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In this edition, 2024 Republicans react to Donald Trump’s possible indictment. Plus, the inside scoo͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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March 20, 2023


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Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Remember when Donald Trump would regularly blow up the whole news cycle with a single tweet? This weekend gave us all a little flashback to those days after the former president declared he was likely to be arrested on Tuesday for charges related to hush money payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. In doing so, Semafor’s David Weigel writes, Trump put his GOP rivals in a bind, forcing them to back him in a moment of possible peril, or risk the wrath of his base later on.

What was up with the normally affable Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La. berating Janet Yellen at a hearing last week for suggesting President Biden’s open to discussing Social Security reforms? Joseph Zeballos-Roig has the full story, including news of some behind-the-scenes meetings between Cassidy and the White House.

Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll finds that there’s been a big uptick of confidence among Democrats and Independents in America’s ability to compete with China. Morgan Chalfant and Benjy Sarlin break down the findings.

PLUS: Morgan has One Good Text with former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti on the challenge of prosecuting the hush money case against Donald Trump.

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White House: The Bidens will bring Jason Sudeikis and other stars from the television series “Ted Lasso” to the White House later today to discuss mental health.

Chuck Schumer: The Senate comes back to Washington tomorrow and is slated to take another procedural vote on a bill to repeal outdated war authorizations. The bill’s bipartisan cosponsors said last week they anticipated it passing with 70 votes.

Mitch McConnell: The Senate minority leader opposes repealing the AUMFs, a spokesman said. It’s unclear whether McConnell will be back at work by the time the vote happens this week.

Kevin McCarthy: “I don’t think people should protest this, no. And I think President Trump, if you talk to him, he doesn’t believe that either,” the speaker said when asked about Trump’s seemingly straightforward call to “protest, take our nation back!” in response to a possible indictment. McCarthy did join Trump in condemning the Manhattan DA’s investigation.

Hakeem Jeffries: During an MSNBC interview, the House minority leader suggested that former Vice President Mike Pence had “embarrassed himself” by suggesting Donald Trump’s potential prosecution was “politically charged.”

Need to Know

REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The shockwaves from Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse reached Europe this weekend, where Switzerland’s UBS swooped in with an emergency purchase of troubled rival Credit Suisse. Back in Washington, Joe Biden is asking Congress to impose penalties on bank executives found responsible for mismanagement, such as clawing back their pay and banning them from the industry. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who has scheduled a hearing on Silicon Valley Bank for next week, told CBS that he’d “consider” the idea. Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a longtime champion of stricter financial regulation, went on a weekend media blitz and said Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell had failed at his job.

House Republican leaders are signaling openness to a bipartisan measure about to pass the Senate that would repeal outdated war authorizations from 1991 and 2002. “I think it has a clear opportunity to come to the floor,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La. told Semafor in a recent interview that House leaders would “take a look” at the measure, which has a companion bipartisan bill in the House, and that House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas has talked about having an “expanded conversation” about the authorizations.

Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and expressed concerns about the Israeli government’s controversial judicial overhaul plan, telling him that “democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support,” according to a White House readout of the conversation. The White House also welcomed talks in Egypt between Israelis and Palestinians to curb violence before Ramadan.

Morgan Chalfant

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: The Biden administration released a series of projections to Congress predicting what would happen to federal agencies if Republicans achieved their goal of cutting spending back to 2022 levels. Among other things, the administration said 400,000 families could be evicted from Section 8 housing, thousands of FBI officials could be laid off, and air traffic control towers would be shuttered at some airports, per Punchbowl.

Playbook: Republicans are talking about requesting testimony from officials in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Axios: Trump’s 2024 campaign is looking a little different — and more professional — than those past. He isn’t relying on family members and his staff is trying to get him to do more “retail politics.”

David Weigel

The 2024 GOP field navigates Donald Trump’s showdown with the Manhattan D.A.

Former President Donald Trump attends the NCAA wrestling championship.
Brett Rojo/USA TODAY

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Donald Trump’s prediction that he’d be “arrested on Tuesday” and call for “protest” put his Republican rivals on notice — denounce the investigation into hush money paid to cover up an alleged affair, or be on the wrong side of GOP leaders and most of their voters.

