PBS NEWSHOUR and POLITICO hosted Thursday night’s debate in Los Angeles. It was feisty — in the second half, the candidates sparred over everything from wine caves to the virtues of Washington experience to America’s relationship with Israel. It was substantive — they fielded questions about climate change, children with special needs, the war in Afghanistan, money in politics and anti-transgender violence. And it was likely to be consequential.
IT’S ALWAYS PERILOUS to guess how voters will react. But the major takeaway from Thursday’s Democratic rumble in Los Angeles might be that JOE BIDEN had his best debate night yet. Not only did he not commit any of the rhetorical stumbles that plagued him in previous outings, but two of his main rivals — ELIZABETH WARREN and PETE BUTTIGIEG — spent the evening sparring over the role donors play in American politics, while AMY KLOBUCHAR threw haymakers at Mayor Pete for his lack of experience and his inability to win a statewide race in Indiana.
KLOBUCHAR’S ATTACK went straight to Buttigieg’s greatest strategic vulnerability, and one that Democratic primary voters care deeply about this cycle: Can he actually win? Whether they buy his answer will determine whether the South Bend mayor is merely this year’s latest fad, or whether he can surprise everyone in Iowa, where he’s been leading in the polls of late. And how they react to her performance will also determine if the Minnesota senator can finally break out of the bottom tier.
THE BIG PICTURE … RYAN LIZZA: “Buttigieg absorbs a pummeling, and there’s more where that came from”
— KLOBUCHAR’S MOMENT, via Elena Schneider and David Siders: “She tore into Pete Buttigieg and swiped at Bernie Sanders. And by the time the debate ended Thursday, it appeared that Amy Klobuchar might have a chance.
“For months, the Minnesota senator has languished in public opinion polls outside of the top tier — an ineffectual moderate alternative to Joe Biden. But in one night, she was commanding a second look, and marking a late, sharp-elbowed turn in her campaign.
“In mid-single digits in national polling, Klobuchar went after Pete Buttigieg and her progressive Senate counterparts on the PBS NewsHour/POLITICO debate stage, skewering them over issues of electability and the political reality of their proposals. …
“Klobuchar, who has won three statewide elections in Minnesota, tweaked Buttigieg as a ‘local official.’ She attacked him for ‘mocking the 100 years of experience’ on the November debate stage, when Buttigieg contrasted his own time outside of Washington. Buttigieg, she implored, ‘should respect our experience when you look at how you evaluate someone.’”
RECAPPING THE BRUTAL BRAWLS … AND THE WEIRD MOMENTS
NYT’S SIX TAKEAWAYS, by Reid Epstein and Shane Goldmacher in LA: “The Warren-Buttigieg fight turns into a heated exchange … Biden’s Houdini act … Klobuchar has another good night … Sanders goes largely unchallenged … Yang makes the most of the least speaking time (again) … On gender, forgiveness and double standards” NYT
NERDCAST: “Who won the debate and more takeaways from a fireworks-filled night,” with Christopher Cadelago, Natasha Korecki, Holly Otterbein and David Siders.
SPOTTED at the debate after party at Gjelina in Venice, Calif.: Dr. Elena and Robert Allbritton, Debra Messing, Sophia Bush, Adrienne Elrod, Heather Podesta, Spencer Garrett, Tim and Sweta Alberta and Carrie Budoff Brown.
Good Friday morning. GLAAD sent us a note yesterday about Playbook PM, noting that our use of “pillow fight” when describing a fight between Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren may have offended people. That was not our intent — pillow fight, in our mind, connotes a fight where no one draws blood.
— Drew Anderson from GLAAD explains his view: “For women and LGBTQ people at the workplace, hearing phrases like ‘dramatic,’ ‘over the top,’ and even ‘pillow fight’ during office disagreements fosters negative stereotypes and diminishes a person simply because of who they are. Disagreements happen in politics, but using these loaded terms during disputes feed into the sexist and homophobic tropes that simply have no place in our political coverage and rhetoric.”
