December 11, 2023

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Playbook: Dems fret about a No Labels spoiler ticket

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

DOUG CALL IT A COMEBACK — In a rare sit-down interview with a mainstream news outlet, former Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial nominee DOUG MASTRIANO tells Holly Otterbein that he’s weighing a run against Democratic Sen. BOB CASEY JR. next year. Mastriano, who lost his 2022 race by 15 points, “said he is ‘praying’ about whether to go forward with a potential Senate run in 2024,” Holly reports from Harrisburg. “After God, his wife, REBBIE, will have the final word, he said.”

NEW — “Pentagon chief pledges continued U.S. troop presence in Iraq as 20-year anniversary of invasion nears,” by Reuters’ Idrees Ali

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — A prominent Democratic think tank is raising alarms about a third-party ticket spoiling 2024 for Democrats and landing DONALD TRUMP back in the White House.

A new two-page memo from Third Way, obtained by Playbook, takes aim at the potential “unity ticket” being promoted by the centrist group No Labels. With tens of millions of dollars in financial backing, No Labels’ stated intention is to nominate a moderate alternative to potential extreme major-party nominees as an “insurance policy.”

But Third Way notes that No Labels has been cagey about what scenario would prompt it to move forward, including whether it would stand down if President JOE BIDEN seeks reelection. In any case, the memo argues, a third-party ticket would mainly peel off Democrats, ultimately boosting the former president who tried to steal an election and incited a riot on the Capitol.

“[T[he conclusion is inescapable: No Labels is committed to fielding a candidate that will, intentionally or not, provide a crucial boost to Republicans — and a major obstacle to Biden,” they write. “As a result, they’ll make it far more likely — if not certain — that Donald Trump returns to the White House.” Read the memo

RISING DEM ANXIETY — Worries about a potential 2024 spoiler ticket have been percolating among Democrats for months, ever since news of No Labels’ $70 million fundraising goal trickled out last year. But in recent weeks, that anxiety has been heightened as the group — even amid internal turmoil — has put hundreds of petition circulators on the ground nationwide in a bid to win ballot access in key swing states that, in some cases, were decided by a few percentage points or less.

“Definitely people are thinking about how to prevent that nightmare scenario,” said a national Democratic strategist not affiliated with Third Way who described “agita” among party operatives. “No one knows how real it is yet, though.”

Third Way’s memo is aimed at surfacing those worries and making a data-driven case for the danger a third-party ticket poses to Democrats. It follows a CNN op-ed last week from veteran strategist PAUL BEGALA, who cited a previous Third Way analysis in claiming “the vast majority of votes that a No Labels presidential candidate would receive would likely come out of President Joe Biden’s pool of potential voters, not former President Donald Trump’s.”

The new memo notes that third-party voters from 2016 backed Biden by 30 points in 2020, a crucial bloc in helping the former vice president oust Trump. And voters who said they don’t like either party — what Third Way calls “double haters” — backed Biden by 15 points after HILLARY CLINTON had lost the same group by 17 points four years earlier.

Third Way also argues that No Labels is targeting Democratic voters “by their own admission,” citing an electoral map the group has circulated showing a unity ticket’s path to victory — winning two-thirds of their electoral votes in states Biden won in 2020, including such Democratic strongholds as Illinois, Washington and Biden’s home state of Delaware.

And a No Labels ticket would not have to be especially successful to spoil a Democratic win, the memo points out: Biden won six of the seven most competitive states by three points or fewer. As such, it argues, “even a paltry third-party performance would put 79 Biden electoral votes at risk.”

THE PUSHBACK — In a statement to Playbook, No Labels rebuffed Third Way’s assessment, arguing that “our polling resolutely demonstrates that this ticket would draw voters from both sides equally.” The group said it would not run a candidate itself but would ensure a “launching pad” is ready for a third-party candidate should Republicans and Democrats choose unappealing candidates.

“If the two presidential nominees in 2024 decide to placate the extreme voices in their respective parties — there will be a once in a generation opening for a centrist candidate to run and win the White House,” the group said. “It is time for the center of this country to have a voice and a seat at the table. Those that seek to malign this effort with unfounded conventional thinking are protecting the establishment status quo and missing the larger yearnings of the American public.”

