Playbook: Why Conor Lamb's narrow lead is an ‘ominous sign’ for Republicans

- Maret 14, 2018

Good Wednesday morning. Republicans trying to tamp down expectations in Pennsylvania — by saying they expected an early night with Democrat Conor Lamb winning — were surprised to find a close race that still hasn’t been officially called in Lamb’s favor.

ELENA SCHNEIDER in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania: “Lamb clings to tiny lead with all precincts reporting”: “The closely watched special election race for a congressional seat in western Pennsylvania is still too close to call — but Democrat Conor Lamb, leading by fewer than 700 votes, declared victory here early Wednesday. ... [T]he slim margin is an ominous sign for Republicans heading into an increasingly hostile midterm environment. The latest vote count showed Lamb with a tiny lead over Republican Rick Saccone — with a possible recount looming.

“The two candidates are neck-and-neck in the vote count: Lamb leads Saccone, 49.8 percent to 49.6 percent, a margin of 641 votes, with all precincts reporting. The Associated Press said Tuesday night it would not declare a winner because the race was so close. Lamb was introduced as ‘congressman-elect,’ and he took the stage shortly before 1 a.m. after a late night of vote-counting. ‘It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it,’ he declared to cheering supporters.”

-- A RECOUNT is possible if Lamb and Saccone are separated by .5 percent, or less. Voters or the candidates would have to legally challenge the results because a recount is not automatically initiated under Pennsylvania law.

IRREFUTABLE FACTS: Republicans spent BIG in a race that should not have even been close. President Donald Trump and top Republican surrogates were unable, once again, to be the difference makers in a district that Trump won by 20 points in 2016. Republican attempts to tie Lamb to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn’t work.

IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: This district will likely go away this year after the courts struck down the Republican-drawn map in Pennsylvania. Both Lamb and Saccone could be candidates in other districts before the eventual outcome of the race is known.

REPUBLICANS’ TALKING POINTS … (expect NRCC Chair Steve Stivers to lay this out today in a closed GOP party meeting) -- Candidates and campaigns matter (and the GOP didn’t think much of Rick Saccone) … Saccone didn’t raise and spend enough money (although Republicans spent $10 million on this race) … Saccone didn’t emphasize his biography, and define his opponent.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK -- JOSH BUTNER, a Democrat running against embattled California Rep. Duncan Hunter, is up with his first digital campaign ad. RALSTON LAPP produced the spot which features Butner, a veteran, surfing while talking about his background and criticizing Hunter’s ties to special interests and President Donald Trump. The ad

-- THIS IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE of Democrats recruiting candidates with military backgrounds as they try to force Republicans to defend seats in solid red territory.

SPOTTED: GARY COHN eating dinner with Apple CEO TIM COOK Monday night at Nobu on M Street.

THE REX POST-MORTUMS -- ELIANA JOHNSON: “Tillerson ouster caps a year of explosions and misunderstandings”: “The [firing] was fraught with the miscommunications and contradictions that have characterized the relationship between Trump and Tillerson from the outset. While a White House aide said chief of staff John Kelly told Tillerson on Friday that the president planned to dismiss him, Tillerson’s aides moved quickly to make clear that the former ExxonMobil chief executive, who returned Monday from a multi-country diplomatic trip to Africa, had been caught off guard.

“The resulting news coverage, which focused on disarray and disagreement in the Trump administration, left Kelly yelling at a television screen aboard Air Force One as he took off for California with the president, according to a person with knowledge of the events.”

-- THE BACKSTORY: “‘It was a different mind-set’: How Trump soured on Tillerson as his top diplomat,” by WaPo’s Ashley Parker, Phil Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig: “[L]ast week, when Trump shifted strategy to meet with Kim, Tillerson was left out of the loop. If that angered Tillerson, it pleased Trump, who boasted to advisers that he enjoyed the process more without Tillerson involved, officials said. ... ‘They fought all the time,’ said one Trump adviser ... Trump quickly soured on Tillerson and made no secret of his dislike. He mocked his mannerisms and Texas drawl, saying his secretary of state talked too slowly.