NANCY PELOSI SPEAKS … HEATHER CAYGLE and JOHN BRESNAHAN: “‘I’m Never Afraid and I’m Rarely Surprised’: Pelosi emboldened”: “Speaker Nancy Pelosi is heading into the holidays emboldened, finishing a tumultuous year back in the majority by both impeaching President Donald Trump and then muscling through the House his biggest legislative win on trade — a signature issue for him — all within 24 hours.
“Pelosi was assertive and upbeat during a year-end interview in her speaker’s suite Thursday, punching back at her GOP critics, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“‘Oh pfft,’ Pelosi told POLITICO, waving her hand dismissively when asked about McConnell’s suggestion she was ‘too afraid’ to send him the articles of impeachment against Trump, which would trigger a Senate trial on whether to oust the president. ‘Fear is never a word used with me. You should know right away,’ Pelosi added. ‘I’m never afraid and I’m rarely surprised.’” POLITICO
— PELOSI on GOP retirements: “‘It means that they know they’re gonna lose,’ Pelosi declared. ‘And if you win, you’re going to serve in the minority under a Democratic president. You may want to spend more time with your family.'”
SO … GOVERNMENT IS FUNDED until September, USMCA — the president’s top priority — sailed through the House and will get through the Senate. Impeachment is the next big thing on the Hill — and that will take up all of the oxygen for the next month or so. There’s still a touch of drama: PELOSI hasn’t yet sent the articles of impeachment to the Senate, and Senate leaders have not yet unveiled a framework for the impeachment trial (More on that from Burgess Everett). But neither chamber is in session until next year, so there’s time.
WSJ: “Congress Passes Sweeping Overhaul of Retirement System,” by Anne Tergesen: “One prominent provision of the legislation passed Thursday, which President Trump is expected to sign, encourages 401(k) plans to replicate a feature of old-fashioned pensions by offering products with guaranteed income payments.
“The legislation also seeks to expand retirement plan coverage by making it easier for small companies to join together to offer 401(k) plans and share administrative costs. An estimated 30% of private-sector employees work for employers that don’t currently offer a way to save for the future. Brokers, asset managers, 401(k) record-keepers and insurers are likely to benefit from these measures.” WSJ
LOOK WHO’S HERE! … ALEX ISENSTADT: “Chris Christie wades into Senate impeachment fight”: “Chris Christie is launching a big-money effort aimed at giving Senate Republicans air cover on impeachment — and positioning the former New Jersey governor as a counterweight to liberal billionaire Tom Steyer.
“The newly formed issue advocacy organization, Right Direction America, is set to begin a seven-figure TV and digital advertising offensive Monday. The nonprofit group will be focused on a half-dozen states where key 2020 Senate races are taking place: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina.
“Christie is looking to offset a multimillion-dollar offensive funded by Steyer, a Democratic presidential candidate and hedge fund executive, who is targeting Senate Republicans over impeachment. Steyer’s organization, Need to Impeach, has spent around $3.5 million across a handful of states pressuring GOP senators. Need to Impeach has also begun a $350,000 national TV ad campaign going after House and Senate Republicans on impeachment, and a spokesman for Steyer’s group said the funding would likely increase as the Senate trial gets underway.” POLITICO
‘PUTIN TOLD ME’ — “Former White House officials say they feared Putin influenced the president’s views on Ukraine and 2016 campaign,” by WaPo’s Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig: “Almost from the moment he took office, President Trump seized on a theory that troubled his senior aides: Ukraine, he told them on many occasions, had tried to stop him from winning the White House.
“After meeting privately in July 2017 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him, according to multiple former officials familiar with his assertions.
“The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
“One former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because ‘Putin told me.’” WaPo
DURHAM GOES AFTER ONE OF TRUMP’S FAVORITE TARGETS … “Durham Is Scrutinizing Ex-C.I.A. Director’s Role in Russian Interference Findings,” by NYT’s Katie Benner and Julian Barnes: “John H. Durham, the United States attorney leading the investigation, has requested Mr. Brennan’s emails, call logs and other documents from the C.I.A., according to a person briefed on his inquiry. He wants to learn what Mr. Brennan told other officials, including the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, about his and the C.I.A.’s views of a notorious dossier of assertions about Russia and Trump associates.