Over the weekend, after Trump wrote on Truth Social that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was about to charge him, his potential challengers for the Republican nomination were split.

Former Vice President Mike Pence told reporters in Iowa that Trump was facing “another politically charged prosecution,” asking why Bragg was focused on this “in the midst of a crime wave.” He echoed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who promised just hours after Trump’s post that the House GOP would probe whether “federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy.”

Other Republicans were circumspect. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley never mentioned Trump or his legal trouble at the Palmetto Family Council’s “Vision ‘24” forum. Neither did South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who is moving toward a presidential bid.

Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who closed out the day-long forum, lambasted both Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — “the beloved donor class favorites in this race”— for staying quiet.

“Join me in calling on the Manhattan district attorney to abandon this political persecution through prosecution,” Ramaswamy told reporters, as forum attendees gathered around him and cheered. “If you’re not going to stand up, then you need to step out.”

Trump’s call for supporters to “protest” and “take our nation back,” which immediately evoked fears of January 6th style violence, added another politically delicate wrinkle to the story for Republicans.

Even some of his farthest right supporters, like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, sounded reluctant to encourage that idea. McCarthy said Sunday that Americans should not attend protests and that Trump — implausibly — only meant they should “educate people about what’s going on” when he used the phrase.

At the Vision ‘24 forum, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told Semafor that Trump “needs to have his day in court” if charges are filed, and that Republicans needed to “pull back a little bit and not react just to social media posts.”

While “peaceful protest is always fine,” he said, a potential indictment was not a “time for protest” — it would be time for “the greatest system of justice in the world” to work.


I was struck by how common the view was on the right that an arrest would help Trump, even among conservative critics who are backing other candidates.

Rich Lowry summed up their thinking concisely: The “deliberate humiliation” of Trump would “rally more Republicans” to him. A Wall Street Journal poll last year found that 80% of GOP voters considered the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search last summer a “witch hunt,” far more than say they’d support Trump in a race with DeSantis et al. NewsCorp’s editorial line is never better for Trump than when he’s under investigation.

In this case, it was relatively easy for Republicans everywhere to join Trump in denouncing a Democratic District Attorney in Manhattan who was already a Fox News target for his crime policies. But this isn’t the first time Republicans who want to replace Trump have been asked to defend him from legal trouble — DeSantis immediately denounced the Mar-a-Lago search last summer — and it likely won’t be the last.

Getting on record defending Trump, early, has so far been a winner with primary voters. It’s a story DeSantis knows well: In his book “The Courage to Be Free,” he called himself “one of the earliest opponents in Congress of the Russia collusion investigation,” and criticized “the hesitance of some establishment Republicans to question the collusion narrative.” Now he’s facing similar denunciations from campaign rivals and Trump allies.

Former South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who has endorsed Haley over Trump, said that all Republicans needed to tread carefully.

“I don’t think an indictment matters at all for Trump, because his base is not moveable,” Dawson told Semafor. “But whether you’re Nikki Haley, who I’m for, or Tim Scott, who’s my friend — you’ve got to understand, you’ve got to keep his base’s enthusiasm if you’re the nominee. Crapping on Trump doesn’t help keep those people.”


Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Trump ally turned antagonist who could run in 2024, did not buy the conventional wisdom on the right that Trump’s legal problems were a political asset. “Being indicted I don’t think ever helps anybody,” he said in an appearance on “This Week” on ABC News.


The story behind Bill Cassidy’s public blowup at Janet Yellen


In a dramatic scene last week, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. accused Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen of lying at a hearing about the White House’s willingness to work with Congress on reforming Social Security.

Cassidy, who later walked back the specific accusation against Yellen, said at the time he was frustrated with President Biden’s refusal to meet with his own working group to discuss their proposals.

Left unsaid: The Louisiana Republican has in fact been sitting down to discuss the issue with Biden’s staff.

Senior White House officials have met a half-dozen times with Cassidy and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine or their aides in recent months, per a person familiar with the matter. The two lawmakers are leading a bipartisan group that is exploring ways to shore up Social Security’s finances past 2034, when its main trust fund is set to run dry, triggering large benefit cuts.

Semafor reported last month that options floated in the group include raising the retirement age to about 70 and establishing a sovereign wealth fund seeded with at least $1.5 trillion that would finance Social Security benefits with the returns from investing in stocks.

