POLITICO Playbook: The art of the (infrastructure) deal

Here’s an eye-opener this Sunday morning: some new stats on the surge in gun sales, from Northeastern University and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

[A]bout a fifth of all Americans who bought guns last year were first-time gun owners. And the data, which has not been previously released, showed that new owners were less likely than usual to be male and white. Half were women, a fifth were Black and a fifth were Hispanic. In all, the data found that 39 percent of American households own guns. That is up from 32 percent in 2016.” More on that trend from NYT’s Sabrina Tavernise

THE ART OF THE (INFRASTRUCTURE) DEAL …

It certainly sounds like Republicans want to make a deal on infrastructure. At least, that’s the clear takeaway from the WaPo’s look into White House negotiations with Senate Republicans, who were eager to lay the compliments on thick when talking about President JOE BIDEN with reporter Seung Min Kim.

— Sen. MIKE CRAPO (R-Idaho) called Biden “a straight shooter.” Sen. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R-W.Va.) said Biden has “innate Senate negotiating skills.” And Sen. ROY BLUNT (R-Mo.) said Biden “understands the importance of finding a place where everybody can be moving forward.”

It’s a “spoonful of sugar” approach: They claim that in an Oval Office negotiating session May 13, Biden gave a clear impression that he would be satisfied with a $1 trillion package spread out over eight years. That’s a far cry from the White House’s recent $1.7 trillion counteroffer to the GOP, which included $400 billion for long-term care, something Republicans have said is a hard “no.”

Now, if Biden doesn’t hold up his side of what (Senate Republicans claim) he agreed to, it will look not only like he reneged on his promise, but that his “straight shooter” image is a facade.

— Worth noting, on timing of a potential deal: “We are getting pretty close to a fish-or-cut-bait moment,” Transportation Secretary PETE BUTTIGIEG said on CNN’s “State of the Union” this morning, suggesting a resolution one way or the other in the next few days.

THREE MORE IMPORTANT SUNDAY STORIES:

— Alex Isenstadt on the GOP’s 2024 “shadow primary.” Republican presidential hopefuls have figured out a way “to put themselves out there without poking the eye of former President DONALD TRUMP, who has made clear that he’s interested in a comeback bid” — namely, by getting involved in the 2022 midterms.

“[Sen. TOM] COTTON is part of a growing list of potential Republican presidential hopefuls diving head-first into the battle for the House majority in 2022,” reports Isenstadt. “Former Secretary of State MIKE POMPEO headlined a Tuesday evening fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Ex-U.N. Ambassador NIKKI HALEY has endorsed a handful of female candidates and hosted receptions for newly elected GOP women in the House. Texas Sen. TED CRUZ is backing a trio of conservative House candidates, including one for whom he’s cut a direct-to-camera video.”

NYT’s Ross Douthat on the coronavirus “lab leak” theory and why it matters. Here’s a provocative thought: “Because the lab leak theory was associated early on with Republican China hawks … and eventually picked up by the Trump administration, there was self-reinforcing pressure — among journalists who covered the story and Twitter experts who opined on it — to put the possibility in the QAnon box and leave it there.

“I will leave it to the reader to consider how a similar pressure might manifest itself in other areas, from the 2020-21 murder spike to the recent rise in anti-Semitic violence, where journalists might wish to avoid making concessions to conservative interpretations of reality.”

Texas Tribune’s Alexa Ura runs through the sweeping election changes underway in Texas. There are two main reasons why what’s happening in Texas is generating so much attention: the process Republican legislators are using to speed the bill through, and the legislation’s massive implications for elections in the state.

The process: “In the course of several hours Saturday and early Sunday, [Texas] Senate Republicans hurtled to move forward on a sweeping voting bill negotiated behind closed doors where it doubled in length and grew to include voting law changes that weren’t previously considered. Over Democrats’ objections, they suspended the chamber’s own rules to narrow the window lawmakers had to review the new massive piece of legislation before giving it final approval ahead of Monday’s end to the legislative session.”

