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Republicans begin picking a nominee Monday.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
snowstorm Washington
cloudy Des Moines
thunderstorms Taipei
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January 15, 2024


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Today in D.C.
  1. Showdown in Iowa
  2. Trump’s campaign trials
  3. Border tensions rise
  4. Congress unveils a new CR
  5. Taiwan elects Lai
  6. This week’s top global elections

PDB: GOP majority shrinks temporarily with Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., recovering from car crash

Happy MLK Day … Trump’s Iowa closing argument: ‘Even if you vote and then pass away: It’s worth it’ … Former Biden aide in NYT: Border talks are a ‘trap for Democrats’

— edited by Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann and Morgan Chalfant


The Iowa caucus is upon us

REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer

Yes, voters are actually voting in Iowa today. The caucus process begins at 7 p.m. CT and, barring a world-historic polling failure, the winner shouldn’t take long to declare. Donald Trump continued to hold a massive lead in Ann Seltzer’s famed NBC News/Des Moines Register survey over the weekend, with Nikki Haley barely overtaking Ron DeSantis for second place. The wild card is the weather, which upended candidate plans over the final few days. Semafor’s Shelby Talcott and David Weigel braved the freezing wind (with some newly purchased snow boots) to chronicle what stops remained.

Trump used his single rally on Sunday to beg supporters to turn out no matter what. “Even if you vote and then pass away: It’s worth it, remember,” he said. DeSantis is hoping that his hard work crisscrossing the state for months, in contrast to Trump’s more remote campaign, will give him an edge. “People know who tried to earn it, and who didn’t,” he told reporters after his final rally of the night, which was a high-energy affair. For Haley, a strong second place finish could give her momentum in New Hampshire: In preparation, Trump’s campaign is running attack ads on MSNBC citing her calls to raise the retirement age for future Social Security recipients — an effort to keep more liberal independents from crossing over to vote for the former governor.


How Trump turned his legal defense into campaign offense

REUTERS/Mike Segar/Pool

How did Donald Trump end up the dominant frontrunner in the race heading into Iowa? He made his legal problems into Republican voters’ problems, Semafor’s Benjy Sarlin writes. Trump spent much of the final run-up to the Iowa caucus in courtrooms in New York and Washington, by choice, continuing his long-running strategy of fusing his legal defense and political offense into one message. “I want to go to all of my trials,” Trump said after his latest appearance at his New York civil fraud trial. “These are all set up by Biden and the Democrats. This is their new form of cheating.” It’s this approach that’s become the defining story of the race: His polling with Republicans surged after his first felony indictment last March, and his rivals have struggled to find a compelling counterargument to his claims of political persecution. Nikki Haley has derided the “chaos” around Trump, Ron DeSantis has warned it will cost him swing voters, and Vivek Ramaswamy has even promised to “save” Trump better than Trump himself. But the elaborate framework and vocabulary Republicans built up to defend him over the last eight years — “deep state,” “weaponized government,” “stolen election” — has made it nearly impossible for GOP opponents to either criticize his underlying behavior or argue the cases are a petty distraction.


House GOP takes aim at the Senate’s unfinished border deal

REUTERS/Kaylee Greenlee Beal

Senate negotiators have yet to release their long-awaited deal on the border — but that didn’t stop House Republicans from preemptively shooting it down this weekend. The sniping started Saturday after Fox News reported that the agreement would include provisions such as “immediate work permits for every illegal alien released from custody.” Speaker Mike Johnson responded on X with a screenshot of the story and the words, “Absolutely not.” Senators involved in talks dismissed the Fox story as incorrect. But House Majority Leader Steve Scalise reportedly told members the Senate deal was dead on arrival in the House, while Johnson said leaders would still demand their own party-line border bill, H.R.2. (Notably, he also suggested Congress wouldn’t fix the border until Republicans won the presidency). We’ll see if it’s more than posturing. As if the dynamics on Capitol Hill weren’t complicated enough, Semafor’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig reports that the success of any potential border plan will likely depend on whether Mexico decides to cooperate with it, since the U.S. relies heavily on its southern neighbor to help with deportations. Meanwhile, the chaos at the border took a grim turn this weekend when a migrant family, including two children, drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas. The Department of Homeland Security said that Border Patrol agents went to rescue the migrants, but were “physically barred” by Texas authorities who’ve been blocking access to the park — a conflict that’s now in front of the Supreme Court.


