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In today’s edition: The House GOP’s impeachment inquiry gets off to an awkward start, a government s͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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September 29, 2023
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Principals

Principals
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Today in D.C.
  1. Impeachment inquiry kicks off
  2. Shutdown latest
  3. McCarthy foes hit snag
  4. Biden’s new Trump attack
  5. Pentagon official’s clearance draws scrutiny
  6. Youngkin’s biggest fan

PDB: Some anti-Trump ads actually help him

Bloomberg: Chinese chip breakthrough … Biden to bid Milley goodbye … U.S. sends disaster team to Nagorno-Karabakh

— edited by Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann and Morgan Chalfant

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1

Impeachment inquiry stumbles out the gate

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The House GOP’s official impeachment inquiry got off to an awkward start Thursday, as two of their expert witnesses said Republicans were short on proof that President Biden was guilty of serious wrongdoing. “I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment,” George Washington University law professor and Fox News analyst Jonathan Turley told the House Oversight committee. Bruce Dubinsky, a forensic accounting specialist, said “much more information is still needed” to determine whether the Biden family’s businesses were involved in anything illicit or improper.

Impeachment inquiries are intended to gather evidence on potential high crimes and misdemeanors, and both Turley and Dubinsky said the allegations against Biden merited further investigation. But the comments cheered up Democrats — Biden’s rapid response team tweeted out a clip of Turley’s statement — and appeared to frustrate Republicans, who argue they’ve already collected “significant” evidence that Biden may have been involved in influence peddling. As one GOP aide put it to Semafor’s Kadia Goba: “It’s a total and complete shitshow. Our own witnesses said that Biden has not committed crimes lmao.”

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2

Government shutdown looks all but certain

REUTERS/Erin Scott

The Senate spent Thursday dutifully advancing a bipartisan measure to avoid a government shutdown. But with the House GOP still tied up by demands from hardline conservatives, just about everyone expects that Washington will have to turn off its lights on Sunday.

“My sense is that House Republicans have to work through their issues by having some bloody noses,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. told Semafor. “So the best case scenario is a really short-term government shutdown.”

Senate Republicans are expressing increasing exasperation at the lack of a clear goal or game plan in the House, where lawmakers have focused on passing a series of party-line budget bills with deep spending cuts that appeal to far-right members, but are expected to die on arrival in the upper chamber. House members lingered late into the night Thursday waving that legislation through.

“It’s not a good time for us to do this,” Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla, told Semafor. “If we’re going to go into a fight, I always want to know what victory looks like.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered his second day in a row of blunt warnings, calling a shutdown “an actively harmful proposition” that would “take the important progress being made on a number of key issues and drag it backward.” But so far, McCarthy hasn’t been willing to buck hardliners who could try to oust him at any moment — much to the consternation of House GOP moderates. “I’m encouraging the speaker to to walk away from these five to 10 people and start working across the aisle,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., told Semafor, “because that’s how we’re gonna get stuff done.”

— Joseph Zeballos-Roig

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3

A coup conundrum

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Amid the shutdown showdown, House GOP hardliners are having serious conversations about finally trying to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The problem? There’s nobody who could obviously replace him. The Washington Post reported that conservatives were looking at Majority Whip Tom Emmer as a possibility, but he tells Semafor he isn’t interested. Still, there’s a contingent of right-wingers itching to bounce McCarthy with a motion to vacate, led of course by the speaker’s chief tormentor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. “Honestly, can that motherfucker please do it so we can move on with the business of the House?” a House GOP aide said, referring to Gaetz. “It is such a narrow-minded, not well thought-out plan.”

— Joseph Zeballos-Roig

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4

Biden rips Trump’s plans to purge civil servants

Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

President Biden accused Donald Trump and the GOP of plotting to demolish the “brick and mortar of our federal government institutions” during a dramatic speech in Arizona Thursday. The address broadly accused the former president and “MAGA Republican extremists” of posing a threat to the Constitution and “character of the nation.” (Biden read aloud from the former president’s recent Truth Social post suggesting outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley might deserve execution.) But Biden took special aim at plans by Republican 2024 hopefuls to gut federal agencies such as the FBI, singling out Trump’s proposed executive order making it easier to fire civil servants, known as “Schedule F.”

Biden’s remarks were in some way a throwback to his message late in the 2022 midterms that branded “extreme MAGA” Republicans as a threat to democracy, Semafor’s Morgan Chalfant writes. But Biden also refreshed the argument on Thursday by taking on explicit proposals from Trump and other GOP candidates. Biden’s “gloves-off assault,” the New York Times’ Peter Baker writes, represented a big shift for the president whose speeches on his economic policies — branded “Bidenomics” — have done little to move his low approval ratings.

