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November 13, 2022


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Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Good morning Washington! Good afternoon Abu Dhabi!

This morning, I’m in the UAE which was just identified in an unusual, leaked classified National Intelligence Council assessment as meddling extensively in U.S. politics per reporting from the Washington Post. UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Otaiba responded that he “is proud of the UAE’s influence and good standing in the U.S.”

But nonetheless, timing is often everything, and I am here in the UAE as part of a strategic issues conference sponsored by the Emirates Policy Center. Among the hundreds of international participants here, the Biden-Xi meeting is considered crucial, and they are giving both leaders credit for demonstrating “strategic maturity.” One name missing from the chatter: Donald Trump.

In other news, Donald Trump’s likely 2024 presidential bid is stressing out GOP House leadership candidates, Kadia Goba reports. Do they or don’t they support him right out of the gate? Joseph Zeballos-Roig has the latest on stalled student debt relief efforts. And Shelby Talcott reports on Trump world preparations for the rumored 2024 announcement tomorrow.

PLUS: David Weigel asks Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez how she beat self-proclaimed America First patriot Rep. Joe Kent.

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White House: Biden is wrapping up his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (more on that below). He’s got a busy few days ahead at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, where Russia’s war in Ukraine will figure high on the agenda.

Chuck Schumer: The majority leader is riding high after Democrats clinched the Senate majority over the weekend. Schumer has his eye on the lame duck session ahead and plans to convene the Democratic caucus this week to discuss priorities for the rest of the year. But you can also expect to hear him touting Democrats’ victory all week.

Mitch McConnell: McConnell is under fire from conservatives for the party’s historically poor midterm performance and some are calling for a delay in leadership elections. But at least two Senate Republicans rushed to his defense: Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La. and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. “No one has had the nerve to step forward and challenge Sen. McConnell,” Cotton told CBS News on Sunday.

Nancy Pelosi: The Speaker told CNN she’d announce a decision on a re-election bid before the caucus’s Nov. 30 leadership elections. But there’s already a ton of speculation around her future after she said members are asking her to run.

Kevin McCarthy: McCarthy is looking ahead to Tuesday’s leadership elections facing a potentially razor-thin majority with a dozen undecided congressional seats. Members will vote by secret ballot and the Trump-endorsed McCarthy needs a simple majority to win; that’s if the elections aren’t postponed. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., is considering challenging McCarthy, reports CNN.

The Map

Arizona: Democrat Katie Hobbs leads Republican Kari Lake by a percentage point in the gubernatorial race with 93% of the votes tallied. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report tweeted he finds it “extremely tough” to see Lake winning.

At the same time, Wasserman said movement in races for the first and third congressional districts as well California’s 41st will likely extinguish Democratic hopes to retain the House majority.

Oregon: Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer was projected the winner over Democratic Rep. Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon’s fifth congressional district, a pick up for Republicans. The incumbent, Blue Dog Democrat Kurt Schrader, was defeated in a primary this year.

Pennsylvania: Republican Doug Mastriano, who denied Trump’s 2020 election loss, conceded to Governor-elect Josh Shapiro in a lengthy statement on Sunday.

Georgia: Democrats locked up the Senate majority with their win in Nevada, but a victory in Georgia would mean they no longer need to evenly split committee membership between Democrats and Republicans — potentially quickening the pace of legislation and confirmations. “It’s always better with 51,” Biden told reporters in Cambodia over the weekend.

Colorado: Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert is about 1,050 votes ahead of Democratic challenger Adam Frisch, with the race still too close to call. Frisch is in Washington, DC attending New Member Orientation, just in case.

Vermont: Senator-elect Peter Welch will meet with Schumer on Tuesday, along with Pennsylvania Senator-elect John Fetterman. Fun fact: Welch is only the second Democratic Senator in Vermont history.

New York: Lee Zeldin lost the governor’s race, but his strong performance leading the GOP ticket to key House wins is prompting some supporters to try and draft him for RNC chair, NBC News reports.

Need To Know

Washington is barreling into a busy lame-duck session. Congress needs to fund the government by Dec. 16 and the Senate is on track to take up the gargantuan defense policy legislation known as the NDAA on Tuesday. White House senior adviser Anita Dunn said on CBS yesterday that Biden wants to see more Ukraine aid and disaster assistance for Puerto Rico and Florida passed before the next Congress. Both Pelosi and Schumer signaled that lawmakers would look at raising the debt ceiling. “It’s going to be heavy work, long hours to try and get much done,” Schumer said at a press conference. Now that Democrats are guaranteed another majority, they won’t need to rush to confirm Biden’s judicial picks before the end of the year. That could clear space for major bipartisan bills on marriage rights and Electoral Count Act reforms.

Biden is meeting in person with Xi Jinping today in Bali for the first time as president. At the start of the meeting — which is ongoing — Biden said the U.S. and China need to “manage” differences to “prevent competition from becoming anything ever near conflict.” Xi spoke of the need to “elevate” the bilateral relationship. Biden administration officials set relatively low expectations for the meeting, but said it was critical to establish better lines of communication, especially after China’s Party Congress changed Xi’s senior leadership team. “The only thing worse than having contentious conversations is not having conversations at all,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters hours before Monday’s meeting.