“In conversations with advisers and friends, the president would often list others he said would do a better job than Tillerson, whom he frequently labeled ‘weak.’ One source of weakness, the president felt, was Tillerson’s media profile. Trump told one adviser he was ‘amazed’ at how much negative press Tillerson received. ‘This guy never gets a good story about him,’ Trump said ... Tillerson resented appearing subservient to the 37-year-old [Jared Kushner], who had no foreign policy experience. He sometimes took days to return Kushner’s phone calls and griped that he felt the White House was keeping the State Department out of the loop.”

-- “‘Rex, Eat the Salad’: Inside the Awkward Relationship Between Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump,” by WSJ’s Mike Bender and Felicia Schwartz: “In a private room in China’s Great Hall of the People in November, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sat with President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials as their hosts delivered plates of wilted Caesar salad. Mr. Trump, in the midst of a five-country tour of Asia, grew concerned the untouched greens would offend the Chinese, according to people familiar with the matter. So he ordered Mr. Tillerson to start. ‘Rex,’ he said, ‘eat the salad.’ Mr. Tillerson laughed off the remark, but the moment illustrated the at-times awkward relationship between the secretary of state and his boss that came to an abrupt end Tuesday when Mr. Trump announced in a tweet that he had replaced him.”

-- “Cabinet chaos: Trump’s team battles scandal, irrelevance,” by AP’s Jonathan Lemire: “Trump’s esteem for the Cabinet has faded in recent months, according to two White House officials and two outside advisers. He also told confidants that he was in the midst of making changes to improve personnel and, according to one person who spoke with him, ‘get rid of the dead weight’ — which could put a number of embattled Cabinet secretaries on notice.”

-- SUSAN GLASSER in POLITICO Magazine, “The Foreign Capital Rex Tillerson Never Understood: Trump’s Washington: Secretaries of state are supposed to be able to master complex diplomatic puzzles. But in the end, Tillerson couldn’t even read his own boss.”

MICHAEL CROWLEY in POLITICO Magazine, “Tillerson’s Ouster Could Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal: The secretary of state’s would-be replacement, Mike Pompeo, is an ardent hawk who says the agreement is ‘disastrous’”: “The Iran nuclear deal might have died Tuesday. That, at least, is one potential upshot of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ouster and likely replacement by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

“Friends and foes alike of the nuclear deal say the switch might clear the path for President Donald Trump to act on his oft-expressed desire to abandon the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran, a signature achievement of President Barack Obama that Trump has called ‘the worst deal ever.’ ... Last year, in a signal of [Pompeo’s] deep contempt for the Iranian regime, he placed the CIA officer who led the agency’s hunt for Osama bin Laden in charge of its Iran operations desk.”

-- Nicholas Wadhams (@nwadhams): “Trump moving fast at State: Spokeswoman Heather Nauert named acting undersecretary for public diplomacy, replacing Steve Goldstein”.

-- N.Y. POST cover, “WORST REX HE EVER HAD -- Trump fires sec. of state”

NEW POLITICO/MORNING CONSULT POLL: “Poll: Voters divided on Trump meeting North Korean leader,” by Steven Shepard: “Voters are split on whether President Donald Trump should meet with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, without first securing promises from the North on its nuclear weapons program, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted after the announcement that Trump had agreed to meet Kim this spring.

“Forty-one percent of voters, surveyed this weekend about a Trump-Kim sit-down, said Trump should meet with Kim without preconditions — slightly more than the 36 percent who said Trump should meet with Kim only if North Korea makes concessions regarding its nuclear program beforehand. Nearly a quarter of voters, 24 percent, had no opinion. That result comes from a supplemental survey to the regular, weekly POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, which was already in the field when the meeting was announced.”

NEXT UP? -- “Trump considers ousting his VA secretary in Cabinet shuffle,” by AP’s Hope Yen and Zeke Miller: “President Donald Trump is considering ousting embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who has faced an insurgency within his department and fresh allegations that he used a member of his security detail to run personal errands. Trump has floated the notion of moving Energy Secretary Rick Perry to the VA to right the ship, believing Shulkin has become a distraction, according to two sources familiar with White House discussions. ... Trump raised the idea with Perry on Monday but did not offer the job to him, according to one White House official. Trump has been angry with Shulkin, the official said, but is known to float staffing changes without always following through.”

