IS THERE ONE THING GOING WELL for President DONALD TRUMP right now? He’s getting smoked by JOE BIDEN. The coronavirus is raging. Governors and local leaders are closing states and municipalities again. The president’s campaign is being forced to rethink rallies after an embarrassing fiasco in Oklahoma. Republicans moved their convention to Florida, which has seen a surge in coronavirus cases.
POLICE REFORM fell flat in the Capitol. It turns out that Russia may have been paying the Taliban to kill American soldiers on TRUMP’S watch. Republican control of the Senate is up for grabs. The GOP has but a sliver of a prayer of recapturing the House. The economy is still on life support. The United States’ relationship with China is in the toilet after the spread of Covid-19. Republicans have no earthly idea what they will do if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare — despite having pledged to replace the health care law for a decade.
NOW, THE PRESIDENT’S ADVISERS will say that they’ve hardly started campaigning against BIDEN. They also say the world moves quickly, and the political climate could change in a matter of weeks. Maybe so, maybe not.
BUT TO CHANGE HIS CIRCUMSTANCES, the president’s advisers believe TRUMP needs to make a conscious effort to highlight the contrast with BIDEN. They are trying to get TRUMP to hone his meandering message on three targets between now and Election Day: that TRUMP will create more jobs than BIDEN, that he’ll be tougher on CHINA than BIDEN and that he’ll keep communities safer than BIDEN will.
OF COURSE, the president has never been one to stick to any message. So this reporting is meant less to be predictive than it is to lay down a marker for what those around him want him to be talking about 127 DAYS before Election Day.
WAPO’S ASHLEY PARKER, BOB COSTA and JOSH DAWSEY: “Some Trump allies push for campaign shake-up to revive president’s imperiled reelection bid”: “Some Trump advisers and allies are privately pushing for sweeping changes to the campaign, including the idea of a major staff shake-up and trying to convince the president to be more disciplined in his message and behavior.
“But so far, the campaign has settled only on incremental changes — such as hiring and elevating a handful of operatives who worked on Trump’s upset victory in 2016 — and has yet to settle on a clear message for his reelection. Campaign officials and other advisers are also still struggling with how to best focus their attacks on Biden, which so far have been scattershot and have failed to curb his rise among voters.”
NATASHA KORECKI and MARC CAPUTO: “A Sun Belt time bomb threatens Trump’s reelection”: “The explosion of Covid-19 cases in Sun Belt states is becoming another albatross for President Donald Trump’s reelection hopes — and creating a new opening for Joe Biden and Democrats in November.
“Republican governors in Florida, Arizona and Texas followed Trump’s lead by quickly reopening their states while taking a lax approach to social distancing and mask-wearing. Now each of them is seeing skyrocketing coronavirus caseloads and rising hospitalizations, and Republican leaders are in retreat.
“It’s hard to overstate the gravity of the situation for Trump: Lose any one of the three states, and his reelection is all but doomed. Liberal outside groups and the Biden campaign have launched digital and TV ads in Florida, Arizona and Texas hitting Trump for allowing a second wave of coronavirus. The developments have buttressed Biden’s main argument against Trump: that he’s incapable of bringing stability or healing in a time of crisis.” POLITICO
Good Monday morning.
WERE THE RUSSIANS AFTER US IN AFGHANISTAN? … LATE SUNDAY NIGHT, THE PRESIDENT tweeted this about the Russian bounty story: “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”
— HE SEEMS TO HAVE USED the wrong handle for the N.Y. Times.
WAPO GETS IN ON IT: “Russian bounties to Taliban-linked militants resulted in deaths of U.S. troops, according to intelligence assessments,” by Ellen Nakashima, Karen DeYoung, Missy Ryan and John Hudson: “Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.
“Several people familiar with the matter said it was unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program. U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019. Two have been killed this year. In each of those years, several service members were also killed by what are known as ‘green on blue’ hostile incidents by members of Afghan security forces, which are sometimes believed to have been infiltrated by the Taliban.
“The intelligence was passed up from the U.S. Special Operations forces based in Afghanistan and led to a restricted high-level White House meeting in late March, the people said.”
THE U.S. HAS RECEIPTS! … NYT’S ERIC SCHMITT, ADAM GOLDMAN and NICK FANDOS: “The crucial information that led the spies and commandos to focus on the bounties included the recovery of a large amount of American cash from a raid on a Taliban outpost that prompted suspicions. Interrogations of captured militants and criminals played a central role in making the intelligence community confident in its assessment that the Russians had offered and paid bounties in 2019, another official has said.”
PER AP, “The Trump administration was set to brief select members of Congress on the matter on Monday. …
“The officials the AP spoke to said the intelligence community has been investigating an April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three U.S. Marines after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they were traveling back to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan. Three other U.S. service members were wounded in the attack, along with an Afghan contractor.
“The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. The officials the AP spoke to also said they were looking closely at insider attacks — sometimes called ‘green-on-blue’ incidents — from 2019 to determine if they are also linked to Russian bounties.”
