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By EUGENE DANIELS and RYAN LIZZA
With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate floor on Jan. 26, 2021. | Samuel Corum/Getty Images
“MITCH McCONNELL sat in his office on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, agonizing over how to cast what he knew would be one of the most pivotal votes of his career.”
That’s the lede of a buzzy new excerpt in The Washington Post from “Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump” ($35) by Playbook’s own Rachael Bade and Post national security reporter Karoun Demirjian.
It explores how the longtime Republican leader came much closer than originally reported to backing Trump’s conviction after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection — and even got sandbagged by his own members into making a decision on the issue before he was ready. McConnell relished the opportunity to slam the door shut on the controversial former president’s political career, and inside his Capitol office suite, he intensively debated the question with his own staff.
“But while McConnell was ready to be done with Trump, his party, it seemed, was not,” Rachael and Karoun write. “To his chagrin, a large chunk of his members were once again coalescing around the former president. And they were about to put him in a bind.”
That afternoon, fellow Kentucky Sen. RAND PAUL would force a vote on the constitutionality of convicting a former president — short-circuiting McConnell’s own deliberations. While Trump loyalists had seized on the suggestion that a former president simply could not be impeached and convicted, McConnell was not so sure. He argued with one of his most trusted aides about why the Founders would explicitly allow Congress to bar an impeached official from future office yet reserve that power only for current officials.
Yet “McConnell had never led such a rebellion” against a fellow Republican, the pair write. “And that day, he wasn’t sure he was up to the task.”
Ultimately, with his GOP colleagues closely watching for cues, McConnell voted to declare the impeachment unconstitutional in a test vote that set the stage for Trump’s acquittal less than three weeks later.
Other newsy bits from the piece:
— On Jan. 6, after McConnell returned from Fort McNair to his office, he told his staff: “We’ve all known that Trump is crazy. … I’m done with him. I will never speak to him again.”
— McConnell consulted closely with Rep. LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.) after the riot. While the two agreed Trump was a danger to the Republic, McConnell was worried that Trump would be able to use a conviction as a springboard back to the White House. “We don’t disagree on the substance; we just disagree on the tactics,” McConnell told her. “Let’s just ignore him.”
In other parts of the book not included in the excerpt, “Unchecked” reveals that even after voting against the trial’s constitutionality, McConnell continued to entertain a vote to convict.
McConnell’s team even went so far as to lay out two sets of arguments for his final floor speech for the trial: the first to be used as his justification for acquittal, as well as a backup in case he decided to convict. In the end, McConnell determined that he simply couldn’t break with the majority of his conference on such a consequential issue.
These tantalizing new details are just a few of the revelations jam-packed into “Unchecked,” the only account of the Trump impeachments by front-line reporters who covered them both, conducting hundreds of interviews. Besides the McConnell account, the book will raise pointed new questions about how Democrats went about trying to take down Trump — and whether they did all they could to try to turn the nation against him.
The book, which hits shelves Oct. 18, comes as:
(1) Trump readies another bid for the White House while Americans express rising anxiety over the state of democracy;
(2) Democrats — who pulled punches in probing Trump during his presidency — try to correct the mistakes of the past through the high-profile Jan. 6 select committee;
(3) and House Republicans, eyeing the majority next year, sharpen their knives to impeach President JOE BIDEN and other members of his administration.
We’ll have much more to share in the coming days — including from Rachael, who’s suspending her maternity leave for the rollout.
Former President Donald Trump greets Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in West Palm Beach, Fla. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo
SUNSHINE SHOWDOWN — It’s the juggernaut match-up Republicans can’t stop talking about: Trump vs. Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS.
The conventional wisdom for more than a year is that Trump would be impossible to beat in a GOP primary. According to a new USA Today/Suffolk University poll, that’s no longer the case — at least in their home state of Florida.
In a hypothetical mano-a-mano Sunshine State presidential primary matchup, DeSantis leads Trump 48% to 40% — a major swing from January, when Trump was beating DeSantis by 7 percentage points.
DAVID PALEOLOGOS, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center put it this way: “This doesn’t necessarily mean DeSantis would lead in any other GOP primary state … But it is one data point suggesting a shift in preferences from GOP voters away from Trump and toward DeSantis from Republicans who know both potential combatants quite well.”
The picture is quite different nationally. In new POLITICO/Morning Consult polling out today, Trump garners 53% among all Republican voters, with DeSantis grabbing just 19% — though Trump’s support has sagged by five points from where it was a month ago. (Toplines … Crosstabs)
Our Meridith McGraw has a look this morning at what the new polling tells us about the Republican electorate. The numbers, she writes, “illustrate the political benefits and larger downsides that the Mar-a-Lago probe continues to present for Trump. The investigation has allowed him to coalesce his base and provided him with tools to raise boatloads of money.”