ABOUT JOHN MCENTEE’S EXIT – WSJ’s Mike Bender and Rebecca Ballhaus: “People close to Mr. McEntee said problems related to online gambling and mishandling of his taxes prevented him from gaining the clearance necessary for the role. The Secret Service is investigating Mr. McEntee for those issues, according to a law enforcement official.”

OMAROSA STRIKES AGAIN -- ANNA spoke with HERITAGE FOUNDATION PRESIDENT KAY COLES JAMES in the latest WOMEN RULE podcast. Via Reena Flores: “Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James says she was ‘blocked’ from serving in President Donald Trump’s administration by Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former White House aide and reality television star.

“‘It was Omarosa,’ James said in an interview with POLITICO’s Women Rule podcast, discussing how she has not managed to land a job in the administration despite her conservative bona fides. ‘The way it was described to me is she approached the whole thing like it was ‘The Apprentice,’”’James added. ‘So she looked around Washington and said, ‘OK, who do I need to get rid of first?’’ Listen to the full podcast

-- JAMES ON HERITAGE’S FRAYED RELATIONSHIP WITH HILL GOP: “Mike Needham and I work side by side. He is an incredible young man and incredibly talented. And, you know, we recognize that when I went to Capitol Hill and I got an earful and there are some relationships that need to be repaired, and together we’re going to get that done. …

“I don’t think we’re going to moderate our issues at all. Heritage will always be true north. We will always figure out what the conservative perspective is, and that’s what we will represent. Now, we may have a difference in terms of strategy or emphasis, but we will never moderate or change our position on issues. It is what it is. We let the data and the research and analysis take us where it goes.”

IMPORTANT SCHUMER TEST -- “Schumer struggles to quell Warren-led rebellion,” by Burgess Everett, Elana Schor, and Zach Warmbrodt: “For Schumer, the banking bill and its rollback of some of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law’s regulations has been quite the tightrope to walk. The minority leader has to balance the needs of moderate caucus members who are desperate for a bipartisan accomplishment heading into brutal reelection races, and the priorities of liberals like [Elizabeth] Warren who believe they are fighting for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. Plus, the New Yorker is already viewed with suspicion by liberals for his own ties to Wall Street.

“Though Schumer opposes the banking bill, the typically chatty senator has been remarkably quiet about it. He’s said very little publicly about the legislation since it was introduced four months ago, and privately has not whipped against it or tried to stop it, according to senators and aides. Instead, as he did with Warren last week, Schumer has been mostly listening and counseling his members behind the scenes.

“‘It’s a painful and challenging issue for him,’ said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Schumer’s deputy. ‘Chuck has done this as well as he could. This is really the first time since he’s been Democratic leader that there’s been a significant split in the caucus. And it’s inevitable. It’s awkward.’”

-- BEN WHITE discusses the bill in the latest POLITICO Money podcast

SCOOP -- “Trump demands aides pump up anti-China tariffs,” by Adam Behsudi and Andrew Restuccia: “President Donald Trump is getting ready to crack down on China. Trump told Cabinet secretaries and top advisers during a meeting at the White House last week that he wanted to soon hit China with steep tariffs and investment restrictions in response to allegations of intellectual property theft, according to three people familiar with the internal discussions. During the meeting, which hasn’t been previously been reported, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer presented Trump with a package of tariffs that would target the equivalent of $30 billion a year in Chinese imports.

“In response, Trump urged Lighthizer to aim for an even bigger number — and he instructed administration officials to be ready for a formal announcement in the coming weeks ... Although the details are still in flux, aides said the administration is considering tariffs on more than 100 Chinese products ranging from electronics and telecommunications equipment to furniture and toys.”


-- RICK DEARBORN was feted at a goodbye party last night at Union Trust. One of our tipsters told us she has going away parties for administration staffers “every night this week.” Instapic of the party SPOTTED: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Gary Cohn, Kellyanne Conway, Matt and Mercy Schlapp, Amy Swonger, Bill Stepien, former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, Justin Clark, Bill McGinley, Andrew Bremberg, Lindsay Walters, Brad Rateike, Jessica Ditto, Judd Deere, Jessica Anderson, Kelly Love, Scott Mason and Ninio Fetalvo.