NYT, A1 … GLENN THRUSH and ELAINA PLOTT’S long read: “How the Trump Campaign Is Drawing Obama Out of Retirement”: “[M]ore than three years after his exit, the 44th president of the United States is back on a political battlefield he longed to leave, drawn into the fight by an enemy, Mr. Trump, who is hellbent on erasing him, and by a friend, Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is equally intent on embracing him. …
“[I]nterviews with more than 50 people in the former president’s orbit portray a conflicted combatant, trying to balance deep anger at his successor with an instinct to refrain from a brawl that he fears may dent his popularity and challenge his place in history. …
“[Obama] continues to slow-walk some requests, especially to headline more fund-raisers. Some in Mr. Obama’s camp suggest he wants to avoid overshadowing the candidate — which Mr. Biden’s people aren’t buying. ‘By all means, overshadow us,’ one of them joked.”
NYT MEDIA EQUATION COLUMN, by BEN SMITH … “Marty Baron Made The Post Great Again. Now, the News Is Changing”: “Almost anyone who works in the Washington Post newsroom can look inside its publishing system, Methode, to see what stories are coming. And at the height of the furor over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2018, some who did saw a shocking article awaiting publication.
“In the article, Bob Woodward, the Post legend who protected the identity of his Watergate source, Deep Throat, for 30 years, was going to unmask one of his own confidential sources. He was, in particular, going to disclose that Judge Kavanaugh had been an anonymous source in his 1999 book ‘Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate.’
“Mr. Woodward was planning to expose Mr. Kavanaugh because the judge had publicly denied — in a huffy letter in 1999 to The Post — an account about Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton that he had himself, confidentially, provided to Mr. Woodward for his book. (Mr. Kavanaugh served as a lawyer on Mr. Starr’s team.) …
“The article was nearly ready when the executive editor, Martin Baron, stepped in. Mr. Baron urged Mr. Woodward not to breach his arrangement with Mr. Kavanaugh and to protect his old source’s anonymity, three Post employees said. (The three, as well as other Post journalists who spoke to me, insisted on anonymity because The Post prefers that its employees not talk to the media.)”
CORONAVIRUS RAGING …
— WSJ: “Coronavirus Cases Pass 10 Million Globally,” by Arian Campo-Flores and Russell Gold: “Coronavirus cases world-wide passed 10 million, with more than 500,000 deaths, as parts of the U.S. took steps to reverse their reopenings in response to surging case numbers, especially among young people.
“The U.S. recorded more than 42,000 cases Saturday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, lower than the record 45,255 recorded Friday, but the second straight daily total over 40,000. Florida, Texas, California and Arizona have accounted for much of the recent rise in cases, prompting authorities to impose new restrictions in those states and retreat on reopening plans.”
— VP IN TEXAS: “As U.S. soars past 2.5 million coronavirus cases, Pence urges Americans to wear masks, social distance,” by WaPo’s Felicia Sonmez, Siobhán O’Grady and Derek Hawkins
ABOUT THIS WEEKEND — “Trump’s July Fourth celebration: No tanks, lots of planes,” by Lara Seligman: “President Donald Trump’s second annual Independence Day celebration will feature one major change from last year: It will have no tanks or other military equipment on static display in the nation’s capital, according to two defense officials.
“Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week approved an Interior Department request for the 2020 ‘Salute to America,’ providing aerial, musical and ceremonial support to the day’s events, said Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Pentagon spokesperson.
“This year, the festivities will also include a flyover of Mount Rushmore, as POLITICO first reported, as well as an ‘aerial salute’ to several cities that played roles in the American Revolution: Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore, Mitchell said. Roughly 1,700 service members will support the celebrations.” POLITICO
TRUMP’S MONDAY: The president will have lunch at 1 p.m. with VP Mike Pence in the private dining room.
HISTORY … AP: “Mississippi surrenders Confederate symbol from state flag,” by Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss.: “Mississippi will retire the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem, more than a century after white supremacist legislators adopted the design a generation after the South lost the Civil War.
“A broad coalition of lawmakers — Black and white, Democrat and Republican — voted Sunday for change as the state faced increasing pressure amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.
“Mississippi has a 38% Black population, and critics have said for generations that it’s wrong to have a flag that prominently features an emblem many condemn as racist.”
— ‘MEDGAR’S WINGS MUST BE CLAPPING’: “Myrlie Evers began to weep when she heard the Mississippi Legislature vote to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.
“‘I can’t believe it. I am so emotional,’ the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers said. ‘Medgar’s wings must be clapping.’” Mississippi Center For Investigative Reporting
NATASHA BERTRAND: “How a veteran’s secret podcast put her in the Trump administration’’s crosshairs”: “By day, Allison Gill was a high-level employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs, working on healthcare for the military and veterans. By night — and on weekends — she was secretly recording a podcast that was attracting thousands of listeners, and on a very sensitive subject for the president for whom she worked: special counsel Robert [Mueller’s] probe of the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia.
“Gill took pains to stay anonymous. And she kept a strict firewall between the podcast and her day job, mindful not to violate a decades-old law called the Hatch Act that prohibits federal employees from engaging in some forms of political activity.
