Playbook: Why Biden won’t touch on Trump

Playbook: Why Biden won’t touch on Trump

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

AZ VS. NYC — “Sinema takes on Schumer, Jeffries and the White House over the border,” by Burgess Everett: “Independent Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA is on the warpath over what she and border-state Democrats decry as Arizona’s disproportionately small share of an $800 million pot aimed at alleviating overcrowded migrant holding facilities. She’s not alone in crying foul … [b]ut only Sinema is aiming specific complaints at Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER, House Minority Leader HAKEEM JEFFRIES and the Biden administration.” Click through for Sinema’s choice digs at the Dems

NEWS 19 PEOPLE CAN USE — The Fulton County, Ga., Sheriff’s Office issued guidance yesterday for those who were charged Monday in DA FANI WILLIS’ election conspiracy case: “Keep in mind, defendants can turn themselves in at any time. The jail is open 24/7.” More from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

LOOK AROUND, BIDENWORLD ON MUTE — It’s usually the first or second question of the briefing — and maybe third, fourth, fifth and sixth, too: “Does the White House have any comment on the indictment?”

The answers on those days when DONALD TRUMP’s legal peril is preeminent can always be boiled down to: “Go talk to literally anyone else about this.”

The reason for the silence is pretty simple. Candidate JOE BIDEN campaigned in 2020 on a restoration of time-tested governing norms — including the thick, bold line between the West Wing and the Justice Department that had been drawn after Watergate and, to Democrats, had been dangerously thinned during the Trump administration.

Then the special counsels and subpoenas and indictments and arrests started, sparking a frustrating almost-daily stalemate between the Beltway press corps and Biden’s foremost defenders at the White House and inside his political orbit.

Biden in fact sent explicit orders that individuals or entities associated with him are not to discuss the criminal investigations into Trump — from his reelection campaign to the DNC to anyone speaking as Biden’s surrogate.

But four indictments and 91 felony counts later — and Trump’s political power within the GOP only growing — some Democrats are getting antsy. The old rules, they argue, are ill-suited for a bruising battle with Trump, especially considering the heart of Biden’s reelection argument: that Trump and Trumpism are dangerous to democracy.

Plus, as a practical matter, how long can Biden & Co. actually ignore Trump as he troops up and down the Eastern seaboard from one court date to another?

SIMON ROSENBERG, a longtime Democratic strategist, said a shift is inevitable: “It’s impossible to have a conversation about American politics without talking about what’s happening with Trump. I mean, it’s the central issue in the campaign potentially next year. And so I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but it will happen. It has to.

“It would be like not talking about the sky being blue,” he added. “It’s a major part of our discourse. It would be impossible for the campaign to avoid it.”

Biden world, unsurprisingly, completely disagrees.

“Americans know what Trump did,” said a Biden campaign alum, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe strategy. “A lesson of every election cycle from 2018 to now is, don’t get mired in the endless details of Trump scandals, talk about values and agendas.”

Related read: “In Wisconsin, Biden Attacks a Far-Right Senator but Avoids Trump Talk,” by NYT’s Reid Epstein

There are a few other reasons animating that sentiment, which continues to pervade Biden’s inner circle:

  • Everyone is going to be talking about Trump no matter what. With Trump in and out of courtrooms through Election Day, media saturation is guaranteed even without Biden on the bully pulpit about it.
  • No one’s in the dark about how Biden feels. As another 2020 alum put it to us: “This president has not been shy about the imperative to defend democracy. No voter is confused about where this president stands on defending democracy.”
  • The legal issues are still campaign issues. Biden has already been plenty willing to knock Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, undermine democracy and flout the rule of law. He doesn’t need to utter the word “indictment” to get his point across.
  • Republicans are set to pounce. Any comment, they believe, would not only go against what Biden really believes but play right into GOP claims about a politicized justice system — and open themselves to more attacks.

And then there’s the elephant in the room. While Trump now faces four criminal cases, both President Biden and his son HUNTER BIDEN remain under investigation by special counsels themselves.

