Playbook: Behind the scenes of Harris’ surprise trip

Playbook: Behind the scenes of Harris’ surprise trip

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

EASTER SUNDAY FUNNIES — “Saturday Night Live” offers greetings from “DONALD TRUMP” (impersonated by the excellent JAMES AUSTIN JOHNSON) as he interrupts the last supper. (Sample line: “Just like Jesus, all I did was be friendly to a sex worker, and now they want to put me in jail.”) Watch the clip

Trump’s actual Easter greeting this morning, drastically abbreviated: “Happy Easter to all, including those that dream endlessly of destroying our country … [and] to all of those weak & pathetic rinos, radical left democrats, socialists marxists, & communists who are killing our nation, remember, we will be back!”

NEW THIS MORNING — Former President BILL CLINTON with an op-ed for WaPo: “Why has peace endured in Northern Ireland? Hope and history rhymed”

DEMS DIVIDED ON MIFEPRISTONE FIGHT — Alice Miranda Ollstein has a must-read piece on the split among Democrats over how President JOE BIDEN should respond to Friday night’s stunning ruling by a federal judge in Texas that “could suspend the approval of abortion pills nationwide and jeopardize access to the most common method of terminating a pregnancy.”

At issue: Whether Biden should simply defy the judiciary “and use his executive powers to protect the drugs’ availability even before the case is heard by the conservative-leaning 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.”

On one side, Sen. RON WYDEN (D-Ore.): “I believe the Food and Drug Administration has the authority to ignore this ruling, which is why I’m again calling on President Biden and the FDA to do just that.”

On the other side, Sen. PATTY MURRAY (D-Wash.): “I get the sentiment, because this is a truly infuriating situation. … But the key thing that needs to happen right now is making sure this decision is quickly appealed and reversed in court.”

Related read: WaPo’s Caroline Kitchener profiles Judge MATTHEW KACSMARYK, the Trump-appointed jurist who issued the ruling.

BEHIND THE SCENES — On Friday morning just after 7 a.m., VP KAMALA HARRIS told her chief of staff LORRAINE VOLES that she wanted to go to Tennessee and show her support for the two legislators who were expelled from the state House the previous evening for mounting a demonstration in favor of gun control from the chamber floor.

The idea for a visit wasn’t exactly a surprise. The VP had been checking in with senior staff as the situation heated up and asked them to keep her updated.

But what was a surprise was the turnaround: Harris wanted to go that afternoon.

Trips for the VP have complex logistical and security concerns. They typically take days, if not weeks, to pull together. Harris was giving her staff hours.

“If you think of the speed in which a vote was taken to expel them, [Harris felt] sending a signal that we have their backs quickly was just as important,” a senior aide to the VP tells Playbook. “I don’t think there could have been a stronger signal than to immediately go.”

Harris’ decision set off a flurry of activity at the White House, where many staffers were looking forward to a relatively quiet Good Friday ahead of Easter weekend. (And hoping to work from home.)

First came the practical concerns, like travel arrangements. Harris would end up taking the smallest plane that any of the four “principals” are able to actually use, joined only by her Secret Service detail and a small clutch of staffers. (Everyone else would fly separately on a C-17.)

Then there was the question of what Harris was actually going to do once she arrived. Would she simply meet with people? Would she make a speech? What would she say?

Around 11 a.m., Harris’ staff came to her with an outline of a potential speech filled with “grand ideas, like democracy and the rule of law,” per another aide to the VP.

Harris listened, but opted for something different, and dictated what she wanted to say.

“She’s very much like: ‘Make it plain. We need to explain to people very clearly what happened here, and not in necessarily lofty terms, but … in ways that they can understand,” the aide tells Playbook.

Still, there were the questions of where Harris would make this speech, and to whom.

Fortunately for the White House, they had someone they trust in Nashville: Former Biden comms aide TJ DUCKLO is currently the chief comms officer and senior adviser to Nashville Mayor JOHN COOPER. Leaning on the mayor’s office, the White House was able to quickly secure a venue at Fisk University and build out a crowd of roughly 700 at the HBCU.

Worth noting: Although some conservative commentators have criticized Harris for not meeting with the families affected by last month’s shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School, a White House aide tells Playbook that the families were invited, and that they “offered blessings” but ultimately couldn’t make it.

That afternoon, Harris’ 20-minute speech went off without a hitch. She centered on the issue that had animated the ousted legislators to begin with — gun violence and reform — and the audience responded warmly.

“The opportunity of having someone come from the White House to speak to the issues, the sort of sense of people feeling seen by the highest levels of government, seeing their challenges and the work that they’ve been putting into organizing these efforts [come to fruition] was enough,” a third Harris aide tells Playbook.

