Good Thursday morning. WE ARE SITTING down this morning with BILL GATES just hours before he meets with PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP in the Oval Office. The billionaire philanthropist has been making the rounds in D.C. with lawmakers and agency officials in his quest to push for continued U.S. leadership in global health and development and the 2018 priorities of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We’re going to talk specifics about who he met with and how he’s approaching Trump, among other hot topics.
-- WE’VE HAD OVERWHELMING INTEREST in this event. Unfortunately space for this Playbook Interview has filled up, but we’ll be livestreaming it starting at 8:15 a.m. http://politi.co/2GngYDj
SPOTTED: HHS SECRETARY ALEX AZAR tweeted a photo with Gates yesterday afternoon. http://bit.ly/2pjFz3Z REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-FLA.) also tweeted a photo with Gates. http://bit.ly/2HCUBJv She and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) had burgers and fries upstairs at Shake Shack in Union Station yesterday.
THE HOUSE is going into recess this afternoon. THE SENATE is not expected to vote until Monday. What a town!
ANNIE KARNI: “Extreme secrecy surrounds Comey book manuscript”: “James Comey’s book is getting the Harry Potter treatment. ‘A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,’ the upcoming memoir from former FBI director James Comey, is set for publication on April 18 — and with anticipation rivaling that of the cult children’s favorite, the publisher is taking extreme precautions to prevent potentially explosive revelations detailing Comey’s interactions with President Donald Trump from leaking.
“Instead of circulating multiple print drafts among the editors and agents working on the book, the publisher, Flatiron Books, has implemented a password-protected electronic system so that only those involved in the project have access to it.
“The project is stored under a code name so that staffers who are not involved in the project wouldn’t know where to find it if they tried. At warehouses that will ship out copies of the book, workers are being asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, according to people familiar with the procedures.
“And while books typically ship out from warehouses about two weeks before their official publication dates — sometimes landing on bookstore shelves days early — the shipping date for Comey’s book is expected to be moved closer to the publication date to keep a tighter lid on the physical copies.” http://politi.co/2pcYgH5
NOT THE GOP TAKEAWAY FROM PA-18 -- ELAINA PLOTT in The Atlantic, “Trump Says a Democrat Won in Pennsylvania Because He’s ‘Like Trump’”: “If Donald Trump is worried about Democrats using an upset victory in Pennsylvania as a blueprint for winning big in the midterms, he didn’t let on. Trump broke his silence on the election at a private fundraiser for Missouri Senate candidate Josh Hawley Wednesday night, telling a crowd of donors that Lamb had run ‘a pretty smart race, actually,’ according to an audio recording of the remarks obtained by The Atlantic.
“Democrat Conor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone in a district Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016. ‘The young man last night that ran, he said, ‘Oh, I’m like Trump. Second Amendment, everything. I love the tax cuts, everything.’ He ran on that basis,’ Trump said, according to audio of the event shared with The Atlantic. ‘He ran on a campaign that said very nice things about me. I said, ‘Is he a Republican? He sounds like a Republican to me.’” http://theatln.tc/2Hxwgoc
-- Former NRCC E.D. Liesl Hickey -- @lieslhickey: “GOP candidates: If you aren’t running like you are 10 points down - start now. If you’ve never had a real campaign - get one quick. Outside groups aren’t your campaign. No excuse for not being prepared.”
NOT SURPRISING -- “More Democrats likely to disavow Pelosi after Pennsylvania stunner,” by Elena Schneider in Pittsburgh and Heather Caygle in Washington: “Conor Lamb weathered $10 million in attack ads cartoonishly calling the Democratic candidate in Pennsylvania’s special election a member of Nancy Pelosi’s liberal ‘flock.’ Now other Democratic hopefuls are looking to adopt Lamb’s strategy — he repeatedly and bluntly disavowed the Democratic leader — in their own competitive races. It raises the prospect of a slate of Democratic hopefuls running against the party’s House leader as they try to neutralize one of the GOP’s go-to attacks — a pillar of Republicans’ plan to keep the House majority in November.
“A half-dozen Democratic House members and candidates told POLITICO in interviews that they had been closely monitoring how Lamb handled the Pelosi attack. In one notable ad, the 33-year-old Marine faced the camera and called a claim that he’s a clone of the Democratic leader ‘a big lie. I’ve already said on the front page of the newspaper that I don’t support Nancy Pelosi.’” http://politi.co/2FJI1HY
-- REALITY: NANCY PELOSI has thick skin. She would love nothing more than for Democrats to win back the House majority. If people dump on her en route to the majority, fine.
