POLITICO Playbook: Matt Gaetz’s real estate deal – POLITICO

POLITICO Playbook: Matt Gaetz’s real estate deal – POLITICO

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) criticized a POLITICO article about him as being connected to his criticism of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). But Burr had nothing at all to do with the story. | Matt McClain -Pool/Getty Images


NEW … JAKE and JOHN BRESNAHAN: “Matt Gaetz rents office space from longtime friend and donor — at taxpayer expense”: “Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz has spent nearly $200,000 in taxpayer funds renting an office from a longtime friend, adviser, campaign donor and legal client.

“Both men said in separate interviews Gaetz paid below market rent for the space — although Gaetz later shifted, saying the rent was ‘at or below market rate.’ House rules explicitly state such arrangements are not allowed. … On top of being [Collier] Merrill’s tenant, Gaetz attended fundraisers at Merrill’s restaurants, sought his counsel on policy matters and tapped him as a validator for his work in Washington.

“Gaetz … has paid more than $184,000 to Merrill’s Empire Partners LLC to rent the entire sixth-floor in the Seville Tower, a historic building in downtown Pensacola, according to House disbursement records. Gaetz has rented from Merrill since he got to Congress in 2017.

“House rules state that all leases for district offices must be ‘at fair market value as the result of a bona fide, arms-length, marketplace transaction. The Lessor and Lessee certify that the parties are not relatives nor have had, or continue to have, a professional or legal relationship (except as a landlord and tenant).’

“Merrill said in an interview that Gaetz approached him saying he wanted to rent space in his building. Merrill then dispatched his leasing director to give Gaetz’s staff a ‘range to see what they can get’ and the private negotiation yielded a price in the middle. … ‘I love the idea of … having a state rep, having a congressman — we’re right across from the courthouse,’ Merrill said.”

SHOT … SHORTLY AFTER WE SPOKE TO HIS OFFICE, @mattgaetz tweeted this at 1:06 p.m. Thursday: “@politico is writing a smear piece on me as shills for the @SenatorBurr camp. (Probably in exchange for some other intel story.) The scandalous oppo they’ve dumped: I have an office lease at or below market rate, approved by the House, from Merrill Land Company.” Read the whole tweet thread here

CHASER … Jake’s email to Bresnahan from last year about Gaetz and Merrill — far before Gaetz’s criticism of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Burr had nothing at all to do with this story. The email

TWO THOUGHTS ABOUT OPENING THE GOVERNMENT — KIND OF CONTRADICTORY: Doesn’t it seem somewhat plausible that the government opening will break down into a blue state/red state battle, with red states siding with President DONALD TRUMP and blue states, well, resisting?

… OR: Governors across the board will be cautious and push back against the administration’s deadlines. Lives are in the balance, and governors are going to want to get this right. Small steps rather than giant leaps will be the game plan. It’s easy to call to open things up from the House or Senate. Tougher from the governor’s mansion or mayor’s office, where there are consequences.

GABBY ORR, JEREMY WHITE and NANCY COOK: “Days after declaring ‘total authority’ over states, President Donald Trump on Thursday kicked responsibility for coronavirus-related shutdowns to state governors as he unveiled general guidelines for a phased reopening of the economy.

“In a call with governors and at a White House news conference, the president marked the moment — which he called ‘open up America again’ — as a key step in reviving a devastated economy and an opportunity for state leaders to tailor a response to their individual needs. But he left many critical questions unanswered for the states, including how testing will be ramped up dramatically and where additional resources will come from to protect millions of front-line workers.” POLITICO

FIRST UP — “L.A., other counties plan to reopen some businesses in May. Retail might be among the first,” by the L.A. Times’ Rong Gong Lin II in S.F.: “Local governments are beginning to map out how they could ease some of the coronavirus stay-at-home orders, with officials saying the process could gradually begin in May and continue in targeted ways through the summer and fall.