The policy: “[T]he GOP’s priority voting bill emerged Saturday from a conference committee as an expansive bill that would touch nearly the entire voting process, including provisions to limit early voting hours, curtail local voting options and further tighten voting-by-mail, among several other provisions. … The new provisions include language from separate Republican bills that failed to pass that would set a new voter ID rule for mail-in ballots, requiring voters to provide their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, if they have one, on their applications for those ballots. For their votes to be counted, voters will be required to include matching information on the envelopes used to return their ballots.”

Good Sunday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

MORE SUNDAY BEST …

— Buttigieg on the budget proposal on “Fox News Sunday”: “This is a responsible budget, and importantly, all of the proposals for spending and investment in this budget are paid for. It’s one of the reasons why, if you look into the out years, the deficit actually starts going down. But you can’t get something for nothing. In the near term, we know that we need to make major investments in our roads and bridges, in our education, in our health. We cannot afford not to do these things.”

— Capito on the prospects for a bipartisan infrastructure deal on “Fox News Sunday”: “We’re building those blocks towards a really good, solid infrastructure package that has bipartisan support. So we’re responding to what the president has said — he told me on the day before yesterday, ‘Let’s get this done.’ And I think that means that he has his heart … in this. We have had some back and forth with the staff who have sort of pulled back a little bit, but I think we’re smoothing out those edges.”

BIDEN’S SUNDAY: The president will deliver remarks at 10:30 a.m. at an annual Memorial Day Service at Veterans Memorial Park at Delaware Memorial Bridge.

— VP KAMALA HARRIS has nothing on her public schedule.

THE WHITE HOUSE

BIDEN WEIGHS IN ON TEXAS ELECTIONS BILL — “‘Assault on democracy’: Biden torches Texas voting bill,” by Ben Leonard: “‘It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year — and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans,’ Biden said in a statement. ‘It’s wrong and un-American. In the 21st century, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote.’ … In his statement Saturday, Biden called for Congress to take action on the ‘For the People Act,’ which has passed the House and would reform ballot access and campaign finance.”

GROWING SUPPORT FROM HISPANIC VOTERS — “Biden is getting a big bounce with Hispanics,” CNN’s Harry Enten: “Biden is doing better overall now than he did in the election. His approval rating is at 55{1a2a5022a52b7f44d3c003be9afa129e2349806f3225e736ca8b1c4309d27447} in the Gallup data we’re using here. Even controlling for a higher approval rating overall, Biden has had a disproportionate rise in support from Hispanics. He’s now doing 17 points better with Hispanics than overall, while he was doing 10 to 14 points better with them in the 2020 election.

“Keep in mind, too, that unlike in an election, there are undecideds allowed in a poll. If we allocate undecideds equally between approval and disapproval for both Hispanics and overall, Biden’s approval rating is about 20 points higher with Hispanics than overall in Gallup polling. … This 20-point gap between how Hispanics and adults overall feel about Biden is wider than the last Democratic president saw in his first months on the job.”

HOW THE BUDGET ADDRESSES RACE — “Efforts to Advance Racial Equity Baked In Throughout Biden’s Budget,” by NYT’s Michael Shear: “Sprinkled throughout the president’s enormous spending plan are scores of programs amounting to tens of billions of dollars intended to specifically bolster the fortunes of Black people, Asian people, tribal communities and other historically underserved groups in the United States. … That idea — of focusing special attention on the distribution of taxpayer money across racial groups — has never been approached as methodically as it has this year by Mr. Biden, advocates say.”

BEHIND THE CURTAIN — “WH legislative team pursues ‘politics is personal’ strategy,” by AP’s Alexandra Jaffe and Josh Boak: “While Biden pitches his infrastructure plan to the American public with events at an Ohio college, a Ford plant in Michigan or an aging Louisiana bridge, this is where the real work of delivering his legislative agenda takes place: in phone calls to Capitol Hill, over Zoom meetings and during the occasional cup of coffee with members of his legislative affairs team.

