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In today’s edition: The Biden administration hones its argument on Ukraine aid, anti-Trump canvasser͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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November 1, 2023


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Today in D.C.
  1. McConnell makes border demands
  2. Biden’s Ukraine argument
  3. Anti-Trump canvassers still knocking doors
  4. Hamas killers took amphetamine
  5. Wray’s warning
  6. The best Senate costume

PDB: Romney and Pence’s losing battle to combat Trump within the GOP

Biden to Minnesota … First foreigners allowed into Egypt from Gaza … NYT: The lawyers who could serve in a second Trump term

— edited by Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann and Morgan Chalfant


McConnell names his price

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

If Democrats want a military aid package covering Israel and Ukraine, they’ll need to swallow some major concessions on border security. That’s the message Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans sent on Tuesday as Washington headed for a showdown over overseas military spending, Semafor’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig writes. “Democrats will have to accept a really serious U.S.-Mexico border protection bill in order to get our people on board,” McConnell told reporters at his weekly press conference. The comments were especially significant given that the Kentuckian has been the White House’s most critical Republican ally in its push for a $106 billion package that would wrap together funding for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. Some Democratic senators signaled that they were open to bargaining over the border, and Punchbowl News reports this morning that Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. is leading a group of bipartisan lawmakers attempting to write a border bill that could get 60 votes in the Senate (though it’s unclear which Democrats are participating). “I think there’s deal space there and I think we should pursue it,” Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, told Semafor. “It’s also essential if this negotiation is going to happen in good faith, they temper their expectations in such a way that their asks are realistic.”


Biden’s ‘Made in America’ message doesn’t sway Ukraine aid opponents

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Biden administration has been trying out a new message to sell Ukraine aid: It’s funding weapons that are made in America and support U.S. jobs. President Biden slipped the argument into his Oval Office address earlier this month, which Politico wrote gave the speech an “America First twist.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted to the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday that the billions in requested Ukraine funding would replenish U.S. stocks: “This money is going right back into the coffers of America.” Previous funding, he said, impacted more than 30 states. The argument, which echoes a similar one made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, doesn’t seem to be winning over Ukraine aid opponents, however. “I think it’s a digusting and reprehensible argument to say that we would participate in wars and that wars are a good thing because they help our armaments manufacturers,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. told Semafor. “I mean, that’s sort of an argument for, wow, we just kind of hope a bigger war erupts in Africa so we can sell more arms.” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. dismissed the jobs pitch as well. “You could make that kind of argument about almost any kind of military spending,” Hawley said. “They don’t want to argue now about the merits of Ukraine, now we’re trying to shift it to something else.”

Morgan Chalfant


Inside the last-chance effort to sell Republicans on anyone but Trump

REUTERS/Scott Morgan

It’s not exactly a fun time to be a canvasser for an anti-Trump conservative group. But AFP Action, the Koch-affiliated group pouring millions into grassroots efforts in early states, hasn’t given up yet. Semafor’s Shelby Talcott tagged along for two days of door-knocking in Iowa shortly before the latest Des Moines Register poll found Trump with a 27-point lead. But despite the bleak overall environment for Trump challengers, Shelby reports there are still plenty of squishy Trump supporters along with others who are making their mind up at the last minute, as per Iowa caucus tradition. AFP Action is betting that a tested mix of arguments about Trump’s electability and temperament will still hold some power. It’s a long shot, and the field will need to consolidate to give anyone a chance, but the group’s hoping their 5-million-and-counting voter contacts, and the data they’ve yielded, will put them in position to get a final Trump challenger over the top if an opportunity arises.


Hamas killers were high on amphetamine, officials say

Smuggled Captagon pills from January, photo from Israeli Defense Ministry

Some of the Hamas terrorists who attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7 were fueled by a synthetic amphetamine called Captagon, which American and Israeli officials believe was used to suppress fear and anxiety during the rampage and stimulate their willingness to attack, kill and, in some some cases, torture, civilians. The officials confirmed to Semafor’s Jay Solomon early Israeli television reports that Israel Defense Force soldiers found Captagon pills — which are mass produced and trafficked throughout the Middle East and Europe by the Assad regime in Syria and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, both close allies of Iran — on the bodies of dead and captured Hamas militants. Israel’s government has been reluctant to highlight Hamas’ use of Captagon due to fears it could diminish calls for the Palestinian organization to be held accountable for its crimes. “It’s the ideology” that should be focused on with Hamas, rather than the use of Captagon, an Israeli official told Semafor.


FBI director says Hamas could inspire ISIS-like attacks abroad

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

FBI Director Christopher Wray is worried that the Hamas attack on Israel could lead to copycat attacks by extremists in the U.S. “We assess that the actions of Hamas and its allies will serve as an inspiration the likes of which we haven’t seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate years ago,” Wray told a Senate panel on Tuesday. “That includes not just homegrown violent extremists inspired by a foreign terrorist organization, but also domestic violent extremists targeting Jewish or Muslim communities.” Wray called for vigilance and said that the bureau has been receiving a larger number of tips about possible threats. Earlier this week, a Nevada man was charged with leaving threatening antisemitic voicemails for Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev. Wray also referenced the case of a Palestinian asylum-seeker in Texas, recently arrested on gun charges, who he said had been studying how to build bombs and posted about killing Jewish people online.


