POLITICO Playbook PM: Dems to the White House: Oh, my!

HEY, THIS IS NEW … THE WHITE HOUSE has invited some senior Democrats to the signing of the Abraham Accords — as the administration is referring to the Israel-UAE, Israel-Bahrain normalization deals — on Tuesday. We don’t have the guest logs — nor does anyone — but this would appear to be the first Democrat-mingling this administration has done in some time.

… THAT SAID: The HOUSE PROBLEM SOLVERS CAUCUS — no, still no problems solved quite yet! — is working on the finishing touches of their Covid relief plan. It’s going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 trillion and could have north of $500 billion in new state and local aid. MARK MEADOWS has been read into the plan, and has tacitly encouraged the bipartisan work — as has the Dem leadership. Treasury Secretary STEVEN MNUCHIN mentioned it earlier today — although he said the plan is coming out today, and it isn’t. The reasons we’re giving this ink: It’s the only Covid relief action at the moment, it’s caught the White House’s eye and a handful of lawmakers are talking about it. We don’t expect much here.

!!! … “President Donald Trump’s former top economic adviser said Monday he had not yet decided who he will vote for in November’s presidential election. ‘You know, I honestly haven’t made up my mind,’ Gary Cohn told CNBC in an interview. ‘I’m really eager to see an economic debate between the two of them. I actually vote on issues.’” POLITICO

GARY, MY MAN … You worked for the president. You know what he’s for. You know what he believes in.

TRUMP SPEAKS TO ADELSON’S PAPER … THE PRESIDENT gave an interview to the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, which is owned by casino magnate SHELDON ADELSON: “In exclusive interview, Trump slams Sisolak, defends indoor rally”: “Trump said in his interview with the Review-Journal that he is not afraid of getting the coronavirus from speaking at the indoor rally. ‘I’m on a stage and it’s very far away,’ Trump said. ‘And so I’m not at all concerned.’ ‘I’m more concerned about how close you are, to be honest,’ Trump told a Review-Journal reporter who thought she was socially distanced.” (Steve Sisolak is Nevada’s Democratic governor.)

WOODWARD PUTS A FINER POINT ON IT … “Woodward: ‘The president of the U.S. possessed specific knowledge that could have saved lives,’” by NBC’s Rebecca Shabad: “In an interview with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s ‘TODAY’ show, Woodward said he found out about a briefing the president received from his national security advisers on Jan. 28 about the pandemic coming to the United States and, only a few days later, Trump didn’t share that information in his State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 4, which 40 million people watched.” The interview

SCOOP … DAN DIAMOND: “Democratic lawmakers to investigate Trump officials’ meddling with CDC reports”: “House Democrats are launching an investigation into how Trump appointees have pressured officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change or delay scientific reports on coronavirus, citing POLITICO reporting that found political interference in the publishing process. …

“The Democrats’ investigation focuses on the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, the agency’s long-running series of scientific articles that researchers have looked to for the most current and reliable information on the coronavirus. … Democrats on the House coronavirus subcommittee said they’re moving swiftly to probe Trump appointees’ involvement with the CDC reports, which have traditionally been published without political interference.” POLITICO … The letter

OH MY GOODNESS … NYT’S SHARON LAFRANIERE: “Top Trump Health Aide Attacks Scientists and Warns of Armed Revolt”: “The top communications official at the powerful cabinet department in charge of combating the coronavirus accused career government scientists on Sunday of ‘sedition’ in their handling of the pandemic and warned that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.

“Michael Caputo, 58, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, said without evidence that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was harboring a ‘resistance unit’ determined to undermine President Trump.

“Mr. Caputo, who has faced criticism for leading efforts to warp C.D.C. weekly bulletins to fit Mr. Trump’s pandemic narrative, suggested that he personally could be in danger.

“‘You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,’ Mr. Caputo, a Trump loyalist installed by the White House in April, told followers in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page.”

Good Monday afternoon.

REALLY EXPANDING THE ELECTORAL MAP … NYT: “Life on Venus? Astronomers See a Signal in Its Clouds: The detection of a gas in the planet’s atmosphere could turn scientists’ gaze to a planet long overlooked in the search for extraterrestrial life,” by Shannon Stirone, Kenneth Chang and Dennis Overbye … The new findings

NBC’S @VaughnHillyard: “The White House just announced that the @VP will again visit Arizona on Friday — for two events in Phoenix. POTUS is here this afternoon. There is nothing on the schedule for Biden or Harris in the state — neither has visited Arizona since 2018.”

