POLITICO's must-read briefing on what's driving the afternoon in Washington.
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By ELI OKUN
Presented by Binance
Incoming NRSC Chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) indicated he might not hesitate to put his finger on the scale to prevent the party from selecting bad Senate nominees. | Tommy Martino/AP Photo
Ever since the GOP’s red wave turned into more of a ripple in November, the party has been beset by second-guessing and squabbling over which direction to turn.
Today, we got one subtle but significant signal of change: Incoming NRSC Chair STEVE DAINES (R-Mont.) indicated he might not hesitate to put his finger on the scale to prevent the party from selecting bad Senate nominees.
Asked by Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser whether the committee would wade into primaries next cycle, Daines said: “I will tell you this. If I have heard one thing since the last election, a little over a month ago, Republicans are sick of losing, and we’re gonna do whatever it takes to win. We want to make sure we have candidates that can win general elections.”
That, of course, would constitute a break from current chair RICK SCOTT’s (R-Fla.) insistence that the NRSC stay neutral in primaries. Scott’s approach drove a wedge between his band of Senate GOP insurgents and Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL’s establishment, which blamed the NRSC in part for not stopping losing candidates like BLAKE MASTERS and DON BOLDUC.
Another key decision point for the GOP will come next month, with the RNC chair election, though this time the Trumpist wing is urging change, not continuity.
The vote is still several weeks away, but the race is growing hotter as HARMEET DHILLON tries to marshal a MAGA insurgency against Chair RONNA McDANIEL, AP’s Steve Peoples reports. McDaniel has already landed the backing of the majority of members. Some conservative media outlets are attacking McDaniel, and Dhillon says McConnell, not DONALD TRUMP, is to blame for GOP Senate underperformance in the midterms.
As is often the case, Trump looms large over the race: He hasn’t weighed in yet. Both women say they told Trump of their candidacies but didn’t directly ask for his endorsement.
Notable bite: “McDaniel demurred when asked whether she wanted Trump’s support. ‘I think the most important support right now is the members,’ she said. ‘These are leaders in the party, the grassroots leaders.’”
Happy Friday afternoon, and thanks for reading Playbook PM. Which World Cup storyline are you rooting for — a French repeat or the coming of the MESSI-ah? (I’m pulling for Argentina, but I also don’t want Garrett to be right.) Drop me a line at [email protected].
GRINER COMES HOME — Finally back home, BRITTNEY GRINER posted on Instagram today to thank her supporters, reflect on the difficulty of her detention and pledge that she’ll play for the Phoenix Mercury this season. “President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing PAUL WHELAN and all Americans home too,” Griner wrote. “I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you.”
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HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND — Turning Point USA will hold its big AmericaFest in Phoenix, Saturday through Tuesday. Everyone from KARI LAKE to TUCKER CARLSON to Sen. JOSH HAWLEY (R-Mo.) to DONALD TRUMP JR. will be there.
TOP-EDS — Sen. SHERROD BROWN’s (D-Ohio) path to reelection in 2024 could be tricky, The Vindicator’s David Skolnick writes. Brown carried the bellwether northeastern counties Mahoning and Trumbull in 2012 and 2018 by comfortable margins. But as Ohio gets redder, Rep. TIM RYAN couldn’t win either of them in his Senate bid this year — even though he’s from the Youngstown area. “Brown won’t be able to count on big wins in those two counties when he runs again. That will make a Brown win much more difficult.”
— WaPo’s Marc Thiessen is launching a series of interviews spotlighting Republicans who he thinks could be the party’s next generation of leaders. First up is Rep. MIKE GALLAGHER (R-Wis.), who says supporters of continued U.S. aid to Ukraine “have to do a better job of tying the threat posed by Russia to the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
THE WHITE HOUSE
BIDEN’S TRAGEDY — This weekend marks 50 years since Biden lost his first wife, NELIA, and daughter, NAOMI — the moment that transformed his life and career, NBC’s Mike Memoli writes. The empathy that has defined Biden’s political persona emerged from the tragedy, Memoli writes, and it also gave him “perspective on what really matters, and an appreciation for what one can’t control.” As Biden makes a decision on 2024, he’s nodded to the hand of fate that plays a role in any campaign: “Biden is simply acknowledging that the decision may ultimately be shaped or altered by events or circumstances in the coming months he can’t predict now.”
