The stakes in New York’s 3rd district special election were already high for Democrats before last week — now they’re through the stratosphere. Tom Suozzi is getting major backup from fellow Democrats in his race against Mazi Pilip, Semafor’s Kadia Goba and David Weigel report, as the party looks to provide a much-needed morale boost amid Biden’s struggles. Democrats have taken comfort throughout his presidency in their strong record in races like this one — a loss now, just as Biden faces another round of scary polls and intense focus on his age, could set off a panic. Biden himself has stayed out of the race, and Suozzi told CNN that a visit from Biden would not be “helpful,” but the bipartisan immigration deal he backed has played a starring role. Suozzi, who holds a thin lead in several polls, hopes to make his campaign a proof-of-concept for party messaging on border policy in a red-trending suburban district where the issue has dominated the conversation. If Republicans have their way and block new legislation, he told reporters on Sunday, “we’re gonna end up with more migrants coming to New York; and on top of that, they’re gonna have access to AR-15s.” Pilip, while outspent and lesser known, is touting endorsements from police leaders and the same border patrol union that backed the bipartisan bill.
Former President Donald Trump put Europe on edge with his comments about encouraging Russia to attack countries that do not meet NATO’s defense spending goals, but Republicans aren’t going out of their way to criticize him, Semafor’s Morgan Chalfant reports. “I think he’s trying to make a point. I’m not worried about it at all,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. told reporters. The White House called Trump’s remarks — in which he suggested the U.S. would not meet its Article 5 obligations for NATO members who aren’t meeting the alliance’s 2% GDP spending target — “appalling and unhinged.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement that “any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security.” Tomáš Pojar, national security adviser of the Czech Republic, told Semafor that he agrees with Trump that NATO members need to meet their 2% spending goal but hoped Trump would assure allies that do meet the target that the U.S. will stand with them.
It took an apparently unprecedented Super Bowl Sunday session, but the Senate moved closer to passing a package with aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan yesterday. Eighteen Republicans voted with Democrats to advance the measure on a procedural vote, bucking a call from former President Donald Trump over the weekend for the Senate to approve the funding only if it is structured as a loan. The path is still unclear in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson has suggested he wants to move each piece of the package separately. Some Ukraine aid supporters are discussing a discharge petition to get the package to the floor for a vote, a step that would require a majority of support from the House. “We’ve had multiple conversations with colleagues over there. Ultimately it will be their decision on what they do, but we’ve talked about different scenarios,” Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla. told reporters yesterday afternoon when asked about conversations about a potential discharge petition. “I don’t think any of us can predict what happens in the House.”
Will the border bill’s demise scare senators away from future dealmaking?
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Some of the Senate’s best known dealmakers are worried that last week’s border bill debacle could scare lawmakers away from trying to negotiate future compromises. “I think it has an impact,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. told Semafor’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig. He described the exasperating spectacle of watching lawmakers spend four months “beating [their] heads against the wall” only for Republicans to back out of a deal that they had demanded as a condition for Ukraine aid. “What happened — I’ve never seen anything like it,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., another centrist, told Semafor. Asked to summarize the GOP’s handling of the deal in one word, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, responded: “Failure. Abject failure, if you give me two.” Others were taken aback by the all-out political assault by right-wing commentators against the bill’s lead Republican negotiator, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. “If compromise itself becomes an issue which can end your career, we’ll never be able to solve problems by definition,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told Semafor.
Biden hits TikTok as Democrats push back on Hur report
Screen grab / TikTok
Facing renewed scrutiny over his age, President Biden broke glass on one way to reach skeptical younger voters: TikTok. He announced his campaign’s new account with a Super Bowl-themed video in which he answered football questions (“game” over “commercials,” “Mama Kelce” over Travis and Jason), and joked about the right-wing conspiracy theories around Taylor Swift and the Chiefs. That’s despite his administration’s national security concerns about the video app. His allies spent the pregame morning furiously pushing back on special counsel Robert Hur’s report and its references to his memory.“This kind of sense that he’s not ready for this job is just a bucket of BS that’s so deep, your boots will get stuck in it,” Mitch Landrieu, Biden’s former infrastructure czar turned campaign co-chair, said on NBC. The report “went off the rails,” Biden lawyer Bob Bauer said on CBS. Meanwhile, the White House highlighted remarks from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on ABC during which he said he found Biden “very clear and very focused.” A new ABC/Ipsos poll taken after the Hur report found that 86% of Americans believe Biden is too old to serve another term, while 62% said the same of former President Trump, who is less than four years younger.
Defense secretary transfers duties to deputy amid new hospitalization
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized on Sunday to be treated for a “bladder issue” and on Sunday transferred his duties to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, the Pentagon said. The development comes about a month after Austin was released from Walter Reed following complications related to prostate cancer surgery the month prior. Two Walter Reed doctors, John Maddox and Gregory Chestnut, said late last night that Austin had been admitted to critical care for “supportive care and close monitoring.” His cancer prognosis is still “excellent,” they said. Austin faced tremendous scrutiny earlier this year for the secretive handling of his January hospitalization and the failure to disclose his cancer diagnosis even to President Biden. The Pentagon is currently being a lot more transparent — issuing three public statements about Austin’s health status over the course of about seven hours Sunday. The defense secretary is supposed to travel to Brussels later this week for NATO and Ukraine Defense Contact Group meetings, and it’s unclear how the developments will affect that trip.
