POLITICO Playbook: House Republican super PAC’s new president

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POLITICO Playbook: House Republican super PAC’s new president

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK … DAN CONSTON will take over as president of AMERICAN ACTION NETWORK and CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP FUND for the 2020 cycle. The pair of groups make up two critical tools in the House Republicans’ political arsenal. CLF is the House Republican leadership-backed super PAC, and AAN is a related 501(c)(4). The groups were run by CORRY BLISS in the 2018 cycle. Bliss will remain an adviser to the groups.

AAN AND CLF raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars each cycle, which make them outsized players in the race for control of the House. This cycle, the pair of groups raised $213 million. In the new political fundraising world, groups like AAN and CLF are as important as the official party committee.

CONSTON worked at AAN and CLF in the 2012, 2014 and 2016 cycles, and has advised some of the party’s largest outside groups and candidates. Conston was 18-1 in House races when he was at CLF, and has close ties with some of the party’s biggest donors. In 2018, Conston ran a super PAC to help elect Dan Crenshaw in Texas and Michael Waltz in Florida — two incoming lawmakers viewed as up-and-coming stars in the party. The AAN/CLF release

SPOTTED at the ceremony for GEORGE H.W. BUSH in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday evening: Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Elena Kagan, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, former Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas) …

… Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, White House chief of staff John Kelly, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, former Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and James Baker.

REMEMBERING BUSH — AP’S CALVIN WOODWARD, LAURIE KELLMAN and ASHRAF KHALIL: “In Capitol, Bush remembered as ‘great man’ and ‘gentle soul’”: “The nation’s capital embraced George H.W. Bush in death with solemn ceremony and high tributes to his service and decency, as the remains of the 41st president took their place in the Capitol rotunda for three days of mourning and praise by the political elite and everyday citizens alike.

“With Bush’s casket atop the Lincoln Catafalque, first used for Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 funeral, dignitaries came forward Monday to honor the Texan whose efforts for his country extended three quarters of a century from World War II through his final years as an advocate for volunteerism and relief for people displaced by natural disaster. ‘Here lies a great man,’ said Rep. Paul Ryan, the House speaker, and ‘a gentle soul. … His legacy is grace perfected.’ The casket carrying the remains of George H.W. Bush has arrived at the U.S. Capitol for the nation to begin its formal farewell to the 41st president.

“The president’s remains will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday morning. Vice President Mike Pence and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also spoke. President Donald Trump did not attend, but he and first lady Melania Trump came to the Capitol later Monday to pay tribute. They stood in front of the casket with their eyes closed for a few moments, before Trump saluted the casket.” AP

— ELIANA JOHNSON: “Trump handles Bush’s death with abnormal normality”: “For President Donald Trump, there was once no worse insult than being ‘a Bushie.’ That, a former White House official told POLITICO earlier this year, was ‘worse than being a Democrat.’

“If Trump has been thinking such thoughts since the death of former president George H.W. Bush on Saturday, he hasn’t been sharing them. Bush’s death has at least temporarily displaced Trump’s public disdain for the Bush family and, for the moment, he is even borrowing from his late predecessor’s celebrated sense of etiquette.

“On Monday night, Trump visited Capitol Hill to pay personal respects to the 41st president, whose casket arrived earlier in the day and is lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda. The display of respect even extended to the late president’s son, former President George W. Bush, whom Trump has derided as ‘the worst president ever.’ Trump offered Bush the use of his official guest residence, Blair House, while the younger Bush is in Washington for the events surrounding his father’s funeral, according to a White House official.

“In short, the president is behaving normally — a jarring rarity for a man who casually shatters sacred political norms.” POLITICO

HOUSTON CHRONICLE: “Prominent Houstonians share memories of Former President George H. W. Bush”

CLICKERS … POWERFUL photo/video gallery by the Washington Post — WaPo POLITICO: “The nation mourns a president” — 17 photos

Good Tuesday morning. BUSH’S casket is in the Rotunda. The public can come view the former president lying in state today.

JEFF ZUCKER CONSIDERING RUN FOR OFFICE, via Morning Media: David “Axelrod mentioned that Zucker turned down an opportunity to work for Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign and noted that the longtime network executive has talked about running for office himself. ‘I’m still interested in that,’ Zucker said, ‘and it’s something I’d consider.’” The Axe Files

MEDIAWATCH – ANITA KUMAR is joining POLITICO next month as a White House correspondent and an associate editor. She has covered the White House for McClatchy since 2012.

WHAT A TOWN! … WAPO’S EMILY HEIL: “Stormy Daniels discusses her porn career and compares Trump to Burt Reynolds at book talk”

NYT’S FACT CHECK OF THE DAY… “The Misleading Claim That $21 Trillion in Misspent Pentagon Funds Could Pay for ‘Medicare for All’: Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rising liberal star, cited a figure that refers to nearly two decades of internal financial adjustments, not actual spending.”