THE VIEW FROM 1600 PENN — The White House is trying to figure out which Republicans they can work with in the next Congress, at Biden’s direction, CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and Phil Mattingly report. Initial planning focuses on moderates who have shown bipartisan chops and freshmen in Biden-won House districts. They’re researching these members thoroughly to figure out what motivates them. “But the continued uncertainty across Washington about [KEVIN] McCARTHY’s pathway to the speakership has tacitly created another reason for what serves as somewhat of a wait-and-see posture in terms of engaging House Republicans.”
THE NEW CULTURE WARS — Congressional Republicans focused on fighting companies’ consideration of environmental, social and governance factors are homing on a new Labor Department rule, Axios’ Alayna Treene reports. The policy allows retirement plan fiduciaries to take ESG and climate change into consideration. Sen. MIKE BRAUN (R-Ind.) and Rep. ANDY BARR (R-Ky.) are seeking to claw back the rule through the Congressional Review Act — a gambit that won’t succeed “but is designed to raise the issue’s profile and force lawmakers to go on the record about where they stand.”
UNDER THE RADAR — The $6 billion Pasteur Act would transform the country’s antibiotics market, aiming to fix a broken model “by creating a subscription-like system that would provide pharmaceutical companies an upfront payment in exchange for unlimited access to a drug once it is approved,” NYT’s Andrew Jacobs reports. The approach, dubbed the “Netflix model,” has bipartisan backing and broad support from experts. But a pocket of opposition has emerged from Big Pharma opponents who say it wouldn’t really solve the problems of shortages and antibiotic resistance. And with time running out, its odds of getting through this Congress look long.
CHAOS CENTRAL — Amid the turbulence of ELON MUSK’s move to kick several journalists off Twitter, the platform disabled its audio feature Twitter Spaces, per Gizmodo’s Matt Novak. Some of the suspended reporters had joined a Twitter Spaces conversation Thursday night, confronting Musk briefly before he left the call. “[I]t’s not clear whether [the feature] will ever return.”
— NYT’s @Max_Fisher: “People really need to understand how mainstream it has become in some tech VC circles to argue that journalism itself is dangerous as an idea and should be abolished, and that it will be up to the tech world to carry this out.”
— Striking: NBC earlier this month temporarily suspended its reporter BEN COLLINS from the airwaves over concerns about his public criticisms of Twitter and Musk, Semafor’s Max Tani reports in a broader look at newsrooms’ reactions to the bans.
CONGRESSIONAL CRITICISM — Senate Judiciary Chair DICK DURBIN (D-Ill.) warned Musk in a letter today that Twitter’s child safety work has “rapidly deteriorated” in the wake of his takeover of the company, NBC’s David Ingram reports. “Durbin wrote that he was not convinced by Musk’s recent pledge that addressing child sexual exploitation content was ‘Priority #1,’” and he asked Musk to answer questions by Dec. 30.
JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH
THE CRIMINAL CASES — DOUG JENSEN, the Iowa man who chased EUGENE GOODMAN as one of the first rioters to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6, was sentenced today to five years in prison. More from NBC … Video from HuffPost’s Igor Bobic
NFTRUMP — Trump’s digital trading card collection announced Thursday had already sold out by this morning, CoinDesk’s Cam Thompson reports. Some of the NFTs are listed online for as much as the equivalent of $24,000.
WAR IN UKRAINE
MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX SPOTTED SECTION — A Ukrainian Embassy party last week was officially sponsored by Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin, raising eyebrows in Washington, Vox’s Jonathan Guyer reports. “[T]he explicit sponsorship indicates how intimate major military contractors have become with Ukraine, and how much they stand to gain from the war,” he writes. Though U.S. defense companies have played a crucial role in arming Ukraine, even some supporters say the party’s optics are bad.
