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In today’s edition, Donald Trump grumbles about a crowded field and George Santos gets secretly reco͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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February 3, 2023


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Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Donald Trump is none too pleased with all of his so-called friends considering 2024 runs, Shelby Talcott reports. The irony, of course, is that more former cabinet members running very likely helps him by splitting the opposition. For a former president obsessed with rooting out “disloyalty,” however, it’s hard for him to focus on anything else.

On the debt ceiling front, Joseph Zeballos-Roig reports on Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. using his newfound clout from the speaker’s race to sell colleagues on work requirements for Medicaid. It’s an old conservative idea, but one that could find a warm reception as conservatives try to find a unifying set of demands.

Away from the spotlight, lawmakers are also working on addressing crippling shortages we’ve seen for everything from chips to baby formula. Yesterday I spoke with Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del. and earlier this week Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D. about how to fix the supply chain crisis, and answers will likely require redundancies for strategically important industries that the market alone won’t provide. Yesterday, Blunt Rochester introduced five separate bills on the issue. “Eyes would glaze over on a topic like this before Covid,” she said, “but now fixing the supply chain is something voters are very aware of.”

PLUS: Benjy Sarlin has One Good Text with Revolving Door Project founder Jeff Hauser, who reassesses his early criticism of outgoing National Economic Council director Brian Deese.

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White House: President Biden and Vice President Harris will speak at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting, where there’s bound to be tension over the president’s push to shake up the primary calendar.

Chuck Schumer: One of the House GOP’s first pieces of legislation might survive the Senate. In fact, the Senate majority leader said he’s looking at making a House-passed bill that would ban Strategic Petroleum Reserve sales to China “stronger” by expanding it to North Korea, Iran, and Russia.

Mitch McConnell: Is this the candidate quality McConnell is looking for? As she weighs a potential Senate run in Arizona, Kari Lake met with NRSC officials on Thursday during a trip to Washington, Politico reported. She also attended the National Prayer Breakfast and was spotted on Capitol Hill.

Kevin McCarthy: The House speaker announced that Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders would deliver the Republican rebuttal to Biden’s State of the Union address next Tuesday. The job is a showcase for rising stars, but also has a reputation for carrying a curse — past speakers have gone on to disappoint in presidential contests, lose in upsets at home, and even be indicted.

Hakeem Jeffries: The minority leader will be in Connecticut for a fundraiser in honor of Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden to benefit the Women’s League Child Development Center’s effort to support the first STEAM labs for preschool children in Hartford, C.T.

Need to Know
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

U.S. defense officials said Thursday that they are tracking a Chinese surveillance balloon spotted floating above Montana, just days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to Beijing to meet with senior officials, including possibly President Xi Jinping. The revelation prompted an angry response from both parties on Capitol Hill, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy demanding a “Gang of Eight” briefing. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. sent a letter to the Pentagon expressing concern that the balloon may have been spying on Malmstrom Air Force Base and nuclear missile fields in the area.

Lordy, there are tapes. A rejected staffer for George Santos leaked a 25-minute recording of their meeting to Talking Points Memo. In it, Santos is heard saying his chief of staff forgave him after he “fucked up and lied to him, like I lied to everyone else.” Ahead of its publication, Santos told Semafor that the job applicant, Derek Myers, “violated the trust that we had in him” and that he declined to hire him because he faced controversial charges in a case (ironically) involving leaked audio from a trial. Myers thought Santos was not exactly one to judge. “I’m thinking to myself, I’m a threat and concern to this institution — George Santos, you’re George Santos!” he told TPM.

Senate Intelligence Committee leaders are getting cranky with the administration over its refusal to share the classified documents found at the homes of President Biden, former President Trump, and former Vice President Pence, sending a strongly-worded letter to the Justice Department and Director of National Intelligence demanding they immediately comply with requests for access to the documents and damage assessments. The committee’s leader, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told Semafor that the administration’s stance, which is that sharing the documents could harm ongoing DOJ investigations into the handling of the documents, “just can’t pass the smell test.”

House Republicans voted to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. from her post on the House Foreign Affairs Committee after accusing her of antisemitism due to past comments she made about Israel. “I am a Muslim. I am an immigrant. And, interestingly, from Africa. Is anyone surprised that I am a target?” Omar said in a speech before the vote. While initially a handful of Republicans indicated they might vote against the resolution, none did in the final party-line vote after McCarthy added a new appeals process through the House Committee on Ethics to satisfy their concerns.

Morgan Chalfant and Benjy Sarlin

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y. is starting a Bagel Caucus. There’s no policy agenda attached to it, the goal is just to introduce members to “real” bagels — i.e. ones from New York. We’ll see if new White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, who was an initial investor in DC bagel sensation Call Your Mother, stops by.

Playbook: As Washington reacts to news of an apparent Chinese spy balloon, some hard-right members are berating the Pentagon for not shooting it down, despite official concerns about the risks of damage on the ground.

The Early 202: Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. said he thinks the odds of lawmakers getting something done on police reform are “fair to good” and urged Democrats to compromise with Republicans following the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police.

Shelby Talcott

A packed 2024 field could hand Donald Trump the nomination. He still hates it.

Donald Trump campaigns in South Carolina.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton


Republicans opposed to Donald Trump are complaining that a massive pile-up in the 2024 presidential field is set to hand him the nomination. But you won’t see Trump, who has publicly and privately groused about the many onetime allies now challenging his hold on the party, celebrating the news.

For Trump, the expectation was that he’d face a largely uncontested path back to the nomination after “six years of people sucking up to him,” one source familiar with the campaign said, “because all the people who are likely to contest him have been saying that he was the greatest president ever.”

