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January 3, 2023


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Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Representative-elect George Santos says he supports Speaker-hopeful Kevin McCarthy all the way, but as Kadia Goba reports, commitments from McCarthy’s other supporters may be less dependable the longer the process drags on. McCarthy may still pull out a win in the end, but the result could be a fragile leadership so dependent on the support of its fringe wings that centrists start bailing on key votes.

Trump is picking an early fight on abortion with the 2024 field, drawing ire from the staunchly anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America for claiming Republicans blew the midterms by not endorsing exceptions for rape, incest, and threats to the life of a mother and accusing anti-Roe activists of not pulling their weight in campaigns. A Trump spokesperson told Semafor his anti-abortion views were clear in his Supreme Court Justice choices, Shelby Talcott and Morgan Chalfant report. And it’s just January 3, 2023.

PLUS: One Good Text from Brendan Buck, a former top aide to two recent Speakers, on what to expect this Congress from a House Republican caucus that can barely pick a speaker.

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White House: What’s the deal with Biden’s trip to deep red Kentucky later this week? He insisted it has “nothing” to do with his relationship with Mitch McConnell. Instead, it’s about infrastructure dollars. “It’s a giant bridge, man. It’s a lot of money. It’s important,” Biden told reporters Monday.

Chuck Schumer: New Senate, same leader. The upper chamber convenes today at noon and new members will be sworn in. Schumer will welcome only two new faces to his caucus, John Fetterman, D-Pa., and Peter Welch, D-Vt.

Mitch McConnell: The minority leader (who becomes the longest-serving party leader in Senate history today) will contend with five new members in the 118th Congress, a caucus that’s one seat smaller, and a wild card in newly independent Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz.

Kevin McCarthy: The 118th Congress starts at noon and Kevin McCarthy will spend the morning trying to convince a number of holdouts to vote him in as Speaker. It’s the first time in 100 years the vote is expected to go to a second ballot.

Hakeem Jeffries: Minority Leader-designate Hakeem Jeffries, the first Black member to lead a party in Congress, announced his senior staff, naming five women and six people of color in top leadership positions.

Need to Know
The aftermath of Ukrainian attacks on Makiivka, occupied Ukraine.
REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Another day, another rough headline for George Santos. Prosecutors in Brazil plan to reopen a fraud case against the Long Island politician, who will enter Congress as a freshman today, according to the New York Times.

A Ukrainian strike killed 63 Russian soldiers in Donetsk, according to Moscow, a major blow to Russia’s military operation. Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, told Semafor that the attack both shows the growing capability of the Ukrainian military and demonstrates that the Russians still haven’t learned “some basic battlefield discipline” since the start of the war. “This is why I think it very unlikely that Russian Federation forces can mount new operations that can achieve significant success,” Hodges said. The mere fact that Russia acknowledged the losses was also surprising. Ukraine has not explicitly said it was behind the strike and the U.S. has remained quiet publicly on it.

The Jan. 6 select committee released troves of new evidence as its closing act before dissolving ahead of the new Congress. Among the juiciest details: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley recalled comparing what he saw in the crowd on Jan. 6 to Nazi Germany and telling his staff, “This looks like a Reichstag moment.” Milley also told the panel that he classified documents relevant to Jan. 6 “at a pretty high level” to protect them for future investigations. Former Trump aide Hope Hicks complained to a colleague that the events of Jan. 6 made her and other White House officials “look like domestic terrorists” and left them “unemployable.” And Trump wanted to trademark “Rigged Election!”

Morgan Chalfant

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: McCarthy and his aides appear outwardly optimistic about his prospects today, but some allies are privately worried. One told Punchbowl that he has a 5% chance of winning the speakership.

Playbook: McCarthy is not expected to win on the first ballot, but his allies insist he won’t go down easily without a fight. “We’ll be here until the Fourth of July voting for McCarthy,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., told Politico.

The Early 202: Democrats don’t have plans to work across the aisle with moderate GOP lawmakers on electing a “consensus speaker.”

Kadia Goba

Kevin McCarthy’s supporters might not be ready for a long fight

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein


How many rounds would you go for Kevin McCarthy?

The California Congressman’s quest to become House Speaker is being held up by a handful of conservative rebels.

But another problem could be that his loyalists aren’t all that loyal.

If McCarthy can’t secure the gavel after the first ballot, House members will have to keep voting until they’ve picked somebody as speaker. His backers are promising to put up a fight. In a letter dated Friday, leaders of the 70-member Republican Main Street Caucus said their group was “prepared to vote for him for as long as it takes.”