The situations are obviously different. Joe Biden’s documents probe has not produced any obstruction allegations. Hunter Biden, meanwhile, is not running for president, and his father, try as Republicans might, has not been directly implicated in his questionable and potentially criminal behavior.

That, of course, hasn’t stopped Trump and his allies from trying to muddy the waters and turn the 2024 campaign into a what-about-Hunter contest — much as they turned 2016 into a what-about-her-emails contest. Picking at Trump’s legal scabs, the thinking goes, only invites more whataboutism.

And if we’ve learned anything about the Biden team, it’s that once they choose a path, they stick to it — grumblers be damned.

That focus worked out for their often frustrating push for signature legislation in the first two years of the administration. It worked in the midterms, where the White House stayed focused on abortion rights and democracy even as fellow Democrats fretted about the economy.

Will it work one last time?

Good Wednesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

MORE FROM GEORGIA — In the day since Willis unveiled the charges against Trump and 18 other co-defendants, reporters are starting to dig into the nitty-gritty of the case, and the dual-track proceedings that the Georgia investigation and the DOJ inquiry will follow — despite the two cases’ stark differences in scope.

The theory of the case: “Willis’s sprawling case will allow Fulton County prosecutors to tell the jury a story of a broad conspiracy to reverse election results in multiple states and build a forceful narrative of Trump’s actions in concert with numerous aides, lawyers and local officials,” WaPo’s Amy Gardner, Holly Bailey, Amber Phillips and Shayna Jacobs write. “But experts warned that the logistics of putting Trump on trial along with 18 other people — each of whom may file a flurry of pretrial motions — in a racketeering indictment so complex and multilayered could carry unique difficulties.”

Something else to consider: “Prosecutors, especially those working for the Justice Department, typically seek to avoid concurrent cases to prevent discrepancies, small or significant, in witness testimony that can be exploited by the defense,” NYT’s Glenn Thrush and Danny Hakim write.

And then there’s the sheer logistics: “Georgia case against Trump presents problems from the start, from jury selection to a big courtroom,” by AP’s Kate Brumback in Atlanta

The nuts and bolts: “Trump now faces 91 felony counts. But the most recent batch is different,” by Erica Orden

Kicking all the tires: Following the latest indictment, Trump now has his “broad network of MAGAfied lawyers, political allies, and longtime conservative activists searching for legal theories that Trump could wield to either shut down these investigations or nullify potential convictions,” Rolling Stone’s Adam Rawnsley, Asawin Suebsaeng and Patrick Reis report.

But first: “Trump Plans to Release 100-Page Report on Georgia Election Fraud Claims,” NYT’s Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan

The wrangling begins: “Mark Meadows seeks to move Fulton County election case to federal court,” ABC’s Katherine Faulders and Alexander Mallin

The party line: “Trump indictment forces a GOP reckoning on 2020,” by Natalie Allison: “With Trump doubling down on his stolen-election rhetoric — and his decision to schedule a media event about it two days before the first Republican debate — the consensus was he is all but guaranteeing his GOP rivals would be forced to spend time on stage next week talking about an issue that continues to divide the party.”

On his mind: “Why Georgia Is Donald Trump’s Achilles Heel,” The Messenger’s Marc Caputo, Dan Merica and Tom LoBianco: “The state is the site of Donald Trump’s biggest defeats. Will his indictment there sink him in 2024?”

Out of luck and money: “Giuliani struggling under massive legal bills after defending Trump,” by CNN’s Katelyn Polantz, Tierney Sneed and Jeremy Herb

Behind the scenes: “Inside a Georgia Prosecutor’s Investigation of a Former President,” by NYT’s Danny Hakim and Richard Fausset

Top-ed: Former Georgia Lt. Gov. GEOFF DUNCAN writes for WaPo: “I testified in the Georgia probe. I hope Trump’s indictment is a pivot point.”


