WHO TULSI GABBARD MET WITH IN SYRIA — Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s trip to Syria has been shrouded in mystery. The junket was supposed to be funded by a group in Ohio, but Gabbard repaid the non-profit after she came under intense political pressure about the trip and meeting Syrian strongman Bashar Assad. Gabbard filed an amended report yesterday with the Ethics Committee detailing her week-long jaunt to the Middle East. Keep in mind: Congress approved this itinerary before Gabbard scheduled her meeting with Assad. Also keep in mind: This is a junior member of the House, a chamber that has little say in foreign policy.
— SHE MET WITH ASSAD TWICE FOR AT LEAST TWO HOURS: The first thing Gabbard did within 45 minutes of arriving in Damascus is meet with Assad, a leader whose regime was recently accused of hanging 13,000 people in one prison alone. She met with him for another half-hour after spending a few days in the country. She also met with Asma Assad, the British-born wife of the Syrian president, Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, Bashar Ja’Afri, the Syrian ambassador to the U.N., and Ali Abdul Karim, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon. She met with academic and business leaders, who she declined to name, members of parliament, religious leaders and people who escaped ISIS-controlled areas. In Lebanon, Gabbard met with Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri and U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richards.
— SHE FLEW BUSINESS CLASS: Gabbard flew from Dulles to London and from London to Beirut — and back — in business class. See the itinerary for yourself http://bit.ly/2ltW7n5
WHY CONGRESS WILL BE JAMMED UP — If feelings in the Senate remain this contentious, business will remain slow and keeping government functioning will be nearly impossible this year. Consider this week. Republicans will have ended four contentious confirmation battles: Betsy DeVos as Education secretary, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to be HHS secretary and Steve Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary.
But the following positions remain unfilled: Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, EPA, HUD, Interior, Labor, Small Business, Veterans Affairs, OMB, director of national intelligence and U.S. trade representative. This could slow the Senate down for weeks, if not months. So the process will continue to be gummed up. President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can complain all they want about the tactics — but Democrats can scream “MERRICK GARLAND,” reminding them they did the same to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.
DEMOCRATS ARE UNDER INTENSE PRESSURE from their base to oppose Trump, his policies and nominees — a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll showed this week that more than half of Democrats want Democratic lawmakers to stand up against Republicans. Only time will tell if that calculation proves politically fruitful. But if Democrats continue to delay nominations, they will also slow the GOP agenda. Republicans will have to keep government funding by April 28, lift the debt ceiling by the spring or summer and pass a supplemental spending bill that will include billions for the Pentagon and Trump’s border wall. Those three items could be incredibly time consuming. On the House side, there will be delays as well. House Republicans will be especially eager to load up spending bills with policy provisions advancing their agenda — they tried, but mostly failed, to do that during the Obama presidency. Put quite simply, don’t get your hopes up. The prospects for quick action on Obamacare, tax reform and infrastructure look bleak.
CASE IN POINT — “Durbin demands Senate hearings on Trump’s immigration orders,” by Seung Min Kim: “A top Senate Democrat is calling on Republicans to hold hearings into the trio of controversial immigration executive orders from President Donald Trump. In a new letter being released Thursday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) to examine the series of executive actions, including the order focused on refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority nations that are on hold, for now, by the courts. The two veteran senators are the new leaders of the Senate subcommittee on immigration for the 115th Congress.” http://politi.co/2k6dnSk … The letter http://politi.co/2lnrOSd
INSIDE MCCONNELL’S THINKING ON WARREN — While there has been a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking about whether McConnell made a smart move in stopping Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) floor speech this week, at least one source familiar with McConnell’s thinking said it shouldn’t be that surprising that the Kentucky Republican forced the issue on Senate decorum and rules. “The fact that she was warned, ignored it, and continued on long enough for someone to come down and object is why it fell on her,” the source said. “He clearly knew it would elevate her and I’m sure he doesn’t mind having her be the face of obstruction but it was probably more institutional than anything.”
