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In today’s edition: A U.S.-led coalition launches strikes on Houthi rebel groups in the Red Sea, Iow͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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January 12, 2024


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Today in D.C.
  1. Houthi strikes
  2. Iowa’s deep freeze
  3. Conservatives in revolt
  4. Trump’s closing argument
  5. Boeing scrutiny intensifies
  6. Banks weigh Fed suit
  7. Congress gets pinned

PDB: Democratic senators’ big plans for Roe v. Wade anniversary

Biden headed to Pennsylvania (again) … three days until Iowa … Politico: Inside Biden’s move to strike Houthis

— edited by Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann and Morgan Chalfant


U.S., U.K. strike Houthi targets in Yemen

US Central Command via X/Handout via REUTERS

The U.S. and U.K. launched strikes against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen on Thursday in retaliation for attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea that have threatened global commerce, a dramatic move the Biden administration said was intended to degrade the group’s capabilities. President Biden said in a statement that the strikes were conducted with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands. A senior Biden administration official told reporters the targets focused on Houthi missile, radar, and UAV capabilities. “There is no intent to escalate the situation. The aim is to degrade the ability of the Houthis to continue carrying out these reckless attacks,” the official said, acknowledging later on that the Houthis may retaliate in some way. The strike, which one Western official described to PBS reporter Nick Schifrin as among the “higher end” of options to hit back against the Houthis for the shipping attacks, came days after the U.S. military shot down a barrage of missiles and drones the Iran-backed militia group launched from Yemen into the Red Sea.

The strike will raise concerns about wider escalation of war in the Middle East, as Israel continues its campaign against Hamas in Gaza, which the Houthis say provoked their strikes. Biden earned plaudits from some top Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Mike Johnson, but faced a round of criticism from some Democrats and Republicans who said that the president failed to seek authorization from Congress ahead of the strike. Potentially undermining the international effort, Semafor’s Jay Solomon writes that the Biden administration has also been unable to convince Arab states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar to join a coalition of nations that began policing the Red Sea in December, partly out of fear of being seen as siding with Israel. At Foreign Affairs, Alexandra Stark argues “decades of experience” have shown “that military efforts to dislodge the Houthis are unlikely to be effective.” Instead, she writes, it will take a diplomatic effort starting with a resolution of the Gaza conflict.

Morgan Chalfant


Too damn cold in Iowa

REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer

“Life-threatening winter weather” is how the National Weather Service described today’s forecast in Des Moines. And for Monday’s caucus, wind chill temperatures are supposed to be 26-below by midday. The expected cold is “on another planet” compared to any prior Iowa caucus, writes Harry Enten, CNN’s ace polling and weather analyst (this is truly his moment). Nikki Haley replaced today’s in-person events with “telephone town halls,” citing the potentially dangerous weather. A new Suffolk University poll finds Trump up big as usual, with 54% support among likely caucusgoers, but also has Haley surging into second place for the first time with 20% support to Ron DeSantis’ 13% — a result that, like a deep freeze icing over an orange grove, would likely be the end for the Florida governor. But the cold could affect events, canvassing, and turnout, adding another layer of uncertainty to the race. Semafor’s own Shelby Talcott and David Weigel talked to some of the voters braving the weather to still attend town halls and rallies and has a vibe check from each candidate’s core supporters. At Haley’s Cedar Rapids event Thursday: An “anyone but Trump” voter who caucused for Democrat Amy Klobuchar in 2020, but is attracted to the former ambassador’s moderate brand.


Hardliners urge Johnson to tear up his spending deal

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo

How serious is the conservative revolt against Mike Johnson? Still tough to say. The House Speaker met with hardline Republicans on Thursday afternoon, who urged him to tear up and renegotiate the spending deal he recently clinched with Senate Democrats. Some left the room convinced they’d won him over. “There’s going to be a new deal drawn up and that’s what we’re in the process of doing,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. told reporters. That apparently was not the case, however: Johnson told the press that he “made no commitments” and was simply “having thoughtful conversations about funding options and priorities.” Greene, for one, appears livid at the GOP leader — she told Axios and podcast host Steve Bannon that she’d consider filing a motion to remove him, a possibility Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas previously floated. But there’s still widespread doubt that any member would pull that trigger (Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. is notably skeptical), and establishment Republicans are already losing patience. “You’ve got a number of people that have no legislative track record, no legislative wins, that are out there trying to dictate strategies that have repeatedly resulted in less conservative outcomes,” Rep. Garret Graves, R-La. complained to the Independent.