Say hello to another CR

REUTERS/Leah Millis

Government shutdown? Not this month. Senate and House leaders released the text of their latest stopgap spending bill Sunday night, aimed at giving Congress time to finally pass their full-year appropriations. Like the last temporary patch, it includes two deadlines: Funding for part of the federal government will last until March 1, and the rest will expire March 8. As expected, the potential deal has earned backlash from the hardline House Freedom Caucus, but all signs are pointing to passage for now. Despite some confusion last week, Speaker Mike Johnson still sounds firmly behind the topline spending bill he struck with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, calling it “an improved toppling agreement that will finally allow the House and Senate to complete the annual appropriations bills.”


Takeaways from Taiwan’s elections

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party won the presidency for a historic third time in a row, despite interference efforts by China against president-elect Lai Ching-te, who has drawn Beijing’s ire with his pro-independence remarks. The results were watched closely in Washington, which dispatched a delegation of former officials to the island on Sunday to meet face-to-face with “a range of leading political figures,” according to the American Institute in Taiwan. One of the former officials told the current president Tsai Ing-wen that U.S. commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid.” Analysts believe that the results mean China, which claims the self-governed island as part of its territory, will continue its economic pressure and military intimidation, though a near-term invasion of Taiwan is seen as unlikely. “The next four years will be anything but stable in U.S.-China and cross-strait relations,” Evan Medeiros, a former Obama White House official, told the New York Times. Biden reacted to the result by saying the U.S. “does not support” Taiwan independence, remarks that may have been aimed at reassuring Beijing. China won’t do anything “drastic” right after the election, a Japanese official told a small group of reporters last Friday, “but they might do something which is similar to what they did after the visit of several important figures to Taiwan.” Some interpreted Beijing’s initial response as muted, and China likely takes note of the fact that the DPP won the presidency but lost control of the legislature.

Morgan Chalfant


This week’s Global Elections Hot List: Iowa, South Korea, Italy

Semafor/Al Lucca

The Iowa caucus’ official kicking off of the U.S. election pushes the race to the White House to the top of our Global Election Hot List, with news of a splinter party in South Korea, and a far-right flameout in Europe also near the top of the charts. 2024 will be defined by elections, and with so many votes around the world, it can be hard to keep track of them at all. That’s why we’re assembling the top election stories from around the globe into a weekly list. Informed by in-depth polling, international reporting, and local expertise, we’ll alert you to the big trends and the coming surprises in this unstable new global politics.

Prashant Rao


White House

  • President Biden will visit the food bank Philabundance in Philadelphia to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as he has done on the holiday most years during his presidency. Vice President Harris will deliver the keynote speech at the South Carolina NAACP’s annual “King Day at the Dome” event at the South Carolina State House.
  • Biden is running out of patience with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because he keeps rebuffing the administration’s requests on the Gaza war. — Axios
  • Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry informed the president at a meeting last week that he soon plans to leave the administration. Kerry is expected to assist Biden’s reelection campaign in promoting the administration’s climate record.


  • Speaker Mike Johnson said that he and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky. would make sure that federal agencies punish workers who take part in a planned walkout tomorrow to protest the Biden administration’s handling of the Gaza war. “Any government worker who walks off the job to protest U.S. support for our ally Israel is ignoring their responsibility and abusing the trust of taxpayers,” Johnson said in a statement. “They deserve to be fired.”
  • Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. urged President Biden to take executive action to address the crisis at the U.S. southern border if lawmakers cannot reach a bipartisan agreement on border policy changes.
  • The Republican leading the House GOP investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack said the probe is moving forward with more resources and triple the staff since Johnson was tapped as speaker. — Fox News
  • The House looks to be moving forward with a vote on holding Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress, even after he reversed course and said through his attorneys he would follow a subpoena for a deposition if a new one is issued.
  • The House select committee on China has asked executives at semiconductor companies Intel, Nvidia, and Micron to testify before Congress. — FT
  • Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. is in the hospital recovering from a car crash that occurred last week, Johnson told Republican members on a call Sunday night, which will temporarily shrink the GOP majority even further.


