MIAMI — Welcome to a special edition of Playbook from Miami. It’s time for an update on The Gaetz Show, which just came to town.
Battling anonymous leaks that he had sex with a minor or had paid prostitutes, Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) appeared at Trump National Doral Miami on Friday night (where else?) and spoke to the pro-Trump Women for America First, delivering a speech aimed just as much at the crowd as the bank of TV cameras recording his stemwinder.
Basically, Gaetz did exactly what defense lawyers and establishment types in politics and media say an embattled pol shouldn’t do: He ran his mouth, and acerbically so. Gaetz swiped at the “lying media.” He decried the “smears” against him and the “distortions of my personal life … [and] wild conspiracy theories.” He pledged he “won’t be extorted by a former DOJ official and the crooks he is working with.” The alleged extortion plot is one of those odd twists that prove how Florida is stranger than fiction.
But that’s Gaetz. He isn’t an establishment type. He’s a MAGA media figure. He’s always starring in The Gaetz Show, perhaps a vestige of having grown up in the house where and while “The Truman Show” was filmed (remember: Florida is stranger than fiction).
Gaetz, 38, grew into his role as a TV figure shortly after arriving in Washington in 2017. In the seniority-based gerontocracy that is Congress, he realized that the path to political power and influence was to have President DONALD TRUMP’S ear — and the way to do that was by auditioning as Trump’s top defender on Fox News. It worked. Trump loved it and promoted him. Gaetz got a podcast (“Hot Takes with Matt Gaetz”). He penned a book (“Firebrand: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the MAGA Revolution”). He starred in an HBO documentary (“The Swamp”).
In his newfound celebrity, Gaetz styled himself into a ladies’ man, showing up to high-profile events with a number of different beautiful women. At a 2018 Republican Party of Florida Lincoln Day dinner in Orlando, he caused a stir by appearing with two dates, one of whom is a model for Monster Energy Drink and had competed decades ago in child beauty pageants against JonBenét Ramsey (remember: Florida is stranger than fiction).
Gaetz’s predilections brought him into the orbit of Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, who now sits in federal jail and awaits trial on a 33-count indictment. He appears ready to cut a deal with prosecutors. They want Gaetz.
One of the charges Greenberg faces concerns sex with a 17-year-old, with whom Gaetz is suspected of also having sex. Two POLITICO sources say Gaetz had personally told them he had sexual relations with her, but only after she turned 18 in November 2017. About six months after the woman turned 18, The Daily Beast first reported, Gaetz used Venmo to send money to Greenberg, and mentioned the woman’s name in the payment’s memo. POLITICO first reported this week that the woman, who did not return messages for comment, went on to work in pornography, and that Greenberg had boasted about that fact to friends. We’ve also learned that she was on a Bahamas trip, first reported by CBS, that federal prosecutors are examining as part of their investigation.
The story is developing and grows more lurid and strange by the day. It’s unlikely Gaetz will get quiet. He’s not only speaking out, he’s fundraising off of the investigation. The cash is rolling in. He needs it to pay his new lawyers. Though a lawyer himself, Gaetz believes that letting attorneys speak for you — especially if you’re innocent — often makes you look more guilty. Advice rendered in a court of law is sometimes horrible in the court of public opinion. And he’s the star of The Gaetz Show, not them. It’s what keeps everyone tuned in — that, and the fact that Florida is stranger than fiction.
THE LATEST IN GAETZ-GATE — “House Ethics Committee opens Gaetz investigation,” by Kyle Cheney and Nicholas Wu
WATCH: Has the GOP abandoned Gaetz? This week on Playback, RYAN HEATH co-hosts with EUGENE to look back at the week’s top news videos. First up, things seem to be getting worse for Gaetz by the day. Greenberg has been in conversations with federal prosecutors. EUGENE and RYAN watch footage of Greenberg’s lawyer, who seemed amused when asked about the Florida congressman’s fate. They also give commentary on President JOE BIDEN’S stance on moving the Masters Tournament out of Georgia and if VP KAMALA HARRIS should be ridiculed for stopping at a bakery in Chicago.
