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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Clyburn says Democrats should compromise on policing bill

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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In today’s edition …  Blinken goes to China amid deteriorating relations … Confidence in police drops after beating of Tyre Nichols … Toluse Olorunnipa explains how Biden turns to certain brands to boost his everyman image … Ashley Parker on Republicans rallying around defeated candidates … Buttigieg eyes road safety … but first …

On the Hill

Rep. James E. Clyburn: Democrats should compromise on policing bill

Eight questions for … Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.): We spoke with the No. 4 Democrat in the House, who stepped down last month as House majority whip, about efforts to pass a policing bill after the death of Tyre Nichols, whether he believes President Biden will run for reelection and what he’s considering as he thinks about whether to run for reelection next year himself. (We spoke to Clyburn before his meeting on Thursday afternoon with Biden, Vice President Harris and five other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.)

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The Early: You tweeted last week after Memphis released footage of police officers’ deadly beating of Nichols, “We must change the culture that perpetuates these tragedies and bring those accountable to justice.” What is Congress’s role in changing that culture?

Clyburn: We came pretty close to getting the George Floyd [Justice in Policing] Act [passed in 2021]. I said at the time — I got in trouble for saying it — there’s no perfect bill. There’s no perfect bill. To keep trying to get the perfect piece of legislation rather than a good piece of legislation — I just don’t know if that’s a good thing to do.

When we passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it didn’t have voting [rights protections] in it. It didn’t have housing in it. It didn’t even apply to the public sector. Then we got the ’65 Voting Rights Act. Then we got the ‘68 fair housing law. Then we got the [Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972]. So I just think that we have got to make some progress. We may not get everything that we need or everything that we want in one fell swoop, but we need to get this done.

The Early: What are the chances that policing bill negotiations between Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) will restart in the coming weeks?

Clyburn: The chances are fair to good. I talked with Tim Scott two days ago. I’ve talked with Booker. I think the chances are good that we’ll get something done. Will it go as far as I would like to see it go? I don’t know that it will. [Ed.: Scott tweeted on Thursday that he has “been working toward common ground solutions that actually have a shot at passing.”]

The Early: You told CBS News last month that you’re convinced Biden will seek reelection. Do you remain convinced he's running?

Clyburn: Let’s just say it this way: I remain hopeful that he’ll run again. I’m convinced that he should run again.

The Early: Have you given any more consideration as to whether you'll run for reelection?

Clyburn: I give that consideration every day. And I'll sit down with my family to make that decision.

The Early: What are the factors that you’re turning over in your mind?

Clyburn: My health, No. 1. I’m 82 years old. I know how old I am.

The Early: Do you have a timeline for making a decision?

Clyburn: No. Two of my daughters — I have three of them — I’ve told them that they are to remain vigilant. They are to be open and fair with me with their thought process. No matter what I may be thinking, they are going to be the ultimate deciders.

The Early: You said that you were “stunned” by Biden’s request that the Democratic National Committee make South Carolina the first Democratic presidential primary in the country, which has caused a lot of consternation in New Hampshire. Ray Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman, has warned that Biden could lose the state in 2024 because of it. Do you think reorganizing the primary calendar to make South Carolina first instead of fourth is worth it given all the headaches?

Clyburn: Oh, I don’t know. The president made that decision on his own. He didn’t say one word to me about it. So I have no idea whether it’s worth it. I did advocate for being the first in the South. That's the way we always advertised our primary: the first in the South. We never asked to be the first in the nation. That's the president's decision.

The Early: Do you have any concerns that the decision could alienate New Hampshire voters?

Clyburn: I think all of us ought to be concerned about winning in November. Which is most important: Being second in the primary and winning the presidency, or being first in the primary and losing the presidency? Which is most important?

At the White House

Blinken goes to China amid deteriorating relations

Secretary of State Antony Blinken leaves for China today amid deteriorating relations between the two world powers that some officials fear could eventually lead to war. Blinken, the first cabinet official to visit the country since Biden took office, is expected to sit down with several senior Chinese officials, including Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two-day trip is an effort — shepherded by Biden and Xi at November’s Group of 20 summit — to stabilize relations between the two countries.

But the discovery of a Chinese surveillance balloon over the United States raises the stakes of the trip. On Wednesday, the balloon was spotted over Billings, Mont., which is home to several U.S. nuclear missile silos, NBC News’s Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee first reported. “It flew over the Aleutian Islands, through Canada, and into Montana. A senior defense official said the balloon is still over the U.S. but declined to say where it is now.”

  • “This type of activity is not unprecedented, the senior defense official said, with China flying stratospheric balloons like this before, but the difference this time is the balloon is staying over the U.S. longer than usual.”
  • Top defense and military leaders, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met on Wednesday to discuss their response options but decided against shooting the balloon out of the sky because “falling debris could put people and property at risk,” per our colleagues Dan Lamothe and Alex Horton.