Good Wednesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.
JUST ANNOUNCED — STEVE HEUSER will become POLITICO’s first global technology editor, senior managing editor SUDEEP REDDY announced this morning. Steve, the longtime editor of POLITICO Magazine, is known throughout the newsroom for publishing a diverse array of voices and leading the team behind many of our highest-profile, highest-traffic stories. This spring, he was the architect of our popular new Digital Future Daily newsletter (subscribe here). In his new role, writes Sudeep, Steve will build out “new pathways for chronicling the battle for power across the global technology landscape,” and cement POLITICO’s “role in covering the corridors of tech power from Silicon Valley to Washington.” Read the full memo
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Josh Shapiro campaigns in Pittsburgh. | Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Scoop from our Holly Otterbein: It’s no secret that DOUG MASTRIANO, the far-right state senator running for Pennsylvania governor, has had trouble uniting the GOP donor establishment behind him. It’s a big reason why his campaign has yet to air a single general-election TV ad seven weeks before the election.
But the depth of the estrangement between Mastriano and the rest of the GOP will be underscored at a big-dollar Philadelphia fundraiser later today benefiting his Democratic opponent, JOSH SHAPIRO. Among the co-hosts of the fundraiser is SHERYL BARTOS — the wife of JEFF BARTOS, a two-time statewide Pennsylvania GOP candidate and, more pointedly, the co-chair of MEHMET OZ’s Senate campaign.
Jeff Bartos, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate this year and was GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018, did not respond to a question about whether he is backing Mastriano.
— But there are reasons he might have qualms: A person familiar with the situation said the Bartos and Shapiro families have been longtime friends. Furthermore, the Bartoses are Jewish, and Mastriano, who is widely seen as a leader of the Christian nationalist movement, has been dogged by associations with anti-Semitism, which he denies.
— Asked recently if he supports Mastriano, ticketmate Oz said he is “endorsing the entire Republican slate.”
— Holly tells Eugene: “After Mastriano won the nomination, the majority of GOP elected and party officials have gotten behind him. Several Republicans have continued to privately raise concerns about his campaign in recent months, though. This is another sign that despite the public displays of unity, at least some of the GOP establishment is still not happy with Mastriano.”
MIDTERM MARKERS — As we approach the final weeks of the midterm run-up, we want to give you a snapshot of two key indicators from our weekly POLITICO/Morning Consult polling that inform how each party is heading into Election Day.
1) Biden’s approval rating: After holding steady for a few weeks, Biden’s approval rating has notched up to 46%, marking the first time it has reached that level since December 2021.
2) The generic congressional ballot: While Democrats still hold the edge if the election were held today, 46% to 41%, the numbers for both parties came down one percentage point from the past few weeks, with more voters now saying they either don’t know or have no opinion.
DATA DEEP DIVE — “The ‘Cost’ of Voting in America: A Look at Where It’s Easiest and Hardest,” by NYT’s Nick Corasaniti and Allison McCann: “Voters in New Hampshire and Mississippi face the highest personal cost in the country in terms of the time and effort required to cast a ballot, according to a new academic study. Voters in Oregon and Washington have it the easiest.”
INTERESTING ANGLE — “Retirees are becoming one of the most powerful political financial forces in the nation as they spend their savings to fuel federal-level campaigns,” Insider’s Madison Hall reports from a review of donation data: The group has risen from about one-tenth of contributions to more than one-fifth.
AU REVOIR — David Weigel pens his last edition of WaPo’s The Trailer: “Five big things this year’s primaries told us”
BATTLE FOR THE SENATE
MASTERS DEGREE — McConnell’s powerful Senate Leadership Fund is pulling all of its advertising reservations in Arizona, “confident that other outside conservative groups will make up much of the difference for Republican nominee BLAKE MASTERS,” Axios’ Josh Kraushaar reports. And right on cue, CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reported on Tuesday afternoon that GOP megadonor PETER THIEL is planning a fundraiser at his L.A. mansion for Masters next week.
THE SLEEPY SLEEPER — Among all the marquee matchups across the country, the race that has garnered perhaps the least national attention is in North Carolina, where Democrat CHERI BEASLEY and Republican Rep. TED BUDD vie for the seat that GOP Sen. RICHARD BURR is vacating. “That may be because the sleeper is also the sleepiest,” NYT’s Jonathan Weisman says of Beasley. “If fire is what voters are seeking, they won’t find it here.” As Democrats worry they’ll get their hearts broken again in the Tar Heel State, they’re looking for “a little less balance and a little more brimstone.”