FYI — “Arizona, Known as a Covid-19 Hot Spot, Starts to Subdue Its Outbreak,” by WSJ’s Allison Prang: “The number of newly reported cases in the state fell 72% in August, compared with a month earlier … Arizona’s apparent turnaround contrasts with what happened in those other hot-spot states …

“Health experts and officials attribute Arizona’s improvement to a host of issues, such as Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision in mid-June to allow cities, towns and counties to enact more restrictive measures, such as mask mandates. He later limited bars to take-out and delivery service and put capacity restrictions on restaurants. Some also say the rural makeup of parts of Arizona might have helped fight the new coronavirus, and that places where the virus was more susceptible to spread were able to fight back.” WSJ

LAWYERING UP — “Biden Creates Legal War Room, Preparing for a Big Fight Over Voting,” by NYT’s Shane Goldmacher: “[T]he campaign billed [it] as the largest election protection program in presidential campaign history. … The new operation will be overseen by Dana Remus, who has served as Mr. Biden’s general counsel on the 2020 campaign, and Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel during the Obama administration who joined the Biden campaign full-time over the summer as a senior adviser.

“Inside the campaign, they are creating a ‘special litigation’ unit, which will be led by Donald B. Verrilli Jr. and Walter Dellinger, two former solicitors general, who are joining the campaign. Hundreds of lawyers will be involved, including a team at the Democratic law firm Perkins Coie, led by Marc Elias, which will focus on the state-by-state fight over vote casting and counting rules. And Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general in the Obama administration, will serve as something of a liaison between the campaign and the many independent groups involved in the legal fight over the election, which is already raging in the courts.”

— CNN: “Mismatched signatures prompt tossed absentee ballots and legal fights ahead of November election,” by Jeremy Herb, Kelly Mena and Ellie Kaufman: “Democrats and Republicans are drawing battle lines across the country over voter signatures for mail-in ballots, with lawsuits over how signatures are evaluated and whether voters can fix ballots that get tossed. President Donald Trump and Republicans are arguing for strict matches, while Democrats are pushing for easier rules letting people prove they are who they say they are, even if their John Hancocks have changed a bit.

“Legal fights over absentee votes aren’t a new phenomenon, but they’ve taken on a newfound importance because of the surge in requests for mail-in ballots and states expanding access to vote-by-mail and, in some cases, conducting elections almost entirely by mail for the first time. The expanded mail-in voting has also led to more ballots being rejected — with signature problems a key factor.”

— “Start of Pennsylvania’s election is on hold because of ballot delay,” by CNN’s Kristen Holmes, Ellie Kaufman and Kelly Mena: “Due to a slew of lawsuits and other issues, the commonwealth, which has drawn intense interest from Democrats and Republicans after June’s disastrous primary, has not finalized its ballot less than eight weeks before Election Day.

“The state’s Democratic Party remains in court battling to keep the Green Party off the ballot. The pending legal dispute has led to a delay in certification of the November ballot, and as a result, all Pennsylvania county election officials who this year could have started offering absentee or mail-in ballots, as well as in-person early absentee voting, starting September 14 are in a holding pattern.” CNN

FROM 30,000 FEET — “Russia is back, wilier than ever — and it’s not alone,” by Mark Scott: “Kremlin-backed operatives are flooding social media with fake accounts and stoking racial divisions around topics like Black Lives Matter. Articles in state-owned Russian media with millions of U.S. readers online seek to dampen Joe Biden’s appeal among progressives and echo President Donald Trump’s unsupported claims about voting fraud.

“At the same time, Russian state-backed hackers are waging cyberattacks … [S]ecurity researchers, former intelligence officials and lawmakers now worry that the Russians may still have a hand they haven’t played. … And the biggest threat this year may be Americans themselves. Many have embraced a deluge of fringe ideas and misinformation to a degree that may dwarf those foreign efforts.” POLITICO

SPOILER ALERT — “Inside Kanye’s Operation to Ratf*ck Biden in Iowa,” by The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay: “Kanye West’s presidential campaign appears to have hired a pair of Republican consultants who have been dogged by allegations of ethically questionable organizing practices over the years.

“The A-list rapper’s political team has brought on Nathan Sproul, a seasoned GOP operative who leads one of the party’s go-to grassroots strategy firms. Sproul, in turn, appears to be working with an obscure GOP operative with a sketchy history of work on Sproul’s behalf to build a get-out-the-vote operation for West in the swing state of Iowa. The previously unreported Iowa organizing operation doesn’t appear to be particularly large or sophisticated. But it shows how a small team of committed Republicans is trying to boost West’s candidacy.”

