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In this edition: Kevin McCarthy loses control, Murdoch’s faux retirement, and the Senate tries to th͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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September 22, 2023


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Today in D.C.
  1. Another GOP train wreck
  2. Ukraine day
  3. Murdoch retires
  4. Biden’s immigration gamble
  5. Clash over Senate dress code

PDB: Trump’s light campaign schedule

Zelenskyy to Canada … Bloomberg: UAW plans expanded strikes … Variety: Late-night Hollywood talks move toward writers’ strike deal

— edited by Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann and Morgan Chalfant


Is Kevin McCarthy even really still Speaker?

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Kevin McCarthy is beginning to feel like a speaker in name only after Thursday’s GOP train wreck in the U.S. House of Representatives, writes Semafor’s Jordan Weissmann. Republican plans to advance their defense funding bill tanked after a group of hardliners voted to block it. Soon, lawmakers were also declaring dead the possibility that Republicans would pass a temporary spending bill to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1. Lawmakers used words like “total shitshow” to describe the situation, as some GOP members admitted their party had all but lost the ability to govern.

The fiasco underscored the fact that McCarthy has basically forfeited control over what bills make it to the House floor — which is arguably the most important power speakers have. Even worse, he’s being forced to reward the mutineers for their tactics: Republicans have essentially adopted a plan from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., McCarthy’s archnemesis, to now vote on individual appropriations bills that will likely die in the Senate, rather than try to keep the governments lights on.

Moderates, meanwhile, have begun threatening their own sort of rebellion. Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., has said that if the House does not pass a short-term spending bill to prevent a shutdown, he’ll join with Democrats and sign a discharge petition forcing one onto the floor. Could McCarthy regain some semblance of control going forward? Maybe. But for now, he’s starting to resemble a cardboard cutout of a party leader.


Zelenskyy interrupts chaos in Washington

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Washington for meetings with lawmakers, President Biden, and Pentagon officials just as the House was melting down over funding the government. Republican members, already skeptical of the White House’s request for $24 billion in additional aid, may remove $300 million in Ukraine-related funding from a defense bill to satisfy Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who blocked it from being taken up on Thursday. The failed vote came just hours after Zelenskyy huddled with Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other lawmakers from both parties. Members pressed him on accountability for aid, weapons needs, and a path forward to victory, according to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas. McCaul predicted the House would eventually come around to the $24 billion when all was said and done. “They need it and they’re going to get it,” he told reporters. He and other lawmakers have also pushed the White House to approve long-range missiles known as ATACMS. McCaul said they could potentially write them into their appropriations bills to force the administration’s hand.

Ahead of his visit, Zelenskyy purged top defense ministers to help reassure Washington and other foreign backers that their money will not go to officials suspected of self-dealing. Across town from the Capitol at a conference for Ukraine’s reconstruction, the new U.S. special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery, Penny Pritzker, offered a warning: “Corruption is an innovation killer, it’s an investment killer, it’s a job killer.”

— Morgan Chalfant


A puzzling change at Fox

REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s closest counterpart in Washington is Mitch McConnell — alternately principled and pragmatic, more interested in the use of power than his reputation, and unable to quite get rid of Donald Trump. Murdoch announced his retirement Thursday and handed off nominal control of the troubled Fox and News Corps. to his eldest son Lachlan, who lives in Australia. And yet nobody around the elder Murdoch really expects him to exit the stage, any more than McConnell seems likely to depart in Washington over similar concerns about his age and health. Indeed, Murdoch’s own resignation letter promises he’ll be hanging around the office in a “chair emeritus” role, executives say they expect to keep getting his emails, and Jack Shafer says he’s liable to change his mind at any moment with the famous London newsroom call, “reverse ferret.”

— Ben Smith


Biden’s immigration gamble

Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

It’s a rare moment when the White House, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. are all on the same page on immigration. But the New Yorkers finally got their wish after the administration extended temporary protected status to nearly half a million Venezuelan migrants. The change will enable them to quickly begin working and — officials hope — rely less on state and local aid. Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries said that the adjusted status, which they had been requesting for months, would cover more than half the migrants who’ve recently arrived in the state. But there’s a reason the Biden administration was reluctant to take action: By making it easier to find work, critics warn the new policy could attract more migrants. The New York Times spoke to both policy experts and recently arrived Venezuelans about how the decision might affect the situation at the border, with no consensus answer.


