Playbook Biden’s murky Israel policy in a nutshell

ONE LAST TREAT — Here’s uncut audio of Speaker MIKE JOHNSON doing his DONALD TRUMP impression during our big sitdown on Wednesday. Please have us back, Mr. Speaker, and you can do your CLAY HIGGINS for us.

THE LATEST TROUBLE FOR TRUMP — “Trump May Owe $100 Million From Double-Dip Tax Breaks, Audit Shows,” by NYT’s Russ Buettner and ProPublica’s Paul Kiel: “The 92-story, glass-sheathed skyscraper along the Chicago River is the tallest and, at least for now, the last major construction project by Mr. Trump. Through a combination of cost overruns and the bad luck of opening in the teeth of the Great Recession, it was also a vast money loser. But when Mr. Trump sought to reap tax benefits from his losses, the I.R.S. has argued, he went too far and in effect wrote off the same losses twice.”

BIDEN ON AN ISLAND — If you’re looking for a microcosm of President JOE BIDEN’s conflicted and evolving Israel policy over the past few weeks, consider the much-anticipated report the State Department issued last night examining whether Israel used American weapons to violate human rights in Gaza.

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The memorandum to Congress determined that “it is reasonable to assess” that Israel used U.S. weapons in ways that are “inconsistent” with international law. At the same time, it concluded there isn’t sufficient evidence to say so declaratively, thus finding that Israel is still eligible for U.S. military aid. Read the report

“There was a whiff of accountability but ultimately no greater reprimand, allowing the Biden administration to continue sending weapons to Israel as it fights Hamas while gingerly appeasing vocal critics,”our colleagues Nahal Toosi, Lara Seligman and Alex Ward write.

In other words, it’s precisely the kind of delicate line-walking that has annoyed and alienated voices on all sides of the Gaza conflict recently, and the findings have left Biden “increasingly isolated” in the political world, as WaPo’s Toluse Olorunnipa and Jacqueline Alemany write.

On the left: Many Democrats feel the Biden administration pulled its punches, turning a blind eye to the mass killing of civilians and dodging an opportunity to provide moral clarity. Sen. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.) said the memo “fails to do the hard work of making the assessment and ducks the ultimate questions.”

One unnamed Democratic lawmaker was blunter, telling WaPo: “It reeks of cowardice — an unwillingness to state the obvious.”

On the right: Republicans continued to accuse Biden of turning his back on Israel and weakening U.S. national security in the process.

“It’s reprehensible that Biden has more criticism for Israel than the terrorists launching rockets at playgrounds,” Sen. TOM COTTON (R-Ark.) — who has declared the House “has no choice but to impeach” Biden over his handling of the situation — tweeted Friday

Idaho Sen. JIM RISCH, the top Foreign Relations Republican, accused the White House of “attempting to placate voters on the far left at the expense of a close ally in the midst of its justified war with Hamas terrorists.”

The big picture: We’re a long ways past the widespread praise Biden received from both sides of the aisle for his initial response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack that left 1,200 people dead. Now, the expanding discontent with his response threatens to become a re-election nightmare by alienating young and progressive voters and becoming a cudgel for Republicans.

The report is a telling companion to the policy pivot Biden is trying to execute this week. It keeps the option for continued offensive military aid to Israel open while he is also (1) pausing a shipment of bombs to Israeli and (2) threatening to halt additional weapons due to concerns about PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHU’s plans to invade Rafah in southern Gaza.

But the risk that the situation could spiral out of control seem obvious: Negotiators remain unable to notch a ceasefire agreement, and Netanyahu has doubled down on his insistence on a full-scale incursion into Rafah, with Biden refraining from publicly identifying what red line would cause him to cut off the flow of arms.

Related read: “Isolated and Defiant, Israel Vows to ‘Stand Alone’ in War on Hamas,” by NYT’s Damien Cave: “The complex, layered reproof from around the world cannot be ignored as just the whims of anti-Israel activists. Israel is facing real consequences, from security to economics.”

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

NOWHERE AND EVERYWHERE — NIKKI HALEY has barely been publicly seen or heard in the two months since she suspended her presidential campaign. Yet she continues to have a huge presence in the 2024 race.

