April 21, 2021

Tarantella Berlin

Specialists in law

POLITICO Playbook: The question that’s about to dominate politics

What is infrastructure?

That’s a question that will dominate politics for the spring and summer.

President JOE BIDEN wants the concept to be defined expansively, using it for priorities that Democrats haven’t previously associated with that word.

Republicans want to define it narrowly, arguing that even some spending they called infrastructure in the Trump era no longer qualifies.

As NYT’s Jim Tankersley and Jeanna Smialek write, “That is the debate shaping up as Republicans attack Mr. Biden’s plan with pie charts and scathing quotes, saying that it allocates only a small fraction of money on ‘real’ infrastructure and that spending to address issues like home care, electric vehicles and even water pipes should not count.”

At his press conference last month, Biden asked, “We now rank, what, 85th in the world in infrastructure?”

No we don’t, but Biden was onto something.

As the president himself noted later in the same press conference, “We ranked 13th globally in infrastructure.”

So where did he get that number? It reportedly comes from the World Economic Forum, and it turns out the WEF uses a pretty specific definition of infrastructure to compile its annual rankings: the quality of a country’s roads, railroads, ports, air transport and electricity supply as well as the number of cellphone subscriptions and fixed-telephone lines.

So the definition Biden himself cites is essentially transportation plus electricity plus the internet. How much of the Biden plan would qualify under this strict definition? The answer is $821 billion out of the plan’s $2.25 trillion in spending — about 37%.

— Transportation: $621 billion

— Electricity: $100 billion

— Internet: $100 billion

But the White House has been aggressive about using the word for a lot of other things outside of these categories. Sometimes they have a point. For example, the World Economic Forum index that Biden likes to cite doesn’t use it in its definition, but the president is on pretty safe ground when he labels the $111 billion he wants to invest in clean drinking water, which includes replacing all lead pipes and service lines, as infrastructure spending.

But things get a lot dicier from there.

Does the $328 billion to improve housing stock, modernize schools and child care facilities, and upgrade VA hospitals and federal buildings qualify as infrastructure? A lot of that money will be spent on physical stuff, but it doesn’t fit the definition of infrastructure Democrats have traditionally used.

The word starts to get strained beyond recognition when the White House gets to the $590 billion to “invest in domestic manufacturing, research & development, and job training initiatives.” These are economic priorities that have been included in previous Democratic jobs bills, but they aren’t infrastructure.

Finally, the largest single item in the plan is $400 billion to “expand home care services and provide additional support for care workers.” Certainly a laudable goal, but it’s silly to call it infrastructure and no previous politician who put forward a similar caregiving proposal has done so under the guise of infrastructure spending.

So here’s Playbook’s unofficial infrastructure breakdown of the American Jobs Plan:

Definitely infrastructure: $821 billion.
Sure seems like infrastructure: $111 billion
Infrastructure-ish, but you’re really stretching things now: $328 billion
A very distant relative of infrastructure: $590 billion
Not even close to infrastructure: $400 billion

More …

Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER to Burgess Everett: This bill “has one of the largest traditional infrastructure funding [numbers] that we’ve seen in a long time, and it recognizes the new” breed of infrastructure … “The link between both is jobs.”

White House comms director KATE BEDINGFIELD to Chris Cadelago: “If they want to pick a fight about whether these things that are foundational to families’ ability to put food on the table and do their jobs are infrastructure or not, that is a fight we welcome.”

NYT’s PAUL KRUGMAN: “Republicans Are Mired in Concrete: It is time to embrace the softer side of infrastructure.”

National Review’s KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON: “Biden’s ‘Infrastructure’ Scam: The problem is not federal infrastructure spending per se, but ‘infrastructure’ bills that are in fact political slush-funds.”

Good Wednesday morning. Maybe the real meaning of infrastructure is what’s in our hearts. Drop us a line and tell us the strangest thing you’ve ever described as infrastructure: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

EMBASSIES SPRINGING BACK TO LIFE — It’s been a long year in semi-hibernation for the diplomatic set. And with a new administration in town, there’s a lot of pressure among the diplomatic corps to make meaningful inroads now with the power centers of D.C., the kind of bonds that usually form through “garden diplomacy” (h/t the late GEORGE SHULTZ).

