Donald Trump has been dominating Gov. Ron DeSantis in the race to rack up endorsements from Florida’s congressional delegation lately, so Semafor decided to check in with one of the state’s biggest name lawmakers to see where he stands. Sen. Marco Rubio says he isn’t ready to take sides in the 2024 race, but also tells Semafor that while he recently hung out with Trump at a UFC event, he hasn’t heard a peep from DeSantis for “a number of months.” Check out the story from Joseph Zeballos-Roig, Shelby Talcott, and Benjy Sarlin for more on where Rubio might come down.
Some conservative Republicans are holding out on supporting their party’s debt ceiling bill unless it puts even more new restrictions on the federal food stamp program, Joseph reports, and there are concerns their demands could derail the party’s whole effort. Honestly: The legislative wrangling would be fun to watch if the really nasty consequences of debt default were not looming.
Remember the Center for a New American Security war game we mentioned earlier in the week? Members of the House select committee on China played it out, and China landed 80,000 troops on Taiwan, the committee chair told Morgan Chalfant.
PLUS, Kadia Goba gets One Good Text from Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. on the consequences of ending Twitter’s legacy blue checks.
☞ White House: President Biden is planning to formally announce his re-election campaign next week, according to the Washington Post.
☞ Senate: Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill. sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts asking him to testify at an upcoming May hearing about potential ethics rules for the Supreme Court amid scrutiny of Justice Clarence Thomas’ relationship with billionaire GOP donor Harlan Crow. The letter does not explicitly mention Thomas and says Roberts could also choose another justice to testify in his place.
☞ House: Most eyes are still on the debt ceiling. But Republicans took time Thursday to pass a party-line bill that would bar transgender women and girls from competing in women’s school sports.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis now trails former President Donald Trump by 13 points in a new national Wall Street Journal poll of likely GOP primary voters, after having a 14-point edge over the former president last December.
Trump isn’t backing a national abortion ban, and some conservative activists are furious. “This is an issue that should be decided at the state level,” the former president’s campaign told the Washington Post in an article published Thursday. That prompted a rebuke from Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, one of the country’s largest anti-abortion groups, who called Trump’s stance “a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold.” While Trump appointed the pivotal justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, he’s also blamed last year’s midterm losses on the “abortion issue” and candidates who opposed rape, incest, and life exceptions to bans.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va. praised House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for putting forward a proposal to raise the debt ceiling while sharply criticizing Biden for refusing to negotiate a compromise to avoid default. “This signals a deficiency of leadership, and it must change,” Manchin, who is looking at a difficult re-election campaign in his overwhelmingly pro-Trump home state, said in a statement.
Labor secretary nominee Julie Su faced tough questioning from Republicans during a confirmation hearing over her handling of California’s COVID-19 unemployment benefits program — known as EDD — before she joined the Biden administration. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. quoted the hip hop artist Nuke Bizzle, who was convicted of committing COVID relief fraud after rapping about it. Lyrics included: “I done got rich off of EDD / ain’t hit no more licks ‘cause off EDD / Just last night I was selling Ps/ and I just woke up to 300 Gs.”
Conservative talk show host Larry Elder announced that he is running for president on Thursday. He was the leading challenger to California governor Gavin Newsom during a recall effort in 2021 which was voted down by a 24-point margin. A Democratic strategist who worked on that campaign reacted to Elder’s 2024 plans with a text, reading “lol.”
— Morgan Chalfant, David Weigel, and Shelby Talcott
Punchbowl News: HouseGOP leadership is starting a whip count for the debt ceiling package. Punchbowl reports that leadership is finding that there are a “large number” of lawmakers who remain undecided on the package.
Playbook: David Trott, a former Republican member of Congress from Michigan, wrote in to Politico to say that he sat next to DeSantis on the House Foreign Affairs Committee for two years and DeSantis never tried to speak to him.
The Early 202: The NRCC is going to put pressure on Democrats in swing districts over Biden’s unwillingness to negotiate with Republicans on the debt ceiling.
Axios: Biden’s political team is still in the “early stages” of building out a reelection campaign staff.
