2 D.C. Pros Debate the Identity of the Supreme Court Leaker

The Back Booth is a Weekend Edition of The D.C. Brief. Here each Saturday, TIME’s politics newsletter will host a conversation between political professionals on the right and the left, pulling back the curtain on the conversations taking place in Washington when the tape stops rolling. Get The D.C. Brief Here.

Washington is a lover of a good whodunnit. D.C. isn’t as interested in the Supreme Court leak this Week because of its potential reversal Roe V. Wade’s protections for abortion rights as for how it found its way, via Politico, to every player’s reading list.

The D.C. Brief talked with two communications professionals, who both worked on presidential campaigns and in the state legislature. To the right Kevin SheridanHe was a member of the George W. Bush Administration and was a staffer for the Republican National Committee. He was also a top adviser to Paul Ryan while Ryan was Mitt Romney’s running mate. His career began in Connecticut’s statehouse, and the Virginia Office for the Governor.

You can find the link to the right Eddie ValeHe has played a significant role in organized labor for many decades. His support helped Richard Trumka to become the president of AFL-CIO, and he then served as his political-communications director. He helped labor push back against efforts to repeal Obamacare, staffed John Edwards’ presidential bid, and slung all manner of opposition research as a vice president at the Democrats’ biggest such digging operation.

These two are consultants and the conversation they had via email was lightly edited.

Elliott: You’ve each worked for national candidates who have a knack for sensing where the national narrative is heading. With the Speaker’s DelegationFor candidates who are relying on national security, a ticket to Ukraine is an essential accessory. How can you make it useful for a candidate to travel there? Or should you just let the leadership do that?

Vale: If you’re a candidate who isn’t an officeholder already, you need to be careful to only go if there’s a credible reason you being there helps, and it’s not just you want to wear a T-shirt with Zelensky. If you’re a veteran, you obviously have much more street cred to be there, or if your district or state has units deployed to help with training or defense facilities helping with weapons. Many of those ordinances that were dropped on Russian invaders proudly carry a Union-made label.

Sheridan – Any visit to an active war zone depends on your candidate. You don’t want to look like a war tourist—or Dukakis in the tank—so your candidate better have a damn good reason to be over there.

And if you’re the White House, how long do you go before sending the President there?

Sheridan: Given the inconsistent messaging that came out of the President’s Poland trip—yes, Putin must go; no, that’s not what the President meant; yes, that’s exactly what I meant—visiting Ukraine is not an easy call for this White House. Although his poll numbers are poor all over, they’re better than others on Ukraine. So why make another mistake overseas? I’d be advising him to keep the focus on the military aid we’re getting to Ukraine and pass on the visit for now.

Because the White House security package is more extensive than those required by other heads of states, a White House visit can be a bigger undertaking. However, I believe the White House needs to consider where this play falls on the escalation spectrum.

Elliott: Separately, what are you telling clients about tonight’s late news that the Supreme Court appears to have at least written a draft of an opinion reversing Roe Casey?

Vale: It’s not so much advising clients what to do as they’re now just pressing the “go” button on months of planning. Groups were saying things back in the days when Demand Justice was involved with Kavanaugh hearings. Roe would be overturned even though many—including on our side of the aisle—said that was nuts.

The care side is the most important lane in planning: What needs to happen in what states and what providers are needed? The political side harnesses the anger to political action. This is both for our base voters, but it is also a big deal for many independents and Republican moderates.

Sheridan: A leaked Supreme Court decision could be more harmful than any other. Jaws are dropping. But if you’re a voter who ranks abortion high on your list of voting issues, you’ve already picked your party. These motivated voters will tend to cancel out each other. Eddie’s right that there are plenty of moderate voters who support Roe, but it’s always been soft support. Independent voters are running from Democrats in the face of inflation, crime, education, the border, Afghanistan, etc., and I don’t see them switching their votes over a decision that hands elected representatives the question of where to draw the line on abortion.

Republican candidates must communicate this effectively and return to issues that matter to them. I’d add that Republican voters have been trending far more towards culture issues including free speech and education over the abortion issue in recent years. I’d expect Republican candidates to stay focused there.

Elliott: The nuance on abortion rights is so complicated that I’m not entirely sure we know what this could mean in policy or politics.