MUCK READ — “Postal contracts awarded to DeJoy-run company were questioned in 2001 Postal Service audit,” by NBC’s Heidi Przybyla: “A two-decade-old audit of mail equipment transport contracts by the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general found that a company previously run by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was awarded multiple noncompetitive contracts by the Postal Service that may have cost consumers as much as $53 million more than if they’d been competitively bid.” NBC

RACIAL RECKONING — “Progressive Donor Susan Sandler to Give $200 Million to Racial Justice Groups,” by NYT’s Astead Herndon: “Ms. Sandler said her investments would be made through a new organization, the Susan Sandler Fund, aimed at combating systemic racism and building civic power. Ms. Sandler characterized the effort as a shift in her political priorities and giving philosophy. …

“Initial recipients of grants from Ms. Sandler’s fund include several progressive organizations working in battleground states to register new voters from underrepresented groups. The organizations include the Texas Organizing Project, New Virginia Majority, New Florida Majority and the Arizona Center for Empowerment.” NYT … Medium post

FOR YOUR RADAR — “U.S. commander: Intel still hasn’t established Russia paid Taliban ‘bounties’ to kill U.S. troops,” by NBC’s Courtney Kube and Ken Dilanian: “[CENTCOM Commander Gen. Frank] McKenzie’s comments, reflecting a consensus view among military leaders, underscores the lack of certainty around a narrative that has been accepted as fact by Democrats and other Trump critics, including presidential nominee Joe Biden …

“Nonetheless, current and former U.S. officials have said, many CIA officers and analysts came to believe a bounty program existed.” NBC

VINDMAN SPEAKS — “Alexander Vindman: Trump Is Putin’s ‘Useful Idiot,’” by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg: “[D]o you think Russia is blackmailing Trump? ‘They may or may not have dirt on him, but they don’t have to use it,’ he says. ‘They have more effective and less risky ways to employ him. He has aspirations to be the kind of leader that Putin is, and so he admires him. He likes authoritarian strongmen who act with impunity, without checks and balances. So he’ll try to please Putin.’

“Vindman continues, ‘In the Army we call this “free chicken,” something you don’t have to work for—it just comes to you. This is what the Russians have in Trump: free chicken.’” Atlantic

HEADS UP — “Chinese firm harvests social media posts, data of prominent Americans and military,” by WaPo’s Gerry Shih in Taipei, Taiwan

HAPPENING TODAY — “U.S.-Qatar Summit Provides Chance to Address Regional Spat,” by WSJ’s William Mauldin: “U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are set to meet leading officials from Qatar on Monday to kick off the two-day U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue, officials said.

“Two framework agreements, on culture and economic cooperation, will be signed by the U.S. and by the Qatari delegation, which will be led by Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al-Emadi, according to Qatar’s ambassador to the U.S., Meshal bin Hamad al-Thani.” WSJ

HEY, BIG SPENDER — “Biden, After Rejecting Progressive Spending Plans, Now Hones Multi-Trillion-Dollar Budget,” by WSJ’s Jacob Schlesinger and Eliza Collins: “The former vice president has proposed a total of $5.4 trillion in new spending over the next 10 years, according to an analysis published Monday by the Penn Wharton Budget Model … That includes historically high allocations for sectors from education and health to child-care and housing.

“Mr. Biden’s proposed budget is more than double that of Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee. It is a fraction of the $30 trillion to $50 trillion spending plans that progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren laid out during the Democratic primary.” WSJ … The analysis

STAFFING UP — “Biden campaign adds more staff in Texas,” by The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek: “The campaign has added 13 more members to its team in Texas, where polls continue to point to a close race against President Donald Trump.” Texas Tribune

BUSINESS BURST — “Amazon Hiring 100,000 New Employees in U.S. and Canada,” by Bloomberg’s Nour Al Ali and Amy Thomson

WHAT DEVIN NUNES IS UP TO — “Devin Nunes’ legal setbacks pile up, but his lawsuits go on with appeals and new filings,” by The Fresno Bee’s Kate Irby: “California Rep. Devin Nunes has had little success in the battery of lawsuits he filed against media organizations and critics, but his efforts are running up legal bills for the groups he considers his adversaries. … Defamation attorneys say they are confused by Nunes’ strategy and unsure what he’s trying to accomplish.” Fresno Bee

AFTERNOON READ — “The Man Who Refused to Spy,” by Laura Secor in The New Yorker: “The F.B.I. tried to recruit an Iranian scientist as an informant. When he balked, the payback was brutal.”

TRANSITION — Doug Sosnik is now a senior adviser at Brunswick Group. He’s a Democratic strategist and Clinton White House alum.

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