Notably, Third Way isn’t the only group that believes a third-party candidate would disproportionately steal away Democratic voters. A post-midterm survey of 2,500 registered voters in 10 battleground congressional districts conducted by the D.C.-based Bullfinch Group found that 45% of Democrats said they were “likely” to “consider voting for a third-party candidate who was Independent, not Republican or Democrat.” Only 35% of Republicans said the same.

That finding came amid an overall shift away from the traditional red-vs.-blue party structure, at least in congressional races. Between August and November, the percentage of voters that picked a Democrat as being “best to represent you or your neighbors in Congress” declined two points to 18%, while those choosing a Republican declined six points to 19%. Meanwhile, those who preferred a candidate “who works and votes with both Republicans and Democrats” rose by nine points to 58%.

“This all may be telling to why, by a 30-point margin, registered voters think Americans would be better off if some congressional districts elected Independent candidates,” the study concluded.

Good Tuesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

BUDGET BITE — In its first salvo in the expected budget rollout this week, the Biden Administration released a fact sheet outlining its plans on Medicare. It’s no surprise the administration started there, considering the long-running back-and-forth with Republicans on the topic. The administration claims its proposals would extend the solvency of Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund “by at least 25 years.”

Biden’s proposal includes: 

  • Increasing the tax rate for Medicare on income above $400,000 from 3.8 percent to 5 percent. 
  • Close tax loopholes that shields some income earned by those making more than $400,000. 
  • Take the savings from newly allowed prescription drug negotiations to the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund. The administration says it will amount to $200 billion credit to the fund over 10 years. 

“MAGA Republicans have a different view. They want to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act. That means they want to take away the power we just gave to Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices,” Biden writes in a NYT op-ed out this morning. “If the MAGA Republicans get their way, seniors will pay higher out-of-pocket costs on prescription drugs and insulin, the deficit will be bigger, and Medicare will be weaker.”

Biden’s full budget is expected on Thursday. (More on the proposal from WaPo’s Jeff Stein)


2024 WATCH

RALLYING CRY — “Never Trumpers rally in D.C., trying to find hope and a plan amid despair,” by Ally Mutnick: “The two-day confab at the luxury Conrad Hotel, billed as the Principles First Summit, was implicitly constructed as a counterweight to the MAGA-fied Conservative Political Action Conference. But the programming also served to underscore the often-bleak, occasionally hopeless, existence that comes with being a modern day anti-Trump Republican.”

THE LAST STRAW — “Vivek Ramaswamy says he received an offer to buy his way into the CPAC straw poll,” by Meridith McGraw


FRAUD FILES — “Interstate voter list org starts to crack as Florida, other GOP states quit,” by Zach Montellaro and Gary Fineout : “A behind-the-scenes organization that helps states maintain their voter lists is beginning to lose members, with three Republican-led states — most notably Florida — announcing that they were departing the organization on Monday. The secretaries of state of Florida, West Virginia and Missouri all said that they were pulling out of the Electronic Registration Information Center, often known as ERIC.”

PALOUSE CHANGE — “The MAGA-fication of North Idaho College,” by NYT’s Charles Homans in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: “For most of the past two years, the college’s governing board has been a volatile experiment in turning grievances into governance.”


JUST POSTED — Top Biden aide and one of the very first members of the 2020 campaign, REMI YAMAMOTO, will depart the White House in the next few days, Phil Mattingly reports for CNN. Yamamoto’s role and portfolio “placed her as the point person for not just former White House chief of staff Ron Klain, but Biden’s entire six-person senior team,” creating a one-woman power center in the West Wing.

In a rare statement on a personnel departure, Biden called her “unflinchingly loyal and extraordinarily capable,” and the story is just chock full of quotes from Biden’s inner circle. One thing missing from the CNN write-up: Yamamoto’s reputation among aides for being one of the best dressed in the White House. No word yet on where she’s headed next.

INTO THE WEST — “Biden to embark on West Coast fundraising swing before expected election launch,” by Chris Cadelago: “Biden’s trip west will take him to Rancho Santa Fe, a wealthy enclave of sprawling estates north of San Diego, two of the people told POLITICO. He also will have likely stops in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Nev. The trip is planned for Monday and Tuesday, though the two people stressed Biden’s itinerary is still being finalized and specifics remain fluid.”

