Playbook: Bad news for Biden comes in threes

Playbook: Bad news for Biden comes in threes

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With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

President Joe Biden talks with reporters be he boards Air Force One at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Morrisville, N.C., Tuesday, March 28, 2023, en route to Washington.

President Joe Biden is seeing a dip in poll numbers as he embarks on a reelection campaign. | Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo


LATEST IN TEXAS — “‘We started running’: 8 killed in Texas outlet mall shooting,” by AP’s Jake Bleiberg and Rebecca Boone More on the ground from the Dallas Morning NewsNYT with a policy angle: “Many authorities in Texas say they have seen an increase in spur-of-the-moment gunfire since September 2021, when the state began to allow most adults to carry a handgun without a license.”

BIDEN’S BAD NEWS — It’s a morning of rough headlines for President JOE BIDEN:

1. Biden’s approval rating is down to 36% in the new Washington Post-ABC poll out this morning. That’s the lowest number of his presidency in the Post-ABC survey, and a drop from February, when he stood at 42%.

That alone would be bad enough for Biden world. But things get worse from there.

In a head-to-head matchup against DONALD TRUMP in 2024:

  • Trump … 44%
  • Biden … 38%
  • Undecided/neither/someone else … 18%

And when undecided respondents are asked who they lean toward, Trump’s lead grows:

  • Trump … 49%
  • Biden … 42%
  • Neither/someone else/ wouldn’t vote … 8%

One big question: Is this simply a polling outlier? WaPo’s Dan Balz, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin note that “[o]ther recent polls have pegged Biden’s approval in the low 40s without a decline in recent months.” And it’s worth mentioning that this is a poll of voting-age adults, rather than the more frequently used universes of registered or likely voters. So it’s certainly possible that this is an anomaly.

But if it isn’t, then it’s the start of potentially a much bigger headache for the president — especially as he heads into the 2024 campaign with clouds on the horizon for the economy. The poll shows that by a 54% to 36% margin, “Americans say Trump did a better job handling the economy when he was president than Biden has done during his presidency so far.”

In a statement to Playbook this morning, Biden’s campaign projected confidence. “MAGA Republicans and their extreme agenda remain both dangerous and deeply unpopular and threaten our freedoms and the economic progress we have made under Joe Biden,” said campaign spokesman KEVIN MUNOZ. “We will continue to focus on earning Americans’ votes, addressing the issues they care most about, and again defying the conventional beltway wisdom to win a second term.”

2. Biden has problems with his base. Black voters continue to back the president — but not with the same enthusiasm they had in 2020, AP’s Ayanna Alexander reports from South Carolina.

“While only about half of Democrats overall say they want Biden to run again in 2024, 81% say they would definitely or probably support him if he were the nominee. The groundswell isn’t as stark among Black adults: 41% say they want him to run and only 55% say they are likely to support him in the general election. …

“South Carolina provides an early barometer on how Black voters are viewing Biden shortly after his quiet campaign launch, via a video message late last month. … [I]nterviews two years into his presidency with more than a dozen Black voters representing a variety of ages and backgrounds reveal mixed views, especially between older and younger voters. Many younger voters said they aren’t convinced that Biden has delivered on their most important priorities.”

Again, here’s what the Biden camp told Playbook this morning: “The president and vice president have made issues Black Americans care most about a priority, and are running to finish the job,” said Munoz, the spox. “The progress made in the first two years — whether it’s the historically low black unemployment rate, unprecedented funding to HBCUs, or halving the black poverty rate in half — is all at stake in 2024. The campaign will work hard to earn every vote, and expand on its winning 2020 coalition.”

3. Meanwhile, in the center of the electorate, Biden is getting hammered for his handling of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

This weekend at the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum in Arizona (of which POLITICO was a media partner), newly independent Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA sat down with “Face the Nation” host MARGARET BRENNAN and torched the Biden team for an apparent lack of readiness ahead of Title 42’s expiration later this week.

Sinema said the White House doesn’t “share information” with her when she calls and asks about preparations — and that Gov. KATIE HOBBS and local officials have had trouble getting information out of the administration, too.

“While it’s wonderful that the administration is announcing things like a 1,500 troop deployment and these new processing centers, which will not be operational by next Friday … Those are good things, those are aspirational; that’s not the same as operational,” Sinema said.

