What’s everyone joking about at Davos? George Santos, of course. At a marquee event hosted by Lally ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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What’s everyone joking about at Davos? George Santos, of course. At a marquee event hosted by Lally Weymouth and the Washington Post, Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein quipped that the congressman couldn’t join the World Economic Forum because he was busy receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom for discovering the COVID-19 vaccine. In the eyes of global business leaders here in the Swiss Alps, the whole affair seems like another darkly comedic episode in American democracy’s slide to dysfunction. Rubenstein is a Semafor investor.

But enough about the daily drip of Santos news. With abortion opponents gathering in Washington today for this year’s March for Life, Shelby Talcott has a piece on how Mike Pence is hoping to win the movement’s support as he considers a 2024 run — and why it might be tough, despite his devotion to their cause. Meanwhile, Joseph Zeballos-Roig has the scoop on a creative bipartisan bill in the works to save Social Security’s finances that may involve creating a sovereign wealth fund.

PLUS: One good text with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor on why Ukraine needs tanks so badly.

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Priorities

White House: Biden will mark his second anniversary in office with a speech to a bipartisan group of mayors at the White House during which he’s expected to tout legislative achievements like the Inflation Reduction Act and infrastructure bill.

Chuck Schumer: The Senate majority leader will swear in fellow New Yorker, Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan, at West Point on Sunday, roughly two decades after recommending Ryan to West Point.

Mitch McConnell: The Senate GOP leader told reporters in Louisville that he’s not too worried about the debt ceiling situation. “We’ll end up in some kind of negotiation with the administration over what are the circumstances or conditions under which the debts are going to be raised,” he said.

Kevin McCarthy: The House speaker said Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla. is in “good spirits” after falling 25 feet from a ladder on his property earlier this week. McCarthy also said he offered Steube a spot on the new subcommittee looking at the “weaponization” of the federal government.

Hakeem Jeffries: The Minority Leader and other House Democratic leaders will visit media mogul Byron Allen’s home as part of a West Coast fundraising tour.

Need to Know

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Supreme Court said a months-long investigation failed to identify the person who leaked its draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade last spring, despite interviewing 97 personnel (some of them more than once) and searching court-issued laptops and phones. The Marshal’s report also made a handful of recommendations — including suggesting the court cut down the number of people with access to sensitive documents and consider supporting bills in Congress that would prohibit disclosure of sensitive case information.

The latter recommendation may lend momentum to two bills introduced last Congress — one from Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La. and another from Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. — that aim to penalize leaks of confidential information from officers or employees of the court. Both offices confirmed to Semafor that they plan to reintroduce their legislation. If passed, each would impose a fine and prison time on people who leak sensitive information from the court, and Cassidy’s would allow the government to seize any profits tied to the disclosure.

House moderates are putting pressure on the Biden administration to come to the negotiating table on the debt limit, and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus says it’s already working on a potential deal. “I don’t think that a clean debt ceiling is in order, and I certainly don’t think that a default is in order,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., a co-leader of the group, told CNN. His Democratic counterpart, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., added that “we have to find a bipartisan way forward” because “there’s simply too much at stake.”

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky. invited four Border Patrol agents to testify at a hearing in early February. An Oversight Committee spokeswoman told Semafor that the panel wants to hear input from career government officials on the ground before calling other witnesses like Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who she said the committee would call to testify “at a later date.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. is expected to announce Friday whether he will run for reelection in 2024, according to NBC News.

Morgan Chalfant

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: In a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mayorkas defended the Biden administration’s handling of the influx of migrants, saying mass migration is not just a problem for the U.S. but for the whole hemisphere. He underscored the need for Congress to pass immigration reform.

Playbook: Some New Hampshire Democrats think their best shot for saving the Granite State’s primary status is Biden deciding not to run in 2024. Without endorsing the idea of Biden bowing out, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley told Politico that an open primary would be “significant” for the state.

The Early 202: RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has made the case privately to members in recent weeks that she should win reelection because she is best positioned to prevent former President Trump from launching a third party if he doesn’t ultimately win the nomination.

Shelby Talcott

Can Mike Pence win the anti-abortion vote?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

THE NEWS

Mike Pence is going all-in on the issue of abortion as he inches closer to a potential 2024 run, throwing his support behind strict legislation that could be a bridge too far for other Republicans. The former vice president’s team believes his genuine devotion to the cause could be a key differentiator if he hops into a crowded GOP field.

“I don't think that there is another potential candidate that can rival his record on life,” one advisor told Semafor. “I don't think anybody has championed the issue as vocally as he has and prominently as he has.”

Pence has long been defined by his deeply devoted Christian conservatism, and since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, his advocacy group, Advancing American Freedom, has backed a slew of anti-abortion bills. They’ve included some of the country’s most far-reaching proposals, such as the Life at Conception Act, that would extend protections to embryos by declaring that life begins at the moment an egg is fertilized.

Pence’s advisor said his moves haven’t been politically “calculated” to outflank his potential 2024 opponents, and that he’d take these stances whether or not he was contemplating a presidential run. But his unapologetic position has already created a sharp contrast with his old boss Donald Trump. 

