• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG

In this edition, there’s no end in sight for the war in Ukraine, and Iowa voters offer their first i͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
thunderstorms Washington
cloudy Kyiv
cloudy Marion
rotating globe
February 22, 2023


Sign up for our free newsletters
Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

As of Friday, Russia and Ukraine will have been at war for a full year — and as Morgan Chalfant writes in today’s issue, there’s virtually no sign that this deadly and unexpectedly protracted conflict is anywhere near drawing to a close. As it rages on, the battle is creating new sources of global instability. Take Putin’s recent decision to suspend the New START Treaty, thereby ending the only remaining nuclear arms control agreement in place between the U.S. and Russia. Yesterday, Russia International Affairs Council Director General Andrey Kortunov told me the global consequences of ending nuclear treaties could be “a very dangerous threat.”

Meanwhile, one of the GOP’s experienced international hands, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, is trying to break through with Iowa’s Republicans. But Shelby Talcott writes that while some voters see her gender and global experience as a plus, others still see a blur.

PLUS, Benjy Sarlin has One Good Text with law professor and former Biden adviser Tim Wu on yesterday’s big Supreme Court argument.

Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here!


White House: Biden finishes out his trip to Europe with a meeting with leaders of the Bucharest Nine, a group of countries on NATO’s eastern flank.

Chuck Schumer: Democrats have quite the Senate primary on their hands in California. Rep. Barbara Lee became the third Democrat to throw her hat in the ring for outgoing Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat.

Mitch McConnell: The Senate minority leader spent Tuesday on a Congressional delegation to the United Arab Emirates.

Kevin McCarthy: Chef José Andrés scrambled the speaker’s messaging on egg inflation Tuesday by pointing out in a quote tweet that bird flu helped contribute to the recent price spike.

Hakeem Jeffries: In a dear colleague letter, the Democratic leader said he’s looking into McCarthy’s decision to send Fox’s Tucker Carlson 41,000 hours of Capitol security footage from the Jan. 6 riot to determine the “precise nature of the video transfer,” which he called an “egregious security breach.”

Need to Know
REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

The Biden administration rolled out a new policy that would deny asylum claims from migrants who fail to apply for it first from a country that they pass through on the way to the U.S. southern border. The policy is similar to a Trump-era restriction that was blocked by a court and drew immediate condemnation from members of Biden’s own party. “We are deeply disappointed that the Administration has chosen to move forward with publishing this proposed rule, which only perpetuates the harmful myth that asylum seekers are a threat to this nation,” a group of Democratic senators including Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. said in a statement.

The foreperson on the grand jury that investigated efforts by former President Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia told NBC News in an on-camera interview that the panel recommended charges against more than a dozen people, but declined to name any names. Emily Kohrs, the juror, also told the New York Times when asked if Trump was among that list: “You’re not going to be shocked. It’s not rocket science.” The judge overseeing the case has limited what jurors can discuss about it publicly.

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered the company operating the train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio — Norfolk Southern — to pay the costs of cleaning up the hazardous mess left behind.

Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat, is projected to win the special election for the commonwealth’s 4th congressional district decisively over Republican Leon Benjamin. The victory will make her the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress. While the outcome was expected,  election analysts pointed to the size of her margin and other results on Tuesday as an early sign of Democrats doing well in the off-year elections.

During oral arguments yesterday, the Supreme Court seemed hesitant to limit tech companies’ protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields them from lawsuits over content posted by users. “You know, these are not like the nine greatest experts on the internet,” Justice Elena Kagan said, prompting laughs.

Morgan Chalfant

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. is leading a bipartisan trip to Africa and Cindy McCain, who is serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations agencies for food and agriculture, is tagging along.

Playbook: Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. is in Iowa today where he’ll take aim at critics on the left in a speech, according to prepared remarks obtained by Politico. “For those of you on the left, you can call me a prop, you can call me a token, you can call me the N-word, you can question my blackness, you can even call me ‘Uncle Tim.’ Just understand: Your words are no match for my evidence,” Scott will say. “The truth of my life disproves your lies.”

The Early 202: Only about 30 of the 164 Republican candidates who former President Trump successfully endorsed for Congress last cycle have backed his presidential campaign so far. None of the Ohio lawmakers who have endorsed Trump will be with him when he visits East Palestine today, according to the Washington Post.

Axios: For the first time, Biden staffers will be able to dine at the White House Mess, which will reopen next month after being closed for in-person dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morgan Chalfant

One year in, the world sees no clear end game for Ukraine

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein


As the war in Ukraine enters its second year, the conflict looks ready to grind on indefinitely without any obvious path to peace.

Ukrainians are currently bracing for a renewed Russian offensive. Russian President Vladimir Putin is still returning to disproven talking points about the West being the true architect of the conflict. And the U.S. and its NATO allies are sending more hardware to Ukraine while preparing new sanctions on Moscow, determined to squeeze and isolate Putin and his military.

“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia — never,” President Biden said in a defiant speech from Warsaw on Tuesday, seeking to underline Western resolve to support Ukraine.


Biden’s trip to Europe seemed aimed at rallying the international community — and the American public — for a long struggle ahead.

“There will continue to be hard and very bitter days,” he said Tuesday.

No one is talking like this war is ending anytime soon — at least not publicly. One EU official told reporters last week that they had “difficulty” imagining negotiations between Ukraine and Russia at this point, given that Putin’s war aims don’t seem to have changed and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is facing election next year.