We say semi-hibernation because the British Embassy — led by Ambassador KAREN PIERCE, who landed in D.C. just days before the lockdown with the mantra “diplomacy is a contact sport” — has been hosting uber-exclusive events for VIPs throughout the pandemic, albeit typically outdoors and following D.C. Covid-19 protocols. Unlike most federal buildings that require a swab in the nose to enter, the U.K. ambassador’s residence has not.

Retired Gen. DAVID PETRAEUS was spotted at a recent dinner at the U.K. ambassador’s temporary residence in March. “She’s antsy to get out,” said one British official of Pierce. (Her predecessor, KIM DARROCH, resigned after calling the Trump administration inept.) Before April 1, the British Embassy had up to 25 people at its outdoor events, when that was the D.C. limit. Now it can have 50.

For people who haven’t been out much, the experience can be jarring. “I thought, ‘Wow the British are really packing it in,’” said one attendee of the number of people at a garden cocktail event in the fall.

The French Embassy has held socially distanced dinner parties at the large dining table at the ambassador’s residence. Qatari Ambassador H.E. SHEIKH MESHAL BIN HAMAD AL THANI held a number of dinners at his residence in McLean, Va. Qatar’s rival UAE held a Zoom “Emirati FilmFest: Online Edition” to promote its film industry. Even Monaco hosted a Zoom event.

“It’s coming back to life. Hopefully we’re heading toward the roaring 2020s,” said Washington Life senior editor KEVIN CHAFFEE.

Ambassadors eager to make contacts with the new administration are hoping vaccinations will draw out older VIPs who have been quarantining in earnest.

On April 16, there’s an in-person event at Luxembourg’s embassy to honor 12 female ambassadors. Another major event is the Washington Ballet’s annual gala June 4. This year they’re hosting “private dinners at local VIP locations followed by an exciting socially-distant gathering with thrilling live performances at The REACH at The Kennedy Center,” according to the event’s website.

HALF OF YOU WILL LOVE THIS, HALF OF YOU WILL HATE IT — “What a photo of Trump’s new office reveals about how he wants to be remembered,” by Daniel Lippman: “The image, showing a smiling Trump and Miller with palm beach trees in the background outside, rocketed around social media, with amatuer online sleuths analyzing everything from the collection of tsotchkes populating the room to the bottle hiding behind Trump’s phone.

“POLITICO decided to do its own deep dive into Trump’s office, with the help of four former White House officials. Here’s our best reported effort to figure out which mementos the 45th president chose to keep around him in his new Florida life — and what it says about how he views his legacy.”

BIDEN’S WEDNESDAY — The president and VP KAMALA HARRIS will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. Biden will deliver remarks about the American Jobs Plan at 1:45 p.m., with Harris attending.

— The White House Covid-19 response team and public health officials will brief at 10:30 a.m. Press secretary JEN PSAKI will brief at 12:15 p.m. with Commerce Secretary GINA RAIMONDO.

THE HOUSE and THE SENATE are not in session.

INFRASTRUCTURE YEAR

GLASS HALF EMPTY FOR DEMOCRATS VERSION — “Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Faces New Hurdle in Senate Rules,” WSJ: ”Democratic aspirations for approving legislation along party lines received a boost on Monday when the chamber’s parliamentarian indicated that lawmakers could use the procedure multiple times in one fiscal year. But even if Democrats can employ the process more frequently, measures passed through reconciliation will still need to comply with a number of Senate rules, including that they have a direct impact on the budget.

“Those rules could mean that several provisions in the plan, including labor rules and a clean electricity standard, may have to be removed from or amended in the final legislation, according to lawmakers and aides.”