Senators dress down loose dress code

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

While the House struggles to fund the government, the Senate has spent the week bitterly debating John Fetterman’s cargo shorts. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s decision to loosen the dress code, which allowed the Pennsylvania senator to preside over the chamber in a short-sleeved work shirt, has prompted a wave of criticism from Republicans, nonstop coverage at Fox News, and now internal caucus divisions as well. “I can’t understand exactly what he was thinking at that point,” Schumer’s top deputy Dick Durbin, D-Ill. said on SiriusXM. “I want to give him the benefit of the doubt until I speak to him, but I think the Senate needs to act on this.” They could get their chance soon: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. is filing a bipartisan resolution next week to “ensure the Senate dress code remains consistent with previous expectations,” a spokesman told NBC News. As for Fetterman, he’s happily selling campaign merch with conservative criticism of his “disgusting” hoodies printed on it.


Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: The decision that could “define [Kevin] McCarthy’s speakership” is what he’ll do when the Senate sends him a bipartisan stopgap spending bill.

Playbook: Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. is now the “architect of the House GOP’s newest legislative strategy”: He worked to convince fellow members to vote down the defense spending bill rule and is recruiting allies to back the idea of single-subject appropriations bills.

The Early 202: Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., whose district is right near the Ford plant where United Auto Workers is on strike, says the White House doesn’t need to be involved in the negotiations: “This is between the companies and the UAW.” (Trump’s planned visit to Detroit, she added, is a “political stunt.”)

Axios: The Senate’s new dress code “is hanging by a thread.” Meanwhile, John Fetterman offered a response to critics of his casual style: “If those jagoffs [sic] in the House stop trying to shut our government down, and fully support Ukraine, then I will save democracy by wearing a suit on the Senate floor next week.”


White House

  • The Biden administration announced another tranche of security assistance for Ukraine including ammunition, artillery, and Javelins. President Biden said the first Abrams tanks would arrive in Ukraine next week.
  • Vice President Harris will oversee a new gun violence prevention office at the White House. The view from Matt Yglesias: “Kamala is a Cop — I like this strategy.”
  • Biden and other world leaders raised concerns with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit about Canada’s accusation that Indian agents were possibly behind a murder on their soil. The White House did not comment on the claim. — Financial Times


  • Chuck Schumer is bringing up a House FAA bill that could serve as a vehicle for a continuing resolution to fund the government. It’s a sign the Senate is preparing to step in as the House looks more dysfunctional than ever. — Politico Huddle
  • The Senate voted to confirm two more military nominations, Gen. Eric Smith to be the Marine Corps commandant and Gen. Randy George to be the Army’s chief of staff. The move temporarily sidestepped the blockade on military confirmations from Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala.
  • Multiple House offices are advancing bonuses to staff to help buttress them against an extended shutdown that cuts off their paychecks, Kadia Goba reports.

Outside the Beltway

Former President Jimmy Carter is “still hanging on” seven months after entering hospice care in Plains, Ga., enjoying peanut butter ice cream and the tributes to his legacy. He will soon turn 99. — New York Times



  • Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is likely to endorse Ron DeSantis. That would be a coup for his campaign, which has been hitting new lows in recent Iowa surveys. — Bloomberg
  • Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez told CBS News that the president’s team would rebut concerns about his age by highlighting his active schedule, including a recent five-day trip through Asia. “I think that it’s important we continue to show the work the president is doing in and day out,” she said.
  • Somewhat related: Donald Trump has stacked up his massive primary lead while holding fewer campaign events than his rivals, according to the Washington Post. A remarkable tidbit: Of the 60 campaign-related events since May that Trump’s team listed for the paper, six involved attending LIV Golf events at his courses, another 11 were events held at his Bedminster, N.J. club, 5 were virtual events, and 3 consisted of remarks made next to his plane after being indicted.

Big Read

Are the famed “Never Trump” Republicans even Republicans anymore? Ben Jacobs asks the question in The New Republic, profiling onetime Romney voters who turned on Trump after 2016 and increasingly look like ordinary Democrats now after four election cycles with him atop the GOP. Writes Jacobs: “This tranche of voters is not huge, but they may be decisive — in 2020, 16 percent of self-identified moderate or liberal Republicans voted for Biden, according to an analysis by Pew, twice the share that did so in 2016.”



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 Department of Health and Human Services formally announced that it was barring federal funding from flowing to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for 10 years.

What the Right isn’t reading: Two Black former employees of TikTok parent company ByteDance accused the company of retaliating against them after they complained about discrimination.

One Good Text

Jerry Nadler is a Democratic congressman from New York.

Hot on Semafor

  • Israeli officials are working to persuade U.S. leaders that a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia could strengthen the U.S. well beyond the Middle East. One top Netanyahu aide said it could be a “reverse 9/11.”
  • The UN’s climate summit was a bust. The plans world leaders laid out are “like trying to put out an inferno with a leaking hose.”
  • An NSFW chatbot app has surged in popularity, but its sexual content spurred OpenAI to crack down. Now, it’s pitching investors on building its own large language model.
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