Playbook: Harris slams DeSantis over slavery curriculum

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With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross


DÉJÀ VU — “Nervous Republicans turn to New Hampshire in hopes of stopping Trump,” AP … “Some critics see Trump’s behavior as un-Christian. His conservative Christian backers see a hero,” AP

FRIDAY NIGHT SPECIAL — White House press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE was the surprise guest at last night’s performance of “The Last Improv Show” at the Kennedy Center. The comedians take the guest’s monologue of true stories, and perform bits based on them. We’re told KJP told a story of when her daughter left a note for President JOE BIDEN in the Oval Office, and another about how she body-blocked a protester from then-Sen. KAMALA HARRIS during a forum in 2019. PicAnother pic

INSIDE HARRIS’ DECISION TO TAKE ON DeSANTIS During a Thursday morning flight to Indianapolis on Air Force Two, Harris told her staff that she had a last-minute change to her schedule: She wanted to go to Florida the next day to speak about an issue that was personally important to her, and wanted them to figure out the logistics.

One day earlier, Florida’s Board of Education unanimously backed new standards for teaching Black history that would put the state’s curriculum in compliance with the Stop WOKE Act signed into law by Gov. RON DeSANTIS.

One component was the source of particular outrage: requiring middle schoolers to be instructed that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Many educators and historians blasted the new standards as sanitizing slavery and omitting key facts about the Black experience in this country.

Now, Harris was ready to throw the weight of her bully pulpit into the fight.

Usually, a vice presidential trip takes days, if not weeks, to put together. There are intense security and logistical concerns. Now, Harris was giving her team just hours. (And not for the first time: Harris pulled a similar move in April to show support for the “Tennessee Three.”)

Quickly, the team began piecing the trip together, calling advocates in Florida and across the country to discuss what the program could actually look like (who would join the VP at the event, who else should speak, etc.), checking in every few hours, late into the night. “The VP’s team was intentional about building a speaking program that featured remarks from faith leaders, elected officials, parents, and teachers, all of different races and backgrounds,” a White House official told Playbook. It’s a coalition, the official said, that “she will continue to build going forward.”

The end result: Harris gave a fiery speech — without a teleprompter — that both called out the curriculum changes and knocked Florida’s Republican leaders. Among the targets, inevitably, was DeSantis — though Harris never mentioned him by name, referring to him and other top state Republicans as “extremists” and “people who walk around and want to be praised as leaders.”

“Come on — adults know what slavery really involved,” Harris said. “It involved rape. It involved torture. It involved taking a baby from their mother. It involved some of the worst examples of depriving people of humanity in our world. How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities, that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?”

THE STRATEGY: For Harris, aides say, these fast-twitch trips are about demonstrating a sense of urgency and reminding people that she — and, by extension, Biden and the entire federal government — “have their back.” It’s also part of a more consistent trend from the administration of going into enemy turf to call out policies or tout accomplishments. (Harris’ last trip to Florida was for the 50th anniversary of Roe v Wade.) They’re picking their battles with precision.

THE DeSANTIS RESPONSE — During a campaign stop in Utah, DeSantis was asked about the backlash surrounding how slavery will be taught in Florida schools.

From the Salt Lake Tribune’s Emily Anderson Stern: “‘I think that they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed being a blacksmith into doing things later in life. But the reality is, all of that is rooted in whatever is factual,’ DeSantis said Friday of the curriculum, calling them ‘the most robust standards in African American history’ in the country.”

Notable criticism from fellow GOP 2024 hopeful and former Rep. WILL HURD (R-Texas), who is Black: “Unfortunately, it has to be said — slavery wasn’t a jobs program that taught beneficial skills. It was literally dehumanizing and subjugated people as property because they lacked any rights or freedoms.”

Related read: “DeSantis Faces Swell of Criticism Over Florida’s New Standards for Black History,” by NYT’s Sarah Mervosh

One big question we have: DeSantis reportedly wants to pivot away from talking so much about Florida on the campaign trail, and instead talk more about the nation as a whole. (The latest sign of that: Deseret News’ Suzanne Bates noted that in his Utah remarks, “DeSantis didn’t mention his fight with Disney, one of his typical talking points.”)

But by actively seeking out controversy — and using the ensuing conflict to earn media attention and raise his profile — will DeSantis’ own record as Florida governor make that pivot possible?

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

A HEADLINE BIDEN WILL LOVE — “GOP’s crumbling case against Biden on crime, immigration and inflation,” by Axios’ Dave Lawler, Stef Kight and Courtenay Brown

A HEADLINE BIDEN WILL HATE — “Biden Goes All In on Bidenomics. Voters Aren’t Buying It,” by WSJ’s Sabrina Siddiqui and Christian Robles




1. UP FOR DEBATE: VIVEK RAMASWAMY’s campaign says he has qualified for the first GOP presidential primary debate, Semafor’s Shelby Talcott scooped this morning. That’s no small feat for an outsider candidate and political novice who has now amassed enough small-dollar donors and polling momentum — sometimes hitting second or third place — to make it to the big leagues. Ramaswamy also told Semafor that he will sign the RNC loyalty pledge to back the eventual Republican nominee.

