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‘It’s the End of Small Talk in Washington’

‘It’s the End of Small Talk in Washington’

During the 1968 riots, Washington, D.C., was ablaze with arson and looting when an aide burst in to tell President Lyndon B. Johnson of a rumor that the carnage was headed toward the exclusive precincts of Georgetown. Johnson replied with acid humor: “I’ve waited 35 years for this day.”

LBJ was not talking so much about Georgetown as a physical place. He was talking about Georgetown as a state of mind, that web of journalists and socialites and former government officials—united by overlapping friendships and shared class, cultural and ideological affinities—that served as capital tastemakers and played on the social ambitions and insecurities of generations of presidents.

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Georgetown as LBJ thought of it, and as presidents up through Bill Clinton encountered it, is now a faint ghost, largely a historical phenomenon. But its lineal descendant is still very much around. It is that group of scene-makers and self-promoters, along with some well-intentioned people who genuinely admire public service, that journalist Mark Leibovich skewered in his 2013 book This Town .

If these were normal times, the kind of people LBJ excoriated and Leibovich lampooned would be engaged right now in a familiar ritual. It would involve lunches and dinners with the new White House team, off-the-record chats about the workings of government mixed with let’s-be-friends chatter about real estate and schools and fitness routines. Presidential advisers would respond cautiously, flattered by their new social cachet, and correctly worried that they might be suspected of divided loyalties and leaks back at the White House.

But these aren’t normal times. Team Trump is showing few signs so far of hungering for the sort of social intercourse with permanent Washington that usually accompanies a new administration. And many longtime capital denizens in interviews describe themselves as put off by what they see as Trump’s personal vulgarity, and disturbed on some more fundamental level by the tornado of ethical controversies swirling around him.

“I think you are going to need a very strong blender to mix the Washington community with the Trump crowd, and I don’t think it’s going to end up being a smoothie,” says Sally Quinn, widow of the legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. “A friend of mine said, ‘It’s the end of small talk in Washington.’”

If Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House has torn at the social fabric across the country, it has interrupted the rhythms and culture of daily life nowhere as much as the city where he now lives. Like many politicians, he ran against Washington, but far more than any president in memory, that outsider rhetoric has translated into outsider governance, a disdain for the capital that seems to translate into genuine disconnection from its existing networks. For Trump’s supporters, this amounts to a promise kept—a disruption, even a thrilling rejection, of America’s permanent governing class. But it also risks impeding his agenda by cutting him off from some of the levers that can help a new president govern, or at least


The ‘international man of mystery’ linked to Flynn’s lobbying deal

More than two years ago, two men started visiting Washington to push Turkey’s agenda in the capital. They dined with dignitaries and enlisted prominent lobbying firms from both sides of the aisle.

It was an unremarkable Washington story, except for one thing: the last lobbyist one of the men hired was Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump’s campaign adviser at the time, who was later fired as national security adviser for lying about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador.

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Flynn’s client, a Turkish businessman named Ekim Alptekin, has gained attention as federal investigators examine Flynn’s apparent failures to disclose foreign contacts. But so far, the other man in the pro-Turkey efforts has largely avoided public notice, making him an intriguing figure in the mystery surrounding foreign influence in Washington.

The man, Dmitri “David” Zaikin, is not registered as a foreign lobbyist and has no apparent connection to Turkey.

What he does have, a ProPublica-POLITICO examination found, is a long track record of partnering with powerful Russian businesspeople and government officials, mostly involving energy and mining deals. More recently, Zaikin has done political work in Eastern Europe, advising parties in Albania and Macedonia that have drifted toward the Kremlin.

Zaikin also has business connections to Trump. Working at a real estate agency in Toronto in the 2000s, Zaikin brokered sales in one of the city’s new high-rises: the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Perhaps coincidentally, Zaikin was also close with a Russian woman who was the exclusive agent for one of Trump’s Florida developments and who was branded “Trump’s Russian hand’’ by a glossy Russian magazine.

Zaikin has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Alptekin and Zaikin have denied knowing each other, and say Zaikin had nothing to do with Flynn’s lobbying deal.

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As previously reported in POLITICO , three people with direct knowledge said Alptekin and Zaikin collaborated on Turkish lobbying, jointly steering the work.

Zaikin referred questions to his lawyer, who declined to comment. Flynn’s lawyer didn’t answer requests for comment. The White House referred questions to Trump’s outside lawyer, whose spokesman also did not respond to a request for comment.

Zaikin says he was born in 1967 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. In an earlier email to Politico, he wrote that his family long faced anti-Semitic persecution in their homeland and that they fled the collapsing USSR for Canada in 1990.