Jordan Weissmann


Trump gets in a final word at fraud trial

REUTERS/David Dee Delgado

Donald Trump found a way to get the final word as his civil fraud trial wrapped up in New York. The former president was not supposed to speak, after New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron barred him from delivering a “campaign speech.” But the judge allowed a last-minute request by Trump’s attorneys to let him address the court. His remarks lasted six minutes; during them, he attacked Engoron, called the case a “political witch hunt,” and said New York Attorney General Letitia James “hates Trump and uses Trump to get elected.” At one point, Engoron, who was the target of a swatting incident earlier in the day, told Trump attorney Christopher Kise to “control your client”; Trump kept talking anyway to little effect. Engoron will issue the final decision in the high-stakes case later this month. James is currently seeking a $370 million penalty against Trump for artificially inflating the value of his properties and wants to bar him from New York real estate altogether.


Boeing under the microscope

REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

The scrutiny on Boeing is intensifying in Washington after the door plug on one of its 737 Max planes fell off in the middle of an Alaska Airlines flight. The Federal Aviation Administration is now investigating whether the company failed to adhere to approved designs, while lawmakers are beginning to ask whether the regulator itself may have dropped the ball. Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. sent a letter to the FAA on Thursday requesting records on audits of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, one of Boeing’s part suppliers. “It appears that FAA’s oversight processes have not been effective in ensuring that Boeing produces airplanes that are in condition for safe operation, as required by law and by FAA regulations,” Cantwell wrote. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a member of the Commerce panel said Wednesday there would “need to be hearings and investigation.”

Morgan Chalfant


Big banks consider Fed lawsuit over proposed regs

Semafor/Al Lucca

Big banks are contemplating the unthinkable: suing the Federal Reserve over new proposed industry regulations, Semafor’s Liz Hoffman reports. Former Trump Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, a prominent conservative litigator, is quietly preparing a lawsuit for the Bank Policy Institute, a trade group representing the likes of JPMorgan, Citibank, and Goldman Sachs, that would aim to block the rules. Banks have already mounted a public campaign against the proposed rules, including criticizing them as harmful to the economy at a Senate hearing last month. Liz argues, however, that the lawsuit preparations have a “different tone” than usual industry lobbying because banks usually don’t sue the Fed, a body that has “virtually unlimited ways to make Wall Street’s life difficult.”


House spends $40,000 on new member pins

Semafor/Kadia Goba

The 118th Congress will be remembered for many firsts: Electing the first Black leader in the House, that 15-round speaker’s vote, and then removing that same speaker. The latest: Leadership swapped their apple-green members’ pins for deep navy ones mid-cycle at a cost of $40,000, according to one source familiar with the decision. It’s an interesting purchase for a Congress that remains on the brink of shuttering the government in part because of a desire to cut spending. Some congresswomen complained that the bale on the pin is smaller than in years past, making it impossible to fit on thicker chains, according to Rep. Deborah Ross, D-N.C. But overall, members seem happy with the new color choice. When asked if members requested the change from Speaker Mike Johnson, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. replied, “I don’t know the answer to your question, I do know there were many congressmen who didn’t like the green pin.”

Kadia Goba


Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been making a strong case publicly and privately for President Biden’s national security supplemental, and the Houthi strikes last night “could serve to accelerate” that push.

Playbook: David Axelrod defended his Biden criticism, saying he’s not trying to “antagonize people who I like and care about.” “I know that people expect 100 percent loyalty, but that’s not my job. It’s pretty obvious that there are challenges here,” he said.

Axios: Donald Trump’s support from evangelical pastors is a “huge reason” why he will win Iowa’s caucuses next week.

White House

  • President Biden will spend the day visiting small businesses in the area of Allentown, Pa.
  • Biden announced this morning that, next month, some student loan borrowers enrolled in the SAVE program will have their remaining debt canceled immediately. This applies only to borrowers who took out less than $12,000 in loans and have been repaying their loans for a decade.
  • The White House is sending a delegation led by USAID Administrator Samantha Power to Guatemala for president-elect Bernardo Arévalo’s inauguration this weekend.


