POLITICO Playbook: Trump’s election lies take center stage on Capitol Hill

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

Just before 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2020, then-President DONALD TRUMP went before a group of supporters at the White House and prematurely declared victory over JOE BIDEN in an election he ultimately lost.

Today at 10 a.m., that moment — and the avalanche of lies about the election that followed — will be front and center as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack (1) highlights the origins of the “Big Lie” about the 2020 election, (2) shows how it spread and (3) attempts to prove that in the weeks and months following Election Day, even as Trump continued to falsely claim that he’d actually won, he privately knew he’d lost — and that his public insistence otherwise led to the insurrection. Read the preview from Kyle Cheney and Nicholas Wu

Here’s what to expect in today’s big hearing:

The logistics: Chair BENNIE THOMPSON (D-Miss.) will helm the hearing, though Rep. ZOE LOFGREN (D-Calif.) will play a “key role” in presentations, per committee aides.

Unlike what we saw Thursday night, today will be a more traditional congressional hearing, with two separate panels of witnesses testifying.

— The first panel has just two witnesses: (1) BILL STEPIEN, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, whose participation was a surprise when announced Sunday; and (2) CHRIS STIREWALT, Fox News’ former political editor, who defended the network’s decision to call Arizona for Biden before its competitors did, and was fired by the company in January 2021. (Fox has maintained that his dismissal was part of a corporate restructuring.)

Two big questions: 

  • Is Stepien a friendly or hostile witness? Some observers have speculated that because he’s appearing under subpoena, Stepien might not be a “friendly witness” for the committee. But as Kyle points out, (1) if he really didn’t want to testify, Stepien could have sued to block or at least delay his testimony (as other Trump allies have), and (2) “existence of a subpoena doesn’t necessarily mean a witness is resistant,” as we saw with filmmaker NICK QUESTED’s testimony Thursday. 
  • What will Stepien reveal? NYT’s Luke Broadwater and Maggie Haberman report that Stepien “was present for key conversations about what the data showed about Mr. Trump’s chances of succeeding in an effort to win swing states, beginning on election night,” and part of a Nov. 7 meeting after a cascade of news outlets called the election for Biden, in which Stepien told “Trump of the exceedingly low odds of success with his challenges.” Interesting tidbit: Stepien is an adviser to HARRIET HAGEMAN, the Trump-backed candidate aiming to oust committee Vice Chair LIZ CHENEY in her Wyoming GOP primary.

One thing you can count on: Whatever Stepien has to say is sure to take over the news cycle — and, depending on what he says, earn him Trump’s ire.

— The second panel has three witnesses: (1) BENJAMIN GINSBERG, a renowned Republican election lawyer who helped craft the GOP’s Florida recount strategy in the 2000 election between AL GORE and GEORGE W. BUSH; (2)BJAY PAK, a former U.S. attorney based in north Georgia who was pressured by Trump to pursue bogus election fraud allegations in the state following the 2020 election and resigned in January 2021 after learning Trump intended to fire him; (3)AL SCHMIDT, a former Republican city commissioner in Philadelphia who was on the board that oversaw the city’s elections and whom Trump falsely accused of refusing “to look at the mountain of corruption & dishonesty.”

The common theme: “We’re going to hear testimony from government officials who were the ones who looked for the fraud, and about how the effort to uncover these baseless allegations bore no fruit,” a committee aide said Sunday night. “Simply, the fraud that they were looking for didn’t exist.”

Looking ahead: Wednesday’s committee hearing will focus on the efforts by Trump and his allies to pressure the Department of Justice into overturning the presidential election results. Among the expected witnesses: former acting A.G. JEFFREY ROSEN, former acting deputy A.G. RICHARD DONOGHUE and former head of the Office of Legal Counsel STEVE ENGEL.

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

JUST POSTED — “Inside Biden’s frustration with soaring prices,” by WaPo’s Tyler Pager

BREAKTHROUGH IN GUN TALKS — “A group of 20 senators struck a bipartisan gun safety framework on Sunday, marking a significant breakthrough in Congress’ attempts to address recent back-to-back mass shootings,” our Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine write.

Critically, that group includes 10 Republicans — enough to ensure that any bill that results from the framework will have the votes to break a filibuster (barring any Democratic defections).

