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The fight over entitlements is about 2024, fights ahead over the debt ceiling, Q&A with GE’s Roger M͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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November 3, 2022


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Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Good morning Washington! Good morning Atlanta!

Just a few days until America gets some political clarity. The stakes are high. Fights ahead over the debt ceiling and what is worth potentially sacrificing the ‘full faith and credit of the United States’ for. Some on the GOP side think Social Security and Medicare cuts are worth that fight. President Biden, who has quietly confirmed judge after judge, may get a lot fewer if he loses the Senate — even though Chuck Schumer still thinks there is a path for Dems to hold on. We shall see.

ALSO: Benjy Sarlin looks at how the fight over entitlements could spill into 2024. Dave Weigel reports on the midterm landscape for state legislatures, more important than ever with abortion limits now in their hands. And on permitting reform, the former general counsel of the EPA gives me his take on the balance that needs to be struck between climate goals and energy security.

PLUS: Kadia Goba has an exchange with former Congressman Joe Crowley on some scary polls for New York Democrats.

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White House: Biden is working hard to sell Democrats’ accomplishments in the final stretch before the midterms. He’s visiting a satellite company, Viasat, near San Diego today that the White House says is benefitting from the CHIPS and Science Act’s investments in manufacturing.

Chuck Schumer: While control of the Senate is considered a coin-toss, Schumer is still upbeat. He told the Associated Press that he believes “Democrats will hold the Senate and maybe even pick up seats.”

Mitch McConnell: It’s a day ending in a “y,” so former President Trump hammered McConnell again and called for his impeachment (not a thing in the Senate) if Democrats manage to eliminate the debt ceiling. McConnell did get a nice nod of support from Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

Nancy Pelosi: Paul Pelosi was released from the hospital Thursday, a week after the Speaker’s husband was violently attacked. Meanwhile, talks continue on how to safeguard members of Congress, which could include additional funding for home security and protective details, and language in the military-funding package that allow members to scrub their private information from the internet.

Kevin McCarthy: The Republican leader is headed to South Carolina tomorrow to campaign with Rep. Nancy Mace.

The Map

Pennsylvania: Democratic Senate John Fetterman’s campaign is touting an endorsement from Oprah, who helped launch Mehmet Oz’s television career. He will appear live on “The View” today, one of several interviews lined up since his rocky debate performance last week. Meanwhile, a new Marist poll that came out overnight has Fetterman up six points over Oz among voters in Pennsylvania who say they are definitely voting.

Iowa: Looking past the midterms, Donald Trump told a crowd in Sioux City, Iowa – the first state to vote in presidential contests – that he would “very, very probably” run for president again, per the Des Moines Register.

Arizona: Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly is up three points over Republican challenger Blake Masters in the new Marist survey among definite voters, a result that’s within the margin of error for the poll.

Michigan: A new survey from the Detroit Free Press has Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer leading her Republican challenger Tudor Dixon by 11 points.

New Hampshire: Politico has shifted the race between Sen. Maggie Hassan and Republican Dan Bolduc from “lean Democratic” to a “toss up.” Conservatives were upset when Mitch McConnell’s allied super PAC withdrew spending last month.

Georgia: Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker are running neck-and-neck in Georgia, according to the Marist poll, which has them each at 48% among Georgians who say they’re definitely voting.

Need to Know

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the would-be chair of the House Judiciary Committee if Republicans take the House, will release a report claiming politicization at the DOJ under Biden — bringing an issue that riles up the GOP base to the forefront just before the midterms. Here’s how one Biden ally reacted to the news when we asked about it: “Jordan has openly said the purpose of his probes is to return Trump to power in 2024, so it’s no shock to see this diatribe against our nation’s independent law enforcement and justice system at the exact moment they’re investigating Trump, who’s desperate to head it off.” The person was referring to a response that Jordan gave during an interview at CPAC over the summer.

The news of Jordan’s plans dropped alongside another major Justice Department development – a report from CNN saying the DOJ is considering appointing a special counsel to handle two investigations into Trump if he runs for president again.

