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In today’s edition: President Biden makes the case for aid to Israel and Ukraine, Republicans’ backu͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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October 20, 2023


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Today in D.C.
  1. Biden’s case for aid
  2. Jordan’s third speaker vote
  3. DCCC fundraising
  4. Sidney Powell pleads guilty
  5. The view from India

PDB: Schumer told Xi to pressure Iran on Hamas, Punchbowl reports

Jordan speaks at 8 a.m., speaker vote at 10 a.m. … Dean Phillips readies Biden challenge … Financial Times: Humanitarian aid to Gaza delayed

— edited by Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann and Morgan Chalfant


Biden says Ukraine, Israel conflicts are part of a global fight for democracy

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool

President Joe Biden laid out his case for providing tens of billions of dollars worth of military aid to Ukraine and Israel during a rare Oval Office address on Thursday, in which he attempted to draw a direct link between the conflicts engulfing both countries. “Hamas and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin represent different threats. But they share this in common: they both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy,” Biden said. The address kicks off an aggressive push by the White House to convince Congress to pass its forthcoming aid package for the two nations at a moment when conservatives are souring on Ukraine’s cause, Morgan Chalfant writes. The breakdown, per USA Today, will be $60 billion for Ukraine, $14 billion for Israel, and $14 billion for border security. Supporters believe that combining aid to Kyiv with proposals that have broader support — Israel aid, and also funding for Taiwan and border security — will help get it across the finish line. “I think it does help because nobody wants to vote against funding for Israel or border security or threatening China,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas told reporters Wednesday.


The House GOP’s fallback plan collapses

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Hell is other Republicans, at least if you’re a member of the House GOP. Lawmakers are expected to vote on Rep. Jim Jordan’s speaker nomination for the third time at 10 a.m. today. If the bid fails, as expected, his team is considering what might be described as the no-exit strategy — “just going straight through the weekend, back to back votes, grind it out, no coming off the floor at all,” according to the New York Times’ Annie Karni.

Republicans were already boiling over with rage over their leadership crisis on Thursday. A fallback plan that would have given Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. power to bring bills to the floor crashed and burned during a tense afternoon conference meeting, in part because members didn’t want to rely on Democratic votes to pass the proposal. That gathering brought at least one moment of near bedlam, when former speaker Kevin McCarthy and others screamed at Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who many blame for the whole mess. Meanwhile, the holdouts who have voted against Jordan are still complaining about death threats and harassment from his grassroots supporters.

Jordan, for his part, may be butting his head against a brick wall of opposition. He initially backed the proposal to tap McHenry as a temporary speaker. But once it flopped, he announced plans to press ahead with a third vote, and rounded up at least eight of his 22 opponents for an outreach meeting. Every attendee stated they wouldn’t back him. “Our mind is set. He needed to know there’s no way forward for a speakership,” Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla. said afterward. “That was pretty much everybody’s opinion.”

Jordan Weissmann


DCCC raises $11 million in September

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $11 million in September, ending the third quarter with more than $44 million cash on hand, Semafor is first to report. “House Republicans continue to demonstrate that they are utterly incapable of governing responsibly and delivering for the American people. While the House is paralyzed due to Republican dysfunction, voters are seeing how unserious Republicans are and they are eager for a change,”chairwoman Suzan DelBene, D-Wash. announced on Thursday. “Our united House Democratic Caucus, led by Leader Jeffries, continues to build momentum towards taking back the majority and getting the House back to work to support the middle class and grow our economy.” The National Republican Congressional Committee has yet to release its September numbers after an unexpectedly weak $3.8 million haul in August — and that was before they deposed their top fundraiser, then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy. NBC reports that the NRCC raised, on average between July and September, more than Democrats in House seats ranked competitive.

— Kadia Goba


Could Sidney Powell’s plea deal have a ‘domino effect’?

