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Kevin McCarthy’s office said when asked about any backroom deals last week: “There’s not a side deal to anything.”

| Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo
white house
The president’s advisers are trying to paint the incoming House speaker as totally beholden to his most conservative members.

The White House is escalating its fight with newly empowered congressional Republicans, with officials Tuesday calling on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to “come clean” about secretive deals he made with hardline members that helped him eventually land the top job.
“An unprecedented tax hike on the middle class and a national abortion ban are just a glimpse of the secret, backroom deals Speaker McCarthy made with extreme MAGA members to end this month’s chaotic elections and claim the gavel,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement shared first with POLITICO. “It is well past time for Speaker McCarthy and the ultra MAGA Republican House members to come out of the dark and tell the American people, in-full, what they decided in secret.”
While McCarthy has insisted he made no formal agreements in exchange for getting conservative holdouts to vote for him, conservative members have said they received certain promises from the new speaker. They have also pointed to action on their priority legislation as a direct result of the recent House leadership negotiations.

The White House had long been gearing up to paint the incoming House Republican caucus as beholden to their most conservative members. But President Joe Biden has tried to turn the policy implications of Republicans’ priority bills, including legislation to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and replace more progressive income taxes with a national sales tax, into a political cudgel. White House officials also said the Republican leadership talks laid the groundwork for the House to vote on a national abortion ban and argue the GOP will use the debt limit standoff to try to force cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
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Vice President Kamala Harris waves during a Martin Luther King Jr. day of service project at George Washington University, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in Washington. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
White House
No longer tied to the Senate, the vice president feels comfort and flexibility as she hits the road on abortion, climate and other issues

For Kamala Harris and her aides, the new year — and a new Congress — has brought a sense of optimism.
After spending much of her time in office managing bad headlines, staff turnover and persistent questions about her portfolio and position in Biden world, the vice president is in a better place, her allies and aides say.
She no longer is tied to the whims of an evenly split Senate, where she had been called to cast more than two dozen tie-breaking votes. And they say she no longer feels her every move is being eyed in the context of a potential 2024 Harris presidential campaign since her boss is highly likely to seek another term.
“Now that it looks like he’s running, she’s really being treated like what I would call a ‘normal vice president,’” said one former Harris aidewho spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There’s just less attention, which I think actually frees her up to focus on excelling and not have to worry about the relentless scrutiny.”
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Two clowns attend a demonstration against the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 15, | AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Political A-listers skip the annual talkfest in the Swiss Alps as business elite arrive in droves.

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President Joe Biden’s Atlanta speech reiterated his stated focus on redeeming “the soul of America.”

President Joe Biden on Sunday paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and called for “community over chaos,” as he became the first sitting president to speak at Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Sunday service.
“I’ve spoken before Parliament, kings and queens, leaders all over the world. I been doing this for a long time. This is intimidating,” Biden said, speaking at the Atlanta church where King was a pastor ahead of the holiday honoring the civil rights leader.
The speech reiterated Biden’s stated focus on redeeming “the soul of America,” a theme he’s returned to in his first two years in office as a shorthand for both policy priorities and a rejection of far-right election denialism.
Specifically, work remains on economic rights, voting rights and protecting American democracy, Biden said Sunday, on what would have been King’s 94th birthday.
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Lawmakers volleyed talking points back and forth in reaction to the discovery of classified documents outside the Biden White House.

Even as one Republican acknowledged distinctions Sunday between Biden’s handling of documents and former President Donald Trump’s, most reactions broke among party lines.
“Granted they’re different,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said on ABC’s “This Week.” “What strikes me, though, is having President Biden be highly critical of President Trump, calling him irresponsible.”
Bacon was referencing a September “60 Minutes” interview, in which CBS’ Scott Pelley asked Biden about the discovery of classified materials at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago; at the time, Biden questioned “how that could possibly happen” — a statement Republicans have repeatedly highlighted in the past week.
Apart from Bacon, however, reactions to the revelations of sensitive documents discovered in private, Biden-associated places this week depended mostly on party affiliation. Both sides cried of unfair standards.