On Thursday, U.S. embassy officials met with Brittney Griner, who is jailed in Russia and whose appeal of a drug conviction was recently rejected by a court there. The Biden administration has been trying unsuccessfully to negotiate with Moscow for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, both of whom are classified as wrongful detentions. Paul Whelan’s brother, David, told Semafor that he was glad embassy officials had made contact with Griner, but warned she was likely to be soon transferred to a penal colony, where it’s much more difficult to make contact with U.S. officials. “They are prohibited from going 25 miles from the Embassy without Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs approval,” he said. “If Ms. Griner is about to be transferred to a labor colony, it was probably a huge relief for her to see them one more time in Moscow. Paul left within a week or so of his sentence, so I imagine her transit will occur soon too.”

Morgan Chalfant

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich will crisscross the country with Kevin McCarthy this weekend.

Playbook: House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., gave assurances to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., about his leadership prospects after Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tested the waters over the summer for a potential bid, according to new reporting from Jonathan Martin.

Matthew Yglesias: He argues on Substack that a Republican victory in the midterms won’t mean action to reduce crime but will lead to “very dysfunctional government,” with standoffs over must-pass bills and difficulty confirming appointees and judges.

Benjy Sarlin

The midterm fight over entitlements is actually about 2024

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about protecting Social Security, Medicare, and lowering prescription drug costs, during a visit to OB Johnson Park and Community Center, in Hallandale Beach, Florida, U.S. November 1, 2022.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque


President Biden and Democrats have been closing the midterm campaign with a promise to protect entitlement spending from Republicans, who they warn will create a crisis around the debt limit in order to force changes to programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. It may be a preview of bigger fights ahead in 2024 and beyond.


Republicans may threaten a debt ceiling disaster next year to get their way, but it seems unlikely they’ll pick the fight over entitlement cuts.

While a number of Republicans, including ones poised to inherit key committee slots, have suggested changes like raising the age of eligibility for retirement benefits, pursuing it in a must-pass bill would require lockstep consensus within the caucus that almost certainly does not exist.

But while the fight over entitlements might fizzle out next year, expect it to heat up again in a major way in the presidential election. That’s because Republicans could end up in a near-unprecedented position of power to pass major legislation after 2024, and it’s anyone’s guess how they’d use it.

The driving force here is electoral math. Democrats have a favorable Senate map in the 2022 midterms, which is why they’ve stayed competitive even in a difficult year. But 2024 is ugly, with 23 Democratic-held seats to defend versus 10 Republicans. The most competitive pickup opportunities for Democrats are likely Florida and Texas.

A Republican who wins the White House in 2024, even by a razor-thin margin, could potentially enter office with the largest GOP Senate majority in over a century. And strong combined performances in 2022 and 2024 could plausibly net 60 votes, enough to bypass a filibuster.

That would give the caucus enormous latitude to enact major cuts, especially if the president is ideologically inclined in that direction and willing to spend political capital.

“So much depends on who the candidate is,” James Capretta, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has been tracking the party’s fiscal policy, told Semafor.

Donald Trump, for example, has mostly steered the party away from touching Medicare and Social Security. But he came just short of partially repealing the Affordable Care Act and slashing Medicaid spending by upwards of $880 billion. A re-elected Trump might see a full-on repeal as a way to settle old scores (he still attacks the long-dead John McCain at rallies) and reassert his dominance over the party.


Manhattan Institute fellow Brian Riedl, a fiscal conservative, believes Republicans have committed themselves to cutting taxes on businesses and individuals rather than cutting spending in recent years. With an upcoming fight to extend the 2017 Trump tax cuts around the corner, he said, the party is likely to make the same choice again.

“The Democrats will kill Republicans who cut taxes and then turn around and say we have to trim Medicare because of the deficit,” Riedl said. “The attack ads write themselves.”

Statehouse Beat

The battle for state legislatures

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer addresses her supporters during a rally before mid-term elections in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2022.
REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

WARREN, Mich. – Republican momentum in the midterm’s final weeks could ripple down the ballot, as the GOP tries to expand its control of state legislatures and Democrats try to defend what they have.