“Biden’s legislative team of 15 is charged with maneuvering and mapping out the process of actually getting his agenda passed on Capitol Hill. Led by LOUISA TERRELL, a Capitol Hill veteran, the team has had a vast footprint over the course of Biden’s first months in office, holding over 553 phone calls or meetings with lawmakers, their chiefs of staff and staff directors focused on the American Jobs Plan alone, Biden’s infrastructure package, as of May 21.”

POLICY CORNER

INFLATION WATCH — “Fed’s Taper Talk Is Pre-Emptive Strike Against Inflation Fears,” by Bloomberg’s Craig Torres and Joe Deaux: “The post-pandemic economic-growth surge, which has pushed up prices on everything from bicycles to lumber, has Fed officials on alert. While calling inflation ‘transitory,’ they are also starting to wonder whether a slow response by the economy’s supply side — the millions of companies and people who make things and provide services — could result in several quarters of high inflation readings that start to creep into consumer psychology.

“The public conversation officials are having about tapering is a surprising shift because only a month ago, [Fed Chair JEROME] POWELL was skeptical that actual inflation or expectations would move up in a lasting way ‘while there was still significant slack in the labor market.’”

NO NEW APPLICANTS — “Paycheck Protection Program Closes to New Applications,” by WSJ’s Amara Omeokwe: “The federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program closed to new applications Friday as funding was on track to be exhausted. That marked the end of a $961 billion emergency effort that helped millions of small businesses survive the pandemic but was dogged by fraud claims and criticism that it didn’t reach the neediest businesses. The program had been scheduled to end on May 31, but the Small Business Administration on Friday said in a notice to lenders that ‘due to the high volume of originations today, the portal will be closing for new originations’ that evening.”

PANDEMIC

STILL OUT OF REACH FOR SOME — “Foster and migrant kids shut out from Covid vaccinations,” by Sarah Owermohle: “While drugmakers are studying how well Covid-19 vaccines work in babies as young as a few months old, there is no timeline for when shots will be fully approved for teens or kids. That means thousands of youth already disproportionately at risk for chronic health conditions, and many without regular access to health care, could be last in line for a vaccine the Biden administration has said is essential to returning children to school and ending the pandemic.

“The dilemma poses a major test for the Administration for Children and Families, a little-known part of the Health and Human Services Department that is responsible for keeping unaccompanied minors at the border safe along with overseeing programs for childcare, foster children and family services. The Biden administration has already redirected more than $2 billion from health programs to address a record influx of migrant children into its custody, hoping to avoid the kind of scrutiny over children in its care that beset the Trump administration.”

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

MUST-READ ON THE PIPELINE HACKERS — “Secret Chats Show How Cybergang Became a Ransomware Powerhouse,” NYT: “[The] rapidly expanding criminal industry based primarily in Russia that has morphed from a specialty demanding highly sophisticated hacking skills into a conveyor-belt-like process. Now, even small-time criminal syndicates and hackers with mediocre computer capabilities can pose a potential national security threat. …

“DarkSide offers what is known as ‘ransomware as a service,’ in which a malware developer charges a user fee to so-called affiliates … who may not have the technical skills to actually create ransomware but are still capable of breaking into a victim’s computer systems. DarkSide’s services include providing technical support for hackers, negotiating with targets like the publishing company, processing payments, and devising tailored pressure campaigns through blackmail and other means, such as secondary hacks to crash websites. …

“In many ways, the organizational structure of the Russian ransomware industry mimics franchises, like McDonald’s or Hertz, that lower barriers to entry and allow for easy duplication of proven business practices and techniques. Access to DarkSide’s dashboard was all that was needed to set up shop as an affiliate of DarkSide and, if desired, download a working version of the ransomware used in the attack on Colonial Pipeline.”

IRAN WATCH — “U.S. monitoring Iranian warships that may be headed to Venezuela,” by Betsy Woodruff Swan, Lara Seligman, Andrew Desiderio and Nahal Toosi: “The U.S. national security community is monitoring two Iranian naval vessels whose ultimate destination may be Venezuela, in what would be a provocative move at a tense moment in U.S.-Iran relations.