Tammy Duckworth wins Senate Halloween

Tammy Duckworth/X

We’re giving the “best costume” nod to Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. and her gingerbread woman after reviewing the day’s tweets and grams. Second place: Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah and wife Ann’s Travis Kelce/Taylor Swift duo. “He and I look so much alike, don’t you think? Our shoulders are the same width,” Romney told Semafor’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig. He said he has not listened to the new “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” record. Romney gets bonus points for filling in and hosting the Senate’s dog costume show for Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. who was out with COVID.


Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: Senate Republicans believe the upcoming government funding deadline may be the last opportunity to pass a major Ukraine aid package. “We’ve got three weeks to get this done,” said one unnamed Republican senator. “If we don’t, we’re telling Russia they can go have Ukraine.”

Playbook: The Republican Accountability Project launched a six-figure ad campaign criticizing Speaker Mike Johnson over his role in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 results.

The Early 202: More than a half-dozen Republicans are running for Johnson’s old job.

White House

  • President Biden is headed to Dutch Creek Farms in Northfield, Minn. today for an announcement about billions in funding for climate-smart agriculture, infrastructure upgrades, and high-speed internet in rural communities.
  • The White House confirmed that Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet in San Francisco later this month.
  • In a London speech on artificial intelligence today, Vice President Harris will argue that governments and the private sector have a “moral, ethical, and societal duty” to make sure AI is developed and adopted safely. She’ll announce a new AI Safety Institute within the Commerce Department, draft guidance on how the federal government uses AI, and commitments from 30 nations to back a U.S. declaration on the responsible military use of AI.


  • The Senate will move forward with three military nominees affected by GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold. The group includes Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney to be the U.S. Marine Corps’ second-in-command, a position that takes on added importance after Commandant Gen. Eric Smith was hospitalized reportedly following a heart attack.
  • Here’s a team-up you don’t see often: Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky. and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. were the only two Republicans who voted to confirm Jack Lew as U.S. ambassador to Israel on Tuesday.
  • A bill from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and limit corporate spending in elections is starting some drama in the Senate Republican Conference. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned colleagues not to sign onto the bill during a private lunch. — CNN
  • Today’s big theme in the House? Public shaming. The chamber may consider separate measures to expel Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. and censure Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. Santos, for his part, is widely expected to survive his up or down vote, since it would require two-thirds of the House to boot him and Republicans are not generally expected to back his expulsion. It may help his cause that the House Ethics Committee announced on Tuesday that it would reveal the next steps of its investigation into the Long Islander on Nov. 17, giving members a reason to wait and see what the panel finds.
  • Speaker Mike Johnson has tapped Trump White House, Fox, and RNC alum Raj Shah to head his communications operation. — Politico
  • Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas reportedly won’t run for reelection next year. Granger, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, has served in Congress since 1997. — Fort Worth Report


The NRSC briefed Senate Republicans on a poll showing Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. defeating Kari Lake and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. in a three-way race. — Punchbowl News


A new coalition of college athletic conferences — the Coalition for the Future of College Athletics — launches today to lobby Congress to pass federal name, image, and likeness (NIL) legislation.


  • Dean Phillips has already missed a Nevada ballot deadline in his primary campaign while Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West will face a tougher path to getting on ballots running as independents than as part of an established third party. — HuffPost
  • Shout-out to the NRCC’s rapid response director Ben Smith, who is not Semafor editor-in-chief Ben Smith. We’re sure this won’t create any problems.

Foreign Policy

  • An Israeli airstrike hit a Gaza refugee camp, leaving “catastrophic damage.” — CNN
  • Saudi Arabia is still prepared to continue normalization talks with Israel, White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters, despite heightened tensions over the response to Oct. 7 Hamas attack.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed back to Israel on Friday. — Axios
  • During a hearing where he confronted anti-war protesters with “blood” painted on their hands, Blinken suggested the U.S. would support the Palestinian Authority taking over Gaza if Israel succeeds in rooting out Hamas.
  • The U.S. basically stopped spying on Hamas after 9/11, leaving the responsibility largely to Israel. — WSJ

Big Read

Mitt Romney tried to defeat Donald Trump from the outside. Mike Pence tried to co-opt him from the inside. Both of them ended up in the same place, David Weigel writes in an epitaph for Pence’s campaign and Romney’s Senate career, watching helplessly as Trump wrested the party away from the Reagan-style conservatism they devoted their life to advancing. One telling anecdote linking the two: When Romney was considering a Secretary of State job with Trump after his shocking 2016 upset, Pence advised him to grovel in front of the press and admit he was wrong about the president-elect’s qualifications. He didn’t take it.


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 group of Republican governors pressed the NCAA to revise its policy regarding transgender college athletes.

What the Right isn’t reading: Hedge fund billionaire Leon Cooperman said Donald Trump belongs in jail.

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

George Santos is a Republican member of Congress. He has attracted public scrutiny in part because of the indictment against him and has inspired Halloween costumes.

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