PLAYBOOK EXCLUSIVE -- VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE and HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY raised $6 MILLION for House Republicans Monday in New York City. They had private donor meetings in the city, in addition to a dinner at the Mandarin Oriental on Columbus Circle. That’s a lot of cash for one day. The money will benefit Protect the House -- a joint fundraising committee established by Pence and McCarthy -- former House colleagues -- which benefits the NRCC, Great America Committee and roughly two dozen House Republicans with competitive races.
PENCE has unquestionably been a major political force for Senate and House Republicans this cycle, holding roughly two dozen events for lawmakers in 2018. And let’s, once again, be clear: SPEAKER PAUL RYAN won’t be around forever. Whoever replaces him will have to raise loads of cash. MCCARTHY is showing that he could be that guy. He and Pence already raised $5 million together in California this cycle.
Good Tuesday morning. VOTERS HEAD TO THE BALLOT BOX today in Pennsylvania 18 -- a district Donald Trump won by 20 points, where the Republican and Democrat are running neck in neck.
AS OF PUBLICATION TIME, outside groups had spent nearly $12.5 million for this Pittsburgh area seat. That’s a massive chunk of change. The bulk of the spending came from the NRCC, Congressional Leadership Fund, the RNC and America First Action -- they combined for $9.3 million in spending. THE DCCC has directly spent $312,400, but a Democrat familiar with spending decision says the committee “invested” $1 million in the race. It transferred money to the state party as well.
IF REPUBLICAN RICK SACCONE WINS, it will be an expensive victory. If DEMOCRAT CONOR LAMB is victorious, Democrats will be able to say they picked off this seat at little cost -- although Lamb spent $3 million. IF LAMB LOSES narrowly to Saccone, Democrats will undoubtedly catch grief for not doing more to help him win.
ELENA SCHNEIDER in PITTSBURGH: “What to watch in Pennsylvania”: “Democratic enthusiasm, once again: Democrats — from Virginia to Texas — have voted at historic rates in the last year. That continued enthusiasm in southwestern Pennsylvania is a key element to Lamb's success: If the pattern of higher rates of Democratic turnout hold, the Monmouth poll shows his lead swelling to 6 points, versus just a 2-point advantage under a more conservative turnout scenario. …
“County by county: To win, Lamb needs to run up his totals in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh bleeds into the suburbs — the bluest part of the 18th Congressional District. In particular, former state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn said to watch the southern half of the district, which leans more conservative. … First electoral test of tax reform messaging …
“Do tariffs matter here? … The Republican cavalry: Republican outside groups are trying to pull Saccone across the finish line. Total outside spending in the race currently stands at $12.5 million, with the vast majority of that total, more than $10.6 million, coming from GOP-aligned groups. …
“The disappearing district: Not only is Tuesday's election only for the remaining nine months of Murphy’s unexpired term, the 18th District won’t even exist next week, the filing deadline in Pennsylvania for the 2018 midterm elections.” http://politi.co/2HtYbp9
-- SOMETHING TO WATCH -- KEVIN ROBILLARD: “Republicans abandon tax cut message in Pennsylvania special election”: “[G]OP groups that once proudly declared the tax law would be the central fight of the midterms are now airing ads on so-called sanctuary cities and attacking Democrat Conor Lamb's record as a prosecutor as they try to drag GOP state Rep. Rick Saccone over the finish line.
“The strategy shift has been dramatic. For the weeks of Feb. 4 and Feb. 11, roughly two-thirds of the broadcast television ads from Saccone’s campaign, the super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund and the NRCC mentioned taxes, according to a POLITICO analysis of data from Advertising Analytics. For the week of Feb. 18, that dropped to 36 percent, and to 14 percent the week after.
“Since the beginning of March, tax ads have been essentially non-existent. Only two are on the air now — one from the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action which briefly mentions the tax law, and a radio ad from a progressive group attacking Saccone for supporting the law.” http://politi.co/2p6ISw3
BUZZ … There has been lots of chatter behind-the-scenes about the possibility of WENDY DAVIS taking the helm of PLANNED PARENTHOOD. Cecile Richards, the longtime head of the organization, is leaving. Davis has a massive national political network, has honed her online and major dollar fundraising skills and is a widely sought-after Democratic surrogate. She also has a longtime connection with the group.
