Playbook: Pence goes where no 2024 contender has gone before
With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
DRIVING THE DAY
Former VP MIKE PENCE seized the spotlight at the Gridiron yesterday evening — but not for the reason speakers at the annual high-brow journalism dinner typically do.
Sure, Pence had the crowd roaring with self-deprecating dad jokes about his reputation as a deeply religious man, musing at one point that “I always wanted to be the bad boy, the rebel type, the hell-raiser. You know, someone like MITT ROMNEY” — and that he was late because he had to drop “a few more boxes off at the National Archives.”
But the big headline of the evening was Pence slamming former President DONALD TRUMP in what amounts to his strongest criticism to date of his former running mate.
“History will hold Donald Trump accountable for Jan. 6,” Pence said. “Make no mistake about it: What happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way. President Trump was wrong. His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day.”
The rebuke comes just days after Fox News host TUCKER CARLSON toed the Trump line, suggesting that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was a peaceful protest by “sightseers” — not “insurrectionists.”
Last night, Pence pushed back hard on that narrative. “Tourists don’t injure 140 police officers by simply sightseeing,” he said. “Tourists don’t break down doors to get to the Speaker of the House. Tourists don’t threaten public officials.”
The former veep did something else that caught the room by surprise: He praised the press — which Trump has routinely lambasted as the “enemy of the people” and “fake news” — and specifically applauded coverage of Jan. 6. “We were able to stay at our post in part because you stayed at your post,” he said of reporters who covered the attack in real time. “The American people know what happened that day because you never stopped reporting.”
He added: “I don’t deny that you infuriate me … and I’m sure I infuriate you … but I genuinely value what you do to keep us a democracy.”
THE REACTION — In the room, the serious turn of Pence’s remarks took attendees by surprise — attendees of the white-tie affair generally have come to expect light-hearted comedy, not serious statements about issues of national importance. And many found it refreshing.
Pence has long had a reputation for fawning over Trump and acting as his “yes” man. He even made a knowing crack about this last night, joking that at their weekly lunches together, the former president liked when Pence would sing him “Wind Beneath My Wings” — specifically the phrase, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?”
But last night, Pence signaled something important about his possible 2024 bid: a willingness to challenge Trump in a way that no other Republican presidential hopeful has.
Where many other contenders fear the tremendous sway Trump has over a core portion of the GOP base and treat the former president as if he’s VOLDEMORT — the “Harry Potter” dark lord referred to as “he who shall not be named” — Pence didn’t shy away from criticizing Trump directly, by name.
It had the room buzzing all evening, and dominated conversation at the afterparty. And it invariably led to two big questions:
1. Will Pence talk like this in front of Iowa Republicans? It’s one thing for him to slam Trump like this in a room full of D.C. journalists — and, importantly, to do so at an event that was not televised or filmed, which will limit the amount of play it gets on cable news. But will he show the courage to blast Trump in front of Republican primary voters?
2. If he feels this way about Jan. 6, why challenge Special Counsel JACK SMITH’s subpoena? Pence has received criticism — including from well-respected conservative legal thinker and former Judge J. MICHAEL LUTTIG — for suggesting the Constitution’s “Speech and Debate” clause protects him from testifying about what happened that day. Even some Republicans think he should cooperate with the probe.
OTHER MEMORABLE LINES FROM LAST NIGHT:
— Pence on his faith: “I’m really not as uptight as many people think. There’s this idea that I’m some kind of religious nut. I’m really not. Just ask my sons, Jedediah, Obadiah or Zechariah. … In fact, my preferred pronouns are ‘thou’ and ‘thine.’”
— Pence on whether he will support the winner of the GOP primary: “I will wholeheartedly, unreservedly support the Republican nominee for president in 2024… if it’s me.”
— Pence on Transportation Secretary PETE BUTTIGIEG’s paternity leave (a remark that caught some listeners as meanspirited): “He took two months ‘maternity’ leave whereupon thousands of travelers were stranded in airports, the air traffic system shut down, and airplanes nearly collided on our runways. Pete is the only person in human history to have a child and everyone else gets postpartum depression.” Reminder: Buttigieg’s twin babies were born prematurely, developed RSV and one was hospitalized for a prolonged period which included a week on a ventilator.
— New Jersey Gov. PHIL MURPHY on the Biden-Trump-Pence classified document scandal: “Back home, when you’re in a jam, you tie the stack of offending documents to a cement block — and you throw it in the Hudson River… along with the guy who leaked them.”
— Murphy on allegations against Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.): “I know some people have claimed that the president is getting too old to run again. If he wins, he’d be 82 … but listen, if Donald Trump were to win, he’d be 78 and a half. That’s just three-and-a-half year’s difference. What’s the big deal? Although at certain points in life, three and a half years can make a big difference. Just ask our old friend Matt Gaetz.”
— Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN on his love of the electric guitar: “One commentator dubbed me the ‘secretary of shred’ — which is not exactly the nickname you want when you once worked at the Penn Biden Center.”
— Blinken on balancing life and work: “I’m the first secretary of state in modern history to do this job while my wife and I are raising toddlers. So I hear a lot about ice cream, fast cars and choo-choo trains. And that’s just being in the Oval Office of President Biden.”
— Blinken on CNN’s ratings: “According to the guest list, there are 600 attendees here tonight. CNN would kill for an audience like that.”
— Blinken on Pence’s 2024 prospects: “The vice president and I have one thing in common: Neither of us will ever be president.”
Good Sunday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. The Oscars are tonight. What’s your “best picture” pick? Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.
SVB RATTLES D.C. — “‘There’s going to be more’: How Washington is bracing for bank fallout,” by Victoria Guida and Sam Sutton: “Battle lines are already being drawn over what caused Silicon Valley Bank’s stunning demise. Progressives and some investors are blaming the Federal Reserve for its rapid interest rate hikes, which have burdened many lenders. Democrats say Republican-led deregulation of banks removed critical safeguards. Others say regulators failed to spot red flags in the bank’s investment portfolio and customer base. Many blame SVB itself.”
“House Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY said he’s been in touch with the Biden administration and is hopeful that U.S. officials will make an announcement on Sunday to address the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank,” reports Bloomberg’s Tony Czuczka.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: Rep. JOSH GOTTHEIMER’s (D-N.J.) office is circulating a letter among congressional members calling on federal regulators to take swift action to “reassure consumers” in light of Silicon Valley Bank’s sudden collapse, according to a draft of the letter obtained by Playbook. Here’s what Gottheimer is calling for:
1. For the FDIC: “prioritize finding a buyer for SVB that has the resources to provide a seamless transition for the bank’s depositors and borrowers, with the hope of making the depositors whole.”
2. For Treasury and the Fed: “encourage banks of all sizes that have relationships with SVB’s depositors to extend temporary lines of credit to the bank’s depositors to assist with essential costs, like payroll.”
3. For the Fed: “continue to offer liquidity through repurchase agreements. These will allow banks to access short-term financing to meet potential withdrawals using long-term U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities as collateral.”
4. For Congress and the regulators: “consider temporarily increasing the FDIC limit on deposit insurance above the current $250,000 limit.”
Gottheimer’s office is seeking signatures from other congressional offices, and intends to send the letter later today to Treasury Secretary JANET YELLEN, Fed Chair JEROME POWELL, FDIC Chair MARTIN GRUENBERG and Acting Comptroller MICHAEL HSU. “Your timely and immediate action is necessary to prevent SVB’s failures from undermining our otherwise strong banking system,” Gottheimer writes. Read the full letter
AP: “Yellen: No federal bailout for collapsed Silicon Valley Bank” — Yellen, speaking to CBS’ Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation” this morning, said the U.S. “not going to do that again” when asked whether a government bailout is being considered. “But we are concerned about depositors and are focused on trying to meet their needs,” she said.
Echoing that sentiment: “I don’t think there’s any appetite in this country for bailing out a bank,” NANCY PELOSI said during a SXSW panel this morning. “What we would hope to see by tomorrow morning is for some other bank to buy the bank.” The former speaker hinted that there are multiple potential buyers, but said she can’t reveal them.
— Related read: “Congressional briefing on Silicon Valley Bank failure postponed,” by Nicholas Wu and Sarah Ferris
— The view from Wall Street: “Wall Street Braces for the Next Silicon Valley Bank,” by WSJ’s Eric Wallerstein, Matt Grossman and Gregory Zuckerman
— The view from London: “Silicon Valley Bank collapse sets off scramble in London to shield UK tech sector,” by Annabelle Dickson
SUNDAY BEST …
— OMB Director SHALANDA YOUNG on whether the U.S. could face default, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “I think we’d be remiss if we did not worry, which is why we keep explaining how catastrophic a default would be for not only this economy, but it would have ramifications across the globe. It would be absolutely catastrophic. We should not play political games with it. We need to get on with the job.”
— Rep. NANCY MACE (R-S.C.) on Pence’s criticism of Trump, on “State of the Union”: “A lot of folks on both sides keep bringing up Jan. 6, and it’s keeping us from moving our country forward. I was very vocal about Jan. 6 myself. … We have got to unite behind a candidate in ’24 who can win the White House if we’re serious about it.”
— Sen. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) on a potential bailout for Silicon Valley Bank, on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “I’m not ready to offer them a bailout by any stretch of the imagination. We have to see exactly everything that is pertinent to the specific set of circumstances and to see what else is out there — if anything else is out there — that we should be thinking about.”