— Ousted state Rep. JUSTIN PEARSON said on ABC’s “This Week” that he hopes to return to his seat. “Our voters have been disenfranchised,” Pearson said. “This is one of the greatest tactics of voter disenfranchisement and voter oppression that I have ever witnessed. It is not only unprecedented, it is historical in nature.” More from David Cohen

Happy Easter. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

MAY THE ROAD RISE UP TO MEET YOU — “Ireland Readies a Warm Welcome for Biden, ‘the Most Irish’ President Since J.F.K.,” by NYT’s Ed O’Loughlin from Ballina and Carlingford: “Like those presidents before him, when Joseph R. Biden Jr. visits Ireland next week, he will be doubly blessed — or inconvenienced, depending on your perspective — by family business. His busy five-day schedule includes not only meetings in Ireland and Northern Ireland, working to shore up trade and the Anglo-Irish peace deal of 1998, but also potentially trips to not one but two ancestral homes.”

SUNDAY BEST …

— HHS Secretary XAVIER BECCERA on the administration’s response to the Texas judge’s abortion pill ruling, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “For America’s sake and for women’s sake, we have to prevail in this. … Everything is on the table. The president said that way back when the Dobbs decision came out. Every option is on the table.”

— Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) on whether Democrats should explore impeachment against Supreme Court Justice CLARENCE THOMAS given his ties to a GOP megadonor, on “State of the Union”: “We need to hold our systems accountable. And I do not believe that we should be refusing to do that for political reasons. I believe that we should pursue the course. And if it is Republicans that decide to protect those who are breaking the law, then they are the ones who then are responsible for that decision. But we should not be complicit in that.”

— Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.) on Republicans’ abortion policies, on “Fox News Sunday”: “If you’re pro-life, you need to explain what that means. … We can win this issue at the ballot box if we show up with reasonable positions. If we have our head in the sand, we’re going to lose.”

— Rep. MICHAEL McCAUL (R-Texas) on Taiwan’s defensive capabilities, on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “They’re not where they need to be. If we’re going to have deterrence for peace, we need to get these weapons into Taiwan. … And second is the combat training that is occurring on the island. We need to ramp that up to a larger scale so they can provide that projection of strength and deterrence.”

TOP-EDS: A roundup of the week’s must-read opinion pieces.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

9 THINGS FOR YOUR RADAR

1. MUST READ: “‘A whole appeasement psychology’: How America let Putin off the hook after Crimea,” by Nahal Toosi: “Questions about the timing of cases arose repeatedly during a POLITICO review of the Justice Department’s enforcement of sanctions, export controls and other penalties targeting Russia over its near-decade-long assault on Ukraine. The examination covered hundreds of pages of court records and other material, as well as conversations with more than a dozen former U.S. officials with national security and law enforcement expertise.

“The review’s findings suggest that, although Washington has since 2014 imposed multiple rounds of sanctions on Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine, the Justice Department under the Obama and Trump administrations did not prioritize prosecutions related to that war — filing relatively few cases until after Putin escalated it in 2022.”

2. TRUMP’S LEGAL TROUBLES: “How a tight circle of aides is trying to keep Trump out of (more) trouble,” by NBC’s Matt Dixon and Jonathan Allen: “What Mar-a-Lago provided was a soothing retreat full of Trump’s favorite things: a crowd of friends and family, a quiet dinner on the patio and a 500-song Spotify list that allows him to play disc jockey. If Trump’s mood was mostly reserved that day — from his arrival at the courthouse where he declined to speak to reporters, through a jab-filled but sedately delivered speech, all the way to the end-of-night dinner — it’s a mood his team will be trying to sustain over the coming months as he tries to survive the twin crucibles of an election and criminal jeopardy.”

Related read: “For Some Trump Voters, Legal Drama Is Latest Reason to Move On,” by WSJ’s John McCormick

3. COMING ATTRACTIONS: “Tim Scott taking next steps as GOP senator moves toward presidential campaign launch,” by Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser: “In the week ahead, [Sen. TIM SCOTT] will head to Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that kick off the Republican presidential nominating calendar, and will hold a two-day donor summit in his home state. … The Iowa and New Hampshire stops will be immediately followed by a two-day donor summit in his home state of South Carolina, which votes third in the GOP presidential primary schedule.”