Joseph Zeballos-Roig, Shelby Talcott, and Benjy Sarlin
Marco Rubio is taking his time on a 2024 endorsement
REUTERS/Amanda Andrade Rhoades
As the Florida House delegation breaks hard for President Trump this week, Senator Marco Rubio is not rushing to make a decision of his own.
“I’ve made it clear to everybody that I’m not going to be getting involved in the presidential race for some time,” Rubio said.
Nor is he feeling pressure to get involved. He told Semafor that Ron DeSantis has not reached out to him on the topic.
“I haven’t spoken to him in a number of months,” he said.
And while Rubio and Trump recently attended a UFC match together in Miami, he said they did not discuss endorsements there.
Asked about Trump’s recent string of support from Florida lawmakers, Rubio said that the former president “obviously has created relationships with these members of Congress” via his own prior endorsements and outreach. He likened his advantages to that of an incumbent running for re-election.
As for Rubio’s own decision, he said that his “close friend” Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C. would be one possible option, should he choose to run. Scott, along with 2024 candidate Nikki Haley, endorsed Rubio’s presidential campaign in 2016 ahead of the South Carolina primary, which Trump went on to win.
After that, “I’ve got two prominent Florida residents,” he said, adding that he’s worked with DeSantis on behalf of the state and “obviously had very productive years when Trump was in the White House” as well.
In conversations with Republicans involved in Florida politics, several mentioned Rubio’s tight relationship with Scott. But beyond that, it’s unclear where he might go.
One source not aligned with any campaign speculated Rubio would be much more likely to back the former president over DeSantis if forced to choose between the two. But former Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who endorsed Trump the day he announced his 2024 campaign, said that the senator likely wasn’t paying much attention to the presidential race. “I don’t expect Rubio to endorse,” he said.
At the same time, it did not sound at all surprising that Rubio has not talked lately with DeSantis, whose lack of personal outreach to Florida politicians has been a sore subject this week.
“I’m not saying that Marco and DeSantis have an awkward relationship,” one former Rubio aide told Semafor. “I think they just don’t have a relationship.”
“Very few people know Ron DeSantis,” another source involved in Florida politics said when asked about their relationship.
A person familiar with DeSantis’ political team said that the governor and senator have “mutual respect” for each other.
On the surface, a Rubio/Trump alliance might seem odd given their acrimonious 2016 contest — Rubio called Trump a “con artist” who could not be trusted with nuclear weapons, while Trump derided him as “Liddle Marco.” But, like many opponents Trump vanquished, the two have warmed to each other since then.
“Rubio and Trump have a great relationship,” one source who works in Florida politics said. “When he was president, they talked frequently. If there was something that needed to happen, and he needed the president’s ear, he would call him.”
The source added that their clashes on the presidential campaign trail were short-lived and mostly came during a brief stretch towards the end of the race. Rubio did not join his colleagues in condemning Trump after January 6th, despite warning in 2016 his rhetoric could lead to similar violence, and he graciously accepted his endorsement in his recent re-election.
The senator repeatedly said before Trump’s campaign announcement that he expected him to be the nominee if he ran, even as buzz built up around DeSantis, who led the GOP ticket to huge statewide gains in the midterms.
Rubio, who tends to side with the party’s hawks, also recently condemned DeSantis’ comments that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was a “territorial dispute.” That could potentially be an issue with Trump as well, who has gone significantly further in criticizing U.S. aid and praised Vladimir Putin’s “savvy” during the war.
This week the senator posted a video message — without mentioning DeSantis — complaining that not enough was being done to fix a gas crisis in South Florida after a storm. The post came as Trump allies, including Donald Trump, Jr. have gone after DeSantis for leaving the state during the episode.
— David Weigel and Kadia Goba contributed to this story.
‘Don’t f*** it up!’: Republicans worry as hardliners push for more debt ceiling concessions
Despite taking a few victory laps over their party’s new debt limit legislation when it was unveiled this week, some conservative Republicans in the House say they want more big policy concessions before pledging to support it.
One big thing on their wish list: Even tighter limits on the federal food stamp program.
