TARA WRITES FROM CHEYENNE, Wyo. — When the opportunity arose to fly across the country to see whether a slick-suited, 30-something congressman from Florida could stage a substantial rally in the name of DONALD TRUMP — in the district of a thrice-elected congresswoman with next-level name recognition — I knew I couldn’t resist.
And you know what, MATT GAETZ pulled it off.
On the steps of the Wyoming statehouse Thursday, at least 800 people were chanting “USA! USA!” while the GOP upstart (joined by DONALD TRUMP JR. via phone) blasted the state’s only congresswoman, LIZ CHENEY. It was a pocket-sized crowd compared to an actual Trump rally, but the maskless baby boomers in red MAGA caps emitted that same feverish voltage.
I knew going in this was Trump country, and that Cheney angered his many fans with her vote to impeach him. But I wanted to try to gauge just how deep the anger ran.
My takeaway, after an admittedly short stay and small sample size: If Cheney were up for reelection in 2021 instead of 2022, she’d be in serious trouble.
Honestly, it was hard to find anyone who would defend Cheney — and I really tried to talk to as many people as I could not at the rally. I stopped at a biker bar, a gun shop, a vape shop, a hardware store, a steakhouse, a diner, a dentist’s office and a pawn shop.
It wasn’t easy to get people to talk to me with my mask on. I had to shout many times that I didn’t want to get Covid-19. Some people actually said they wouldn’t speak to me unless I removed my mask.
Mask peeves aside, here’s a sample of what I saw:
— At Harbor Freight Tools, when I uttered the name “Liz Cheney,” an employee behind the cash register hurled a threatening epithet. Then a beefy and tattooed supervisor, Torrey Price, 48, came over mad as hell. His mask hung below his nose when he told me, “I don’t think she spoke for Wyoming.”
Price never votes in primaries but said he will in August 2022 — to oust Cheney. He shared more of his thoughts: the election was stolen, the U.S. Capitol raid was staged, and the number of Covid deaths were grossly inflated. He and his colleague Joe agreed on all of these points, adding that they would not be getting the vaccine.
— At the Outlaw Saloon, I envied the way a recently vaccinated NYT reporter sauntered into the biker bar maskless, when earlier, a middle-aged DJ in a cowboy hat asked me for my credentials. Likely because there were only two masks in the bar — the one on my face and another on a table, with the words “political prisoner” printed in red. The guy who threw down that mask predicted the size of the rally against Cheney, telling me the night before, “I guarantee you there will be 600 people there.” I didn’t believe him.
— At the steakhouse, our comely waitress said “a lot of people are fired up” about Cheney. As a lifelong native of Wyoming, she said Cheney made a grave mistake by not representing the people of her state.
— Lisa Totten, a 47-year-old clerk at City National Pawn, was probably the easiest on Cheney. She sort of remembered her from a parade, but thought Cheney was the mayor. Totten called Trump “embarrassing,” but voted for him anyway because she’s a gun-toting Republican. She said Cheney had “done a good job.” But unfortunately for the congresswoman, Totten has never voted in a primary and said she’s not motivated to vote in the next one.
If there was any doubt this is still Trump’s Republican Party, my time in Cheyenne dispelled it.
— Meanwhile, the Mar-a-Lago confab Thursday between Trump and House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY seemed to go as well as it could have, considering a few weeks earlier one blamed the other for instigating a riot — and in return was dubbed by Trump a very ugly word for a weakling. The two men emerged saying they’re in lockstep heading into the 2022 election cycle, with a GOP takeover of the House within reach.
BIDEN’S FRIDAY — President JOE BIDEN and VP KAMALA HARRIS will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. and get an economic briefing from Treasury Secretary JANET YELLEN at 11 a.m. Biden and Harris will have lunch together at 12:30 p.m. Biden will leave the White House at 1:45 p.m. and arrive at Walter Reed for a visit with wounded soldiers at 2:05 p.m. He’ll return to the White House by 4:10 p.m.
— Press secretary JEN PSAKI will brief at 10 a.m.
THE WHITE HOUSE
— Well, that didn’t take long. One week in, a Biden family member (not named Hunter) is drawing bad press for the president. “‘For Christ’s sake, watch yourself’: Biden warns family over business dealings,” by Natasha Korecki, Theodoric Meyer and Tyler Pager: “Relatives’ money-making ventures, most prominently his son Hunter’s overseas dealings, have long dogged Biden. But it’s taking on a new dimension now that he’s in the White House. …
“Only a week into his presidency, Biden already has had to answer for matters related to his family. A law firm ad promoting Frank Biden’s relationship with the president caused a stir when it ran on Inauguration Day. A federal investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, has invited scrutiny of just how strict a firewall he’ll keep between the White House and the Justice Department. And another of the president’s brothers, James, has previously come under fire for his business dealings.”
