Playbook: DeSantis meets the press, ‘Meet the Press’ changes hosts


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Dec 15, 2023

Playbook: DeSantis meets the press, ‘Meet the Press’ changes hosts



06/04/2023 11:07 AM EDT

Updated 06/04/2023 06:45 PM EDT

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TODD SAYS TA-TA, WELCOMES WELKER — CHUCK TODD, the host of NBC's "Meet the Press" since 2014, announced at the end of today's show that he will be departing as moderator of the longest-running program in TV history this September and handing over the teleprompter to NBC's KRISTEN WELKER.

"The key to the survival of any of these media entities, including here at ‘Meet the Press,’ is for leaders to not overstay their welcome," he told viewers. "I’d rather leave a little bit too soon than stay a tad too long." Video of Todd's announcement

In a memo to staff, top NBC News executives REBECCA BLUMENSTEIN and CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN said Todd would remain at NBC. "In his new position as Chief Political Analyst, he will maintain his role as a leading voice at NBC News for politics, both in the field and for important events," the duo wrote. "He plans to focus on long-form journalism and continue producing the ‘Chuck Toddcast’ and ‘Meet the Press Reports.’"

Welker, a regular fill-in host on MTP, has been with NBC since 2010. She's a Harvard grad and longtime White House correspondent who is perhaps best known for her much-praised job moderating the final presidential debate in 2020.

Our initial takeaway is that reporters and voters have picked up on the awkward rap dogging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and he still has some work to do before the pack moves on to something else. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

A SUMMER SATURDAY IN IOWA — Sen. JONI ERST hosted her annual Roast and Ride event at the Iowa Fairgrounds yesterday, and the event attracted every declared Republican presidential candidate — with the notable exception of the frontrunner, DONALD TRUMP, who has had a frosty relationship with the Iowa senator. MIKE PENCE, who will officially declare this week, was on hand, though like NIKKI HALEY, ASA HUTCHINSON and Sen. TIM SCOTT, the former veep was overshadowed by the one person who the media throngs really wanted to see: RON DeSANTIS.

DeSantis is grappling with a reputation for being a reluctant retail campaigner who comes off as awkward in one-on-one conversations and dodges questions from both potential supporters and the press.

Perhaps it's just an unfair media narrative that will fade over time. But it's definitely a thing.

So we were deeply curious to see how the Florida governor came off in the myriad of color accounts from his big but relatively newsless day in Iowa.

Judge for yourself, but our initial takeaway is that reporters and voters have picked up on the awkward rap dogging DeSantis and he still has some work to do before the pack moves on to something else.

— POLITICO's Natalie Allison: "11:23 a.m. — DeSantis has arrived and is greeting supporters by the Never Back Down Bus. His wife, CASEY, is showing an unparalleled commitment to wearing branded jackets, today sporting a leather ‘Where Woke Goes to Die’ coat in 85-degree heat. She is holding their 3-year-old on her hip. The couple, who have been emphasizing their relative youthfulness as they travel the country, pledged in Iowa on Wednesday to bring their three children out on the campaign trail. They seem to be struggling to wrangle all these kids within a swarm of supporters and reporters.

"But DeSantis — who has faced quite a bit of criticism for his aloofness — is out here doing retail politics, and he seems to be improving at it. ‘That's an oldie but a goodie,’ DeSantis says as he signs a bumper sticker from his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. ‘Do you play golf?’ DeSantis asks another man, before pivoting to his Covid response. ‘During the pandemic, I was telling everyone to get outside, so in April of 2020, they set a record for golf rounds in The Villages.’"

"He encourages his 3-year-old, MAMIE, to say hello to a 2-year-old girl in a pink camouflage Harley Davidson T-shirt. A woman has DeSantis sign what appears to be a generic photo of himself waving, which he immediately recognized as being from a 2020 rally. A member of the conservative Bull Moose Club here invites DeSantis to come speak to the group, as some of the lower-polling Republicans in the race have already done. He says to talk to his staff.

