POLITICO Playbook: 50 days until the speaker election

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POLITICO Playbook: 50 days until the speaker election

NANCY PELOSI has 50 MORE DAYS until the House votes for speaker, and she is feverishly working her caucus for support during this whirlwind orientation week in Washington. The Jan. 3 floor vote ensures a long few weeks of internal wrangling.

JOHN BRESNAHAN, RACHAEL BADE and KYLE CHENEY with the details: “Nancy Pelosi’s wooing of the incoming Democratic freshmen is in full force, with private meetings, deployment of Democratic bigwigs and lavish dinners with members-elect and their spouses.

“Seeking to return to the speaker’s chair now that Democrats have won back the majority, Pelosi has launched a charm offensive for the incoming class of lawmakers in a bid to win its support, even though a number of them promised to vote against her when they were on the campaign trail.

“Pelosi secretly showed up at the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ freshman orientation session on Monday to try to ingratiate herself with about 20 members-elect in attendance. There, Pelosi played up her role creating the caucus as an original founding member of the group and touted her background working as a progressive community organizer in California.” POLITICO

WHAT TO WATCH IN THE SPEAKER’S RACE — TODAY members elect will get their first taste of the internal workings of House Democratic politics. At a Democratic Caucus meeting, the incoming freshman will be introduced to their colleagues, putting them onstage with Pelosi.

PELOSI will also attend a CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS meeting and host a private dinner for members-elect and their spouses Wednesday night in Statuary Hall.

— A LITTLE HELP FROM HER FRIENDS … GOVS. ANDREW CUOMO of New York and TOM WOLF of Pennsylvania have been calling members-elect on behalf of Pelosi. As have former Vice President AL GORE and former Secretary of State JOHN KERRY, according to Democratic aides.

SPOTTED at a cocktail reception in the Rayburn Room: SPEAKER PAUL RYAN introducing himself to ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ at a new member reception in the Rayburn Room, just steps from the House floor. “Hey, I know you,” Ryan said with a smile on his face. “I’m Paul.” They chatted briefly in a large group of people … KYRSTEN SINEMA, who just won her Senate race, got applause and lots of hugs on the House floor. … REP. PETER ROSKAM (R-ILL.) and TEXAS REP. JOHN CULBERSON — both defeated this year — were chatting alone on the House floor.

THE STEP BACK — ELANA SCHOR: “Left treads carefully as Dems taste power”

HOUSE REPUBLICANS will have their leadership elections today at 1 p.m. in 1100 Longworth. KEVIN MCCARTHY is expected to trounce JIM JORDAN for the minority leader job, and that’s just about the only marquee race. STEVE SCALISE of Louisiana is running for whip unopposed. LIZ CHENEY of Wyoming will join leadership as GOP conference chair. TOM EMMER of Minnesota will be the next NRCC chairman.

… BUT, BUT, BUT … KYLE CHENEY, JOHN BRESNAHAN and RACHAEL BADE: “Trump quietly meddles in McCarthy-Jordan leadership brawl”: “On the eve of Kevin McCarthy’s long-awaited defeat of his nemesis, Rep. Jim Jordan, President Donald Trump is jumping into the fray to play peacemaker.

“Trump has privately urged the House majority leader to strike a deal with the conservative Freedom Caucus founder, who is challenging McCarthy for the minority leader post next Congress, multiple lawmakers and aides said. It remains unclear what exactly the deal would entail.

“The discussions between the president and McCarthy about Jordan, which took place last week, set off a round of speculation among lawmakers inside the Capitol that Trump may try to push Jordan to become the top Republican lawmaker on the House Judiciary Committee, a panel expected to launch an array of Democratic investigations against the president — and possibly even an impeachment probe.” POLITICO

— THE FREEDOM CAUCUS is all but dead at this point, and McCarthy is going to easily put away Jordan in this leadership race. But they are now viewing how McCarthy treats Jordan as a litmus test. The president has put McCarthy in quite a position by asking him to cut a deal with Jordan, and place him at the top of Judiciary. Insiders thought Jordan would’ve been great at Oversight and Government Reform, where Jordan was next in line. Jordan has to jump Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Steve King (R-Iowa) to get to the top of Judiciary — not a huge lift.