— Granted, this is nothing approaching Trump’s four-year war on the mainstream media. But all is not peachy between Biden and the nation’s newspaper of record. Alex Thompson and Theo Meyer with the skinny in Thursday’s Transition Playbook, headlined “Biden to NYT: Drop dead”: “JOE BIDEN and Republicans are united on at least one thing: They can’t stand The New York Times editorial board. The august newspaper of record has long been a popular punching bag for conservatives, but on Thursday morning it was the Biden administration jabbing the Grey Lady, after it published an editorial instructing the president to ‘Ease Up on the Executive Actions.’ …
“JOHN ANZALONE, the Biden campaign’s pollster, told Transition Playbook, ‘It’s tough being so high up in the ivory tower. You can’t really make sound judgment because you can’t see the ground.’”
RELATED — AP: “Biden faces scrutiny over reliance on executive orders”
UP ON CAPITOL HILL
COVID RELIEF LATEST — “‘Betrayed’: Republicans urge Biden to change course on stimulus,” by Burgess Everett, Marianne LeVine and Laura Barrón-López: “When a bipartisan Senate coalition helped clinch a coronavirus relief bill last year after months of gridlock, it was supposed to be a model for governing in the Biden era. But now Democrats’ surprise takeover of the Senate threatens to leave the group behind.”
— Most of the attention in Covid relief talks lately has focused on how far Biden will go to win over Republicans, and whether Democratic centrists like Sen. JOE MANCHIN of West Virginia will get behind a nearly $2 trillion package. But progressives are starting to warn that the president shouldn’t take them for granted as the dealmaking goes down.
To wit: “Jayapal pushes Biden to go further on progressive priorities,” by Ben Leonard: “[Rep. Pramila] Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said at a POLITICO Playbook event Thursday that Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package ‘should be the floor.’ Jayapal argued the package should be between $3 and $4 trillion to meet Americans’ needs.”
— We figured this was only a matter of time: “Lawmakers announce hearings on GameStop and online trading platforms,” TechCrunch: “The GameStop short squeeze saga caught the attention of Congress Thursday morning and that buzz is already panning out into hearings on the topic. … Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, announced plans for an investigation into the situation, pointing to a history of ‘predatory conduct’ from hedge funds.”
— RELATED: “The GameStop Reckoning Was a Long Time Coming,” NYT
COMING ATTRACTION — “RNC invites Trump to speak at spring meeting,” by Alex Isenstadt: “The RNC is also expected to invite other potential 2024 candidates and Republican leaders to the retreat, which is to be held in Palm Beach, Fla., April 9-11.” Playbook sidenote: We’re very curious how the “other potential 2024 candidates” will handle this engagement.
— “Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan won’t run for U.S. Senate next year,” Cleveland Plain Dealer
JAN. 6 FALLOUT
— “Capitol forces plead for permanent barrier as Pelosi warns ‘the enemy is within,’” by Caitlin Emma and Andrew Desiderio: “The Capitol needs permanent fencing and backup forces continuously stationed nearby, the Capitol Police chief said Thursday, immediately sparking objections from lawmakers concerned about creating a fortress that distances the public from the Legislative Branch. …
“D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also said the city ‘will not accept’ permanent fencing or additional security forces ‘being a long-term fixture in D.C.’ … Separately, top Democrats in Congress are calling for extra money to help lawmakers protect themselves.”
— “‘I’m just furious’: Relations crumble in Congress after attack,” by Sarah Ferris and Melanie Zanona: “Some House lawmakers are privately refusing to work with each other. Others are afraid to be in the same room. Two members almost got into a fist fight on the floor. And the speaker of the House is warning that ‘the enemy is within.’ … Forget Joe Biden’s calls for unity. Members of Congress couldn’t be further divided.”
— “Insurrection aftermath: Staffers struggle with trauma, guilt and fear,” Roll Call: “They replay the day in their minds, hear threats when they pick up the phone, and try to keep doing their jobs. … More than a dozen congressional aides and workers within the legislative branch spoke to CQ Roll Call about the anguish of the past few weeks …
“[S]taffers who worked from home on Jan. 6 say they are traumatized too, describing feelings of guilt and helplessness. … Many congressional offices saw a spike in phone calls in the days after the attacks, putting another strain on emotionally drained staffers.”