“Mr. Durham’s pursuit of Mr. Brennan’s records is certain to add to accusations that Mr. Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies. The president has long attacked Mr. Brennan as part of his narrative about a so-called deep state cabal of Obama administration officials who tried to sabotage his campaign, and Mr. Trump has held out Mr. Durham’s investigation as a potential avenue for proving those claims.
“Mr. Durham is also examining whether Mr. Brennan privately contradicted his public comments, including May 2017 testimony to Congress, about both the dossier and about any debate among the intelligence agencies over their conclusions on Russia’s interference, the people said.” NYT
SUNDAY SO FAR …
“Fox News Sunday”: Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) … Marc Short. Panel: Ben Domenech, Donna Brazile, Jason Riley and Juan Williams. Power Player: Morrill Worcester.
“State of the Union” (Dana Bash guest hosts): Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) … Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Panel: Rick Santorum, Andrew Gillum, Linda Chavez and Joe Trippi.
“Face the Nation”: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) … Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Panel: Ramesh Ponnuru, Jamelle Bouie, Seung Min Kim and David Sanger.
“Meet the Press”: Panel: Rich Lowry, Peggy Noonan, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Helene Cooper.
“Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren”: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), Annie Linskey and Lillian Donahue.
“America this Week with Eric Bolling”: Kellyanne Conway … Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) … Rudy Giuliani.
TRUMP’S FRIDAY … TRUMP will have lunch with Secretary of State MIKE POMPEO at 12:30 p.m. He will participate in a Christmas reception at 5:30 p.m. before heading to Andrews at 7 p.m., where he’ll speak at a signing ceremony for the NDAA. At 8:30 p.m., TRUMP and the first lady will fly to Palm Beach — they are scheduled to land at 10:45 p.m. TRUMP is slated to arrive at Mar-a-Lago at 11:05 p.m.
FEATURED VIDEO: At the December debate candidates took their chance to stop being polite and battle for voters’ attention just weeks before voting begins.
THE OP-ED EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT – “Trump Should Be Removed from Office,” by Christianity Today editor Mark Galli
WEST WING READING — “White House braces for Mulvaney’s post-impeachment exit,” by Nancy Cook: “Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is widely expected to leave his current position once the Senate wraps up its impeachment trial and the intense scrutiny of the West Wing settles down, according to five aides and confidants to President Donald Trump.
“Trump allies and White House aides, who have been nudging the president in recent weeks to find a new leader for the team as it delves into a crucial reelection campaign, have been circulating lists of potential replacements for weeks.
“Mulvaney no longer wields much control over White House staff. Lately, he has been left out of major personnel and policy decisions, and he is not driving the strategy on impeachment even though he occupies what is historically the most powerful job in the West Wing.
“‘He is there. I’ll leave it at that,’ said a Republican close to the White House when asked about Mulvaney’s status. ‘He’s like a kid. His role at the dinner table is to be seen and not heard.’” POLITICO
FOR YOUR RADAR … AP’S LOLITA BALDOR: “U.S. watching North Korea for ‘Christmas gift’ missile launch”: “The U.S. is closely watching North Korea for signs of a possible missile launch or nuclear test in the coming days that officials are referring to as a ‘Christmas surprise.’
“A significant launch or test would mean the end of North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium and raise tensions in the region. It would also be a major blow to one of the Trump administration’s major foreign policy initiatives: the drive to get North Korea back to negotiations to eliminate its nuclear weapons and missiles.
“Earlier this month, the North conducted what U.S. officials say was an engine test. North Korea described it as “crucial” and experts believe that it may have involved an engine for a space launch vehicle or long-range missile. Officials worry that it could be a prelude to the possible launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile in the coming days or weeks.