DAVIS, who spoke to ANNA at SXSW Monday afternoon for a live Women Rule podcast, left the door open to the Planned Parenthood gig, via REENA FLORES and Anna: “Planned Parenthood and the mission of Planned Parenthood — the healthcare provided by Planned Parenthood — is always going to be part of the core of who I am,’ she said. ‘I’m so proud that I’ve had an opportunity to travel all over this country and help Planned Parenthood affiliates to be successful.’
“While her comments were sparse on specifics, Davis added: ‘I’m going to continue to do everything I can to stand for the work that they do and obviously for women’s reproductive freedoms in general.’” http://politi.co/2p6SVBe ... Listen to the full BONUS #WomenRule podcast where Davis also talked about the Democratic message in 2018 and what is happening on the ground in Texas https://apple.co/2lCPzCe
ANDREW RESTUCCIA and BEN WHITE: “Trump close to tapping Kudlow to succeed Cohn”: “After souring on [Larry] Kudlow because he publicly criticized the president’s decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, Trump is now leaning heavily toward tapping the CNBC contributor and former Reagan administration official to lead the National Economic Council, the people said.” http://politi.co/2FyX2Ak
BREAKING OVERNIGHT -- “U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis arrives in Afghan capital,” by AP’s Robert Burns in Kabul: “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday he believes victory in Afghanistan is still possible — not necessarily on the battlefield but in facilitating a Taliban reconciliation with the Afghan government. Mattis spoke shortly before arriving in Kabul, where security concerns were so high that reporters traveling with him were not allowed to publish stories until his party had moved from the Kabul airport to the U.S.-led military coalition’s headquarters. That was the first such restriction on coverage of a Pentagon chief’s visit in memory.” http://bit.ly/2GmUvGi
KYLE CHENEY: “House ends Russia probe, says no Trump-Kremlin collusion”: “The House Republicans also said that a 150-page report they prepared — without consulting their Democratic colleagues — contradicts the U.S. intelligence community’s firm conclusion that the goal of the Russian government effort was to boost Trump’s campaign.
“‘We don’t think that’s supported by the underlying data,’ Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican leading the probe, said in a phone interview. Conaway told reporters Monday that some Trump campaign figures may have shown bad judgment in meeting with Kremlin-linked figures but that the meetings had not amounted to collusion.” http://politi.co/2IoIO2r
SPEAKING OF THE MUELLER PROBE -- “Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, says Robert Mueller is ‘not an unguided missile,’” by USA Today’s Kevin Johnson: “Despite unrelenting criticism from the White House on the course of the investigation into Russia's election interference, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Monday offered unqualified support for special counsel Robert Mueller. ‘The special counsel is not an unguided missile,’ Rosenstein said in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY.
“‘I don't believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel.’ ... Appearing upbeat and at ease in his fourth-floor office, Rosenstein said oversight of the inquiry requires only ‘a fraction’ of his daily work. He estimated that less than 5% of his week is related to briefings or other matters involving Mueller's investigation. …
“‘I believe much of the criticism will fall by the wayside when people reflect on this era and the Department of Justice,’ said Rosenstein, who did not refer to Trump directly. ‘I'm very confident that when the history of this era is written, it will reflect that the department was operated with integrity.’” https://usat.ly/2p8IDj6
-- @kylegriffin1: “Sam Nunberg just told @AriMelber that Robert Mueller’s team (in his voluntary interview) asked if he knew anything about payments to women: ‘It’s pretty obvious that they’re looking into this.’”
PRESIDENT TRUMP flies to California this morning. He lands in San Diego at 11:30 a.m. west coast time. He is visiting prototypes of the proposed border wall. The president then flies to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and talks to members of the military. After that, he flies to LAX and then to Santa Monica for an RNC event at a private home.
-- L.A. TIMES: “President Trump will help his party raise $5 million at a fundraising dinner in Beverly Hills on Tuesday night, according to the [RNC]. The RNC said there are 90 expected attendees. Minimum contributions are $35,000, and guests can pay up to $250,000 each for a roundtable discussion and photo with the president.
“For comparison, then-President Obama’s outdoor concert with Jamie Foxx in 2015 raised $6.7 million and a more private event with 50 people raised more than $1.5 million on a single day in 2015. A 2016 fundraiser with A-list celebrities had similar ticket prices. The $35,000 price is in line with what Democratic donors paid to spend time with the president and notable guests, including John Legend, although some events had a smaller minimum.” http://lat.ms/2tHSQbL
TRUMP GETS THE KID GLOVE TREATMENT -- “Senate GOP leaders won’t try to block Trump’s tariffs,” by Burgess Everett: “Republicans have been freaking out about President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs all month. But don’t expect them to do anything about it just yet. GOP leaders are shying away from a direct confrontation with Trump over trade, and signaled Monday that they won’t try to pass legislation to override a president of their own party.
