POLITICO Playbook: House Democrats’ moment stomped on by fight over Israel

THIS WEEK, DEMOCRATS will move to pass H.R. 1, which they believe is the kind of good-government bill that sent them into the majority. SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI worked for months to get consensus on the legislation, which had already been delayed due to the government shutdown. The passage of H.R. 1 is the kind of moment that is supposed to define the early part of a House majority.

BUT INSTEAD of a laser focus on that, Democrats are enmeshed in a messy, divisive internecine food fight over support for Israel, which has pitted old-school Democrats like FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN ELIOT ENGEL and APPROPRIATIONS CHAIRWOMAN NITA LOWEY of New York against REP. ILHAN OMAR of Minnesota, and some of her allies in the House.

OMAR has invoked what many see as anti-Semitic tropes in discussing Israel, suggesting lawmakers who support the nation have a dual loyalty. Earlier, she said legislators’ support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins baby” — a comment she later backed away from.

THE DIVISIONS among Democrats are only getting deeper and more public. The House has already passed one resolution as a result of Omar’s comments, and now a second one is in the offing. A vote on a second resolution to condemn anti-Semitism has been put off, after resistance from the left. (Read about that below.)

THIS CONGRESS IS ONLY 62 days old and, presumably by the end of the week, it will have taken two votes aimed at condemning the words of a member of the majority.

FURTHERMORE, DEMOCRATS SEEM TO BE heading for an extended discussion about America’s support for Israel — something that will certainly split their caucus.

THIS FIGHT isn’t going unnoticed. The NYT put its story above the fold today, and it carries this headline: “Rift Over Israel Has Democrats Divided by Age: Anti-Semitism Motion Rattles the House” (NYT A1). And cable news has been covering it nonstop.

REPUBLICANS ARE WATCHING, AND BELIEVE this is all playing into their hands. The political minds in the GOP have long believed that Democratic support for Israel was shifting, and they see this as the moment they’ve been waiting for — the moment they can peel off pro-Israel Democrats from the Democratic Party.

SO WHAT’S NEXT? OMAR DOES NOT SEEM deterred from talking about Israel, and every time she says something deemed controversial, Democrats erupt. At the moment, one would have to come to the conclusion that this disagreement is easily one of the defining characteristics of the 116th Congress.

— WHERE THINGS STAND: HEATHER CAYGLE, JOHN BRESNAHAN and REBECCA MORIN: “House Dems postpone vote rebuking Omar amid pressure from left”: “A vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in response to controversial comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar is set to slip past Wednesday amid intensifying pressure from the left both inside and outside the Democratic Caucus.

“Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced in a closed-door meeting Tuesday that the vote would now likely happen Thursday and be updated to include language rejecting anti-Muslim bias. ‘People are working through the draft. Not everyone has seen the draft,’ said Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). ‘I support the notion that we need to respond and we’re figuring out the appropriate way to respond.’

“The debate over if — and how — to reprimand Omar for describing pro-Israel advocates’ ‘allegiance to a foreign country’ has exposed sharp divides within the caucus along generational, religious and ideological lines.” POLITICO

MEANWHILE IN THE SENATE … BURGESS EVERETT and MARIANNE LEVINE: “McConnell preps new nuclear option to speed Trump judges”: “President Donald Trump’s stream of judges is about to become a torrent. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP caucus have long prioritized confirming conservative judges to lifetime appointments. But they’re about to accelerate their ability to unilaterally approve many nominees in dramatic fashion.

“The Senate is on track to confirm the 34th Circuit Court judge of Trump’s presidency in the next week and the GOP has three more ready for floor action; that would give Trump roughly 20 percent of the Circuit Court seats in the country after just two years in office. At this rate, McConnell and Trump could leave few, if any, vacancies there for a potential Democratic president in 2021.

“Even more alarming for Democrats, the GOP is also preparing to pull the trigger on the ‘nuclear option’ and change Senate rules once again with a simple majority to allow much quicker confirmation of lower court judges in the coming months.” POLITICO

— MCCONNELL has long seen his legacy tied directly to his impact on stacking the federal judiciary with conservative judges.

TRUMP’S PARALLEL LIVES … NYT’S PETER BAKER and MAGGIE HABERMAN: “In the Middle of His Official Business, Trump Took the Time to Send Checks to Michael Cohen”: “On a busy day at the White House, President Trump hosted senators to talk about tax cuts, accused a Democratic congresswoman of distorting his condolence call to a soldier’s widow and suffered another court defeat for his travel ban targeting Muslim countries.