Biden made a point on Tuesday to repeatedly place the blame for the war squarely in Putin’s hands, and put the onus on the Russian leader to end his invasion.

But there is broad skepticism about Putin’s willingness to come to the negotiating table in good faith. One European diplomat observed that Putin may be so intent on taking control of Ukraine that “there may be nothing short of that goal that he will ever settle for.” That could still mean he takes an opportunity for a ceasefire agreement, but then tries again at an invasion in a few years’ time.

The Biden administration believes it is in a good position to support Ukraine’s resistance through the coming months, after the last Congress approved tens of billions of dollars in security assistance that officials project will last through the current fiscal year.

The going could get harder, however, when it comes time to pass more assistance given the growing skepticism toward the war among conservatives. A cadre of Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, appeared at the Munich Security Conference to challenge the idea that support for Ukraine is waning among the GOP. But a vocal minority of its House members have argued that resources spent on the war would be better redirected home, and their message appears to be breaking through with voters as it’s been picked up party’s potential presidential candidates.

Brett Bruen, a former U.S. diplomat who served in the Obama administration, lauded Biden’s trip to Kyiv but argued that the president should do more to lay out a “game plan” going forward, which he said would help shore up support for any future assistance on Capitol Hill.

“It isn’t unrealistic for us to start putting some dates and some numbers on what we’re trying to achieve,” Bruen told Semafor.

Biden has also faced pressure to send fighter jets and longer-range missiles to Ukraine, which the administration has thus far resisted. Biden administration officials have been wary of sending weapons that could escalate the conflict, but some argue that deadlier gear and equipment will be necessary for Ukraine to prevail on the battlefield.

“If we continue doing what we’re doing, there is likely to be slow movement,” Bruen argued. “That doesn’t serve our interests because it will require strong political support to be sustained.”


World leaders may not be talking publicly about finding a way to end the war, but there is evidence of more direct conversations happening behind the scenes.

The Washington Post recently quoted a senior Biden administration official as saying that the U.S. was trying to “impress” on the Ukrainians “that we can’t do anything and everything forever.”

Matt Duss, a former foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that laying the groundwork for a peace agreement or ceasefire in the near future would be a logical step — and that the rate at which weapons and other hardware are being depleted on both sides would likely create an opening.

“It seems to me it’s going to be a few months off in part because that’s a point at which both sides are going to really see a shortage of material,” Duss said. “It’s difficult if not impossible to continue to supply at this current rate.”


Iowa voters try to pick Nikki Haley out of the crowd

Nikki Haley in Iowa.
REUTERS/Scott Morgan

Marion, IA – After announcing a presidential run last week, Nikki Haley has officially hit the road: On Tuesday evening, she wrapped up her trip to Iowa with a town hall in Marion that was standing-room only.

Her speech to potential voters there sounded familiar — she began by highlighting her background growing up in a rural, southern town as the daughter of Indian immigrants, and eventually waded into red-meat topics like government spending, school choice, border security, and culture war issues.

But voters in Iowa like to shop, and they recognize that they’re still early in the process. It was clear from talking to people at her events that they were still unsure how to differentiate Haley from leading options like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump on major issues — and many saw appealing qualities in all three.

“I can’t hardly say there’s that much different now,” “Billboard Bob” Klaus, a 75-year-old from Iowa, told Semafor.

But some Haley-specific positive feelings could be found within the crowd: Two voters said they’d prefer Haley in part because they’d like to see a female president.

“I would prefer to see Nikki Haley,” Kelly Haffenden, a 53-year-old elementary pastor, said. “I just think she’s the first woman that I’ve been excited about that I would align with her positions and think that she could do the job and represent the party well, represent women well.”

Haley’s work as UN ambassador also appealed to some potential voters in attendance: One noted that her experience in the position differentiated her from someone like DeSantis, while another — who said they held dual citizenship with the U.S. and Israel — told Semafor that Haley’s defense of Israel from foreign criticism stood out to them.

And other voters, like one retiree I spoke with, said they liked Haley but needed to know more about specific positions she held, such as her stance on entitlements, after hearing comments she’d made in 2010 expressing openness to budget cuts.

“We’re retired,” 64-year-old Bob Berry said. “So one of the things that’s important to us is what her position is on Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.”

Notably, Trump began attacking both Haley and DeSantis this month for previously supporting changes to programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Shelby Talcott

One Good Text

Tim Wu is a professor at Columbia Law School and until recently served as an adviser to the Biden administration on antitrust and tech issues. We reached out to him about Gonzalez v. Google, a case argued in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday that could impact tech companies’ Section 230 protection from lawsuits. He consulted with the government on their arguments.


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 military is investigating after a cybersecurity researcher said a Pentagon server leaked sensitive but unclassified emails online.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: Trump spent about $10 million from his Save America political action committee on his own legal bills in 2022.

How Are We Doing?

If you’re liking Semafor Principals, consider sharing with your family, friends and colleagues. It will make their day.

To make sure this newsletter reaches your inbox, add principals@semafor.com to your contacts. If you use Gmail, drag this newsletter over to your ‘Primary’ tab. You can also reply with a hello. And please send any feedback our way, we want to hear from you.

Thanks for getting up early with us. For more Semafor, explore all of our newsletters.

— Steve Clemons