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POLITICO Playbook: 2020 Dems struggle to figure out McConnell at first debate

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Ten Democratic presidential candidates

Democratic presidential candidates struggled to find an answer for how to deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the first debate Wednesday night. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

DRIVING THE DAY

IF THERE WAS ONE QUESTION that tied Democrats up in knots Wednesday night at the first presidential debate in Miami, it was how to handle Senate Majority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL, who might very well control the Senate regardless of the outcome of the race for the White House.

THE QUESTION SHOULDN’T BE A SURPRISE. McConnell’s stewardship of the institution has been an animating and nettlesome issue for Democrats for years. Not a single candidate had a coherent theory of the case of how to woo McConnell, or make him bend to their demands. BILL DE BLASIO said he would handle McConnell by forcing Democrats to “stop acting like the party of elites.” He would put pressure on senators by talking to voters in red states.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, the top-polling candidate in Wednesday night’s NBC/MSNBC/Telemundo debate, got a hearty round of applause when she used her trademark line to say she did, indeed, have a plan to deal with McConnell. But that plan was to “push from the outside” and inside the White House to make sure the Congress reflects the “will of the people.” Ask Barack Obama if that worked with McConnell.

JOHN DELANEY’S response to Chuck Todd’s question — why will McConnell bend to you? — was he would operate in a more bipartisan manner. Sen. CORY BOOKER suggested that his work on criminal justice reform was a blueprint of how to break McConnell.

WASHINGTON GOV. JAY INSLEE said that Democrats should strip McConnell of the filibuster. Nevermind that if McConnell is Senate majority leader it is he who will ultimately decide the Senate’s rules.

PERHAPS OHIO REP. TIM RYAN had the most realistic answer. If Democrats want to beat McConnell, they should become a working-class party that could beat him in Kentucky.

THE BIG PICTURE — NYT, A1: “Democrats Diverge on Economy and Immigration in First Debate,” by Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns in Miami: “Democratic presidential candidates leveled a stark critique of President Trump’s immigration policies and the condition of the American working class in the first primary debate on Wednesday, but split in unmistakable terms over just how aggressively the next president should seek to transform the country along more liberal lines.

“The strength of the party’s progressive wing was on vivid display in South Florida, starting in the first minutes of the debate when Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts branded the federal government as thoroughly corrupt. Ms. Warren, the highest-polling candidate onstage, called for the government to bring to heel oil companies and pharmaceutical companies, and embraced the replacement of private health insurance with single-payer care.

“‘We need to make structural change in our government, in our economy and in our country,’ Ms. Warren said, setting the tone for the handful of populists in the debate.” NYT

— NYT FRONT PAGE: “DEMOCRATS SPLIT ON HOW FAR LEFT TO NUDGE NATION … THEME OF FIRST DEBATE … Progressive Solutions vs. Caution on Economy and Immigration” PDF

— N.Y. POST: “10 LEFT FEET”

DAVID SIDERS and NATASHA KORECKI: “7 big takeaways from the first Democratic debate”: “Castro shows some fire, and Beto gets lit up … Tactical or not, speaking Spanish is a big deal … Warren takes care of business, with an asterisk … Booker shines … Klobuchar comes prepared — and disrupts a mansplainer … Climate change is getting its airing — kind of … Biden and Trump are forgotten or ignored.”

THE STANDOUT — “Castro decks Beto,” by Chris Cadelago and Elena Schneider in Miami: “Julián Castro has spent months in the shadow of fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke. But in the span of less than three minutes Wednesday, Castro seized on the inhumane treatment of migrants at detention centers to summon his party’s spiraling outrage over immigration, generating an elusive breakout moment at the expense of the once-high-flying O’Rourke.

“In narrow political terms, Castro broke through punching up at a better-known rival, aggressively backing O’Rourke so far into a corner on his signature issue that he struggled in real-time to explain his position. But Castro’s righteous lashing also defined the tone of the first presidential debate of the 2020 contest, in which he and other low-polling men in need of momentum aimed their frustrations at O’Rourke, rather than the highest-polling candidate on stage, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.” POLITICO

FROM 30,000 FEET … JOHN HARRIS: “Democrats lead with their left”: “There are people who argue that the Democratic Party’s steady leftward progression during the Trump years is largely an optical illusion—a distorted impression one gets from assigning too much significance to social media noise or flamboyant figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ten Democrats making their case to be president on a debate stage in Miami Wednesday night suggest a much different conclusion.

