of communication amid the insatiable and never-ending hunt for cash.”
WEATHERING THE WINDY CITY — “Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Faces Tough Re-Election Bid,” by WSJ’s Joe Barrett in Chicago: “Early polls show the mayor as an underdog in the Feb. 28 election, with the top two vote-getters expected to face off in an April runoff if no candidate wins a majority in the first round. … [Mayor LORI] LIGHTFOOT faces eight rivals, including six other Black candidates, which could dilute some of her support; U.S. Rep. JESÚS ‘CHUY’ GARCIA (D., Ill.) who is Hispanic; and former schools chief PAUL VALLAS, who is white.”
JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH
SEARCH THE LOGS — “Revealed: Who visited the Trump White House before Jan. 6,” by Kyle Cheney, Paula Friedrich and Allan James Vestal: “The Trump administration never publicly released White House visitor records. But new data released by the Jan. 6 committee offers a never-before-seen glimpse.”
WAR IN UKRAINE
IN THE CAPITAL — “High-level U.S. delegation met with top Ukrainian officials in Kyiv,” by CNN’s Jennifer Hansler
ON THE GROUND — “Ukraine strike deaths hit 40; Russia seen preparing long war,” by AP’s Vasilisa Stepanenko and Andrew Meldrum
AMERICA AND THE WORLD
BLINKEN YOU’LL MISS IT — “Blinken to test limits of China’s diplomatic engagement on Feb. 5-6 Beijing trip,” by Phelim Kine: “Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN will meet in Beijing with his counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister QIN GANG, on Feb. 5-6, Washington-based diplomats familiar with Blinken’s travel plans told POLITICO. … The visit is a test of whether the Biden-Xi meeting has paved the way for more productive U.S.-China ties at a time when the relationship has become increasingly rancorous over issues ranging from Taiwan and trade policy to U.S. concerns about Beijing’s human rights record.”
KERRY ON — U.S. climate envoy JOHN KERRY “backs the United Arab Emirates’ decision to appoint the CEO of a state-run oil company to preside over the upcoming U.N. climate negotiations in Dubai, citing his work on renewable energy projects,” he told AP’s Jon Gambrell.
THE LONG TAIL OF THE IRA — “EU seeking to offset Biden’s green plans with own subsidies,” by AP’s Raf Casert in Brussels: “Talk of huge subsidies to prop up companies at home and fears of a race to the bottom that allows domestic production to muscle out competition are set to dominate the EU’s political agenda right up to a special economic summit Feb. 9-10. The tipping point came when the $369 billion U.S. Inflation Reduction Act was approved last summer, which EU leaders see as an attempt to cut European firms out of the lucrative American market for clean energy technology like electric vehicles and excessively favors a “made-in-America” approach that discriminates against European multinationals.”
BIG SWING — “Globalization Isn’t Dead. But It’s Changing,” by WSJ’s Jon Hilsenrath and Anthony DeBarros: “Multinational companies still want cheap and efficient markets, but they also want safety. That’s why they’re rerouting the pathways of global trade and finance.”
THE LATEST IN CHINA — “China’s Latest Source of Unrest: Unpaid ‘Zero Covid’ Workers,” by NYT’s David Pierson, Keith Bradsher and Muyi Xiao
TALES FROM THE CRYPTO — “Japan Prods U.S. and EU to Regulate Crypto Like Banks,” by Bloomberg’s Takashi Nakamichi and Nao Sano
INFLATION NATION — “Shopper Rebellion Against Higher Prices Helps Slow Inflation,” by WSJ’s Sarah Nassauer, Suzanne Kapner and Nick Timiraos
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
CALIFORNIA’S CRISIS — “Storms force California to look harder at capturing rainfall to ease drought,” by Camille von Kaenel in Sacramento
— “Ninth in series of California storms dumps more rain, snow,” by AP’s Christopher Weber in Los Angeles
CLIMATE CHAOS — “Skipped Showers, Paper Plates: An Arizona Suburb’s Water Is Cut Off,” by NYT’s Jack Healy in Rio Verde, Ariz.: “Almost overnight, the Rio Verde Foothills turned into a worst-case scenario of a hotter, drier climate, showing what happens when unregulated growth collides with shrinking water supplies.”
A DIFFERENT KIND OF INFLUENCER — “TikTok Tries to Win Allies in the U.S. With More Transparency,” by WSJ’s Georgia Wells and Stu Woo
Bill Browder is skipping the World Economic Forum after 27 years as a regular because it sought to charge him $250k — three times more than in past years, per Semafor.
Eric Adams visited El Paso and blasted the federal government’s response to the migrant influx.
Elissa Slotkin, who is reportedly weighing a Senate run, attended MLK weekend events in Detroit and Grand Rapids — neither of which is in her House district.