“And so what I’m asking for — and have been for two years — is for the administration to make concrete plans, rent the buses, hire the drivers, build the soft-sided facilities so we can process individuals. We need more holding capacity. I mean, let’s be realistic here. We’re not prepared for that. And that’s frustrating.”

(That’s not exactly what Biden would like to hear from a Dem-caucusing senator in a particularly purple swing state heading into the 2024 cycle.)

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Later on “Face the Nation,” Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS responded to Sinema’s comments, saying there isn’t a communication issue.

“I respectfully disagree with the senator and [with Gov. Hobbs]. Number one, we are prepared. We’ve been preparing for quite some time,” Mayorkas said. “Number two, we have a migration information center that is specifically set up to communicate with state and local officials, and we have been doing so. If there is a question that has been unanswered, we will answer it.”

The White House declined to comment on Sinema’s remarks.

Related read: “An End to Pandemic Restrictions Could Bring Thousands to the Border,” by NYT’s Miriam Jordan and Michael Shear in El Paso: “Barring a last-minute legal challenge, the Trump-era policy known as Title 42 will expire at 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. It was put in place three years ago under the premise of preventing the spread of Covid-19. Border agents, state and local officials and even President Biden’s top aides in Washington are all bracing for the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants in the coming days.”

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


— Treasury Secretary JANET YELLEN on whether Biden would use the Fourteenth Amendment to address the debt limit, on ABC’s “This Week”: “Our priority is to make sure that Congress does its job. There is no way to protect our financial system and our economy other than Congress doing its job and raising the debt ceiling and enabling us to pay our bills. And we should not get to the point where we need to consider whether the president can go on issuing debt. This would be a constitutional crisis.”

— Rep. HENRY CUELLAR (D-Texas) on the administration’s immigration policies, on “Fox News Sunday”: “The administration needs to go to the center [politically] — and I’ve asked them to go to the center. And I think some of the policies that they’re about to implement brings them to the center. In my opinion, [it’s] a little bit too late.”

— House Minority Leader HAKEEM JEFFRIES on whether he accepts the premise that Congress won’t pass a clean debt limit hike, on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “I do not … the only responsible thing to do is to do what Democrats did in the previous administration, where we helped President Trump raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default three different times.”

On House Dems’ approach to the negotiations: “We are in lockstep with President Biden. We’re in lockstep with Senate Democrats. We want to do the right thing for the American people.”

— Sen. DICK DURBIN (D-Ill.) on whether Supreme Court Chief Justice JOHN ROBERTS will implement a code of conduct, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “History is going to judge him by the decision he makes on this. He has the power to make the difference. … He has the power to do it for the Roberts Court. But other justices can speak out as well.” More from David Cohen

— ASA HUTCHINSON on Trump’s reported disinterest in appearing for GOP primary debates, on “Meet the Press”: “He’ll drop in the polls, and that’s why I think he will ultimately be there. It’s important for the American public to hear — particularly the Republican voters — to hear what the candidates say about the future, their ideas for it and to engage in that debate and defend their position. So that’s what the expectation is, and I think everybody has an obligation to participate in that.”


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TOP-EDS: A roundup of the week’s must-read opinion and analysis pieces.

  • “How the White Working Class Could Sink the Democrats … Again,” by Ruy Teixeira in The Liberal Patriot
  • “Don’t fight ‘cancel culture’ by exaggerating its power,” by Matthew Yglesias in Slow Boring
  • “Of Course Trump Is Afraid to Debate,” by Peggy Noonan in WSJ
  • “It’s Time to Reacquaint Americans With the Possibility of Changing the Constitution,” by Kate Shaw and Julie Suk in NYT
  • “Can the Capitol hold a much bigger House? Yes, here’s how it would look,” Danielle Allen in WaPo
  • “Chief Justice Roberts has a Clarence Thomas problem,” by David Savage in the L.A. Times
  • “Tucker Carlson’s Code of Whiteness,” by A.O. Scott in NYT
  • “Young Voters Are More Moderate Than You Think,” by Lauren Harper and Hugh Jones in The Liberal Patriot
  • “The First Step to Solving the Housing Crisis Might Be Simpler Than You Think,” by Yuliya Panfil and Sabiha Zainulbhai for POLITICO Magazine
  • “We’re Watching the End of a Digital Media Age. It All Started With Jezebel,” by Ben Smith in NYT
  • “What walking from Washington to New York reveals about America,” by James Bennet in The Economist

BIDEN’S SUNDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.

VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SUNDAY — The VP has nothing on her public schedule.

DON’T MISS THE POLITICO ENERGY SUMMIT: A new world energy order is emerging and America’s place in it is at a critical juncture. Join POLITICO on Thursday, May 18 for our first-ever energy summit to explore how the U.S. is positioning itself in a complicated energy future. We’ll explore progress on infrastructure and climate funding dedicated to building a renewable energy economy, Biden’s environmental justice proposals, and so much more. REGISTER HERE.


A law enforcement officer walks as people are evacuated from a shopping center where a shooting occurred Saturday, May 6, 2023, in Allen, Texas.Pin

A law enforcement officer walks as people are evacuated from a shopping center where a shooting occurred in Allen, Texas, on Saturday, May 6. | LM Otero/AP Photo



1. INSIDE DeSANTIS’ DEBATE PREP: “Don’t ‘piss off his voters’: Recordings reveal DeSantis’ 2018 thoughts on dealing with Trump,” by ABC’s Olivia Rubin and Will Steakin: “ABC News obtained nearly two and a half hours of raw internal tapes of [RON] DeSANTIS’ 2018 debate prep sessions that have not previously been made public. His comments in the videos provide a rare glimpse into how the Florida governor, who is now poised to enter the 2024 Republican primary, had previously calculated how to effectively appeal to Donald Trump’s fiercely loyal base while also working to carve out his own lane as a candidate — a balance that DeSantis may need to hone if he is to secure the party’s nomination in 2024.”

A choice scene: “‘Is there any issue upon which you disagree with President Trump?’ DeSantis was asked by Florida Rep. MATT GAETZ in footage exclusively obtained by ABC News of the team’s mock debate sessions during DeSantis’ 2018 run for governor. ‘I have to figure out how to do this,’ then-Congressman DeSantis replied, while letting out a deep sigh. ‘Obviously there is, because I mean I voted contrary to him in the Congress,’ DeSantis continued. ‘I have to frame it in a way that’s not going to piss off all his voters.’”

Related read: “DeSantis Continues to Test the Waters of 2024 — and Supporters Are Getting Restless,” by NYT’s Nicholas Nehamas in Rothschild, Wis.: “At the Saturday event, a sold-out dinner for the Republican Party of Marathon County, Mr. DeSantis continued to focus on his record as Florida’s governor, rather than making a direct case for why he should be president.”

2. SPECIAL REPORT: “To counter Russia in Africa, Biden deploys a favored strategy,” by Erin Banco and Anastasiia Carrier: “As Russia’s paramilitary organization, the Wagner Group, expands its presence in African countries, the Biden administration is pushing back with one of its prized tactics: sharing sensitive intelligence with allies in Africa in an attempt to dissuade countries from partnering with the group. The administration has used this tactic with increasing frequency, including in the months leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. It serves the dual function of alerting allies to looming threats and placing adversaries on notice that the U.S. knows what they’re doing.”

3. THE TRUMP TRAIN ROLLS ON: “Trump plays the inside game to stave off ’16-like convention chaos,” by Alex Isenstadt: “Now engaged in another delegate battle, Trump has been aggressively courting party leaders — in Louisiana and elsewhere — who are expected to be delegates at the party’s 2024 convention in Milwaukee. He’s been dining with them at Mar-a-Lago, chatting them up at party events and offering them endorsements. The effort will intensify in the weeks to come, with Trump expected to make appearances at state party events that will be filled with future national delegates.”

4. WHO’S THE BOSS?: NBC’s Peter Nicholas, Nicole Acevedo and Katherine Doyle are up with a profile on new Biden campaign manager JULIE CHÁVEZ RODRÍGUEZ and some of the private concerns about her elevated status in Biden world. “She has never run a campaign before, much less that of a sitting president warning that democracy is at risk of collapse. And she’s a latecomer to Biden’s inner circle. She worked on Kamala Harris’ 2020 ill-fated presidential campaign before switching to Biden after Harris dropped out.”

Plus, there’s this biting quote from an anonymous Dem strategist: “No one in Democratic politics thinks she’s in charge. And that’s the problem.” The strategist also recalled this anecdote they heard from a state party official recently: “‘Why the hell would I call her [Chávez Rodríguez]. I’m going to call ANITA [DUNN].’”