“This is a party eager to go on the ideological offensive not just against Donald Trump (whose name did not dominate the evening even as he was invoked plenty) but against an economic and political power structure that candidates argued is deeply corrupt. Liberals must be empowered to bring bad actors to heel through robust intervention of government.” POLITICO

— THIS IS NOT A GOOD SIGN for Joe Biden, who has made running as a moderate Democrat who can work with Republicans a central plank of his candidacy.

HOW PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP RESPONDED … @realDonaldTrump at 9:35 p.m.: “BORING!” … at 10:06 p.m.: “.@NBCNews and @MSNBC should be ashamed of themselves for having such a horrible technical breakdown in the middle of the debate. Truly unprofessional and only worthy of a FAKE NEWS Organization, which they are!”

Good Thursday morning.

A STANDOFF COMING? … BURGESS EVERETT and HEATHER CAYGLE: “Senate passes border spending package, setting up fight with House”: “Both the Senate and House have now passed legislation delivering billions of dollars to address the growing humanitarian crisis at the southern border. But lawmakers have no agreement on how to reconcile those bills before a recess set to start on Friday.

“The Senate passed a $ 4.6 billion emergency spending bill on Wednesday, one day after the Democratic House approved its own competing legislation. House and Senate Democrats immediately then began urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to enter into negotiations to craft compromise legislation.

“But McConnell was noncommittal and may simply leave Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a take-it-or-leave-it decision heading into the July Fourth recess. McConnell would only say Congress ‘is going to try to get it finished this week’ when asked if he’d enter into talks with House Democrats.

“Pelosi, meanwhile, announced plans late Wednesday to amend the Senate bill and tack on several House provisions including language specifying basic standards of care for migrant children. Democrats are also seeking to reimburse local governments and organizations that offer support to migrants and limit to 90 days the amount of time that unaccompanied minors are kept in temporary shelters at the border. … House Democrats already proposed some of those changes earlier in the day but Senate Republicans seemed unlikely to support them, according to Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the GOP whip.” POLITICO

— TO BE FAIR, both sides have a compelling argument. Few bills pass the Senate with 80-something votes, so MCCONNELL world tells us he will remind people today that the president is willing to sign the very broadly bipartisan bill that his chamber passed.

PELOSI’S asks are, on their face, likely to garner some bipartisan support (theoretically), and, despite what the Senate sometimes thinks, the House is an independent chamber that is free to have its own opinions and views. PELOSI has to contend with a caucus that is deeply distrustful of TRUMP, and wants to put some guardrails on what he is doing on the border. PELOSI’S demands could set up a quite difficult vote for Republicans today, and it will certainly rally Democrats around her position.

PELOSI spoke to VP MIKE PENCE briefly at the Congressional Baseball Game on Wednesday night, and the two said they’d talk on the phone today. The White House sees the call as a formality, because it is going to push for the Senate bill. The administration doesn’t believe Pelosi has a leg to stand on because of the broadly bipartisan vote in the Senate.

WE ASKED MCCONNELL’S OFFICE if they would keep the Senate in to work on Pelosi’s changes. We got this answer: “We’re working on [the National Defense Authorization Act] for the rest of the week.” Sounds like trouble. Can Congress leave for the July Fourth recess without getting this resolved?

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SCOOP … TRADE WARS: “Trump ready for tariff truce with China,” by Doug Palmer and South China Morning Post’s Wendy Wu, Mark Magnier and Owen Churchill: “The U.S. and China have tentatively agreed to another truce in their trade war in order to resume talks aimed at resolving the dispute, sources familiar with the situation said.

“Details of the agreement are being laid out in press releases in advance of the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump at the Group of 20 Leaders Summit in Osaka, Japan, this weekend, three sources — one in Beijing and two others in Washington — said.

“Such an agreement would avert the next round of tariffs on an additional $ 300 billion of Chinese imports, which would extend punitive tariffs to virtually all of the country’s shipments to the U.S. The Trump administration has threatened to slap duties of up to 25 percent on the remaining untaxed Chinese goods if this weekend’s talks go poorly.

“One source with knowledge of the planning said Trump’s decision to delay additional tariffs was Xi’s price for holding the meeting in Osaka.” POLITICO

— NAVARRO HEADING TO JAPAN! … WAPO’S DAMIAN PALETTA in Osaka: “President Trump has brought his top China critic, senior adviser Peter Navarro, to Japan for a gathering of world leaders, raising the possibility that the White House doesn’t plan to cut a quick deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on Saturday.

