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In today’s edition, leading “anti-woke” figures in the GOP define what it is they’re up against.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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March 17, 2023


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Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. is running for the Senate, and he’s making his calling card opposition to “wokeness,” a term that can be sometimes hard to define. Kadia Goba talked to Banks about how he sees the concept, which he’s actively trying to purge from federal agencies. And just for good measure, we have a second opinion from prominent “anti-woke” activist and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, President Biden’s nominee to be a federal appeals court judge, Michael Delaney, is having a rough time gathering support. Joseph Zeballos-Roig writes that the former New Hampshire attorney general represented an elite boarding school facing a sexual assault lawsuit, and his hardball tactics are leaving some Democrats sitting on the fence.

PLUS: Texting with Morgan Chalfant, Rep. Brendan Boyle shares his views on Biden’s Irish roots as well as green beer and milkshakes. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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White House: It’s St. Patrick’s Day, so, naturally, Irish pop singer Niall Horan will be performing at the White House as part of the annual festivities.

Chuck Schumer: The Senate majority leader and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will be in Buffalo highlighting an infrastructure project along with other members of the New York delegation.

Mitch McConnell: He’s still in rehab after his fall last week.

Kevin McCarthy: The speaker will host President Biden and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the Capitol this afternoon for the annual Friends of Ireland lunch.

Hakeem Jeffries: The minority leader met with leaders of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank on Thursday to discuss the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.

Need to Know

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen tried to assure lawmakers and the public that the U.S. banking system is “sound” during congressional testimony, while defending the federal government’s efforts to help depositors at Silicon Valley Bank. New Morning Consult polling shows a majority of Americans support the federal government’s move, but they also view the decision as a “bailout.” Meanwhile, 11 of the largest banks swooped in to help First Republic stave off a run with a combined $30 billion lifeline.

Regulators at the Federal Reserve are facing more heat from Congress for failing to spot danger at SVB before it collapsed. A dozen lawmakers led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. And Thom Tillis, R-N.C. signed a bipartisan letter expressing concerns that bank supervisors “may have missed clear warning signs.” The New York Times reports that the Fed stripped out a mention of regulatory failures that the White House had wanted to include in a joint statement announcing the weekend’s depositor rescue.

The Senate is on track to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force next week, after a measure scrapping them advanced in a bipartisan 68-27 vote. The bill faces an uncertain fate in the House, where a companion measure also has bipartisan backing. But Senate co-sponsors Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Todd Young, R-Ind. expressed optimism during a press conference Thursday. “I am hopeful that Speaker McCarthy appreciates just what a broad spectrum of Republicans are supportive of this legislation,” Young told reporters.

Poland and now Slovakia plan to send Ukraine Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets, making them the first NATO members to provide the country with war planes. But the Biden administration isn’t budging on its refusal to send F-16s that Kyiv has asked for — at least not yet. “It doesn’t change our calculus,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Morgan Chalfant and Jordan Weissmann

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: Lawmakers attending the House GOP retreat kicking off this weekend in Orlando will hear from former NFL quarterback Drew Brees — who plans to talk about teamwork — as well as former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, and former congressman Trey Gowdy.

Playbook: Florida Republicans are having a hard time answering whether they’d support former President Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a hypothetical 2024 matchup.

The Early 202: The top Democrat on the new subcommittee looking at the “weaponization” of the federal government, Rep. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., told the Washington Post that its chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio didn’t follow up on her efforts to work across the aisle.

Kadia Goba

Is Jim Banks the most Republican Republican of 2023?

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind.
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images


Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. had seen the recent poll: More Americans defined “woke” as meaning “to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices” than “overly politically correct.”

Banks, the leader of the House’s “Anti-Woke Caucus,” didn’t buy the result — not based on the energy politicians like himself, Ron DeSantis, and Donald Trump (he was careful to mention both) have seen from voters.

“It doesn’t take a poll to know my constituency,” he said.

Banks had his own definition for the broadly applied buzzword — a “left wing religion” as he put it — that conservatives have attached to everything from academia to Silicon Valley Bank.

“I believe wokeness is dividing Americans along racial lines,” Banks said. “It’s divisive; it’s anti-American; it’s a sharp departure from everything that Martin Luther King stood for, when he talked about equality, that we would not be judged by the color of our skin. And wokeness is using the power of the federal government to do just that.”

Banks contrasted it with an “American dream” message that emphasized how once-disadvantaged people of all kinds, including himself (he grew up in a trailer park), were able to get ahead in the country.

Semafor asked whether the “woke” label applies to government efforts to root out discrimination, like the Justice Department recently finding systematic mistreatment of Black residents by police in Louisville. He pivoted instead to his personal focus on federal “diversity, equity, and inclusion” initiatives, especially in the military, that he argues spur resentment and division.

“What is the cost-benefit analysis of a chief diversity officer at the National Institute of Health or the Pentagon or Department of Interior? What does that mean? What does that look like? I don’t know,” he said.