Chuck Grassley (@ChuckGrassley) / X


Artificial intelligence will affect 40% of jobs worldwide, the International Monetary Fund said ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos. IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said in a blog post that the technology could “jumpstart productivity, boost global growth and raise incomes,” but equally could “replace jobs and deepen inequality.”


  • Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis defended her office and the qualifications of a special prosecutor working on the election subversion case, following allegations she and the special prosecutor had an improper romantic relationship. Politico reported that the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, was held in contempt last year for defying a court order.
  • Donald Trump looks like he’ll be back in court this week at a New York defamation trial over comments he made about E. Jean Carroll. Jury selection begins on Tuesday. Attorneys for Carroll and Trump have been arguing over potential restrictions on Trump’s testimony.


  • The final Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll found Donald Trump picking up support from 48% of likely Iowa caucusgoers. Nikki Haley moved into second place, but with a distant 20% support. Almost half of Haley’s supporters in the survey said they’d vote for President Biden over Trump.
  • Haley holds a bigger lead nationally over Biden than Trump or Ron DeSantis in hypothetical general election matchups, according to a new CBS News/YouGov poll.


  • Nikki Haley got an endorsement from former Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and Donald Trump got a nod from North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who himself mounted a short-lived GOP presidential campaign.
  • A majority of Republicans in the House and Senate have now backed Trump. — Politico
  • The Biden reelection campaign said it raised $97 million in the fourth quarter of 2023, giving it $117 million cash on hand (a historic high for a Democratic campaign at this point in the race).
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. predicted progressives would still rally behind President Biden in the general election despite their opposition to his handling of the Israel-Hamas war, but he urged Biden to withhold aid to Israel unless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “radically” changes course in the offensive. “There’s no question it is very hard for young people — I think for most Americans — to be excited about what is going on right now. The president has got to change course,” Sanders said on CNN.
  • Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman plans to donate $1 million to Rep. Dean Phillips’, D-Minn. longshot primary bid against Biden.

National Security

  • The U.S. military said it shot down an anti-ship cruise missile fired by the Houthis in Yemen toward a U.S. destroyer operating in the Red Sea, days after U.S.-led strikes against the Iran-backed group.
  • Two Navy SEALs went missing off the coast of Somalia last week after falling into the water when attempting to board a ship there. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on CBS Sunday that the search for the two SEALs was still ongoing and that the mission was not related to the recent operations against the Houthis in Yemen.
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is still hospitalized at Walter Reed (about two weeks after he was admitted) and is “in good condition,” according to the latest update from Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder. It’s still unclear when he will be released from the hospital.
  • North Korea said it tested its first solid-fuel hypersonic missile, designed to travel five times the speed of sound and evade missile defense systems.

Foreign Policy

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet with JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon at the World Economic Forum in Davos. — Bloomberg
  • Ukraine presented a 10-point peace plan to 83 countries at Davos, including officials representing countries from the global south, but China skipped the meeting (Russia wasn’t invited). The plan calls for a full withdrawal of Russian troops.
  • China’s foreign minister called for an Israel-Palestine peace conference during a visit to Egypt. The president of the European Council on Foreign Relations argues that Beijing is trying to show developing countries the U.S.-backed “rules-based order” is eroding.

Big Read

2024 is the “year of voting dangerously,” Bruno Maçães writes in British magazine the New Statesman, because several contests will put democracy as we know it to the test. The U.S. election in November is the centerpiece with the potential return of Donald Trump, he writes, but other contests like the presidential vote in Indonesia will carry powerful lessons for the health of democratic process around the world.


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 law banning people from carrying firearms in post offices is unconstitutional, a federal judge in Florida ruled.

What the Right isn’t reading: The Biden administration proposed oil and natural gas companies pay a fee for methane emissions that go above certain levels.

Principals Team

Editors: Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann, Morgan Chalfant

Editor-at-Large: Steve Clemons

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

One Good Text

Ann Selzer is a renowned Iowa pollster who conducted the Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll.

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