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Sidney Powell, the former Trump campaign lawyer who once vowed to “release the Kraken” and show that the 2020 election was stolen, will serve six years probation for conspiring to interfere with Georgia’s election and breach election data in a rural Georgia county. She pleaded guilty Thursday to six misdemeanor charges, rather than the more serious felonies she was originally charged with. Perhaps most importantly, she agreed to “testify truthfully” in future trials. One Georgia defense attorney closely tracking the case told Semafor it seemed like a very good deal for Powell, who won’t have to serve prison time. Some sources within Trumpworld remained positive in light of the news, telling Semafor that the agreement didn’t necessarily mean Powell had information that would hurt Trump at trial (Trump lawyer Steve Sadow said that if Powell was “truthful” in her testimony, “it will be favorable to my overall defense strategy”). Others theorized the plea deal came about because prosecutors had overcharged the former Trump lawyer. But Jonathan Nash, an Emory University professor, told Semafor that prosecutors could be trying to pressure other defendants to take plea deals, with the ultimate goal of building their case against Trump. “You could start to see a domino effect,” he said. Even if Powell doesn’t directly testify against Trump, she could have incriminating evidence against another defendant, “who then thinks, ‘I better cut a deal.’ And that defendant has evidence that goes against Trump,” Nash said. The plea deal came days before Powell’s trial was set to start alongside former Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro, who is now set to stand trial alone.

— J.D. Capelouto and Shelby Talcott


How India is viewing the Israel-Hamas conflict

JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

The Israel-Hamas conflict is reshaping the politics and foreign policy of a country the U.S. desperately wants to deepen ties with: India. New Delhi was the first non-Arab country to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization, in 1974, and only established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi — the first Indian premier to visit Israel — has been more openly pro-Israel in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks than any of his predecessors while sharply criticizing Hamas, a shift to “bring India’s relationship with Israel out of the closet,” C. Raja Mohan, one of India’s most prominent foreign-policy scholars, wrote in The Indian Express. (Modi did speak to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to express condolences over the Gaza hospital blast, but that was his first conversation with Abbas, with the Palestinian envoy to New Delhi telling The Indian Express that Palestinian officials “have noticed” Modi’s earlier statements and conversations with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu.)

Domestic political considerations are also at play. General elections are due in India next year, and Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has “for all practical purposes … written off the Muslim vote,” academics Sumit Ganguly and Nicolas Blarel wrote in Foreign Policy. It also believes that criticizing Hamas “plays well with its own domestic constituency.” The war isn’t just playing out in India’s corridors of power, though: The country’s right-leaning social-media users have been a key source of disinformation, publishing posts seeking to showcase Palestinians as roundly brutal, the analyst Marc Owen Jones wrote in Al Jazeera.

— Prashant Rao

Live Journalism

The Global State of Wellbeing: A Semafor Summit

October 24 | Washington D.C.

New Gallup research finds that fewer than one in 10 U.S. workers have holistic wellbeing. It’s distressing, and it’s driving renewed urgency to thoughtfully examine barriers to our wellbeing.This coming Tuesday, Semafor’s editors, guided by exclusive Gallup research, will convene industry leaders for the definitive conversation on the global state of wellbeing.

We’ll dive into what data is telling us about the workplace and community wellbeing, loneliness, anxiety, depression, physical wellbeing and the role of social connections.

RSVP to join us in the room.


Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Chinese President Xi Jinping that Beijing should pressure Iran against intervening in the conflict between Israel and Hamas and widening the war when the two met in China recently. “Xi said, ‘I will pass that message along.’ He’s supposed to just say nothing,” Schumer said.

Playbook: Biden thinks leaning into his foreign policy skills will be a political winner, but polling conducted since the Hamas attacks on Israel show his approval ratings haven’t shifted much.

The Early 202: Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill. is working on a bill with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. to crack down on the use of crypto in financing terrorism. Casten said the legislation would “make it unambiguously clear that the Bank Secrecy Act also would apply to all crypto and crypto-associated companies.”