Strategists in both parties agree that Michigan, where a non-partisan redistricting commission broke a Republican gerrymander, represents the Democrats’ best chance of flipping any of the country’s 99 legislative chambers, followed by the state senate in Arizona

“There is, for the first time in 40 years, a path to majority in the Senate, and a path to a majority in the House as well,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told Semafor after an event with state legislator candidates “But in this climate, I don’t want to make any predictions.”

Republicans have more targets. The Republican State Leadership Committee is trying to flip at least one chamber in four states run by Democrats: Colorado, Maine, Nevada, and Oregon. It’s also targeting the state House in Minnesota, where Democrats have been losing ground outside of Minneapolis, and where some suburban seats look vulnerable.

RSLC spokesman Andrew Romeo told Semafor that the party’s top priority was “defending our razor-thin majorities in states like Arizona, Michigan, and New Hampshire,” but that it would also keep pushing in Democratic strongholds to “capitalize in case everything breaks our way.”

Democrats, whose own state legislative committee and third party groups spent heavily to flip chambers in 2020 ahead of redistricting, entered this year with smaller goals. They’re trying to prevent Republicans from winning super-majorities in Wisconsin and North Carolina, preserving the veto power of Democratic governors there, with major issues like abortion rights potentially on the line.

Most of the party’s support is coming from The States Project, a third party group that’s invested $60 million across five states: Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. While Democrats risk losing super-majorities in blue states like New York in California, they expect to remain in control of each after Nov. 8.

— David Weigel


GE’s Roger Martell on the state of permitting reform

Wind generators found in Story County, Iowa near Zearing. October 11, 2012.
Flickr/Caryl Wycoff

Permitting reform could be the most important legislation that realistically passes in the next year, regardless of which party wins next week. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. took a crack at a version designed to speed up the clean energy and fossil fuel projects included in his Inflation Reduction Act. It drew pushback in both parties, but now Republicans are looking at their own version, according to Politico.

I reached out to Roger Martella, Chief Sustainability Officer of GE, and former General Counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency, to walk through the bill’s implications.

Steve Clemons: Why is permitting reform, including a legislative fix, creating such to be or not to be drama in the wake of the Inflation Reduction Act?

Roger Martell: Your question is probably the most important issue to solve for clean energy and energy security. Energy development frequently involves government decisions. Laws going back to 1970 require agencies to disclose project impacts and provide public participation. That’s a good thing. But now the system is bottlenecked with years of delay from reviews and litigation, risking both fossil fuel and renewables projects. Uncertainty is the Achilles heel of any project.

Steve Clemons: What needs to be in legislation to credibly respond to both sides hammering on each other?

Roger Martell:  Two things. First, the old part. Uphold the core principles from the original laws: strong assessments and public participation. Second, the new part. Bring certainty to the timing of the process. Legislation should set fair but strict deadlines and provide the resources to stick to them. This balances the value of public participation with the ability to meet broader clean energy and energy security goals. Now’s the time to strike this balance.


One Good Text With... Joe Crowley


WHAT THE LEFT ISN’T READING: Blake Masters released a space-themed online game to criticize his opponent in the Arizona Senate race.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: An OB-GYN in Indiana who gave an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio is suing the state attorney general.

— with our partners at Ground News

Staff Picks
  • The relentless attempt by Republican candidates to paint Democrats as weak on crime have worked — that’s the conclusion of Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who’s made a career out of understanding how to reach working class voters. Greenberg writes in The American Prospect that Democrats leaned into police reform in 2020, but failed to reassure voters during a subsequent national rise in murders that they took their concerns seriously. The result? “The Democrats had so little credibility on crime that any message I tested this year against the Republicans ended up losing us votes, even messages that voters previously liked.”
  • Democrats have struggled with Latino voters lately, but abortion politics could offer them a path forward, according to the Washington Post. Recent polls have found a majority of Latinos say abortion should be legal, offering a small but important number of Democrats a chance to make inroads with promises to defend abortion rights.
  • As voters go to the polls next Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear what Vox’s Ian Millhiser argues is “one of the most consequential health care cases in its history.” Health and Hospital Corporation v. Talevski could result in tens of millions of low-income patients losing legal safeguards that guarantee a certain level of care under Medicaid.
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— Steve Clemons