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In today’s edition: Centrist Democrats propose a short-term solution for speaker, President Biden ca͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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October 16, 2023
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Principals

Principals
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Today in D.C.
  1. Centrist Dems: Empower McHenry
  2. Polling a bipartisan speaker
  3. Biden opposes Gaza occupation
  4. Oversight’s Iran review
  5. Iran story splits WSJ

PDB: Judge hears arguments on Trump gag order

Biden weighs Israel trip … State Dept.: Death toll of Americans in Israel rises to 30 … WaPo: New evidence North Korea is supplying Russia with weapons

— edited by Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann and Morgan Chalfant

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1

Moderate Dems get behind temporary speaker fix

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

An idea that would let the House get back to at least limited business while the GOP works through its leadership drama is starting to find some bipartisan support, Semafor’s Kadia Goba writes. The proposal: Give Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. the power to bring bills to the floor. A number of Republicans — including former speaker Kevin McCarthy — have been suggesting such a move for a while, and late last week four Democratic members of House Problem Solvers penned a letter endorsing their own version of it. Their proposal, which also drew a thumbs-up from the 10 members of the Blue Dog Coalition, would give McHenry the power to move legislation addressing aid to Ukraine and Israel, the government shutdown looming in November, and the remaining 2024 appropriations bills. But if the House does temporarily expand McHenry’s powers, Kadia writes, it might also pave the way for him to become the speaker on a more permanent basis, too. The push comes as the House looks like it will vote on Rep. Jim Jordan’s, R-Ohio nomination this week, despite evidence he doesn’t have the support to win. “I think they’re going to go down in flames on that [vote] because there’s just no way that Jim Jordan, with Donald Trump’s support, gets to 217 or 218 votes in the House,” Rep. Wiley Nickel, D-N.C., told Semafor in an interview Sunday.

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2

Poll: Strong support for a bipartisan speaker deal

REUTERS/Leah Millis

A bipartisan majority of voters likes the idea of a bipartisan majority running the House of Representatives. A new poll of 1,186 registered voters by YouGov finds respondents favor empowering a bipartisan governing coalition by a 63-37 margin, including 63% of independents, 93% of Democrats, and 30% of Republicans. The survey was commissioned by Welcome PAC, a Democratic group focused on winning over swing voters that has been promoting the idea, and the results were shared exclusively with Semafor. So far, a handful of Republican House members have suggested they’re open to considering talks with Democrats on a compromise speaker — perhaps paired with additional concessions — if their own party can’t agree on a choice soon. “Democrats are ready to deal, and it only takes five moderate Republicans to listen to the voters and act now,” Welcome PAC co-founder Liam Kerr said in a statement.

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3

Biden to Israel: Don’t occupy Gaza

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Biden said he believes Israel should not re-occupy Gaza following a looming ground invasion meant to destroy Hamas. “I think it would be a big mistake,” Biden said in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday evening. “What happened in Gaza, in my view, is Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all of the Palestinian people. And I think that it would be a mistake for Israel to occupy Gaza again.” While the IDF is preparing a major offensive to take out Hamas leaders and weapons capabilities after the terror group launched raids and rocket barrages that killed over 1,300 people, there are no obvious good options for what to do afterwards and Biden’s aides are said to be worried that Israel doesn’t have a plan.

“We have no desire to occupy or re-occupy Gaza,” Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog, said on CNN Sunday. But without Israel governing the strip, which they abandoned in 2005, Hamas or a similarly violent faction could seize control again. And alternative ideas floated in the press, like empowering the rival Palestinian Authority to take over or leaving an international coalition in charge, may be unworkable. “I think talking about the day after is a bit premature because crushing the Hamas war machine will require time,” Herzog added.

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Exclusive
4

Oversight to subpoena over Malley mystery

Robert Malley, Special Envoy for Iran/Rod Lamkey/CNP/Sipa

The House Oversight Committee will subpoena State Department documents and call as a witness the Biden administration’s suspended special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, Semafor’s Jay Solomon reports. The committee is reviewing U.S. policy toward Tehran, an intense focus in the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel. U.S. officials told Semafor that the FBI is investigating Malley, who lost his security clearance last April, for the alleged mishandling of classified information. The committee is also seeking clarity on the security clearance provided in 2021 to Ariane Tabatabai, a Pentagon official whom the Biden administration initially brought in to serve on Malley’s nuclear negotiating team with Iran. A report last month by Semafor documented Tabatabai’s participation in an Iranian government-backed program, called the Iran Experts Initiative, which Tehran used to try to promote its views. Malley and Tabatabai didn’t respond to inquiries.