“Mr. Zaikin reserves nothing but contempt for the Soviet government, and whatever vestiges of it may still exist,” his lawyer, Tara Plochocki of the firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss, wrote to POLITICO.

But Zaikin gave a different account to Geoffrey P. Cowley, a British engineer who was his business partner from 2010 until they split in 2016. Cowley said he never heard Zaikin claim his family was persecuted, nor had he heard Zaikin


Senate Democrats rally against GOP health-care bill

Cory Booker is pictured.

As the night progressed, Booker’s vigil on the steps attracted more and more senators. | Getty

By Seung Min Kim

06/26/2017 04:05 PM EDT

Updated 06/26/2017 11:11 PM EDT


It’s time again for Senate Democrats to burn the midnight oil.

Senate Democrats launched yet another night of floor speeches on Monday night castigating the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare — a talk-a-thon led by Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii that ran several hours after the Senate’s 5:30 p.m. votes.

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And while Democrats took turns taking the floor inside the chamber, a much more rambunctious rally was unfolding outside on the Capitol steps in the relatively cool June night. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), settled outside shortly after 7 p.m. and began streaming their talk blasting the GOP’s efforts to dismantle the seven-year-old health care law.

As the night progressed, Booker’s vigil on the steps attracted more and more senators, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat, joined in. Several other Democratic senators — including Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Jeff Merkley of Oregon — joined in for large chunks of the impromptu demonstration that attracted hundreds.

“Right now, the biggest enemy we face is not a handful of senators blocking health care for millions, but it’s the silence of the many who have the power to do something about this,” Booker said around 11 p.m. as the assembly was winding down. “Remember, the power of the people is greater than the people in power … let your voice be heard.”

Murphy told the crowd that the senators didn’t give anybody a heads up that “several hundred people” would gather at the Capitol steps. Booker urged the masses to Snapchat with the various senators who were there, adding: “Extra points if you tell Durbin what a Snapchat is.” And the normally soft-toned Casey roared to the group: “The issue of health care is a matter of basic justice.”

“Light up the switchboard!” Durbin roared to the group. “Get on the phones … don’t be afraid to tweet.”

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Earlier on the floor, kicking off the round of speeches Monday evening was Hirono, who recently underwent treatment for kidney cancer and has spoken about her diagnosis as she’s made her case against Republican efforts to dismantle Obamacare. Hirono is having a second surgery on Tuesday for a lesion on her rib, a spokesman said.

“Democrats are going to keep sharing our stories," Murray said, "and the stories of our constituents to make sure people understand how devastating and ‘mean’ Trumpcare would be for the people we represent, and to do everything we can to keep up the


Republicans eye billions in side deals to win Obamacare repeal votes

White House and Capitol Hill officials are exploring potential deals to divvy up billions of dollars to individual senators’ priorities in a wide-ranging bid to secure votes for the imperiled GOP health care bill.

A Congressional Budget office score that projected 22 million fewer Americans would have insurance under the plan sent some members fleeing Monday and left the bill in jeopardy of failing to have enough votes to even be called to the Senate floor this week.

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But Republicans in the White House and in Congress were pleasantly surprised that the bill included more savings than they expected — and are trying to figure out if they can dole it out for votes.

The Senate has about $188 billion to play with.

Among the possible changes: More spending for health savings accounts to appease conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, according to three people familiar with the matter, and some additional Medicaid and opioid spending for moderates.

"We are still working with leadership to change the base bill," a Lee aide said.

Lee, Cruz and others on the right have been looking to wipe out as much of Obamacare as possible and replace it with health savings accounts, group plans and selling insurance across state lines, among other ideas. It’s not clear if the Senate parliamentarian would allow all of those proposals through under strict reconciliation rules. And Lee will likely require far more dramatic changes to be won over.

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Meanwhile, senators from Medicaid expansion states huddled after the CBO score revealed the nearly $200 billion in savings to see if they could get GOP leaders to put more money into Medicaid and to thwart drug addiction. Those modifications may take place on the Senate floor, but Republicans are divided on how to use the money.

Negotiations are likely to continue quickly behind the scenes over the next 24 hours and could draw the ire of good government groups and advocates. Republicans hammered Democrats for supposedly crafting Obamacare in secret seven years ago and for handing out goodies to wavering Democratic senators.

But the GOP bill has been roundly criticized for being negotiated and written in secret — and the final terms are leaving even some Republicans queasy.

One Senate aide said that Tuesday would be "all about side deals," and another person familiar with the discussions said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already begun talking about private deals.

"There's no one-size-fits all to getting these people on board," said one White House official. "Each of them want different things and we have to figure out if there is a path."

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