The House GOP’s get-stuff-done caucus continues to shrink as its policy stars look for the exits despite being in the majority. On Saturday, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., chair of the House select committee on China, announced he will not seek reelection. “Electoral politics was never supposed to be a career and, trust me, Congress is no place to grow old,” Gallagher said. The news was met with shock and disappointment from members on both sides of the aisle. “I hate to see,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. told Semafor. The 39-year-old committee chair raised his profile over the past year as the chairman of the China panel, which has largely avoided the partisan infighting consuming much of Capitol Hill. But his impatience with his more theatrical colleagues had caused problems in recent weeks: He faced a potential primary challenger after voting against impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week. Gallagher is among a string of Republicans who have decided to call it quits after this Congress, including Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who announced last week that she won’t seek reelection.
Punchbowl News: The 18 Senate Republicans who voted to advance the foreign aid package yesterday are part of “the governing coalition” in the Senate GOP that wants “to see this place run effectively,” according to Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind.
Playbook: Nikki Haley sharply rebukedDonald Trump for his comments about NATO. “It’s the kind of comment that makes Joe Biden look clear-headed,” she said.
The Early 202: The NY-3 congressional race — in a district with the 12th highest median income in the country — illustrates Democrats’ struggles in the New York suburbs, even as they’ve done well in suburban districts in other parts of the country since 2018.
Axios: Biden has grown increasingly frustrated with aides over the White House’s handling of the border issue, which has been compounded by “warring ideologies” on immigration inside the administration and the Democratic Party.
President Biden spoke with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone and cautioned him against launching a Rafah ground invasion “without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there.”
Today, Biden will meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House. He’ll also deliver a speech at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Washington.
Ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, Biden put pressure on snack companies to stop “shrinkflation.”
The White House announced that Biden will visit East Palestine, Ohio this coming Friday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland is in the hot seat following last week’s special counsel report. Biden and his aides partially blame Garland for not doing enough to “rein in” Robert Hur’s report, which criticized the president’s memory. Some of Biden’s advisers don’t see Garland lasting beyond the current term. — Politico
The White House is promoting national security spokesman John Kirby to an expanded role. — Reuters
The Senate is in today and will vote again on the national security package at 8:30 p.m., unless an agreement is reached on amendments. The House returns on Tuesday.
House Republicans are expected to try again this week to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, with Majority Leader Steve Scalise returning to Washington following cancer treatment.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio led a bipartisan group to Ukraine.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. is opposing the foreign aid package because it does not include border security measures. He also said he is skipping a planned trip to the Munich Security Conference and will travel to the southern border instead.
On the Trail
American Values, the super PAC backing Robert F. Kennedy Jr., spent $7 million on a retro Super Bowl ad tying him to his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy. He later apologized to his family over the ad after some of them criticized it.
Donald Trump weighed in, somewhat obliquely, on the fears of a Taylor Swift endorsement for Biden that are currently convulsing his supporters. In a Truth Social post, he cited his work on a digital copyright law and said there’s “no way” Swift could support Biden and “be disloyal to the man who made her so much money.” He added that “I like her boyfriend, Travis, even though he may be a Liberal, and probably can’t stand me!”
President Biden defendedNikki Haley’s husband after Trump questioned the whereabouts of Michael Haley while he’s serving overseas.
White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer acknowledged the Biden administration has made “missteps” in responding to the Israel-Hamas war during a private meeting with Arab American and Muslim leaders. “We have left a very damaging impression, based on what has been a wholly inadequate public accounting for how much the President, the administration, the country, values the lives of Palestinians,” he told them. — CBS
Surprise! Former Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan is running for Senate in Maryland after all.
Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont. officially launched his Senate campaign, setting up a clash with GOP favorite Tim Sheehy.
Federal officials are wrestling with how to respond to 2024 election threats and held a drill in December to game out responses to potential scenarios like artificial intelligence-generated videos and violence at polling stations. — CNN
The Israeli military said that it rescued two hostages — Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har — who were being held by militants in Gaza in a raid.
CIA Director Bill Burns is supposed to head to Egypt this week to continue negotiations about securing the release of hostages in Gaza. — Axios
The U.S. is finally moving forward with a $23 billion sale of F-16s to Turkey, following the country’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership. — Bloomberg
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s shakeup of the country’s military leadership continued with him naming a handful of new top commanders.
The latest on the Donald Trump-Joe Biden rematch ranks second in Semafor’s latest Global Election Hot List. This week: Allies of Imran Khan score an upset in Pakistan, accusations of a coup in Senegal, and Panama’s grocery mogul may be barred.
Comedian Colin Jost will headline the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in April.
Trevor Noah’s relationship with Spotify has already soured six months after the company flew him to Cannes to announce his weekly podcast, Semafor’s Max Tani reported.
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: Donald Trump endorsedTim Sheehy in the Montana Senate race.
What the Right isn’t reading: Joel Greenberg, a former associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is reportedly cooperating with the House Ethics Committee probe of the congressman.
Editors: Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann, Morgan Chalfant
Editor-at-Large: Steve Clemons
Reporters: Kadia Goba, Joseph Zeballos-Roig, Shelby Talcott, David Weigel