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

In today’s edition, President Biden’s move to the center on “law and order” issues has progressives ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
sunny Washington
cloudy Wuhan
cloudy Seattle
rotating globe
March 9, 2023


Sign up for our free newsletters
Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Progressive Democrats worry that President Joe Biden’s team is swerving to the right on crime and immigration, Kadia Goba and Benjy Sarlin report. Some members are also complaining about a lack of communication, with some saying they were caught off guard by the White House’s announcement it would sign a measure overturning a D.C. crime bill and recent reports it was considering detaining families at the border.

What are the real origins of COVID-19? Some think the virus naturally jumped from animals to humans and others think the virus resulted from an accidental leak at a lab in Wuhan. Agencies are divided on the question but the Department of Energy pushed it back into the news with a “low confidence” assessment in favor of the lab-origin theory, joining the FBI, which reached similar conclusions. As Morgan Chalfant reports, a new bill with bipartisan support would require the Biden administration to declassify information about the origins of COVID-19. I’m wondering who owns the movie rights.

PLUS: One Good Text with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten about a Republicans proposal for a “Parents’ Bill of Rights.”

Our thoughts today are also with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is in the hospital after a fall last night. Get well soon.

Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here!


White House: Biden will unveil his fiscal year 2024 budget blueprint today, a largely symbolic document. The White House is expected to seek nearly $3 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, primarily through tax hikes.

Chuck Schumer: The Senate majority leader joined 48 other Democratic senators in reintroducing the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would establish federal rights to abortion access, on International Women’s Day.

Mitch McConnell: The Senate minority leader is receiving treatment at a hospital after tripping at a private dinner in Washington last night, a spokesman said. His condition is not yet known.

Kevin McCarthy: At the Speaker’s request, the House received a briefing about the deficit from Congressional Budget Office Director Phillip Swagel yesterday.

Hakeem Jeffries: The minority leader, in a joint letter with Speaker McCarthy, has reached out to members about a DC Health Link data breach that has potentially put members personal information and health information at risk.

Need to Know
U.S. Justice Department

More than half of Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to block Washington, D.C.’s controversial local crime bill in a lopsided 81-14 vote. Biden has angered some Democrats by promising to sign the override measure after initially opposing it in the House. But Republicans still look intent on using the issue to batter Democrats over crime. McConnell promised not to let the president’s party “off the hook,” while the GOP has already cut ads attacking House Democrats who voted against the override.

The Justice Department announced findings from a damning investigation into the police department in Louisville, Ky., concluding it “practiced an aggressive style of policing that it deploys selectively, especially against Black people.” The investigation, triggered by the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in 2020, is expected to result in a consent decree negotiated by the Justice Department and local officials.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a bill that would repeal the outdated authorizations for the Gulf and Iraq wars, a key step in getting the measure, which is sponsored by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va. and Todd Young, R-Ind., passed by both chambers. The House has its own bipartisan companion bill. The committee also finally greenlit Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, after his nomination had languished for more than a year. With the support of at least two Republicans, the former Los Angeles mayor looks likely to be confirmed.

Biden’s pick for IRS commissioner looks likely to get confirmed later today, though not with help from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va. who announced that he would oppose the nominee amid his dispute with the Biden administration over electric vehicle tax credits.

The Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee’s investigation into the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan held its first public hearing yesterday, during which lawmakers heard emotional testimony from Afghanistan war veterans, including a Marine who lost limbs and nearly died in the attack at Kabul’s airport in August 2021.

Morgan Chalfant and Jordan Weissmann

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas is in talks with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. about getting a bicameral bill to address TikTok.

Playbook: Biden’s budget proposal is not expected to include major additional funding for the COVID-19 response, but it will include a large defense budget request (north of $835 billion).

Axios: Former President Trump is going to make public 150 private letters sent to him as part of a new book, including one from Oprah Winfrey from 2000 in which she wrote that she wished she and Trump were running for president together.

Kadia Goba and Benjy Sarlin

As Biden tacks right on crime and immigration, some Democrats feel cut out of the picture

Joe Biden
EUTERS/Jonathan Ernst


President Biden’s abrupt shift toward a tougher “law and order” stance on crime and immigration has progressives nervous about where he’s headed next.

“I am concerned,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Semafor.

While Jayapal said she’s normally reluctant to “second guess” Biden too much, the administration’s confirmation that it may revive family detentions at the border — a policy Biden personally denounced under Trump — is stirring fears within the caucus about a tack to the right with profound human consequences.

“I do think that there are people within the administration who are giving very bad advice,” Jayapal said. “I don’t know who those people are.”

Late the same day, the Senate voted overwhelmingly — with Biden’s backing — to override a progressive-backed D.C. bill to reform its criminal code. The White House had previously opposed interfering with the District’s self-governance when the same measure was voted on in the House, prompting 173 Democrats to vote against it.


One thing that both the immigration and crime moves had in common: Key allies complained they were given little warning about a sudden change in Biden’s position.

A spokesman for Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa. said Wednesday that the crime vote had “been mishandled at every turn” including the “White House blindsiding House Dems with a bait and switch.” Congressional Black Caucus members, including D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, first learned about Biden’s decision from a reporter’s question at a press conference.

Similarly, on immigration, Congressional Hispanic Caucus members told Roll Call that they had not been briefed on a potential return to family detentions at a February meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. At the time, Mayorkas was already trying to address their concerns about a separate move towards Trump-era rules requiring asylum seekers to turn to other countries before America. The CHC spoke with Mayorkas again in a virtual meeting on Tuesday, and condemned potential family detentions as a “return to the failed policies of the past” in a joint letter with other Democrats.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J, complained that Biden’s domestic policy operation, headed by Susan Rice, has been cutting immigration doves like himself out in favor of a “reactive” approach to Republican criticism.

