POLITICO Playbook: Biden, Bush and Trump: Discordant scenes from the 9/11 events

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 was wistful with talk of unity. Presidents BILL CLINTON, BARACK OBAMA and JOE BIDEN stood at the site of the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center as speakers remembered their loved ones and the country reflected on a moment it found purpose in a fight against an outside enemy that — for a time — seemed to unify us. Political divisions weren’t as pronounced.

But even amid the haze of those memories, the current state of American politics couldn’t help but pierce through.

— On the split-screen was President GEORGE W. BUSH at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., offering a reality check: In the past two decades things have actually gotten worse — not simply because of “them,” but because of “us.”

“[W]e have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders but from violence that gathers within,” Bush said. “There’s little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard of human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them.” More on that from WaPo’s Dan Balz.

— The “Big Lie” that helped inspire the defiling of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — which Bush obliquely referenced — didn’t take the day off. While visiting with members of the NYPD and FDNY on Saturday, former President DONALD TRUMP lied about the election being stolen and hinted at a 2024 run: “I know what I’m going to do, but we’re not supposed to be talking about it yet. … but I think you’re going to be happy, let me put it that way.” The full remarks.

In his pre-recorded video message marking the anniversary, the former president devoted most of the runtime not to remembering the attacks, but to attacking Biden, calling him a “fool.”

By Saturday evening, Trump moved on to Florida to offer pay-per-view boxing match commentary in what New York Magazine’s Matt Stieb dubbed “a vision from an alternate reality.”

— Biden was silent at all of the memorials he visited on Saturday. He did speak briefly at a firehouse in Shanksville, Pa. In a room where some locals didn’t even take off their MAGA hats while the president visited to thank fire-fighters and commemorate a generation-defining tragedy, Biden asked a question: “Are we going to, in the next four, five, six, ten years, demonstrate that democracies can work, or not?”

But the more immediate question for Biden may be whether his own agenda can work or not, as the administration faces a daunting few weeks that may well determine the trajectory of his presidency:

— The reconciliation package is supposed to be fully assembled by Wednesday. Expect a whirlwind of activity over the next three days — and the likelihood that the resulting bill will amount to less than $3.5 trillion. “It might be that it would need to be done with 2.5,” House Majority Whip JIM CLYBURN tells the WaPo. And the AP reports that the White House is “comfortable with settling for a lower price tag … so long as the end result produces a tax system that voters judge as fair.”

— The full House returns on Sept. 20, and is supposed to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27. That’s what House Speaker NANCY PELOSI promised moderate House Democrats. And with progressives threatening not to support the infrastructure bill unless the giant reconciliation package is ready, that effectively means that both must be done in the next 15 days.

— Government funding runs out on Sept. 30, and the debt ceiling must be raised by early October.

That cascade of major deadlines is fueling worries among rank-and-file Dems “that their tunnel-vision mentality on a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill could provoke economic blowback if Republicans hold the line and tank efforts to lift the debt ceiling,” report Burgess Everett and Heather Caygle. “And Democrats’ threadbare majorities in Congress are leaving the party with little time to wriggle out of a dangerous economic morass that could overwhelm their other priorities, from voting rights to tax increases on the wealthy to a sweeping expansion of the social safety net.”

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

SUNDAY BEST …

Surgeon General VIVEK MURTHY on ABC’s “This Week” on the OSHA-backed vaccine mandates: “[T]his is not an unusual phenomenon. What it is, is, I think, an appropriate response for us to recognize that if we want our economy to be back, if we want our schools to stay in session, we’ve got to take steps to make sure workplaces and learning environments are safe and these requirements will help do that. …. Certainly, this wouldn’t have been put forward if the president’s administration didn’t believe that it was an appropriate, legal measure to take.” More from David Cohen.

Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) on NBC’s “Meet the Press” regarding the budget bill: “I’m just saying that we should be looking at everything, and we’re not. And that we don’t have the need to rush into this and get it done within one week because there’s some deadline we’re meeting, or someone’s going to fall through the cracks. We’ve got child nutrition, out of all the things, I want to make sure that children are getting taken care of, that people are basically having an opportunity to go back to work. We have 11 million jobs that we haven’t filled. Eight million people still are unemployed. Something’s not matching up there.”

Sen. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.) on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Manchin’s lack of support for the $3.5 trillion bill: “It is absolutely not acceptable to me. I don’t think it’s acceptable to the president, to the American people or to the overwhelming majority of the people in the democratic caucus. … The truth of the matter is … many of us made a major compromise in going from the $6 trillion bill that we wanted, supported by the overwhelming majority of Democrats down to $3.5.

“I know that Senator Manchin worked very hard on what’s called the bipartisan infrastructure bill — $550 billion of money to rebuild our roads and our bridges. What we have worked on is working both of those bills in tandem. They go together, and it would be a really sad state of affairs for the American people, for Congress, if both of those bills went down.”

BIDEN’S SUNDAY: The president has nothing on his public schedule.

THE WHITE HOUSE

— Biden is reportedly ready to pressure moderate Dems to reform the filibuster in order to pass a new voting rights law. Rolling Stone’s Andy Kroll reports that Biden told Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER: “[T]ell me when you need me to start making phone calls.”

Insider’s Adam Wren has a profile of White House chief of staff RON KLAIN, including the deets on a previously unreported December 2020 Zoom meeting with Klain, DICK CHENEY, MICK MULVANEY and most of the other former living chiefs of staff to prepare the incoming COS during the rocky transition period.

TALIBAN TAKEOVER

— Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban flew its flag over the presidential palace in Kabul, report WaPo’s Haq Nawaz Khan, Shibani Mahtani and Sammy Westfall.

— Hundreds of burqa-clad women took part in a pro-Taliban demonstration outside of Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul on Saturday, NYT’s Melissa Eddy and Victor J. Blue report.

— The Taliban announced that women in Afghanistan are permitted to study in universities, but that “classrooms will be gender-segregated and Islamic dress is compulsory,” writes AP’s Kathy Gannon.

— A group of Afghan Air Force pilots will be transferred to a U.S. military base in the coming days, after the U.S. and Uzbekistan reached an agreement over the weekend, per WSJ’s Jessica Donati and Siobhan Hughes.

— Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Sens. TODD YOUNG (R-Ind.) and TIM KAINE (D-Va.) are looking to repeal the AUMF resolutions that were enacted after 9/11 and are still invoked to give the president full power to use military force. WaPo’s Paul Kane writes that “the more critical effort will be rewriting the 2001 resolution to define the terms of the war against terrorists in the years ahead.”

POLITICS ROUNDUP

— With the California recall election this week and two gubernatorial elections ahead in Virginia and New Jersey, Democrats are back with extensive field operations — after scaling back because of the coronavirus, Zach Montellaro and David Siders report this morning. “Though Covid-19 is still afflicting the nation, Democrats in all three of the upcoming gubernatorial contests … have extensive field operations, as do down-ballot candidates and battleground state parties preparing for competitive 2022 elections,” Zach and David write.

“It is a notable shift from last year’s elections, when Biden held off deploying field staffers until about a month before the election amid concerns about the coronavirus, while Republicans largely continued field work as normal. After a disappointing year down-ballot, Democrats say they can’t leave anything to chance with competitive off-year elections this fall.”

THE PANDEMIC

— Among the G-7 countries, the U.S. vaccination rate ranks sixth — and is headed for seventh shortly. The NYT reports on data from the University of Oxford that compares the seven wealthiest democracies in the world and shows the U.S. lagging behind the UK, Canada, France, Germany and Italy — and above Japan (though the trendline suggests that will change soon).

— But despite the slowing vaccination rate, Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker shows that 379 million doses have been given in the U.S. On a global scale, more than 5.69 billion shots have been administered.