“Any test involving an ICBM would have the most serious impact on the diplomatic effort because it would be considered a move by North Korea to acquire the ability to strike the United States, or, even worse, to show they already have it.” AP
BEYOND THE BELTWAY … AJC: “22,000 reinstated to voting rolls as Georgia attorneys defend purge,” by Maya T. Prabhu and Mark Niesse: “The Georgia secretary of state’s office announced Thursday that it would reinstate about 22,000 voters that it had removed from the rolls earlier this week.
“The announcement came two hours before state attorneys returned to federal court to defend the cancellation of more than 300,000 voter registrations Monday night. Those reinstated to ‘inactive’ voting status will have until the next state-scheduled update to the voter list in 2021 to contact election officials or vote to become ‘active.’”
ELI OKUN: “Wine cave or whine cave? Everything you need to know about the 2020 Democrats’ newest flash point”
— YOUR MOMENT OF ZEN … ABC’s Zohreen Shah (@Zohreen) in the spin room: “Gov @GavinNewsom defends wine cave usage. ‘That cave’s been used by dems across the country for fundraising’ ABC: Who else? ‘Probably a 100 congressional representatives have benefited…’ ABC: Have you? ‘Are you kidding? I’m in the business so I know that place well’”
— WINE CAVE HISTORY LESSON … AP: “The Hall Rutherford wine caves in the hills of California’s Napa Valley boast a chandelier with 1,500 Swarovski crystals, an onyx banquet table to reflect its luminescence and bottles of cabernet sauvignon that sell for as much as $900. …
“Craig and Kathryn Hall are prolific donors who split their time between Dallas and their California wineries. But they have also drawn notoriety over their past giving, as well as Craig Hall’s role in a 1980s savings and loan crisis.
“Massive contributions to Democrats in the 1990s helped secure an Austrian ambassadorship for Kathryn Hall during Bill Clinton’s second term. Risky investments by Craig Hall, the chairman and founder of the Hall Group, during the savings and loan meltdown in the 1980s culminated in an over $300 million federal bailout and the resignation of House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, a Democrat he turned to for help.” AP
MEDIAWATCH — “‘Meet the Press’ to shine light on political disinformation,” by AP’s David Bauder: “The deep dive, reminiscent of last December’s hour on climate change, is scheduled for Dec. 29. Marty Baron and Dean Baquet, executive editors of The Washington Post and The New York Times, are scheduled to be interviewed.” AP
— Angelica LaVito will be a reporter on Bloomberg’s health team. She currently is a health care reporter at CNBC. Talking Biz News
Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPOTTED: Michael B. Jordan filming for “Without Remorse” in Union Station on Thursday afternoon. Pic … Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) walking into Al Volo Osteria in Adams Morgan on Thursday night.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Jake Kastan, VP at Peterson Partners and a Paul Ryan alum, and Jenna Kastan, media director at Method Communications and a Ryan and CBS alum, welcomed Lawson Alvin Kastan on Saturday, Dec. 14. Pic
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Patrick Sims, founder and CSO at LGND, is 35. A fun fact about him: “I was the lead singer and guitarist in a band during my high school years. We covered a lot of blues rock hits like Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Led Zeppelin. We mostly played at coffee shops and bars we were too young to actually hang out in, but I remember feeling like a rock star at those gigs. Want to start a band?!?” Playbook Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is 73 … Jen Bendery, senior politics reporter for HuffPost … Murray Waas … Joshua New, technology policy executive at IBM … Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers … Tom Tancredo … AP’s Mary Clare Jalonick … Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter … Megan Nathan … Mandi Rogers Thorpe … Bo Creason … Campbell Massie … David Pollak … brothers Reid Kellam and Alex DeParde (h/t Richard Keil) … Wesley Merritt …
… Alison Williams, COS to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson … Tamer El-Ghobashy … Jordan Emont … former Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.) is 86 … Amelia Burns is 3-0 (h/t Cory Custer) … William Benedict is 3-0 … Hannah Thoburn of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee … Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project (h/t David Pasch) … Donald Lathbury … Michelle Brooks … Bill Kloiber … Marisa Mills … Marilisa Palumbo … Mary Pat Moore … Stephen Crockett … John Herr … Bob McDaniel