Trump said last year “it would be very disloyal” if former Vice President Mike Pence as well as former cabinet members like former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo entered the race. On Thursday, he told Hugh Hewitt that Haley was “overly ambitious,” that he “took Mike out of nothing,” and that both had reneged on claims they would not run against him (Pompeo said on the same program last year that Trump wouldn’t affect his decision).

As for Ron DeSantis, who Trump keeps arguing was a nobody until he endorsed him in a competitive primary for governor, a run would be “a great act of disloyalty,” he told the Associated Press over the weekend.

He also complained last month that many of his high-profile evangelical supporters have shown “great disloyalty” by refusing to endorse his campaign this time.

Trump has been told by advisers that voters are unlikely to care about his rivals’ personal fealty, another source close to the former president said. But he’s continued anyway, which suggests his message isn’t primarily for voters.

“From my perspective, the loyalty message is a personal one,” the source said. “It’s the one that the president is saying directly to the potential candidate.”

Meanwhile, polls continue to suggest Trump benefits from a divided field given his strong base of support. There’s little sign he or his campaign aides are concerned about a real challenge from the non-DeSantis candidates and, until proven otherwise, anyone who gets into the race is considered unlikely to draw many votes from his base.

Morning Consult’s 2024 GOP Primary Tracker has Trump with a comfortable 48% of the vote, if the election were held today. DeSantis sits behind him at 31%, with other votes divided between potential candidates like Pence and Haley.

“I would view a crowded primary to be much like a repeat of 2016. I think the worst case for the Trump team would be if everyone else coalesced around one candidate,” one GOP strategist told Semafor.


Trump famously prized loyalty within his inner circle before coming to Washington (even if it wasn’t expected of him in return) and has taken onetime allies considering runs more personally as a result, sources say.

“It’s just a little surprising for someone like that, who isn’t necessarily a traditional politician, to see people being disloyal,” another source close to Trump said.

It’s a problem that’s followed him into his political career. Since his early days in the White House, he has disowned — or been disowned by — numerous senior officials from his own administration, fueling a sense of betrayal. It’s only gotten worse since his failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election, which led the famously loyal Pence to break with him and additional cabinet members to resign in protest or publicly condemn his behavior.

Some of his closest current supporters were also once brutal critics and even presidential rivals in 2016, which means there’s always suspicion over who might be the next to turn.


While he’s not happy about it, some Republicans close to Trump believe he is aware that more candidates splitting the opposition is a net benefit and is capable of using it to his advantage.

The tension between head and heart has also been visible in Trump’s reaction to Haley, an on-again/off-again critic who is planning a presidential campaign. Trump told reporters on his plane over the weekend that he gave her his blessing to run in a phone call — an uncharacteristically generous response that perhaps suggested the campaign was happy to see her in the race.

At the same time, he reminded the press she had previously said in 2021 she’d stand aside if he ran again. Later, he shared a clip of the moment on Truth Social after news broke of her impending announcement.

“Nikki has to follow her heart, not her honor,” Trump wrote. “She should definitely run!”

Debt Ceiling

Matt Gaetz has a big demand for the debt ceiling fight

Tom Brenner

Rep. Matt Gaetz is trying to convince his fellow Republicans to demand new work requirements for Medicaid as part of a debt ceiling deal.

The Florida congressman, who has been enjoying new influence within his party after leading the surprisingly effective conservative revolt in last month’s speaker battle, recently broached the idea on Fox News. He tells Semafor that he’s now “socializing” the concept among colleagues, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

He specifically wants to tighten Medicaid eligibility rules on “able-bodied working-age adults,” particularly in states which expanded the health insurance program for the poor under the Affordable Care Act.

“Work requirements are proving to be a very unifying concept with my colleagues,” he said in a phone interview, adding he’s had “a very positive reception” to the idea, including from McCarthy. The speaker’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Rep. Don Bacon, a moderate Nebraska Republican, said Gaetz approached him about discussing it in-depth during Thursday’s House Armed Services hearing. “I’ll have an open mind to hear what he has to say,” he told Semafor.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla. told Semafor he planned to speak with Gaetz about the idea and was already warm to it. “Do I think there’s some avenues to look at?” he said. “Yeah.”

Aside from being a sure nonstarter with Democrats, targeting Medicaid carries political risks. It’s a colossal program covering roughly 84 million Americans, and expansions have proven popular with voters in a string of state ballot referendums. The Trump administration’s proposals to cut Medicaid back as part of its failed Obamacare repeal effort triggered an intense public backlash.

As a policy matter, placing new work requirements on Medicaid may also do more harm than good in practice. Trump’s brief experiment with granting states waivers to impose them on the program suggests that they tend to strip insurance from people without necessarily pushing them toward jobs.

In Arkansas, where Medicaid work requirements went into effect for almost a year before being blocked in federal court, about 18,000 people lost their coverage, including many who should have still been eligible but appeared to get tripped up by the confusing paperwork and reporting process. Many states that proposed similar rules delayed or suspended them in part because of implementation challenges.

“A work requirement on Medicaid adds a layer of bureaucratic red tape to a program that’s already complicated for people to navigate,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “The experience has been that people lose coverage, but it doesn’t really encourage work.”

One House Republican cautioned it was too early to tell whether a push for work requirements would gain a foothold in spending discussions, but expressed enthusiasm for the possibility.

“There are a lot of ideas floating around right now,” Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., told Semafor. “I’d say that work requirements for able-bodied young Americans without dependents at home is a critically important part of the American dream.”

Joseph Zeballos-Roig


One Good Text ... with Jeff Hauser


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: The House Oversight Committee is investigating climate envoy John Kerry’s talks with the Chinese about environmental issues.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: A man charged with spraying chemical irritant at police officers during the Jan. 6 riot received a 68-month prison sentence.

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— Steve Clemons