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
CLIMATE FILES — “Biden wants ‘green’ economy, but talks fail to revive key aluminum plant,” by WaPo’s Steven Mufson: “[N]egotiations collapsed this week over an attempt to reopen an aluminum smelter that was seen as a litmus test of Biden’s plan to build a homegrown ‘green’ economy. A private equity firm — backed by labor unions, electric-car makers and much of the Washington state political establishment — said it has failed to seal a deal with a federal electricity agency that would have restarted an aluminum smelter that has been idle for 2½ years, and some are questioning why the White House hasn’t intervened.”
DEATH KNELL — The death penalty continued to shrink this year, with 18 executions carried out nationwide and 20 new death sentences given, per a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center. Other than a pandemic blip, the number of executions was fewer than any year since 1991, and the number of sentences was the lowest in 50 years. But the report deemed this the “‘Year of the Botched Execution,’ as seven of the 20 execution attempts in the U.S. were visibly problematic or took an inordinate amount of time.” More from the AP
POLL POSITION — Americans are still feeling down about the economy, as most voters expect it to get worse next year amid recession fears, per a new WSJ poll. Though the percentage of Americans who say they’re suffering significantly from inflation has stopped rising, it’s still quite high at 35%, John McCormick reports.
THE BIG WORRY — Concerns about a recession are also growing on Wall Street this week after the Fed indicated that it wouldn’t back down from its fight against inflation, AP’s Paul Wiseman and Stan Choe report. The central bank’s latest projections “suggested that the officials expect — or at least would accept — an economic downturn as the price of taming inflation.” The resultant stock market swoon Thursday owed partially to investors having “convinced themselves that with inflation pressures gradually easing, the Fed might soon declare some progress in their fight and perhaps even reverse course and cut rates sometime in 2023.” Instead, the Fed doesn’t think there’s enough reason for optimism yet.
SHAKEN BEDROCK — “Opposition to School Vaccine Mandates Has Grown Significantly, Study Finds,” by NYT’s Jan Hoffman: “Now, 35 percent of parents oppose requirements that children receive routine immunizations in order to attend school … The shift in positions appears to be less about rejecting the shots than a growing endorsement of the so-called parents’ rights movement.”
SCOTUS WATCH — The National Catholic Reporter named Justice SAMUEL ALITO the Newsmaker of the Year, writing in a negative editorial that his Dobbs decision “reflects the culmination of a decadeslong campaign by conservatives to fundamentally alter the composition of the court and, by effect, the very nature of American life.”
OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at Rokk Solutions’ annual holiday party Thursday night at Yardbird: Greg Staley, Lisa Hanna, Skiffington Holderness, Jeremy Butler, Suzanne Beall, Carl Hulse, Scott Sloofman, James Wegmann, Josh Marcus-Blank, Jon Kott, Steve Rochlin, Brian Sansoni, Elliot Berke, Megan Bloomgren, Mark Bednar, Kathryn Stack, Fin Gomez, Brad Howard, J.P. Freire, Lauren Crawford Shaver, Kristina Dunklin, Cole Rojewski, Matt Gorman, Jeremy Wilson-Simerman, Christine Baratta, Jennifer Dunn, Brad Bosserman, Annie Clark, Tim Burger, Doug Heye, Sheldon Bream, Sara and Ron Bonjean, Rodell and Sheena Mollineau, and Kristen Hawn.
TRANSITIONS — Sandeep Prasanna is now a senior associate in the litigation department of Miller & Chevalier Chartered. He previously was investigative counsel for the House Jan. 6 committee. … Jess Vaughn will be deputy chief of staff for Rep.-elect Seth Magaziner (D-R.I.). She most recently was a VP at Angerholzer Broz Consulting in D.C. …
… Darby LaJoye is now VP and strategic account executive for DHS at Leidos. He previously was executive assistant administrator for security operations at the TSA and also served as acting TSA Administrator. … Chase Hieneman is now director of industry relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. He previously was global government affairs manager at the Carlyle Group.
Correction: Thursday’s Playbook PM misstated the day of the Democratic primary for the special election in Virginia’s 4th District will be held. It will take place Tuesday.
Clarification: This newsletter has been updated to reflect changes in a Semafor story about NBC’s Ben Collins.