WALL STREET JUMPS SHIP — “Corporate America tears down Biden’s infrastructure plan,” by Ben White: “Top executives of companies who in the past have given speeches about the need for infrastructure spending are mostly silent, opting to complain privately that Biden’s plan is too expensive, too partisan, too laden with unrelated social policy and not at all what they had in mind. …

“Executives at some of America’s largest companies complain much more bitterly in private about the White House approach, arguing that raising the top corporate rate to 28 percent from 21 percent — without restoring deductions eliminated in then-President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cut bill — would damage hiring and the economy.”

BUT, BUT, BUT: “Jeff Bezos Backs Corporate Tax-Rate Increase and Infrastructure Plan,” WSJ

GAETZ-GATE

PARDON PLEASE — “Matt Gaetz, Loyal for Years to Trump, Is Said to Have Sought a Blanket Pardon,” NYT: “[Gaetz] privately asked the White House for blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed, according to two people told of the discussions. …

“It was unclear whether Mr. Gaetz or the White House knew at the time about the inquiry, or who else he sought pardons for. Mr. Gaetz did not tell White House aides that he was under investigation for potential sex trafficking violations when he made the request. But top White House lawyers and officials viewed the request for a pre-emptive pardon as a nonstarter that would set a bad precedent, the people said.”

THE CAPUTO TREATMENT — “The congressman and his wingman,” by Marc Caputo: “Together, the taxman [Joel Greenberg] and the congressman shared a life-in-the-fast-lane existence that contradicted the staid image that most elected officials are careful to maintain. … Thirty-something scions of wealthy families, Gaetz and Greenberg were elected to their respective offices during the first Trump wave that swept Florida in 2016 and became close friends because of their shared interest in brash populist politics, cryptocurrencies and attractive young women.

“The Gaetz-Greenberg relationship wasn’t one of equals, according to mutual friends, who say the tax collector looked up to the congressman. A former state legislator, Gaetz was a regular fixture on Fox who had the president’s ear. Greenberg introduced him to a handful of young women he met on SeekingArrangement, a dating website that connects attractive women with so-called sugar daddies. Greenberg regularly trolled the site for dates. … The two shared more than one girlfriend, according to interviews with eight friends and associates who know the two men.”

BUT HE’S NOT SLINKING AWAY — “Gaetz, under federal investigation, scheduled to speak at conservative summit at Trump-owned resort,” Fox News: “[He] will give an address Friday evening at the Save America Summit. The gathering is being held at the former president’s Doral golf club and resort in Miami.”

POLITICS ROUNDUP

THE PLAN — “Democrats are bracing for primary fights. Does the left have a plan?” by WaPo’s David Weigel: “Of the three special elections underway in safely Democratic seats this year, the party’s left has unified and taken command in just one of them — the race in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, where former state senator Nina Turner has tripled the fundraising of her closest competitor. … Liberal wins in Louisiana and Ohio would shift the Democrats’ House conference to the left, the goal of the campaigners who came out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign.”

ON THIN ICE — “Democrats’ Control of the House Is Increasingly Fragile,” by N.Y. Mag’s Ed Kilgore: “[T]here are now five vacancies in the U.S. House of Representatives … So the 222-213 margin by which Democrats originally held the House after the 2020 elections is currently at 218-212, pending special elections in May (Louisiana and Texas), June (New Mexico), and November (Ohio), with Florida’s date not yet established. The Texas and New Mexico districts are somewhat competitive but lean Republican and Democratic, respectively. The rest are not competitive …

“Assuming the May special elections go as expected and cancel one another out, between now and June, Pelosi can afford to lose only two Democratic votes and still enact legislation.”

SCOTUS WATCH — “Stephen Breyer worries about Supreme Court’s public standing in current political era,” CNN: “In an expansive, two-hour lecture at Harvard Law School, Breyer bemoaned the common practice — by journalists, senators and others — of referring to justices by the presidents who appointed them and of describing the nine by their conservative or liberal approach to the law. …

“Breyer also warned against proposals to expand the size of the Supreme Court from its current nine members. Public trust was ‘gradually built’ over the centuries, he said, and any discussion of change should take account of today’s public acceptance of the court’s rulings, even those as controversial as the 2000 Bush v. Gore case that settled a presidential election. … Breyer has declined to talk about his retirement prospects and on Tuesday avoided the topic altogether.”