“We’ve engaged in good faith discussions to understand Senator Cassidy’s proposals,” a White House spokesperson told Semafor. “The President welcomes proposals from members of Congress on how to extend Social Security’s solvency without cutting benefits and without increasing taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000 a year.”

The discussions signal a willingness from the White House to at least hear out proposals from Capitol Hill on entitlements as a battle brews over the nation’s fiscal future later this year. But they haven’t satisfied Cassidy, who castigated Yellen at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee last week.

“President Biden has never made himself available to hear about the Cassidy-King proposal to save Social Security from impending 24% benefit cuts,” Cassidy said in a statement to Semafor. “Biden calls himself a deal maker; we can’t make a deal without him.”

Cassidy told Semafor on Thursday he’s requested “multiple” meetings with Biden, including as recently as the week before. He says he’s been spurned every time. “We have an approach which we need the president to engage on,” Cassidy said.

Biden, for his part, has pledged to defend both Social Security and Medicare against cuts. While the White House budget laid out a proposal to extend Medicare’s lifespan with new taxes on the rich, it omitted how the president would prevent Social Security from going insolvent.

Joseph Zeballos-Roig


More Americans believe the U.S. is beating China economically, Gallup finds

REUTERS/Dudo Ravic

More Americans today say the U.S. is beating China as the world’s leading economic power than did so two years ago, an increase driven by a surge in positive sentiment among Democrats and independents, according to new data from Gallup.

Forty-four percent of Americans say the U.S. is the leading economic power in the world, compared to 42% who identify China as such. In 2021, 50% of Americans said China was the leading economic power while 37% answered the U.S. The poll was conducted over the month of February and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

The White House cheered the polling as evidence of the success of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, which has sold its investments in tech manufacturing, clean energy and infrastructure projects as part of a broader plan to outcompete China.

“Of course Americans are more confident in America,” White House spokesperson Robyn Patterson told Semafor. “Thanks to President Biden and Congressional Democrats’ Investing in America Agenda, communities from Boise to Poughkeepsie are building the semiconductors, electric vehicles, and solar panels to keep the American economy on top for decades to come.”

Gallup senior editor Jeff Jones identified several factors that may be contributing to the change.

One is partisanship: Biden mentions China often and voters tend to feel better about the trajectory of the economy when their own party’s president is in power.

The share of Democrats who see the U.S. as the dominant economic power has jumped 14 percentage points since 2021 — the year Biden took office — while the share of independents saying so increased by nine percentage points, according to the Gallup poll. A plurality of Republicans, meanwhile, say China is the leading economic power, a result largely unchanged from 2021.

“Republicans were very positive about the U.S. as the world power when [Donald] Trump was in office and as soon as he left became more negative,” Jones told Semafor. “Democrats didn’t show quite as dramatic a change with the change in administration, but this past year they did shoot up a little bit.”

When the question is posed in the long term, Republicans and Democrats are both more likely to believe the U.S. will be the leading economic power two decades from now as opposed to China, according to Gallup. The result is actually highest among Republicans, with 50% saying so, while independents are divided.

It is notable that voters have become more optimistic about U.S. competitiveness even as Gallup polling suggests they’re extremely dissatisfied with the current U.S. economy.

But the change in attitude may reflect changes in what Americans are hearing about China as well. After seeing decades of headlines about roaring Chinese growth, recent years have featured major negative stories about “zero COVID” protests, government crackdowns, and economic stumbles.

“I think people might have some sense of how the Chinese economy is doing,” Jones said. “That may weigh into the fact that the U.S. is more positive now even when people aren’t that happy about how the U.S. economy is.”

— Morgan Chalfant and Benjy Sarlin

One Good Text

Renato Mariotti is an attorney, legal commentator, and former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago.


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: A large group of Senate Republicans is backing legislation that would block the Pentagon from paying for service members to travel to receive abortions, a policy that was instituted after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: A former Texas governor reportedly implored Iran to delay the release of American hostages in 1980 in order to sabotage Jimmy Carter’s reelection prospects and help Ronald Reagan defeat him, according to a bombshell story in the New York Times.

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— Steve Clemons