SCOTUS WATCH — NYT A1, “Supreme Court Nominee Calls Trump’s Attacks on Judiciary ‘Demoralizing’,” by Julie Hirschfeld Davis: “Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, privately expressed dismay on Wednesday over Mr. Trump’s increasingly aggressive attacks on the judiciary, calling the president’s criticism of independent judges ‘demoralizing’ and ‘disheartening.’ … Judge Gorsuch expressed his disappointment with Mr. Trump’s comments about the judiciary in a private conversation with Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, as he paid courtesy calls on Capitol Hill to build support for his confirmation.” http://nyti.ms/2kpC0VY
SCOOP — “CIA Memo: Designating Muslim Brotherhood Could ‘Fuel Extremism’: An agency report warns the Trump administration risks driving Muslims into the arms of al Qaeda and ISIS,” by Blake Hounshell and Halley Toosi: “Trump administration officials pushing to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization face at least one significant obstacle: analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency. CIA experts have warned that so labeling the decades-old Islamist group ‘may fuel extremism’ and damage relations with America’s allies, according to a summary of a finished intelligence report for the intelligence community and policymakers that was shared with POLITICO by a U.S. official. The document, published internally on Jan. 31, notes that the Brotherhood—which boasts millions of followers around the Arab world—has ‘rejected violence as a matter of official policy and opposed al-Qa’ida and ISIS.’” http://politi.co/2kRDyvn
SEND YOUR RESUME TO REINCE! — “Trump struggling to fill one of the worst jobs in Washington,” by Eliana Johnson: “The White House has gone without a full-time communications director since Trump was sworn in last month, and although chief of staff Reince Priebus is spearheading a robust effort to fill the position, his overtures to several Republican communications professionals have been met with disinterest, according to a half-dozen sources with knowledge of the situation. At least two candidates have turned down the job, a position normally coveted by Washington political operatives … Trump’s unusual involvement in crafting his own message — and his insistence on doing so from his perch in the West Wing — poses a challenge for any aide whose responsibility it would be to shape the narrative arc of his administration. ‘There is a list of candidates, but I can see why people aren’t interested. It’s a tough job,’ said a senior administration official. … [Steve] Bannon has also privately dispatched one of his aides, Julia Hahn, to push stories into the news — in effect directing a communications shop that, at least in the administration’s early days, has been operating on a parallel track.” http://politi.co/2kKOMPW
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION DEPARTURE LOUNGE — KIRON SKINNER started as a senior adviser at the State Department late last month but then turned in her badge and vanished from Foggy Bottom only a few days after she started, according to sources who spoke to Daniel and Nahal Toosi. There was buzz that Skinner, an acolyte of former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, was going to be director of policy planning at State. She’s a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon. Neither Skinner nor State responded to requests for comment.
HAPPENING TODAY — SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch is slated to meet with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
AT THE WHITE HOUSE TODAY — President Donald Trump is hosting 10 senators at the White House today for a meeting to discuss Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. THE SENATORS ATTENDING: Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “Judge Gorsuch has an impeccable record, and is widely respected for his judicial temperament and adherence to the Constitution,” White House spokesman Steven Cheung said in an email to Playbook. “President Trump wants to keep an open dialogue with Senators from both sides of the aisle to ensure that Judge Gorsuch has fair consideration during the nomination process.”
— Airlines and airport CEOs slated to meet with Trump today: A4A President and CEO Nick Calio; Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines; Brad Tilden, chairman and CEO, Alaska Airlines; William Flynn, president and CEO, Atlas Air; Dave Bronczek, president and COO, FedEx; Robin Hayes, president and CEO, JetBlue Airways; Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO, Southwest Airlines; Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines; Myron Gray, president of US Operations, UPS; Kevin Burke, president & CEO, Airports Council International – North America; William Vanecek, director of Aviation, Buffalo International Airport (current Chair of ACI-NA); Deborah Flint, executive director, Los Angeles World Airports; Ginger Evans, commissioner, Chicago Department of Aviation; Jack Potter, president and CEO, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority; Pat Foye, executive director, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Joe Lopano, CEO, Tampa International Airport; Rob Wigington, president & CEO, Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority.