— Sen. KEVIN CRAMER (R-N.D.) on the 2024 GOP presidential primary contenders, on “Meet the Press”: Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS “has certainly earned the right to be at the head of the class, not just through his political rhetoric but through his successful governing of a very large state.”
— Sen. MARK WARNER (D-Va.) on whether TikTok should be banned in the U.S., on ABC’s “This Week”: “Absolutely. Literally 100 million Americans are on TikTok an average of 90 minutes a day. That data is residing in China no matter what TikTok says, and the truth is TikTok can be used as a propaganda mechanism for the Communist Party of China. That I believe is a national security concern.”
TOP-EDS: A roundup of the week’s must-read opinion pieces.
- Ross Douthat in NYT: “Trump Knows How to Make Promises. Do His Rivals?”
- Tom Joscelyn in POLITICO Magazine: “I Helped Write the Jan. 6 Committee Report. Here’s What Tucker Carlson Left Out.”
- Heather Long in WaPo: “There’s a warning sign in this otherwise hot economy”
- Jenice Armstrong in the Philly Inquirer: “Stop blaming Gisele Fetterman and Jill Biden for their husbands’ actions”
- Noam Chomsky, Ian Roberts and Jeffrey Watumull in NYT: “The False Promise of ChatGPT”
- Tom Friedman in NYT: “American Jews, You Have to Choose Sides on Israel”
- Helen Lewis in The Atlantic: “What You Can’t Say on YouTube”
- Peggy Noonan in WSJ: “Ron DeSantis Is Definitely Running”
- Perry Bacon in WaPo: “4 major flaws in calling Republicans the ‘working class’ party”
- Alissa Quart in NYT: “Can We Put an End to America’s Most Dangerous Myth?”
BIDEN’S SUNDAY: The president will leave Wilmington, Del., to return to the White House.
VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SUNDAY: The VP has nothing on her public schedule.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
9 THINGS FOR YOUR RADAR
1. 2024 WATCH: “Biden makes moves foreshadowing campaign to come, angering some liberals,” by WaPo’s Toluse Olorunnipa and Marianna Sotomayor: “As he gears up for reelection, Biden plans to use his presidential platform to attempt to exploit Republican weaknesses on kitchen-table issues like Social Security and drug prices while fending off attacks on crime, immigration and other areas where Democrats are vulnerable with swing voters, according to aides and allies, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.”
Related read: “Biden expected to OK Alaska oil project — a blow to his green base,” by Ben Lefebvre and Zack Colman
Inside Harris world: “Democratic leaders want the party to stop its Kamala Harris pile-on ahead of 2024,” by CNN’s Jasmine Wright and Edward-Isaac Dovere: “Any running mate is a heartbeat away from the presidency, they say, but that’s a different proposition when the heart in question has been beating for more than 80 years.”
The Trump world view: “As Trump embarks on 2024 journey, some longtime allies go their own way,” by CNN’s Alayna Treene: “CNN contacted eight former Trump campaign officials, in addition to [COREY] LEWANDOWSKI, who remained in Trump’s inner circle throughout his presidency and were public fixtures in the media. Only three publicly plan to support his 2024 bid.”
A wild card: “Anti-Trump GOP voters mostly loyal in 2022, but not entirely,” by AP’s Hannah Fingerhut
2. THE WEARING WAR: “‘Little fissures’: The U.S.-Ukraine war unity is slowly cracking apart,” by Jonathan Lemire and Alexander Ward: “Publicly, there has been little separation between Biden and Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, an alliance on full display last month when the American president made his covert, dramatic visit to Kyiv. But based on conversations with 10 officials, lawmakers and experts, new points of tension are emerging: The sabotage of a natural gas pipeline on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean; the brutal, draining defense of a strategically unimportant Ukrainian city; and a plan to fight for a region where Russian forces have been entrenched for nearly a decade.”
Related read: “Ukraine Steps Up Calls for Evacuation of Northeast Town Under Relentless Russian Shelling,” by NYT’s Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Carlotta Gall and Oleksandr Chubko
3. THE NEW ODD COUPLE: “McCarthy and Jeffries want the House to work. So they started with each other,” by WaPo’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Marianna Sotomayor: Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY and House Minority Leader HAKEEM JEFFRIES “have been driven to establish a truce of sorts this year, working to maintain a cordial relationship out of respect for the House as a functioning institution, according to nearly a dozen close confidants and lawmakers, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the relationship candidly. The rough start of the congressional term has since given way to a series of olive branches.”
4. DeSANTIS’ EARLY-STATE TOUR CONTINUES: The Las Vegas Review Journal’s Jessica Hill uncovers two interesting details from Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS’ book stop in Vegas yesterday. (1) Former Nevada AG and failed Senate candidate ADAM LAXALT was DeSantis’ roommate during their time in the Navy. And (2) “When he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 to 2018, DeSantis repeatedly voted in support of Yucca Mountain and against attempts to stop the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project.” That’s a stance at odds with a substantial majority of Nevada voters and lawmakers, and you can expect DeSantis to face attacks on the issue if he moves forward with a presidential bid.