She has racked up hundreds of thousands of primary votes as a zombie candidate, with dozens of states still yet to vote. And there is new evidence this morning that both the Biden and Trump campaigns are strategizing over how to appeal to the “double-doubter” voters she is clearly attracting.

This morning, our colleagues Adam Wren, Elena Schneider and Natalie Allison report on the Biden campaign’s “larger — and mostly behind-the-scenes — strategy” to reel in those Haley voters, viewing them “as a core part of its coalition this fall, especially as polls show some erosion among traditional Democratic groups such as young voters.”

They’re targeting ads at the mainly suburban voters Haley has been attracting. They’re wooing some of her high-dollar donors and former endorsers. Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, hasn’t seemed to do much of anything — all but snubbing Haley and her followers.

But this morning, Axios’ Alex Thompson reports that might be changing: Trump, he writes, has moved his one-time rival off his “blacklist” and is again considering her as his running mate.

We are pretty damn skeptical that Trump would choose anyone but a true MAGA die-hard after his experience with MIKE PENCE. But Thompson points out there’s potential upside on both sides: Haley could help Trump with his fundraising deficiency and swing-voter problem; Haley could boost her future presidential ambitions by making amends with Trump.

But sure enough, Trump himself confirmed our instincts: Posting to Truth Social at 11:13 a.m., he wrote, “Nikki Haley is not under consideration for the V.P. slot, but I wish her well!”

  1. CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Top Republican officials are “escalating their fight with the Secret Service over the party’s convention in Milwaukee in July, demanding that the agency expand the security perimeter of the event so that protesters can be moved farther away from the arena where the main events will be held,” WaPo’s Josh Dawsey reports.

“A cadre of senior GOP officials had a lengthy argument with Secret Service officials in Milwaukee on Thursday afternoon, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting. The Republicans repeatedly pushed the agency to widen the perimeter so that a prominent city park about a quarter-mile from the arena could not be used by the city for a designated protest zone. The Republicans also again demanded a meeting with the head of the Secret Service to no avail, the people familiar with the meeting said.”

  1. PHOENIX RISING: “Biden Is Losing Latino Voters to Trump. In Arizona, This Democrat Is Winning Them Over,” by WSJ’s Eliza Collins in Glendale, Arizona: Rep. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-Ariz.) “is on the front lines of his party’s battle to win back Latino voters, particularly men, many of whom have soured on the party under Biden’s leadership. The race will test the power of representation on the ballot in Arizona, a top political battleground, where Latinos make up about one-fifth of the electorate, according to AP VoteCast. And his Senate candidacy — in an expected matchup with Trump ally KARI LAKE — could offer a road map for the kinds of messaging and organizational outreach that might help Democrats win back some Latinos, a core constituency for the party.”
  2. INSIDE THE 2020 PROBES: “Felons or dupes? Treatment of Trump’s fake electors has varied wildly by state,” by Betsy Woodruff Swan and Kyle Cheney: “In Arizona, Michigan and Nevada, every fake elector is facing felony charges except one, whose charges were dropped in a cooperation deal. Their counterparts in New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin aren’t facing any charges. And in Georgia, three fake electors have been charged alongside Donald Trump, while others struck immunity deals. Meanwhile, an architect of the scheme across all seven states, Wisconsin lawyer KENNETH CHESEBRO, has only received what some experts call a slap on the wrist after he reached a plea deal in Georgia, and he hasn’t been charged in any other state.”
  3. TEAM PLAYER: Trump has thus far resisted any urges to trash his own legal team in the hush money case against him, a “surprising turn considering how many lawyers Trump has jettisoned in the past or have gone their separate ways,” Meridith McGraw and Josh Gerstein write. “While [Judge JUAN] MERCHAN’s harsh criticism of the defense team’s performance could lead to Trump tossing them into his tall pile of discarded or disenchanted attorneys, there are plenty of reasons to believe that this time, he is unlikely to make any major moves. For one, Trump has made clear he does not like or trust Merchan, who he has railed against as ‘conflicted’ and ‘corrupt.’ And the former president’s allies have appeared to be pleased with the courtroom grilling of [STORMY] DANIELS.”

