7 min read

Will McConnell come to the rescue?

Circling back. Plus, photos and notes from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
Will McConnell come to the rescue?
(Gage Skidmore)

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Circling back: RFK Jr.’s polls, McConnell’s deals, and more

Washington is in for a slow start to the week as pols and reporters alike recover from the many parties before and after the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (more on that below). But that means it’s a perfect time to check in on some developing stories and update you on topics I’ve covered in the recent past.

Biden vs. RFK Jr.

Last week, I wrote about Robert Kennedy Jr.’s better-than-expected numbers in Democratic primary polls and sketched out the possible risks for Biden if Kennedy’s polling streak continues.

Not many other news outlets have paid attention, but in the time since my piece, Kennedy’s numbers have only risen. In addition to his 10% from Morning Consult and 14% via Suffolk University, Fox News has now recorded Kennedy at 19% and Emerson College has put him at 21%.

Biden is still between 60% and 70% in all these polls, clearly heavily favored for the nomination. But this sample size of four surveys from well-respected pollsters shows that Kennedy’s support really is firmly in the double-digits among Democratic voters. As I wrote last week, it should be worrying to Biden that such a large chunk of his party is exasperated enough with his presidency to express support for a challenger backed by Alex Jones.

In my original piece, I noted that one state to watch was New Hampshire, where frustration with Biden’s changes to the primary calendar could inspire protest votes for Kennedy. NBC News made an important point on that score: if New Hampshire disregards the new calendar and holds an early primary anyway, the DNC has said it will penalize candidates who participate in the contest.  

That means Biden will likely stay out of the Granite State entirely, forfeiting the vote to Kennedy and Marianne Williamson. Such an outcome wouldn’t net the two challengers many delegates because of the DNC’s sanctions — but it could create an embarrassing result for the president nonetheless.

“While Biden’s campaign would likely shrug off the outcome of contests it didn't even compete in, the situation could be nerve-wracking for ever-anxious Democrats and spark new questions about a bigger-name Democrat challenging Biden,” NBC’s Alex Sietz-Wald wrote. Or, as I called it last week, “Biden’s doomsday scenario.”

DeSantis donor troubles

In a piece titled “The art of the schmooze” last month, I wrote about Ron DeSantis’ difficulties courting the major donors who once seemed poise to bankroll his presumptive presidential campaign.

Stories have continued to come out about DeSantis’ lack of charisma and failure to schmooze the donor set.

New York billionaire and Republican megadonor John Catsimatidis recently went so far as to rule out supporting DeSantis in 2024 because of these issues. “Why would I support somebody to become president of the United States that doesn’t return phone calls?” Catsimatidis told the Washington Examiner.

DeSantis also sat down with 50 British business executives on Friday, and the reviews were pretty dire: “He was horrendous,” one told Politico Europe. “Low-wattage,” another said, while a third said he “looked bored” and “stared at his feet” the entire time. “It felt really a bit like we were watching a state-level politician,” the second business figure said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if [people in attendance] came out thinking ‘that’s not the guy.’”

Meanwhile, there’s at least one big donor DeSantis has made sure to wine-and-dine: Miriam Adelson, Trump’s top donor in 2020. The two had dinner last week while DeSantis was in Israel, per Axios, a revelation that is sure to cause shockwaves in Mar-a-Lago.

Where’s Mitch?

I’ve been thinking recently about a piece I wrote in September, “As goes McConnell,” on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s newfound proclivity for bipartisanship — and his influence over which bipartisan deals have and haven’t gotten done in the Biden era.

It’s been on mind because perhaps the biggest bipartisan deal of the Biden presidency — over the debt ceiling — is waiting to be struck, and McConnell has removed himself entirely from the negotiations.

The Kentucky Republican has insisted that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy should take the lead for the GOP — but will that posturing last? Some Democrats don’t think so, telling Bloomberg last week that they believe McConnell will be central to an eventual debt ceiling agreement.

“What we are all waiting for is Mitch McConnell, someone who cares about the US economy, getting in the room,” Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) said. For now, McConnell clearly sees no upside to getting involved and appears content to wait the crisis out from the sidelines — but considering his history of striking deals with Biden, he’s a figure worth watching as the possibility of default creeps near.

Kevin McCarthy in Israel. (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)

White House: President Biden will promote his economic record and target House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s debt ceiling plan at an event marking National Small Business Week. Later, he will meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines as the island country’s tensions grow with China.

House: The House is on recess this week. McCarthy is using the break to travel to Israel, where he will become the second House speaker in history to address the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) today. The speaker says he is considering returning the favor by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress — even if Biden doesn’t invite Bibi to the White House.

Senate: The Senate is in session, with a vote scheduled today on confirmation of a U.S. circuit court judge. If approved, he will be Biden’s 120th addition to the federal bench.

Supreme Court: As media outlets continue digging up stories of potential impropriety at the court, Justice Samuel Alito told the Wall Street Journal that the conservative justices are facing a campaign of intimidation that has made them “targets of assassination.” Meanwhile, the justices are moving slower in issuing opinions than in any term in the last 100 years; they have two months to decide 75% of the term’s cases.

A branch of First Republic Bank. (Can Pac Swire)

San Francisco: “JPMorgan Chase is buying most assets of First Republic Bank after the nation’s second-largest bank failure ever, in a deal announced early Monday that protects the deposits of First Republic’s customers.” CNN

North Carolina: “The North Carolina Supreme Court has overturned its own past ruling that said partisan gerrymandering is illegal, clearing the way for Republicans there to redraw the state’s congressional lines in a way that heavily favors the GOP.” Politico

Montana: “The Republican governor of Montana, Greg Gianforte, signed a bill into law on Friday to restrict transition care for transgender minors, joining about a dozen states that have adopted similar laws since the beginning of the year.” NYT

Sudan: “More than 100 U.S. citizens finally made it to the safety of a port in Saudi Arabia Monday after evacuating the deadly fighting in Sudan. Some were aboard a second convoy of buses that left Sudan’s battle-scarred capital of Khartoum on Friday, making the 500-mile drive to reach Port Sudan on the country's east coast.” CBS

Vatican: “Pope Francis on Sunday revealed that a secret peace ‘mission’ in Russia’s war in Ukraine was under way, though he gave no details, and said the Vatican is willing to help facilitate the return of Ukrainian children taken to Russia during the war.” AP

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is one of Washington’s stranger rituals, the only place where you can see Chuck Schumer, Chrissy Teigen, Kellyanne Conway, and the “Property Brothers” all in one room.

And... me? I was very kindly invited to the dinner by Roy Wood Jr., the night’s comedic headliner and a WUTP reader. Roy’s set was hilarious — and President Biden was pretty funny too, getting in some well-timed digs at Fox News, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and even his own age.

I’ve watched a lot of those dinners on TV, so it was exciting to be there for the first time and just to bear witness to the unique Washington scene swirling all around me. The night also had some serious moments; it was very impactful to hear Biden and other speakers pay homage to Evan Gershovich and Austin Tice, journalists who remain jailed in Russia and Syria, respectively. “Journalism should not be a crime,” Biden correctly declared.

One photo from the night, of me and Roy Wood Jr.:

And one memorable exchange, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff:

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