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5

Wall Street Journal reporters split over Iran story

Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal overrode some objections inside its own Washington bureau to publish an explosive, disputed report that Iran “helped plan” the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, Semafor’s Max Tani reports. The stakes of the story couldn’t be higher: A proven, direct Iranian role in the Hamas attack, which both Israeli and U.S. officials say they have not yet uncovered, could trigger a broader regional war. But three people with knowledge of the situation told Semafor that before publication, veteran staffers on the national security team at the Journal raised concerns about the story, which was written by three of the paper’s correspondents based in the Middle East. Reporters from the Washington, D.C. bureau said that they could not directly confirm the explosive string of allegations shared by their colleagues abroad, and sought more time before publication. A Journal spokesperson rejected the notion that there was any internal friction over the story and said the paper stands by its reporting.

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Live Journalism

Mike Rogers & Jeetu Patel on Cybersecurity in the age of AI

On Tuesday, October 17, Semafor will convene top Washington officials, industry leaders, and key stakeholders to explore a clear-eyed approach to the future of cybersecurity, hacks, and cyber defense vs. offense.

Led by Semafor’s top editors, we will delve into the agenda-driving conversations around the challenges and opportunities AI presents to cybersecurity, protecting critical infrastructure, and the threats that are keeping top government officials and business executives up at night. RSVP to join us in the room.

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PDB
 
 

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: A coalition of House Republicans on the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees “will vote against [Jim] Jordan for as long as it takes to ensure he’s never speaker.”

Playbook: The super PAC affiliated with Chris Christie is putting up a new web ad calling Donald Trump a “fool” for his comment about Hezbollah being “very smart.”

The Early 202: Moderate and swing-state House Republicans are turned off by the “hardball tactics” Jordan’s team is using to pressure members into backing his candidacy for speaker: “Right now, Jordan is woefully short on votes, and his team wants to beat folks into submission,” one member said.

Axios: According to an excerpt from a new book on Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Romney said Oprah Winfrey suggested he join her on a unity ticket in 2020 to stop Donald Trump from being reelected.

 
 

White House

  • President Biden is considering a trip to Israel after an invitation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. — Axios
  • Biden is visiting a wind tower manufacturer in GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert’s district in Colorado to pitch his “Bidenomics” agenda and remind voters that Boebert opposed the Inflation Reduction Act, which spurred an expansion by the manufacturer, CS Wind.
  • The White House named David Satterfield, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, as the U.S. special envoy for humanitarian issues in the Middle East. His focus will be “on ensuring life-saving assistance can reach vulnerable people throughout the Middle East,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, as the Biden administration tries to minimize the humanitarian costs of the Israel-Gaza war.
 
 

2024

Biden raised $71 million in the third quarter of 2023 for his reelection bid and the DNC, far outpacing his GOP rivals. Trump is the clear leader in the Republican primaries, with a $24.5 million haul that more than doubled any other campaign’s receipts.

 
 

Congress

  • The House will vote on a new speaker as soon as Tuesday, after Republicans nominated Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio behind closed doors. He is far short of the votes needed to win and Politico reports that Jordan opponents will nominate a challenger on the floor.
  • The Senate reconvenes today and will receive a classified briefing on Israel on Wednesday from top Biden national security officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, according to a Senate source. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led a bipartisan group to Israel that had to shelter in Tel Aviv to avoid rockets fired by Hamas.
  • House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas plans to introduce a bill placing secondary sanctions on the Qatari bank holding $6 billion released to Iran so that it’s frozen “forever,” he said on Fox News.
  • The campaign of indicted Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. refunded more money than it raised in the third quarter of 2023.
 
 

Outside the Beltway

Republicans regained control of the Louisiana governor’s mansion after a victory by Donald Trump-backed Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry over the weekend. He’ll take over from outgoing Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is limited to two consecutive terms.

 
 

Courts

Today, a federal judge in Washington will weigh special counsel Jack Smith’s request that former President Donald Trump be subject to a gag order in the Jan. 6 case. The Washington Post notes, however, that the order could actually have a negative impact on the prosecution by robbing them of “one of their best sources of incriminating information — Trump’s mouth.”

 
 

National Security

The Biden administration is getting ready to unveil new restrictions on the sale of chips powering AI and the equipment that makes them to China.

 
 

Polls

  • Seventy percent of Americans say the Israeli response to the Hamas attack is at least partially justified, according to a new CNN poll, which also found that 96% say they feel at least some sympathy for Israeli people and 87% say the same of Palestinians. Democrats and independents are much more likely than Republicans to say they have a lot of sympathy for Palestinians.
  • Sixty-seven percent of Democrats approve of President Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, which is lower than his approval ratings among Democrats on issues like abortion, climate change, and Ukraine, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll. Meanwhile, Biden gets high marks for his handling of the war from 18% of Republicans, a significantly higher share than approve of his handling of issues like inflation and Iran policy.
 
 

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: A pair of Republican House lawmakers are introducing a bill that would prevent the Biden administration from resettling Palestinians in the U.S.

What the Right isn’t reading: A judge punished Rudy Giuliani for “continued and flagrant disregard” of a court order requiring him to turn over financial records in his damages trial.

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One Good Text

Dennis Ross is a former U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace talks. He is now a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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Hot on Semafor

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