UNEXCUSED ABSENCE — “Biden said he would go to Ohio train derailment site. There is no trip currently scheduled,” by NBC’s Peter Nicholas, Kristen Welker and Monica Alba: “Ask the White House if Biden is going and the answer gets fuzzy: ‘When or if the president should go is of course a question we would talk about, but I don’t think this is something we’ve been agonizing over in real-time,’ a senior White House official said.”

ON THE CLOCK — “White House Said to Consider Pushing Congress on Dealing With TikTok,” by NYT’s David McCabe: “White House officials are weighing whether to support legislation being developed by Senator MARK WARNER, Democrat of Virginia, that would give the government more authority to police apps and services that could pose a risk to Americans’ data security or be used in foreign influence campaigns.”

FLOTUS FILES — “Jill Biden opens up on Africa trip, being first lady, her marriage to the president and a possible 2024 reelection run,” by CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Elizabeth Stuart


HAPPENING TODAY — “Fed’s Powell faces Wall Street firing line on Capitol Hill,” by Zachary Warmbrodt

THE TALENTED MR. SANTOS — “New York Republicans go to all-out war against Santos,” by Olivia Beavers: “Six of Santos’ New York colleagues, particularly the four who flipped tight battleground districts last fall, are working — out in the open and behind the scenes — to contain the blowback from the embattled lawmaker’s deceptions about his past. The first-term foursome started by breaking from the vast majority of their party by calling for Santos to resign, a move that would hurt the GOP’s already tiny majority. And the newly elected New York Republicans are only growing louder.”

YIKES — “Rosendale poses for photo op with white nationalists, denies meeting, condemns hate groups,” by the Daily Montanan’s Darrell Ehrlick: “Congressman MATT ROSENDALE, a Republican who represents a wide swath of Montana, is coming under fire for posing for a photo with a group of white nationalists, who claim they met with him recently while visiting the Capitol in Washington D.C. Rosendale’s office denies the meeting, and explains that the group simply asked for their photo with him outside the Capitol and he obliged.”

ON THE AGENDA — “Republicans issue subpoenas to former school board officials,” by AP’s Farnoush Amiri: House Judiciary Chair JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio) “demanded documents and testimony from three individuals, including the former heads of the National School Boards Association, for ‘requesting federal law enforcement assistance to target parents voicing concerns at local school board meetings.’”


WHO’S TALKING — “Hope Hicks Meets With Manhattan Prosecutors as Trump Inquiry Intensifies,” by NYT’s Kate Christobek, Ben Protess, Jonah Bromwich and William Rashbaum: “HOPE HICKS, a trusted aide to Donald J. Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, met with the Manhattan district attorney’s office on Monday — the latest in a string of witnesses to be questioned by prosecutors as they investigate the former president’s involvement in paying hush money to a porn star.”


NOW OFFICIAL — “Mike Pence asks judge to block subpoena for Jan. 6 testimony,” by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins: “Former Vice President MIKE PENCE has filed a motion asking a judge to block a federal grand jury subpoena for his testimony related to January 6 on the grounds that he is protected by the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, according to a source familiar with the filing.”

AT THE PROUD BOYS TRIAL — “Feds say Proud Boys associates fanned out to facilitate Jan. 6 breach,” by Kyle Cheney


IMMIGRATION FILES — “U.S. Is Said to Consider Reinstating Detention of Migrant Families,” by NYT’s Eileen Sullivan and Zolan Kanno-Youngs: “The Biden administration is considering reviving the practice of detaining migrant families who cross the border illegally — the same policy the president shut down over the past two years because he wanted a more humane immigration system, officials familiar with the discussions said Monday.”

SURVEY SAYS — “Plunge in border crossings could blunt GOP attack on Biden,” by AP’s Elliot Spagat: “A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows some support for changing the number of immigrants and asylum-seekers allowed into the country. About 4 in 10 U.S. adults say the level of immigration and asylum-seekers should be lowered, while about 2 in 10 say they should be higher, according to the poll. About a third want the numbers to remain the same.”