THAT WAS FAST — “House, Senate override governor’s veto of transgender-treatment bill,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: “The Arkansas Legislature has overturned Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, with a majority of both chambers voting to override in largely party-line votes Tuesday afternoon. … Barring legal action, the law will take effect during the summer.”

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

NOT TOUCHING THIS ONE — “Joe Biden is not planning to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” by Nahal Toosi: “Unlike Barack Obama and Donald Trump, Biden hasn’t named a special envoy to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio. Unlike Bill Clinton, Biden has no plans for any sort of peace conference, or even a peace process, anytime soon. Biden’s closest antecedent may be George W. Bush, who initially resisted engaging with the issue — but eventually found he couldn’t ignore it.

“Aside from taking a few small steps to reorient the U.S. position away from the heavily pro-Israel tilt it took under Trump — including restoring some modest aid to the Palestinians — Biden and his team are signaling that the conflict is simply not a priority. … Some warn that by de-prioritizing the issue or moving too slowly, Biden could be putting a two-state solution out of reach, especially if Israel keeps expanding its settlements in territory claimed by the Palestinians.”

ON SECOND THOUGHT, NEVERMIND — “U.S. State Department backs away from the idea of a Beijing Olympics boycott,” CNBC: “The State Department denied Tuesday evening that it was considering a joint boycott alongside allies of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. … Department spokesman Ned Price had initially suggested during a press briefing earlier on Tuesday that a boycott of the Olympic Games was among the possibilities for addressing China’s human rights abuses.”

TOP-EDS

WSJ EDITORIAL BOARD: “A Soft-on-Crime Backlash: Philadelphia Democrats decline to endorse a progressive prosecutor.”

WSJ’S WILLIAM A. GALSTON: “Partisanship Is Biden’s Way to the Highway: An infrastructure bill some Republicans can support would help Democrats in 2022.”

NYT’S JAMELLE BOUIE: “If It’s Not Jim Crow, What Is It?: Georgia’s new voting law has to be understood in its own peculiar historical context.”

L.A. TIMES’ JONAH GOLDBERG: “The fallout in Georgia shows what endless political war gets you”

AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH in WAPO: “An Uber Eats driver’s killing was caught on video. It showed every immigrant’s worst nightmare.”

JONATHAN GOULD, KENNETH SHEPSLE and MATTHEW STEPHENSON in WAPO: “Don’t eliminate the filibuster. Democratize it”: “Democrats are frustrated with the Senate filibuster blocking their legislative agenda. But the main problem with the filibuster isn’t that it’s bad for Democrats — it’s that it’s bad for democracy. Not only does the filibuster paralyze the Senate, but the 41-senator minority that can block popular legislation often represents an even smaller minority of Americans. That’s not how representative government is supposed to work.

“Yet eliminating the filibuster, as many are now urging, also poses a danger to democracy. Given the Senate’s extreme malapportionment — with two senators per state regardless of population — Senate majorities often represent fewer than half of the country’s citizens. For example, the 2017 tax cut passed with the support of 51 senators who represented only 43 percent of the population. Getting rid of the filibuster would alleviate minority obstruction today, but it would also increase the risk of minority rule in the future.”

IN MEMORIAM — “Former Republican Illinois U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling dies after bout of cancer,” Quad-City Times

@MidwinCharles: Her family members write, “It is with a profoundly heavy heart and the deepest sadness that we announce the untimely passing of our beloved Midwin Charles. She was known to many as a legal commentator on television but to us she was a devoted daughter, sister, aunt, niece and cousin.”

THE CHAPPELLE REVELATION: “Dave Chappelle Claims He Saw Celebs Leaving ‘Dirty Notes’ For Trump Staff At White House Party,” Hollywood Life: “The comedian revealed the news when he discussed attending one of the last parties President Barack Obama and his administration held before turning over the job to Trump, in a new interview with Naomi Campbell. … ‘I’m not gonna say who did it,’ he continued. ‘But it was celebrities writing all this crazy s**t and putting it all over there and I saw them do it, so when I saw that news I laughed real hard.’”