Despite having appointed the Supreme Court justices who ended Roe, the former president recently blamed hardline anti-abortion voters and politicians for hurting Republicans in the midterms. In an interview with the Daily Signal published Thursday, Pence said he “strongly” disagreed with Trump’s comments and argued that candidates with a “​​clear, unambiguous commitment to life” did well in the last election cycle.

SHELBY’S VIEW

It’s unclear how many votes, or how much activist support, Pence will win by championing the movement’s every goal. So far, anti-abortion activists haven’t been willing to set many explicit litmus tests for 2024 hopefuls, and have left open the possibility of backing a candidate who goes less far than the ex-VP.

As of now, the influential Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America has only drawn one clear red line for candidates: They must voice support for some kind of federal legislation in restricting abortion.

“If they don't … they're disqualified in our books,” warned Marilyn Musgrave, Vice President of Government Affairs at SBA. But her organization hasn't demanded that candidates support specific bills or bans after a certain number of weeks. Musgrave added that there would be numerous “great pro-life people running for president,” name dropping Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Trump.

Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, told Semafor that while Pence deserved credit for his stances, his recent maneuvers don’t “automatically transform the electoral landscape,” and that anti-abortion groups needed to assess candidates based on their records, as well their promises.

“Donald Trump had some worrisome comments recently over the question of abortion, but of course his record speaks for itself, and I think speaks louder than anything that anyone has said,” Burch said.

Instead of enforcing strict purity tests, the anti-abortion movement’s leaders mostly seem content for the moment to hang back with their endorsements, and encourage as many candidates as possible to move in their direction.

“Pro-life activists need to be careful and not fall for the media trap, which is: Let’s see how far we can get someone to go and then tar and feather any candidate not willing to explicitly do the same,” Burch said.

ROOM FOR DISAGREEMENT

In his Daily Signal interview, Pence subtly hinted at his faith that he could pull anti-abortion voters off of Trump, no matter how much some might still like the former president. “Their loyalty is to the cause of life,” he said. “Not to any particular candidate. And I think that’s as it should be.”

Getting Creative

Senators are working on a bipartisan Social Security bill with a big twist

WikimediaCommons/Hudson Institute, Flickr/Gage SkidmoreHudson Institute

Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Angus King, I-Maine, are drafting legislation to ensure the solvency of Social Security that might involve the creation of a sovereign wealth fund, Semafor has learned from three people familiar with the efforts.

It reflects the growing momentum to address the future of entitlement programs, particularly as a showdown over the debt ceiling looms in the summer. The bill would be kept separate from that battle. Both King and Cassidy were part of a bipartisan Senate gang that eventually passed an infrastructure law in the Senate in summer 2021.

One option under discussion would see the federal government create a new fund with borrowed money, which it would invest in stocks to cover future retirement benefits. That maneuver is designed to cash in on the higher returns that equities usually earn compared to the Treasury bonds that Social Security’s current trust fund invests in. The people briefed on the proposal’s details cautioned that it may or may not end up in the final bill.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said last year at a Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget panel that Cassidy had “innovative ideas for saving Social Security.” The Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted in 2034 and is poised to pay out only about 77 percent of its retirement benefits after that time.

Spokespeople for Cassidy and King in a joint statement told Semafor that their “plan is not finalized, but we can say with absolute certainty that the Social Security trust fund is not touched nor invested in anything other than treasuries and cash (how it currently operates).”

A source told Semafor that the new sovereign wealth fund would be a separate entity from the current Social Security Trust Fund.

The idea of investing government cash into stocks to shore up Social Security last gained widespread attention during the latter half of the Clinton administration. President Bill Clinton pitched it in 1999 as part of a strategy to extend the program’s lifespan as more Baby Boomers retired.

But the concept had critics, with Republicans arguing it would pave the way for federal ownership of private industry. Others were concerned the government would bungle investments in a volatile stock market. “I am fearful that we would use those assets in a way that would create a lower rate of return for Social Security recipients,” Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan said at the time. Clinton later abandoned it.

Joseph Zeballos-Roig

Staffing Up

The America First Policy Institute, a think-tank organized by Trump administration veterans, has tapped a new chair to lead a project it’s billing as a transition-team-in-waiting for a future GOP White House. Former Trump official Doug Hoelscher will lead the effort, known as the American Leadership Initiative, Semafor has learned. It aims to create a transition “playbook” for the next Republican nominee — whether that’s Trump or another “America First” candidate — so that they’ll “be ready from day one with the right policy, personnel, and process,” Hoelscher said in a statement.

Shelby Talcott

Text

One Good Text ... with Amb. William Taylor

Blindspot

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: An outside  pro-DeSantis group called “Ready for Ron” is planning to spend $3.3 million over half a year to help boost his profile nationally.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: A federal judge refused to toss out the criminal contempt of Congress charges brought against former Trump adviser Peter Navarro for his refusal to comply with a subpoena from the now-dissolved Jan. 6 committee.

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— Steve Clemons