“The exact timeline is based on several factors, including a significant drop in coronavirus cases as well as fewer hospitalizations and the ability to do extensive testing. But it’s become clear some orders will probably be lifted before others. It’s possible some retailers could open with such safeguards as mask wearing and social distancing policies. Some recreation space, trails and beaches could reopen in this early phase, with strict distancing rules.”

A message from Humana:

When Humana member Gwen M. — who is blind and has no family nearby — started running out of her medication and food, Humana helped her get prescriptions and healthy meals delivered right to her door. See how we’re supporting members during this health crisis.

WSJ: “Stocks Jump on Signs of U.S. Economic Reopening,” by Joanne Chiu and Avantika Chilkoti: “Global stocks rose, and S&P 500 stock futures traded higher, pointing to a strong session for U.S. shares Friday. Ahead of the opening bell in New York, futures linked to the S&P 500 gained 2.9%. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 index also rallied 2.9%.” WSJ

Good Friday morning.

TOP TALKER … NYT’S MAGGIE HABERMAN: “For Mark Meadows, Transition From Trump Confidant to Chief of Staff Is a Hard One”: “Mark Meadows has officially been President Trump’s fourth White House chief of staff for less than three weeks.

“In that time, he has shaken up the communications office, angering supporters of the press secretary he chose to replace. He has tried to put in place other speedy changes, hoping to succeed where his three predecessors failed. He has hunted aggressively for leaks.

“But administration officials say he has been overwhelmed at times by a permanent culture at the White House that revolves around the president’s moods, his desire to present a veneer of strength and his need for a sense of control. It is why, no matter who serves as chief of staff, the lack of formal processes and the constant infighting are unavoidable facts of life for those working for Mr. Trump.

“In the case of Mr. Meadows, it has not helped him with his White House colleagues that the former North Carolina congressman, who has a reputation for showing his emotions, cried while meeting with members of the White House staff on at least two occasions. One instance was in the presence of a young West Wing aide; another time was with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.”

PALACE INTRIGUE — “Snubs, feuds and phone tag: Inside Congress’ coronavirus breakdown,” by Heather Caygle, Burgess Everett and Melanie Zanona: “It’s a tried and true tradition in politics for leaders to harangue the other side publicly while quietly working behind the scenes to clinch a bipartisan deal. But the institution is hindered by the interpersonal relationships — or lack thereof — between the four leaders.

“For Pelosi and McConnell, there are still hard feelings over how the last round of coronavirus negotiations played out. Pelosi and McCarthy have a limited working relationship, while Schumer and McConnell are standoffish at the best of times.

“That dynamic makes governing in ordinary times a challenge. But now, some lawmakers note, the consequences are literally life and death. While party leaders bicker, critical funds for small businesses, hospitals and state and local governments are running out.”

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TOUGH DAY — “Reported U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Reach Record 4,591 in 24 Hours,” by WSJ’s Jennifer Calfas, Newley Purnell and Matthew Dalton: “The number of reported deaths in the U.S. from the new coronavirus spiked to nearly double the prior record Thursday, as governors extended their lockdown orders, and the Trump administration released new federal guidelines to reopen the economy.

“In the 24 hours ending at 8 p.m. Eastern time Thursday, 4,591 people were reported to have died from Covid-19, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. The prior record was 2,569 on Wednesday. The number of new reported U.S. cases, meanwhile, was roughly equal with that on Wednesday at 31,451.” WSJ

SUPPLY CHAIN SHORTFALLS NEXT? — “Meat processing plants are closing due to covid-19 outbreaks. Beef shortfalls may follow,” by WaPo’s Laura Reiley: “The coronavirus has sickened workers and forced slowdowns and closures of some of the country’s biggest meat processing plants, reducing production by as much as 25 percent, industry officials say, and sparking fears of a further round of hoarding. Several of the country’s largest beef-packing companies have announced plant closures.” WaPo

MARK ZUCKERBERG announced Facebook would cancel “any large physical events we had planned with 50 or more people through June 2021.”