“An Iranian frigate and the Makran, a former oil tanker that was converted to a floating forward staging base, have been heading south along the east coast of Africa, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject. U.S. officials do not know for sure the destination of the Iranian ships, these officials said, but believe they may be ultimately headed for Venezuela. Iran’s intent in sending the vessels in the direction of the Western Hemisphere remains a mystery, the people said, as does their cargo.”

BORIS KEPT IT HUSH-HUSH — “Boris Johnson Married in Stealth Ceremony, Reports Say,” by NYT’s Mark Lander: “Only a week ago, Prime Minister BORIS JOHNSON of Britain and his fiancée, CARRIE SYMONDS, sent friends save-the-date cards for a wedding in July 2022, according to several British newspapers. But on Saturday, Mr. Johnson and Ms. Symonds were married in a stealth ceremony at Westminster Cathedral in London, according to two tabloids, The Mail on Sunday and The Sun. It was a characteristically dramatic twist for a relationship that had unfolded in a frenetic way from the very start.”

BEYOND THE BELTWAY

BREAKING OVERNIGHT — “2 killed, more than 20 wounded in mass shooting at rap concert, Miami-Dade police say,” Miami Herald

ILLINOIS MEETS THE NEW BOSS — “With Madigan gone, Democrats roll Republicans in Springfield to keep control, reward allies,” Chicago Tribune: “Illinois Democrats are turning the spring session into a partisan tour de force. … For Republicans who looked at the January departure of MICHAEL MADIGAN — the embattled state Democratic Party chair and the nation’s longest-serving House speaker — as an opportunity for a fresh start, the session has been a rude awakening. …

“With the General Assembly scheduled to adjourn Monday, top Democratic priorities are steadily advancing. On Friday, lawmakers sent Democratic Gov. J.B. PRITZKER legislation to redraw Illinois’ legislative districts to the party’s favor for the next decade and redo state Supreme Court boundaries for the first time in nearly 60 years to try to keep their majority. … Meanwhile, Republicans largely have been shut out of negotiations over a new state budget and how to spend federal pandemic relief funds. They also have been unsuccessful in pushing stronger ethics proposals.”

JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH

THE RESULT OF NOT INVESTIGATING FURTHER — “As G.O.P. Blocks Inquiry, Questions on Jan. 6 Attack May Go Unanswered,” by NYT’s Luke Broadwater: “The public may never know precisely what Mr. Trump and members of his administration did or said as a throng of his supporters stormed the Capitol while Congress met to formalize President Biden’s victory, threatening the lives of lawmakers and the vice president. The full story may never be revealed of why security officials were so unprepared for the breach of the building, supposedly one of the most secure in the nation, despite ample warnings of potential violence. The extent of the role of Republican lawmakers closely allied with Mr. Trump in planning the Jan. 6 ‘Stop the Steal’ rally that spiraled into a brutal onslaught may remain unexplored.”

THE ‘MISINFO’ DEFENSE — “Defense for some Capitol rioters: election misinformation,” by AP’s David Klepper: “Lawyers for at least three defendants charged in connection with the violent siege tell The Associated Press that they will blame election misinformation and conspiracy theories, much of it pushed by then-President Donald Trump, for misleading their clients. The attorneys say those who spread that misinformation bear as much responsibility for the violence as do those who participated in the actual breach of the Capitol.

“‘I kind of sound like an idiot now saying it, but my faith was in him,’ defendant ANTHONY ANTONIO said, speaking of Trump. Antonio said he wasn’t interested in politics before pandemic boredom led him to conservative cable news and right-wing social media. ‘I think they did a great job of convincing people.’”

TOP-EDS

NYT’s Maureen Dowd talks policing with former NYPD and LAPD chief Bill Bratton, who says he’s never seen police morale so low, and that Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd “set policing back in the sense of public confidence, trust, race relations — set it all back 20, 30 years … [or] maybe further than that, back to when I started in 1970.”