LIVING SPACES — “Harris Is Moving Into Newly Renovated Official Residence,” NYT: “Number One Observatory Circle is finally ready for its newest resident. After months spent living in temporary quarters at Blair House, Vice President Kamala Harris moved into her 33-room official residence on Tuesday evening following the completion of renovations, an administration official said.”

MEDIAWATCH — David Cho will be editor-in-chief of Barron’s. He most recently has been business editor at WaPo. Announcement Bill Brink, a deputy editor on the NYT’s politics desk, is heading to London as a senior editor. Announcement

K STREET FILES — “Gordon Smith set to depart CEO role at National Association of Broadcasters,” by John Hendel: “NAB confirmed that Smith will leave his role on Dec. 31 and that Curtis LeGeyt, the trade group’s chief operating officer, will step in to lead the group effective Jan. 1 of next year. … Smith’s departure would mark a major shift on K Street and a changing of the guard for one of the top lobbying posts in Washington.”

STAFFING UP — The White House announced it will nominate Robin Carnahan as GSA administrator.

DESSERT — “Your Pandemic Haircut Is a Hot Mess. Your Barber Is Thrilled.” WSJ: “Home haircuts were a fun novelty at the start of the pandemic, but as restrictions dragged on, those do-it-yourself trims often turned into sad hack jobs. ‘A lot of people couldn’t get to the backs and just did the sides. If they tried to do the back it kind of looks like the map of Maine,’ Mr. Aboura said. Other men, he said, cut the very front of their hair too short but kept the back quite long, leaving them looking ‘like an exotic bird from the Amazon.’

“Sometimes Mr. Aboura has to break the bad news to clients that it will take multiple visits to fix their hair.”

TRANSITIONS — Jonathan Becker is now a partner in Mayer Brown’s public policy, regulatory and political law practice. He most recently was at Greenberg Traurig and is an Amy Klobuchar alum. … Lisa Osborne Ross will be U.S. CEO of Edelman. She previously was U.S. COO and head of the Washington office. … Layla Zaidane will be president and CEO of the Millennial Action Project. She previously was executive director and COO. …

Former FEMA Administrator and acting DHS Secretary Peter Gaynor has joined LiRo Engineers to head a new consulting practice for national resilience response and recovery programs. Jade Floyd will be SVP of comms and public affairs at Global Strategy Group. She most recently has been VP of comms at the Case Impact Network and Revolution. … Blank Rome Government Relations is adding Don Norden, Katie Kachel, David Tennent and Snjezana Arthur as principals and Keith Hartwell and Richard Sherman as senior advisers.

ENGAGED — Emilie Munson, Washington correspondent for Hearst Newspapers, and Brandon Cushman, who will start his orthopedics medical residency in June, recently got engaged. They met at a birthday party while attending Middlebury College.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Kaitlan Collins … POLITICO’s Daniel Lippman, Maggie Severns and Fernando RodasJerry BrownMitch Daniels … Cavalry’s Josh Holmes … Insider’s Darren Samuelsohn … Reps. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) and Troy Nehls (R-Texas) … FWD.us’ Todd SchulteBill McQuillen of BCW … CNN’s Noah Gray, Evan Simko-Bednarski and Brad ParksMichael MeehanRene RedwoodAlyssa HackbarthMeghan GreenMike AbboudEric Walker John Caddock, legislative director for Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) … HuffPost’s Paige Lavender … Giffords’ Brandi PorterKatie BaileyMichael Ciamarra of the Senate Appropriations GOP staff … Tom LehnerAlan HoffmanSara CroomDaniel EllsbergTom Snedeker of the Herald Group … Oren JacobsonRichard Reyes-GavilanDeborah Scranton … CACI’s Greg HellmanAli SweeWoodham KemmerAleesa MannJessica ChasmarEugene Kiely … former Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) … Valerie NelsonDana GrayJimmy WilliamsCollin HansenFabiola Rodriguez-CiampoliAnnalise Myre … Mother Jones’ Jeremy Schulman Cliff HackelBob EitelHodding Carter III (86)

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