“And at some point on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, Mr. Trump took the time to sign a $35,000 check to his lawyer, who had made hush payments to prevent alleged sexual misconduct from being exposed before the 2016 presidential election.

“It was one of 11 occasions that Mr. Trump or his trust cut such checks, six of which were provided this week to The New York Times. … The dates on the newly available checks shed light on the parallel lives Mr. Trump was living by this account — at once managing affairs of state while quietly paying the price of keeping his personal secrets out of the public eye. The president hosted a foreign leader in the Oval Office, then wrote a check. He haggled over legislation, then wrote a check.

“He traveled abroad, then wrote a check. On the same day he reportedly pressured the F.B.I. director to drop an investigation into a former aide, the president’s trust issued a check to Mr. Cohen in furtherance of what federal prosecutors have called a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws at the direction of Mr. Trump.” NYT

ABC 7 CHICAGO: “Shakeup possible in federal case against ex-congressman Aaron Schock,” by Chuck Goudie, Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner: “[L]ate Tuesday the ABC7 I-Team learned that something … is happening in the case-suggesting an outcome for Schock may be unveiled at the Dirksen federal building.

“The one-time rising star of the Illinois Republican party resigned his Peoria Congressional seat in 2015 on accusations of misspending campaign funds on lavish personal expenses. Since the beginning the case has been laden with problems and it ended up being moved from Urbana to Chicago.

“Now it appears there may be a dramatic shift in things. According to experts a possible scenario is that the government would reduce some of the 22 felonies to misdemeanors and that other charges would be dropped-offering a way out for Schock, that conceivably could allow him a return to politics.” ABC7

Good Wednesday morning. FORMER COLORADO GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER’S presidential campaign says it raised $1 million to spend on the Democratic primary since announcing his candidacy two days ago.

CNN’S PAMELA BROWN and KAITLAN COLLINS: “President pressured staff to grant security clearance to Ivanka Trump”

DICK GEPHARDT on AOC, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Chuck Raasch: “‘I am thinking that probably the attention she is getting is a convenient partnership between the media, who kind of likes celebrities, and the Republicans, who want a target,’ Gephardt, who represented St. Louis in Congress for 28 years, said. ‘(Democrats) had a lot of people elected the last election who were from moderate districts. In fact a lot of them were women, and many of them were former military.’” Post-Dispatch

— “Payments to corporation owned by Ocasio-Cortez aide come under scrutiny,” by WaPo’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee: “Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)’s chief of staff helped establish two political action committees that paid a corporation he ran more than $1 million in 2016 and 2017, federal campaign finance records show.

“Brand New Congress LLC, the corporation owned by Saikat Chakrabarti, was also paid $18,880 for strategic consulting by Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional campaign in 2017, records show. The following year, he worked as a volunteer to manage her campaign, according to his LinkedIn profile.

“The arrangement, first reported by conservative outlets, left hidden who ultimately profited from the payments — a sharp juxtaposition with Ocasio-Cortez’s calls for transparency in politics. She has called dark money ‘the enemy to democracy.’ … On Monday, a conservative group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the PACs failed to properly disclose their spending.” WaPo

BORDER TALES — “Border at ‘Breaking Point’ as More than 76,000 Migrants Cross in a Month,” by NYT’s Caitlin Dickerson: “The number of migrant families crossing the southwest border has once again broken records, with unauthorized entries nearly doubling what they were a year ago, suggesting that the Trump administration’s aggressive policies have not discouraged new migration to the United States.

“More than 76,000 migrants crossed the border without authorization in February, an 11-year high and a strong sign that stepped-up prosecutions, new controls on asylum and harsher detention policies have not reversed what remains a powerful lure for thousands of families fleeing violence and poverty.” NYT

WAPO’S MARC FISHER: “‘Grab that record’: How Trump’s high school transcript was hidden”: “In 2011, days after Donald Trump challenged President Barack Obama to ‘show his records’ to prove that he hadn’t been a ‘terrible student,’ the headmaster at New York Military Academy got an order from his boss: Find Trump’s academic records and help bury them.

“The superintendent of the private school ‘came to me in a panic because he had been accosted by prominent, wealthy alumni of the school who were Mr. Trump’s friends’ and who wanted to keep his records secret, recalled Evan Jones, the headmaster at the time. ‘He said, “You need to go grab that record and deliver it to me because I need to deliver it to them.”’