SHUTDOWN WATCH … MCCONNELL SPEAKS: “McConnell Predicts Lawmakers Will Avoid Government Shutdown,” by WSJ’s Joshua Jamerson: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted lawmakers would avert a government shutdown when a proposed stopgap measure expires later this month, saying neither party wants the political blame for a lapse in funding.

“‘I don’t think we’ll get to that point,’ Mr. McConnell said Monday, addressing the annual meeting of The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. The Kentucky Republican suggested that President Trump negotiate with Democrats, whom he said were ‘not irrelevant’ in Washington after last month’s midterm elections gave the party control of the House.” WSJ

— THIS KEEPS with what McConnell has been saying for awhile now.

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION — GABBY ORR: “Kirstjen Nielsen appeases Trump with border ‘hawk’ posture”: “Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was recently on the brink of losing her job, is now expected to survive the Cabinet shake-up President Donald Trump has spent weeks teasing — and she may have the caravan to thank.

“On the verge of firing by a president who has said she isn’t a strong enough defender of the U.S.-Mexico border, Nielsen has adopted — and made sure to publicize — a tough stance in response to the caravan of Central American migrants headed towards the U.S. that Trump turned into a major midterm campaign issue.

“She has visited the southern border three times since October, and recently hailed Trump himself as a forceful ‘leader.’ The firm posture seems to have impressed her most important audience: the president. Five sources inside and close to the administration describe a clear shift in the president’s feelings toward his DHS chief, about whom he has repeatedly complained over the past year. Her fate is of particular interest because, administration officials say, White House chief of staff John Kelly, a longtime Nielsen mentor and defender, could quickly follow her out the door in frustration.” POLITICO

TRADE WARS — “Trump’s China Truce Calms Markets, but He Chooses a Hard-Liner to Lead Talks,” by NYT’s Alan Rappeport: “The administration has been intensely conflicted about how to approach China, with hard-liners like Mr. Lighthizer advising Mr. Trump to use punishing tariffs to force Beijing to change, and more moderate advisers, like Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, encouraging the president to avoid a trade war.

“Mr. Lighthizer, who recently brokered the new North American trade deal, is a longtime critic of China’s trade practices and has repeatedly cautioned Mr. Trump not to accept vague promises that fail to materialize. He will be taking the reins from Mr. Mnuchin, who led previous rounds of negotiations with the Chinese but could not close a deal that satisfied the president. That choice could rattle the Chinese, who have cozied up to Mr. Mnuchin, viewing him as more moderate.” NYT

2020 WATCH: “Dems’ 2020 problem: Too many candidates, too few minority staffers,” by Daniel Strauss: “Potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in the early stages of assembling campaign staffs are running into an uncomfortable truth: Among the already small pool of capable operatives, there’s an even smaller pool of nonwhite campaign managers and senior advisers. …

“The emerging campaigns of some would-be candidates have tried to get a jump on the problem, compiling spreadsheets of potential minority staffers and holding discussions with the candidates about the need to assemble diverse teams. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown and Kirsten Gillibrand have had African-Americans in senior-level positions in their past campaigns, putting them in position to reactivate them if they run for president.” POLITICO

THE INVESTIGATIONS — YAHOO’S MIKE ISIKOFF, “Mueller preparing endgame for Russia investigation”: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors have told defense lawyers in recent weeks that they are ‘tying up loose ends’ in their investigation, providing the clearest clues yet that the long-running probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election may be coming to its climax, potentially in the next few weeks, according to multiple sources close to the matter.

“The new information about the state of Mueller’s investigation comes during a pivotal week when the special counsel’s prosecutors are planning to file memos about three of their most high profile defendants — former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen. A Flynn sentencing memo is due Tuesday, and memos about Manafort and Cohen are slated for Friday.” Yahoo

CONGRESS’ DAY IN COURT …

— SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE: “Trial for Rep. Duncan Hunter and wife set for September 2019”: “Trial for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and his wife and former campaign manager, Margaret, was set during a hearing on Monday for Sept. 10.

“Duncan and Margaret Hunter appeared in federal court in downtown San Diego for a planning hearing stemming for their Aug. 21 indictment. The two face 60 counts of crimes including conspiracy wire fraud and making false reports to the Federal Election Commission.” U-T

— PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: “Bob Brady aide Smukler found guilty on 9 of 11 counts in campaign finance case”: “A federal jury Monday found U.S. Rep. Bob Brady’s top political strategist, Ken Smukler, guilty of nine of 11 counts of repeatedly flouting campaign finance laws in a case that once threatened to ensnare the congressman himself.

“Smukler, 58, who has helped dozens of Democrats win public office over the last 30 years, was convicted of coordinating multiple unlawful contributions and falsifying finance reports for candidates in back-to-back congressional races.” Inquirer

TRUMP’S TUESDAY — The president will sign the “Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018” at 3:30 p.m. in the Oval Office.