THE VACCINE RACE — “Federal government pledges up to $483m to speed Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine,” by The Boston Globe’s Jonathan Saltzman: “The federal government is pledging up to $483 million to accelerate the development of Moderna’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine, an infusion of money that the Cambridge biotech says would allow it to manufacture the yet-to-be approved product around the clock, seven days a week.

“Moderna’s chief executive, Stephane Bancel, said Thursday that the money from the government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, will enable the company to supply ‘millions of doses per month in 2020 and with further investments ― tens of millions per month in 2021 ― if the vaccine candidate is successful in the clinic.’”

— STAT: “Early peek at data on Gilead coronavirus drug suggests patients are responding to treatment,” by Adam Feurstein and Matthew Herper: “A Chicago hospital treating severe Covid-19 patients with Gilead Sciences’ antiviral medicine remdesivir in a closely watched clinical trial is seeing rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms, with nearly all patients discharged in less than a week, STAT has learned.

“Remdesivir was one of the first medicines identified as having the potential to impact SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, in lab tests. The entire world has been waiting for results from Gilead’s clinical trials, and positive results would likely lead to fast approvals by the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies. If safe and effective, it could become the first approved treatment against the disease.

“The University of Chicago Medicine recruited 125 people with Covid-19 into Gilead’s two Phase 3 clinical trials. Of those people, 113 had severe disease. All the patients have been treated with daily infusions of remdesivir.”

A message from Humana:

Humana is taking unprecedented action — waiving member medical costs for coronavirus testing and treatment — to support members like Gwen. Learn More

TRUMP’S FRIDAY — The president will host a phone call with faith leaders at 4 p.m. in the Oval Office.

— THE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE will hold a press briefing at 5 p.m.


“Inside Politics”: Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo … Ashish Jha … Megan Ranney … Douglas Brinkley … Jonathan Martin … Kaitlan Collins.

Gray TV

“Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren”: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) … Derek Angus, chair of critical medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

“America This Week With Eric Bolling”: Assistant HHS Secretary Brett Giroir … Mehmet Oz. Panel: Dave Campbell, Greg Appelbaum and Colby Grossman … Sebastian Gorka and Ameshia Cross.

JOIN TODAY – COVID-19: A WAKE-UP CALL FOR SUSTAINABILITY: Join Global Translations author Ryan Heath today at 1:00 p.m. for a virtual conversation with Paul Polman, chairman, International Chamber of Commerce, co-founder of Imagine and former CEO of Unilever. With a direct line to hundreds of CEOs Polman discusses how the coronavirus pandemic is a “wake-up call” for global businesses and why sustainability is now essential in every organization. Have a question for Paul? Tweet it to @POLITICOLive using #AskPOLITICO. REGISTER HERE TO PARTICIPATE.


PHOTO DU JOUR: Protesters in Richmond, Va., on Thursday oppose Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order. | Zach Gibson/Getty Images

POLITICO MAG’S FRIDAY COVER … MICHAEL KRUSE: “Donald Trump’s Greatest Escape”: “A quarter of a century has passed. Trump, of course, is no longer the cash-strapped operator of gaudy gambling halls on the New Jersey shore but the president of the United States. Once again, though, he is in dire straits. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and its attendant economic wreckage, the possibility that he could be re-elected has never seemed less certain.

“The annals of American history are littered with presidents brought down by their failures to deal with a national crisis, from Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression to Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War to Jimmy Carter and the Iran hostage affair and the oil shock.

“Those presidents, though, had something else in common, too. They were not Donald Trump.”