2. THE TRUTH BEHIND THE LIES: “Before Jan. 6, Mark Meadows joked about Trump’s election claims,” by WaPo’s Josh Dawsey, Carol Leonnig and Jackie Alemany: “In a text message that has been scrutinized by federal prosecutors, [MARK] MEADOWS wrote to a White House lawyer that his son, Atlanta-area attorney BLAKE MEADOWS, had been probing possible fraud and had found only a handful of possible votes cast in dead voters’ names, far short of what [DONALD] TRUMP was alleging. The lawyer teasingly responded that perhaps Meadows’s son could locate the thousands of votes Trump would need to win the election.” Special counsel JACK SMITH’s team has obtained the message and shown it to a grand jury.

Another Smith move: His team has asked former White House aide WILLIAM RUSSELL about Trump’s state of mind around the 2020 election, NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard, Katherine Doyle and Dareh Gregorian scooped. That’s the latest indicator that investigators are trying to determine whether Trump knew he’d lost — and therefore acted with corrupt intent in attempting to overturn the results.

3. QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This is going to sneak up on people,” DAVID AXELROD warns about CORNEL WEST’s third-party presidential campaign in a story from CNN’s Gregory Krieg, Eva McKend and Isaac Dovere. “I don’t know why alarm bells aren’t going off now, and they should be at a steady drumbeat from now until the election.”

Even as top Democrats are skeptical West will get far, other Dems are more worried about his spoiler bid with an explicitly race-based appeal. And progressive allies of West are urging him to stop. “[W]hile many political insiders have been buzzing about the group No Labels trying to get on the ballot in many states with a presidential candidate, the Greens are already there in 16 – and in 2016, got up to 44,” CNN notes.

4. HISTORIC MOMENT: “Biden’s pick for top Navy leader would be first female Joint Chiefs member,” by Lara Seligman and Paul McLeary: “Biden on Friday nominated Adm. LISA FRANCHETTI to lead the Navy … But Franchetti will quickly join a nomination logjam in the Senate … By choosing Franchetti for the job, Biden overruled Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN, who recommended a different officer for the job: Adm. SAMUEL PAPARO, who leads the U.S. Pacific Fleet.”

5. WHO WAS IT? “FBI improperly searched U.S. senator’s name in database, court finds,” by Axios’ Sam Sabin: “An FBI analyst conducted overly broad searches in June 2022 for information about a U.S. senator and a state senator in the Section 702 database, according to the court opinion. In October, another FBI specialist also ran a search using the Social Security number of a state judge who ‘had complained to FBI about alleged civil rights violations perpetrated by a municipal chief of police,’ per the document.”

6. THE COST OF DISSENT: “For One Democrat, the Price of Bucking Her Party Is a Flood of Bad Reviews,” by NYT’s Annie Karni: “Representative MARIE GLUESENKAMP PÉREZ’s automobile repair business has become a target of online trolls on the left after she opposed President Biden’s student loan forgiveness initiative.”

7. BATTLE FOR THE SENATE: Tennessee state Rep. GLORIA JOHNSON is planning to launch a longshot bid to unseat GOP Sen. MARSHA BLACKBURN, with an announcement likely next month, Ally Mutnick reports. Johnson became a national cause celebre for Democrats as one of the “Tennessee Three” who protested against her legislature’s Republicans’ inaction on guns — and came within one vote of being expelled as punishment. She would nonetheless face long odds in bright-red Tennessee, though a bid focused on gun control could also be “aimed at building up the state’s Democratic Party and engaging new voters.”

8. KNOWING JOHN LAURO: “Meet the Tampa lawyer who just agreed to defend Trump,” by the Tampa Bay Times’ Andrew Long: “Lauro, a white-collar lawyer, is a former federal prosecutor with extensive experience in criminal and commercial litigation who has previously represented Trump attorneys CHRISTINA BOBB and ALINA HABBA. … Prior to joining Trump’s team, Lauro’s highest-profile case came in 2007 when he defended former NBA referee TIM DONAGHY of Bradenton, who pleaded guilty to accepting payoffs from gamblers and betting on games himself.”