The finding has incensed lawmakers, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) who called for a briefing of the “Gang of Eight.” The Biden administration briefed those lawmakers’ staffers on Thursday and offered to provide additional briefings, Bloomberg News’s Jennifer Jacobs reported.

The incident “makes clear that the [Chinese Communist Party’s] recent diplomatic overtures do not represent a substantive change in policy,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the chairman of new select committee investigating the relationship between the U.S. and China, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), who was tapped on Wednesday to be the committee’s top Democrat, said in a joint statement.

(Theo and Leigh Ann wrote about the bipartisanship on China yesterday. Read about it here.)

Poll Watch

Confidence in police drops after beating of Tyre Nichols

From our colleagues Mark Berman and Scott Clement: “Public confidence in police dropped after Tyre Nichols was fiercely beaten by officers in Memphis last month, with Americans increasingly doubtful that law enforcement officers are properly trained in using appropriate force and that they treat White and Black people equally,” according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released today.

“The increased skepticism about police appears to be fueled by declining trust on the part of White and Hispanic Americans, compared to just a few years ago. For the first time since the Post-ABC poll began asking about the issue in 2014, just under half of White Americans say they are confident about police avoiding excessive force or racial bias. About two-thirds of Hispanic Americans lack confidence in police on both fronts.”

“The drops in confidence are partly driven by changing views among Republicans and older Americans, both groups that have, historically, expressed greater faith in police than others.”

  • “Among Republicans, 60 percent are confident police are adequately trained to avoid using excessive force. While that is a majority, it is down considerably from the 77 percent who felt that way in 2020. The level of confidence in police on this front remains lower among independents (39 percent) and Democrats (20 percent), also down over the past decade.”

At the White House

How Biden turns to certain brands to boost his everyman image

Consumer-in-chief: “Biden has leaned into his role as consumer in chief, eating Jeni’s ice cream, donning Ray-Ban sunglasses, test-driving electric vehicles and telling stories about his 1967 Corvette convertible,” our colleague Toluse Olorunnipa writes. “Traveling the country, he stops at local taco shops and ice cream joints to get takeout, posing for pictures and chatting with staff. A few days after Biden’s inauguration in 2021, his motorcade stopped at Call Your Mother deli, a Washington bagel shop co-founded by his incoming chief of staff, Jeff Zients.”

  • “Many presidents have made a point of patronizing picturesque small businesses, a way to show off their common touch and sometimes to accentuate a policy push … But few have embraced small-time eateries and ice cream parlors, or showcased their habit of hitting local stores and boutiques, as regularly as Biden.”
  • “But in an era when even the biggest all-American brands, including Disney and Coca-Cola, can find themselves caught up in the country’s polarized debates and culture wars, not all businesses are eager to be too closely associated with any president.”

The campaign

Republicans rally around defeated candidates

A second act in the limelight:Donald Trump — the former Republican president who lost his 2020 reelection bid — spent last Saturday pinging between New Hampshire and South Carolina in his third effort for the White House,” our colleague Ashley Parker writes.

  • “Kari Lake — the former local news anchor who lost her 2022 Arizona gubernatorial bid — attended the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday in Washington as the guest of Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), and is headed to Iowa later this month.”
  • “And Jair Bolsonaro — the former president of Brazil who lost his 2022 reelection bid — is scheduled to headline the conservative Turning Points USA’s ‘Power to the People’ event in Miami on Friday.”
  • “Unlike in previous decades, where losing candidates largely slunk away, many Republicans have increasingly been celebrating political losers, with certain sections of the GOP base lionizing them as wronged warriors and avatars of legitimate grievances.”

In the agencies

Buttigieg eyes road safety

Our colleague Michael Laris sat down with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about marshaling the power of the federal government, while employing data and local expertise to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure and improve safety. Here’s an excerpt: 

Laris: “At more than 40,000, the number of road deaths is so high it makes some people look away or just say it’s the price we pay to get around. How do you reach people on this topic?”

Buttigieg: “Everybody has their own horror story. Everybody in this country knows somebody who’s been lost to traffic crashes. So I think it’s less about proving that this is bad and more about demonstrating that this is preventable … It’s the paralysis of thinking that there’s nothing we can do that, I think, puts the most lives at risk.

What we're watching

Biden and Harris are heading to Philadelphia’s Belmont Water Treatment Plant today to talk up the 2021 infrastructure law, this time focusing on its funding to replace old lead pipes. Joining them will be Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D), Sens. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D).

The Media

Weekend reeeads


Warmest winter ever

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