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5

Pentagon probes official after Iran report

Ariane Tabatabai / Columbia SIPA via YouTube

The Pentagon is investigating the top-secret security clearance approved for a U.S. defense official who was named as part of an Iranian government-backed network of Western academics through which Tehran sought to promote its positions on national security issues, Semafor’s Jay Solomon reports. The effort, known as the Iran Experts Initiative, was discussed in leaked internal Iranian Foreign Ministry emails that Semafor and Iran International revealed this week. One of the network’s participants, the Iranian-American academic Ariane Tabatabai, currently serves in the Pentagon as chief of staff for Christopher Maier, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. “We are actively looking into whether all law and policy was properly followed in granting my chief of staff top secret special compartmented information,” Maier told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in response to questioning from Republican lawmakers.

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6

The donor who wants to make Glenn Youngkin president

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The quixotic donor effort to draft Glenn Youngkin into the 2024 race may make more sense when you look at its biggest cheerleader, Semafor’s David Weigel writes. Hungarian-American billionaire Thomas Peterffy has donated millions to Youngkin’s Virginia PAC while encouraging him to get in the race. “He appears to be leaving the door open,” a hopeful Peterffy told Robert Costa, whose story on the “slapdash scheme” to find a late Trump slayer set Washington abuzz. But Peterffy is also known as a bit of an eccentric who isn’t afraid to do things his way: In 2012, he plowed almost $10 million into a TV ad campaign in which he personally implored viewers to vote against socialism over images of Soviet-era deprivation. At the time, he said he was too moderate to fund more established GOP groups; more recently he’s cited Ron DeSantis’ social conservatism as a reason he won’t support him. While Youngkin called the donor movement “humbling” on Thursday, there’s extreme skepticism among political analysts about his chances. “I don’t understand what parallel universe these guys are living in,” Nate Silver tweeted.

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PDB
 
 

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: An effort to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is a “distinct possibility,” but when and whether it happens is highly dependent on the shutdown — and on whether Democrats are willing to play along with the hardliners looking to boot him from the speaker’s seat.

Playbook: The real constant in the relationship between McCarthy and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is mutual antipathy that’s personal, not policy-driven. “There is something between them, and I don’t know what it is,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala.

The Early 202: Unlike in 2013 and 2018, House Republicans don’t have one single driving argument for letting the government shut down. “You can’t have seven reasons, and a different one each week, and expect American people to understand what your point was,” said Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist.

 
 

White House

  • President Biden will give a speech this morning at a farewell ceremony for outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
  • U.S. and Chinese officials are discussing a potential visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s top economic aide Vice Premier He Lifeng to Washington. — The Wall Street Journal
 
 

Congress

  • A real sentence written about grown men in Congress: “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., denied that his political proxies paid conservative influencers to post negative things about Rep. Matt Gaetz online, but the Florida Republican doesn’t believe him.” — The Messenger
  • House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky. subpoenaed Hunter Biden and James Biden for bank records.
 
 

Economy

Oil may soon reach $100 per barrel but shale companies aren’t rushing to drill more, meaning prices are likely to stay high. — The Wall Street Journal

 
 

National Security

The U.S. government sent a disaster response team to the South Caucasus due to the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh.

 
 

Courts

  • New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud trial against Donald Trump will begin on Monday and she plans to call the former president and his adult sons as witnesses.
  • Trump decided not to try to move his Georgia trial to federal court.
 
 

Polls

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was the winner of Wednesday night’s presidential debate, according to a Washington Post/Ipsos poll, but no candidate saw a major shift in support due to their performance.

 
 

2024

There is almost nothing you can say in a political ad to shake Republican voters out of their love for Donald Trump. That, more or less, is the message of a remarkable memo by Win It Back, a PAC led by Club for Growth founder David McIntosh, featured in the New York Times Thursday. After testing more than 40 anti-Trump spots, the group found that “Every traditional postproduction ad attacking President Trump either backfired or produced no impact on his ballot support and favorability.” Some, like an ad featuring Liz Cheney, actually boosted his popularity among Republicans.

 
 

Blindspot

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: Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa. said at a hearing that China should not be able to own U.S. farmland.

What the Right isn’t reading: Climate protesters were arrested outside of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office.

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One Good Text

Jared Moskowitz is a Democratic congressman from Florida. He joked during an MSNBC interview that yesterday’s House Oversight Committee impeachment hearing was the “second season of the Real House Republicans of Oversight.”

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