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TikTok talks stall in Congress; Gallup shows unions are winning hearts and minds; and Hurricane Idal͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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August 30, 2023


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Benjy Sarlin
Benjy Sarlin

A crackdown on TikTok looked inevitable to many after Congress grilled CEO Shou Zi Chew in March. But almost nothing moves easily in Congress and Morgan Chalfant reports on why multiple bills aimed at banning or curbing the social media giant’s U.S. presence have stalled out — for now, at least.

But the big story today is Hurricane Idalia in Florida, which has kept Governor Ron DeSantis off the trail to oversee the state’s response. As of this writing, it has strengthened into a Category 4 storm and is heading towards Florida’s west coast as officials warn residents in affected areas to evacuate.

Steve Clemons is traveling.


☞ White House: President Biden says he is in “constant contact” with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as Hurricane Idalia makes landfall today. Biden is also holding a meeting on the Maui recovery efforts today as House Republicans prepare an investigation into the Hawaii disaster response.

☞ Senate: Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah accused fellow Republicans of hypocrisy by threatening a government shutdown to force spending cuts after being “quiet as little lambs” about spending when former President Trump was in office.

☞ House: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise revealed he has a blood cancer known as multiple myeloma. He said he planned to work through treatment, calling the cancer “very treatable.” Scalise received well wishes from his colleagues — Republicans and Democrats — as well as the White House.

☞ Outside the Beltway: Members of the House select committee on China will meet just outside Madison, Wis. today at a trailer company that won an anti-dumping case against a Chinese manufacturing company in 2021. The committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Mike Gallagher, told Semafor’s Morgan Chalfant he wants the field hearing to show “why Chinese Communist Party aggression is a right-here-at-home problem.”

Beltway Newsletters

Playbook: Republicans are considering launching an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden without a formal vote on the house floor — precisely the move they criticized Nancy Pelosi for in 2019. Back then, Kevin McCarthy accused Democrats of pursuing “a process completely devoid of any merit or legitimacy.”

Axios: More tidbits from Franklin Foer’s big new Biden book. The president apparently got frustrated with his staff after they quickly walked back his ad-libbed comment in Warsaw that Putin couldn’t be allowed to remain in power. “Rather than owning his failure, he fumed to his friends about how he was treated like a toddler. Was John Kennedy ever babied like that?" Foer writes.


What happened to the TikTok ban?

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration


Capitol Hill’s effort to delete TikTok from Americans’ phones has lost momentum, with multiple bills stalling out. Progress has been slowed by a combination of competing priorities, policy clashes, and concerns about political blowback, sources say. But lawmakers and aides insist a TikTok bill may still be in the cards later this year.

“I don’t think the moment has passed,” said one Republican Senate aide. “It’s just a matter of catching lightning in a bottle, which is what you always need to move legislation.”


In the House, where two major TikTok bills have yet to receive a floor vote, Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers is leading talks on what she described to Semafor as “targeted banning” — language that suggests they’re zeroing in on TikTok specifically, rather than a wider array of foreign platforms.

One House GOP aide characterized TikTok legislation as a priority but said that other must-pass bills — like the debt ceiling and the annual defense policy bill — had consumed the schedule. Congress may have time to act when it’s done battling over government funding, they said.

A Democratic aide pointed to fear within their own party of backlash from young voters as another reason the effort to regulate TikTok had dropped off on Capitol Hill.


The RESTRICT Act from Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va. and John Thune, R-S.D. looked like it had momentum in the spring, picking up a White House endorsement and two dozen cosponsors in a matter of weeks. The legislation would let the administration limit or ban foreign tech platforms that are based in countries deemed “adversaries.”

But the proposal ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from libertarians and — more importantly — Fox News personalities, who accused it of giving “terrifying” powers to the federal government. Even some proponents of regulating TikTok worry that the legislation would hand the executive branch too much authority.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. is already crafting a bill meant to assuage concerns about the impact on free speech. A committee aide suggested it’s aimed at giving the administration tools to address national security threats posed by foreign tech platforms, but not the power to ban them outright.

“She’s not looking to shut down people’s dance videos or small businesses on TikTok,” the committee aide said.

— Morgan Chalfant

To read more of this story including Morgan’s view and room for disagreement, click here.

White House

Biden’s drug war

REUTERS/Leah Millis

For the first time, Medicare will negotiate drug prices. President Biden on Tuesday rolled out a list of the inaugural ten drugs that will be eligible for talks under the Inflation Reduction Act — and his campaign is already featuring its policy in ads.