PLAYBOOK INBOX – From Trump Hotels with the subject line “Introducing Trump Vancouver!”: “We’re proud to introduce Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver. Featuring sweeping views of the Vancouver city lights, plus more! … Mott 32 Chinese fine-dining … The Trump Champagne Lounge … Coming Soon: Drai’s Vancouver, the city’s first ever poolside lounge … The Spa by Ivanka TrumpTM”. http://bit.ly/2lr8MGz
INSIDE THE FOUR SEASONS – “Power breakfast at the Four Seasons: Political players, CEOs, and Ivanka: The first daughter schmoozed her way around the hotel’s restaurant guided by new White House economic counselor Dina Powell,” by Annie Karni: Ivanka’s “appearance in the crowded restaurant marked something of her official Washington launch in neutral, bipartisan territory: an outsider from midtown Manhattan announcing to the establishment that she’s serious about her new hometown. But the closely watched first daughter—the only member of President Donald Trump’s immediate family to have followed him to D.C. — isn’t doing it alone. Joining her with Nooyi and Pepsi senior vice president Jon Banner was Dina Powell, the well-connected former George W. Bush administration official who recently left her job overseeing corporate philanthropy at Goldman Sachs to join the Trump White House, where she officially started working last week.” http://politi.co/2lucRdW
SNEAK PEEK – Bloomberg Businessweek’s new cover story, “Is Trump’s nominee for Labor, Andrew Puzder, yet another reason for American workers to worry? YES,” by Susan Berfield and Craig Giammona: The story “looks at Puzder’s business ideology of free markets, free trade, and zero-sum, trickle-down economics; his self-described ‘very American’ marketing vision of scantily clad models eating massive burgers; CKE’s labor violations and stalled business model; and Puzder’s opposition to a sizable increase to the minimum wage. … Puzder has teased competitors, casually denigrated the workforce he relies on, and rallied customers with an anti-PC snubbing of the ‘quinoa-eating elite.’ Now he’s steps away from controlling the department that’s responsible for enforcing 180 laws and thousands of regulations that affect 125 million people.” http://buswk.co/AndrewPuzder
USED NEWS — “Alongside Trump, Intel Reannounces Arizona Factory It Promised To Create During Obama Years,” by BuzzFeed’s Hamza Shaban: Yesterday marked “the second time Intel has announced Fab 42 alongside a sitting U.S. President. In February of 2011, the company announced Fab 42 during a visit to an Intel facility by President Obama. At that time it said the facility would ‘create thousands of construction and permanent manufacturing jobs,’ with a scheduled completion date in 2013.” http://bzfd.it/2kpvYVg … 2-min. video of yesterday’s announcement http://bit.ly/2kpsIcQ
PAGING NEWT — “Trump’s space war,” by Bryan Bender: “The Trump administration is considering a bold and controversial vision for the U.S. space program that calls for a ‘rapid and affordable’ return to the moon by 2020, the construction of privately operated space stations and the redirection of NASA’s mission to ‘the large-scale economic development of space,’ according to internal documents obtained by POLITICO. The proposed strategy, whose potential for igniting a new industry appeals to Trump’s business background and job-creation pledges, is influencing the White House’s search for leaders to run the space agency. And it is setting off a struggle for supremacy between traditional aerospace contractors and the tech billionaires who have put big money into private space ventures.” http://politi.co/2lr5SBt
DEMS STILL DISSECTING LOSS — “Obama’s party-building legacy splits Democrats,” by Gabriel Debenedetti: “A painful Democratic rift over Barack Obama’s political legacy is finally bursting into the open. For years, the former president’s popularity among Democrats stifled any public critiques of his stewardship of the party — a period in which the party suffered tremendous losses at the state and local levels. But now that Obama and the political operation that succeeded his campaign, Organizing For Action, have expressed interest in playing a role in the task of rebuilding, it’s sparking pitched debates over how much blame he deserves for the gradual hollowing out of a party that now has less control of state elected positions than at any other time in nearly a century.” http://politi.co/2kuYwPZ
TOP ED — JESSE FERGUSON in HuffPost, “The Resistance Is Not Futile”: “There are 52 Republican members of the Senate and 240 Republican members of the House of Representatives. They see this resistance mounting, and they rightfully fear for their job security. Every time the phone rings from a constituent, they feel their odds of re-election waning.” http://huff.to/2kKO98W
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK – VoteVets is endorsing South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg for DNC chairman. Buttigieg is a Navy veteran. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also endorsed Buttigieg earlier this week (http://politi.co/2lkgplR).
