POLITICO Playbook PM: Pelosi and McCarthy trade shots over Covid bill

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NEW THIS AFTERNOON: President JOE BIDEN will sign the Covid relief bill at 1:30 p.m. in the Oval Office, with VP KAMALA HARRIS attending. Press secretary JEN PSAKI’S briefing has been pushed to 2 p.m. … RON KLAIN (@WHCOS): “The enrolled bill arrived last night — so @POTUS is signing it today — we want to move as fast as possible. We will hold our celebration of the signing on Friday, as planned, with Congressional leaders!” New White House site selling the bill and helping people navigate benefits

LADY BYRD — Speaker NANCY PELOSI knocked Senate Parliamentarian ELIZABETH MACDONOUGH in her press conference this morning, calling her the “Byrd lady” for enforcing the chamber’s Byrd rule. That’s the procedure that bars lawmakers from putting extraneous policies without a significant fiscal impact in reconciliation bills — in this case, axing the minimum wage from Biden’s pandemic package, which Pelosi wanted to include.

— Pelosi also teased the GOP for talking about anything BUT pandemic relief because they’re on the wrong side of the issue with voters, according to recent polling. “I guess their Dr. Seuss approach didn’t work, so they’ve had to change the subject.”

Minutes before House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY’s weekly presser, her office also sent out an email prodding reporters to “Ask McCarthy: How scared are you of talking about the American Rescue Plan?”

— Pelosi also threw shade at the GOP on infrastructure. The issue, she said, “has always been bipartisan for us” — though to be fair, that’s not exactly the case now because the package will include other progressive priorities, too. Pelosi said she hopes the GOP will work with them but predicted they won’t — then will try to claim credit for some of its popular provisions: “They’ll vote no and take the dough — and show up at the ribbon cutting.”

MCCARTHY VOLLEYS BACK: The minority leader wasted little time in his presser sniping back at Pelosi on Covid relief, arguing that the Dems’ bill was chock full of “state bailouts” and “payoff[s] for Pelosi’s political allies.” “It pays people more to stay home than go back to work,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also noted that back in 2009, BARACK OBAMA’S stimulus was fairly popular at first until … it wasn’t. By the time the midterms came around, McCarthy said, “More people thought Elvis was alive than the stimulus created a job.” That, however, wasn’t in the middle of a massive pandemic that has killed more than a half-million Americans.

— McCarthy also announced that he’s going to the border next week, part of a GOP strategy to shift the nation’s attention from pandemic relief to illegal border crossings. DONALD TRUMP, we all know, used this to appeal to his base. McCarthy seems to be making the same calculation.

UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS legislation for gun purchases passed the House this morning 227-203, though it’s likely going nowhere in the Senate anytime soon. One Democrat voted no, while eight Republicans voted yes. The House also passed a bill to close the so-called Charleston loophole 219-210.

Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL today issued a blistering prebuttal to Biden’s bill signing and primetime address, calling the legislation “a multitrillion-dollar Trojan horse full of bad, old liberal ideas.” He dismissed Dems’ attempts to take credit on the pandemic response: “President Biden and his Democratic government inherited a tide that had already begun to turn toward decisive victory. … Democrats just want to sprint in front of the parade and claim credit.”

McConnell also blasted HHS Secretary nominee XAVIER BECERRA as “a thoroughly partisan actor with so little subject matter expertise and such a demonstrated history of hostility toward basic values like the freedom of conscience.” But McConnell may have missed the train on this one: Today Sens. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) and SUSAN COLLINS (R-Maine) announced their support for Becerra, all but assuring he’ll go through. The Senate advanced his nomination by a 51-48 vote this afternoon.

MORE ON TONIGHT’S ADDRESS — “Biden has a recovery bill to sell and history to avoid repeating,” by Christopher Cadelago and Natasha Korecki: “Already, the president has been touting the measure, tweeting that ‘better days lie ahead,’ while his White House promoted announcements from Amtrak and American Airlines that furloughed employees will be brought back or not have their work interrupted.