— What’s in the framework? Four key provisions: (1) enhanced background checks for buyers under 21; (2) funding to incentivize states to pass “red flag” laws; (3) funding for mental health and school safety; (4) closing the so-called boyfriend loophole, which presently allows people to buy guns even if they were convicted of domestic violence against a partner they were dating (but not married to).

The reaction … 

— Biden: “It does not do everything that I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction. With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay. Let’s get this done.”

— Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER: “We must move swiftly to advance this legislation, because if a single life can be saved, it is worth the effort.”

— Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL: “The principles they announced today show the value of dialogue and cooperation. I continue to hope their discussions yield a bipartisan product that makes significant headway on key issues like mental health and school safety, respects the Second Amendment, earns broad support in the Senate, and makes a difference for our country.”

All of which could suggest that it’s full-steam ahead.Except …

— “[T]ranslating a framework into an actual bill often proves challenging,” Burgess and Marianne write. “[A] GOP aide involved in the negotiations stressed that Sunday’s agreement was an ‘agreement on principles, not legislative text.’”

— “Hurdles remain on converting the framework into a detailed proposal, including how much to spend on the programs, how they would be paid for, and how the money would be distributed,” WSJ’s Natalie Andrews writes. “There are no specifics, for example, on what type of law a state must pass to receive a grant relating to implementing extreme protection orders, commonly called red-flag laws, which allow for guns to be removed from a person who is deemed unsafe.”

The political angle …

— For the GOP: “[I]n an indication of the political risks Republicans see in embracing even modest gun safety measures, none of the 10 who endorsed Sunday’s deal was facing voters this year,” write NYT’s Emily Cochrane and Annie Karni. “The group included four Republican senators who are leaving Congress at the end of the year … and five who are not up for re-election for another four years.” The only one up in 2024? Sen. MITT ROMNEY (R-Utah).

— For Dems: The framework is missing almost all of the proposals that Biden, congressional Democrats and gun safety advocates have called for. But they seem to be willing to take what they can get. Throughout these talks, aides in the White House told us that Biden sees these negotiations as a first step. The administration’s hope is that if this framework turns into a bipartisan bill that Biden signs into law, Republicans will be more willing to come back to the table and discuss other gun safety proposals, like raising the minimum age to purchase some assault-style weapons.


— 11:10 a.m.: The president will depart Wilmington, Del., arriving back at the White House at 12:05 p.m.

— 12:30 p.m.: Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief.

— 2 p.m.: Biden will sign into law the creation of a commission to study a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture, with VP KAMALA HARRIS delivering remarks.

Press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE will brief at 3 p.m.

THE HOUSE will meet at noon, with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m. The Jan. 6 committee will hold its second public hearing at 10 a.m.

THE SENATE will meet at 3 p.m. to take up the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act., with a cloture vote on an amendment at 5:30 p.m.


— Tuesday: The president will head to Philadelphia to speak at the 29th AFL-CIO Quadrennial Convention.

— Wednesday: The Bidens will host and speak at a Pride Month reception.

— Friday: Biden will host the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.



IT’S SUSAN RICE’S WORLD — And much of Washington’s just living in it. Chris Cadelago, Adam Cancryn, Daniel Lippman and Laura Barrón-López report in a wide-ranging POLITICO Magazine feature that the Domestic Policy Council director has emerged as the point person on guns, alongside several other weighty policy priorities. She’s consolidated her role as one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes policymakers at the White House, with deep trust from Biden. Our colleagues cull from dozens of interviews to find that Rice is “an underappreciated political operator, a pragmatist consumed with putting points on the board, and a process obsessed micromanager.” There’s even chief of staff chatter, though Rice doesn’t want the role.

On the flip side: Despite significant loyalty to her in the administration, Rice has alienated some in Congress and many progressive advocates, who see her as an impediment to less incremental change.


RUBIO SPEAKS — Sen. MARCO RUBIO (R-Fla.) these days is taking a lower-profile approach to his office, staying away from hot-button gun talks and headlines to focus instead on helping veterans with toxic exposures, ending daylight saving time, tackling forced labor in China and more, Burgess Everett reports. “Rubio’s betting that his work with Democrats on targeted policies balances his overall right-leaning voting record in a perennial swing state that’s trending GOP.” He’s also open about his interest in running for president again someday.

