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Will any past President or VP who did not mismanage classified documents and take them home please stand up? Mike Pence’s document issues suggest a systemic problem at this point, Morgan Chalfant reports, something national security officials have been warning about for years.

Expect the topic to come up in the first Republican presidential debates, which the RNC is working on right now. Shelby Talcott reports the party is looking at pairing conservative and mainstream outlets as hosts in an effort to break out of the bubble and test candidates with challenging policy questions.

PLUS: One Good Text with Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind. on tensions with China after his recent visit to Taiwan.

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Priorities

White House: Vice President Harris will visit her home state today to mourn those lost in the mass shooting in Monterey Park at a Lunar New Year celebration over the weekend.

Chuck Schumer: The Senate majority leader and his Democratic counterpart in the House will try to hit House Republicans on a proposed national sales tax at a news conference later today.

Mitch McConnell: The Senate GOP leader said it’s up to Kevin McCarthy to negotiate a solution to the debt ceiling standoff. “I can’t imagine any debt ceiling provision passed out of the Senate with 60 votes could actually pass this particular House,” McConnell said. “So I think the final solution to this particular episode lies between Speaker McCarthy and the president.”

Kevin McCarthy: The House speaker told reporters that he opposes the national sales tax bill that Democrats are highlighting today, despite having reportedly promised conservatives a vote on it while trying to win his gavel.

Hakeem Jeffries: The minority leader released the list of Democrats who will serve on the House Financial Services Committee.

Need to Know
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

The Justice Department wants to break up Google’s ad business. In a sweeping lawsuit filed on Tuesday, government lawyers alleged that the search giant has “corrupted legitimate competition” in the online advertising industry by buying up potential rivals while abusing its dominance to force companies to use its products. It’s the latest in a string of antitrust actions against big tech companies by the Biden administration: The FTC is currently suing Facebook owner Meta and attempting to block Microsoft from acquiring video game maker Activision. The DOJ is also investigating Apple.

The Biden administration is expected to soon send Abrams tanks to Ukraine, giving Kyiv a critical offensive weapon to help propel a counteroffensive against the Russians. The rollout of the U.S. announcement will come as soon as today. The Wall Street Journal reported that the tanks would number about 30. The Pentagon had initially resisted the idea because of logistical challenges, but the Biden administration had faced pressure from Congress to act, particularly as Germany insisted it would only give Leopard tanks to Ukraine if the U.S. moved first. This morning, Germany said it would supply Ukraine with 14 Leopard tanks.

Kevin McCarthy officially kicked Democratic California Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell off of the House Intelligence Committee. He’s also expected to try to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but that will require a vote by the full House and at least two Republicans sound uneasy with the plan. In a joint statement, Schiff, Swalwell, and Omar accused McCarthy of capitulating “to the right wing of his caucus” and striking a “corrupt bargain” in his quest for the speaker’s gavel.

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to hold its first hearing in West Virginia, per Chair Jason Smith, R-Mo.

Morgan Chalfant, Jordan Weissmann, Kadia Goba

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: Biden is expected to extend an invitation to McCarthy for a meeting sometime before he delivers the State of the Union on Feb. 7.

Playbook: George Santos’ campaign reported an unusually large number — 40 — of transactions just below the $200 threshold that triggers a record, raising concerns they may have been falsified. McCarthy told reporters Santos would be removed from Congress if the Ethics Committee finds he broke the law.

The Early 202: Biden is zeroing in on Lael Brainard, the Federal Reserve vice chair, as a leading candidate to be the next director of the National Economic Council when Brian Deese leaves.

Morgan Chalfant

Why classified documents keep turning up everywhere

REUTERS/Rebecca Noble

THE NEWS

Now it’s a hat trick: On Thursday, it was revealed that a “small number” classified documents were found at the home of former Vice President Mike Pence, making him the third past or present White House official with the word “president” in his job title to run into such an issue in less than a year.

Pence purportedly decided to check his own records “out of an abundance of caution” earlier this month after learning about President Joe Biden’s documents imbroglio, according to a letter from his attorney to the National Archives.

MORGAN’S VIEW

The two cases along with that of former President Donald Trump — who was markedly less forthcoming with the government and by all accounts possessed far more sensitive material —  underscore what experts say is a fairly common problem: Classified documents have a habit of going missing and ending up in the wrong place, often by accident.

“It is a systemic problem,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Semafor.

Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer based in D.C., said he was “not surprised at all” by the recent string of finds.

The government doesn’t have a good system for tracking classified documents, he said, and officials probably over-classify some material, which leads pages to go astray. It’s hard to guess exactly how often documents disappear, Zaid added, because we only know about cases where they are eventually discovered — but it’s not unusual.