MARCH MADNESS PLAYBOOK POOL –– FINAL FULL DAY TO FILL OUT YOUR BRACKETS! Thousands of you have already joined the 2nd 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—not to mention some pretty legit bragging rights.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, CNN’s Brianna Keilar, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jerry Moran (Kans.), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Governors Larry Hogan (R-Md.), Roy Cooper (D-N.C.), Steve Bullock (D-Mt.), Chris Sununu (R-N.H.), Kate Brown (D-Ore.), Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), and BOTH Walkers, Scott and Bill (Wis. and Alaska) have turned in their brackets, get yours in now.

-- BOOKMARK THIS PAGE: Our Playbook Interview with Bill Gates on Thursday has filled up, but we’ll be livestreaming it starting at 8:15 a.m.

REMEMBERING STEPHEN HAWKING – NYT’s Dennis Overbye: “Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and best-selling author who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity, died early Wednesday at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76. ... ‘Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world,’ Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, said in an interview.

“Dr. Hawking did that largely through his book ‘A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes,’ published in 1988. It has sold more than 10 million copies and inspired a documentary film by Errol Morris. The 2014 film about his life, ‘The Theory of Everything,’ was nominated for several Academy Awards and Eddie Redmayne, who played Dr. Hawking, won the Oscar for best actor.”

JARED MIDEAST PEACE CHECK-IN -- Jerusalem Post’s Michael Wilner: “Trump administration officials worked the phones for weeks to bring Israeli and Arab diplomats around the same table at the White House, and finally succeeded in doing so for the first time on Tuesday. Senior administration officials said several parties to the U.S. conference, which focused on the dire and pressing humanitarian plight facing Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, had expressed that ‘they could not be in the same room as each other.’

“And yet, ‘we had discussions with them, and everybody realized the importance of being in the room,’ one senior official told The Jerusalem Post after the six-hour conference, held in the gilded Indian Treaty Room of the executive office building.”

FOR YOUR RADAR -- “Democrats sink House vote on Trump-backed drug bill,” by Sarah Karlin-Smith: “House Republicans failed Tuesday evening to pass a ‘right-to-try’ bill that would give terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs without FDA authorization after failing to muster enough votes to approve it through an expedited process. ... House Democrats who largely opposed the measure had questioned whether the bill would help patients, and they criticized GOP leaders for bringing the bill to a floor vote without going through committee first.”

VALLEY TALK -- “YouTube Will Link To Wikipedia Below Conspiracy Theory Videos,” by BuzzFeed’s Blake Montgomery, Ryan Mac and Charlie Warzel: “YouTube will accompany conspiracy theory videos with links to Wikipedia to better inform viewers, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference on Tuesday in Austin, Texas. ...

“The Wikipedia links will not appear solely on conspiracy-related videos, but will instead show up on topics and events that have inspired significant debate. A YouTube spokesperson used videos about the moon landing (a historical topic with many conspiracy theories surrounding it) as an example and noted that moon landing videos would appear with Wikipedia links below to provide additional information.”

MEDIAWATCH -- “Family of slain DNC staffer sues Fox News over retracted story,” by ABC News’ Michael Del Moro: “The family of [DNC] staffer Seth Rich, who was killed in 2016, has filed a lawsuit against Fox News, an investigative reporter and one of the network’s frequent guests over a story about Rich and allegations that he was involved in a conspiracy ... Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Rich, claim that Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman and Fox News commenter Ed Butowsky reached out to the family under false pretenses to support stories that Seth Rich leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks.”

-- @chrisgeidner: “I am joining the national security team here at @BuzzFeedNews to broaden our coverage of — as my new editor @markseibel put it in the staff email — ‘the Trump administration’s legal entanglements and complexities.’”

-- FUTURE OF NEWS – “Netflix is poised to enter the TV news business,” by MarketWatch’s Tom Teodorczuk: “[T]he streaming service is in the early stages of developing what it hopes will be a ‘sharp, balanced’ news show. A TV executive, who recently collaborated with Netflix on a documentary series, said the streaming giant is planning a weekly news magazine show to rival longstanding network shows CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ and ABC’s ‘20/20.’ ‘Netflix have spotted a hole in the market for a current affairs TV show encompassing both sides of the political divide and are seeking to fill it,’ said the person.”