Related read: “It’s always sunny at Mar-a-Lago,” by WaPo’s Ben Terris and Josh Dawsey: “In Trump’s happy place, he gets to do what he wants, his public approval is through the roof and nobody is out to get him.”

  1. A PLAYER TO WATCH: “A Rising Democrat Leans Into the Campus Fight Over Antisemitism,” by NYT’s Katie Glueck in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: “At a moment of growing Democratic anger and unease over how Israel is conducting its devastating military response, [Pennsylvania Gov. JOSH] SHAPIRO, 50 — who has no obligation to talk about foreign policy — has not shied away from expressing support for the country while criticizing its right-wing government. …

“In the interview, Mr. Shapiro stressed that he did not believe all encampments or demonstrators were antisemitic — not ‘by any stretch.’ But he suggested that on some campuses, antisemitic speech was treated differently than other kinds of hate speech. ‘If you had a group of white supremacists camped out and yelling racial slurs every day, that would be met with a different response than antisemites camped out, yelling antisemitic tropes,’ he said.”

  1. THE YOUNG GUNS: The House Oversight Committee, where much of the GOP-led push to impeach the president is originating, is filled with an unusual amount of freshmen Democrats. But that fact is by design, NYT’s Luke Broadwater writes. “It’s a strategy that Democrats began planning out more than a year ago. Back in January 2023, they selected seven freshmen to sit on the Oversight panel, the most of any committee. The group included lawyers with debate experience and members who had a sense for how to communicate in a way that could catch fire on social media and break through the noise of a highly polarized environment.

“The result has been that the impeachment proceedings that were designed by Republicans to damage Mr. Biden politically have instead elevated the profiles of a group of battle-ready first-term Democrats who have become fixtures of the partisan scrum that is the House Oversight Committee.”

  1. WATCH THIS SPACE: Sen. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-R.I.) told The New Republic’s Greg Sargent that it’s “highly likely” that his Senate Budget Committee will look into the WaPo’s reporting that Trump recently “made explicit policy promises to a roomful of Big Oil executives — while urging them to raise $1 billion for his campaign.” Whitehouse, who has already been presiding over hearings into the oil industry, also pointed to a new Politico report that oil industry officials are drawing up executive orders for Trump to sign as president. “Put those things together and it starts to look mighty damn corrupt,” Whitehouse told Sargent. Read the WaPo report … Read the POLITICO report
  2. EXIT INTERVIEW: “‘Do You Have Any Regrets?’: We Asked a Top US Diplomat on Her Way Out,” by Nahal Toosi for POLITICO Magazine: “In an exit interview with POLITICO Magazine, [former acting Deputy Secretary of State VICTORIA] NULAND discussed her time in public service — dismissing chatter that she was passed over for a promotion — as well as her views on where American foreign policy has gone wrong and right. Notably, she said the United States was not quick enough to realize and prevent the expansionist ambitions of both VLADIMIR PUTIN and XI JINPING. A longtime champion of Ukraine and the effort to counter Russia, she also warned about the perils of Donald Trump blowing up NATO if he wins back the White House in November.”

Another scoop from Halley … “The FBI is investigating whether the Biden administration’s Iran envoy, ROB MALLEY, moved classified information onto his personal email, where it may have fallen into the hands of a foreign actor. … But it is not yet clear if the Department of Justice will bring any charges against Malley or what the scope of any charges might be.”

  1. WHAT UNION JOE IS READING: “Unions Struggled in the South for Years. The Economy Gave Auto Workers an Opening,” by WSJ’s Paul Kiernan: “Roughly 5,000 hourly employees of the Tuscaloosa-area [Mercedes-Benz] facility are set to vote starting Monday on whether to join the United Auto Workers. … The vote in the week ahead will be a pivotal moment in the UAW’s organizing blitz in the South’s booming auto industry. If unionization continues to spread, it will test the region’s business-friendly economic model in an era when blue-collar workers are already feeling emboldened by tight labor markets, high inflation and populist politics.”