9. THE NEW VOTING RESTRICTIONS: “Democrats scramble to reach voters after Florida cancels mail-in ballot requests,” by NBC’s Jane Timm: “Florida Democrats say they’re spending and organizing to chase down people who vote by mail after election officials across the state canceled all standing mail ballot requests this year. The mass cancellations were to comply with a 2021 election law that added new restrictions to mail-in voting. … [I]n the six months since the ballot requests were canceled, less than a third of voters in three large counties have taken steps to request mail ballots again.”

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 15 funnies

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“The life of a gun,” by the Star Tribune’s Stephen Montemayor: “This Mossberg MC2c pistol travelled from Texas before it hit the black market, ending up at a 2021 St. Paul mass shooting.”

“How I Survived a Wedding in a Jungle That Tried to Eat Me Alive,” by Melissa Johnson for Outside: “Nothing says ‘I do’ like a small blood sacrifice.”

“The Vanishing Family,” by Robert Kolker in the NYT Magazine: “They all have a 50-50 chance of inheriting a cruel genetic mutation — which means disappearing into dementia in middle age. This is the story of what it’s like to live with those odds.”

“Years after a border separation, a family’s reunion was in a judge’s hands,” by WaPo’s Kevin Sieff in Nashville

“Biden Declares War on the Cult of Efficiency,” by The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer: “New antitrust guidelines revive the old-fashioned idea that American life is about more than just buying lots of cheap stuff.”

“Doctor’s Orders,” by Jason Blakely in Harper’s: “COVID-19 and the new science wars.”

“Government by Reason — or by Passion?” by City Journal’s Allen Guelzo: “On Lincoln and democracy.”

“Oppie’s Problem,” by Martin Filler in The New York Review of Books: “Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer captures the drama of the physicist’s life to thrilling effect but glosses over an essential part of his conundrum.”

“Oppenheimer: The man. The movie. The legacy,” a July special issue from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

— From the archives: “A Quality That Lets You In,” by The New Yorker’s Whitney Balliett, Dec. 30, 1973: “Profile of Tony Bennett, who has become the most widely admired American popular singer.”


Tim Burke wants his devices back from the FBI that were seized after he published leaked Fox News footage.

Gwynne Wilcox’s NLRB renomination could be the next big Senate confirmation fight.

Bob Dole is the namesake of Washburn University’s new law school building.

Robert Garcia swung by San Diego Comic Con.

Brian Schatz discovered the joys of televised competitive trampoline-basketball.

WEDDING — Patrick McCann, senior media relations officer at the McCain Institute, and Alexandria Abikhaled, senior business development manager for budgeting and compliance at the International Republican Institute, got married Wednesday at Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como, Italy. They met while working on Lindsey Graham’s 2016 presidential campaign. PicAnother pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. George Santos (R-N.Y.), John Larson (D-Conn.), Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) and Seth Magaziner (D-R.I.) (4-0) … The Daily Beast’s Sam BrodeyErin Perrine … Judge Amy Berman Jackson … former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison (8-0) … Caleb Smith … Port Side Strategies’ Will Fischer … POLITICO’s Craig Howie … CNN’s Terence Burlij … National Association of Counties’ Seamus DowdallAmanda KulesWhitney VanMeter of UPS … Annie Lowrey … former Reps. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) and Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) … Elise Shutzer of ExxonMobil … Arshi Siddiqui of Akin Gump … Mike DiRienzo of the Silver Institute … AJ Jorgenson … former VA Secretary David ShulkinBrandt AndersonWarren BassJoy Yunji Lee …. Emily Carpeaux … NSC’s Tarun ChhabraNathan NaylorSoren Dayton … Center Street’s Alex Pappas Travis KorsonAndrew Feinberg … State Department’s Leila ElmergawiBen Leubsdorf Meghan Sullivan Belica of Wells Fargo … John Shelton of Advancing American Freedom … MaryAsa England of Sen. Susan Collins’ (R-Maine) office … Don Van Natta Jr. Reid Cherlin

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures”: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) … Donald Trump … Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Panel: Kimberley Strassel and Emma-Jo Morris.

CNN “Fareed Zakaria GPS”: Secretary of State Antony Blinken … Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Vivek Ramaswamy … Council of Economic Advisers Chair Jared Bernstein … new Iowa and South Carolina polls. Panel: Guy Benson, Francesca Chambers, Katie Pavlich, Juan Williams, Jonathan Turley and Tom Dupree.

CNN “State of the Union”: Mike Pence … Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) … Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. Panel: Karen Finney, Scott Jennings, Ashley Allison and Miles Taylor.

CBS “Face the Nation”: Chris Christie … Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) … New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy … Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego … Marci Bowers.

ABC “This Week”: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee … Palm Springs, Calif., Mayor Grace Elena Garner … Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). Panel: Rick Klein, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Terence Samuel and Heidi Przybyla.

MSNBC “Inside with Jen Psaki”: Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-U.S. Virgin Islands) … Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) … Larry Hogan … Neal Katyal.

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.

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