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Merrick Garland’s deliberative approach to investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol has come to frustrate Democrats and, at times, President Joe Biden himself.
The POLITICO Mag Profile
The nation’s famously low-key attorney general is actually quite comfortable in the spotlight. Now he has to decide whether to take on Donald Trump.

When Merrick Garland took center stage late last year to announce the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the ongoing criminal investigations concerning Donald Trump, it was not the first time that the mild-mannered former judge had taken on the role of the tortured moralist at the center of an epic and unspooling drama.
As a high school student in suburban Chicago in the late 1960s, the man who is now the attorney general played the lead role in J.B. — a modernized, Pulitzer Prize-winning retelling of the Biblical story of Job by the playwright Archibald MacLeish. In the play, two characters who serve as surrogates for God and the Devil decide to test the faith of the titular character, a prosperous and devout New York banker — described as a “perfect and an upright man” — who is forced to deal with the loss of his children, his wealth and his health. MacLeish was grappling with the horrors of the first half of the 20th century and, as he put it in a foreword to the play, the ways in which “the enormous, nameless disasters which have befallen whole cities, entire peoples, in two great wars and many small ones, have destroyed the innocent together with the guilty — and with no ‘cause’ our minds can grasp.”
Even then, Garland could relate.
One of his classmates still remembers his performance. “He just played it so well — really moving, kind of breaking down amidst all these destructive things happening,” Rebecca Klatch, now a sociology professor at UC San Diego, told me. “He was just amazing in it, but he did other plays,” she noted, also recalling Garland’s role in a group rendition of the song “Hair” with Klatch and others for a senior-year talent show.
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On Thursday, lawyers for Biden discovered a second batch of documents with classified markings in a storage space in the garage of his Wilmington, Del., residence. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo
White House
The additional information was discovered and reported earlier this week and turned over the Justice Department.

Aides to President Joe Biden on Thursday evening found five additional classified documents at his Wilmington, Del., home, the White House announced Saturday.
The additional information was discovered and reported earlier this week and turned over the Justice Department, according to a statement from Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president.
Sauber, who has necessary security clearance to review sensitive materials, said he went to Biden’s home in Delaware on Thursday to provide the Justice Department with the classified materials that Biden’s team had discovered a day earlier. While there, he found the five additional pages with classification markings. The Justice Department officials with him immediately took possession of those materials, Sauber said.

The announcement follows just days after Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed former U.S. attorney Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate the storage of the documents. That announcement came just as House Republicans began issuing oversight demands into the matter.
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Some city and state leaders are working to prohibit gas stoves and furnaces in new buildings, on the grounds that they endanger health and contribute to climate change. | Scott Olson/Getty Images
Energy & Environment
The Biden administration isn’t proposing to outlaw the fossil-fuel-powered appliances. But they’re at the center of a growing nationwide debate about city and state gas bans — and the latest Washington culture war.

No, President Joe Biden isn’t coming for your gas stove.
Republicans and conservative pundits have spent the past week nonetheless expressing alarm about the fate of Americans’ ranges and cooktops — in line with previous GOP complaints about real or imagined threats to hamburgers, toilets, air travel, incandescent light bulbs and gasoline-powered cars.
Genuine or not, the stove flap gave Republican lawmakers an opening to put Biden’s energy policies back on the front burner, after last year’s spurt of high gasoline prices had faded from the headlines.
It also touches on a real, coast-to-coast crusade by liberal city and state leaders to prohibit gas stoves and furnaces in new buildings, on the grounds that they endanger health and contribute to climate change. But the White House has disavowed enacting any such ban at the federal level. (“The president does not support banning gas stoves,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters after the issue came up repeatedly at Wednesday’s news briefing.)
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President Joe Biden speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone from his private residence in Wilmington, Del., Dec. 30, 2021. | The White House via AP
Law and Order
And that’s both a good and bad thing for the president.