“For veterans of prior Democratic administrations, the aggressive sales job is a welcome change from the past, when the party often seemed to think major legislation would sell itself. But they warned that Biden needs to strike an appropriate balance, lest his new administration come off as out-of-touch with those who feel left behind or are struggling to cope with the lingering effects of the year-long pandemic.”

THE UNEMPLOYMENT PICTURE — “U.S. jobless claims fall to 712,000 as pace of layoffs eases,” AP

JOIN US! Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in New York in almost two decades. Rep. LEE ZELDIN (R-N.Y.), an ally of Trump, is among the Republicans considering a challenge against embattled Gov. ANDREW CUOMO. Join TARA and RYAN for a conversation with Zeldin at 9 a.m. on March 18 for a discussion on his potential 2022 gubernatorial run, working with Democrats in Congress and more. Register here

SHARING THE CREDIT — “Slavitt: I would ‘tip my hat’ to Trump’s Operation Warp Speed,” by Ben Leonard: “Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to the White House’s Covid team, on Thursday credited the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed for spurring the development of a Covid vaccine at an unprecedented pace. ‘We’re grateful for the work that came before us and are doing the best we can to continue it and accelerate it,’ Slavitt said on Fox News.”

TACKLING POVERTY — “With Relief Plan, Biden Takes on a New Role: Crusader for the Poor,” NYT: It “represents an evolution for Mr. Biden, who spent much of his 36 years in Congress concentrating on foreign policy, judicial fights, gun control and criminal justice issues by virtue of his committee chairmanships in the Senate. For the most part, he ceded domestic economic policy to others.

“But aides say he has embraced his new role. Mr. Biden has done so in part by following progressives in his party to the left and accepting the encouragement of his inner circle to use Democratic power to make sweeping rather than incremental change. He has also been moved by the inequities in pain and suffering that the pandemic has inflicted on the poorest Americans, aides say.”

VOTING BLOCKS … STUNNING LEDE: “How GOP-backed voting measures could create hurdles for tens of millions of voters,” by WaPo’s Amy Gardner, Kate Rabinowitz and Harry Stevens: “The GOP’s national push to enact hundreds of new election restrictions could strain every available method of voting for tens of millions of Americans, potentially amounting to the most sweeping contraction of ballot access in the United States since the end of Reconstruction, when Southern states curtailed the voting rights of formerly enslaved Black men, a Washington Post analysis has found.”

— BUT, BUT, BUT: “As GOP lawmakers look to pass new voting restrictions, some conservatives are pushing back,” Yahoo: “[S]ome Republicans believe making it harder to vote will actually backfire at a time when the GOP base is becoming more diverse and dependent on working-class voters.”

THE WFH WHITE HOUSE — “When Your West Wing Job Is Really, Really Far From the Oval Office,” NYT: “During the power crisis in Texas after a winter storm that left millions without heat or electricity, [Emmy] Ruiz’s house in Austin lacked water for days. … More than seven weeks after President Biden took office, White House staff members are working from California, Puerto Rico, Texas and elsewhere around the country, a striking indication of the strange reality of building a new administration during a pandemic …

“Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, has met her chief of staff only on a video screen. Some officials working from afar said they hoped to move to Washington by the summer, but they have no firm plans to do so. Anne Filipic, Mr. Biden’s director of management and administration, said there were ‘no immediate plans’ to bring a full staff back to the White House.”

BORDER TALES — “Hundreds of minors are crossing the border each day without their parents. Who are they?” WaPo: “HHS statistics show that 70 percent of unaccompanied minors are male, and that about 75 percent are ages 15 to 17. Teenagers making the journey are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and force recruitment by gangs, smugglers and predators. Sexual assault is common. … Most unaccompanied minors cross the border into the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Some try to evade capture after crossing, but most seek out U.S. border agents to begin the process of making a humanitarian claim.”