2024 WATCH

IF IT WALKS LIKE A DUCK … “RFK Jr. Isn’t Just Wooing Republicans. He’s Hiring Them,” by Ben Jacobs for The New Republic: “ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.’s unconventional campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has made an unconventional hire in New Hampshire: AIDAN ANKARBERG, a sitting Republican state representative. Ankarberg, a GOP state representative first elected in 2020 to the New Hampshire state legislature, is a recent hire for the Kennedy campaign — though his exact role and title are not clear.”

The campaign spin: DENNIS KUCINICH, RFK Jr.’s campaign manager, said Ankarberg’s hiring is an “indication of the candidate’s appeal. ‘He’s got the broadest appeal of anybody that’s run in a long time,’ said Kucinich.”

DETAIL ORIENTED — “Cost of guarding DeSantis saw a big jump in the past year,” by Gary Fineout: “The Florida Department of Law Enforcement released an annual report on Tuesday that showed that the amount the state spent protecting the governor grew from $5.94 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2022, to $9.41 million during the budget year that ended June 30 of this year.”


BIDEN ADDRESSES MAUI DISASTER — Biden said yesterday that he and first lady JILL BIDEN would travel to Maui “as soon as we can” to survey the damage the wildfire has caused and meet with local leaders. “That’s what I’ve been talking to the governor about. I don’t want to get in the way,” Biden said while delivering remarks on the economy in Wisconsin. More from Kierra Frazier

JOE ON THE ROAD — “Biden’s Milwaukee visit touts ‘Bidenomics’ as 2024 election cycle heats up,” by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Lawrence Andrea


ONE YEAR OF THE IRA — As Biden and his Cabinet are spending the week celebrating the Inflation Reduction Act’s one-year anniversary, many of the Democratic party’s most ardent climate hawks can’t stop thinking about all the provisions that failed to make it into the final deal. “Many liberal lawmakers and climate advocates say Democrats must take up all these priorities the next time they gain unified control of Congress and the White House. Otherwise, they warn, the U.S. will be unable to thwart the worst effects of global warming,” POLITICO’s E&E News’ Emma Dumain writes.

TO THE LETTER — “Hispanic Democrats send letter urging Biden administration to investigate Texas’ separation of migrant fathers,” by PBS NewsHour’s Laura Barrón-López: “In a letter provided first to the PBS NewsHour, lawmakers called on Attorney General MERRICK GARLAND and Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS to investigate the potential due process violations and to quickly reunite the fathers with their families.”


SLIDING IN — “Special counsel obtained Trump DMs despite ‘momentous’ bid by Twitter to delay, unsealed filings show,” by Kyle Cheney: “U.S. District Judge BERYL HOWELL … lit into Twitter for taking ‘extraordinary’ and apparently unprecedented steps to give Trump advance notice about the search warrant — despite prosecutors’ warnings, backed by unspecified evidence, that notifying Trump could cause grave damage to their investigation. ‘Is this to make Donald Trump feel like he is a particularly welcomed new renewed user of Twitter?’ Howell asked.”

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT — “Former Trump advisor blames Jews for their own deportations to Auschwitz,” by The Jewish Chronicle’s Rosa Doherty: “In a recent speech, MICHAEL FLYNN, a Christian nationalist, suggested mothers were complicit in handing over their young children to go on trains to Auschwitz.”


EVAN GERSHKOVICH LATEST — “Russia Has Shown Scant Interest in Prisoner Swaps for Dozens Held in U.S. Prisons,” By WSJ’s Dustin Volz and Louise Radnofsky

FOR THOSE KEEPING TRACK — “North Korea asserts U.S. soldier bolted into North after being disillusioned with American society,” by AP’s Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul


THE LATEST IN MAUI — “Power lines likely caused Maui’s first reported fire, video and data show,” by WaPo’s Brianna Sacks

FOR YOUR RADAR — “Judge calls new Texas election law unconstitutional but state says it will appeal ruling,” by AP’s Juan Lozano: “The law, which would abolish a position that oversees elections in Harris County, was temporarily blocked by state District Judge Karin Crump in Austin after county officials filed a lawsuit earlier this month.”