“U.S. transfers Border Patrol agents to northern border as migrant crossings from Canada into U.S. rise,” by NBC’s Julia Ainsley and Didi Martinez

FEATHER REPORT — “U.S. Considers Vaccinating Chickens as Bird Flu Kills Millions of Them,” by NYT’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Emily Anthes: “The bird flu outbreak, which began early last year, is the biggest in the nation’s history, affecting more than 58 million farmed birds in 47 states, as well as birds in the wild. … Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose focus is human health, say the risk of a pandemic is low.”

STILL SEARCHING — “Pentagon still probing what caused ‘Havana Syndrome,’ even after spy agencies found no smoking gun,” by Lara Seligman and Erin Banco

THAT’S THE SPIRIT — “DOJ to file suit blocking JetBlue’s takeover of Spirit,” by Josh Sisco


ON THE GROUND — “Russia advances in Bakhmut by sending waves of mercenaries to certain death,” by WaPo’s Siobhán O’Grady, Robyn Dixon, Anastacia Galouchka, David Stern and Annabelle Timsit

DANCE OF THE SUPERPOWERS — “China’s Xi Jinping Takes Rare Direct Aim at U.S. in Speech,” by WSJ’s Chun Han Wong, Keith Zhai and James Areddy: “The accusation of U.S. suppression of China’s development over the past five years comes as Mr. Xi faces charges from investors that China’s economy has been damaged by his policies, including the emphasis on national security.”

ON THE KOREAN PENINSULA — “Kim’s sister warns N. Korea ready to act against US, South,” by AP’s Hyung-jin Kim

FOR YOUR RADAR — “4 kidnapped Americans crossed into Mexico for health care,” by AP’s Alfredo Peña and Matthew Barakat


DeSANTIS DOWNLOAD — “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, GOP Leaders, Breathe New Life Into Tort Reform,” by WSJ’s Arian Campo-Flores in Miami: “At a time when tort-reform efforts around the U.S. have generally slowed from past decades, Florida GOP lawmakers are considering a bill in the legislative session starting this week aimed at reducing what proponents consider frivolous cases, excessive damage awards and high attorney fees.”

Related Read: “DeSantis to argue US should be like Fla. ahead of 2024 bid,” by AP’s Brendan Farrington And Anthony Izaguirre

LETTER FROM OKLAHOMA — “The ‘Wild West of Weed’ Faces Its Toughest Test,” by Paul Demko in Muskogee, Okla.: “Oklahoma is so swamped with marijuana — legal and otherwise — that voters might just say no to further legalization.”

WINTER IS COMING (AGAIN) — “After a record warm February, winter cold is returning,” by CNN’s Jennifer Gray


WHEN BELIEVING ISN’T SEEING — “Tucker Carlson, with help from Kevin McCarthy, tries to sanitize the very real violence of the January 6 attack,” by CNN’s Oliver Darcy: “After continuing to sow doubt about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election (“it is clear the 2020 election was a grave betrayal of American democracy”), Tucker Carlson used the footage on Monday night to portray those who broke into the U.S. Capitol as mostly peaceful patriots who simply felt wronged by the system.”

Worth a click: A response from the family of fallen Capitol Police Officer BRIAN SICKNICK, which reads in part, “Every time the pain of that day seems to have ebbed a bit, organizations like Fox rip our wounds wide open again and we are frankly sick of it.”

HEADING FOR THE EXIT — “Fox’s top lobbyist, a former Biden staffer, is leaving the network,” by Caitlin Oprysko

FOR THOSE KEEPING TRACK — “‘Media Men’ Lawsuit Ends in a Settlement,” by NYT’s Jessica Testa


IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING — “How a single engineer brought down Twitter on Monday,” by Platformer’s Casey Newton and Zoë Schiffer: “On Slack, engineers responded with variations of ‘crap’ and ‘Twitter is down – the entire thing’ as they scrambled to fix the problem. ELON MUSK was furious, we’re told.”

John Fetterman is progressing in his recovery at Walter Reed and will “be back soon,” according to his chief of staff.

Ketanji Brown Jacksonofficially has a street named after her in her hometown of Miami.