“Now, two and a half years later, Gill, herself a veteran, says she was essentially forced out of her job following an internal V.A. investigation of the podcast — called Mueller She Wrote — during which she was questioned about how she could record a podcast and perform live shows while claiming to have post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The episode raises thorny questions about where the government can draw the line on an employee’s free speech, even as it lends ballast to President Donald Trump’s claims that a ‘deep state’ is working to undermine his administration from within.” POLITICO
VALLEY TALK — “Zuckerberg once wanted to sanction Trump. Then Facebook wrote rules that accommodated him,” by WaPo’s Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg and Tony Romm
EYES ON THE SKIES — “FAA to Start Boeing 737 MAX Test Flights,” by WSJ’s Andy Pasztor: “U.S. air-safety regulators are set to begin key flight tests of Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX as early as Monday, amid growing expectations by industry and government officials that the planes are likely to return to service around the end of the year.
“The airborne checks, slated to be conducted in conjunction with Boeing and scheduled to last three days, mark a preliminary validation and long-awaited milestone for Boeing’s technical fixes aimed at getting the MAX fleet back in the air. The planes have been grounded for 15 months following two accidents that killed 346 people, roiled the airline industry long before the coronavirus pandemic and dealt the biggest blow to the plane maker’s reputation in its 103-year history.
“In an email the Federal Aviation Administration sent to congressional staffers Sunday, the agency said the effort ‘will include an array of flight maneuvers and emergency procedures to enable the agency to assess’ whether a series of software and hardware changes complies with safety certification standards.” WSJ
ICYMI — “How Michael Flynn’s Defense Team Found Powerful Allies,” by NYT’s Mark Mazzetti, Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman
STAFFING UP — “Trump to put loyalist in charge of government’s HR department,” by Axios’ Jonathan Swan: “President Trump intends to nominate John Gibbs to run the Office of Personnel Management … The agency has become a focus of the White House’s efforts to install and reward Trump loyalists across the government. … Gibbs is a former conservative commentator who currently serves as a senior official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at [email protected].
TRANSITIONS — Jordan Davis will be a senior director at Purple Strategies. He most recently was senior adviser for the House Energy and Commerce GOP. … Stefan Smith is now director of digital campaigns at the Reform Alliance, the criminal justice reform organization founded by Van Jones, Meek Mill, Jay-Z and others. He previously was online engagement director for Pete Buttigieg’s campaign.
ENGAGED — Taylor Weeks, senior adviser for NASA legislative affairs, and Clay Armentrout, legislative director and counsel for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), got engaged this weekend on their Annapolis balcony, where he proposed a Champagne toast and got down on one knee. They met through mutual friends in 2018 and plan to marry next year in Houston. Pic … Another pic
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Aaron Ament, president of Student Defense and an Obama Education Department alum, and Allison Bormel, VP at BerlinRosen and an Obama USAID alum, welcomed Maya Rose Ament on Wednesday. She came in at 6 lbs, 13 oz, and joins big sister Lilah. Pic… Another pic
— Meghan Keivel Cruz, grassroots advocacy manager at the National Retail Federation, and Travis Cruz, captain at Republic Airways, welcomed Andrew Karl Cruz on Tuesday. Pic
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Emily Spain, chief of staff for Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). A trend she thinks doesn’t get enough attention: “Over the last several years there’s been an increase in the number of women chiefs of staff in the House and the Senate on both sides of the aisle. At a time when it can be challenging to foster bipartisan relationships, the women chiefs of staff have been able to form friendships and working relationships that are more important than ever as we grapple with a pandemic that has been particularly devastating to women.” Playbook Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is 76 … Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) is 77 … Playbook’s own Garrett Ross … Macon Phillips, founder of the Starling Agency, is 42 … Laura Rozen (h/ts Ben Chang) … Cindy Simms … Andy Duberstein, principal at Sard Verbinnen … Josh Meyer … CNN’s Evan Pérez (h/ts Tim Burger) … Carl Forti is 48 … Ben Jarrett … Jennifer Pett Marsteller, director of public affairs and comms at the Independent Petroleum Association of America … Christina Pearson … former Solicitor General Don Verrilli, a partner with Munger, Tolles and Olson, is 63 … Robin Colwell, special assistant to the president for economic policy … Max Virkus, economic policy adviser to Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) … Christian Marrone, VP for civil and regulatory affairs at Lockheed Martin, is 45 …
… Jordan Davis … Tamera Luzzatto, managing director at Pew Charitable Trusts (h/t Jon Haber) … Cathy Rought, SVP at BerlinRosen … Eric Washburn … Patty McHugh (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … WaPo’s Danielle Paquette … Marie Policastro, scheduler for Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) (h/t sister Annie) … The Daily Beast’s Hanna Trudo … H&R Block’s Kaya Singleton is 33 … Rob Duffey … Samantha Tartas … photojournalist Gabriella Demczuk … David Wolf … Hal Brewster is 37 … Brian Gabriel … Amish Shah … Katie Zirkelbach, president of Zirkelbach Strategies … Owen Kilmer … Kia Motors’ Christopher Wenk … Bobby Watson … Ed Black … Bruce Soll is 63 … Tom DeVor … Jason Ostrander … Harry Hartfield … Katie Breen … Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is 63