“They are instead hoping they can get the president to water down the tariffs as much as they can. Ultimately, they’re loath to risk a brutal showdown, even over an issue that’s provoked more GOP outrage toward Trump than any other one of his policies or controversies. So even though several senators are introducing proposals to stop Trump’s 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum, key Republicans are in no mood for a high-profile fight with Trump.
“‘That’s clearly a long shot. But we’re trying as best we can to persuade folks in the administration to scale this back to make it less harmful,’ said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 GOP senator. ‘I don’t think we can rely on Democrats. And moving something across the floor takes 60. And then you’d have to override a veto.” http://politi.co/2p9OXqG
THIS IS A BIG DEAL -- TRUMP ADMIN BLOCKING MERGER: “White House says it’s blocking Broadcom bid for rival Qualcomm,” by Steven Overly: “President Donald Trump blocked Asian chip manufacturer Broadcom’s hostile takeover bid for U.S. rival Qualcomm today, scuttling the deal over national security concerns about China.
“The decision comes after a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States determined the purchase by Singapore-based Broadcom could benefit Chinese competitors in the race to produce next-generation mobile technology and eliminate an important supplier of telecommunications technology to federal defense agencies.
“The $117 billion transaction was poised to be the largest tech takeover in U.S. history, and in recent weeks, Broadcom made increasingly aggressive overtures for Qualcomm. Broadcom tried to install a new board of directors at Qualcomm, for example, an effort that Trump has also prohibited.” http://politi.co/2FCB1wq
SPY GAMES -- “As Putin’s Opponents Flocked to London, His Spies Followed,” by NYT’s Ellen Barry in London: “Russia now has more intelligence agents deployed in London than at the height of the Cold War, former British intelligence officials have said. They serve a variety of functions, including building contacts among British politicians. But the most important task is to keep an eye on the hundreds of heavyweight Russians — those aligned with President Vladimir V. Putin, and those arrayed against him — who have built lives in Britain, attracted by its property market and banking system.” http://nyti.ms/2Gn4HPi
-- “Tillerson casts poisoning as sign of more aggressive Russia,” by AP’s Josh Lederman “aboard a U.S. government aircraft”: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cast the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain as part of a ‘certain unleashing of activity’ by Russia that the United States is struggling to understand. He warned that the poisoning would ‘certainly trigger a response.’ Tillerson, echoing the British government’s finger-pointing toward Moscow, said he didn’t yet know whether Russia’s government knew of the attack with a military-grade nerve agent, but that one way or another, ‘it came from Russia.’ He said it was ‘almost beyond comprehension’ why a state actor would deploy such a dangerous substance in a public place in a foreign country where others could be exposed.” http://bit.ly/2FCQpJ8
THE JUICE …
-- LEE CAROSI DUNN is moving from head of White House outreach at Google to head of international elections outreach at the company.
-- ERIC HOLDER is “heading to Wisconsin to campaign this week as Democrats there aim to turn a race for state Supreme Court into the next nationalized race after Tuesday’s Pennsylvania special House election,” Isaac Dovere reports. “The election is April 3, and Holder is backing Rebecca Dallet, a Milwaukee County circuit court judge.” http://politi.co/2FPhBrp
-- AD WARS: PER MORNING TRADE: “U.S. farmers, who represent a crucial part of President Donald Trump’s base of support, are taking advantage of the president’s well-known television-watching habits this month to try to send a trade message to the White House. With a TV advertisement that will air on Fox News’ ‘Fox & Friends,’ Fox Business and MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe,’ farmers are launching their first major effort to use the airwaves to sway Trump on his trade policies in the aftermath of his steel and aluminum tariff action.