BATTLE FOR THE STATES
PILL DRILL — The White House waded into the Michigan AG race on Tuesday, responding to comments made by GOP nominee MATT DePERNO in which he likened Plan B to fentanyl, the Detroit Free Press’ Todd Spangler and Dave Boucher write. What DePerno said: “You’ve got to figure out how to ban the pill from the state. … You have to stop it at the border. It would be no different than fentanyl.” White House press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: “Make no mistake: these proposals from Republican officials expand far beyond a women’s right to choose; there are Republican officials that want to ban contraception.” Hear the comments, via the Heartland Signal
— Florida: GOP Sen. MARCO RUBIO leads Democratic Rep. VAL DEMINGS, 45% to 41%, per USA Today/Suffolk. DeSantis leads Democratic Rep. and former Gov. CHARLIE CRIST, 48% to 41%.
— Wisconsin: GOP Sen. RON JOHNSON leads Democrat MANDELA BARNES 48% to 44%, per Emerson. Democratic Gov. TONY EVERS has a slight edge over Republican TIM MICHELS, 45% to 43%.
— Wisconsin: Steve Shepard writes in: Barnes is on the defensive in a new ad, answering one of the many charges Johnson has made in his ad campaign, which has erased Barnes’ post-primary polling lead: that the Democratic nominee hasn’t paid his taxes.
— New Hampshire: A new spot for Democratic Rep. CHRIS PAPPAS criticizes Republican KAROLINE LEAVITT for her false claims about 2020 election fraud, using all her own words.
10:35 a.m.: The president will deliver remarks at the U.N. General Assembly.
11:45 a.m.: Biden will participate in a bilateral meeting with U.N. Secretary-General ANTÓNIO GUTERRES.
1:15 p.m.: Biden will participate in a bilateral meeting with British PM LIZ TRUSS.
4 p.m.: Biden will deliver remarks at the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference.
7 p.m.: The president and first lady JILL BIDEN will host a Leader’s Reception at the American Museum of Natural History.
VP KAMALA HARRIS’ WEDNESDAY:
11 a.m.: The VP and second gentleman DOUG EMHOFF will attend a service for QUEEN ELIZABETH II at the Washington National Cathedral.
2:15 p.m.: Harris will deliver remarks on a press call with Treasury Secretary JANET YELLEN to provide an update on the Emergency Capital Investment Program.
THE SENATE will meet at 10 a.m. to resume consideration of the resolution of ratification on T.Doc.117-1, Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, post-cloture. VA Secretary DENIS McDONOUGH will testify before the Veterans’ Affairs Committee at 3 p.m.
THE HOUSE will meet at 10 a.m. Top bank execs will testify before the Financial Services Committee at 10 a.m.
JOIN THURSDAY FOR A GLOBAL INSIDER INTERVIEW: From climate change to public health emergencies and a gloomy global economic outlook, the world continues to deal with overlapping crises. How do we best confront all of these issues? Join POLITICO Live on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 10:30 a.m. EDT for a virtual conversation with Global Insider author Ryan Heath, featuring World Bank President David Malpass, to explore what it will take to restore global stability and avoid a prolonged recession. REGISTER HERE.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Former President Bill Clinton speaks to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the Clinton Global Initiative, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, in New York. | Julia Nikhinson/AP Photo
OH DEARIE — In his first conference as court-appointed special master, Judge RAYMOND DEARIE delivered something of a setback to Trump’s legal team on Tuesday, sharply questioning and repeatedly challenging the lawyers for refusing to back up the former president’s claim that he declassified the highly sensitive national security-related records discovered in his residence, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney write. “Without evidence from Trump, Dearie said his only basis to judge the classification level of the records was the fact that they all bear markings designating them as highly sensitive national security secrets — including some that indicate they contain intelligence derived from human sources and foreign intercepts.”
Josh and Kyle write in: “Dearie seemed intent on sending a message to Trump’s lawyers that he would resist any effort to drag out the process. And in the first few minutes of the hearing Tuesday, Dearie threw a real brushback pitch at Trump’s team, making clear that their theoretical musings about Trump declassifying docs weren’t going to cut it. The atmosphere in the courtroom wasn’t particularly tense, but it was clear who was in charge and that the judge and Trump’s lawyers were not on the same wavelength on various aspects of the dispute.”