Zaid, who suggested that senior government officials were more likely to accidentally bring home classified documents because they have to contend with “less protocols,” had some stern advice to the exclusive club of former presidents and vice presidents: “They should all be searching their boxes — Bush, Cheney, Quayle, Clinton.”

THE VIEW FROM CONGRESS

Republican and Democratic senators sounded similarly surprised and exasperated by the non-stop document reveals on Tuesday. “It’s an embarrassment to us and it’s a potential threat to our national security,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah told reporters.

Part of their frustration: Lawmakers themselves are used to viewing classified documents only in highly secured settings, which helps prevent material from wandering.

“The standards that we apply here are so different in terms of our access to these documents and what we can do with them, I just can't explain it,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. said, according to CNN. “If it's shabby staff work, so be it. But ultimately, the elected officials have to be held responsible.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. has asked for a “damage assessment” associated with the files from the Director of National Intelligence, according to an aide. He made similar requests in the wake of the Trump and Biden revelations and has been frustrated by a lack of response from the intelligence community.

“I don’t want to know the details of the case. I want to know from an intelligence standpoint has there been compromise,” Warner told reporters Tuesday.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also said he planned to request an intelligence review and damage assessment, calling it a “a serious matter.”

But the repetitive news cycle brings up a natural question: Can lawmakers do something about it?

Congress hasn’t done much to address the government’s classification system through legislation. A bipartisan law passed in 2010 aimed to decrease over-classification in response to recommendations from the 9/11 Commission.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. suggested there is more for lawmakers to do both to prevent unnecessary buildup of classified documents and set standards for closing out departing administrations. He said it was currently “too easy” for top officials to walk away with papers they should not have.

“What are we going to do about the future so we can create a mechanism, a safeguard around it so it doesn’t happen, particularly at the end of terms?” he asked.

Fixing the issue might not require Congressional action, however: Clapper thinks that either the National Archives or the General Services Administration should simply supervise the packing of documents for departing presidents and vice presidents. “Yes, the government overclassifies, but this is not an excuse for what’s happened,” he added.

Joseph Zeballos-Roig and Shelby Talcott contributed.

RNC Debate

The RNC wants its 2024 candidates out of the bubble

A 2016 Republican debate in Iowa.

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

The RNC wants Republican candidates to be put to the test during primary debates — even if that means having networks that conservatives normally shy away from host the events.

The debate committee is meeting to discuss the criteria for the first gathering of the 2024 presidential field on Wednesday. They have a request for proposal out to news outlets, the first of its kind, that’s due back by February 15.

“I don't think we can isolate ourselves to just conservative news media,” Jonathan Barnett, an Arkansas committee member, told Semafor.

A Republican familiar with the conversations said the RNC is considering pairing mainstream outlets with conservative outlets as co-moderators, a regular feature of 2016 debates as well, to address member concerns about bias. The RNC’s proposal request includes a section for networks to fill out that dives into whether they’d be open to partnerships.

But part of the goal, the person said, would be to ensure candidates don’t get “softball questions that aren’t of substance” and that they are forced to “talk about policy and give answers.” The RNC meeting notably comes after a midterms in which a number of candidates popular in conservative media circles struggled to connect with independent voters in the general election.

The RNC has tried to exercise more control over debates throughout the last decade in response to Republican complaints that moderators were hostile to their candidates or focused on fringe topics. They voted last year to pull out of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has sanctioned general election debates over the last four decades.

Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann told Semafor that it’s a good thing the RNC is reaching out to networks outside the right, because it proves that candidates are willing to take tough questions even as they decry bias by moderators.

“It's just a matter of being completely and utterly fed up with a deck that is deliberately stacked against them,” he explained, expressing a viewpoint that’s been widely echoed within the party.

Matt Wolking, who served as a senior aide on Trump’s 2020 campaign, said the RNC should not put “legacy media up on a pedestal” given that Republican primary voters have increasingly moved on to other options. Still, he saw advantages to the move.

“I think it's important, for Americans and voters, to make it as easy as possible for them to be exposed to the Republican Party, Republican candidates, Republican ideas,” he said.

How candidates respond is an open question. Star politicians like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have chosen to sidestep traditional news outlets almost entirely in favor of conservative media and the debates would be a significant test. Donald Trump, known for his attacks on the Washington Post and CNN, has also attacked right-leaning outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch in recent months. In 2016, he pulled out of a FOX News debate before the Iowa caucus after the network refused to drop Megyn Kelly as a moderator.

Shelby Talcott

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One Good Text ... with Sen. Todd Young

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: Some freshman House GOP lawmakers boycotted a White House reception for new members last night in protest of its COVID testing requirements.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: Former President Trump abandoned a second lawsuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James after being fined almost $1 million for a frivolous lawsuit against Hillary Clinton.

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— Steve Clemons