WaPo’s Megan McArdle on what the “lab leak” theory shows us about “expert consensus”: “[T]he form this belief in science took was often positively anti-scientific. Instead of a group of constantly evolving theories that might be altered at any time, or falsified entirely, and is thus always open to debate, ‘science’ was a demand that others subordinate their judgment to an elite-approved group of credentialed scientific experts. … Obviously we should listen to experts, because they know more than we do. Just maybe not so much more that we should treat their pronouncements as having dropped from heaven on stone tablets.”

Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts Jr. with a poignant piece ahead of Memorial Day, remembering a troubled Vietnam veteran named Greg: “On Memorial Day, we honor those who sacrificed their lives in America’s wars. This year, though, I’ll also be thinking of Greg and all those like him, keeping unwilling company with demons of sorrow and despair.”

INTERESTING TWITTER THREADS

15 tweets that demonstrate just how bizarre the U.S. housing market has become, by Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman

The overlooked proliferation of opioids in hip-hop, by KHN’s Chaseedaw Giles

You probably didn’t realize this, but a “country,” a “nation” and a “state” aren’t quite the same thing, by UChicago’s Paul Poast

A glimpse at yet another new Covid strain driving a new wave of infections in the U.K., by FT’s John Burn-Murdoch

ON THE STAGE — “Rich Little to Make NY Theatrical Debut in TRIAL ON THE POTOMAC – THE IMPEACHMENT OF RICHARD NIXON,” BroadwayWorld: “George Bugatti takes our country’s most notorious scandal and asks ‘What if … President Richard M. Nixon had not resigned?,’ ‘What if … One young lawyer uncovered a shocking truth?’ and What if … Nixon had fought back?’ in ‘Trial on the Potomac, The Impeachment of Richard Nixon.’

“The concept is a powerful one and these are the questions answered in Bugatti’s play-based on the book, ‘The Real Watergate Scandal,’ by Geoff Shepard, a lawyer who worked in the Nixon White House during the Watergate scandal. Like the book that inspired it, the play brings to light Shepard’s real-life findings, newly discovered evidence revealing a conspiracy to destroy the Nixon presidency.” It begins a five-week off-Broadway run Aug. 6.

NYT’s JACOB BERNSTEIN writes that the Hamptons are booming: There’s a shortage of Rolexes and a new parking app that has East Hampton activists up in arms.

A SINKING SHIP — “Matt Gaetz swindled by ‘malicious actors’ in $155K boat sale boondoggle,” N.Y. Post: “Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) says he was swindled out of cash by ‘malicious actors’ after wiring them money as part of a $155,000 boat purchase. The 41-foot vessel named Ol’ Pappy was actually paid for by Gaetz fiancé GINGER LUCKEY, a sister of tech mogul PALMER LUCKEY.

“Reps for the Florida GOP congressman did not immediately respond to request for comment, but told local WFLA that the couple had been a victim of ‘first domestic and now foreign’ scammers and that ‘federal law enforcement is both aware of and actively pursuing.’”

TRUMP ALUMNI — Benjamin Mehr is now associate counsel at the RNC. He most recently was counsel at the Department of Commerce. … William Lane is now an associate at Wiley. He most recently served in the civil division in DOJ, where he was counsel to the assistant attorney general.

ENGAGED — Micah Johnson, co-founder of Bridge Public Affairs and a Bob Corker alum, and Clay Stockett, associate at FourBridges Capital Advisors, got engaged Friday night on his family’s property on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tenn. Pic Another pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: NBC’s Frank ThorpReema Dodin … Airbnb’s Kim KingsleyJenna LeeJake HargravesHolly PageMiryam Lipper … WSJ’s Gautham Nagesh … NYT’s Michelle Cottle and Kirsten DanisStratton KirtonLoren Duggan … Daily Wire’s Ashe Schow … CNN’s Eric Levenson … POLITICO’s Julia Arciga, Pratyusha Sankuratri and James BambaraLisa Stark …PhRMA’s Nicole LongoJeff Freeland … Holland & Knight’s Scott Mason … former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) … Rob NoelRachel ClarkRusty PickensJeff QuainAshley Bender SpirnVictoria KucharskiLauren NevinNicholas BallasyThomas CluderayGary LeeChris GowenStephanie Bosh … Get Out the Vote’s Steve Kramer

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