POLICY CORNER

A new NYT investigation found that 21 percent of people in nursing homes are on antipsychotic drugs — which can increase the risk of death for those with heart problems, infections, falls and other ailments — and that the federal government and nursing-home industry “are obscuring the true rate of antipsychotic drug use on vulnerable residents.”

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

— ANDRIY YERMAK, a top aide to Ukraine President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, said “he hopes the U.S. can help end Ukraine’s war with Russia for control over territory in the east of the country. Russia and Ukraine are currently trying to negotiate a peace deal,” Betsy Woodruff Swan reports.

BEYOND THE BELTWAY

— The Texas attorney general’s office is suing six schools in the state for issuing mask mandates despite Gov. GREG ABBOTT’s ban on them, NBC News reports.

NYT’s Michael Schmidt profiles JONATHAN F. MITCHELL, one of the lawyers behind the abortion ban in Texas.

— Nebraska, long a red-state holdout in the wave of voter-ID laws, is facing a new fight over the issue. AP’s Grant Schulte reports that a conservative group, Citizens for Voter ID, is gearing up to get the issue on the state’s 2022 ballot.

JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH

— The Capitol Police Department announced on Saturday that it’s in the process of disciplining six officers for misconduct in handling the Jan. 6th insurrection, Kyle Cheney reports. The department opened 37 investigations into officers conduct regarding the insurrection, but found that a majority were unsubstantiated.

SPOTTED at a Zoom fundraising event on Thursday hosted by Obama-era ambassadors and friends called the “Changemakers” on behalf of state Democratic parties in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin: kickoff speaker Jaime Harrison; event chairs Norm Eisen and Ted Dintersmith; co-chairs Jeff Bleich, Tim Broas, Jack Chorowsky, Bob Sherman, Tod Sedgwick, Alan Solomont, Jennie Rosenthal and Barry White; and event speakers and state chairs Lavora Barnes, Ben Wikler, Ken Martin and Liz Walters.

SPOTTED at Picnic Theatre Company’s sold-out outdoor garden play “All About Eve” to benefit Dumbarton House museum with director Steve Rochlin and cast members Christina Sevilla, Emily Lenzner, Nova Daly, Antonio Olivo, Sara Cook, Chaitan Jain, David White, Ali Dukakis, Courtney Clonch, Robert Gerber, Daniela McInerney and Chris Orr: Kimball Stroud, Steve Clemons, Dana Milbank, Anna Greenberg, Meridith McGraw, Michael Isikoff and Mary Ann Akers, Pamela Sorensen, Rebecca Cooper, Rodell Mollineau and Sheena Arora, Indira Lakshmanan, Raquel Krahenbuhl, Nihal Krishan, Pasi Rajala, Amir and Hastie Afkhami, Kasper Zeuthen, Jen Jose, Bay Fang, David Schisgall, James Barbour and Ariel Gold, Sanna Kangasharju and David Van Ongevalle. Pic

TRANSITION — Patrick Costello is joining the American Security Project as CEO. He previously was director of Washington external affairs for the Council on Foreign Relations.

BIRTHWEEK (was Saturday): Marit Babin Thomas

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.) … The Daily Beast’s Matt LewisMax Boot … Fox News’ Andrea DeVito … POLITICO’s Ben Schreckinger and Walt Houseknecht … NBC’s Tom CostelloGreg WetstoneDave WillettAndrew WhalenSam BrownbackJason Stverak of Sen. Kevin Cramer’s (R-N.D.) office … Max D’Onofrio of Sen. Mike Enzi’s (R-Wyo.) office … Prism Group’s John StanfordMaria RoumelDesiree SayleEmily LampkinMelissa Schulman … Yahoo’s Ethan Klapper Liz Wroe of Leavitt Partners … Kimberly BreierBrett ThompsonDerek Robertson … VOA’s John LippmanKelsi Browning … Venable’s Alex BottingPeter RobbioEd Moy, former director of the U.S. Mint … former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) … former Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) … James FaehAli SicilianoJill AlperPam StevensZack Pohl of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office

Did someone forward this email to you? Sign up here.

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected]. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Allie Bice, Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.