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In this edition, Ron DeSantis isn’t scaring his rivals, Kevin McCarthy is courting the right with a ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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April 20, 2023


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Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Donald Trump is racking up endorsements from Florida legislators in an effort to humiliate, torment and corner Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Shelby Talcott and Morgan Chalfant report on the Trump spree underway right now in Florida, which has DeSantis’ non-Trump rivals growing more confident they can challenge him for the nomination.

And as the tick tock towards potential national default moves on, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has finally released his 320 page debt limit bill. While Joe Biden has called the plan “wacko,” which repeals parts of the Inflation Reduction Act and cuts and caps non-defense discretionary spending, some of McCarthy’s GOP opponents to his speakership sound encouraged that he’s taking a hard line. As Joseph Zeballos-Roig reports, we will have to wait and see whether McCarthy can get 218 votes out of his eclectic caucus.

It is “as serious as an aneurysm,” Senator John Kennedy, R-La. said about the problem of national security leaks allegedly finding their way to the public via a 21-year old Air National Guardsman on a gaming chat. Morgan writes this morning that it could fuel efforts to shrink the number of people with access to highly classified documents.

Plus, Kadia Goba has Two Good Texts with Senator Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. and Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. on the marijuana industry-related SAFE Banking Act. Happy 4/20 to all who celebrate.

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White House: President Biden plans to pledge more funding to helping developing countries fight climate change — including $500 million for the Amazon Fund to combat deforestation in Brazil — when he hosts a virtual session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate later today. The new funding would need to be approved by Congress, which seems highly unlikely given GOP control of the House.

Senate: Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is giving a keynote speech this afternoon at the 2023 National Cannabis Policy Summit’s Congressional Forum to mark 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday. Biden’s labor secretary nominee, Julie Su, is expected to face a difficult confirmation hearing today before the Senate HELP Committee.

House: The House Oversight Committee conducted its first hearing focused on the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan yesterday, during which the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction told lawmakers that U.S. money flowing to Afghanistan could be funding the Taliban.

Need to Know

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

The Supreme Court delayed its decision on a lower court ruling restricting access to mifepristone until Friday, meaning that the abortion drug will be available for at least two more days as the justices weigh the case. The Biden administration appealed the earlier ruling from a Trump-appointed judge in Texas, which halted the FDA’s decades-old approval of the abortion drug. Meanwhile, the Senate also voted down a resolution spearheaded by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. that would have overturned a rule allowing Department of Veterans Affairs facilities to provide abortion counseling and abortions to protect the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.

The Florida Board of Education expanded a ban on teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to cover all grades, unless required by state standards or as part of health classes that parents can opt out of. The statute, referred to by critics as a “don’t say gay” law, is a DeSantis priority and previously had just applied to third grade classrooms and under.

Biden has another 2024 challenger in Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who formally launched a very long shot bid for the Democratic nomination on Wednesday by criticizing COVID-19 lockdowns, the media, and government institutions. Marianne Williamson is also running in the Democratic presidential primary.

The Biden administration unveiled another aid package for Ukraine totalling $325 million that includes ammunition, artillery, and missiles. Ukrainian officials have been pressing for more ammunition to help fight the Russians, as well as other weapons and systems not included in the latest package like F-16s and longer-range missiles.

Morgan Chalfant

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: Most moderate Senate Republicans said they oppose a clean debt ceiling hike and signaled approval of McCarthy’s strategy to get the White House to the negotiating table.

Playbook: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is weighing a 2024 bid, told Politico he doesn’t think Republican voters will penalize candidates who criticize Trump. “If you think you’re a better person to be president than Donald Trump, then you better make that case,” he argued.

The Early 202: As the Republican Party grapples with how to handle the abortion issue, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has shown polling to candidates that demonstrates support for a 15-week abortion ban while also voicing concerns about the idea of a six-week-ban, the Washington Post reports.

Shelby Talcott and Morgan Chalfant

Trump’s endorsement spree is emboldening DeSantis rivals

REUTERS/Brian Snyder


If the Ron DeSantis plan was to clear the field for him to tackle Trump mano-a-mano, it’s not working.

Sources close to other 2024 hopefuls are encouraged by his latest struggles, which they believe suggest that endorsements, donors, and votes are all still up for grabs.

“This idea that DeSantis is the clear alternative to Trump and has coalesced the Republican non-Trump party apparatus — it’s just simply not the case,” a senior official on an unannounced 2024 campaign told Semafor.