BUT KEEP IN MIND that McCarthy doing anything to help the Freedom Caucus at this point is an internal struggle for the California Republican. There’s a domino effect by putting Jordan at Judiciary: it seems very likely that MARK MEADOWS (R-N.C.) will make a run for his party’s top slot at Oversight and Government Reform.

THIS WOULD PUT Jordan and Meadows — two Freedom Caucus guys who have tormented the Republican leadership — at the top of the two most critical investigative committees.

CALIFORNIA REP. JEFF DENHAM, a close McCarthy ally, lost his Central Valley seat to Democrat Josh Harder yesterday. The California GOP delegation has been absolutely decimated.

Happy Wednesday. SPOTTED: SEN. TED CRUZ (R-Texas) and REP. BETO O’ROURKE (D-Texas) arriving at DCA on the same United flight from Houston. Pic

WHITE HOUSE PALACE INTRIGUE STORIES ARE BACK … WAPO’S JOSH DAWSEY and PHIL RUCKER: “Five days of fury: Inside Trump’s Paris temper, election woes and staff upheaval”: “Trump was told [Saturday] morning by Deputy White House Chief of Staff Zachary D. Fuentes that the Secret Service had concerns about flying Marine One through the rain and fog from Paris to the cemetery 50 miles away, and that a motorcade could be lengthy and snarl traffic in the area … Trump [later] told aides he thought he looked ‘terrible’ and blamed his chief of staff’s office, and Fuentes in particular, for not counseling him that skipping the cemetery visit would be a public-relations nightmare.” WaPo

“Staff anger spills over at White House: A drumbeat of exits is mixing with Trump’s anger after the midterms and a much-criticized trip to Europe,” by Chris Cadelago and Nancy Cook.

THE MELANIA-MIRA FEUD — NYT’s Maggie Haberman, Helene Cooper and Ron Nixon: “Mrs. Trump’s problems with Ms. Ricardel seem to date to the first lady’s trip to Africa in October, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation. Ms. Ricardel had announced the trip before it was fully planned, according to one of the people, and then threatened to pull resources for it after learning that she did not have a seat on Mrs. Trump’s plane.

“After the trip ended, Ms. Ricardel made accusations of inappropriate behavior by Mrs. Trump’s most trusted staff members, including Lindsay Reynolds, the first lady’s chief of staff — claims that a person close to the first lady said were false.

“Mrs. Trump then complained to John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, about Ms. Ricardel, and Mr. Kelly raised the issue with Mr. Bolton, two White House officials said. Mr. Kelly is theoretically Mr. Bolton’s boss, but the national security adviser has so far refused to remove Ms. Ricardel, who was spotted in her office late Tuesday afternoon.” NYT

— CAITLIN OPRYSKO and DANIEL LIPPMAN: “Ricardel, along with Bolton … has ‘a very closed style. It’s literally closed-door as opposed to open-door,’ as it was under former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, said a person familiar with the matter. The NSC’s atmosphere currently is ‘much more close-hold, much more skeptical of the staff who works for them in some ways,’ the person said.

“Asked whether NSC staffers liked working for Bolton and Ricardel, the source said: ‘I don’t think there’s a lot of warm and fuzzy stuff going on. … There’s no ice-cream socials and there’s not hanging around the big table in the national security adviser’s office at the end of the day shooting the breeze. … It’s not as enjoyable day to day.’” POLITICO

THE NEXT CHIEF … “Top Pence aide resurfaces as leading candidate to replace Kelly,” by Chris Cadelago, Andrew Restuccia and Ben Schreckinger: “Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers has reemerged as a leading candidate to succeed White House chief of staff John Kelly, according to several White House officials and others close to the presidential orbit.

“An appointment would continue the rapid rise of the young aide, 36, and install a chief who enjoys warm relations with some of the most important figures in President Donald Trump’s orbit: his eldest son, Don Jr., his eldest daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

“Ayers also enjoys support among the motley crew of outside advisers — including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — who have Trump’s ear but have clashed with Kelly as the former Marine general sought to regulate access to the president. … In recent months, Ayers has traveled with Trump at least twice without Pence present, according to a senior White House official. One of those trips was an October swing to Florida and Ayers’ native Georgia to survey hurricane damage.” POLITICO

REPLACING KIRSTJEN — “Trump considers tough-talking former ICE director for DHS chief,” by Gabby Orr and Ted Hesson: “President Donald Trump is considering Thomas Homan, former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to succeed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, three people familiar with the process told POLITICO. …

“Tapping Homan to run the Department of Homeland Security would almost certainly energize Trump’s base. … A person close to Nielsen said she expects to be in the job for the next month or two given the toughness of finding a replacement and confirming that person and ongoing issues that DHS is facing, such as the California wildfires and a caravan of Central American migrants. …

“In addition to Homan, other potential Nielsen replacements include Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and David Pekoske, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. … The president is also considering Maj. Gen. Vincent Coglianese, who currently runs the Marine Corps Installations Command, according to two people familiar with the process. One of Coglianese’s sons serves as editorial director at the Daily Caller.” POLITICO

WHITAKER WATCH — “How Trump’s move to put a loyalist over Mueller is already backfiring,” by Eliana Johnson and Darren Samuelsohn: “The appointment has drawn bipartisan criticism and led to questions about Whitaker’s qualifications and whether he would limit the investigation or bury its findings. The state of Maryland on Tuesday filed the first legal challenge seeking to overturn Whitaker’s appointment, while on Capitol Hill newly empowered House Democrats are already making plans to have the acting attorney general appear as one of their first witnesses when the next Congress launches in January.

“The uproar over the appointment, which effectively removes Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as Mueller’s primary supervisor, has put Whitaker in a difficult spot, trapped between setting off a political firestorm by clipping Mueller’s wings and angering a president intent on having him do just that.” POLITICO

— “Whitaker abandoned taxpayer-funded project in Iowa in 2016,” by AP’s Ryan Foley and David Pitt in Des Moines: “While in private business, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker walked away from a taxpayer-subsidized apartment-rehabilitation project in Iowa after years of cost overruns, delays and other problems, public records show.

“The city of Des Moines ultimately yanked an affordable housing loan that Whitaker’s company had been awarded, and another lender began foreclosure proceedings after Whitaker defaulted on a separate loan for nearly $700,000. Several contractors complained they were not paid, and a process server for one could not even find Whitaker or his company to serve him with a lawsuit.” AP

IN FLORIDA …

MICHAEL GRUNWALD in POLITICO Magazine: “How Broward County Became the Florida of Florida: The recount, and the recount, and the Parkland shooting, and Roger Stone all live in the most scandal-happy place on Earth.”

— “Florida recount gives Bondi a new shot at Trump’s inner circle,” by Annie Karni and Marc Caputo: “Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi, doesn’t oversee the recounts in the Senate and governor’s races that are underway in the state. But since the midterms, she has been serving as one of President Donald Trump’s point people on the ground there, remaining in frequent contact with the president and giving him personal updates, according to a senior White House official and Florida officials. … Bondi, who is also close with Fox News host Sean Hannity, has been such a frequent guest on the president’s go-to network that she even co-hosted ‘The Five’ show in August for three days while serving as state attorney general.” POLITICO

THE JUICE …

— BEHIND THE SCENES … PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP was briefed yesterday about the Senate’s prison-reform deal, and is leaning toward supporting it. Shahira Knight — the White House leg affairs chief — told the House Republican leadership about Trump’s position during a meeting Tuesday afternoon.