Some backers say they have limits, however. One relatively ardent McCarthy supporter told Semafor that they would probably be willing to go up to 12 rounds of voting, which would likely last between 3 and 4 days. The aide to another, slightly less ardent supporter said their member would be willing to sit through 3 to 4 rounds, or about a day’s worth of action.

Meanwhile, a senior Republican staffer said aides were whispering that members might only tolerate just one or two rounds of voting before sitting down to try and strike a backroom deal on a compromise candidate. Right now, the leading alternative to McCarthy appears to be Rep. Steve Scalise.

The last time a Congress couldn’t pick a speaker after one vote was all the way back in 1923, when it took Republicans nine rounds to settle on Frederick Huntington Gillet. The longest speaker showdown took place in 1855, spanning 2 months and 133 rounds of votes.


Exciting as it would be to the Capitol Hill press corps to witness a once-a-century event, it doesn’t seem like congressional Republicans are hungry for an endless floor fight that makes it look as if their party has been paralyzed by dysfunction. If it becomes clear McCarthy doesn’t have the votes, a plan B could emerge quickly.

“I don’t think in the modern age you’re going to see sort of a 19th-century style of deadlock where you have hundreds of ballots over the course of months,” said Matthew Glassman, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University. “Too many people are gonna want to get Congress doing things. And that will force somebody to give in.”


Some McCarthy allies argue they have to go the distance on a long fight if necessary, or risk losing control of the caucus before the Congress even begins. “We don’t want a very small number to keep a gun to the future Speaker’s head on every tough vote,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who is viewed as a moderate, told Semafor, referring to rules changes his party’s hardliners have demanded from McCarthy. “It makes the majority weaker and easily held hostage by a handful of people.” Bacon has said that if McCarthy’s bid does fail, Republicans might team with Democrats to find a compromise speaker.


“I’m supporting McCarthy on all votes. He deserves it. He raised the money and put the agenda together for candidates to take the majority,” Rep.-elect George Santos, R-N.Y. told Semafor.


After ripping anti-abortion Republicans, Trump defends his record

REUTERS/Marco Bello

Donald Trump is now tussling with a top anti-abortion group after suggesting Sunday that Republicans hurt themselves in the midterms by adopting hardline positions on the issue, such as bans without exceptions for rape or incest.

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America issued a tart response to the ex-president’s comments on Monday.

“The approach to winning on abortion in federal races, proven for a decade is this: state clearly the ambitious consensus pro-life position and contrast that with the extreme view of Democrat opponents,” the organization said in a statement. Mike Pence, who has said he may run against Trump in 2024, and who has advocated for a national abortion ban, tweeted his approval.

A Trump campaign spokesman sent Semafor a lengthy response late Monday defending his anti-abortion record.

“President Trump’s unmatched record speaks for itself — nominating pro-life federal judges and Supreme Court justices that overturned Roe v. Wade, ending tax-payer funded abortions, reinstated the Mexico City Policy that protects the life of the unborn abroad, and many other actions that championed life,” said Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung. “There has been no bigger advocate for the movement than President Trump. Contrast that with Joe Biden’s abhorrent record of abortion on demand and using American tax dollars to fund the killing of the most vulnerable, it is clear we need President Trump back in the White House.”

The two-day controversy underlines the trouble Republicans have had settling on a unified abortion message since the Supreme Court’s decision striking down Roe last year. GOP political strategists have acknowledged that the party’s flat-footed reaction cost them in last year’s elections.

“I can say with empirical facts that we ceded almost all of the ground on abortion to the Democrats,” OnMessage’s Wes Anderson said during a recent post-election autopsy organized by Heritage Action. “We did not engage in the fight.”

The next big question: How Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed a 15-week ban last April with limited exceptions for health and fetal abnormalities, decides to play the issue. With large Republican majorities, he’s under pressure to go further this year.

— Shelby Talcott and Morgan Chalfant


One Good Text ... with Brendan Buck


Stories that are being shared less widely across left-leaning or right-leaning outlets, according to data from our partners at Ground News.

WHAT THE LEFT ISN’T READING: Lunden Roberts, the mother of Hunter Biden’s daughter, asked a court to change the child’s last name to Biden so that she could “benefit from carrying the Biden family name.”

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told the Jan. 6 select committee that police failures on the day of the Capitol riot resulted from an assumption that far-right extremists would be “friendly to law enforcement.”

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— Steve Clemons