White House

  • President Biden has selected Kurt Campbell, a top White House adviser on Asia, to be the next deputy secretary of state. — Politico
  • The Bidens spoke with the family of Wadea Alfayoumi, a six-year-old Palestinian American who was stabbed to death in a hate crime over the weekend.
  • State Department staff are frustrated with Secretary Tony Blinken’s approach to Gaza and some officials may be planning a dissent cable. — HuffPost
  • Biden is hosting European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen today for the U.S.-European Union summit, which looks likely to underwhelm. Senior EU and U.S. officials had hoped to strike a deal over steel and aluminum tariffs held over since the Trump administration, but no agreement appears imminent. — Politico


  • Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry seemed to confirm a report by NBC News that he threatened to quit if Republicans pushed him to bring bills to the floor without a formal vote giving him that power. “If there is some goal to subvert the House rules to give me powers without a formal vote, I will not accept it,” he said, adding he “wanted people to be clear” on that point.
  • A group of Texans led by House Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger are considering nominating Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas for speaker, Kadia Goba reports. But at least four members of the delegation oppose the plan.
  • The Senate passed a resolution expressing support for Israel in a 97-0 vote. The measure was co-sponsored by every senator except for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
  • Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. criticized the Biden administration over an agreement to ease sanctions on Venezuelan oil, joining a chorus of Republicans who have rebuked the decision. He accused the administration of turning to “one of the world’s dirtiest energy producers and an oppressor of its own people to help make up the production that they refuse to allow in America.” — Bloomberg
  • Sen. Laphonza Butler, who replaced the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told the New York Times that she does not plan to run for reelection next year after realizing that “this is not the greatest use of my voice.”
  • House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas sent a letter to the State Department urging them to formally declare that Hamas has committed genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the Jewish people.

Outside the Beltway

While New York Governor Kathy Hochul was on a visit to Israel this week, her father suddenly passed away back home. She wrote a prayer for him and left it in the Western Wall. California Governor Gavin Newsom left for Israel on Thursday.



Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell signaled in a closely-watched speech that the Fed would hold interest rates steady at their next meeting.



  • The State Department on Thursday issued a rare worldwide alert telling Americans abroad to be extra cautious due to “increased tensions in various locations around the world,” and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut also urged American citizens Thursday to make plans to leave the country as soon as possible.
  • A U.S. warship intercepted missiles off the coast of Yemen said to be fired by Iran-backed militants.
  • U.S. forces intercepted three drones targeting U.S. bases in Iraq. Some troops suffered minor injuries. — Associated Press


  • A CBS News poll found that only 24% of Americans think Biden has shown “too much support” for Israel since the Hamas attacks, with the rest saying that he had either shown the right amount or not enough. But they’re divided on what form that support should take: 76% say he should send Israel humanitarian aid, but only 48% say he should send weapons and supplies, and the split between Republicans and Democrats is relatively small compared to other hot button issues. Fifty-seven percent also say Biden should send humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza and 72% say he should engage other countries in the region diplomatically.
  • A significant majority of voters in New Jersey want indicted Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. to resign, according to a poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University, including 71% of Hispanic voters. Menendez has claimed he is being targeted by prosecutors because of his Cuban heritage.


Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. is reaching out to Democratic operatives to try to hire them for a potential primary challenge to President Biden, according to the Messenger. One of the individuals, former Obama White House spokesman Bill Burton, wrote on X that he didn’t take the outreach seriously “even for a second.” Phillips has also been telling lawmakers he plans to challenge Biden, according to Politico.



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 photo the White House posted to Instagram showing President Biden meeting with U.S. special operations forces in Israel did not blur their faces, breaking with usual practice to protect their identities. The photo was online for a few hours before being taken down.

What the Right isn’t reading: Billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel was an FBI informant, Insider reported.


Principals Team

Editors: Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann, Morgan Chalfant

Editor-at-Large: Steve Clemons

Reporters: Kadia Goba, Joseph Zeballos-Roig, Shelby Talcott, David Weigel

One Good Text

Mike Collins is a Republican congressman from Georgia. He’s become famous in Semafor’s Washington bureau for his creative posts about the speaker’s race on X.

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