“Navarro was a last-minute addition to the White House’s travel team, which included U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Chinese officials are wary of Navarro because of his long-standing criticism of their country and their government. He co-authored the 2011 book ‘Death by China: Confronting the Dragon — A Global Call to Action.’” WaPo

THE MUELLER BACKSTORY … NYT’S NICK FANDOS and EILEEN SULLIVAN: “Weeks of Talks Led a Reluctant Mueller to Testify”: “Mr. Mueller was so averse to being pulled into the political arena that he never spoke directly with lawmakers or their aides, according to a senior congressional official involved in the talks and others briefed on them. …

“Talks about his testimony had begun after Mr. Barr released a redacted version of Mr. Mueller’s report in April. They slowed after Mr. Mueller left his post as special counsel and no longer had easy access to a coterie of staff and official government channels for negotiating, people involved in the discussions said.

“Democrats ultimately turned to Jonathan R. Yarowsky, a partner at Mr. Mueller’s former law firm of WilmerHale who also previously worked for the Judiciary Committee, to serve as an intermediary to Mr. Mueller’s closest aides, according to the congressional official directly involved. WilmerHale also made office space available to Mr. Mueller as he negotiated, Robert T. Novick, a managing partner, said on Wednesday.” NYT

— CNN’S MANU RAJU and JEREMY HERB: “Impeachment backers say Mueller’s testimony could be a game-changer”

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THE JUICE …

— TAKE BACK THE HOUSE 2020 House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY’S joint fundraising committee — will give $ 2 million this morning to 57 incumbents who are in tough seats and got less than 56 percent of the vote in 2018.

TRUMP’S THURSDAY — The president landed in Osaka, Japan this morning. He will have a working dinner at 8 p.m. local time with Australian PM Scott Morrison.

— THE REST OF TRUMP’S OSAKA SCHEDULE: Friday: 8:30 a.m.: Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. 9:15 a.m.: Indian PM Narendra Modi. 10:15 a.m.: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 2 p.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin. 3:30 p.m.: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Saturday: 8:15 a.m.: Working breakfast with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 11:30 a.m.: Chinese President Xi Jinping. 1 p.m.: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

PLAYBOOK READS

The bodies of El Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramírez, 25, and his nearly two-year-old daughter Valeria

PHOTO DU JOUR: The bodies of El Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramírez, 25, and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria, are placed into a funeral home van in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, on Wednesday, June 26. | Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo

FOR ALL THE SKEPTICISM at the top of the administration about JARED KUSHNER’S Middle East push — and there’s lot, from the top on down, that senior administration officials are not afraid to share privately — this BARAK RAVID interview with Bahraini Foreign Minister SHEIKH KHALED BIN AHMED AL-KHALIFA from the sidelines of the Kushner conference is significant. He says Israel is in the Middle East to stay, and Bahrain wants peace with it. “Israel is a country in the Middle East. Israel is part of the heritage of this region, historically. The Jewish people have a place amongst us.” It’s tough to overstate how historic that is. Watch the video from Channel 13 in Israel, via Axios

— IF THERE’S ONE THING TO BE SAID about Kushner’s effort, it is that it brought Israelis and Gulf State Arabs together. Did it move Israel and Palestinians closer to peace? Who knows? Most of Kushner’s naysayers in the administration say no and since no Palestinian officials were in Manama, it’s tough to make that argument. But Ravid’s interview is something, and a lot of people are going to remember it one way or another.

KUSHNER spoke to FOX NEWS’ TREY YINGST: Kushner said people in Gaza and the West Bank are paying “very close attention” to his summit in Bahrain. Kushner said he spoke to civilians and political figures. Yingst — reporting from Manama — said he spoke to Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, and they said they were “unaware” of any political figures in touch with Kushner.

WOLF BLITZER also interviewed Kushner on CNN. BLITZER: “Does the United States still support what’s called a two-state solution, Israel living alongside a new state of Palestine? As you know, that was the position President Bill Clinton announced when he signed the Israeli-Palestinian agreement in 1993 with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin joining him on the south lawn of the White House.”

KUSHNER: “Yes, so in coming new to this approach two years ago, I realized there is a lot of vernacular that people use that has not effectively led to a solution to the problem.” Kushner did not answer whether Palestinians would have a state.

— WEIRD LINE FROM JARED — BLITZER: “But how will your economic plan work when all is said and done, if the Arab states and all Arab states — even if those who want to fund your initiative — they all insist that there should be what’s called a two-state solution, with at least part of a new Palestine having at least part of Jerusalem as its capital? If they don’t see that, are they going to continue to fund the program?”

KUSHNER: “I guess you’ve become Wolf Blitzer, because you’re not a patient man.”

— NAH. That’s just his name.

NYT’S DAVID HALBFINGER in Manama: “In Bahrain, Gaza Is Pitched as a ‘Hot I.P.O.’ Many Palestinians Aren’t Buying It”: “[I]f the goal of the two-day conference was to persuade Palestinians to give the Trump administration’s approach to solving the conflict the benefit of the doubt, there were few signs of that.