2018 WATCH — “Carly Fiorina confirms it: she is considering challenging Sen. Tim Kaine,” by WaPo’s Jenna Portnoy: “Carly Fiorina, the former GOP presidential candidate, is considering challenging Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) next year. Her comments on a Portsmouth-based radio show popular among party activists marks the first time that the Fairfax resident has spoken publicly about getting back into politics since the November election. ‘I’m certainly looking at that opportunity,’ she told host John Fredericks on Tuesday about a Senate bid. ‘It’s a little early to be making that decision.’” http://wapo.st/2k6Lc0w
INTERESTING READ — IN THE FT — “CIA’s man in Syria: the rise and fall of a rebel commander: Once a ‘fixer’ for anti-Assad forces, covert operator comes to terms with failed US policy,” by Erika Solomon. http://on.ft.com/2kWqXH8
BUSINESS BURST — “Companies Plow Ahead With Moves to Mexico, Despite Trump’s Pressure,” by WSJ’s Andrew Tangel in Indianapolis: “President Donald Trump boosted the hopes of employees at Rexnord Corp.’s factory here in December when he castigated the company for ‘viciously firing’ workers and planning to move their jobs to Mexico. Two months later, Rexnord is still planning to close the industrial-bearings factory, which employs about 350 people, despite Mr. Trump’s shaming and his earlier intervention to stop a nearby Carrier Corp. furnace factory from closing. … Milwaukee-based Rexnord is one of many companies plowing ahead with plans to invest in Mexico despite Mr. Trump’s vows to cajole companies into keeping their assembly lines in the U.S. Some, including heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. and steelmaker Nucor Corp., are overseen by officials who belong to a panel advising Mr. Trump on manufacturing policy. Executives at Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar are moving ahead with a restructuring that includes shifting jobs from a Joliet, Ill., factory to Monterrey, Mexico.” http://on.wsj.com/2lrbn38
SALLY QUINN’S HAMPTONS HOUSE FOR SALE — “Grey Gardens Goes on the Market for Nearly $20 Million,” by WSJ’s Candace Taylor: “Grey Gardens, the East Hampton home that inspired a documentary, an HBO movie and a Broadway musical, is going on the market for the first time in decades with an asking price of $19.995 million. The seller is journalist Sally Quinn, who said she purchased the roughly 6,000-square-foot shingle-style home for $220,000 in 1979. She and her late husband Ben Bradlee, the longtime executive editor of the Washington Post, restored the then-crumbling house for an estimated $600,000 and used it for years as a summer home, Ms. Quinn said. Mr. Bradlee died in 2014 at age 93, and when Ms. Quinn, 75, returned to the property, ‘it just wasn’t the same without him,’ she said. ‘It’s a magical place and we had a magical life there, but that part of my life is over now. I want to move on.’” With 21 pix http://on.wsj.com/2ltPZLh
GET READY TO PARTY LIKE IT’S 1999 — “Melania Trump picks her social secretary,” by Nolan D. McCaskill: “First lady Melania Trump’s has chosen Anna Christina Niceta Lloyd to be her social secretary, the White House announced Wednesday. In that role, Niceta Lloyd ‘will be responsible for the planning and execution of events that take place at the White House,’ the administration said in a statement. ‘She will oversee all social events and gatherings, from Official State Dinners, White House social calendar events, official policy-related events, to the First Lady’s initiatives.’ ‘Rickie,’ as Niceta Lloyd is known, ‘brings with her over twenty-two years of solid diplomatic, political and social entertaining experience,’ Trump said. ‘I am looking forward to sharing my ideas and traditions of entertaining and social hospitality to America’s house, my new home as well. That, along with Rickie’s vast experience, I am even more excited.’” http://politi.co/2kVQznk
BEYOND THE BELTWAY — “The Next American Farm Bust Is Upon Us,” by WSJ’s Jesse Newman and Patrick McGroarty in Ransom, Kansas: “The Farm Belt is hurtling toward a milestone: Soon there will be fewer than two million farms in America for the first time since pioneers moved westward after the Louisiana Purchase. Across the heartland, a multiyear slump in prices for corn, wheat and other farm commodities brought on by a glut of grain world-wide is pushing many farmers further into debt. Some are shutting down, raising concerns that the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s. The U.S. share of the global grain market is less than half what it was in the 1970s. American farmers’ incomes will drop 9% in 2017 … extending the steepest slide since the Great Depression into a fourth year.” http://on.wsj.com/2k5YJup
MEDIAWATCH – “Wall Street Journal editor to face critics,” by Joe Pompeo: “Amid growing newsroom discontent over his perceived resistance to critical coverage of Donald Trump, Wall Street Journal editor in chief Gerry Baker will host a town hall meeting next week where he is expected to address the paper’s reporting on the new administration and answer questions from his staff. The meeting … scheduled for Monday, February 13, is billed as a wide-ranging session on the state of the Journal, but Trump coverage is expected to be high on the list of discussion topics.” http://politi.co/2kRnI3P
LATE-NIGHT BEST — JAKE TAPPER interviewed by Stephen Colbert last night on “The Late Show” — 8-min. video http://bit.ly/2k6ckSs
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK – JEN PSAKI, former comms director for President Obama, has signed with Worldwide Speakers Group. She’s staying busy as a Georgetown IOP fellow and as a CNN contributor, which just started Tuesday … HEIDI PRZYBYLA, a USA Today senior politics reporter and a Bloomberg alum, has just signed with MSNBC as a political analyst … SU-LIN CHENG NICHOLS, who has been head of strategic communications for corporate responsibility at JPMorgan Chase, is leaving to launch a communications firm, Lafayette Strategies. Nichols is an alum of Brunswick Group and ABC News.