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REMEMBER THIS GUY? — “Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen being released from prison,” by AP’s Michael Balsamo: “President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and longtime fixer Michael Cohen will be released from federal prison to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement amid the coronavirus pandemic, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

“Cohen is currently locked up at FCI Otisville in New York after pleading guilty to numerous charges, including campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress. He will remain under quarantine for 14 days before he is released. Federal statistics show 14 inmates and seven staff members at the prison have tested positive for coronavirus.” AP

EYES ON THE SKIES — “Airlines Face Tough Choice: Fly Largely Empty Planes or Lose Coronavirus Aid,” by WSJ’s Alison Sider: “The Transportation Department on Thursday denied most of the requests by JetBlue Airways Corp. and Spirit Airlines Inc. to reduce or suspend flying in response to collapsing demand amid the coronavirus pandemic. The agency, which is responsible for deciding the amount of flying airlines must maintain to receive government funds, said both airlines could suspend service to destinations in Puerto Rico, where incoming flights are restricted.”

IMMIGRATION FILES — “Trump ramps up border wall land grabs amid pandemic lockdowns,” by Ozy’s Nick Fouriezos: “Last month, as President Donald Trump told millions of Americans to stay home in response to the coronavirus, lawyers on the Texas border began noticing a strange trend — a sharp spike in the number of eminent domain cases being sent to the courts.

“In just over three months in 2020, the Trump administration has already filed at least 26 new cases in its efforts to acquire land in Texas to build his long-promised Mexico border wall. That’s roughly a third of the 77 total cases issued in the entirety of Trump’s tenure in office, according to data compiled by the Texas Civil Rights Project. Since the start of March, the federal government has filed 16 new cases — encompassing more than 1,000 acres of land — even as Trump was announcing social distancing guidelines and governments shut down many nonessential services.”

PLAYBOOK METRO SECTION — WUSA: “4 of 5 Whole Foods stores in D.C. have employees diagnosed with COVID-19”

MEDIAWATCH … CNN’S BRIAN STELTER: “According to the meticulous record kept by Mark Knoller of CBS, Trump hasn’t granted an interview to a non-Fox employee since January 22, when he chatted with CNBC’s Joe Kernen in Davos. Kernen began by asking about the coronavirus: ‘Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?’

“‘No. Not at all,’ Trump said. ‘And — we’re — we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s — going to be just fine.’ … Since then, Trump has been interviewed a dozen times on Fox News and Fox Business.” CNN

— James LaPorta is joining the AP as an investigative reporter covering national security, intelligence and the U.S. military. He previously was a technical consultant for NBC’s “This Is Us” and a Newsweek senior correspondent, and is a Marine Corps veteran.

ATTN DMV COMMUNITY: LET’S LOOK OUT FOR ONE ANOTHER: Layoffs, school cancellations, health risks: Our neighbors need help now more than ever. You can help. From grab-and-go dinners for kids to boxes of groceries for seniors, your support will help provide tens of millions of meals for people in the greater D.C. community who need it the most during these turbulent times. No one should go hungry during this pandemic. Together, we can make sure no one has to. Please support the Capital Area Food Bank’s Covid-19 response today.

Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at [email protected].

SPOTTED: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot with Todd, Laura and Tom Ricketts, setting up a food bank at Wrigley Field. Pic

TRANSITION — Ashley Mitchell is now comms director at the Groundwork Collaborative. She previously was comms director for We The Action.

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Jackie Whisman, VP at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. How she got her start: “My first job was in the office of former Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), back when bipartisanship was the norm rather than the exception. I’m sure he’s enjoying retirement, but man do I miss him. My dream dinner party would bring the 109th Congress back together for a screening of the evening news.” Playbook Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) is 59 … Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) is 52 … Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) is 37 … Jim Acosta, CNN chief White House correspondent, is 49 … Marty Obst, longtime Mike Pence aide and president of MO Strategies … NYT’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis … Alex Kellner … Dean Lieberman, founder and principal at DKL Strategies … Chris Durlak … POLITICO’s Michelle Bocanegra and Angelica Botlo … Greg Lemon … Tom Hunt … Ieva Augstums, deputy VP for strategic planning, operations and public affairs at PhRMA, is 41 … Ryan Leppert … Miri Belsky … Andrea Catsimatidis … Jennifer Laptook LaTourette … Brandon Howell, CEO of Repubclick, is 3-0 (h/t wife Rebecca) … Greg Cairns … Julie Almacy … Tom Giovanetti … Erika Soto Lamb, VP of social impact strategy at Comedy Central … Venable’s Jim Tyrrell is 39 … Chris Gilbert …