THE NEW DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY … “Freshman Democrats: Legislation, not investigations, should be House priority,” by WaPo’s Mike DeBonis: “Nearly four dozen incoming House Democrats told their future leaders Monday that they should prioritize action on health care, immigration, gun control and other topics over investigations into the Trump administration.

“The message was delivered in a letter that 46 freshmen sent to the entire Democratic leadership team, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whom Democrats nominated to become the next speaker and who is seeking to persuade her internal critics to support her in a decisive Jan. 3 floor vote.” WaPo

MIDTERM FALLOUT — “Stung by Election Losses, Republicans in the States Seek a Way to Neutralize Democrats,” by NYT’s Mitch Smith in Madison, Wis. and Monica Davey in Chicago: “When Democrats won the governor’s office in Wisconsin, it was one of the party’s most celebrated midterm successes in regaining power in the states. Now Republicans are striking back, moving to slash the power of the new governor even before he takes the oath of office.

“Democrats reacted with fury, crowding the halls of the State Capitol in Madison on Monday and accusing the Republicans of trying to undo an election they had lost. … [I]n states like Wisconsin and Michigan, where Democrats regained governor’s offices in capitals that Republicans fully controlled for years, Republicans are making last-minute efforts to weaken their powers.” NYT

FOR YOUR RADAR — “At center of voter fraud scandal, a convicted felon and ‘grassroots’ campaigner,” by Brian Murphy and Ely Portillo in the Charlotte Observer: “A man who worked as an ‘independent contractor’ for Republican Mark Harris’ campaign in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District is a convicted felon who faced jail time for fraud and perjury, according to court records. Over the last two decades, he has been paid by at least nine candidates, all for get-out-the-vote work, according to state records.

“Leslie McCrae Dowless was convicted of felony fraud in 1992 in Iredell County, according to court records. Dowless and his wife were accused of taking out an insurance policy on a dead man and collecting nearly $165,000 from his death, according to a 1991 Fayetteville Observer article. He served more than six months of a two-year prison sentence, according to court records. Dowless, now 62, was convicted of felony perjury in 1990, according to court records.

“The results of Harris’ apparent victory over Democrat Dan McCready in November’s election have not been certified by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. The nine-member board has twice declined to certify the results and will hold an evidentiary hearing this month due to ‘claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities related to absentee mail ballots,’ according to Joshua Malcolm, the board’s vice chair.” Charlotte Observer

NEW: THE WOMEN & POLITICS INSTITUTE at American University’s School of Public Affairs conducted a post-election poll on what mattered to women voters. The results

SPOTTED: Rob Reiner yesterday at Bourbon Steak having lunch – pic … Christine Lagarde at the checkout at the Foggy Bottom Whole Foods.

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Al Hunt, columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, is 76. How he got his start in journalism: “Kicked out of college for throwing wild party, got job as copy boy with the Philadelphia Bulletin. Admitted back to college six months later in love with journalism as well as parties.” Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Jackie Kucinich, Washington bureau chief of The Daily Beast and a CNN political analyst … Bill Muratt, COS for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) (hat tip: Hilary Rosen) … Claire Lucas … Kevin O’Neill, co-chair of Arnold & Porter’s legislative team, is 49 … PBS NewsHour’s deputy senior producer Anne Davenport … Nick Gass of Koch Industries … Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) is 65 (h/t Fritz Brogan) … Craig Brownstein … Peter Freeman … CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux … Ashley (Nerz) Levey, comms at LinkedIn (h/t Chip Cutter) … Ben Keller … Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) is 82 … Tyquana Henderson-Parsons … CNBC’s Whitney Ksiazek … Cesi Covey … NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben … Sarah Schanz, associate at Kirkland & Ellis (h/t fiancé Jeremy Iloulian) … Colin Rogero, Democratic media consultant and partner at 76 Words, is 4-0 (h/t Andrew Feldman) …

… Marina McCarthy … Kate Folmar, comms director at Everytown for Gun Safety (h/t Zoe Shepard) … Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) is 57 … Campbell Marshall … former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters is 7-0 … Sarah Paulos … Rick Hohlt … Jennie Westbrook Courts, a principal at Precision Strategies (h/t Stephanie Cutter) … Andrew Shult, who just joined the American Investment Council as digital director, is 31 (h/t wife Allison Schneider) … John Neata … Yesenia Chavez … Hilary Matfess (h/t Ben Chang) … Jon Fleischman … Bain’s Matthew Bevens … Shelbi Warner … Louisa Keeler … ACLU’s Sarah Baron … Joe Britton … Leigh Strope of BCW Global … Patrick Collins … WaPo’s Jennifer Hurley … Facebook’s Francesca de Quesada Covey … Nancy Rose Senich … Steve Fowler … Leslie Rhode … Laura Derby … Brian Svoboda … Steen Hambric … Yesenia Chavez … Meg Badame … Sean Gagen … Nate Beecher (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)

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