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5. HOW THE SAUSAGE GOT MADE: “Jon Tester wanted to soften hemp regulations and turned to industry officials to help craft the bill,” by Daniel Lippman and Holly Otterbein: “Interviews with six hemp advocates, company officials and Senate aides reveal that hemp lobbyists and businesses brought the original idea for the legislation to [Montana Democratic Sen. JON] TESTER’s office. An email obtained by POLITICO also shows that in February they got a word-for-word early look at the bill that the two senators would go on to introduce weeks later.”

6. OMAR SPEAKS: “‘What happens if I am killed?’ Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks out about threats,” by the Star Tribune’s Hunter Woodall: “When Democrats ran the House during her first four years in office, [Democratic Rep. ILHAN] OMAR said she could count on Speaker NANCY PELOSI to make sure she had the help and protection she needed. She said she lacks that confidence with the new Republican speaker, KEVIN McCARTHY. ‘I don’t know if I feel confident that if things were to rise to a dangerous level again if I can rely on the current speaker to take my safety and the safety of some of my other former vulnerable colleagues [seriously],’ said Omar, the first Somali American and one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress.”

7. BRAGG RIGHTS: “In Trump Case, Bragg Pursues a Common Charge With a Rarely Used Strategy,” by NYT’s Ben Protess, Kate Christobek, Jonah Bromwich, William Rashbaum and Sean Piccoli: “The decision to charge Mr. Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records — and no other crimes — highlights the unique nature of the case, the first indictment of a former American president. [Manhattan DA ALVIN] BRAGG, a Democrat, has drawn criticism from Mr. Trump’s allies, who say that he bumped up the charges to a felony for political reasons.”

8. A TEACHING MOMENT: The Boston Globe’s Tal Kopan is up with the first installment of a series of stories examining the education wars across the country: “How a school board race in the blue state of Illinois became a nationally funded cage match: Around the country, conservative groups have harnessed parental angst to gain seats on school boards. Liberals see a threat to public education and have scrambled to keep up.”

9. ABORTION FALLOUT: “The Unexpected Women Blocking South Carolina’s Near-Total Abortion Ban,” by NYT’s Kate Zernike: “They call themselves the ‘Sister Senators’ and three of them are Republicans.”

GET READY FOR GLOBAL TECH DAY: Join POLITICO Live as we launch our first Global Tech Day alongside London Tech Week on Thursday, June 15. Register now for continuing updates and to be a part of this momentous and program-packed day! From the blockchain, to AI, and autonomous vehicles, technology is changing how power is exercised around the world, so who will write the rules? REGSITER HERE.


Jamie Dupree’s horse came in.

Mark Kelly was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Tim Scott made a quintessential Iowa stop.

Gérard Araud weighed in on Netflix’s “The Diplomat.”

IN MEMORIAM — “Newton Minow, ex-FCC chief who dubbed TV ‘wasteland,’ dies,” by AP’s Tammy Webber: “Newton N. Minow, who as Federal Communications Commission chief in the early 1960s famously proclaimed that network television was a “vast wasteland,” died Saturday. He was 97. Minow, who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, died Saturday at home, surrounded by loved ones, said his daughter, Nell Minow.”

OUT AND ABOUT — British Ambassador Karen Pierce hosted a coronation celebration at her residence last night. SPOTTED: Robert Costa, Catherine Grace Katz, Jonathan Capehart and Nick Schmit, Andrea Mitchell, Jackie Calmes, Josh Dawsey, James Perry Adams, David Sanger, Tammy Haddad, Al Hunt, Sam Feist, Rob Crilly, John McCarthy, Bruce Reed, Nate Evans, Andrew Bates, Megan Apper and Sherrill Ann Leonard.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Valerie Foushee (D-N.C.) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) … Fox’s Brian KilmeadeAngela Morabito of Thirteen Strategy Group … NBC’s Mark MurrayKeith Stern Caitlin Carroll Bruce Haynes of FGS Global … John Scofield of S-3 Group … Colm O’Comartun of 50 State … Nichole Francis ReynoldsNickie Currie of Amgen … RNC’s Christian SchaefferJim SteinbergAndrea Purse … 4C Communication Strategies’ Chris KennedyBlake RobertsBrad Wolters … former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert … former Reps. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) … Noelle Garnier … CNBC’s Amanda Macias Sandy Eisen

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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