The appointment of special counsel Robert Hur on Thursday marks the first time a sitting president and his immediate predecessor faced simultaneous federal criminal investigations. Yet those two cases bear, at most, a passing resemblance.
There’s a much better analogy. And it’s one that holds both good and potentially worrisome news for President Joe Biden.
Based on what we know now, Biden’s sloppy retention of a smattering of classified documents looks more like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s inadvertent retention of classified material on a private email server than former President Donald Trump’s stubborn refusal to return hundreds ofclassified documents to the DOJ despite repeated demands from federal officials.
Trump is under investigation for willful retention of classified recordsbecause he ignored direct requests from national archives officials, a grand jury subpoena and even a personal visit from DOJ’s top counterintelligence official. The FBI seized the documents pursuant to a search warrant only after they discovered that Trump’s attorneys lied to them and that documents had been moved inside Mar-a-Lago after their visit.
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David Kessler has served as the Covid response’s top science official since the start of the administration, overseeing the purchase and initial rollout of hundreds of millions of vaccines. | Greg Nash
Health Care
Architect of the administration’s mass vaccination campaign will exit amid preparations for end of the emergency response

David Kessler, who helmed the Biden administration’s efforts to develop and distribute coronavirus vaccines, treatments and tests, is stepping down.
Kessler has served as the Covid response’s top science official since the start of the administration, overseeing the purchase and initial rollout of hundreds of millions of vaccines. He later guided the booster shot campaigns and played a lead role in accelerating the development and availability of the Covid tests and treatments that became core elements of the White House’s plan to suppress the virus.
Kessler, 71, will officially leave the administration next week, ending more than two years of work on the pandemic response dating back to the Biden transition. Most recently, he shepherded the release in September of updated vaccines designed to better target newer strains of the virus.

“Whether he was leading our effort to develop and distribute safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, or sharing his perspective during daily strategy sessions and data deliberations, Dr. Kessler’s contributions to our COVID-19 response have saved lives,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement confirming his planned retirement from the post.
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In December, the administration also announced that Bob Bauer would represent Joe Biden “in a personal capacity should the need arise.” | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
White House
Bauer has been a key player on Biden’s side for years.

President Biden’s personal attorney Bob Bauer will represent him in matters related to theclassified documents found in his office at the Penn Biden Center and at his Wilmington, Del., residence, the Biden administration confirmed on Friday.
Bauer, White House counsel in the administration of former President Barack Obama, has been a key player in Biden’s orbit for years. Bauer helped spearhead issues around voting ahead of — and after — the 2020 election and also helped vet Kamala Harris for vice president. He was a central figure in Biden’s debate preparations ahead of his 2020 clashes with Donald Trump, even standing in to play the then-Republican president in practice sessions.
In December, the administration also announced that Bauer would represent the president “in a personal capacity should the need arise,” if Congressional Republicans go through with their often talked aboutplans to investigate the president’s son, Hunter Biden. But his retention for matters related to the handling of classified documents underscores the growing political significance of that issue.
The announcement comes a day after Attorney General Merrick Garlandappointed former U.S. attorney Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate the storage of the documents. It also was revealed right at the time that House Republicans began issuing oversight demands into the matter.

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Capitol Police Inspector Thomas Loyd said if it werent’ for the quick thinking of officer Eugene Goodman during the riot, “there would have been tremendous bloodshed.” | John Minchillo/AP Photo
Top Capitol Police official describes how close Jan. 6 rioters came to igniting even worse bloodshed

The quick thinking of Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman may have prevented a shootout at the doors of the Senate chamber on Jan. 6, 2021,a top Capitol Police official said Friday.
Inspector Thomas Loyd, testifying in the trial of five members of the Proud Boys leadership charged with seditious conspiracy, recalled the outnumbered Goodman’s effort to lure the first wave of rioters inside the Capitol to a position away from the doors of the Senate and toward a waiting line of Capitol Police officers.
In a famous video of the incident, Goodman lures the group of rioters — which included one of the Proud Boys defendants, Dominic Pezzola — up a staircase and away from the unguarded Senate doors. For a moment, one of the rioters, Douglas Jensen, considered veering away from Goodman and toward those doors. But he ultimately followed Goodman and ran into the line of police reinforcements.
“If those doors had been breached,” Loyd told jurors, “most likely there would’ve been gunfire at that point.”
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President Joe Biden walks from Marine One towards the Oval Office on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Jan. 11, 2023, after returning from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where first lady Jill Biden had surgery to remove skin cancer. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo
Following the FAA computer meltdown, Republicans on Capitol Hill renewed their attacks on President Joe Biden’s pick to head the agency.