“The superintendent, Jeffrey Coverdale, confirmed Monday that members of the school’s board of trustees initially wanted him to hand over President Trump’s records to them, but Coverdale said he refused. ‘I was given directives, part of which I could follow but part of which I could not, and that was handing them over to the trustees,’ he said. ‘I moved them elsewhere on campus where they could not be released. It’s the only time I ever moved an alumnus’s records.’” WaPo

SO MUCH FOR THE LOVE LETTERS — “North Korea rebuilding long-range rocket site, photos show,” by NBC’s Courtney Kube, Carol Lee and Andrea Mitchell: “North Korea is pursuing the ‘rapid rebuilding’ of the long-range rocket site at Sohae Launch Facility, according to new commercial imagery and an analysis from the researchers at Beyond Parallel. Sohae Satellite Launching Station, North Korea’s only operational space launch facility, has been used in the past for satellite launches. These launches use similar technology to what is used for intercontinental ballistic missiles.” NBC

AT MAIN JUSTICE — “Trump picks U.S. attorney in D.C. for No. 3 Justice job,” by Josh Gerstein: “President Donald Trump is planning to tap the U.S. attorney in Washington, Jessie Liu, to fill the long-vacant No. 3 position at the Justice Department, the White House announced Tuesday. The associate attorney general slot has been open for more than a year — since the unexpected resignation of Rachel Brand, who took a top legal job at Walmart.” POLITICO

COMING ATTRACTIONS — DARREN SAMUELSOHN and ANDREW DESIDERIO: “The Mueller report no one’s talking about”: “Most people don’t know it, but there’s another Mueller report coming. Around the same time the special counsel sends his Russia investigation findings to the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr must give Congress an account of every instance where Robert Mueller’s supervisors told him ‘no’ during the course of his work.

“The reporting requirement is tucked into the department regulations that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein used when he appointed Mueller. No matter what the memo says, it’s expected to be one of the few items on a fast track for being made public that will be closely scrutinized for insights into the inner workings of the special counsel’s tight-lipped investigation.

“Barr’s report could very well end up being blank, which itself would be a telling reveal that gives President Donald Trump and the leaders of the Justice Department he appointed tangible proof that the special counsel was allowed to carry out his investigation without interference.” POLITICO

2020 WATCH — “Michael Bloomberg Will Not Run for President in 2020,” by NYT’s Alex Burns: “Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who joined the Democratic Party last year to crusade against President Trump, announced he would not seek the White House himself in 2020, discarding plans to mount a maverick campaign that would have tested the party’s openness to a wealthy centrist with a chameleon-like approach to partisan politics. …

“After conducting polling and other research, Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers concluded he would have a real but narrow path to the nomination — and that it could all but vanish if Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president, entered the race.” NYT

— BLOOMBERG on Bloomberg.com, Our Highest Office, My Deepest Obligation: I’m not running for president, but I am launching a new campaign: Beyond Carbon.”

— “Trump in trouble in Florida poll,” by Marc Caputo: “Donald Trump is in trouble in Florida, a state that’s crucial to his reelection hopes. Just 40 percent of Florida voters said they believed the president should be reelected, while 53 percent were opposed to a second term, according to a new Bendixen & Amandi International poll.” POLITICO

THE INVESTIGATIONS …

— CNN’S MANU RAJU and JEREMY HERB: “Republicans reject calls to probe Trump role in hush-money payments”: “Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, a senior member of Senate Judiciary who chaired the panel in the last Congress, wouldn’t say if he had concerns about Trump’s involvement in a hush-money scheme.

“‘You always ask me questions that I haven’t studied,’ Grassley said Tuesday. ‘So I can’t say.’ A fellow Iowa Republican on the Judiciary panel, Sen. Joni Ernst, also suggested she wasn’t fully aware of the hush money when asked if the committee should look into the scandal. ‘Possibly at some point — I don’t know enough about it,’ Ernst said.” CNN

— WAPO’S ROZ HELDERMAN and RACHAEL BADE: “Former Trump adviser says he does not plan to cooperate with House Judiciary inquiry”: “The letter from an attorney for Michael Caputo, who worked for Trump during part of the 2016 campaign, represents the first skirmish in what is likely to be broad resistance from Trump aides and associates to new inquiries issued this week by the Judiciary Committee.

“Caputo told The Washington Post that he has already begun talking with four other Trump associates who received requests from the committee this week to begin a joint strategy of resisting requests for testimony. ‘All four are reluctant to appear because they believe it’s a perjury trap designed to move toward impeachment of the president,’ he said.” WaPo

THE JUICE …

— FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO INSTITUTE OF POLITICS is naming its spring quarter fellows. They include: Karine Jean-Pierre, chief public affairs officer for MoveOn; former Education Secretary John King; former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell; former Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.); Sue Mi Terry, former National Security Council staff member; the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman; and David Yepsen, host of “Iowa Press” on Iowa Public Television.