Mitt Romney got the — er, short end of the stick in a recent fundraising pitch from the NRSC. But he was a good sport about it.

IN MEMORIAM — “Former White House official dies of injuries after jet turbulence,” by WaPo’s Michael Laris: “Dana Hyde, 55, of Cabin John, Md., was flying with her husband and one of her sons on an aircraft owned by rural broadband consulting firm Conexon, the company said. Neither of her relatives nor the two members of the flight crew were injured, according to the company and the Federal Aviation Administration.”

“Theodore Kanamine, Army’s first Japanese-American general, dies at 93,” by WaPo’s Michael Rosenwald: “Theodore S. Kanamine, who grew up in a World War II internment camp and later became the U.S. Army’s first Japanese-American active duty general, died March 2 at his daughter’s home in Naples, Fla. He was 93. The cause was lung cancer, said his daughter, Linda Kanamine.”

SPOTTED: Speaker Kevin McCarthy having lunch at The Grill in New York City yesterday. Pic

OUT AND ABOUT — Stephanie Cutter, Susanna Quinn, Tina Flournoy, Michael Whouley and Charlie Baker hosted a farewell party for Labor Secretary Marty Walsh last night at Susanna and Jack Quinn’s home. SPOTTED: DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, HHS Secretary Xavier Beccera, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman, OMB Director Shalanda Young, Julie Su, Bruce Reed, Mike Donilon, Mitch Landrieu, Evan Ryan, Dan Koh, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Irish Ambassador Geraldine Nason, Chris Dodd, Jennifer Griffin, Nancy Cordes, Norah O’Donnell, Neera Tanden, Avery Miller, Andrea Mitchell, Catherine and Wayne Reynolds, John McCarthy and Tammy Haddad.

MEDIA MOVE — Jessica Meyers is now deputy standards & ethics editor at POLITICO. She previously was editor-in-chief of the Global Press Journal.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Max Fisher is joining Crooked Media as a news and politics correspondent, working with shows like “Pod Save the World” and “Offline.” He previously was an international reporter at NYT.

Kati Card is now senior VP at MissionWired, a digital fundraising consulting firm. She previously was chief digital officer for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 2020 and 2022 election cycles and is a Catherine Cortez Masto alum.

Miles Lichtman is now Democratic staff director of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. He most recently was Democratic health policy director for the House Oversight Committee.

TRANSITIONS — Sarah Miller is now special adviser at the Federal Trade Commision Chair’s office. She previously was executive director at the American Economic Liberties Project. … Samantha Chaifetz is now a partner with DLA Piper’s litigation practice in the appellate subgroup. She previously was an attorney at the DOJ’s Civil Division. … Tyler Hardy is now a VP with Elevate Government Affairs. He previously was deputy legislative director for Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.). …

Robin Juliano is now with Cornerstone Government Relations’ federal government relations team. She previously was Democratic staff director for the House Appropriations Committee. … Kia Floyd is now executive director of state and local government at General Motors. She previously was director of U.S. public policy for state and local at Meta Platforms. … Kristin Solheim is now a government affairs officer at the Investment Company Institute. She previously was director of federal government affairs at Citi.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Shelly Banjo, global business editor for the Americas at Bloomberg, and Steve Russolillo, deputy coverage chief of speed and trending at the Wall Street Journal, on Feb. 23 welcomed Isaac “Ike” Banjo Russolillo. PicAnother pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) … Solicitor General Elizabeth PrelogarKristan King Nevins Josh Holly Guy Benson Mike WatsonNoreen Nielsen … DNC’s Ryan ThomasSavannah Behrmann Carol DankoElad Strohmayer Alan NeuhauserMatt Higginson … former Reps. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) and Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) … Anne Farris Rosen Myron Belkind Nate EvansEliza VanZoerenMatt HandvergerMatt GlassmanMark SchuermannAnthony BellottiJoe Fadness of Michael Best Strategies … Tom Sietsema … American Conservation Coalition’s Zack Abnet … BCW’s Katie NerantzisSam Markstein of the Republican Jewish Coalition (3-0)

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.

Corrections: Yesterday’s Playbook misreported the date of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ state of the state address and the status of a proposal to repeal Florida’s “resign to run” law.