NEW THIS MORNING — Vice World News’ new podcast series, “Havana Syndrome,” featuring award-winning journalists Jon Lee Anderson and Adam Entous, is up with its first slate of episodes bringing listeners new information on the scale of the mysterious debilitating illness that resulted in crippling neurological symptoms starting in 2016 among American diplomats and spies workers in Cuba. Listen on Apple Podcasts
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Megan Apper will be joining Treasury as senior spokesperson for international affairs. She most recently was a senior adviser at the State Department and has worked for Biden since his primary campaign launched in 2019.
— Ashkhen Kazaryan is now a senior fellow on free speech and peace at Stand Together. She most recently was content policy manager on the content regulation team at Meta, covering North and Latin America, and was also its policy lead on Section 230.
— Kaylin Dines is now comms director/senior adviser for Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D-Colo.). She most recently was comms director for Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and is a Tim Ryan alum.
TRANSITIONS — Bryan Bender is joining Strategic Marketing Innovations to launch the firm’s strategic comms practice. He currently is a senior national correspondent at POLITICO. … Sarah Lipton-Lubet will become president of Take Back the Court, following current founder and president Aaron Belkin’s retirement. She previously was executive director. … Shelby Shaw Newman is joining the National Turkey Federation as comms and marketing adviser. She previously was a comms specialist at JBS USA and is a Bradley Byrne alum. …
… Jarrod Bernstein has joined Morrison Cohen as of counsel, where he will advise clients on issues regarding comms, government relations and disaster management. He most recently worked on the Bloomberg resilience team and is an Obama administration alum. … Hannah Anderson is now health policy adviser for the Senate HELP Republicans. She previously was energy and commerce policy director for Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas).
ENGAGED — Joshua MacDonald, North American gallery director for contemporary art gallery Maddox Gallery, on Friday proposed to Brianna Curran, director of executive public engagement for Environmental Defense Fund and an alum of the Aspen Institute and the U.S. Institute of Peace. The couple met in early 2021 in L.A. at Venice Beach. He proposed in Lapland, Finland, where they had traveled to see the northern lights. “We waited almost a full week to see the lights with absolutely no sign of them, there was just too much cloud cover and so much snow coming down,” Brianna told us. “So on our last night in Finland, he proposed by the fireplace in our cabin — it was so beautiful and surprising, and we just didn’t think we would get to see the northern lights. But just a few minutes after he proposed, the sky completely cleared and we saw the lights for the first time.” Pic…Another pic
— Zack Cohen, justice and national security reporter for CNN, and Catherine Valentine, senior publicist for The Washington Post, got engaged on Monday night in their apartment with their pup, Honey, in a bandana saying “my parents are getting married” and 100 candles lit. They met as camp counselors together in high school in Georgia, and Catherine had a crush on Zack at age 15. Years later, she dropped his name in an informational interview with CNN, and the interviewers said they spoke with Zack, and he didn’t know who she was. Six years after that, in the hallway of CNN, she smacked him on the arm and said, “You know me, or you should.” Twitter pics
WEEKEND WEDDING — Cassandra Varanka, a former professional staff member for the House Homeland Security Committee, and Hai Tu, a consultant for Deloitte, got married on Sunday in front of all their friends and family — and best dog Nox — at the Old Saco Inn in Fryeburg, Maine. Their wedding also served as a Bon Voyage for the couple, who will be spending the next two years in Australia after Cassandra won a Rotary Peace Fellow Scholarship. Pic … Another pic
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Former first lady Michelle Obama (6-0) … Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) … WaPo’s John Wagner … former FCC Chair Newton Minow (97) … Robert F. Kennedy Jr. … POLITICO’s Steve Shepard … Joanne Kenen … Tommy Joyce … Steve Rabinowitz of Bluelight Strategies … Precision Strategies’ Mike Spahn … Scott Goodstein … Al Shofe … Rachel Bovard of the Conservative Partnership Institute … NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez … Daily Mail’s Nikki Schwab … Alyssa Franke … Hannah Ledford of the Fairness Project … Brookings’ Bill Galston … Credit Union National Association’s Robert Lewis Jr. … David Avella … Haris Alic …CapitolWorks’ Chris Jones … Jeremy Pelofsky of FGS Global … Julie Alderman … Amit Jani … CNN’s Kwegyirba Croffie … Elizabeth Hays Bradley … Julie Barko Germany … John Seabrook … Edelman DXI’s Kurt Hauptman … Karlygash Faillace … Alyssa Roberts … Noelani Bonifacio … Tegan Millspaw Gelfand … Mark Pieschel … Joseph Berger … Penta’s Rebecca Buck … Jenner & Block’s Sam Feder … Maury Povich … Patrick Butler of Kirkland & Ellis … North American Millers’ Association’s Kim Cooper … Becca Sobel … Mary Clare Rigali
Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.