YOUR NEW NEC DIRECTOR -- @grynbaum: “TV star Larry Kudlow is currently on TV describing how the president saw a photo of him on TV and called him handsome. ‘So Trumpian!’ Kudlow says. ... Kudlow is getting choked up about leaving behind CNBC. The hardest part about going to the White House, he says, ‘is I won’t be here 3 or 4 days a week anymore.’ ... Kudlow says -- jokingly? — that he’ll do whatever Jamie Dimon wants as long as Jamie buys him dinner at ‘our local watering hole on the Upper East Side’”.
SHULKIN SAFE, FOR NOW -- “Trump administration dials back Shulkin firing rumors — for now,” by Lorraine Woellert and Arthur Allen: “With the policy and political stakes high, administration officials and others on Wednesday were tamping down rumors of Shulkin’s imminent dismissal. ‘There are no personnel changes to announce at the Department of Veterans Affairs,’ agency spokesman Curt Cashour said in a written statement. ‘President Trump has made clear that he expects the department’s sole focus to be on providing quality care to America’s veterans who have sacrificed to keep this country free and safe.’” http://politi.co/2FWTtmG
MORE TAX CUTS! -- “Trump and Brady say more tax cuts coming,” by Brian Faler: “President Donald Trump and the House’s top tax writer said separately Wednesday that Republicans are working on a second round of tax cuts. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) declined to discuss many details of what Republicans have in a mind, but said a proposal would be unveiled sometime this year.
“‘We think even more can be done,’ he said in an interview with Fox Business News. ‘We want to make sure we’re encouraging innovation in America, we want to help families save for the long term.’ Later in the day, Trump said there would be a ‘phase two’ for tax cuts, though he didn't provide any details either. ‘It’s going to be something very special. Kevin Brady’s working on it with me,’ Trump said at a roundtable discussion in St. Louis with business executives, workers and educators.
“Brady suggested the plan would call for extending the slate of tax cuts for individuals now due to expire at the end of 2025.” http://politi.co/2HAWfv0
-- LET’S BE REAL: This has very little chance of happening. Republicans are fighting for their political lives -- and majorities in the House and Senate. It took the fear of not having anything to run on in the wake of their health care overhaul disaster that helped align the stars for a once in a generation tax bill. Most insiders believe the omni, the last must-pass legislation this year, is one of the last things Congress will do before November.
THE LATEST IN THE MUELLER PROBE …
DARREN SAMUELSOHN -- “Trump lawyers prepping for potential Mueller interview”: “President Donald Trump’s lawyers are gaming out possible questions and answers for a potential interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, according to two people familiar with the strategy.
“The preparations reflect an understanding that negotiations with the lead Russia investigator, which have been ongoing since January, will eventually culminate in a sit-down meeting between Mueller with the president. One source said the discussions about the terms of a possible interview may soon even reach a conclusion.
“‘I don’t think it’s months and months out. I don’t think it’s in a week,’ said the person familiar with the negotiations. ‘But I think it’s moving toward closure.’” http://politi.co/2FCEZcn
NICE TRY -- “Manafort seeks dismissal of D.C. Mueller indictment,” by Josh Gerstein: “The indictment that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort faces on charges of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent is fatally flawed because of defects in the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Manafort’s attorneys argued in a new court filing Wednesday night.
“In a motion seeking dismissal of all five charges pending against Manafort in federal court in Washington, lawyers for the former Trump aide and veteran lobbyist contend that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave Mueller too much authority when he was appointed last May. Manafort's attorneys note that the alleged unregistered lobbying took place years before the Trump campaign and has no connection to the core issue Mueller was named to look into: alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” http://politi.co/2GvaHFI
AS THE WORLD TURNS AT FOGGY BOTTOM -- “A Tillerson Confidant Survives the Purge With Help From Friends,” by Bloomberg’s Nick Wadhams: “Within hours after President Donald Trump fired Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, the White House set about purging his inner circle. Brian Hook may prove the exception.
“Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, is among the last Tillerson confidants standing after the president’s dismissal-by-tweet of his top diplomat on Tuesday. Far from being ousted, Hook is heading to a meeting in Vienna on Friday to push Trump’s demands for revamping Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
“The key to Hook’s survival may be his long-standing reputation in Republican foreign policy circles, bolstered by the access he gained as Tillerson’s liaison with the White House. Even as Tillerson was viewed there with distrust and mounting exasperation, Hook developed relations with top Trump advisers including Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. Kushner invited Hook along on some of his overseas trips.” https://bloom.bg/2pdEKti
DELAY! … NYT’s Mark Landler: “Few officials expect Mr. Pompeo’s arrival at the State Department to derail the [North Korea] meeting itself, as long as the president and Mr. Kim remain committed to it. But Mr. Tillerson’s departure deprives the White House of the person most experienced in efforts to reach out to North Korea. As the C.I.A. director, Mr. Pompeo has focused more on the threats posed by Pyongyang.
“Mr. Pompeo will not be able to establish contact with the South Korean foreign minister, let alone his North Korean counterpart, until the Senate approves his nomination — a process that officials on Capitol Hill said could take several weeks. The White House has not yet even completed the paperwork to begin that process, the officials said.” http://nyti.ms/2IrM517
TRUMP’S THURSDAY -- The president will meet and hold a bilateral meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. Trump will head to the Capitol to attend the Friends of Ireland luncheon. In the afternoon, he is meeting with oil and gas lobbying group the American Petroleum Institute. He has an Oval Office meeting slated with Bill Gates. In the evening, Trump will participate in the “Shamrock Bowl” presentation presented by Varadkar.
MARCH MADNESS #PLAYBOOKPOOL –– BEAT THE BUZZER! You have until 11:30 a.m. ET today to fill out your bracket for the 2nd Annual Playbook Pool and compete against your friends, top Playbookers, political insiders and VIPs to win prizes including Apple Watches, Airpods, Go Pros, Google Home—not to mention some pretty legit bragging rights. Among the participants this year: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, FOX’s Bret Baier, CNN’s Jake Tapper, Kaitlan Collins, Chris Cillizza, Joe Johns, Brianna Keilar and Phil Mattingly, ABC’s Jonathan Karl, and HLN’s SE Cupp have sent in their picks.
IN THE SENATE, Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are in it to win it. AND IN THE HOUSE, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) lead a host of members who’ve submitted their brackets. IN THE STATES, governors are going all in as well, including Larry Hogan (R-Md.), Roy Cooper (D-N.C.), Steve Bullock (D-Mont.), Chris Sununu (R-N.H.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), Kate Brown (D-Ore.), Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) and BOTH Walkers, Scott and Bill (Wisconsin and Alaska). You can check out our VIP Board and get your bracket in now. CLICK HERE http://bit.ly/2ATI8gD
-- JOIN US tonight for an informal watch party at WILLIE'S (our official Playbook Pool partner) in Navy Yard during the evening games for #PlaybookPool discounts and specials. Willie’s website http://bit.ly/2HBLtVE
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER STORMY DANIELS STORY -- “Trump Organization Tied to Deal to Keep Ex-Porn Star Quiet,” by WSJ’s Michael Rothfeld and Joe Palazzolo: “Documents marked ‘HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL PROCEEDING’ for the first time tie President Donald Trump’s flagship holding company to the continuing effort to silence a former adult-film actress who says she had an affair with Mr. Trump. A Trump Organization lawyer, Jill A. Martin, is listed as counsel in an arbitration demand for Essential Consultants LLC, a Delaware company formed by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and used to pay $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford in exchange for her silence, according to Feb. 22 arbitration documents filed in Orange County, Calif.” http://on.wsj.com/2HzA4W6
-- “BuzzFeed maneuver could free Stormy Daniels to speak on Trump,” by Josh Gerstein: “BuzzFeed may have found a legal opening to allow the porn actress Stormy Daniels to discuss her alleged relationship with President Donald Trump and a $130,000 payment she received just before the 2016 election as part of a nondisclosure agreement she is now trying to void.