THE GANG’S … ALMOST ALL HERE: Former Presidents JIMMY CARTER, BILL CLINTON, GEORGE W. BUSH and BARACK OBAMA joined forces for a PSA encouraging Americans to get the vaccine — and showing themselves receiving it. Missing from the picture, even as polls show white Republicans are the most vaccine-skeptical subgroup: DONALD TRUMP, who got vaccinated in secret in January. The video

PPP PROGRESS — “House lawmakers strike bipartisan deal to extend small business loan program,” by Zachary Warmbrodt: “The deal struck by House Small Business Chair Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), the committee’s top Republican, would delay the PPP’s loan application deadline to May 31. It would also give the Small Business Administration authority to continue processing pending applications for 30 days after that date.”

LATEST IN MINNEAPOLIS — “Judge OKs 3rd-degree murder charge for Chauvin in Floyd death,” Minneapolis Star Tribune

THINK TANK TRIBULATIONS — “A war over Russia has erupted at the Atlantic Council,” by Daniel Lippman: “In a very rare public battle at a prominent Washington, D.C. think tank, almost two dozen employees and fellows at the Atlantic Council have issued a statement slamming two of their colleagues for writing what they see as a pro-Russia article on the think tank’s website.

“Emma Ashford and Mathew Burrows, two senior experts at the Atlantic Council, on Friday published an article that said the U.S. should not focus on human rights in its dealings with Russia and wrote that ‘democratization in Russia would not necessarily be good for US foreign policy interests.’ … [Staffers] worried the article was, or might be viewed as, a shoddy work product influenced by a $4.5 million donation over five years to the Atlantic Council from Charles Koch.”

JAN. 6 FALLOUT — “Fortress DC: Frustration mounts as lawmakers wrestle with unending Capitol security,” CNN: “Members of Congress have sought clarity from US Capitol Police and the Pentagon as to why the deployment of Guard troops was extended this week through May but have not been given a clear explanation, according to a source familiar with the outreach.

“The current understanding, the source told CNN, is that US Capitol Police does not have the staffing to provide security post-January 6 even with a reduced threat, so the National Guard is bridging the gap. … The long-term security posture at the Capitol itself is the first of a host of politically thorny issues lawmakers will have to tackle, and if their current sentiment is any indication, it will not be an easy debate.”

IRAN WATCH — “Impasse Over Iran Nuclear Talks Sets Off International Scramble to Save Accord,” NYT: “Mr. Biden … appears torn between allies in Europe and critics in Congress over broadening the nuclear accord to also limit Iran’s ballistic missiles program and its support for proxy militias across the Middle East.

“Though many senior administration officials had negotiated the nuclear deal while working for President Barack Obama, and still support it, they also say they are unwilling to compromise further — particularly as Iran persistently tests Mr. Biden’s limits. … Iran’s leaders have warned that expanding the accord is a nonstarter, and European diplomats worry that broaching it in the delicate negotiations will scuttle the entire effort.”

ANTITRUST THE PROCESS — “Congress Eyes Antitrust Changes to Counter Big Tech, Consolidation,” WSJ: “Congress is considering the most significant changes to antitrust law in decades, including some proposals with bipartisan support. Lawmakers are looking at setting a higher bar for acquisitions by companies that dominate their markets; making it easier for the government to challenge anticompetitive conduct; and potentially forcing some giant tech companies to separate different lines of their businesses.

“For these measures to become law, lawmakers will have to move beyond their general unease with dominant companies — particularly in the tech sector — and navigate constituencies that don’t agree on whether antitrust law needs a major overhaul or targeted changes.”

MEDIAWATCH — Elizabeth Kennedy will be White House editor at the NYT. She most recently has been deputy Washington bureau chief at the AP. Announcement

STAFFING UP — The White House announced it plans to nominate Nellie Liang, Lily Batchelder, Ben Harris and Jonathan Davidson for undersecretary or assistant secretary roles at Treasury.

TRANSITIONS — Damon Effingham is joining RepresentUS as director of federal reform. He previously was senior legislative counsel to Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.). … Austin Cook will be comms director for Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.). He previously was comms director for the North Carolina Democratic Party. …

Rep. Andy Biggs’ (R-Ariz.) deputy chief of staff, Daniel Stefanski, and legislative director, Cesar Ybarra, are leaving his office. Stefanski will work for Arizona A.G. Mark Brnovich, and Ybarra will be senior director of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks.

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