STORY OF THE DAY: DUPED IN THE BRIEFING ROOM — “How an online ‘Lego’ gamer infiltrated the White House press corps,” by Christopher Cadelago: “Four times in recent weeks, members of the White House press corps have relayed questions to press secretary Jen Psaki from someone claiming to be a fellow reporter who was not able to be there in the room due to Covid protocols.
“That colleague, who goes by the name Kacey Montagu, doesn’t exist — at least not as an actual reporter. In communications with confidants, Montagu has posed as a member of White House Correspondents Association, claiming to be a reporter for The Daily Mail, the British tabloid … Montagu also communicates regularly with top White House reporters and has had several exchanges with White House officials. … There is no Kacey Montagu, except as a digital impersonation of a White House correspondent. …
“Montagu’s activity is a remarkable illustration of how the online landscape, along with the age of pandemic-related virtual work, has opened up avenues for the mischievous-minded to infiltrate the top echelons of power. What’s perhaps more remarkable is that he or she did it all without raising a solitary eyebrow … until Thursday.”
BIDEN’S SATURDAY — Biden and Harris have nothing on their public schedules.
THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION
BORDER CZAR ABDICATES — “White House Border Coordinator to Step Down,” NYT: “Roberta S. Jacobson, the former ambassador to Mexico whom President Biden chose as his ‘border czar’ on the National Security Council, will step down at the end of the month, she said on Friday, even as the administration struggles to confront a surge of migrants at the nation’s southwestern border. …
“Ms. Jacobson said that her appointment as a special assistant to the president and as the border coordinator in the White House was always intended to last for only about 100 days.”
WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? — “Biden took a chance in promoting the Amazon union push. What does its failure mean for him?” WaPo: “Workers voted to reject the union drive at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., by a wide margin, showing the headwinds facing organized labor, but also the limits of the president’s influence and possibly his decision to weigh in relatively late. …
“[Biden] is navigating a shifting political landscape in which Republicans and Democrats are competing for the support of working-class voters, and, in contrasting ways, seeking to take a stand against big businesses and define a new populism in the post-Trump era.”
BREAKING IT DOWN — “The GOP Is Voting Against Its Base,” by Ron Brownstein in The Atlantic: “With their opposition to President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, Republicans are doubling down on a core bet they’ve made for his presidency: that the GOP can maintain support among its key constituencies while fighting programs that would provide those voters with tangible economic assistance. …
“For now, at least, the GOP appears utterly undeterred. Republican consultants I’ve spoken with express confidence that, despite the [infrastructure and stimulus] plans’ benefits, they can discredit them — either by focusing on elements of the plans that may be unpopular with conservative audiences, or by changing the subject to culture-war confrontations.”
VALLEY TALK — “Trump faces a narrow path to victory against Facebook suspension,” by Cristiano Lima: “Facebook’s oversight board is expected to rule in the coming weeks on whether to uphold or overturn Trump’s indefinite suspension from the platforms, which the company imposed after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots over fears he might incite further violence. So far, the panel of scholars, lawyers and other outside experts has bucked Facebook’s judgment in five of the six decisions it has rendered.
“The key factors will include whether the board thinks Facebook set clear enough rules and gave Trump a fair shake. Another will be what kind of case the board thinks it’s weighing — a narrow, ‘legalistic’ debate about one person’s freedom of expression or a broader one about the public’s right to safety.”
ON THE COURTS — “Trump’s Power Won’t Peak for Another 20 Years,” The Atlantic: “By the early 2040s, Trump-appointed chief judges will simultaneously sit atop nearly every appeals court in the country.”