TRACKER — The U.S. reported 4,011 Covid-19 deaths and 155,000 new coronavirus cases Thursday.
THE CAVALRY — “Pentagon May Send Troops to Assist With Vaccines, Enlarging Federal Role,” NYT: “The Pentagon is considering sending active-duty troops to large, federally run coronavirus vaccine centers, a major departure for the department and the first significant sign that the Biden administration is moving to take more control of a program that states are struggling to manage.
“The Federal Emergency Management Agency is hoping to set up roughly 100 vaccine sites nationwide as early as next month, and on Wednesday night requested that the Pentagon send help to support the effort. The sites, and the use of the military within them, would require the approval of state governments.”
— “Early Data Shows Striking Racial Disparities In Who’s Getting The COVID-19 Vaccine,” NPR: “Slightly more than 6% of American adults have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine — but a disproportionately small number of them are Black and Hispanic people.”
— “Star NY Times Reporter Accused of Using ‘N-Word,’ Making Other Racist Comments,” The Daily Beast: “Less than six months before he became the New York Times’ go-to reporter on the coronavirus pandemic, Donald McNeil Jr. was under intense scrutiny from the paper’s top brass over accusations that he made wildly offensive and racist comments while leading a Times student trip. …
“A photo from the trip showed that at least 26 students participated. Of that group, at least six students or their parents told the tour company that partnered with the Times that McNeil used racially insensitive or outright racist language while accompanying the participants on the trip, which according to the Times website typically costs nearly $5,500. Two students specifically alleged that the science reporter used the ‘n-word’ and suggested he did not believe in the concept of white privilege; three other participants alleged that McNeil made racist comments and used stereotypes about black teenagers.” Read NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet’s memo to staff after the story
— “NBC’s Dilanian Stands By Story Network Retracted Amid Accusations of Anti-Semitism,” The Free Beacon: “The original report, which followed on a similar news story from Mother Jones‘s David Corn, an MSNBC analyst, focused on donations to AIPAC from a family foundation linked to Anne Neuberger, whom Biden has appointed as deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology.”
— “ABC News President James Goldston to Exit in March,” Variety: “[U]nder Goldston’s aegis, the Disney division has punched well above its weight. David Muir has risen to become the nation’s most-watched evening-news anchor … Goldston has also presided over an expansion of the news division … Walt Disney Co. is expected to conduct a wide search for his successor, according to a person familiar with the matter.”
LEFT TO MEDIA: BAN THE 2020 TRUTHERS — Prominent progressive groups this morning are releasing an open letter to the news media asking journalists to deplatform anyone who won’t “publicly concede that the 2020 presidential election was free and fair, and that claims to the contrary are false.” CAP, MoveOn, Media Matters, Common Cause, PFAW and a couple of dozen more signatories are demanding that journalists “should not give a platform to individuals to discuss other policy issues if they won’t adhere to a central fact core to our democracy.” The letter
— SHAFER’S TAKE: We ran this by JACK SHAFER, our media columnist, and he emailed: “If reporters are expected to blackball every politician who takes a boneheaded, dangerous stand on an issue, it won’t be long until the only people left to interview will be a few other journalists and some kids under 15. A hard pass on this one.”
ON THE WORLD STAGE
— “White House shifts from Middle East quagmires to a showdown with China,” by Tyler Pager and Natasha Bertrand: “National security adviser Jake Sullivan has restructured the National Security staff in the Middle East and Asia directorates — downsizing the team devoted to the Middle East and bulking up the unit that coordinates U.S. policy toward the vast region of the world stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. …
“The move, which has not been previously reported, is the latest sign that the new administration will prioritize Asia in its foreign policy initiatives. It reflects China’s rapid rise over the last two decades, and the growing concerns among officials and lawmakers across parties about how Beijing’s authoritarian leaders are wielding their newfound muscle.”
— “Taliban violence raises questions about U.S. troop withdrawal,” AP: “The Pentagon on Thursday said the Taliban’s refusal to meet commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan is raising questions about whether all U.S. troops will be able to leave by May as required under the peace agreement. …
“Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. stands by its commitment for a full troop withdrawal, but the agreement also calls for the Taliban to cut ties with al-Qaida and reduce violence.”
TV TONIGHT — PBS’ “Washington Week,” guest-hosted by Amna Nawaz: Garrett Haake, Weijia Jiang, Sarah Kliff and Anita Kumar.
SUNDAY SO FAR …
“Full Court Press”: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) … Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
“The Sunday Show”: Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) … Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) … Donna Edwards … Susan Molinari.