OKTOBERFEST — Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMERsaid on Tuesday that the Senate will be meeting next month despite the looming midterms. Our colleague Burgess Everett notes that this will mark the third straight election year where the Senate will meet in October. The chamber stayed in session for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices BRETT KAVANAUGH in 2018 and AMY CONEY BARRETT in 2020.
THE AGENDA-SETTER — As House Minority Leader KEVIN McCARTHY gets set to roll out his big pre-midterms agenda in Pittsburgh on Friday, he is in many ways drawing on NEWT GINGRICH’s 28-year-old Contract With America in substance and style. “But the current frontrunner for speaker next year is taking pains to do what 2010’s House GOP leadership class couldn’t fully achieve with its own nod to Gingrich’s contract: get the entire conference on board, from the right flank to centrists,” Olivia Beavers reports this morning. So far, he’s succeeding with “widespread buy-in among House Republicans, including high-profile GOP candidates.”
MANCHIN IN THE MIDDLE — The real friendship between West Virginia Sens. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO and JOE MANCHIN is being tested by the really contentious permitting fight that is captivating Congress, Burgess and Marianne LeVine write. “The Democratic centrist Manchin and deal-seeking Republican Capito share a desire to speed construction of massive energy projects. But under political pressure, they’re diverging on the details.”
HAPPENING TODAY — The House is voting on a proposal to “modernize the 135-year-old law that Trump backers tried to use to their advantage on Jan. 6,” Nicholas Wu and Jordain Carney write. “After weeks of testing a MAGA-focused message on the campaign trail and the airwaves — one that scorches Republicans for the roles some played in Trump’s failed attempts to claim the second term he lost — the vote gives Democrats a chance to back it up with action.” But, but, but: “It’s far from clear whether the House version can prevail over a Senate alternative that’s incredibly similar and currently has the necessary GOP support to overcome a filibuster.
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SHOCKING SCAM — The Justice Department on Tuesday charged 47 people for “running a brazen fraud against anti-hunger programs in the coronavirus pandemic, stealing $240 million by billing the government for meals they did not serve to children who did not exist,” NYT’s David Fahrenthold reports from Minnesota. “The case, in Minnesota, is the largest fraud uncovered in any pandemic-relief program, prosecutors said, standing out even in a period when heavy federal spending and lax oversight allowed a spree of scams with few recent parallels.”
AMERICA AND THE WORLD
UNGA PRESSURE — NYT’s Farnaz Fassihi and Alan Yuhas have the download from the first day of the U.N. General Assembly, where Turkish President RECEP TAYYIP ERDOĞAN and French President EMMANUEL MACRON “used the United Nations as a stage to cast themselves as would-be peacemakers in the war in Ukraine.” However, for all their words, “it remained far from clear how any of the world leaders who gathered in New York might be able to sway [Russian President VLADIMIR] PUTIN, who chose not to attend the assembly, or what the United Nations might resolve to do this week, however high the widespread but not universal anger at Mr. Putin.”
BIDEN AT UNGA — “5 things to watch as Biden heads to the United Nations,” by Nahal Toosi
THE OTHER NYC TICKET THIS WEEK — As world leaders descend on the Big Apple for UNGA, not too far across town, BILL, HILLARY and CHELSEA CLINTON are also planting their flag with the return of the Clinton Global Initiative for the first time since 2016. The goal this time around, NYT’s Nicholas Kulish writes, “is to recapture that old Clinton magic, and to see if there is still room in a field of thought-leading, pledge-making symposia crowding the city this week.”
FED UP — With the Fed poised for yet another supersized interest rate hike, there’s a rising chorus of protests that the central bank has already gone too far and is tipping the economy into recession, Victoria Guida writes this morning in a good primer for the Fed’s meeting today. Said LIZ ANN SONDERS, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab: “There’s the old expression that sometimes they’ll tighten until something breaks. … It’s a legitimate concern at this point.”
INFLATION NATION — “Climbing Housing Costs Could Prop Up Inflation for a While,” WSJ
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
THE MIGRANT FLIGHTS — Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based law firm, filed a federal class action lawsuit against Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS on Tuesday, accusing the Republican of engineering a “premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme” in flying two planes of migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week, Lisa Kashinsky reports. “The lawsuit also asks a judge order DeSantis to stop transporting migrants in the future.”
HURRICANE FIONA LATEST — “Schumer blasts Puerto Rico’s utility, grid manager for power failures,” by Gloria Gonzalez
— “FEMA faces deep mistrust as it vows to help Puerto Rico respond to Fiona,” WaPo
— “‘Could not imagine’: Puerto Ricans assess Hurricane Fiona devastation exactly 5 years after Maria,” NBC
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The Space Force has premiered its official song.