Sen. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-N.Y.) tells Burgess that Rubio is “really easy and fun to work with.”

NOMINATION TRAVAILS — Senators from both parties, including CHRIS COONS (D-Del.) and LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), convinced the White House to back down from plans to replace DAVID BEASLEY atop the World Food Program, Axios’ Hans Nichols and Jonathan Swan report. The Trump-nominated Republican didn’t have much White House backing, but he’s popular with a bipartisan group on the Hill, which swayed Biden to extend Beasley’s term by another year.


TUESDAY’S BIG PRIMARIES — As a heated South Carolina House GOP primary barrels toward Election Day, NIKKI HALEY rallied this weekend with Rep. NANCY MACE to cheers of “President Haley,” The Post and Courier’s Caitlin Byrd reports. Trump, who’s backing challenger KATIE ARRINGTON, posted on social media to rally supporters but didn’t journey to the state. Many in South Carolina see the election not just as a test of the GOP but also as a proxy battle for Haley’s and Trump’s 2024 ambitions.

— From Conway, S.C., WSJ’s Eliza Collins and Natalie Andrews warn that Rep. TOM RICE (R-S.C.) could be in danger in his primary over his vote to impeach Trump: “The Wall Street Journal spoke to more than two dozen voters throughout the district and found few were committed to voting for Mr. Rice, with most saying they planned to vote for [RUSSELL] FRY or someone else, citing the incumbent’s impeachment vote and his defense of the decision.”

JUDY DORR, an octogenarian retiree and Fry supporter: “I love Trump, I would do anything, I would even marry him at 87.”

Related read: “Two Targets of Trump’s Ire Take Different Paths in South Carolina,” by NYT’s Maya King

SWING-STATE BROMANCE — Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. JOHN FETTERMAN and Wisconsin Lt. Gov. MANDELA BARNES have struck up a friendship as they both run for Senate as “less traditional, more progressive” Democrats, Marianne LeVine and Holly Otterbein report this morning. Not only do they represent something a bit new for Dems, they could constitute the party’s two best chances to flip seats in the Senate.

NRSC Chair RICK SCOTT (R-Fla.) refers to the two as “BERNIE SANDERS disciples that aren’t going to fit into their states.”

DEMOCRACY WATCH — This week’s GOP primary for Nevada secretary of state could elevate election denier JIM MARCHANT into a battle for a key post overseeing the state’s elections, Zach Montellaro reports.

JUST POSTED — “Vulnerable Dems run against Washington — and their party,” by AP’s Steve Peoples


FED UP — Grim news for the country and the administration: Fed Chair JEROME POWELL will likely have to trigger a recession to bring inflation under control, Bloomberg’s Rich Miller writes. “An increasing number of economists … say it may take an economic contraction and higher unemployment to bring inflation down to more tolerable levels, much less back to the Fed’s 2% price target.”

STATE OF THE UNIONS — The AFL-CIO officially elected LIZ SHULER to a four-year term atop the organization Sunday. She became its first female president upon taking over last year after RICHARD TRUMKA’s death. She told Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Hans Nichols before the vote that she’s planning to focus more on the tech industry and intends to shift resources toward organizing.


WHAT TO WATCH — State supreme court elections this fall could prove pivotal to the future of abortion access in several states if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Megan Messerly reports this morning. Outside groups are planning to dump big money into the races this year. Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and Kansas are among the states where election results might have an outsize effect on abortion.


THINK TANK TALKER — Retired Gen. JOHN ALLEN resigned Sunday as president of the Brookings Institution, following news that the FBI was investigating his lobbying on behalf of Qatar. “I know it is best for all concerned in this moment,” said Allen, who hasn’t been charged with anything. More from the AP

BASTA! — MICHAEL AVENATTI is set to plead guilty to multiple criminal charges in California, Reuters’ Jonathan Stempel reports.

Kamala Harris stopped by the Capital Pride Concert.

Ketanji Brown Jackson told Georgetown Day School graduates that “in whatever chapter or challenge in life you find yourself in the future, you can always seek to learn something, and you might be pleasantly surprised at how much you grow as a result.”

Gavin Newsom said he is frustrated with “what is going on with the Democratic Party” on a national level, per the SF Chronicle.