“The same Trump attorney who brokered the deal with Daniels, Michael Cohen, filed a libel suit in January against BuzzFeed and four of its staffers over publication of the so-called dossier compiling accurate, inaccurate and unproven allegations about Trump’s relationship with Russia. Now, BuzzFeed is using Cohen’s libel suit as a vehicle to demand that Daniels preserve all records relating to her relationship with Trump, as well as her dealings with Cohen and the payment he has acknowledged arranging in 2016.” http://politi.co/2GtUDUC
UNDERSTANDING THE DACA BOTTLENECK -- “‘The place bills go to die’,” by Rachael Bade and John Bresnahan: “In late February, Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team went to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte with a request. With a White House deadline fast approaching to address the fate of Dreamers facing possible deportation, the leaders wanted to put Goodlatte’s conservative immigration plan on the House floor, but needed him to make changes to win more votes. Goodlatte, an immigration hard-liner, assured Ryan he would be flexible.
“But weeks later, Goodlatte’s legislation is still languishing. No substantive changes have been made to the measure, according to multiple senior House GOP sources. And House Republicans have done nothing to deliver on President Donald Trump’s promise to do right by young immigrants brought to the United States as children.” http://politi.co/2DqzkQB
-- THE LARGER TAKEAWAY: “Goodlatte has long posed an imposing hurdle even for House Republican leaders who should, in theory, be able to pull rank on him. They’ve spent more than five years trying to cajole the 65-year-old Virginia Republican to take up consequential legislation. Instead, Goodlatte has moved slowly or not at all, his GOP colleagues say, often stalling until lawmakers move on.
“At times, his tactics have created tension and ill will with leadership and Republican members of his own committee. In the process, they say, Goodlatte has squandered the power of the Judiciary Committee, which has among the most expansive jurisdictions of any committee in Congress.”
FOR YOUR RADAR -- “U.S. Kept Silent About Its Role in Another Firefight in Niger,” by NYT’s Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Thomas Gibbons-Neff: “Green Berets working with government forces in Niger killed 11 Islamic State militants in a firefight in December, the American military acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday.
“The battle occurred two months after four United States soldiers died in an ambush in another part of Niger — and after senior commanders had imposed stricter limits on military missions in the West African country. No American or Nigerien forces were harmed in the December gun battle. But the combat — along with at least 10 other previously unreported attacks on American troops in West Africa between 2015 and 2017 — indicates that the deadly Oct. 4 ambush was not an isolated episode in a nation where the United States is building a major drone base.” http://nyti.ms/2tNZTQt
ARTHUR BROOKS leaving AEI – “Reflections on a Decade of Leading a Think Tank” in WSJ: “I am in my 10th year as president of the American Enterprise Institute. This week I asked AEI’s board of trustees to begin, over the coming year, a search for my successor. ... After a decade promoting this mission, what worries me most today—not for AEI, but for America—is that the competition of ideas is under attack. Many would rather shut down debate than participate in it.
“Politicians from both parties try to discredit their opponents with name-calling and ad hominem attacks. On too many college campuses, people with the ‘wrong’ viewpoints and ideas are unwelcome. Much of the mass media has become polarized, meaning readers and viewers on the right and left are never challenged in their conviction that the other side is made up of knaves and fools.” http://on.wsj.com/2InDtbL
WASHINGTON INC. -- “Oil group to lobby president after stay at Trump hotel,” by Ben Lefebvre: “The oil industry’s top lobby group is holding a two-day board meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., before its executive committee goes to the White House to voice concerns about President Donald Trump’s proposed steel tariffs, sources familiar with the meetings told POLITICO.
“The American Petroleum Institute’s annual board meeting that started Wednesday could involve up to 200 people representing various oil and gas companies — including the top executives of major oil companies — paying to stay at Trump’s hotel. It’s not known how much API is paying to the hotel, which is controlled by the Trump Organization, the family-owned business headed by the president’s son Donald Jr.” http://politi.co/2Hzm2nj
ANOTHER TRUMP BOOK -- “Scaramucci is writing a book about Trump,” by N.Y. Post’s Carleton English: “Anthony Scaramucci — the former White House communications director who infamously lasted only 10 days in the White House — has just signed a deal with Hachette for book due out in September, The Post has learned. But don’t expect a ‘Fire and Fury’-like gossip-filled page-turner, The Mooch warns.
