POLITICO's must-read briefing on what's driving the afternoon in Washington.
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By ELI OKUN
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority sounded likely to side with a graphic designer in a high-profile free speech/LGBTQ rights case. | Pool photo by Erin Schaff
SCOTUS WATCH — In one of the Supreme Court’s biggest cases of the term, justices heard arguments today over whether an evangelical graphic designer can refuse to make wedding websites for same-sex couples. Arguments ran well over time and featured passionate, lively questioning on both sides, but — as expected — the high court’s conservative majority sounded likely to side with LORIE SMITH, the designer.
“While the conservative justices indicated support for Smith’s stance, the liberal justices leaned toward Colorado’s arguments,” Reuters’ Andrew Chung and Nate Raymond report. Both ideological wings posed deep philosophical questions about where to draw the lines for free speech and minority anti-discrimination protections.
GEORGIA ON MY MIND — The day before the big Senate runoff, UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion is out with a new poll that finds Democratic Sen. RAPHAEL WARNOCK leading HERSCHEL WALKER 51% to 46%. (Meanwhile, President JOE BIDEN has a 4-point advantage over DONALD TRUMP in Georgia in a hypothetical rematch.)
— Sabato’s Crystal Ball shifted its rating of the race today from toss-up to leaning Democratic. Walker “needs a big Election Day showing,” writes Miles Coleman.
— Though Atlanta’s northern suburbs have gotten plenty of attention as the region where well-educated voters abandoned the GOP and flipped the state, WaPo’s Theo Meyer and Leigh Ann Caldwell report that turnout levels in Henry County could be the best bellwether for the runoff. The southern suburbs have turned blue for a different reason: demographic change, as white residents leave and new Georgians arrive from other states and countries. Having doubled in size this century, the county is now plurality Black. Can Democrats get their new voters to the polls in sufficient numbers?
— AP’s Bill Barrow explores how differently Warnock and Walker have navigated being Black men, in life and on the campaign trail — and how Black Georgians are receiving the two nominees. “Black voters say the choice is stark: Warnock, the senior minister of MARTIN LUTHER KING’s Atlanta church, echoes traditional liberal notions of the Black experience; and Walker, a University of Georgia football icon, speaks the language of white cultural conservatism and mocks Warnock’s interpretations of King, among other matters.”
MANDATE DEBATE — After Dems said this weekend that they might compromise and roll back the Covid vaccine requirement for the military, the administration made clear today they’d oppose such a change. JOHN KIRBY told reporters that Biden and Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN don’t want the mandate pulled from the National Defense Authorization Act, as Republicans have advocated.
PERSON OF THE YEAR — Time magazine unveiled its 10-person (or -group) shortlist for its designation of the world’s most influential person, which last year went to ELON MUSK. (Prescient!) The contenders this year: Rep. LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.), Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS, Chinese President XI JINPING, Musk again, philanthropist MacKENZIE SCOTT, Treasury Secretary JANET YELLEN, Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, gun safety advocates, protesters in Iran and the Supreme Court. More from the “Today” show
Good Monday afternoon. Which of the shortlisted candidates would you choose — or whom did Time leave out? Drop me a line at [email protected].
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IMMIGRATION FILES — Could Congress actually get back to bipartisan immigration reform? Sens. THOM TILLIS (R-N.C.) and KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.) have reached a draft accord for a bill that would give 2 million Dreamers a pathway to citizenship, along with several enforcement measures, WaPo’s Greg Sargent reports. They include the extension of the controversial Title 42 policy for another year, faster processing of asylum claims and removal of migrants whose claims are denied, and a resource boost for more border officers. The big question is whether it can secure 10 GOP senators’ support.
— Burgess Everett has a note of caution: “It’s an incomplete and outdated discussion draft,” a Senate aide tells him. “There is no final agreement on a deal and a lot of details would still need to be worked out.” The deal also doesn’t seem to include Sen. JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas), who’s really the key Republican on any immigration legislation. Burgess reports that the border security funding would top $25 billion.