4. SETTLING IN: “Ilhan Omar embarks on new path no longer defined by ‘firsts,’” by AP’s Farnoush Amiri: “In interviews with nearly a dozen Democrats in the House and Senate, lawmakers portray [Minnesota Democratic Rep. ILHAN] OMAR as a serious legislator who in the past four years has earned admiration for giving voice to marginalized groups often forgotten on Capitol Hill. The best example of this came in early February when every single House Democrat voted against a GOP resolution to remove her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee over her past comments critical of Israel.”
5. READING THE TEA LEAVES: “Unemployment fell to 3.5% under Biden. For how much longer?” by AP’s Josh Boak: “U.S. adults are skipping past the jobs numbers and generally feeling horrible about the economy. White House aides can list plenty of reasons for the pessimism: high inflation, the hangover from the pandemic and the political polarization that leaves Republicans automatically believing the economy is sour under a Democratic president. Going forward, an emerging challenge for Biden might be the expectation that unemployment will get much worse this year.”

6. BANK ON IT: “The World Bank Is Getting a New Chief. Will He Pivot Toward Climate Action?” by NYT’s David Gelles and Alan Rappeport: “When [AJAY BANGA] takes over this summer, he will face high expectations and urgent questions about whether the bank will change its lending model, whether it will seek more money from shareholders and how he will direct the bank to address issues including poverty, global warming and the war in Ukraine.”

7. DANCE OF THE SUPERPOWERS: “China Warns Taiwan, With an Eye on Rest of the World,” by WSJ’s Jonathan Cheng: “By sending an aircraft carrier toward Taiwan and launching live-fire exercises, Beijing wants to send a stern message to Taipei after a groundbreaking U.S. meeting. But so far, it has held off on a more aggressive show of force that could tarnish its bona fides as a benign and responsible global power.”

Related read: “China simulates striking Taiwan on second day of drills,” by Reuters’ Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

8. ONE TO WATCH: “Gov. Greg Abbott announces he will push to pardon Daniel Perry who was convicted of murder,” Austin American-Statesman’s Tony Plohetski, Claire Osborn and Ryan Autullo: “Less than 24 hours after a jury in Austin found DANIEL PERRY guilty of shooting to death a [Black Lives Matter] protester, Gov. GREG ABBOTT announced on social media Saturday that he would pardon the convicted killer as soon as a request ‘hits my desk.’ …

“Perry’s defense team argued that he acted in self-defense, but prosecutors contended that Perry instigated what happened. They highlighted a series of social media posts and Facebook messages in which Perry made statements that they said indicated his state of mind, such as he might ‘kill a few people on my way to work.’”

9. 20 YEARS NOW, WHERE’D THEY GO?: “This American flag famously covered a Saddam statue. Now it’s in a basement,” by WaPo’s Greg Jaffe in Concord, N.H.: “TIM McLAUGHLIN’S flag once stood for victory in Iraq. Today, the Marine vet is unsure what to do with it or the painful memories it evokes.”

Richard Blumenthal is set for surgery after he fractured his femur during the UConn Huskies’ victory parade.

Roger Stone and Donald Trump had dinner together this week.

OUT AND ABOUT — Michael Leach, the White House chief diversity and inclusion officer, celebrated his birthday Saturday at a townhome in Georgetown with a magician, dancing and food. His actual birthday was Tuesday. SPOTTED: Erin Wilson, Kamau Marshall, Gabe Amo, Kwame Anku, Sesha Joi Moon, Cristobal Alex, Karen Andre, David White, Erica Loewe, John Burns, Trey Baker, Cameron Trimble, Carissa Smith, Sherice Perry, Roosevelt Holmes, Nia Page, Alivia Roberts and Yannick Gill.

WHITE HOUSE SHUFFLE — Rob Flaherty is now assistant to the president. He most recently was deputy assistant to the president and continues in his role as director of the office of digital strategy. It’s the first time the director of ODS will have the same designation as White House comms director and the press secretary.

TRANSITION — Taylor Weyeneth is now comms director for Rep. Brandon Williams (R-N.Y.). He most recently was senior policy advisor for Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) and is a Colin Schmitt, Nicole Malliotakis and Trump administration alum.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Tracey Marin, a Senior Associate at Whiteboard Advisors, and Brent Marin, a senior machine learning engineer at Expedition Technology, welcomed Xavier Brent Marin on March 23.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey Joe Scarborough … MSNBC’s Alex Witt and Jeff Kepnes Jeff ZuckerMike Berman … Global Strategy Group’s Jon Silvan … POLITICO’s Ali Manzano … GMMB’s Brad PersekeJoanne ZurcherNatalie Adams of Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-Pa.) office … Cynthia NixonMiranda GreenCaroline Boulton Roy Ramthun Christopher TurmanStephanie Dreyer … Andean Group’s Frank GargonJill Gershenson-CohenAllen JamersonEric Norrby Ross Wallenstein of Wall to Wall Communications … Olivia Reingold Neal Kemkar … Vocal Media’s Malia Fisher (32) … BCW’s James Jackson

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