The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Power Up: The O.G. crew of of Trump loyalists relish new roles in the spotlight

with Brent D. Griffiths

Good morning, Power Uppers. Don't forget to sign up. Thanks for waking up with us.

The People

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?: From defending the president during a widely televised House Judiciary hearing, to spinning to Spice Girls live from Hollywood in a fluorescent green ruffled shirt, cheesing alongside the neon green dancing machine, and excoriating the media on Fox News, it's been a busy week for President Trump's former officials and campaign loyalists. 

Conventional wisdom in Washington had it that the people who threw in for Trump and signed up for the nonstop drama risked being banished to political Siberia (or being social pariahs) when they left — or were unceremoniously fired. But this week's sightings of Corey Lewandowski, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and Sarah Sanders show that many of the O.G. Trump loyalists are actually doing just fine. More than fine.

They're somehow still in the president's good graces — and enjoying the perks of book deals, cable news contributor slots, and even dancing with the stars. 

FROM TRUMP'S CAMPAIGN TO A POSSIBLE SENATE RUN: Lewandowski, the president's ex-campaign manager, somehow managed to turn a subpoena to testify before House Judiciary about potential obstruction of justice by Trump into a contentious troll of Democratic lawmakers — and tease for his possible 2020 Senate run in New Hampshire. Lewandowski dodged questions yesterday about the episodes described in former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's report into Russian interference in the 2016 election and heaped praise on his former boss — whose support would surely be helpful if he does decide to run against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

  • Lewandowski successfully snagged the attention of an audience of one: Trump tweeted his support during the hearing— praising him for his “beautiful Opening Statement.” 
  • He also wasted no time on self-promotion: Lewandowski even tweeted a link to a “new website just launched to help a potential senate run” during one of the breaks. 
  • While Lewandowski did confirm an episode from Mueller's report -- that Trump asked him to persuade then-attorney general Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the special counsel probe, though he testified he passed on the message to another official because he went on "vacation"-- he made the hearing so difficult some Democrats proposed holding him in contempt. 

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) also suggested that the benefits of the fiercely loyal former aide's ongoing relationship with Trump had an outsized influence on Lewandowski's testimony. Scanlon noted that Trump indicated he would support Lewandowski's potential Senate campaign — on the same August day he was subpoenaed to appear before the committee.  

  • She then noted Lewandowski took the time during “recess to launch his Senate campaign with a tweet and I think that fact says an awful lot about the witness's motivation to appear here today.” 

FROM SPINNING THE MEDIA TO THE STARS: Spicer initially suffered a spell of bad press while hunting for a new job after his tenure as White House press secretary, which was perhaps most famous for his false claims on the size of Trump's inauguration crowd — and for Melissa McCarthy's impersonations of him berating the media on "Saturday Night Live." But after publishing a book last year on his time in the administration and a stint as a fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics, Spicer now has a new gig — and opportunity to publicly rehabilitate his reputation — as a personality on Dancing with the Stars.

He was pilloried for his kitschy outfit and salsa routine to the 1997 hit “Spice Up Your Life," but the judges hailed him as brave despite giving him some of the lowest scores of the night. (In Trumpian form, Spicer is instead fixated on ratings: He tweeted out a Hollywood Reporter reporter with this headline: “TV Ratings: Sean Spicer Helps 'Dancing With the Stars' Premiere Tick Up.”) 

  • The backlash didn't seem to phase Spicer, who was upfront about wanting a fresh start: “I thought it was time to do something fun and for myself and be able to do something different, new, have some fun and enjoy myself in a way that I haven’t before,” he told Variety's Angelique Jackson. “I think my previous jobs have been one-dimensional … So if people see something different and say ‘I like this guy’ great. If they still don’t like me, I can sleep well at night.”
  • But he has also admitted this "wasn't part of the plan": He originally passed on the dancing gig in 2017 because he "had more traditional paths he wanted to pursue with his newfound fame: book deals, network deals, paid speeches, consulting gigs and even the possibility of starting his own podcast. He passed on the dancing opportunity," the New York Times's Annie Karni reports
  • Spicer told Fox he had "no idea" if Trump was tuning into the show on Monday evenings but wants his support anyway: “I just want his vote. Whether you watch or not, as long as you vote!" 
  • And, well, he might need it: "Mr. Spicer is also counting on the president’s support to continue appearing on the show," per the Times. "Mr. Trump, according to someone familiar with the plans, is expected to weigh in on Twitter again with his support ahead of ABC’s vote next week, which will decide whether Mr. Spicer advances to another round. Mr. Spicer’s pay, reportedly $125,000, increases each week he is able to hang on."

GETTING THOSE FRIENDS & FAMILY BENEFITS: Trump's first chief of staff, Reince Priebus was also present at Spicer's Dancing with the Stars debut in Hollywood, cheering on his long time friend and colleague. Priebus tweeted out an additional photo of Spicer and his wife enjoying dinner “in Hollywood before the big show.” 

