Playbook PM: Trump and CNN reap the whirlwind

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The blowback to both DONALD TRUMP and CNN for their town hall last night was fierce today, from the presidential race to Congress to the judiciary to the press.

On the hustingsPotential 2024 rival CHRIS CHRISTIE blasted Trump for his comments about Ukraine and Russia. “I think he’s a coward and I think he’s a puppet of [Russian President VLADIMIR] PUTIN,” Christie said to Hugh Hewitt. More from Matt Berg

On Capitol Hill GOP senators were quickly forced to answer for Trump’s most incendiary comments — and provided some striking responses. Sen. TODD YOUNG (R-Ind.) said explicitly that he wouldn’t support Trump for president, highlighting his Ukraine/Russia comments in particular: “I can’t think of someone worse equipped to bring people together.” Sens. THOM TILLIS (R-N.C.) and JOSH HAWLEY (R-Mo.) both disagreed with Trump’s plans to pardon Jan. 6 rioters.

“It looked like a lot of Democratic campaign ads being written last night,” quipped Senate Minority Whip JOHN THUNE (R-S.D.).

Even among the judiciary … Two federal judges joined the chorus decrying Trump’s comments minimizing the Jan. 6 violence, Josh Gerstein writes in.

“Last night, someone on cable television said Jan. 6 was a ‘beautiful day,’” 3rd Circuit Judge D. BROOKS SMITH said dismissively during a panel discussion at a legal conference in Philadelphia this morning. “Everybody in this room has seen that video,” he added. “Who are you going to believe: me or your own eyes?”

The remark prompted D.C. District Court Judge THOMAS HOGAN, who’s handled some of the Jan. 6-related criminal cases, to laugh and chime in sarcastically: “They had lots of accidental tourists.”

Meanwhile at CNN CEO CHRIS LICHT defended KAITLAN COLLINS’ performance as moderator and the network’s controversial decision to hold the town hall on an editorial call this morning.

In a recording obtained by Playbook, Licht started by praising Collins’ “masterful performance,” adding, “It’s hard to imagine anyone navigating such a tricky assignment with more ease than Kaitlan. … If someone was going to ask tough questions and have that messy conversation, that damn well should be on CNN.”

On the crowd: “While we all may have been uncomfortable hearing people clapping, that was also an important part of the story, because the people in that audience represent a large swath of America. And the mistake the media made in the past is ignoring that those people exist. Just like you cannot ignore that President Trump exists.”

On the news value: “There is so much that we learned last night about what a second Trump presidency would look like. … You do not have to like the former president’s answers, but you can’t say that we didn’t get them.”

On lessons (yet to be) learned: “We always look at things that we do and what could we do better and what are we going to do differently for the next time.”

More reading: “Donald Trump has become more dangerous,” by The Economist’s Lexington (aka James Bennet) … “Don’t Say You Haven’t Been Warned About Trump and 2024,” by The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser … “CNN faces harsh criticism after Trump unleashed a firehose of lies during its live town hall,” by CNN’s Oliver Darcy

Program note: JON RALSTON of the Nevada Independent took issue with how this morning’s Playbook characterized his reaction to the town hall after defending CNN’s decision to host Trump. While the event’s execution was a “farce,” he said, the decision to hold it remained justifiable. “I am sad about what happened — for CNN, for democracy,” Ralston said. “But it was right to try, even if it failed.”

Good Thursday afternoon. Thanks for reading Playbook PM. Drop me a line at [email protected].

END OF AN ERA — Emerging from Covid has been a gradual process, but today more than any other day marks the official start of American politics’ post-pandemic phase. The public health emergency and national emergency declaration expire today after more than three years. And the Title 42 immigration policy, which drastically restricted asylum under the pretense of a public health measure, ends tonight as well.

The slow-motion national tragedy we all just lived through killed 1.1 million Americans (and counting) and reordered countless lives. Many of those who lost loved ones are grappling with a farrago of emotions, celebrating the progress but still in mourning, NYT’s Julie Bosman writes.