His “anti-woke” caucus is backing a bill that would bar state and federal agencies from “intentionally discriminating against or granting preferential treatment” based on “race, color, or national origin” in hiring and contractor decisions. It would also ban similar criteria in admissions to schools that accept federal funds, effectively blocking race-based affirmative action. It’s essentially a direct counter to moves by the Biden administration and Democrats to boost diversity, like trying to raise the share of federal spending that goes to minority-owned businesses.


Banks, who sat down with Semafor last week for an interview, seems to be in the middle of just about everything going on in the Republican Party right now.

In addition to leading the House’s “anti-woke” crusade, he’s the former chair of the Republican Study Committee at a time when their proposals — like cutting entitlement spending — are under the political microscope in both parties. He ran unsuccessfully for House leadership at a time the GOP leadership’s never been more in flux. And now he’s running for Senate with a formidable enough profile that potential rivals, including a former governor, stepped aside after exploring runs.

“The dude is basically a senator now,” is how one source described Banks to me.

“How is the senator?” Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y. joked when I told him I had just left a meeting with Banks.

For his part, Banks said his overall top priority as a senator would mirror his current agenda in the House: “Restoring America’s strength so that we can fight back against the agenda of the Chinese Communist Party.”

But being in the middle of the party’s action can also mean being pulled in competing directions. He’s running with backing from close ally Donald Trump, whose campaign he has so far held off on endorsing himself, and from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who Trump has excoriated on a daily basis, including using a racist nickname for his wife Elaine Chao.

“I enjoy the support from many wings of the Republican Party,” Banks said when asked if Trump was getting something wrong about McConnell.

Both President Biden and Trump have criticized Republican Study Committee budgets that called for raising the retirement age for federal benefits, among other changes. Banks, however, made no apologies for trying to find a “responsible answer” to projected funding shortfalls.

“The Republican Study Committee has stepped into this, and only those who are dishonest or manipulative will suggest that the Republican Study Committee wants to cut Social Security,” Banks said. “Let’s make reforms to it later to preserve those programs so they’ll be around for me and for my kids, and then later generations.”


  • Some Democrats tried to recruit former White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain to run against Banks, Politico reported this month. He declined, but some in the party are hoping former senator and current Vatican Ambassador Joe Donnelly gets in the race.

Democrats won’t commit to backing Joe Biden’s controversial appeals court nominee

REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

Signs of jeopardy are mounting for one Joe Biden’s judicial picks.

Former New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney is facing questions over his representation of an elite boarding school facing a sexual assault lawsuit, threatening his nomination to a federal appeals court position. He’s been accused of using excessive hardball tactics to try and make an anonymous plaintiff reveal her identity or stay silent in public about the case.

“I did my job in that case as an advocate, and I recognize if confirmed as a judge I would be playing a very different role,” Delaney said in a hearing last month.

Delaney’s home state senators are standing by his nomination. “I think he’ll make an excellent judge,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., told Semafor. But he has come under recent fire from both progressive groups and Republicans over  the controversy. When Semafor approached four Democratic senators who sit on the Senate Judiciary panel, none committed to supporting him. They instead all said they were still reviewing his credentials.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, told Semafor. (The other three were Georgia’s Jon Ossoff, California’s Alex Padilla, and Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal).

Senate Judiciary chair Dick Durbin scrapped a Thursday hearing on a slate of Biden nominees that included Delaney, partly due to absences. A committee spokesperson didn’t return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the panel say they believe his nomination is getting turbulent. “I think he’s got trouble on the Democratic side,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Semafor. Cornyn, a former state attorney general and judge, added he still hadn’t made up his mind either.

“I understand when lawyers take on cases they have a duty to advocate for their client,” Cornyn said. “But not every lawyer should be a judge.”

Joseph Zeballos Roig


As long as there’s a live debate over how to define “woke” this week, we thought we’d throw in a try from Republican presidential candidate and “anti-woke” activist Vivek Ramaswamy as well. Here he is talking to Semafor’s Shelby Talcott and David Weigel on Wednesday:

“What is ‘woke?’ The term gets bandied around a lot, you know, and I think it’s important to define. I think it refers to waking up to invisible societal injustices generally grounded in genetically inherited attributes, and going further, calls upon human beings to wake up to those injustices, and to act upon that, by using whatever means necessary to correct for those injustices — most notably by means outside of politics.”

You can read the full interview with Ramaswamy in Semafor’s national politics newsletter Americana later today. Sign up here.

Benjy Sarlin

One Good Text

Brendan Boyle is a Democrat who represents the 2nd district of Pennsylvania in the House. His father was born in Ireland and immigrated to 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: Ron DeSantis announced an effort with 18 states to push back against “woke” environmental, social, and corporate governance investing, which takes issues like climate change into account. They framed it as a response to the Biden administration’s efforts to let retirement fund managers factor in ESG issues.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: New evidence from a group of international researchers links the COVID-19 pandemic to raccoon dogs sold illegally at a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan, bolstering the case that the virus was first spread from animal to human in nature.

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— Steve Clemons