  • “Today is the start of a new deal for patients where Big Pharma doesn’t get a blank check at the expense of the American people,” Biden said at a White House event touting the new program. Not so fast, though: Drug companies are suing to block the law, arguing it’s unconstitutional.
  • While the law’s savings are expected to increase over time, the first round of drugs may be a relatively modest start. “Most of the drugs are already expected to face competition from cheaper generic versions within two years or less of the price caps taking effect in 2026,” the Washington Post noted.
  • Donald Trump broke with many Republicans by backing federal negotiations and price caps on drug prices, including a late-term executive order intended to eventually tie drug reimbursements to international prices. In a press release Tuesday, he attacked Biden for reversing an unrelated 2020 executive order compelling the federal government to only purchase certain drugs and medical supplies produced in the U.S.
  • Mike Pence criticized Biden’s plan and sounded like he was returning to his pre-Trump conservative roots on drug policy. “I would have concerns about, ultimately, being able to use the power of the government to impose price controls under the free market,” he told Semafor on a call with reporters. The broader 2024 field has not discussed the issue much.
  • Drug negotiations are perhaps the single best-polling idea in American politics. A new survey by left-leaning Data For Progress found 90% of likely voters favored “giving Medicare more power to negotiate lower prices for all prescription drugs,” while other pollsters have found similarly wide support.

— Semafor Staff


Gallup: Support for unions at historic highs

A new survey from Gallup finds that 67% of adults approve of labor unions while a record 61% of respondents say they help the economy. Both of these numbers are way up from their 21st century lows after the Great Recession, when respondents blamed organized labor for the auto industry’s struggles and Republican governors fought pitched battles with public sector unions. United Auto Workers is currently threatening a strike and Gallup finds the public inclined to support them: 75% of respondents say they sympathize with the union more than the auto companies. Ditto for the striking screenwriters (72% support) and actors (67%) who seem to be winning their PR war against the studios. Only 14% of respondents say they live in a household with a union member, however, tied for the lowest percentage this century.

— Benjy Sarlin

Beltway Media

Mark Thompson is expected to take the top job at CNN, according to Puck’s Dylan Byers. Semafor’s Max Tani scooped earlier this week that the British news vet, who previously oversaw the BBC and New York Times, was under consideration. Among his challenges, per Tani: What to do about Trump, whose CNN town hall led to Chris Licht’s departure; launching a news stream on Max; and likely “years of cost-cutting and layoffs.”


What’s left of the left

Savana Dunning/Newport Daily News / USA TODAY NETWORK

Activists on the left are trying to break a losing streak in Rhode Island, where Bernie Sanders is backing 33-year old Aaron Regunberg for the open 1st District seat. But the Sep. 5 special election has gotten ugly, David Weigel writes, with scandals and infighting. Some progressives are grumbling that the left is passing up multiple nonwhite competitors in favor of a young candidate whose uncle, Brad Schneider, is a Congressman in Illinois, and whose father-in-law is backing him through a super PAC. A former state senator denounced Regunberg as the latest in a line of “problematic progressive men,” while a Black state representative supporting his campaign said Democrats need “more than identity politics” from their politicians.

Sign up for Americana, David Weigel’s can’t-miss national politics newsletter. Sign up here.


Impeachment skepticism

Americans are split along partisan lines about whether a House impeachment inquiry into Biden would be partisan. According to a Public Policy Polling survey shared exclusively with Semafor and commissioned by the left-leaning Congressional Integrity Project, 51% of voters say an impeachment investigation would be more about trying to damage the president politically, versus 45% who say it would be to get to the truth about the various allegations surrounding Hunter Biden. The poll found low favorable ratings for Republicans conducting the investigation, however, with only 21% approving of Congressman Jim Comer’s performance and 41% disapproving. President Biden’s approval came in at 44%, slightly higher than his average in recent polls.

— Kadia Goba

One Good Text

Jamie Raskin represents Maryland’s 8th district in Congress. He received treatment for lymphoma, which he said was in remission earlier this year.


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: The FBI is investigating Uzbek nationals admitted into the U.S. at the southern border this year who U.S. intelligence officials say made the journey with help from an ISIS-linked smuggler, CNN reported.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: A super PAC supporting GOP presidential contender Chris Christie is airing an ad in New Hampshire that shows Donald Trump’s mugshot.

Principals Team

Hot on Semafor

  • The Washington Post quietly laid off staff from the tech arm of the paper that leadership had previously considered selling or spinning off.
  • The case of the Biden administration’s suspended special envoy on Iran keeps getting stranger.
  • After missing the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, Vladimir Putin is planning his first international trip since the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest.