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POLITICO Playbook: 5 Republicans to watch if McCarthy falls short

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With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

YOU CAN EXHALE — “Poland said early Wednesday that a Russian-made missile fell in the country’s east, killing two people, though U.S. President JOE BIDEN said it was ‘unlikely’ it was fired from Russia,” the AP reports from Warsaw. “Three U.S. officials said preliminary assessments suggested the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces at an incoming Russian one amid the crushing salvo against Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure Tuesday.”

HOUSE CALLS — The AP projected Tuesday that Democrats would win four more races: CA-09 (Rep. JOSH HARDER), CA-21 (Rep. JIM COSTA), CA-06 (Rep. AMI BERA) and CO-08 (YADIRA CARAVEO). Republicans remain one seat away from winning the majority; GOP candidates lead in four of 10 uncalled races..

YOU SNOOZE, YOU LOSE? — If you read DONALD TRUMP’s 2024 presidential announcement off a page, you might be forgiven for thinking it was full of classic Trumpian bombast.

“America’s comeback starts right now,” he told the Mar-a-Lago crowd. “In order to make America great and glorious again, I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States!”

But for many of those in the room and watching at home, the supposed spectacle was a dud. Where was the buzz, the energy, the thrill? Trump appeared tired, and worst of all, many thought his 63-minute speech was plain-old boring.

“The crowd at Mar-a-Lago is slow to clap, and the clapping is labored, as if they are not paying attention and it takes them a second to realize they ought to be clapping,” observed gimlet-eyed Trump watcher Olivia Nuzzi. She added, “I have rarely heard Donald Trump sound as low energy as he sounds tonight.”

ABC’s Olivia Rubin tweeted a video showing some in the Mar-a-Lago crowd trying to leave the ballroom amid Trump’s meandering speech only to be blocked by security.

Even SEAN HANNITY’s Fox News program cut away from Trump’s speech for about 10 minutes before returning it to air. More on the TV coverage from Olivia Olander

The most intriguing moment of the announcement, in fact, took place away from Mar-a-Lago. Amid the speech, Fox News scooped a statement from daughter IVANKA TRUMP distancing herself from her father’s third presidential run: “I love my father very much. This time around, I am choosing to prioritize my young children and the private life we are creating as a family. I do not plan to be involved in politics.” (Ivanka did not attend the event, though husband JARED KUSHNER was spotted in the crowd.)

For your radar: Just minutes before his speech, our colleague Nick Wu scooped that some House Democrats, led by Rep. DAVID CICILLINE (D-R.I.), are exploring a last-ditch effort to block Trump from returning to the presidency by invoking the 14th amendment. In case you slept through civics class, that provision of the Constitution states that anyone who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” shall not hold public office. It’s an untested provision, to put it mildly, but watch this space in the coming days.

THE HEADLINES: NYT: “Trump Announces 2024 Run, Repeating Lies and Exaggerating Record”WaPo: “Trump, who as president fomented an insurrection, says he is running again” WSJ: “Donald Trump Announces Third Consecutive Presidential Bid” WaPo:“Trump’s 2024 candidacy won’t stop Justice Dept. criminal probes”NYT:“We Fact-Checked Trump’s Speech”

IF NOT KEVIN, WHO? — You’ve heard allies of KEVIN McCARTHY say it a gazillion times — and they’ll say it another gazillion times over before the House speaker vote in January: You can’t beat somebody with nobody.

But what if history repeats itself? What if McCarthy, as in his 2015 bid for the speakership, fails to appease the renegade right and falls short of the 218 votes he needs to seize the gavel?

With 31 House Republicans spurning McCarthy in Tuesday’s nominating vote — and with McCarthy likely able to afford no more than three or four defections based on current election returns — the question is more than academic.

But this time, there’s no PAUL RYAN waiting in the wings — a nationally prominent, universally respected, unquestionably experienced lawmaker who can readily unite the GOP’s warring clans. “There isn’t anyone else; there isn’t a second choice,” insisted Rep. BRUCE WESTERMAN (R-Ark.), a McCarthy backer who said he would vote for no one else.

McCarthy critics call bull. “There are 435 members here; about 220 of them will be Republican,” said Rep. JEFF DUNCAN (R-S.C.), a member of the restive Freedom Caucus. “Anyone can do it.”

To be clear, Team McCarthy and most GOP lawmakers tell us they believe the California Republican will get 218 — eventually. But if he can’t, here are the most likely alternatives members mentioned to us during our travels on the Hill this week:

1) THE HAPPY WARRIOR: Majority Leader-Elect STEVE SCALISE (R-La.)

— Most GOP members think Scalise would become the obvious fallback. He’s served as whip since 2015 and has the necessary member outreach infrastructure up and running — which helped secure an unopposed bid for majority leader. He’s well-liked by fellow Republicans, none of whom have forgotten his near-brush with assassination in 2017. But while he’s seen as a more doctrinaire conservative than McCarthy, he’ll likely face similar Freedom Caucus demands. One lawmaker told us “he’ll have the same problems” trying to wrangle the MAGA crowd.

2) THE UNICORN: Conference Chair ELISE STEFANIK (R-N.Y.)

— Stefanik is the rare member with a centrist pedigree who is also a close Trump ally. In theory, that could allow her to bridge the chasm between moderates and MAGA world. She’s also the mother of a toddler, bringing sorely needed perspective to a male-dominated party. But she has her critics: Some Freedom Caucus members distrust her more than McCarthy, while others see her close embrace of Trump as out of step with the moment. One GOP lawmaker told us she lost his vote for conference chair after she decided to endorse Trump’s 2024 run this week — a move that amplified pressure on fellow Republicans to follow suit.


— Banks has risen quickly in his five-year tenure, using his position atop the huge Republican Study Committee to burnish his leadership credentials. In that role, the Naval Reservist has turned the group into a messaging machine, circulating memos and briefing materials and developing strong relationships with conservative media. But many Republicans privately blame Banks for stirring up a host of MAGA-world animosity against their colleague TOM EMMER. Banks got the most first-ballot votes Tuesday in the majority whip race, but he fell short of a majority and Emmer won on the second ballot.


— Over his 18 years in the House, McHenry has transformed his image from a brash conservative gadfly to a savvy low-profile operator. Known for his bowties and wry humor, McHenry is well liked across different factions and — more importantly — knows a thing or two about managing an unruly majority as a former chief deputy whip. But he’s been out of leadership for four years and tends to shun the national spotlight that a speaker is expected to embrace. Plus, colleagues say he’d never do such a thankless job: He’s made clear he is interested only in leading the House Financial Services Committee.


— Jordan has long been the head coach of the House’s hard-right and perhaps the lawmaker most innately in tune with Trump. As a key BARACK OBAMA antagonist, Jordan also has deep experience sticking it to a Democratic president. But while his candidacy would delight the right, he’s been a divisive figure in the conference, helping drive out not one but two GOP speakers. He’s backing McCarthy now in expectation of winning the Judiciary Committee gavel. Any move higher than that would require conquering years of distrust among his colleagues — and wooing new GOP members who won Democratic seats by distancing themselves from Trump.

Good Wednesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Know any dark horse speaker candidates? Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.



HEADS UP — “Senators float audit of Rick Scott’s NRSC,” by Alex Isenstadt: “During a tense, three-hour-long meeting of the Senate GOP Conference, Sens. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-Tenn.) and THOM TILLIS (R-N.C.) said there should be an independent review of how the party’s campaign arm spent its resources before falling short of its goal of winning the majority.”

The pushback from NRSC spox CHRIS HARTLINE: “We get audited every month. It’s called an FEC report.”

RUNOFF REPORT — “Warnock Joins Lawsuit to Overturn Restriction on Early Voting in Georgia,”  by NYT’s Maya King in Atlanta

WHO GETS PAID — NYT’s @ShaneGoldmacher: “The NRSC sent a fundraising email today signed by Herschel Walker in which it is actually keeping 99% of what’s raised, per fine print. Walker gets a dime for every ten dollar donation.”

THE BLAME GAME — “DeSantis, without naming Trump, slams ‘hugely underwhelming’ midterms for the G.O.P.,” by NYT’s Patricia Mazzei in Miami: “‘There were a lot, a lot of disappointments,’ [Florida Gov. RON] DeSANTIS told reporters at an event in Fort Walton Beach when asked about Mr. Trump’s planned announcement on Tuesday night. … The governor made no mention of the former president. But he appeared to relish contrasting the poor showing last week by many of Mr. Trump’s endorsed candidates with his own landslide re-election victory and successes by other Republicans in Georgia, Ohio and Texas.”


LOOKING TO THE LAME DUCK — “White House’s hopes for a lame-duck debt ceiling deal are fading fast,” by Adam Cancryn: “Senior administration officials see little chance of attracting any Republican votes for a bipartisan debt limit hike during the short session. And they don’t believe they have the 50 Democratic Senate votes needed to slam through a hike using the budget reconciliation process that would allow them to avoid a Republican filibuster.”

WH official: “We’d love to do the debt limit. That doesn’t magically create the votes to get the debt limit done.”


THE WHIP COUNT — “Same-sex marriage bill picks up more Senate GOP support,” by Marianne LeVine: “A bipartisan Senate deal to enshrine same-sex marriage protections into federal law has convinced at least one holdout: Sen. MITT ROMNEY.” He’s the fourth of 10 Republicans that Dems need to support the measure to overcome the filibuster.

Where others stand: “Sen. ROY BLUNT (R-Mo.), the retiring No. 4 GOP leader, said he’d decided but declined to say what his decision was. Retiring Sen. PAT TOOMEY (R-Pa.) said: ‘We’ll find out tomorrow.’ And Sen. JONI ERNST (R-Iowa) suggested she was closer to a decision but wants to speak more with her staff.”

WILL SHE, WON’T SHE — “Dems ponder the ultimate midterm twist ending: Will Pelosi stay?” by Sarah Ferris and Nicholas Wu

ANOTHER AID ASK — “White House seeks $48B for Ukraine, Covid-19 needs,” by Caitlin Emma

PREVIEWING THE GOP MAJORITY — “House Republicans Grill Homeland Security Chief About Border Crisis,” by NYT’s Eileen Sullivan: “Republicans focused most of their attention on [Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO] MAYORKAS, with questions about the record-breaking number of illegal crossings at the southwestern border during the Biden administration.”

CONGRESS CATCHES COVID FATIGUE — “Senate Votes to End Covid-19 Emergency Declaration,” by WSJ’s Katy Stech Ferek: “The Senate voted 62-36 to end the emergency declaration nearly three years after it was invoked. It’s unclear if the House will take up the measure. President Biden threatened to veto any congressional efforts to end the national emergency declaration’s status, said the Office of Management and Budget in a statement. Ending the declaration would weaken the federal government’s ability to respond to Covid-19 surges, OMB said.”

TOUGH SCENE — “Dianne Feinstein could be third in line to the presidency as Senate president pro tempore. She appears unaware that she’s already declined the job,” by Insider’s Bryan Metzger

2024 WATCH

MOVING ON — “Some GOP Governors, Donors Say Party Should Move Past Donald Trump,” by WSJ’s John McCormick

ELSEWHERE IN FLORIDA — “DeSantis world on Trump’s presidential announcement: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” by Gary Fineout and Matt Dixon in Tallahassee, Fla.

IS DeSANTIS INEVITABLE? — “Ron DeSantis has reached a perilous point: Inevitability,” by WaPo’s Dan Zak: “Can you recall another politician who seemed like an Inevitable Candidate for their party and time? HILLARY CLINTON, JEB BUSH, MARCO RUBIO, GARY HART, THOMAS DEWEY, ROBERT A. TAFT …”

THE NEW SENATE CYCLE — “Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown will seek fourth term in 2024,” by Spectrum News’ Taylor Popielarz


AT THE TRUMP ORG TRIAL — The prosecution’s star witness, longtime Trump Organization executive ALLEN WEISSELBERG, was called to the stand in the company’s tax fraud trial, Erin Durkin reports from New York. “Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer, testified that he received $1.76 million in untaxed, off-the-books perks from the company — confirming key elements of the Manhattan district attorney’s case against the Trump Organization.”

FAMILY BUSINESS — “Judge throws out Mary Trump’s lawsuit against Donald Trump, saying her claim was barred by prior agreements,” by CNN’s Kara Scannell


THE CRYPTO MELTDOWN — “Elizabeth Warren wants to pass a major crypto bill. Sherrod Brown says not so fast,” by Zachary Warmbrodt and Eleanor Mueller: “Leaders of the SEC and CFTC are vying for pieces of the crypto market, and the split is reflected in legislation that’s started to emerge from Capitol Hill.”

“Lawmakers return FTX money,” by Sam Sutton


DANCE OF THE SUPERPOWERS — “Biden-Xi Talks Mark Shift in U.S.-China Ties Toward Managing Fierce Competition,” by WSJ’s Andrew Restuccia, Ken Thomas, Chun Han Wong and Keith Zhai in Nusa Dua, Indonesia: “A few weeks after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s August visit to Taiwan, advisers to President Biden quietly opened back-channel talks with a senior Chinese diplomat. Beijing had largely severed lines of communication with the U.S. government, and the two sides were looking for a way forward.

“Over frequent video and phone calls throughout the subsequent weeks, the group laid the groundwork for the first face-to-face meeting between the U.S. and Chinese presidents since Mr. Biden was elected, according to U.S. officials. The negotiations continued up to the day of the meeting, with senior Biden administration officials huddled with their Chinese counterparts until 3 a.m. on Monday at a hotel in Bali, Indonesia.”


IN THE STATES — “Kentucky Supreme Court wrestles with the state’s abortion laws after midterms upset,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein: “It’s the first time state abortion restrictions have faced judicial review since voters turned out en masse for abortion rights nationwide in the midterm elections and since Kentucky voters in particular rejected an amendment saying there is no constitutional protection for the procedure.”

“Fulton County judge stops enforcement of Georgia’s abortion ban,” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Maya Prabhu

ON THE BALLOT — “New Jersey Democrats moving toward putting abortion on the 2023 ballot,” by Daniel Han and Matt Friedman in Atlantic City, N.J.

THE NEXT FRONTIER — “U.S. Catholic Bishops Elect Leaders for Anti-Abortion Fight,” by NYT’s Elizabeth Dias in Baltimore


’ELLO GUVNAS — “New Governor 101: A primer on the 9 incoming state executives,” POLITICO

AT THE WEINSTEIN TRIAL — “Jennifer Siebel Newsom, wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, testifies that Harvey Weinstein raped her,” by CNN’s Nouran Salahieh

TITLE 42 UPDATE — “Judge Invalidates Rule Allowing Migrant Expulsions on Border,” by NYT’s Miriam Jordan and Eileen Sullivan


OUT OF THE BLUE — “Elon Musk says the new Twitter Blue will relaunch on November 29th,” by The Verge’s Jay Peters

THE LATEST CUTS — “Elon Musk Fires Twitter Employees Who Criticized Him,” by NYT’s Kate Conger, Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac in San Francisco

JUST POSTED — “Elon Musk Heads to Court to Defend His Billions in Tesla Pay,” by NYT’s Peter Eavis, Jack Ewing and Isabella Simonetti

Justin Amash has a bold proposal for House Republicans and Democrats.

The public sniping between the Mitch McConnell and Rick Scott worlds is becoming epic.

PLAYBOOK REAL ESTATE SECTION — Madison Cawthorn bought a $1.1 million home in Cape Coral, Fla.

IN MEMORIAM — “Virginia McLaurin, centenarian who danced with Obamas, dies,” by WaPo’s Emily Langer: “Virginia McLaurin, a daughter of Black sharecroppers who, as a centenarian, became an internet celebrity with her exuberant dance upon meeting Barack and Michelle Obama in 2016, her moves the expression of boundless joy at seeing an African American family in the White House, died Nov. 14 at her son’s home in Olney, Md. She was believed to be 113.”

OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at a party Democratic consultant Mandy Grunwald hosted in her Georgetown home to celebrate Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-R.I.) new book, “The Scheme” ($27.99) on Tuesday night: Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), David Brock, Judy Woodruff and Al Hunt, Margaret Carlson, Matt Miller, E.J. Dionne, Norm Ornstein, Ian Millhiser, Ruth Marcus, Josh Gerstein, Jane Mayer and Bill Hamilton and Kenneth Vogel.

The Washington Post hosted its inaugural Global Women’s Summit at its K Street HQ, where Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska spoke via telelink about the war in her country and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) shared new details about the Jan. 6 committee’s report, noting that it will “certainly indicate information that the committee has gathered with the respect to the conduct of a number of [congressional] members.” SPOTTED: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, British Ambassador Karen Pierce, Kemi Badenoch, Tina Brown, Fred Ryan, Sally Buzbee, Hillary Clinton, Kara Swisher, Jennifer Griffin, Genevieve Ryan, Jane Harman, Vanita Gupta, Erika Moritsugu, Tammy Haddad, Ann Curry, Stephanie Cutter, Maryland Lt. Gov.-elect Aruna Miller.

— SPOTTED at AEI’s annual Irving Kristol Award Dinner honoring Arthur Brooks at the National Building Museum Tuesday night: Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), British Ambassador Karen Pierce, Alex Azar, John Delaney, Will Weatherford, Paul Ryan, Joe Grogan, Don McGahn, Scott Gottlieb, Ajit Pai, Will Dunham, Paul Teller, Jennifer DeCasper, Cecilia Rouse, and Avik Roy.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Avisa Partners is acquiring and integrating Forward Risk and Intelligence, which will now be known as Forward Risk (An Avisa Partners Company). Forward Risk will retain its existing and independent website, branding, leadership team and client roster, and its co-founders Luke DiMaggio, Andrew Wooster and Brendan Foo will become partners at Avisa.

Marcus Childress is joining Jenner & Block as special counsel and will play a significant role in the congressional investigations practice. He most recently was investigative counsel for the House Jan. 6 committee.

STAFFING UP — John Kraus is joining HHS as assistant secretary for public affairs/public health. He previously was comms director for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

TRANSITIONS — Emily Cassil is now comms director for Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). She previously was deputy press secretary for Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). … Matthew Windrum is now a VP at Kasirer. He was previously director of government relations at Western Governors University. … Aubrey Quinn is joining the Entertainment Software Association as senior VP. She previously was partner and COO at the Clyde Group. … Maya El Jawhari and Sequoia Ragland are joining Ferox Strategies. El Jawhari will be a policy analyst and previously was an intern at the Joint Economic Committee. Ragland will be a health care policy analyst and previously was a health policy intern at the Federation of American Hospitals.

BIRTHWEEK (was Tuesday): Fred Messner of Keller Postman

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Beth Van Duyne (R-Texas) and Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wis.) … Hannah Hankins of Barack Obama’s office … Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition … Lisa Camooso Miller of Cogent Strategies … Elizabeth Drew … CNN’s Fredreka SchoutenCarly Coakley of Seven Letter … Kevin Herzik of Rep. Steven Horsford’s (D-Nev.) office … Adrienne Schweer … Heritage’s Ken McIntyreEmily Ackerman of Rep. Guy Reschenthaler’s (R-Pa.) office … Melissa WinterKathy Gilsinan Zerlina MaxwellMike Reynard of Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-Alaska) office … Shanti Shoji Jennifer Giglio … GMMB’s Madalene MilanoTim KeatingMichael Smith of AmeriCorps … Timothy Lowery Jay Newton-SmallJames JoynerMichelle Nunn of CARE USA … Oliver-Ash Kleine David Peikin of Bloomberg Industry Group … Dylan Lizza Invariant’s Jenny Werwa … The Intercept’s Jordan Smith (5-0)

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