"11:29 a.m. — DeSantis holds up his daughter to help him sign the Never Back Down bus. Chaos ensues as he walks away. Reporters are sprinting to catch up with them. The family briefly loses 5-year-old MADISON in the crowd, though she is soon recovered. At the super PAC's ice cream tent, the children each get a scoop while DeSantis, who has slimmed down in recent months, goes without."

— WaPo: "‘Governor, I think there's a World War II veteran back there!’ an aide told DeSantis as the crowd swarmed. The governor had just highlighted his own military service — he once deployed to Iraq with Seal Team 1 — and delivered a speech for Memorial Day.

"DeSantis gave a nod in the veteran's direction, flashed a thumbs-up, thanked him for his service and turned back to someone else waiting for a photo with him.

"‘The veteran would like a signature,’ nudged Iowa Gov. KIM REYNOLDS (R), who was hovering nearby, a few beats later. She passed along a piece of paper that read ‘RESERVED VIP’; DeSantis scribbled his name and then walked off, looking for the next voter.

"‘Governor, did you want to know there's a World War II veteran?’ another person asked 30 seconds later, shouting to be heard over blasting music as DeSantis smiled for as many photos as he could.

"‘I know, I signed something for him!’ DeSantis yelled back. He gave another thumbs-up and hustled away."

— Bloomberg: "DeSantis, trailed by a pack of reporters, didn't answer questions about whether he’d sign a pledge promising to support the eventual GOP nominee. Asked about Trump's absence, he said he was just happy to be there — then made a beeline to pet some puppies. …

"‘I thought there was a little more fire in DeSantis than normal and I was happy to see that,’ said audience member SARAH WILLIAMS, a retail manager from Cedar Rapids. As for Trump, ‘our concern is he's a little too polarizing, even though we’re such big fans of him,’ she said. ‘I would love to say, "Put him back in and let him fix it," but I don't know if he's electable.’"

— Boston Globe: "DeSantis, with his wife, Casey, and three young kids in tow, chatted with voters, gave out autographs and signed the Bible of a man who thanked DeSantis for ‘standing up to Disney.’

"Casey DeSantis wore a black leather jacket in 86-degree weather with the words ‘Where Woke Goes to Die’ and an outline of Florida on the back. It brought to mind comparisons to first lady MELANIA TRUMP, who famously sent a back-of-the-jacket message of her own in 2018 with a green-hooded jacket that read ‘I really don't care do u’ as she departed the White House for a trip to visit migrant children in Texas."

— Des Moines Register: "Ron DeSantis roamed the parking lot, pushing through a sea of reporters with his super PAC's ‘Don't Back Down Bus’ prominently behind him. He shared memories of his military experience with Freedom Foundation's representatives, reminiscing on his time at a base in San Diego.

"It's a city he said he loved at the time but now laments that so many of its residents are moving to Florida because of California's liberal politics. ‘I mean how could you drive people out of San Diego?’ he joked.

"When a reporter asked him how he felt about Donald Trump's notable absence at this year's event, DeSantis deflected. ‘I’m just happy to be here,’ he said. ‘I love the people here.’ …

"DeSantis spent some of his time before the speeches in a cordoned-off VIP area with Iowa politicians including Ernst and [Republican Sen.] CHUCK GRASSLEY. Outside in the back of the building, Nikki Haley and VIVEK RAMASWAMY took one-on-one interviews with the press."

Further reading …

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— Rep. KEN BUCK (R-Colo.) on takeaways from the debt ceiling fight for the Freedom Caucus, on CNN's "State of the Union": "The House Freedom Caucus, with a five-vote majority in the House, still retains a lot of influence … The key is that we use that influence in a way that brings conservative results. And I think that's what we tried to do with this case, and we failed, honestly. … It is a bill that not only avoided a default but also locked in the progressive gains that the president made in the last two years."