— STEVE SCALISE’s new book — “Back in the Game” — is out, and the Louisiana Republican has a month-long book tour underway: Today: Hugh Hewitt radio show and Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” … Thursday: Fox’s “The Story” with Martha MacCallum … Nov. 27: Sirius XM Patriot Townhall. … Dec. 9: Fox’s Life, Liberty and Levin. Book signings: Saturday in Hammond, La., Sunday in Baton Rouge, Nov. 19 in The Villages, Fla., Nov. 20 in Tampa, Dec. 15 in Metairie, La. Buy the hardcover for $17.70 on Amazon

— AWARD NEWS … HAPPENING TONIGHT … JAMIE DUPREE will get the Radio and TV Congressional Correspondent career achievement award for distinguished coverage of Congress. NBC News’ Capitol Hill bureau will get the Joan Shorenstein Barone award for “excellence in Washington-based Congressional or political reporting.” The award goes to Kasie Hunt, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Marianna Sotomayor, Alex Moe, Frank Thorp, Garrett Haake and Rich Gardella for their coverage of sexual harassment. The David Bloom award goes to BBC’s Quentin Sommerville and Darren Conway. Garney Gary of C-Span will get the Jerry Thompson award. The dinner is tonight at The Anthem.

TRUMP’S WEDNESDAY — The president will have lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

YOU’RE INVITED: ANNA and JAKE are sitting down tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. for a “PLAYBOOK ELECTIONS: WHAT’S NEXT?” event, part of the POLITICO-AARP Deciders series. NADEAM ELSHAMI, former chief of staff for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, now policy director at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck; JOSH HOLMES, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, now president and founding partner of Cavalry LLC; and GREG STRIMPLE, president of GS Strategy Group, will be there to discuss. RSVP

2020 WATCH …

— ALEX THOMPSON: “Julián Castro huddles with donors to prepare 2020 bid”: “Julián Castro convened a group of supporters in San Antonio Monday in preparation for a 2020 presidential campaign, sources familiar with the gathering told POLITICO.

“Castro and his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, brought together about 20 of their loyal donors and bundlers in San Antonio to begin to sketch out a national bid, according to one person present and another with direct knowledge of the meeting. The session lasted several hours and invited the potential donors to ask questions about a potential presidential campaign.” POLITICO

— AP’S STEVE PEOPLES: “Bloomberg charts aggressive timeline on 2020 bid”: “Having spent a fortune to help elect Democrats this fall, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared lifetime allegiance to the Democratic Party on Tuesday and outlined an aggressive timeline for deciding whether to run for president.

“‘I think January, February would be about as late as you can do it and as early as you can gather enough information,’ Bloomberg told The Associated Press in an interview. … ‘Thanksgiving, Christmas and then maybe a few weeks into January — that’s when you really gotta sit down, talk to your advisers and say, ‘Look, do I have a chance?’

“‘I think I know why I would want to run. I think I know what I think this country should do and what I would do. But I just don’t know whether it’s possible,’ Bloomberg told the AP. He added, ‘If people don’t seem to be warming to you, there’s plenty of other ways that I can make a difference in life and say thank you to this country for what it’s given my kids and me.’” AP

CNN VS. THE WHITE HOUSE — “‘The government’s story keeps changing’: CNN seen as likely to prevail in White House fight,” by Jason Schwartz: “President Donald Trump and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders often have the upper hand over CNN in the White House briefing room. But CNN has likely now claimed the advantage by moving the battle to the courtroom.

“First Amendment lawyers say courts have a history of defending access for journalists, and the White House’s shifting justifications won’t help it in the coming legal fight over the decision to revoke correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass last week. CNN and Acosta filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to have his credentials restored, and a judge has scheduled the first hearing for Wednesday afternoon.