The country’s public health infrastructure now has to transition to a new approach, as many of the existing CDC data streams will stop updating. Wastewater surveillance will become even more essential, a tracking mechanism that officials can continue using to watch for potential new surges, NYT’s Emily Anthes reports.

The most politically potent fallout will be at the border, where the end of Title 42 is expected to incite a surge of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. Officials have said the daily number could more than double to 13,000. El Paso, Texas, has already declared a state of emergency, and Democratic mayors of big cities like NYC and Chicago that have seen immigrant influxes are feuding with the Biden administration over resources, Bloomberg’s Jordan Fabian, Laura Nahmias, Shruti Singh and Nadia Lopez report.

From Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, NYT’s Natalie Kitroeff and Julie Turkewitz have a helpful deep dive into why Latin American migration is hitting record levels: The massive economic shocks of the pandemic have combined with growing violence and social media misinformation campaigns (some highlighting the end of Title 42) to spur people toward the U.S. Officials here hope the spike lasts only a few weeks.

Seizing on the surge, House Republicans are slated to vote today on a big border package, having finally unified enough of their conference behind the legislation, as Daniella Diaz and Katherine Tully-McManus detailed in today’s Huddle. (It’s going nowhere past the House, of course.)


BIG DEPARTURE — Army Gen. PAUL NAKASONE plans to step down from his dual role leading the NSA and Cyber Command in August or September, WSJ’s Dustin Volz scoops. The timing is still fluid, and it isn’t certain whether Nakasone would retire from the key national security post or take on a new one. His departure after five years might affect the fight to reauthorize the controversial Section 702 intelligence law in Congress. And it could also get tangled up in Sen. TOMMY TUBERVILLE’s (R-Ala.) ongoing blockade of military promotions over a DOD abortion policy.

POWER PLAY — “Biden’s power plant rule could help revive an old idea about how to fight climate change,” by Brian Dabbs, Carlos Anchondo and Christa Marshall: “The Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule on power plants relies heavily on an old idea that’s getting a new push — capturing planet-warming carbon pollution before it enters the atmosphere. But questions remain about whether the technology can be deployed quickly and affordably enough.”

BLOOD BROTHERS — The FDA today has finalized new rules that will allow sexually active gay and bisexual men who have only one sexual partner to donate blood. More from CNN


WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE — U.S. Ambassador to South Africa REUBEN BRIGETY today made the stunning accusation that South Africa has secretly supplied weapons and ammunition to Russia, despite being formally non-aligned on the Ukraine war, News 24’s Juniour Khumalo reports. “We do not consider this issue to be resolved,” Brigety warned, saying he’d bet his life on the credibility of the U.S. intelligence.


NOTABLE NOMINEES — The Senate Banking Committee narrowly advanced JARED BERNSTEIN’s nomination as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers on a 12-11 vote, getting him a step closer to becoming President JOE BIDEN’s chief economist. More from Victoria Guida

— The Senate Judiciary Committee got Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-Calif.) back for at least part of its hearing today after months away, finally giving Democrats enough votes to push through some controversial trial-court nominees assailed by Republicans, including CHARNELLE BJELKENGREN. Notably, 1st Circuit nominee MICHAEL DELANEY did not get a vote — indicating that the embattled Granite State pick still hasn’t unified Dems behind him yet. More from Katherine Tully-McManus


CASH DASH — Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS has raised $4.3 million in the past couple of months for state and local Republican Party groups, Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser scoops.

2025 WATCH — Former New Jersey state Senate President STEVE SWEENEY’s 2025 gubernatorial hopes have taken a bit of a blow with the news that South Jersey Dem boss GEORGE NORCROSS, a crucial supporter, is stepping back from politics, Dustin Racioppi reports. “[T]he jockeying for party support that is critical to success in a primary is very much under way. And that could be problematic for Sweeney” without Norcross in the game, especially as he tries to build support outside his South Jersey base.