— Ramaswamy on whether the U.S. should be supporting Ukraine, on ABC's "This Week": "I do not think it is a top foreign policy priority for us. … By fighting further in Russia, by further arming Ukraine, we are driving Russia into China's hands, and that Sino-Russian alliance is the top threat we face. … What I think we need to do is end the Ukraine war on peaceful terms that, yes, do make some major concessions to Russia."

— National security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN on what the U.S. expects next in Ukraine, on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS": "We do believe that this counteroffensive will allow Ukraine to take strategically significant territory back from Russia … Exactly how much in what places, that will be up to developments on the ground … But we believe that the Ukrainians will meet with success in this counteroffensive. And we will continue to support them."

— Rep. JAMIE RASKIN (D-Md.) on when he’ll decide on a Senate run, on "State of the Union": "I’m hoping, before the Fourth of July, I will have an answer for everybody."

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TOP-EDS: A roundup of the week's must-read opinion pieces.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN’S SUNDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SUNDAY — The VP has nothing on her public schedule.


Former VP Mike Pence takes part in Sen. Joni Ernst's (R-Iowa) Roast and Ride event in Des Moines yesterday. | Scott Olson/Getty Images


1. DOCU-DRAMA: "Grand jury in Trump classified documents case expected to meet this coming week after hiatus," by NBC's Laura Jarrett, Carol Lee, Ryan Reilly, Ken Dilanian and Julia Ainsley: "Prosecutors working for Special Counsel JACK SMITH have been presenting the grand jury with evidence and witness testimony for months, but activity appeared to have slowed in recent weeks based on observations at the courthouse and sources. It's unclear whether prosecutors are prepared to seek an indictment at this point."

2. IT’S OFFICIAL: Biden yesterday signed the bill to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default, making it law in a quiet, private ceremony. More from Reuters

WaPo's Paul Kane has a sharp analysis piece about the debt ceiling negotiations — and specifically Senate Republicans’ choice to give up their power, leading to shock and outrage in their conference over military spending levels. "Did Senate Republicans regret outsourcing the negotiations to [Speaker KEVIN] McCARTHY? ‘I probably better not comment on that,’ Sen. JOHN THUNE (S.D.), the No. 2 GOP leader in the chamber and a big supporter of the Pentagon, told reporters Thursday. ‘Do I regret that decision? That wasn't my decision,’ said Sen. SUSAN COLLINS of Maine, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee."

Whiskey tango foxtrot: "Mystery Trader's Debt-Ceiling Windfall Sparks Insider Concerns," by Bloomberg's Austin Weinstein and Geoffrey Morgan: "The US government's move to greenlight a 300-mile natural gas [Mountain Valley] pipeline as part of legislation to stave off a Treasury default shocked just about everyone, except for a mystery trader who somehow appears to have seen it coming."

3. THE AGE-OLD QUESTION: "Inside the Complicated Reality of Being America's Oldest President," by NYT's Peter Baker, Michael Shear, Katie Rogers and Zolan Kanno-Youngs: "The two Joe Bidens coexist in the same octogenarian president: Sharp and wise at critical moments, the product of decades of seasoning, able to rise to the occasion even in the dead of night to confront a dangerous world. Yet a little slower, a little softer, a little harder of hearing, a little more tentative in his walk, a little more prone to occasional lapses of memory in ways that feel familiar to anyone who has reached their ninth decade or has a parent who has."

4. RASKIN AT THE CROSSROADS: WaPo's Meagan Flynn profiles the Maryland Democratic congressman, who finds himself at a personal and political inflection point as he considers a Senate campaign while having just beaten cancer into remission. On the Senate bid, Raskin is "making a mental list of pros and cons, going back and forth" between having a role in judicial nominations as a senator and retaining his seniority and leadership in the House. And in his cancer battle, "[h]e wasn't feeling fear, at least ‘not as a primary emotion,’ after his diagnosis — the worst had already happened to him when he lost [his son] TOMMY. Instead he felt himself wanting to live up to the wishes Tommy left in his final note."