UNDER THE INFLUENCE — “Tech lobbyists are running the table on state privacy laws,” by Brendan Bordelon and Alfred Ng: “A POLITICO analysis of every state privacy law passed in 2023 shows that the tech industry has notched a steady series of wins. In Oregon and the six other states that passed legislation between January and July, lawmakers enacted bills that bore clear hallmarks of lobbying influence.”


MEET THE NEW BOSS — WENDY McMAHON is taking over as head of CBS News, the company announced yesterday. She previously was president of CBS News, a duty that she shared with NEERAJ KHEMLANI, who stepped down from his post this weekend. More from NYT’s Benjamin Mullin


IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T NOTICED — “Elon Musk’s X is throttling traffic to websites he dislikes,” by WaPo’s Jeremy Merrill and Drew Harwell: “The delayed websites included X’s online rivals Facebook, Instagram, Bluesky and Substack, as well as the Reuters wire service and the Times. All of them have previously been singled out by Musk for ridicule or attack.

“On Tuesday afternoon, hours after this story was first published, X began reversing the throttling on some of the sites, dropping the delay times back to zero. It was unknown if all the throttled websites had normal service restored.”

Max Miller learned you just probably shouldn’t post about religion.

Patricia Krentcil, the “Tan Mom,” is taking on Rick Scott.

John Boehner has a new fish story.

Antony Blinken hasn’t seen “Oppenheimer” or “Barbie” yet.

Gary Peters went full Boomer.

IN MEMORIAM — “Joann Meyer, Longtime Editor of a Besieged Newspaper, Dies at 98,” by NYT’s Clay Risen: “Joann Meyer, who spent nearly 60 years as a reporter, columnist, editor and associate publisher at The Marion County Record in Kansas, died on Saturday at her home, a day after the police searched the newspaper’s offices. She was 98. Her son, Eric Meyer, the newspaper’s publisher, confirmed the death. He said that the cause had not been determined, but that the coroner had concluded that the stress of the searches — at her home, which she shared with him, as well as at the paper’s offices — was a contributing factor.”

— “Robert Eugene Glennon Jr., 75, of Arlington, Va., and Gulf Stream, Fla., formerly of Bement, died Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, at his home in Arlington. … Robert was involved in every major tax bill brought before the U.S. Congress in the last 45 years. He was distinguished for his legislative lobbying work around such complex issues as corporate tax policy; environmental, land, and historic conservation; and legislation related to cancer and mental illness.” Read the full obituary

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Brian Garcia will join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as comms director. He most recently has been comms director for Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.).

TRANSITIONS — Mallory Blount Jaspers is now deputy comms director for Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). She most recently was deputy comms director for the Senate Republican Conference and is a Trump White House, Treasury and HUD alum. … Daniel Kopp is now an account manager at National Public Affairs. He previously was an associate at Penta Group.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) … Business Roundtable’s Josh BoltenSteve Abbott of Sen. Susan Collins’ (R-Maine) office … Ramesh PonnuruJack Quinn of Manatt … Michael Grunwald … Voter Participation Center’s Tom LopachLisa Graves … POLITICO’s Danielle Jones and Dominick Pierre … Rational 360’s Chris GoldenDave DenHerderNeil McKiernan of Rep. Joe Courtney’s (D-Conn.) office … Tom AnfinsonRick ChessenAdam HershKarly Moen Michael K. LaversSeth ColtonJerry Hagstrom of the Hagstrom Report/National Journal … Stacey Daniels of Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ (R-Wyo.) office … Tyler Grimm … Options Clearing Corporation’s Jim Hall … Edelman’s Tyson GreavesNatalie BashnerGrant RumleyEllen WeissfeldMarshall Cohen … former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) … former Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Dick Zimmer (R-N.J.), Rick Berg (R-N.D.) … Dean ThompsonAbe Adams of Targeted Victory … AP’s Martha Mendoza

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.

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