“The half-million-dollar ad buy comes as agricultural groups are increasingly concerned that they will be among the hardest hit in the event that another country decides to retaliate against the U.S. for those tariffs. … The ad blitz is sponsored by Farmers for Free Trade, an advocacy group formed last year by several agriculture industry groups in response to a potential withdrawal from NAFTA and other trade policies that could be detrimental to agricultural exports.” The ad http://bit.ly/2GmYtia
HAPPENING THIS MORNING AT SXSW -- DANIEL is on a panel called "Communicating in the Era of Constant Crisis" with JOE LOCKHART, TIM MILLER and AUBREY QUINN at 9:30 a.m. at the JW Marriott. http://bit.ly/2tDnwei
MARCH MADNESS -- GET THOSE BRACKETS IN! More than 1,500 of you have already joined the Second-Annual Playbook Pool! Get in the game and compete against your friends, top Playbookers, political insiders and VIPs to win prizes including Apple Watches, Airpods, Go Pros, Google Home — and bragging rights. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Govs. Larry Hogan (D-Md.), Roy Cooper (D-N.C.), Steve Bullock (D-Mont.), Chris Sununu (R-N.H.) and Kate Brown (D-Ore.) turned in their brackets. http://bit.ly/2Hr2yl0
JARED WATCH -- “Jared Kushner’s Pet Project Doesn’t Have A Signature Accomplishment,” by BuzzFeed’s Tarini Parti: “Jared Kushner’s ambitious plan to make American government more efficient is set to enter its second year with no significant accomplishments, a diminished staff, and an uncertain future — all as the presidential son-in-law's own power weakens in the administration. ... It’s ... unclear, for some, what Kushner’s office has gotten done. Over a dozen people inside or close to the White House who spoke with BuzzFeed News said they had no real idea what the Office of American Innovation was there for and couldn’t point to any major policy wins. Kushner’s allies acknowledge they have yet to report any flashy accomplishments, but say those are not the types of achievements the office is designed for.
“The office has stayed out of the administration’s major policy fights — tax reform and repealing Obamacare — because they believe their work, is meant to be long-term, ‘multi-year or even multi-administration,’ and largely nonpartisan. The office’s small group of White House aides have been working on nitty-gritty projects within the bowels of bureaucracy — increasingly under the radar to avoid getting dragged into the administration’s usual turbulence.” http://bzfd.it/2FBvTbM
-- “Kushner Conflict Cloud Hovers Over Brooklyn Sale Linked to Japan,” by Bloomberg’s Caleb Melby: “Two months after Jared Kushner joined the White House as a senior adviser, his family firm sold a stake in a Brooklyn building to a unit of a company whose largest shareholder is the government of Japan. The buyer of record in the $103-million deal for 175 Pearl St. was Normandy Real Estate Partners, a New Jersey-based investment firm. But documents filed in Tokyo show that it was operating on behalf of a subsidiary of Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. By law, the Japanese government owns at least a third of NTT, in effect a controlling share. Questions have been raised repeatedly whether Kushner, whose family business has been in search of overseas investors, might pursue a personal agenda while helping run U.S. policy.
“This is the first known deal with a government-affiliated firm since he entered the White House. There’s no evidence the NTT company made the investment with a political intent -- it denies that, as do all the others involved -- or that there has been any political gain. However, this is the kind of deal that conflict-of-interest rules seek to limit: not only inappropriate entanglements and their appearance but situations where potential favors might one day be paid back. Officials like Kushner are expected under U.S. law to recuse themselves from government decisions that would have a ‘direct and predictable effect’ on their financial interests.” https://bloom.bg/2Dmd9ew
DEEP DIVE – “Trump’s VA Is Purging Civil Servants: A bipartisan law was supposed to make it easier to fire bad actors at the Department of Veterans Affairs. But it’s targeting the wrong people,” by ProPublica’s Isaac Arnsdorf in POLITICO Magazine: “The law’s effect was nearly instantaneous: Firings rose 60 percent during the second half of 2017, after the law took effect, compared to the first half of 2017. Since June, the VA has removed 1,704 of its 370,000 employees.
“But if top officials were the target of the law, a ProPublica investigation suggests the legislation misfired. In practice, the new law is overwhelmingly being used against the rank and file. Since it took effect, the VA has fired four senior leaders. The other 1,700 terminated people were low-level staffers with titles such as housekeeper (133 lost their jobs), nursing assistant (101 ousted) and food service worker (59 terminated), according to data posted by the VA.” http://politi.co/2tFttYj
HMM … “Senate banking bill rewards Equifax despite privacy breaches,” by Zach Warmbrodt: “Equifax’s role in the biggest consumer data breach in U.S. history isn’t stopping Congress from giving the giant credit reporting company sweeping protection from lawsuits while allowing it to expand its offerings into the mortgage business. Those favors for Equifax and its peers in the credit reporting industry are among the surprise provisions in a major banking and financial deregulation bill that the Senate is set to pass this week.