  • Democratic senators are going all out for the upcoming anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. is holding a briefing on the state of abortion rights in the U.S. next Wednesday. It’s being co-hosted by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev. “Senate Democrats will use this opportunity to lay bare the pain and suffering we are seeing across the country,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement shared with Semafor. They will hear from Dr. Austin Dennard, a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Texas abortion ban; feminist columnist Jessica Valenti; and Serina Floyd, the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood in D.C.
  • Negotiators continue to express optimism on forging a $70 billion tax deal, but its path is getting bumpy in the House. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chief tax-writing House Democrat, is pushing for a more generous child tax credit along with Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. “The way the deal is currently structured, I am opposed to it,” DeLauro told reporters.
  • The Senate unanimously approved a resolution that commends Taiwan for its history of democratic elections and expresses support for the island’s democratic institutions.
  • Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas agreed to appear before the House Homeland Security Committee as it looks to impeach him, but rejected Republican demands he sit for testimony next Thursday.
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is standing in the way of bipartisan rail safety legislation. — The Hill


Thursday’s inflation data came in slightly hotter than economists anticipated, with the Consumer Price Index rising at a 3.4% annual rate in December. That might give the Federal Reserve more reason to be cautious about interest rate cuts. But here’s an interesting issue to keep an eye on: The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge — the Personal Consumption Expenditure index — is falling back to its 2% target more quickly than the CPI, partly because it puts less weight on housing. The central bank’s decisions in the coming months could have a lot to do with which measure it pays more attention to.


  • Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty to tax-related charges in a Los Angeles federal court.
  • Six Jewish students sued Harvard, alleging the university violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and failing to enforce its own nondiscrimination policy by failing to punish antisemitic student demonstrators and members of the faculty.

National Security

The Pentagon inspector general is investigating the circumstances surrounding Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s secretive hospital stay and the lack of disclosure about it. In a memo, Inspector General Robert Storch, said his office would assess whether the Pentagon’s “policies and procedures are sufficient to ensure timely and appropriate notifications and the effective transition of authorities as may be warranted due to health-based or other unavailability of senior leadership.”


  • Another poll showed Nikki Haley rising in New Hampshire.
  • The share of adults who identify as Democrats hit an all-time low in Gallup’s latest polling, matching Republicans at 27% as the share of political independents returned to a peak last touched in 2014. When including political leaners, Republicans slightly outnumber Democrats for the second year running, at 45% to 43%.


  • Maryland’s former Republican governor, Larry Hogan, recently left his leadership position at No Labels, triggering speculation he might mount a third-party bid if the group decides to field a ticket. — AP
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is still in the GOP presidential race. “I am the only one campaigning for president in Iowa that has said I’m not going to promise a pardon to Donald Trump. And if my voice is not there, then no one hears the alternative view,” he told the New York Times.
  • Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. accused the Biden campaign of pressuring media organizations like MSNBC to blackball him. (A Biden campaign spokesman’s response: “LOL.”) — Politico
  • Breitbart reporter Matt Boyle isn’t running for Congress despite a MAGA recruitment effort.
  • NOTUS profiles Steven Cheung, Trump’s pugnacious oft-quoted communications director: “What distinguishes him from some of Trump’s earlier aides is that, behind the scenes, he is something very different: a non-self-promoting, even-keeled and disciplined professional.”

Big Read

In the span of one marathon nine-hour negotiating session just over a week after Hamas’ attack on Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken convinced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow aid into Gaza, Vera Bergengruen writes in TIME’s latest cover story. More than a dozen current and former senior U.S. officials and diplomats told Bergengruen that Blinken’s “even-keeled approach is a reassuring projection of American leadership at a perilous moment.” “He’s the right guy at the right time,” said Tom Nides, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel until July. “I’ve sat in those rooms with him and Bibi. Tony’s a nice guy — but don’t screw with him.”


Stories that are being largely ignored by either left-leaning or right-leaning outlets, according to data from our partners at Ground News.

What the Left isn’t reading: A very long-shot Republican presidential candidate who filed scores of challenges to Donald Trump’s ballot eligibility was arrested on charges he filed false tax documents with the IRS.

What the Right isn’t reading: A former member of Maryland’s Board of Elections was charged with taking part in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Principals Team

Editors: Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann, Morgan Chalfant

Editor-at-Large: Steve Clemons

Reporters: Kadia Goba, Joseph Zeballos-Roig, Shelby Talcott, David Weigel


January 14-19, 2024 | Switzerland

Semafor will be on the ground at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, covering what’s happening on the main stages and lifting the curtain on what’s happening behind them.

Sign up to receive our pop-up newsletter: Semafor Davos (and if you’re flying to Zurich let us know so we can invite you to one of Semafor’s private convenings).

One Good Text

Lori Trahan is a Democratic congresswoman from Massachusetts. We asked her about Bill Belichick’s departure from the New England Patriots.