… Michael Myers, managing director of policy at the Rockefeller Foundation … David Lindsey, executive editor of news and features at NatGeo … Joshua Tucker … Leslie Dach, founder and chair of Protect Our Care … Bloomberg’s Shelly Banjo … Adekunle Ogunfolu … Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet … Karina Carlson, director of business development at The Atlantic … Jon Simons … Atul Shembekar … Valentina Cano … Uber’s Susan Effler … Matt Aks, associate at Oliver Wyman … Ed Gilroy … NTSB’s Sean Dalton … Eric Sayers, VP at Beacon Global Strategies … Jonathan Brodo … Trait Thompson … Edelman’s Gregory St. Claire … Rachel Pryor … Clay Hanna is 42 … Sandra Fluke is 39 … Brian Temple Smith is 41 … John Cahill … Micah Kleit … Benjamin Runkle is 48 … Gabrielle Porter … Robert Bateman is 53 … Ken Jost … Jessica Ehrlich

A message from Humana:

Humana is committed to delivering #BetterHealth for our members during the coronavirus crisis, and working to connect people to the resources they need.

For example, when Gwen M. — who is blind and has no family nearby — started running out of her medication and food, Humana helped her get prescriptions and healthy meals delivered right to her door.

At Humana, we’re experts at helping our members achieve #BetterHealth and recognize our unique role in supporting them during this unprecedented time. From waiving member medical costs for testing and treatment related to coronavirus to expanding access to telehealth, Humana is committed to doing all that we can to protect our members’ health.

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About The Author : Anna Palmer

Anna PalmerAnna Palmer is a senior Washington correspondent for POLITICO and co-author of POLITICO’s Playbook, the most indispensable morning newsletter for the biggest influencers in politics. Anna covers the world of Congress and politics, and has successfully chronicled the business of Washington insiders for years. Her stories take readers behind the scenes for the biggest fights in Washington as well as the 2016 election.

She is also the co-author of New York Times and national best seller, “The Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump’s America,” which was published by Crown in 2019.

In addition to Playbook, Anna is also editorial director of Women Rule, a POLITICO platform that is dedicated to expanding leadership opportunities for women at all stages of their career.

Prior to becoming POLITICO’s senior Washington correspondent, she was the co-author of the daily newsletter, POLITICO Influence, considered a must-read on K Street. Anna previously covered House leadership and lobbying as a staff writer for Roll Call. She got her start in Washington journalism as a lobbying business reporter for the industry newsletter Influence. She has also worked at Legal Times, where she covered the intersection of money and politics for the legal and lobbying industry, first as a staff writer and then as an editor.

A native of North Dakota, Anna is a graduate of St. Olaf College, where she was executive editor of the weekly campus newspaper, the Manitou Messenger. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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About The Author : Jake Sherman

Jake ShermanJake Sherman is a senior writer for POLITICO and co-author of POLITICO’s Playbook, the nation’s leading political newsletter. He is also the co-author of New York Times and national best seller, “The Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump’s America,” which was published by Crown in 2019. Jake is an NBC and MSNBC political contributor.

Since 2009, Jake has chronicled all of the major legislative battles on Capitol Hill, and has also traveled the country to cover the battle for control of Congress.

Jake is a Connecticut native, and a graduate of The George Washington University — where he edited The GW Hatchet — and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Jake lives in Washington with his wife Irene, son and daughter, and listens to an unhealthy amount of Grateful Dead and Phish.

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