“‘It’s a serious claim,’ said Floyd Abrams, the renowned First Amendment lawyer who represented The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case. ‘I can’t think of anything that is likely to lead to a victory for the White House.’” POLITICO

WHAT LANGLEY IS READING — “CIA considered potential truth serum for terror suspects,” by AP’s Deb Riechmann: “Shortly after 9/11, the CIA considered using a drug it thought might work like a truth serum and force terror suspects to give up information about potential attacks. After months of research, the agency decided that a drug called Versed, a sedative often prescribed to reduce anxiety, was ‘possibly worth a try.’

“But in the end, the CIA decided not to ask government lawyers to approve its use. The existence of the drug research program — dubbed ‘Project Medication’ — is disclosed in a once-classified report that was provided to the American Civil Liberties Union under a judge’s order and was released by the organization Tuesday.” AP

ROLLING TO RIYADH … “Trump taps ex-general for ambassador to Saudi Arabia,” by Nahal Toosi: “Trump’s pick is John Abizaid, a retired four-star general who oversaw U.S. Central Command, a division that deals with the Middle East, according to a statement issued by the White House on Tuesday. … It’s not certain why Trump took so long to name someone to the post.

“But his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, has had a close relationship with the Saudi crown prince, possibly making the need for an official envoy seem less pressing. Abizaid, a West Point graduate, has Lebanese roots and speaks Arabic. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He also works as a private consultant.” POLITICO

VALLEY TALK — “How Amazon Picked HQ2 and Jilted 236 Cities: For months, cities vied for Amazon’s second headquarters while some executives were realizing that no single place would fulfill its requirements,” by WSJ’s Laura Stevens and Shayndi Raice.

“Amazon’s enemies swarm as its D.C. clout swells: Bezos’ presence in Northern Virginia and New York will enhance his company’s sway. But Amazon is increasingly drawing attacks from critics and rivals,” by Lorraine Woellert and Steven Overly.

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Jonathan Landman, managing editor of Bloomberg Opinion, is 66. How he got his start in journalism: “I stumbled into some freelance work copy-editing textbooks, which turned into a job on Senior Scholastic magazine. It was interesting work and led, after journalism school and a few twists and turns, to a summer internship filling in on the education beat at the Chicago Sun-Times. The school system promptly went bankrupt, so I was suddenly a rookie with a lot to do.” Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Condoleezza Rice is 64 … Valerie Jarrett … Prince Charles is 7-0 … P.J. O’Rourke is 71 … Peter Lattman, managing director of media at Emerson Collective and vice chairman of The Atlantic, is 48 … Ben Rhodes is 41 … photographer Tony Powell … Jacob Freedman, senior director at Albright Stonebridge, is 36 … Liz Jarvis-Shean, head of global public affairs at Airbnb (hat tips: Ben Chang) … Charlotte Riggs of the White House … Breanne Harmsen … Francis J. Kelly, managing director and global coordinator of public affairs at Deutsche Bank … William Black … WaPo’s Paige Winfield Cunningham … John Lockett … GWU political scientist Sarah Binder … John Jameson … Sally Sterling … Politico’s Lauren Lanza and John Lockett … Joshua Friedlander of the Brunswick Group … Rep.-elect Greg Pence (R-Ind.) is 62 … Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) is 6-0 …

… Rachel Noerdlinger, managing director at Mercury … Liz Morrison, VP of No Labels (h/t Nancy Jacobson) … Taylor Griffin, press secretary for Leader Pelosi (h/t Shana Mansbach) … Randolph Court of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (h/t the ITIF team) … Julie Hanus … Sarah Holbrooke … Bill Larson … Vanessa VandeHey … Kate Coyne McCoy … Ed Reno … Ashley Yehl … Brianna Manzelli … Lana Fern … Madeleine Weast, press secretary for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) (h/t Sophie White) … Tommy Schultz … Julia Renée Nonis … Rob Gulans … Tricia Miller Klapheke … Airbnb’s Josh Meltzer … Michael Collier … Mark Gyorfy … Daniel Alders.

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