FOLLOWING THE MONEY — “Trump executive’s son was given sizable salary, generous perks, documents show,” WaPo: “Former president Donald Trump’s company paid a skating rink manager more than $200,000 in annual salary, $40,000 yearly bonuses and provided free company-owned apartments for his family, according to testimony of the employee, Barry Weisselberg, and his financial documents. …
“Although authorities have not accused Trump, [Trump Organization CFO] Allen Weisselberg or his son of wrongdoing, investigators could use any legal vulnerability involving Barry Weisselberg to pressure his father into turning against the former president.”
SCOTUS WATCH — “Supreme Court again blocks California Covid restriction on religious activities,” CNN: “The Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote on Friday blocked another state Covid-19 restriction on religious services, with another late-night order, over protests from California officials that the limits affecting some Bible study sessions did not impinge on religious rights and were to be lifted within days.”
THE HOT ZONE — “Michigan’s Virus Cases Are Out of Control, Putting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a Bind,” NYT: “It is a rare moment in the pandemic: a high-profile Democratic governor bucking the pleas of doctors and epidemiologists in her state and instead asking for voluntary actions from the public to control the virus’s spread. …
“The scenario in Michigan reflects the shifting politics of the pandemic, as the public grows impatient with any answers that are not vaccines. … [O]n Friday [Whitmer] seemed to try to shift attention to the Biden administration for turning down her request to send extra vaccine doses to her beleaguered state. The approach prompted an unexpected uttering of approval from Republicans in Michigan, who control the State Legislature and until now have fought Ms. Whitmer’s decisions at every turn.”
VACCINE UPDATE — “Hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses go unordered by states amid outbreaks, spurring calls for new approach,” WaPo: “The delays have gained notice inside the federal government, where officials have discussed whether performance metrics, including how quickly states are ordering and using their vaccine doses, and getting them to vulnerable groups, should be part of allocation decisions. Any new approach, however, would need sign-off from the White House, which has been at pains to avoid the appearance of penalizing some states while boosting others, including by directing additional doses to virus hot spots.”
— “Scientists work toward an elusive dream: a simple pill to treat Covid-19,” Stat: “‘I will tell you that this is an extremely high priority for Tony Fauci and Francis Collins and the Biden administration, to work with these companies to try to make sure that we speed this up,’ [NIH Director] Collins said. ‘Because this pandemic is going to be with us — even with great vaccines — and people are going to get sick.’”
CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 15 funnies
GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:
— “The Story of One Dose,” by Jeff Wise in N.Y. Mag: “Inside the sprawling operational puzzle of bringing the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine to the public.”
— “How the Skagit Valley Chorale Learned to Sing Again Amid Covid,” by Kim Tingley in the NYT Magazine: “A year ago, their rehearsal was one of the first documented superspreader events. But tragedy and isolation couldn’t keep their voices apart.”
— “I Called Off My Wedding. The Internet Will Never Forget,” by Lauren Goode in Wired: “In 2019, I made a painful decision. But to the algorithms that drive Facebook, Pinterest, and a million other apps, I’m forever getting married.”
— “Shooting Contests, Love Triangles, and Feuds: Inside Ernest Hemingway’s Years As An Esquire Writer,” by Adrienne Westenfeld in Esquire: “How Hemingway helped elevate this up-and-coming magazine into a literary destination—and how writing for Esquire became one of the greatest gigs he ever had.”
— “Who Will Answer for the Deliberate Child Cruelty?” by Ankush Khardori in The N.Y. Review of Books: “Trump officials who enforced the family separation policy have so far had a pass. This can’t be a repeat of the failed accountability over Bush-era torture.”
— “Trump Put a Right-Wing Radio Host in Charge of a National Park. Emails Show the Chaos That Ensued,” by Dave Gilson in Mother Jones: “Michael Savage used his position at San Francisco’s Presidio to stir up a controversy over Japanese American internment.”
— “Biden’s Quiet ‘Breakthrough’ In Talking About Race,” by Zack Stanton in POLITICO Mag: “A ‘colorblind’ message defined the Democrats’ approach to economic issues for decades. Those days may be over, says Heather McGhee.”