Lindsey Graham and Bernie Sanders will hold an old-school Oxford-style policy debate about the state of the economy today in Boston, Axios’ Margaret Talev reports.

IN MEMORIAM — “Longtime NH, national Democratic advisor Joe Grandmaison dies at 79,” by the New Hampshire Union Leader’s Paul Feely: “Grandmaison became known nationally as a no-nonsense Democratic political campaign manager, guiding a long list of candidates in successful runs for public office. … Grandmaison became an adviser and friend of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and is credited with providing Clinton crucial advice late in the 1992 New Hampshire presidential primary.”

AND THE AWARD GOES TO — This year’s Scripps Howard Awards were announced, with winners including The Arizona Republic’s dissection of the conspiratorial ballot “audit”; the Pandora Papers investigation from ICIJ, WaPo and others; and NBC’s “Southlake” podcast. The full list of winners

BOOK CLUB — Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) has a new memoir out Tuesday, “A Way Out of No Way,” which he talked with CBS’ John Dickerson about (along with his high-profile reelection campaign).

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Michael Shapiro is leaving DOT to return to the private sector in New York. As deputy assistant secretary of Transportation for economic policy, he’s played a big role in the department’s infrastructure work.

TRANSITION — Maddie Davidson is now director of government affairs at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. She most recently was health policy director for Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.).

ENGAGED — Brad Fingeroot, director of land acquisition at Sunrise Land Group, proposed to Nicole Hager, an associate at Wiley Rein and a Mike Rogers, Orrin Hatch and Jim Inhofe alum, on a boat on the Potomac on Saturday. They met while interning in D.C. in 2015. Pic

WEEKEND WEDDINGS — Derek Lyons, general counsel at AppHarvest, and Liz Horning, senior adviser at Ellis, George, Cipollone, got married Saturday at Trump International Golf Links Doonbeg in Ireland. The couple, both Trump White House alums, started dating in the first year of the Trump administration. Pic Another pic

— Rishi Banerjee, regulatory and industry affairs lead at Amazon, and Neha Chatterjee, manager for lobbying and law at Bloomberg Government, got married Saturday at the Gaylord National Harbor, featuring a traditional Hindu Bengali ceremony before nearly 300 guests. They originally met in 2018 when Neha heard about Rishi through family friends and got his number on a visit to D.C., and then went from long-distance to quarantining together during Covid. Pic, via Akbar Sayed Another pic

— Andrew Robreno, government affairs at Ferrero and a Lloyd Smucker alum, and Caroline Dittrich, an account executive with Granicus, got married Saturday at the Curtis Center in Philadelphia, following a rehearsal dinner at the Union League of Philadelphia. Eduardo Robreno, a senior U.S. district judge and the groom’s father, co-officiated. The couple originally met through mutual friends while watching a Philadelphia Eagles game at a D.C. bar. Pic SPOTTED: Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), Jeff Freeland, Anna Alburger and Nick Romeo, Ben Napier, Sean Joyce, Tracy Zea, Phil Beshara, James Redfield, Harry Kumar, Brittany Yanick and Walker Barrett.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Ryan Ehly, senior principal of government relations at L3Harris Technologies, and Natalie Kirilichin, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the GWU Medical Faculty Associates Department of Emergency Medicine, welcomed Hunter William Ehly on Wednesday. Pic Another pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) … Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) … North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper … White House’s Becca RinkevichScott Bixby … L.A. Times’ Eli Stokols and Seema Mehta … HHS’ Sarah Lovenheim … FDA’s William LewallenMorton Halperin … POLITICO’s Camaryn Kerns and Justice Fears … Axios’ Margaret Harding McGillPatrick CuffJim Fellinger of the Consumer Technology Association … Kirtan Mehta of Sen. John Hickenlooper’s (D-Colo.) office (39) … Mara Liasson Andrew Lavigne … Strathdee Group’s Dylan LopezGenger CharlesMichelle Korsmo … National Journal’s Casey WootenPatrick McGillTrent Allen … former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon John Del Cecato of AKPD Message and Media … Bryce Bozadjian of Rokk Solutions … Abbey Nichols of Josh Shapiro’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign … CNN’s Jamie Zahn-Liebes … WaPo’s Michelle Ye Hee LeeLauren Mehta (4-0)

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