Trump’s come out swinging this week on the endorsement front — particularly with Florida lawmakers — while openly taunting DeSantis and urging him not to run.

So far, the former president has nabbed endorsements from eight Florida lawmakers and two more are reportedly set to throw their weight behind him in the near future. The list would mean that Trump will soon have half of Florida’s GOP congressional delegation and Semafor is told more endorsement announcements are in the midst of being locked in.

The rollout seemed timed for maximum impact. After DeSantis made a rare appearance in Washington for a meet-and-greet with lawmakers, Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas emerged and immediately announced he’d be endorsing Trump.

DeSantis did earn his first and currently only endorsement from the Florida delegation on Tuesday, when Rep. Laurel Lee announced her support hours before the closed-door meeting. No attendees came out for DeSantis after hearing him speak who hadn’t already done so.

Some of the Florida lawmakers who backed Trump cited perceived snubs or slights from DeSantis, which served to highlight existing concerns that DeSantis struggles with basic human interaction — something other campaigns say they expect to be an ongoing problem. The most glaring example came from Rep. Greg Steube, who told Politico after his endorsement that, unlike Trump, DeSantis never called him when he suffered a fall that put him in the ICU.

“He’s not the type of candidate that I think is going to course correct after this because of how insular he is,” a senior advisor on a second 2024 hopeful’s team said. “I think it’s another piece of evidence in a theory that we’ve long held internally: That he’s not cut out for the long game.”


The endorsements are of questionable value in and of themselves. After all, Trump famously didn’t get any significant backing from elected officials at all until he had almost won the nomination.

Does [the] Jane Doe voter in Iowa even know who Lance Gooden is?” one person close to DeSantis’ team said. “And if she does, there’s about a 99.9% chance his opinion doesn’t matter to her.”

And, as Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. told Semafor, there is something off about Trump celebrating Beltway endorsements given his outsider brand.

“You could argue that President Trump has become enmeshed in the swamp, that he’s looking for people in Washington, D.C., to give him validity. It’s kind of ironic because that’s what he originally ran against,” Cassidy, who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, said.

But the news does contribute to a larger feeling that DeSantis is vulnerable and that his rivals are free to run a tough campaign against someone who just weeks ago seemed like he might enter the race as a prohibitive frontrunner.

It was significant this week that so many of his rivals — not just Trump, but Nikki Haley’s PAC, Chris Christie, and others — attacked him over his ongoing war with Disney, going straight at the core of his political brand.

DeSantis’ situation also isn’t quite like Trump’s was in 2015. His quickest path to victory was consolidating support from conservative leaders, interest groups, donors, and media to create a sense of inevitability and then peeling off Trump’s MAGA base from there. For a moment after the midterms, as Trump’s campaign flailed and DeSantis surged in the polls, it looked like it might work.

Instead, Trump’s team is now “trying to essentially knock the legs out of DeSantis’ campaign before it even gets off the ground,” as one Florida Republican strategist put it.

There’s lots of time for him to regain his strength — he hasn’t even announced, after all — but winning the nomination by acclaim no longer looks realistic, if it ever was.


“Gov. DeSantis isn’t even an announced candidate for president and it is very clear that Donald Trump is absolutely obsessed with him,” Erin Perrine, communications director for Never Back Down PAC, said in a statement.


While we’re skeptical this week is a decisive turning point given how early it is in the cycle, some people are making bolder predictions. “Ron brought three fingers to a gun fight. Stick a spork in him. He’s done,” Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall writes, arguing that the Florida endorsements suggest catastrophic problems for DeSantis that Trump will be able to exploit.

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GOP conservatives are thrilled with the House’s new debt ceiling bill

Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

Speaker Kevin McCarthy unveiled a 320-page debt limit bill on Wednesday — and conservatives are taking a victory lap, including some hardliners who nearly derailed his bid for the speakership three months ago.

“If you held this plan and the plan that the House Freedom Caucus laid out some weeks ago and held them up to a lamp, you would see a lot of alignment,” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, one of McCarthy’s biggest antagonizers, told reporters.

“The leadership just picked up the House Freedom Caucus plan, and helped us convert it into legislative text,” he later added.

The early hours of the legislation’s introduction went as well as it could have for McCarthy. Key Republicans were very supportive. Reps. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, a leader of the moderate Republican Main Street Caucus, and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, both told Semafor they would vote for the legislation.