5. SOUNDS LIKE A SENATE CANDIDATE: “Dave McCormick is eyeing another Senate run in Pa. His new book talks Trump, China, and trade,” by the Philly Inquirer’s Jonathan Tamari: “He’s hiring campaign aides. He’s hosting parties for political insiders and forming a political committee to aid fellow Republicans. And this week, DAVE McCORMICK will release a new book that weaves together his biography and roots in Pennsylvania, his experience campaigning for the 2022 Republican U.S. Senate nomination in the state, and his policy prescriptions for the country.”
6. FOX IN THE DOGHOUSE: “Fox’s P.R. Woes May Not Directly Translate to Legal Ones,” by NYT’s Jeremy Peters: “The messages that led to some of the biggest headlines may never be introduced as evidence when the case goes to trial next month, according to lawyers and legal scholars, including several who are directly involved in the case. Fox is expected to ask a judge to exclude certain texts and emails on the grounds they are not relevant. But the most powerful legal defense Fox has is the First Amendment, which allows news organizations broad leeway to cover topics and statements made by elected officials.”
7. DOCU-DRAMA: “Judge denies media access to records in Mar-a-Lago grand jury fight,” by Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney: “A federal judge has rejected a bid by media organizations to gain access to records related to a dispute over compliance with a grand jury subpoena for classified documents stored at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate. The chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington, BERYL HOWELL, issued an order Saturday turning down efforts by news outlets, including POLITICO, to obtain the legal pleadings related to the fight, as well as transcripts of related closed-door court sessions.”
8. TRUMP CARDS: “Little-Known Lawyer, a Trump Ally, Draws Scrutiny in Georgia,” by NYT’s Danny Hakim and Richard Fausset in Atlanta: ROBERT CHEELEY, “who is little known outside Georgia, has a long track record as a plaintiff’s attorney and has been involved in lawsuits brought against Ford, General Motors and other automakers. More recently, his legal work has delved deeply into politics. He is a lead lawyer on one of the last pro-Trump election lawsuits that is still standing, an effort to review tens of thousands of 2020 ballots that are being kept in a Fulton County warehouse.”
9. CALIFORNIA LOVE: “McCarthy receives homecoming welcome from California Republicans after being elected speaker,” by L.A. Times’ Seema Mehta: McCarthy’s speech before the California Republican Party luncheon “included popular Republican touchstones such as fortifying the border, expanding parental rights, supporting law enforcement, opposing China and making fun of Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM’S coiffure as he criticized the Democrat’s spending priorities, including funding for the California bullet train.”
And a reminder of how far the California GOP’s standing has fallen: “No presidential candidates attended despite the state’s primary taking place less than a year from now, and California offering the largest cache of delegates of any state in the nation.”
SPOTTED at the Gridiron: Former chief medical advisor to the president Anthony Fauci rushing out of the reception to help a woman who fainted elsewhere in the hotel, Gen. Mark Milley, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, Army chief of staff James McConville, Air Force chief of staff Gen. Charles Brown, chief of naval operations Adm. Michael Gilday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, USTR Katherine Tai, special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry, presidential science adviser Arati Prabhakar, CIA Director Bill Burns, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Govs. Roy Cooper (D-N.C.), Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.), Chris Sununu (R-N.H.), Laura Kelly (D-Kan.), Wes Moore (D-Md.) and Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), Bill Nye, Jane Pauley and Gary Trudeau, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova, Ned Price, Remi Yamamoto and Ally O’Connell.
Donald Trump and a choir of Jan. 6 inmates have topped the iTunes charts with a bizarre new single.
TRANSITION — Alex Wilcox is joining Rep. Adam Schiff’s Senate campaign this week as research director. She previously was research director for Tim Ryan’s Senate campaign.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) … Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) … Jake Tapper … Remi Yamamoto … WSJ’s Emily Stephenson … Kedenard Raymond … Jalen Drummond … Colleen Carlos of Rep. Madeleine Dean’s (D-Pa.) office … Tara (Jeffries) Payne … former Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) … former Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) … Jordan Evich of Monument Advocacy … Andrew Young … Riley Barnes … Scott Comer … Ashley Ludlow … Fox News’ Eric Shawn … Andres Penfold … Brian Weiss … Eric Burns of Bullfight Strategies … Slate’s Jim Newell … FT’s Peter Spiegel … S-3 Group’s Matt Bravo … Jeremy Pelzer … David Sheon of Whitecoat Strategies … Aaron Magid … Rebekah Williams Lovorn … Neil Fried … Jeff Lande … Marshall Kosloff … James Ball … Steven Stenberg
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