“The Wall Street veteran says he remains loyal to President Trump. ‘It’s an entrepreneur writing about an entrepreneur who has now ascended into the presidency,’ Scaramucci, who founded asset manager SkyBridge Capital, told The Post in an interview at Midtown’s Core Club. To be titled ‘The Blue Collar President: How Trump is Reinventing the Aspirational Working Class,’ the book will focus on the president’s management style — which, of course, has included a high-level of turnover in its 13 months.” http://nyp.st/2tQxg52
ABOUT LAST NIGHT FROM CALIFORNIA … -- SPOTTED: Marty Nolan, Buffy Wicks, candidate for state assembly 15 in California, Amelia Matier, Kip Wainscott, Ben LeBolt and Andrew Snow at the Golden Squirrel after a journalism school event at Berkeley. In the photo: Lynn Sweet, Jake, Luke Russert, Paul Kane, Maureen Orth and Carl Hulse. Pic http://bit.ly/2FFO4Ry
SPOTTED at the George Town Club last night for a toast to Alex Gage, GOP polling and micro-targeting guru and founder of TargetPoint Consulting and Deep Root Analytics: Michael Meyers, Brent Seaborn and Alicia Downs, Sara Fagen, Alex Lundry, Brent McGoldrick, Robin Roberts, Will Feltus, Ben Ginsberg, Matt Rhoades, Ed Goeas, Charlie Spies, Michael Toner, Larry McCarthy, Brian Baker, Ron Kaufman, Mike Dubke, with cameos by video from Karl Rove and Mitt Romney.
SPOTTED: Jeff Sessions with his family seeing the musical “The Wiz” last night at Ford’s Theater; Ben Carson was also at the play ... Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) last night at Cafe Milano.
TRANSITIONS -- Lauren Aronson is now managing director at FP1 Strategies’ public affairs and communications division. She previously was press secretary for the House Committee on Ways and Means. ... Isaiah Nelson is joining McKenna Media; he most recently helped set up James Smith’s campaign for governor in South Carolina.
BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Kristen Jarvis West ... Rory Brosius, former deputy director of Joining Forces and current adviser for military families at the Biden Foundation (hat tips: Melanie Fonder Kaye)
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Brendan Buck, counselor to Speaker Paul Ryan, is 36. He’s celebrating at dinner at Del Mar with his girlfriend, Rebecca. A fun fact about Brendan: “When my dad was in his twenties, he worked for then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). My dad started as the personal aide, and then handled some policy issues. And my mom’s dad worked as a military adviser for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. All decades before I got into this stuff, but you could say it’s in my blood.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A: http://politi.co/2FSj8wW
BIRTHDAYS: Lenny Alcivar, Stefanik strategist and comms entrepreneur who recently launched communications firm the Alcivar Group, is 46 (h/t Phil Musser) ... Reid alum George Holman ... Josh Deckard … NYT’s Sopan Deb is 3-0 ... Washingtonian writer-at-large Jack Limpert ... Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 ... former Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) is 79 ... Rachel Schindler, who works in media partnerships at Facebook and is a Politico alum, and her twin brother Max Schindler are 26 ... Politico’s Kevin Barnard and Apryle Babish ... birthday brothers Alex Baker, Obama Commerce alum now at Accenture, and Matt Baker, manager of corporate comms at Inspire Brands and an Edelman alum ... Mark J. Green, former NYC public advocate, is 73 ... Sir Philip Green is 66 ... David Silverman is 61 ... Kevin Youkilis is 39 ... Hector Manuel Ramirez ... Suzanne Smalley, senior director of content and strategy at AtlanticLIVE … Amanda Broun … Michael Allen ...
... Brittni Palke, press secretary for the Senate Homeland Security and Gov’t Affairs Committee ... Marcus Weisgerber, global business editor at Defense One ... Jack Polidori ... Megan Uhrich, business strategy at Ad Hoc Team ... former West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is 66 ... Franklin Davis, senior director of federal affairs at American Beverage Association ... Jenny 8. Lee, co-founder of literary studio Plympton and NYT alum ... Edelman’s Kevin Infante is 29 ... Kate Dickens of S-3 Public Affairs (h/t Matt Bravo) ... John Cochran, NBC and ABC alum ... Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) is 6-0 ... Rob Stien, VP of gov’t relations and regulatory affairs at InterDigital … Chad Scarborough … Austin Durrer, COS for Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) … Craig Sondag, who works in gov’t relations at Allianz Life ... Chrissy Shott Kopple ... John Northington ... Rahimeh Andalibian ... Campbell Dickson ... Kimberly Hill … Nicole Vartanian … Chloe LaBranche ... will.i.am is 43 (h/t AP)