The debt limit plan would raise the borrowing cap by $1.5 trillion or through March 2024, whichever comes first. In return, it’s loaded with right-wing demands that reflect the power of that part of the GOP conference.

It includes a partial repeal of President Biden’s signature climate and tax bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, and imposes additional work requirements on both the food stamp program and Medicaid. It trims discretionary spending by $130 billion and restrains its annual growth to 1% for a decade. It also scraps Biden’s student debt relief program and includes energy policy reforms.

Most of these ideas are unlikely to go far with Democrats (President Biden called the proposal “wacko”). But at this stage McCarthy needs to show that, with just votes to spare, he can pass a bill — any bill — to lift the debt limit if he wants to  have credibility negotiating with the White House on a compromise.

GOP leaders downplayed any concerns that more centrist Republicans from Biden districts would balk at the bill. “All elements of our conference have been heavily involved over the last few months in putting this package together,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told Semafor.

Republicans said they intended to bring the bill to the floor next week. It’s possible that more changes will be made to the bill to win over holdouts before then.

Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs expressed openness to voting for the bill, but told Semafor he wanted to see even stricter rules around food stamps. The current legislation would apply work requirements to childless, able-bodied adults as old as age 56, up from age 49 today. Biggs said he also wants to see aid recipients work at least 30 hours a week instead of the 20 under current law.

“It seems to me 20 hours is kind of a hobby instead of working,” Biggs told Semafor.

Biggs wasn’t alone: Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett, once a hard-no on raising the debt limit, also expressed interest in a 30-hour work requirement. He told Semafor he was still reviewing the bill on Wednesday evening.

One no on the bill so far? Rep. George Santos is reportedly a “hard pass” on the legislation as currently written.

Joseph Zeballos-Roig. Kadia Goba contributed reporting.

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It’s Classified

‘As serious as an aneurysm’: Congress grapples with Pentagon leaks

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The leak of a trove of highly classified Pentagon files has some members of Congress talking about potential reforms to shrink the amount of people in government who have access to the nation’s most secret material or otherwise alter the security clearance process.

Both senators and House members received classified briefings Wednesday afternoon on the Biden administration’s efforts to assess the damage and stem the fallout of the documents 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira is accused of taking and posting on the social media platform Discord.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. told reporters following the briefing that the Pentagon leaks in addition to the recovery of classified documents found at the homes of President Biden, former President Trump, and former Vice President Pence expose serious problems with the classification system.

“Now we, in a sense, have potentially the worst of both worlds where we have an overclassification problem and at the same time in the public domain it’s been reported that we have more than four million people with clearances,” Warner said. “So how do you square those?”

“These have historically been things that executives, regardless of who they are, guard jealously,” he said. “I think it’s time the Congress has got to step in.”

Asked if Congress should try to make changes to the system, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. replied: “If [administration officials] don’t, Congress should and I hope will, because this is as serious as an aneurysm.”

Lawmakers seem eager to let the administration’s reviews play out until they decide on any kind of legislative response. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. offered that there could potentially be reforms to access or background checks. Multiple members complained leaving the briefing about the lack of information officials provided.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said. “We can’t even begin to conduct oversight as long as they put up these walls where they keep information and we have to fight them about everything.”

While Rubio said there could “potentially” be reforms to the security clearance process, others expressed doubts that Congress would ultimately play a role.

“The question is whether there are systematic problems. I’m not convinced they need legislation. I think they need better enforcement of their own standards,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Me., a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Morgan Chalfant

Two Good Texts

Kevin Cramer cosponsored the Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act, a bill that would allow state-licensed cannabis businesses to access banking services, in the last Congress.

Ruben Gallego, who represents Arizona’s 3rd congressional district and is running for Senate, was a cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act in the House.


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 supervisor at the IRS sent a letter to Congress claiming the investigation into Hunter Biden is being improperly influenced by political decision making. They are seeking whistleblower protections.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: Fifty-three percent of Americans believe that Trump broke the law in Georgia when asked about the investigation into his efforts to overturn the election results in the state, according to a new AP-NORC poll. A smaller percentage — 41% — believe he broke the law in connection with hush-money payments allegedly paid to women on his behalf before the 2016 election, over which he was charged in Manhattan.

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— Steve Clemons