The Biden administration is redoubling its support for the president’s choice to head the Federal Aviation Administration, despite a tepid response from congressional Democrats and serious criticism of the agency’s technology failings after Wednesday’s air travel meltdown.
That computer failure, preliminarily traced to a corrupted database file, has given fresh ammunition to Republicans to lash out at nominee Phil Washington, whose aviation resume is relatively thin — and at Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who oversees the agency.
Buttigieg and the White House both said Thursday that they support Washington, but Democrats on Capitol Hill have not been so full-throated, most notably Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who has yet to schedule a hearing on Washington more than six months after President Joe Biden nominated him.
Buttigieg spokesperson Ben Halle said Thursday that “the secretary absolutely supports Phil [Washington] and there should be a hearing quickly” on his nomination. Biden again sent Washington’s nomination to the Senate last week after it expired at the end of the previous Congress.
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Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) stands for a portrait in his office in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, 2022. | Caroline Gutman for POLITICO
The Friday Read
Josh Gottheimer believes his caucus of centrists is going to play a key role getting important bills passed in a narrowly divided House.

On a bitterly cold night 14 months ago, an obstreperous Democratic congressman from New Jersey was sitting in the Capitol hideaway of House Democrats’ heir apparent, talking about trying to do the impossible.
It was exactly one year before November’s midterms when Josh Gottheimer sat down with Hakeem Jeffries, and Democrats were confronting a bleak future. A Republican had just won the governor’s race in blue Virginia, and President Joe Biden’s agenda was all-but-dead despite Democrats’ trifecta of power in Washington. Jeffries — now minority leader and then caucus chair — was part of a Black Caucus bloc eager to score a legislative win by dislodging Biden’s $550 billion infrastructure bill from a months-long stalemate caused by Democratic infighting.
But Jeffries and his allies knew there weren’t enough Democratic votes to get the roads, rails and bridges plan through one of the tightest House majorities in history. They’d need at least a handful of Republican votes.
That’s when Gottheimer said he could deliver a dozen of them. That many GOP votes, Jeffries and other senior Democrats quickly realized, could neutralize the most hardline progressives who were threatening to oppose the infrastructure deal.

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President Joe Biden faces weeks, if not months, of legal probing. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo
White House
Right as he is hitting a nice stretch, the president has been tripped up by the — what else — issues around document retention.

President Joe Biden’s approval numbers are rising. Democrats are as loyal as they’ve been in months. Inflation is down, jobs are up, and shovels are hitting dirt on ambitious plans to fortify America’s infrastructure.
And, yet, Biden is doing some digging of his own.
Attorney General Merrick Garland’s announcement Thursday that he was appointing a special counsel to investigate how classified documents from Biden’s years as vice president came to be stored in his Delaware residence and private office in D.C. thrust a note of political danger into an otherwise good stretch for the White House.

Biden faces weeks, if not months, of legal probing, speculation and bad headlines over his handling of the material. Not to mention the very strong likelihood of additional House GOP probes into the matter. He also found himself deprived, for the time being, of a clean-shot talking point against his archnemesis former President Donald Trump — who is facing a separate special counsel investigation into his own handling of classified materials kept at his private club and home in Florida.
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Foreign Policy
Key countries finally boost defense commitments amid new threats and a new approach from Washington.

When President Joe Biden sits down with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday, it will mark a major tete-a-tete that could have profound implications for U.S. policy toward a critical part of the globe.
It’s also an opportunity for Biden to underscore how his diplomatic efforts in the face of new geopolitical threats are bringing allies into closer alignment, and delivering in an area where Donald Trump’s sharp-elbowed approach largely failed to achieve results.
Kishida comes to the White House fresh off of outlining a plan for his country to shed its postwar constraints, both political and psychological, and increase its defense spending and boost military capabilities to not just deter attacks but to strike enemies if necessary. It’s a profound shift for Japan, long averse to militarization and wary of getting dragged into global conflicts.
Kishida’s newly stated goal of increasing Japan’s defense spending to 2.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product GDP by 2027 comes on the heels of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Zeitenwende address. Days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Scholz declared the war a “turning point,” reason enough, he said, to finally boost Berlin’s defense spending to 2 percent of Germany’s GDP, reversing decades of extreme caution on military matters following the end of the Cold War.
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