Rep. Scott Perry, chair of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, told reporters it was one of “a few cleanup things that we need to discuss.”
As currently written, the legislation would already expand the program’s work requirements so that they would apply to Americans as old as 56, up from 49 today. But some conservative members want to go further, by increasing the minimum hours of work or community service able-bodied adults need to qualify for the program to 30 from 20 under current law.
Both Reps. Tim Burchett of Tennessee and Andy Biggs of Arizona told Semafor they wanted to see the work requirement moved up to 30 hours.
But some Republicans believe the effort threatens to knock a package that’s already loaded with conservative priorities off the rails. The GOP only has four votes to spare in what’s expected to be a party-line vote with unanimous Democratic opposition next week. Republican members from the Northeast are said to be especially wary about major cuts to food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
One GOP lawmaker told Semafor that pushing the requirement above 20 hours would start “taking numbers off the board for Republicans.”
Another Republican argued the House Freedom Caucus already succeeded in getting their measures into the bill and now seem to be interested in simply running up the score.
“They got a lot that wasn’t originally on the table,” a House Republican aide told Semafor, describing provisions repealing large chunks of the Inflation Reduction Act as major “wins” for the hardliners.
“This is a sensible proposal and we want to keep folks in lockstep. I would say don’t fuck it up!” the aide said.
Beyond their political concerns, some Republicans argued Thursday that pushing work requirements to 30 hours a week simply might not be a good idea on the merits.
“Twenty [hours] is sufficient for work,” House Agriculture Chair Glenn Thompson told Semafor, saying it allowed people to access government aid while attempting to transition to better-paying, stable jobs.
“At the end of the day, we’ll take a look at it,” he added. He isn’t alone in his concerns, though: Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of the Problem Solvers Caucus told Punchbowl News that current work requirements are “expansive” as it is and he wants to ensure they don’t become “onerous.”
— Joseph Zeballos-Roig. Kadia Goba contributed reporting.
What lawmakers learned from wargaming a Taiwan invasion
REUTERS/Amanda Andrade Rhoades
The U.S. and Taiwan failed to prevent China from landing tens of thousands of troops on the self-governing island during a war game conducted by the House select committee on China this week that raised the stakes for lawmakers seeking to deter an invasion.
“Even though we took a very aggressive posture in the game, both economically and in terms of our conventional military response, the PLA was still able to get 80,000 troops on the island,” the committee’s chairman Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. told Semafor on Thursday, referring to the Chinese government’s People’s Liberation Army. “I think it demonstrates the urgency of the situation.”
The committee held the unclassified tabletop exercise, which was developed by the Center for a New American Security, behind closed doors on Wednesday evening to assess how to bolster Taiwan’s defenses and impose costs on China high enough to deter Beijing from invading the island. Lawmakers played U.S. presidential advisers, while CNAS experts played China.
The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., characterized the exercise as a “peace game” because of the ultimate goal of deterring a World War III-style conflict.
“I thought the conclusion was this scenario can’t ever become real life,” he told Semafor on Thursday. “The costs of war are unimaginably high. We must deter conflict, we must work diplomatically, economically, and of course help porcupine Taiwan as well, but we’ve got to make sure that we do everything to prevent hostilities.”
Krishnamoorthi said the communication between the U.S. and China during the exercise was minimal to mimic the current state of relations between Washington and Beijing.
“There needs to be more communication at all times, and that includes now,” he said. “We just can’t have a situation where there’s any grave miscalculation about capabilities and intentions, plans, and so forth.”
Participants came away more convinced of the need to accelerate weapons shipments. There is currently a roughly $19 billion backlog of weapons sales to Taiwan, including Harpoon anti-ship missiles and F-16s, that the State Department and defense industry are trying to resolve. They also said the U.S. needs to better incorporate economic measures into its deterrence strategy.
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 group of House and Senate Republicans wrote to Biden calling on him to end “unrestrained” aid to Ukraine and seek a diplomatic solution to bring Russia’s war in the country to an end. The signatories included Sens. J.D. Vance, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, as well as more than a dozen House members.
WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: The Texas Senate passed a bill preventing public universities in the state from giving new professors faculty tenure.
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