THE NEW MINORITY — House Democrats are tapping Rep. BRENDAN BOYLE (D-Pa.) to be ranking House Budget member next year, per Punchbowl’s John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle. The DCCC chair pick is likely to come in the next few weeks.
KNOWING MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE — Elaina Plott Calabro’s first feature back at The Atlantic is a major profile of the GOP congresswoman, on the ground in Georgia: her history, her beliefs and her fervent following. “She wasn’t greeted” at a local GOP breakfast last month, reads the lede. “She was beheld, like a religious apparition. Emotions verged on rapture. Later, as she spoke, one man jumped to his feet with such force that his chair fell over. Not far away, two women clung to each other and shrieked.” Diving into Greene’s family background, childhood and career, Plott Calabro finds that “by the time she reached her late 30s, something in her had started to break.” A few years later, she got into politics.
EYEING THE EXITS — Despite plenty of chaos, most people haven’t actually stopped tweeting under ELON MUSK’s stewardship. But Democratic members of Congress are thinking through what comes next — and taking a Twitter departure more seriously than you might expect, The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey reports. “None are quite ready yet to make a clean break, but some said they are actively considering leaving, and many are beginning to imagine a digital communications strategy in a post-Twitter era.” Among the actual congressional tweeters, Sen. BRIAN SCHATZ (D-Hawaii) has no plans to leave, but Reps. JARED HUFFMAN (D-Calif.) and JAMAAL BOWMAN (D-N.Y.) have thought about it.
BIG NEWS IN ALBANY — A federal judge tossed out three bribery and corruption charges against former New York Lt. Gov. BRIAN BENJAMIN today, “saying prosecutors had failed to demonstrate an explicit quid pro quo,” per the NYT. Those counts had led Benjamin to resign. But two other charges of falsifying records remain.
MURPHY ON MEDDLING — New Jersey Gov. PHIL MURPHY, the new chair of the Democratic Governors Association, told Zach Montellaro that he wouldn’t rule out meddling in GOP primaries to try to get less electable Republicans nominated. “I say this literally, you should assume that if something is legal and ethical, nothing’s off the table,” Murphy said. His first priority is getting another term for Kentucky Gov. ANDY BESHEAR, who is up for reelection in 2023.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW — Former Education Secretary JOHN KING JR., who ran for Maryland governor this year, is heading back to New York: He’s being named SUNY chancellor today, Joseph Spector and Katelyn Cordero report for Pros from Albany.
WAR IN UKRAINE
ONE FOOT ON THE BRAKES — Under the radar, the U.S. tweaked advanced rocket launchers it supplied to Ukraine so that they’re not able to shoot long-range missiles, WSJ’s Michael Gordon and Gordon Lubold scooped. The secret HIMARS alterations to hardware and software reflect U.S. anxieties about broader escalation if Ukraine fired over the border into Russia, though Kyiv has vowed not to do so. “The U.S. has refrained from supplying Ukraine with long-range ATACMS missiles. But the modifications ensure that Ukraine couldn’t use the Himars launchers the U.S. has provided to fire ATACMS missiles if Kyiv were to acquire them from other sources.”
THE WHITE HOUSE
BIDEN ON THE ROAD — As the president prepares to head to a Phoenix chip manufacturing plant Tuesday, WSJ’s Yang Jie details some of the company’s difficulties in getting ready to launch next year. “High costs, lack of trained personnel and unexpected construction snags are among the issues cited by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.” Ultimately, “comparative cost to build and operate” is the leading hurdle to siting more manufacturing in the U.S., the company says.
AMERICA AND THE WORLD
MUCK READ — In a striking revolving-door story, WaPo’s Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones write about two Air Force generals who sought to make big bucks after retiring by working for an Azerbaijani airline — after they’d overseen American supply routes through the country. U.S. officials warned that their new jobs could pose “a potential embarrassment and a risk to national security,” leading to a yearslong court battle. WaPo tried to get information on the story for at least six years, before the reporters finally got records on the consulting deals and investigation thanks to a federal lawsuit.