Vale: While no one knows exactly what will happen next, a lot may have been lost in the nuance surrounding this topic. Many people expected a very technical ruling or tried not to overturn it technically. RoeWhile adding sufficient caveats that it is gone. But this ruling—if it comes out, of course, with no changes—just straight-up screams Roe70% of people disagree with this statement.

And while the future is obviously still unknowable, it’s very interesting that McConnell decided to put out a statement that is 100% focused on leak/process rather than any excitement about, or even a single mention of, Roe being overturned.

Sheridan: Republicans will run on court intimidation, rule of law. Schumer takes to the podium to announce that they will codify Roe essentially makes the Supreme Court’s point.

Vale: Do you guys think it’s more likely that the leak came from the left or the right?

Sheridan – My money is on the Sotomayor clerk. They’ll get an MSNBC gig out of this.

Vale: That’s what I thought yesterday. Today I’m finding interest in the theory that this is the original version of the opinion, and someone on the right leaked it as Roberts is trying to pull Amy Coney Barrett or Brett Kavanaugh off it into a different concurring decision, a la what happened with CaseyAnd that was their way of locking them in.

Sheridan: I just can’t see any conservative on the court giving it to Politico. This would shock me. A leakage like this would make it impossible for any conservative to believe Politico. Trust me, our side isn’t crafty enough to do misdirection. You can also find out more at: [Demand Justice executive director]Brian Fallon appears way too excited about it. It almost seems that it was from Sotomayor.

Elliott: Is there any signifiable effort being made by the US in support of a post-election America?Roe world? The draft would mean that the federalist-based state legislatures will fill in any gaps regarding laws on equality and abortion. Is anyone starting to step in—on either side—to prepare for the next steps?

Vale It’s an oversimplification of the issue but I expect it will break out roughly along the lines of competitive states electorally.

New York, Illinois, and other protections for blue states are being passed. Red states have recently passed new laws, or already have trigger legislation. And the big fights are going to be in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, etc., not just because they’re purple but because of the split of legislature and governor between parties. It’s going to be nuts.

Sheridan: There will be epic spending in state legislative races that haven’t already made it clear where they draw the line on abortion. I would guess we’ll see statehouse races that spent $100,000 or less last cycle will be in the millions. Liberal dark money groups are likely to lose hundreds or even hundreds of millions. Sheldon Whitehouse

Vale: I have been hearing from everyone about the amazing Josh Gerstein scoop. Alexander Ward, however, is another name in the byline. This is why a national security correspondent appears on it. What did they do?

Sheridan: Ward has to have had a relationship in the past with a clerk. Phil, please get the truth!

Elliott: I think it would have made my life much easier for journalists to be subject to subpoena powers. Now, let’s get back to politics. Trump’s endorsement of J.D. Vance, Ohio MovedHe went from being a distant third to winning in three weeks. If you’re a candidate in a competitive race with a live primary, why wouldn’t you chase that endorsement at all costs?

Vale: It seems pretty clear from the outside that a Trump endorsement, no matter the cost, isn’t a theoretical question anymore but pretty clearly the strategy (almost) every candidate is taking. It’s not the boring, boring way of asking for their endorsement. Mar-a-Lago is where they all must go to ritual humiliation, where we praise him for his great skin and tell him how intelligent and smart he really is.

There is a chance that there will be a general election. However, it all depends on where you live. So in Ohio, there’s probably not a huge downside for Vance. However, states such as Pennsylvania, Nevada Georgia and Michigan are quite different. And it’s why you see Team Mitch trying to keep things from devolving back to the Chicken for Checkups and I’m Not a Witch days.

Sheridan: I don’t see Ohio as indicative. For years it has been a populist state, which is why you can get large Trump support as well Sherrod Brown. Every state will have a unique story. Pennsylvania is the most interesting, and I wouldn’t assume the Trump endorsement is going to sway it either way.

Elliott: It was a great conversation, full of humor and lots of laughter. Are there any final thoughts?

Sheridan: I would just say don’t sleep on the Department of Homeland Security Disinformation Governance Board. Republican voters will be outraged by it, and may even turn against free speech. You seriously couldn’t create in a lab a better base motivator than Nina Jankowicz—straight out of central casting for what drives our voters out. It will be more influential than abortion on the national level.

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