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5. WHAT JEFF ZUCKER IS UP TO: "Could Jeff Zucker Fix CNN? He Seems to Think So," by NYT's Benjamin Mullin: "[H]is gripes have become more frequent of late, and he has made no secret of his unhappiness with the terms of his exit from CNN or his low regard for the performance of its current leader, CHRIS LICHT. In a sense, he is now serving as a kind of grievance switchboard for current and former employees of the news network … And he is trying to get his next act off the ground, starting a new venture called RedBird IMI with $1 billion to spend on acquisitions in the digital media, sports, entertainment and news industries."

Zucker has also met with JEFF BEZOS and is circling a possible majority stake in Air Mail, the online outlet founded by GRAYDON CARTER and ALESSANDRA STANLEY.

6. WARNING SIGN FOR DEMS: "Philadelphia's slumping voter turnout worries Democrats ahead of 2024," by WaPo's Anthony Rivera and Colby Itkowitz in Philly: "In interviews with more 30 people across the city this spring, many voters said they have lost faith in their leaders, some of whom have been involved in city or state politics for decades. The city's ward system, where many of these leaders got their start, also hasn't been able to drive votes as well as it did in the past. Many residents expressed pessimism that casting a ballot would lead to change."

7. VAX POPULI: "How Covid made it nearly impossible to pass new vaccine rules," by Rachel Bluth in Sacramento, Calif.: "Across the country, blue-state policymakers have nearly given up trying to create new vaccine policy and are now simply trying to hold the line on a decade's worth of public health gains. Attempts to add required vaccines for school kids this year sputtered in Wisconsin, California and Massachusetts, a stunning reversal after a successful push to tighten exemptions for mandated childhood vaccines."

8. DEMOCRACY WATCH: "How the far right tore apart one of the best tools to fight voter fraud," by NPR's Miles Parks: "At the time, in early 2022, most Americans had never heard of [the Electronic Registration Information Center]. But in Houma, it seems in large part due to a far-right misinformation machine, [Louisiana Secretary of State KYLE] ARDOIN's announcement garnered 15 seconds of applause. … [This story] is the first to report that Ardoin announced his ERIC decision to conservative activists. And a deeper look at the red-state exodus that followed … shows a policy blueprint for an election denial movement, spearheaded by a key Trump ally, eager to change virtually every aspect of how Americans vote."

9. RECENT HISTORY: "How California, land of Nixon and Reagan, turned blue and changed American politics," by the L.A. Times’ Mark Barabak: BILL CLINTON's "victory and a repeat in 1996 — the product of relentless courtship and a fire hose of federal spending — helped color California a lasting shade of blue and dramatically reshaped the fight for the White House. … In California, there were several factors. … But the transformation was also the result of a purposeful White House effort to remake California and turn the historically Republican-leaning state into a blue bulwark for decades to come."

Harlan Crow again refused Ron Wyden's request to answer questions.

Lauren Boebert's father is not Stan Lane.

Jerome Powell and Neal Katyal both went to see Dead & Company.

TRANSITIONS — Andrew Wishnia is joining Cityfi as a partner. He previously was deputy assistant secretary for climate policy at the Department of Transportation. … Cari Berlin is now director of operations and scheduling for Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.). She previously was director of scheduling for Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.).

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) … Reps. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez (D-Wash.) and Jim Baird (R-Ind.) … WaPo's Colby Itkowitz … ProPublica's Justin Elliott … NBC's Emily Gold … POLITICO's Traci Schweikert, Carlos Anchondo and Chase Sutton … Scott Tranter … Camden Stuebe of Free the Facts … Joey Coon of the Niskanen Center … Amy Surber … Koch Industries’ Steve Lombardo … Meta's Ryan Daniels … Dentons’ Jason Attermann … John Arundel of Perdicus Communications … Mort Zuckerman … Amelia Showalter … Steve Champlin … David Bolger … Mike Murphy … Charbel Antoun

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