“Inside Politics”: Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) … Barbara Comstock … Janice Jackson.
“Fox News Sunday”: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). Panel: Guy Benson, Susan Page and Harold Ford Jr. Power Player: Emily Harrington.
“Face the Nation”: Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont … Scott Gottlieb … Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
“America This Week”: Brett Favre … Sarah Norman … Ken Cuccinelli … Daniel Lippman.
“This Week”: Panel: Cecilia Vega, Mary Bruce, Rachel Scott and MaryAlice Parks.
“Meet the Press”: Panel: Al Cardenas, Eddie Glaude Jr., Ashley Parker and Amy Walter.
NARCISSIST NOIR: The trailer for the new LOUISE LINTON movie, “Me You Madness” is out. The Times recently called the movie “a sort of cinematic middle finger to the haters” in which the much-criticized wife of former Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who produced the film, “plays a hyperbolic version of her public image.”
Highlights in the trailer include Linton’s character choking a man — a thief who is her love interest in what’s billed as a “modern romantic comedy” — with a curling iron and stabbing his hand with a broken martini glass.
“There will be people who love it and people who hate it,” Linton told the NYT. “But I don’t care what people say. I’m proud of my little film. It’s a potpourri of silliness.”
The movie is scheduled for a streaming release on Feb. 12.
THE NEW WASHINGTON: This Vogue piece about Harris’ stepdaughter, ELLA EMHOFF, has a lot of people talking about the privilege of presidential and vice presidential family members. We were struck by Emhoff’s Brooklyn hipster aesthetic, which still seems foreign to a lot of official D.C., and the fact that she had not one but two stylists to help create her much-praised Inauguration Day look.
— MORE ELLA NEWS: She also got a modeling contract with uber-prestigious agency IMG. NYT
MEDIAWATCH — USA Today announced its White House team: Courtney Subramanian, Michael Collins, Maureen Groppe, Joey Garrison, Rebecca Morin, Matt Brown and Deborah Berry. David Jackson is becoming national political correspondent, and John Fritze is becoming Supreme Court reporter.
— Mike Viqueira is now D.C. bureau chief for WGN America (which is rebranding to NewsNation on March 1). He most recently was lead Washington writer for “CBS Evening News,” and is an NBC/MSNBC and Al Jazeera alum.
— Guad Venegas is joining NBC News as a correspondent based in Los Angeles. He previously was a correspondent at Noticias Telemundo.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Amanda Loveday is now a senior counselor in Avisa Partners’ Washington office. She’ll remain chief of staff to Unite the Country, the pro-Biden super PAC.
STAFFING UP — Samuel Negatu is joining the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as director of congressional affairs. He previously was legislative director for Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), and is a Matt Cartwright alum.
TRUMP ALUMNI — Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) announced his new D.C. staff, including three big names from the Trump White House: John Rader as chief of staff (previously deputy assistant to the president for strategic initiatives), Judd Deere as deputy chief of staff for comms (previously deputy assistant to the president and deputy W.H. press secretary) and Julia Hahn as senior comms adviser (previously deputy assistant to the president and deputy W.H. comms director). Daniel Lippman on Hagerty’s 13 staffers from Trumpworld
TRANSITIONS — Rebecca Howell has launched 36th Street Strategies, an opposition research, strategic comms and consulting firm. She most recently was deputy director of House research at America Rising. … Zaid A. Zaid is joining the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress as a senior fellow. He currently is on the strategic response policy team at Facebook, and is an Obama White House alum.
PLAYBOOK CRIBS: We’re starting a semi-regular pandemic feature today showcasing the home workspaces of some of our readers. First up is Addisu Demissie, who managed Cory Booker’s presidential campaign and was a senior adviser to the Biden-Harris campaign.
Addisu Demissie, Oakland, Calif.: “We’re having a baby soon, so what used to be our office is now a nursery-in-waiting. A few months ago we moved the desk down to the living room … which does extra duty as our exercise/yoga room and TV room, as you can see. Love the natural light, great for the Zoom calls. Obviously there’s no door or anything like that, which can be weird when Jill” — Addisu’s wife, Jill Habig, who took the picture — “walks by, but people are used to that by now. And I just noticed the pack-and-play, which is just sitting there waiting to be used, and the wine fridge, which gets plenty of use.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Former Speaker Paul Ryan … Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) is 33 … Kim Ghattas … CNN’s Lauren Dezenski … Michael Duga … Brian Donahue, CEO and founder of CRAFT | Media/Digital … Oprah
Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler and producers Allie Bice, Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.