  • Priebus, who has not publicly criticized Trump since he was ousted from the White House in 2017 and replaced by former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, has maintained a lower profile in his post White House life.
  • He was tapped as Chairman of the Board of Advisors for Michael Best Strategies LLC, a public affairs group, and recently joined the Navy. He also has hit up the paid speaking circuit after signing with the Washington Speakers Bureau. 

TO FOX NEWS... AND MAYBE BEYOND: Sarah Huckabee Sanders joined Fox News as a contributor at the beginning of September, and like many other former Trump administration officials, she is writing a memoir about her time as Trump's press secretary. 

Trump himself has encouraged Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas. Politico's Andrew Restuccia and Daniel Lippman reported earlier this summer that Sanders is “seriously considering running for governor of Arkansas.” In the meantime, she is taking to president's favorite news network to attack the “out of control” media for “making stuff up" and continue to defend her former boss: 

  • “The agenda of obstruction that they have against this president is completely out of control,” Sanders told Sean Hannity on Monday night ahead of Trump's rally in New Mexico. “They try to destroy the president because they hate that he won in 2016 and then they hated that he was able to start delivering on all the things that he said he was going to, including a conservative court,” she added. 

Global Power

THE LATEST ON ISRAEL'S ELECTION: "Israel’s two main political parties were deadlocked Wednesday after an unprecedented repeat election, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing an uphill battle to hold on to his job," the Associated Press's Aron Heller reports this morning.

  • Forecast ahead: "The election’s seeming political kingmaker, Avigdor Lieberman, said he’ll insist upon a secular unity government between Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White parties, who based on partial results are currently tied at 32 seats each out of the 120 in parliament." 
  • No majority: "Without Lieberman’s endorsement, both parties appear to have fallen well short of securing a parliamentary majority with their prospective ideological allies." 
  • Eyes on Bibi: “That could spell serious trouble for the continuation of Netanyahu’s lengthy rule. Gantz, a former military chief, has ruled out sitting with a Netanyahu-led Likud at a time when the prime minister is expected to be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks. It raised the specter of an alternate Likud candidate rising to challenge Netanyahu, though most of its senior officials have thus far pledged to stand solidly behind their leader." 
  • Key quote: “This is the first time in 10 years that there are signs the spell of Netanyahu is breaking,” political journalist and Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer told our colleagues Steve Hendrix, James McAuley and Ruth Eglash

Outside the Beltway

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION TO FIGHT CALIFORNIA OVER FUEL EFFICIENCY: “The Trump administration plans this week to revoke California’s long-standing right to set stricter air pollution standards for cars and light trucks, the latest step in a broad campaign to undermine Obama-era policies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, two senior administration officials said,” our colleagues Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report. California has vowed to fight any action in court.

  • California is not alone: “Already, 13 states and the District of Columbia have vowed to adopt California’s standards if they diverge from the federal government’s, as have several major automakers,” Juliet and Brady write.
  • The fight gets at the core of the climate change debate: “Emissions from transportation, including cars and trucks, are the largest single source of greenhouse gases in the United States.”

The takeaway: Trump and his administration have repeatedly tussled with California. The president and his allies repeatedly depict the state and cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles as failed liberal enterprise overwhelmed by illegal immigration and homelessness. The state’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) have answered by actively garnering “The Golden State’s” reputation as the vanguard of the resistance including the nearly 60 times California has fought the White House in court.

  • And Newsom had this to say to Trump: “Stay out of our way,” Newsom told CNN’s Kyung Lah as Trump swings through his state for two days of fundraisers. "Let California continue not to survive but thrive despite the headwinds, despite everything you're doing to try to put sand in the gears of our success."

At The White House

TRUMP’S CABINET IS STOCKED WITH EX-LOBBYISTS: “In less than three years, [Trump] has named more former lobbyists to Cabinet-level posts than his most recent predecessors did in eight, putting a substantial amount of oversight in the hands of people with ties to the industries they’re regulating,” the Associated Press’s Richard Lardner reports.

  • The former lobbyists include: Defense Secretary Mark Esper, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and acting Labor Secretary Pat Pizzella. Trump’s pick to run that department, Eugene Scalia, also is an ex-lobbyist. 
  • By contrast: "President Barack Obama had five former lobbyists in his Cabinet during two terms in office and President George W. Bush had three, also during eight years in the White House." 

In the Media

REMEMBERING A TRAILBLAZER: “Cokie Roberts, a journalist and political commentator who became one of the most prominent Washington broadcasters of her era and championed young women in media during a long career at NPR and ABC News, died Sept. 17 in Washington. She was 75,” our colleague Harrison Smith writes in Roberts’ Post obit.

  • From her friend and colleague Nina Totenberg: “Cokie Roberts was the embodiment of our better angels — whether it was her work for Save the Children or the millions of kindnesses large and small that she dispensed daily, without ever thinking that what she was doing was unusual or remarkable.”

Roberts was lauded by former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, the latter of which recalled her as “a trailblazing figure; a role model to young women when the profession was still dominated by men." President Trump offered a far different remembrance: “She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well," he said.