“For all the self-congratulation by Mr. Kushner, [Treasury Secretary Steven] Mnuchin and their guests, the Palestinian Authority government, which deeply mistrusts the Trump administration, boycotted the event. Most Palestinian business leaders shunned it. Hamas, the militant organization that controls Gaza, was not even invited.” NYT

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OBAMACARE WATCH — “Appellate court raises new threat to Obamacare,” by Paul Demko: “In a surprise move that legal experts said added an unexpected threat to the 2010 health care law, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked both sides to file additional legal arguments about who — if anyone — has standing to appeal the December lower court ruling. The request suggests that the judges who will hear the case — the three-judge panel has not been made public — could toss out the appeal on procedural grounds. In that case, the lower court ruling would stand.

“The implications of such a decision for the future of the Affordable Care Act are difficult to parse without more information, according to legal experts. But most suggested that it wouldn’t bode well for supporters of Obamacare.” POLITICO

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION — “Former Trump FEMA chief repaid taxpayers only 2 percent of $ 151k spent on personal travel,” by Daniel Lippman and Ian Kullgren: “Former FEMA Administrator Brock Long returned to the government only a tiny fraction of the costs he incurred for unauthorized use of vehicles while in office, according to previously undisclosed documents provided to POLITICO. … [A] copy of Long’s personal check, obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight through a public records request, shows that the former administrator paid back only $ 2,716 — less than 2 percent of the total cost billed to taxpayers.” POLITICO

PLAYBOOKERS

TRANSITION — Former Speaker Paul Ryan is joining the advisory board of the Alexander Hamilton Society.

WEEKEND WEDDING — Brianna Ehley, a health reporter for POLITICO, this weekend married Matt Allen, legislative assistant to Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) in Saint Paul, Minn. The couple met in 2015 at a Halloween party on Capitol Hill. Pic Another pic

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Sara Haines, co-host of “Strahan and Sara” (the third hour of ABC’s “Good Morning America”), and Max Shifrin, a lawyer, welcomed Caleb Joseph, who joins Alec and Sandra. Instapics

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Terry Nelson, managing partner of FP1 Strategies and PLUS Communications, is 5-0. What he’s been reading recently: “I recently finished Bart van Es’ ‘The Cut Out Girl,’ the story of a Jewish girl whose parents were executed by the Nazis. She was taken in by a Dutch family for the duration of the war. The story is about the choices people made to either support or resist the Nazis, and those choices impacted a family and a country that did both. It had a lifelong impact on the family and their adopted daughter and their own relationship.” Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Kelly Ayotte (hat tip: Liz Johnson) … Ross Perot is 89 … Bruce Babbitt is 81 … Carolina Hurley, WH director of regional media … Hunter Morgen, special assistant to the president for policy (h/t Matt Mowers) … Sarah Habansky of DOE (h/t Shalyn Hynes) … Tony Fratto, partner at Hamilton Place Strategies … former Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is 78 … Ilya Shapiro is 42 … Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) is 35 … Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) is 74 … former Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) is 6-0 … former Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) is 4-0 … twin brothers Bob and Louis Boorstin … Josh Rubin … Reuters’ David Shepardson (h/t Andrea Bitely) … George Malkin … POLITICO’s Eleanor Mueller … France Latremoliere … Casey Davis-Van Atta … Brent Roske … Jesse Lehrich … David Wochner, partner at K&L Gates (h/t Mitchell Rivard) … Jennifer DeCasper, COS for Sen. Tim Scott … Kathleen Welch …

… Caroline Adler Morales … Ron Kirk is 65 … Charles Bronfman is 88 … Sarah Bovim … Jennifer Byrne, VP of corporate comms at PBS (h/t Jeremy Gaines) … POLITICO Europe’s Jakob Hanke … Scott Livingston … Clyde Group’s Geoff Vetter (h/t Alex Slater) … The New Yorker’s Anna Russell … RoseAnn Gerson … Paul Tencher, COS for Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), is 39 … Bryon Allen of WPAi (h/t Chris Wilson) … Robert Schlesinger … Jon Cardinal … Geoff Gilson … Jim Nussle is 59 … NYT’s Lisa Friedman … Simon Sebag Montefiore is 54 … Isaac Reyes, lobbyist for Target … CNN’s Carrie Stevenson and Justin Lear … Matthew Tilghman is 32 … Matt Letourneau … Teresa Wells … Eve Galanter … Mike Sanders … Reva Bottles … Taylor Lane … Kerri Toloczko … Barry Blackman … Monica Showalter … Susan Firey.

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