TRANSITIONS — Anastasia Dellaccio has started at WeWork as the director of public affairs for the eastern U.S. and Canada. She was the co-founder of Foreign Policy Professionals for Hillary Clinton after her work with Sister Cities International. … Chrissy Harbin is taking over as vice president of external affairs at Americans for Prosperity. Harbin formerly served as their director of federal affairs. She previously was at ALEC and the White House National Economic Council under former President George W. Bush. … The Raben Group hired Ryan Daniels as a director. He was previously associate director of communications for the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Obama White House. Damara Catlett was promoted to principal and Eduardo Soto has been promoted to director. http://politi.co/2lr1jHB
PLAYBOOK INBOX — “Former Trump Senior Economic Adviser Stephen Moore joins 32 Advisors as a Strategic Partner.” http://prn.to/2kpLvVl
BIRTHWEEK (was Monday): WaPo’s Richard Cohen
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Audrey Scagnelli, GOP Convention national press secretary turned entrepreneur, celebrating by enjoying her hometown’s best rum cake with friends and family in Miami tonight — read her Playbook Plus Q&A: http://politi.co/2k6jAgQ
BIRTHDAYS: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is 6-0 … CNN’s Manu Raju … Roger Mudd is 89 … former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) is 71 … Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is 65 … Alex Priest, chief of staff for marketing at Uber, is 28 (hat tip: Chris Golden) … L.A. Times alum Abbe Goldman … Nancy Reynolds Bagley … Larry Rasky, P.R. guru at the newly branded Rasky Partners (http://bit.ly/2kL3Gpo) and a Deadhead and Biden whisperer … Politico’s Kristen Hayford is 28 … Judy Kaplan — mother of Jonathan, Justin and Jordan … Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) is 47 … former Rep. Renee Elmers (R-NC) is 53 … former Rep. Gary Franks (R-Conn.) is 64 (h/t daughter Jessica of Halliburton) … Anna Perina, managing to not get carded the night before her birthday (h/t CAP Action War Room) … Carly Abenstein, account executive at Ruder Finn and Obama WH alum … Boris Zilberman, deputy director of congressional relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is 33 (h/t Jewish Insider) … Public Opinion Strategies senior project director Sam Hofstetter (h/t Charlotte Brown) … Rusty Greiff (h/t Jon Haber) … Van Freeman … Jay Michael Plant … Kelly Lungren, CoS for Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-WVa.) …
… Tom Szold, senior comms advisor for Trump in Iowa, business liaison at PIC, and Carly’s national political director – he’s celebrating with first boss Michael Reilly and his family on Thursday and then with family this weekend (h/t brother Charlie) … Aaron Kraut … Teal Pennebaker … Joe Pinsker, associate editor at The Atlantic … Anne Plummer Flaherty … Gail Huff is 54 … WUSA alum Jessica Doyle, now VP of comms at Etsy … State Department’s Kendra Miller … Lauren McGaughy, state politics reporter for the Dallas Morning News, a Times-Picayune alum and proud Georgetown grad (h/t Ben Chang) … Mike Casca, comms director for Mayor De Blasio … Victoria Suarez-Palomo, senior director of strategic initiatives at Renovate America … Elizabeth Shelton … Dom Bartkus, Democratic pollster and senior director at Penn Schoen Berland … Madison West, senior manager for corporate responsibility at Maximus … Stuart Sweeney, associate at MTS Partners … Adam Caskey … Scott Heiser, DSCC alum … Cameron Colby Thomson … Debbie Hellman … Richard Real … Sam McCabe, DNC director of data services … Elizabeth Shelton … Kayce Ataiyero, director of external affairs at Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office … Berkshires art gallery owner Geoff Young … Jen Kern, biggest Green Bay Packer fan on the East Coast … Neal Higgins … Luther Smith (h/ts Teresa Vilmain) … … Nobel Prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee is 77 … Carole King is 75 … Joe Pesci is 74 … Alice Walker is 73 … Mia Farrow is 72 (h/ts AP)