WHERE THE MONEY WENT — “Hackers linked to Chinese government stole millions in Covid benefits, Secret Service says,” by NBC’s Sarah Fitzpatrick and Kit Ramgopal: “The theft of taxpayer funds by the Chengdu-based hacking group known as APT41 is the first instance of pandemic fraud tied to foreign, state-sponsored cybercriminals that the U.S. government has acknowledged publicly, but may just be the tip of the iceberg.”
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
THE NEW GUNS LANDSCAPE — After the Supreme Court made it harder for municipalities to restrict guns, Democratic-led states are pushing ahead with new laws even in a legally unclear environment, WSJ’s Jimmy Vielkind reports. Creating new permitting regimes in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Hawaii and elsewhere, state and local officials are hoping their regulations will stand up to a new test in court.
AILING AMERICA — “Social Security offices critical to disability benefits hit breaking point,” by WaPo’s Lisa Rein: “The same system has collapsed in many of the other state offices where Social Security has outsourced reviews of disability claims — a decentralized, convoluted structure Congress created nearly seven decades ago to let low-paid state employees rule on who should get federal benefits. Now more than a million Americans wait in limbo just to hear whether they will get assistance — the first step in a system of drawn-out judgments and appeals that can ultimately take years before a resolution.”
SOUNDS FAMILIAR — The Real ID deadline is getting pushed back, once again, DHS announced today. Americans will now have until May 2025, instead of May 2023, to get the IDs, which Congress passed … 17 years ago. The department cited pandemic disruptions, in part. More from USA Today
AFTERNOON READ — “The Pandemic Has Created Two Very Different Kinds of Workplaces. That Especially Matters for Women,” by Eleanor Mueller in POLITICO Magazine: “Though congressional Democrats briefly appeared poised to push through universal child care and paid leave as part of their party-line spending package in 2020, those efforts eventually capsized amid opposition from key moderates like Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.). Now, economists warn that policymakers’ inertia and the resulting reliance on employers to administer paid leave and child care is creating two distinct workplaces for women — and risks exacerbating racial and gender inequality for decades to come.”
MORE FROM SCOTUS — Coming in the spring, the Supreme Court will hear a lighthearted trademark case with some serious First Amendment implications, NYT’s Adam Liptak writes. Jack Daniel’s is challenging a dog toy called Bad Spaniels that riffs on the whiskey bottle’s design with canine jokes. The toy’s creator calls it parody that constitutes constitutionally protected speech; Jack Daniel’s argues that the squeaker “confuses consumers by taking advantage of Jack Daniel’s hard-earned good will.” Liptak notes that this case echoes a 2008 dispute over a Chewy Vuiton dog toy, which didn’t sit well with Louis Vuitton. (Haute Diggity Dog won that case.)
REMEMBER HIM? — MICHAEL AVENATTI will be sentenced today for wire fraud and obstruction of collection of taxes, the L.A. Times’ Michael Finnegan previews. He’s already in prison for other crimes.
REDIRECTED — After Republican opposition stalled Tamara Cofman Wittes’ nomination as assistant USAID administrator for the Middle East, she joined the State Department this summer as a senior advisor to sanctions policy coordinator Jim O’Brien, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
MEDIA MOVE — Wes Venteicher is now a California energy and climate reporter for POLITICO. He previously was a reporter at the Sacramento Bee covering state government and workers.
TRANSITIONS — Annie Moore is now senior director of digital at Dezenhall Resources. She previously was digital director for the Republican State Leadership Committee. … Liz Jurinka is now a senior policy fellow at the Tobin Center for Economic Policy at Yale University. She was most recently special assistant to the president in the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House. …
… K. Dane Snowden is now a senior adviser at Wilkinson Barker Knauer. He previously was president and CEO of the Internet Association, and is an FCC alum. … J. Carl Maxwell is now VP for public policy for the Association of American Publishers. He previously was manager of advocacy for the American Chemical Society.
WEEKEND WEDDING — John Ryan, Senate director at State’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs, and Tara Tighe, counsel at Schertler and Onorato, got married this weekend at St. Matthews Cathedral, with a reception at the Army Navy Club. The couple met through friends in his Army unit. Pic … Another pic … SPOTTED: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)
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