DEMOCRACY WATCH — “Kentucky’s secretary of state primary pits GOP incumbent against Trump conspiracies,” by the Louisville Courier Journal’s Joe Sonka

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — The Precision Workers Union, which represents employees of the prominent Democratic consulting firm Precision Strategies, said the company’s partners have still not formally recognized the union due to a disagreement over which employees will be able to join the union.

The union call: “While the Precision partners have indicated willingness to sign a voluntary recognition, they are currently trying to negotiate half of our bargaining unit out of eligibility. Every worker has a right to be part of a union and today we are publicly calling on company leadership to agree to union eligibility for all members of our bargaining unit — and to swiftly sign our voluntary recognition,” organizers of the union, which is incorporated with the Communications Workers of America, said in a statement to Playbook.

Precision’s response: “We already offered to recognize the union in principle, so this is not a matter of recognition or not,” Precision said in a statement provided to Playbook. “We are a consulting agency, with talented people across the board, and do not believe people in supervisory roles should be included in a union. That is our position, consistent with the NLRA and what hundreds of other companies and unions have always agreed to. We've offered to accept the units we both agree on, and come back to the rest later so that we can begin bargaining in good faith.”


TURNING DOWN THE TEMPERATURE — “In Bid to Ease Tensions, Top Biden Aide and Chinese Diplomat Meet,” by Bloomberg’s Jenny Leonard and Peter Martin: “National Security Adviser JAKE SULLIVAN sat down with China’s top diplomat for two days of what the White House called ‘substantive and constructive’ meetings.”

A BALLOONING DISAGREEMENT — The State Department pumped the brakes on tougher China sanctions in the immediate aftermath of the Chinese spy balloon above the U.S., Reuters’ Michael Martina reports. Foggy Bottom was more worried about damaging the U.S.-China relationship than other parts of the U.S. government, which advocated for a more assertive response.

A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK — After the U.S. took major steps last year to hamper China’s semiconductor chip industry, Beijing is stepping up its efforts to “de-Americanize” the industry, NYT’s Chang Che and John Liu report. China is pumping in lots of state money to manufacture less advanced chips and figuring out workarounds to make high-end ones, too.


OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at a party last night for Ben Smith’s new book, “Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral” ($30), hosted by Justin Smith and Steve Clemons at Gallup’s headquarters: Rob Flaherty and Carla Frank, Ben LaBolt, Liz Allen, Scott Mulhauser, Caitlin Conant, Zeke Miller, Alex Thompson, Dave Weigel, Edward-Isaac Dovere, Glenn Thrush, Paul Beckett and Chris Isham.

— SPOTTED at a World Cup reception with Fox Sports analysts and soccer legends Carli Lloyd and Alexi Lalas on Capitol Hill yesterday: Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Troy Balderson (R-Ohio) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), Kris Jones, Jamie Gillespie, Bryce Harlow, Bill Bailey, Nate Hodson, Tiffany Guarascio and Joe Orlando.

The National Association of Realtors hosted a Realtor National Block Party on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, where attendees enjoyed full access to the stadium and field and a performance by White Ford Bronco. SPOTTED: Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), Reps. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), Troy Balderson (R-Ohio), Becca Balint (D-Vt.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Sean Casten (D-Ill.), Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Shannon McGahn and Kenny Parcell.

MEDIA MOVE — Matea Gold is joining the WaPo masthead as a managing editor, WaPo’s Elahe Izadi reports. She previously was national editor.

WEEKEND WEDDING — Shane Savitsky, deputy managing editor for Axios Local, and Mary Claire Sullivan, associate director for strategic initiatives at Curtis Institute of Music, got married Saturday at the Lilah in Philadelphia. They met on Tinder. Pic, via Justin KunimotoSPOTTED: Amanda Ach, Zach Basu, Haley Britzky, James Johnson, Stef Kight, Dave Lawler, Alexi McCammond, Erica Pandey, Neal Rothschild and Shannon Vavra.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Sharon Copeland, senior director of digital for the Herald Group, and Alex Copeland, data and polling director for the NRSC, welcomed Gideon Lee Copeland on May 2. Pic

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