TRANSITIONS -- Pili Tobar is the new managing director of America’s Voice. She most recently served as the Hispanic media director for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

WEEKEND WEDDING – Devin O’Malley, media affairs specialist at DOJ and a Tom Cotton, RNC and Romney alum, on Saturday married Amanda Kitchen, director of statesmen and cabinet memberships at RGA. They wed at the Commonwealth Club in Richmond, Va. and met after getting introduced by Kevin Benacci at Pearl Dive. Instapic

SPOTTED: Alex and Caitlin Conant, Christyn and Gerrit Lansing, Brittany Bramell and Dan Punaro, Bubba Atkinson and Sam Smith, Sarah Isgur Flores and Chad Flores, Brian and Amanda Callanan, Davis White, Rachel Tucker, Liz Horning, Jeff and Jen Sadosky, Chris and Britt Maloney, Jahan Wilcox, Christina and J.P. Schaengold, Jill and Preston Kerr, Holly and Tim Pataki, Derek Lyons and Mike Haidet.

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Dan Milich, the pride of Croton-on-Hudson (hat tip: Chad Maisel)

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Matt David, senior strategist at Edelman and a Schwarzenegger/Huntsman/Kasich alum, is 39. A trend he thinks deserves more attention: “The prison reform movement is becoming more organized and strategically targeting DA races across the country. It’s something to watch. If successful, it could dramatically shakeup the system and reduce recidivism without the need for federal or state policy changes. If you haven’t seen or watched Adam Foss talk about it [], you should.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A:

BIRTHDAYS: Bill McGinley, deputy assistant to the President and cabinet secretary … Craig T. Smith, former consultant for Hillary for America ... Andrea Bozek, SVP at Mercury ... Chris Edwards of Edward Marc Chocolatier and a Bush alum ... WaPo Tokyo bureau chief Anna Fifield ... Ashley Simmons, senior director of external affairs at the Telecommunications Industry Association (h/t Kurt Bardella) ... Allen Gannett, founder and CEO of competitive marketing intelligence firm TrackMaven (h/ts Jack and Susanna Quinn) ... Alicia Pardo ... Deb Jospin (h/ts Jon Haber) ... Lily Adams, comms director for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and a Clinton and Kaine alum (h/t Mitchell Rivard) ... the “brilliant” Kelsey Cooper of Sen. Rand Paul’s office (h/t Sarah Pompei, filing from Europe) ... former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is 7-0 ... Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia ... Ebs Burnough ... Jim McCray … Christian Gomez, senior manager for global government affairs for Latin America at Walmart ... T.A. Hawks, partner at Monument Policy Group ... Coleman Lapointe ...

... Lauren Mullins, comms director for Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy, is 4-0. She’s celebrating with dinner at Le Dip (h/ts hubby Brody Mullins and Hanna Hope) … Amy Travieso, VP at the American Hotel & Lodging Association ... former Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-La.) is 71 ... Rick Grafmeyer, a partner at Capitol Tax Partners, is 61 ... Josh Walker, head of global strategic initiatives at the Eurasia Group ... Jennie LaCourt ... Peter Rose, Sard Verbinnen & Co. vice chairman ... Jerry Greenfield is 67 ... Eric Shaeffer ... Alexander Niejelow, SVP for global public policy at Mastercard … N.Y. Post’s Carl Campanile … Kathy Wright ... Lizzie Kendrick ... DOE’s Allison Lantero ... Greg North ... Andy Tannen ... N.H. Democratic State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark … Allie Carr ... Cantor alum Lloyd Lenhart … Prieur Du Plessis ... Steven Ellis ... Max McConkey … Jason Klindt … Margita Thompson ... Julian Babbitt ... John Aggrey is 59 ... filmmaker Elizabeth Mayo Chancey ... John Nagel ... Fox News’ John L. Wallace III is 59 ... Albie Dickson … John Frew … Gus Bickford … Ben Hodapp (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) ... Prince Albert II, the ruler of Monaco, is 6-0 (h/t AP)


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