“There are other things that can be done to achieve the goals they want, but they do not consult with anyone,” he told Semafor. “I’ve been doing this for the better part of 20-plus years and there are a series of ideas that could be helpful to them that doesn’t follow, like lemmings off the cliff, the Republican mantra on all of that.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. said that the White House was relying on perceptions from “political advisors” that they “got to quell this.”


Asked about members’ concerns, an administration official noted that the White House has not yet announced a new position on detention rules.

“There is no decision or policy to notify anyone about at this time, nor has there been,” the official said. “But of course, the administration is in regular contact with the Hill on a host of immigration issues. In fact, Secretary Mayorkas met with the CHC yesterday and last month.”

The Biden administration has strongly pushed back on comparisons to the Trump administration on immigration. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday pointed to Biden’s support for DREAMers, his efforts to reunite families separated at the border under Trump, his opposition to a “useless wall,” his recent expansion of legal routes to asylum, and his increase in the number of refugees allowed into the country.

On crime, Jean-Pierre told reporters last week that, while Biden publicly opposed the House measure to block D.C.’s crime bill, he never said he would veto it if it passed. She added that officials were “constantly in communication” with members.


While Democrats are complaining about lack of communication, the core of their disagreements with Biden are mostly over substance. And, as the 33 Democratic Senate votes to overturn DC’s crime bill indicated, the president isn’t alone in wanting to look tough on “law and order” issues ahead of an expected re-election campaign.

“This is the Joe Biden of 2020 who was the most centrist candidate in the field and romped to victory,” Jim Kessler, Executive Vice President for Policy at the moderate think tank Third Way, told Semafor. “Democrats have to be where voters are on crime and immigration. Biden gets that.”

To share this story, click here.

The Virus

A push to declassify info on COVID’s origins gains bipartisan steam

Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

Get ready to learn more about the lab leak theory.

A House bill that would require the Biden administration to declassify information about the origins of COVID-19 is attracting strong bipartisan support as the issue draws renewed attention on Capitol Hill.

The House Intelligence Committee advanced the bill by a voice vote earlier this week after it was introduced by the panel’s Republican chair, Ohio Rep. Mark Turner. A spokeswoman for Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, the committee’s top Democrat, said that he planned to vote in favor of the legislation when it reaches the House floor.

The bill would require Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify “any and all information” about potential links between COVID-19 and the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China within 90 days of becoming law. It would also require Haines to submit an unclassified report to Congress with needed redactions to protect sensitive sources of information.

The Senate version of the legislation, offered by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., passed the upper chamber by unanimous consent back in March. It’s unclear precisely how much bipartisan support it will pick up in the House but looks very likely to pass. The vote is expected to occur on Friday.

It could, in theory, lead to the declassification of information that led the Energy Department and FBI to conclude that the pandemic most likely arose from a Chinese laboratory leak. Other intelligence agencies have assessed it probably jumped naturally to humans from an infected animal.

The White House has not said yet whether President Biden would veto the legislation.

Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University who believes the virus originated naturally, criticized the bill for only calling for declassifying information related to the lab leak scenario. “It leaves out the most likely cause of COVID-19, and therefore seems biased from the outset,” he told Semafor.

The lab leak theory has become the flashpoint for a complicated political debate touching on everything from the credibility of the scientific community to China’s level of responsibility for the pandemic. The topic took center stage Wednesday at the first hearing of a new Republican-led House select committee investigating COVID’s origins.

Former Trump CDC Director Robert Redfield told the House panel he was sidelined from conversations about the pandemic by Dr. Anthony Fauci and former National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins after suggesting at its outset that it may have begun in a lab.

“Science has debate, and they squashed any debate,” he said. Fauci later denied Redfield’s accusation to Politico.

Lawmakers from both parties called for further investigation into the lab leak question, but the hearing was far from a fully bipartisan affair. Republicans attacked Fauci, while Democrats criticized the inclusion of witness Nicholas Wade, an author and former New York Times editor who wrote a controversial book in 2014 linking genetics to the behaviors of different races.

Meanwhile, Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday in separate testimony that a key hurdle to determining the origins of COVID-19 is the lack of information from China.

“China has not fully cooperated and we do think that’s a key critical gap that would help us to understand what exactly happened,” Haines said under questioning from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Morgan Chalfant and J.D. Capelouto


Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. said yesterday on International Women’s Day that hundreds of new statues, paintings, and historical memorabilia of American women were on their way to be displayed in the halls and meeting rooms of the Senate and the House. She spoke at an event organized by the Smithsonian in support of a new Smithsonian Museum of Women that supporters are pushing the Biden White House to help find a site for. Former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who chairs the museum effort, said “as we Americans tell our history, we can no longer have women depicted as just a side note to men.” Senators Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V. also spoke about the importance of the museum, while Senators Alex Padilla, D-Calif. and Jon Tester, D-Mont. showed up for the breakfast event and showed their support. During her remarks, Klobuchar noted that in all of US history there have been about 2,000 Senators who are men, and about 50 women, half of whom are in the Senate now.

—Steve Clemons

One Good Text

Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second biggest teachers’ labor union in the U.S.


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: GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy alleged that a consultant approached him offering a second-place finish in the CPAC straw poll in exchange for a large sum of money.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla. told Teamsters President Sean O’Brien to “shut your mouth” in a heated exchange during a hearing on union organizing.

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