J. Michael Luttig is a fan ofLiz Cheney and Zoe Lofgren’s Electoral Count Act reform bill.
Olaf Scholz is apparently visiting New York City for the first time this week at UNGA.
Aaron Fritschner made quite the Dark Brandon meme.
OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at the kickoff dinner for the Atlantic Festival inside the National Portrait Gallery on Tuesday night: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Geoff Bennett, Jeff Goldberg, Anne Applebaum, Wolf Blitzer, Mark Leibovich, Dafna Linzer, Lisa Page, Peter Lattman, Tim Alberta, Frank Foer, Jemele Hill, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Clint Smith and Vann Newkirk.
— SPOTTED at a party for Ali Vitali’s new book, “Electable: Why America Hasn’t Put a Woman in the White House … Yet” ($26.09), hosted by NBC News in the Lincoln Library of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in D.C., where NBC Washington bureau chief Ken Strickland introduced Ali: Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Reps. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Hallie Jackson, Shannon Pettypiece, Mike Memoli, Kristen Holmes, Julia Krieger, Jeremy Adler, Matt Gorman, Olivia Perez-Cubas, Luke Russert, Dafna Linzer, Scott Wong, Carrie Budoff Brown and Christie Stephenson. Pic, courtesy of NBC News/Shannon Finney
STAFFING UP — The White House announced several appointments for officials to oversee semiconductor funding implementation from the CHIPS and Science Act: Aaron “Ronnie” Chatterji as White House coordinator for CHIPS implementation, Michael Schmidt as director of the CHIPS Program Office, Eric Lin as interim director of the CHIPS Research and Development Office, Todd Fisher as interim senior adviser at the CHIPS Program Office, Donna Dubinsky as senior counselor to the Commerce secretary for CHIPS implementation and J.D. Grom as senior adviser to the Commerce secretary on CHIPS implementation.
NEW NOMINEES — The White House announced it will nominate Roger Nyhus as ambassador to Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Lynne Tracy as ambassador to Russia.
TRANSITIONS — Kelley Robinson will be the next president of the Human Rights Campaign. She previously was executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. … Adriana Hidalgo and Matt Weiner have launched the 501(c)(4) Megafire Action. Hidalgo previously was scheduler and special assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Weiner previously was executive director of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation.
WEEKEND WEDDING — Andrew Bates, deputy White House press secretary, and Megan Apper, senior adviser for global public affairs at the State Department, got married on Saturday in an interfaith ceremony at Blue Hill Farm B&B in Waterford, Va. They served brisket BBQ, and White Ford Bronco played the reception. More from People magazine, with six photos
SPOTTED: Jen Psaki and Greg Mecher, Anita Dunn and Bob Bauer, Dana Remus and Brett Holmgren, TJ Ducklo, Mike Gwin, Stef Feldman, Meghan Hays, Remi Yamamoto, David Kieve, Kate Berner and Tommy Bailey, Bill and Alice Russo, Rob Flaherty and Carla Frank, Rosemary Boeglin, Vedant Patel and Sneha Polisetti, Opal Vadhan, Meira Bernstein, Shripal and Meg Shah, Harrell and Emily Cashman Kirstein, Sabrina Singh and Mike Smith, Stephen Goepfert and Sharmeen Khan.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Shane Goldmacher, a national political correspondent for the New York Times and a POLITICO alum, and Sophie Kim Goldmacher, the chief people officer of the ACLU, on Sept. 12 welcomed Connor Noah Goldmacher, who joins big brother Nathan. Pic
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and David Trone (D-Md.) … USAID Administrator Samantha Power … Dean Baquet … Shealah Craighead … CNN’s Brianna Keilar … Maggie Dougherty … POLITICO’s Karey Van Hall … Ian Tuttle of Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R-Neb.) office … Reuters’ Alexandra Alper … Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner … Franklin Zyriek of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-Ariz.) office … Georgette Kerr of Plurus Strategies … Erin Graefe Dorton of Prime Policy Group … WSJ’s Toula Vlahou … Mike Walsh of Foley & Lardner … Facebook’s Brian Roehrkasse … Beacon Media’s Ian Russell … Rodney Whitlock … Melanie Steele … former CIA Director James Woolsey … Cass Sunstein … Kiki Burger (4-0) … NBC News PR’s Dom Donahue
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this newsletter misstated the level of support for Donald Trump in a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
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