— “Ready Player Won,” by Alice Lloyd in American Consequences: “The Reddit Generation Has Entered The Stock Market Game.”
STAFFING UP — “California workplace safety chief tapped to lead OSHA,” by Rebecca Rainey and Eleanor Mueller: “[Doug] Parker heads California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health and previously worked at the Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Obama administration.”
— The White House also announced that Biden plans to nominate Matt Quinn as VA undersecretary for memorial affairs, Ali Nouri as assistant Energy secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs and Nuria Fernandez as head of the Federal Transit Administration.
TRANSITIONS — Paul Teller is now executive director of Advancing American Freedom, former VP Mike Pence’s new organization. He most recently was deputy assistant to President Donald Trump and director of strategic initiatives for Pence. … Mala Parker will be VP for government relations at the International Foodservice Distributors Association. She most recently was deputy administrator at DOT’s Federal Highway Administration, and is a Labor Department alum. … Peter Pham is returning to the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center as a distinguished fellow. He most recently was U.S. special envoy for the Sahel region of Africa. …
… Nick Goodwin is now district director and comms director for Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.). He most recently was comms director for the Interior Department. … Cari Lutkins is now senior manager for international business development at the Estée Lauder Companies Inc. She most recently was deputy chief of staff for operations to the U.S. Mission to the U.N., and is an NSC and OPIC alum.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Laura Vincent Stein, operations strategist at General Motors and a Mitch McConnell alum, and Edward Stein, law clerk at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, welcomed Lilia Elisabeth Stein on March 29. Pic
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Labor Secretary Marty Walsh … Ann Marie Hauser of the Hudson Institute … CNN’s Antoine Sanfuentes … Hanna Rosin … Ann Klenk … Samantha Dravis of Clout Public Affairs … Josh Shultz … Carter Yang … POLITICO’s Alice Miranda Ollstein and Emma Savić … Lisa Belkin … BGR Group’s Mark Tavlarides … Amy Dudley of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative … Max Clermont … Shelley Greenspan of the State Department … Jessica Mackler … NBC’s Gary Grumbach … Bradley Saull … Mike Purdy … Stig Abell … Dale Thorenson of Gordley Associates … Haley Bowcutt … Mariama Tejan … Emily Stier … Nick Barbknecht … Joe Gierut … Majority Strategies’ Aaron Whitehead … MSNBC’s Bridget Mulcahy … Jon Sallet … Ray Zaccaro … Chris Lydon … Jen Judson … Gabriel Arana … Yishai Schwartz … Jeffrey Frank … Howard Gantman … Tom Kohn … Joseph Heaps … Marisa McNee … Portland’s Noah Black … Melinda Henneberger of the Kansas City Star … Elizabeth Alexander
THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):
“Face the Nation”: Speaker Nancy Pelosi … Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) … Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer … California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond … Scott Gottlieb.
“Meet the Press”: Secretary of State Antony Blinken … Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Panel: Peter Alexander, Helene Cooper, Amna Nawaz and Ashley Parker.
“Fox News Sunday”: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg … Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) … Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Panel: Karl Rove, Gillian Turner and Mo Elleithee. Power Player: Senate sergeant-at-arms Karen Gibson.
“State of the Union”: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg … Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson … House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).
“This Week”: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm … Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). Panel: Pierre Thomas, Dan Abrams and Terri Austin. Panel: Chris Christie, Rahm Emanuel, Rachel Scott and Maggie Haberman.
“Full Court Press”: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) … Council of Economic Advisers member Heather Boushey.
“Inside Politics”: Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist … Amy Walter and Jonathan Martin … Paula Reid … acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey.
“The Sunday Show”: Soledad O’Brien … Donna Edwards … Rebecca Carroll … A’shanti Gholar … Linh Nguyen … Tim Alexander … Perry Bacon Jr. … Kurt Bardella … Ezekiel Emanuel … Laurie Garrett.
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