TRUMP’S WEDNESDAY — The president will meet with former Yemen hostage Danny Burch and his family in the Oval Office at 2 p.m. He is meeting with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) at 2:45 p.m. in the Oval Office. At 4 p.m., Trump will participate in the “American Workforce Policy Advisory Board Meeting” in the State Dining Room.

DNC CONVENTION UPDATE — MARC CAPUTO: “Top Miami Democrat blasts DNC’s ‘massive’ convention delay”: “‘Everybody should have a concern over this massive delay and how it affects the planning and funding of a convention,’ said Philip Levine, the co-chair of the convention effort and Miami Beach’s former mayor. ‘We were told this would happen in January, and it’s March and we still don’t know where the convention is going to be.’ …

“[T]he delay has increased pressure and attention on Perez. It could even be the first act in a potentially chaotic spectacle in July 2020, when a crowded Democratic presidential primary could culminate in a brokered convention and multi-round delegate fight.” POLITICO

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION — “‘Something very rare’: FDA’s Gottlieb aggressively tackled difficult issues,” by Sarah Owermohle, Sarah Karlin-Smith and Helena Bottemiller-Evich: “FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who shocked Washington with news of his resignation on Tuesday, will leave the agency at the end of this month with a track record of activism and regulatory actions.

“FDA leaders have typically focused much of their attention on a handful of medical topics, but Gottlieb has been active and aggressive on many issues as commissioner without hewing to a strictly conservative or liberal ideology. It’s an approach that’s won him praise from many in the health sector, while garnering criticism from several of the targeted businesses like tobacco companies and the fast-growing e-cigarette industries.

“‘He was able to do something very rare: He never got embroiled in a scandal, never got labeled with a toxic administration brush and had a great relationship with the President all at the same time,’ said one former White House official. Still, his independent streak sometimes stoked tension with others in the administration. Gottlieb pushed regulatory issues under a mandate from a president that pushed deregulation as one of his core goals.” POLITICO

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Ken Lerer turned 67

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Jennifer Skyler, chief communications officer at the We Company. A fun fact about Jen: “When she was younger, my sister had a successful run as a model when my family lived in Tokyo, Japan. Witnessing her accomplishments in this field, I thought I would give acting a try to earn some extra money while I was interning at the CNN Tokyo bureau in college. I didn’t fare as well, and the only lead I got was to star in a Japanese horror film that played as you were waiting in line for a scary ride at an amusement park in Tokyo. Playing the bride of Frankenstein was quite an adventure!” Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: David Bradley, chairman and owner of Atlantic Media … Catherine Wilkins of the White House (hat tip: Cassie Williams) … Alan Greenspan is 93 … John Stossel is 72 (h/t Scott) … Saul Anuzis is 6-0 … Reuters’ Jim Bourg … Armen Keteyian is 66 … former FBI and CIA Director William Webster is 95 … former Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) is 8-0 … Pablo Chavez, VP of global public policy and government affairs for Google Cloud … Blake Gottesman of Berkshire Partners … Theodore Furchtgott … Kara Carscaden, who celebrated with a scuba session in the Dry Tortugas last weekend … Anthony Foti … Jenny Rogers, deputy editor of WaPo’s Talent Network … Jonathan Day, COS for Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) (h/t Blain Rethmeier) … TransCanada’s Alex Stroman is 3-0 … The Baltimore Sun’s Erin Cox … Sandra Salstrom … Eileen Murphy, SVP of comms for NYT (h/t Alex Levy) …

… Brooke Gladstone, co-host of WNYC’s “On the Media” … Bill Huey is 72 … Joe Perticone, politics reporter at Business Insider, is 29 (h/ts AnnaMaria Di Pietro and Mallory Shelbourne) … Michael Sitrick … Anna Kopperud … Joe Alexander … Indiana Supreme Court Justice Mark Massa … Jacqui Newman, COO of the DCCC … Chris Leavitt … Lisa Todorovich Porter … Anna Kopperud … Brendon Plack, COS for the Senate majority whip … Ellen Canale … Emily Leviner, LD and chief counsel for Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) (h/t Brianna Puccini) … Karen Lightfoot … Shannon Moriarty, director of comms at the Doe Fund … Sam Spence … Katy Bayless … Andie Coller … Kathleen J. Becker … Steve Fox … Kim Moxley … Tim Bergreen … Lanon Baccam (h/t Teresa Vilmain)

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