“The changes, made public only last Wednesday, are providing new ammunition to critics of the banking legislation, which would scale back regulations imposed after the 2008 financial crisis. Congress has yet to pass any laws creating stiffer penalties for companies like Equifax, whose security practices allowed hackers to steal highly sensitive data on as many as 148 million U.S. customers last year.” http://politi.co/2GnBV16
BUSH ALUMNI -- “Trump Is Expected To Nominate A Seasoned Former Justice Official For A Judgeship After His First Pick Bombed,” by BuzzFeed’s Zoe Tillman: “President Donald Trump is expected to nominate Carl Nichols, a former senior official in the U.S. Department of Justice under former President George W. Bush, for a federal judgeship that the administration failed to fill last year, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation. Trump’s first nominee for the seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, [FEC] member Matthew Petersen, withdrew in December after he struggled to answer basic questions about court procedure and the law at his confirmation hearing.” http://bzfd.it/2FEmiRB
SPOTTED: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) yesterday in the lobby of the Regal Gallery Place movie theater with his daughters.
SPOTTED AT SXSW at Google’s Austin office at the launch party last night for the Consumer Technology Association’s fifth annual Innovation Policy Day (the party featured a DJ set by Hank Shocklee of Public Enemy): Gary Shapiro, Michael Petricone, Tiffany Moore, Tony Fratto, Sam Myers Jr., Austin Carson, Mike Gallagher, Nika Nour, Lauren Culbertson, Tyler Grimm, André Hentz, Mike Hermus, Chanelle Hardy, Simon Morrison, Reginald Brothers, Josh Hone, Guy Benson, Evan Engstrom, Garrett Johnson, Maura Corbett, Yuri Beckelman, Woku Gachou, Katie Barr, Courtney Cowper, Latasha Gillespie, and Svetlana Matt.
TRANSITIONS -- Rena Shapiro, a veteran of Google, BuzzFeed, Pandora and AOL, is joining Altice USA. She will lead the firm’s political division.
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Erin Billings, SVP at Global Strategy Group. How she’s celebrating: “Believe it or not I am celebrating the actual day on a work trip in my namesake -- Billings, Montana. Celebrating with dinner Friday night at Bresca with my husband Jay Driscoll and will be toasting with good friends at Pearl Wharf on Saturday.” Read her Playbook Plus Q&A: http://politi.co/2p9VGAR
BIRTHDAYS: Sarah Makin of Vice President Pence’s office ... Charles Krauthammer is 68 ... Jeff Weiss ... Kiki McLean (hat tip: Jon Haber) ... Steven Hurst … Shawn Turner ... Ari Rabin-Havt, senior advisor for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is 39 ... mediabistro.com founder Laurel Touby, now managing partner at Supernode Ventures … Ali Howard ... Sarah Mulcahy ... Ashley Hoy, principal at Monument Policy Group ... Nancy Soderberg, congressional candidate for Florida’s 6th, former deputy national security adviser and UN Ambassador in the Clinton administration, and current director of the University of North Florida’s Public Service Leadership Program (h/t Ben Chang) … James Wesolek ... Eddie Wytkind ... John Kelly, VP for exec comms at CA Technologies ... Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is 61 ... former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) is 6-0 … former Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.) is 51 ... former Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) is 6-0 ... James Carr ... former Ohio State Rep. Mike Dovilla is 43 ... Trever Faden ... WSJ’s Ryan Tracy is 343 … Facebook’s Caroline Chalmers (h/t Meredith Carden) ... Mark McNulty …Doug Sachtleben, lead pastor of Grace Bible Church and Club for Growth alum ... DeJuana L. Thompson ... Hannah Chatalas ...
... Katelyn Polantz, CNN senior writer ... Molly McNearney, co-head writer for “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” is 4-0 … James Russell, associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, is 6-0 ... Kalen Pruss, DNC policy director … Lauren Smith … Erik Greathouse is 46 ... Kristy Kolb ... Lauren Inouye, director of gov’t affairs of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing ... Christina Roberts, Georgetown’s assistant VP for operations ... ESPN's Sean Hurd ... Brian Gaston ... Theresa Zagnoli ... Natalie McLaughlin ... Doug Kelly ... Diamond Naga Siu ... David Pryor Jr. ... Jonathan Bing ... Tony Newman, director of media relations at Drug Policy Alliance ... Chris Gaspar ... Joshua Phoebus ... Rich Ransom ... Mark Kitchens ... Sabrina Fendrick ... David Matthews.