Tensions between the U.S. and China have run especially high over Taiwan. The issue is expected to come up and Republicans called on Biden to press Xi on Taiwan, rather than prioritizing efforts to cooperate on issues like climate change. “The President cannot cave to the John Kerry wing of the Party and use this meeting to push for more solar panels made with slave labor,” Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., one of the more hawkish members on China, told Semafor.

— Morgan Chalfant

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: The House Freedom Caucus is demanding McCarthy approve rules that would require any bill that comes to the floor receive a vote from the Republican conference first; bar omnibus spending bills; and make it easier for members to get rid of the House speaker.

Playbook: Trump is moving “full steam ahead” with his plans for a presidential campaign announcement tomorrow.

The Early 202: Republican candidates for secretary of state in battleground states who denied the 2020 results all lost their elections.

Joseph Zeballos-Roig

Student advocates push White House to keep loan payments paused after judge blocks debt relief

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the student loan forgiveness program from an auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2022.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

The White House is facing fresh pressure from advocacy groups and the second-largest national teachers union to extend a pause on student debt payments again after its cancellation program was struck down in federal court, throwing millions of borrowers in limbo.

The Biden administration was dealt a major setback on Thursday when a conservative judge in Texas ruled against its student debt program, which was set to provide up to $20,000 in financial relief for participants. Around 26 million borrowers applied already to have their student debt wiped out, per the White House.

The White House halted further sign-ups for now, while pledging to appeal the ruling. But the case now heads to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a more conservative slice of the federal judiciary. It’s widely expected to land on the Supreme Court’s doorstep eventually. The legal sparring will likely take weeks or even months to resolve, prompting advocates to press the White House to renew the student loan repayment pause for the eighth time since March 2020.

“Alongside an appeal in this case, the administration should also consider further mechanisms to promote fairness, including a delay in the resumption of loan payments next year,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement to Semafor.

Advocates say borrowers face added strain on their budgets if they are obligated to repay their student debts during a stretch of stubbornly high prices. In an April 2022 survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, roughly 14% of student debt holders expected to miss a minimum debt payment within three months of the moratorium’s end. One in five borrowers — or 8 million borrowers — had defaulted on their payment before the pandemic.

“We know that inflation is a huge issue, especially for the population of people who also have federal student loans,” Persis Yu, policy director and managing counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center, told Semafor. Restarting payments without the loan pause would amount to “financial catastrophe” for some borrowers, she said.

The White House said in August that the student loan payment moratorium would be extended for the final time through the end of the year, and borrowers should expect to repay their balances starting January 2023.

“We are confident this will get resolved soon and we will be ready to quickly get relief to eligible borrowers once we prevail in court,” a White House official told Semafor, adding their “top priority is to help borrowers most in need as they recover from the pandemic.”


Depending on how long the case plays out in federal courts, the Biden administration may lose some of its options to provide relief to borrowers.

The Biden administration argues the 2003 Heroes Act authorizes the Secretary of Education to adjust student aid programs during a national emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, a public health emergency declaration is set to be extended past January, the Wall Street Journal reported. Once it expires, though, the Biden administration may be unable to extend the moratorium even if it wanted to.

“It’s based on the same legal authority and getting there another way is complicated,” University of Alabama law professor Luke Herrine told Semafor.


The New York Post editorial board argued on Friday that young voters were duped into voting for Democrats in the November midterms, because the Biden administration knew there was a high chance their student debt relief would be tossed by the courts. “Hey, Gen Z — how does it feel getting conned by the ultimate Boomer, President Joe Biden?” they wrote.

House Beat

It’s already 2024 in the House GOP leadership contest

U.S. Congressman Byron Donalds speaking with attendees at the 2022 Student Action Summit at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida.
FLICKER/Gage Skidmore

The presidential race hasn’t officially started yet, but Donald Trump’s candidacy is already playing a major role in Congressional leadership races, where several contenders are actively gaming out their relationship to his campaign.

Republicans find themselves in a precarious position after an underwhelming midterm election where their projected “red-wave” has dwindled to what may be a small — or even nonexistent — majority. Some Republicans have blamed Trump, who is expected to announce a presidential run on Tuesday, and pointed to Ron DeSantis’ blowout win in Florida as evidence the party should rally behind him instead.

Trump’s early campaign launch puts pressure on elected Republicans to either back him right out the gate — or tacitly give momentum to his likely opponent. That’s made questions about endorsing him a minefield for potential House leaders trying to unite the caucus.

Rep. Jim Banks, who is in a competitive race for Republican whip, endorsed the former president’s expected run on two separate occasions, once in July and then again a few days ago in a New York Times article. But then he declined to answer the question during a Fox News interview. Not long after that, Maggie Haberman of the Times tweeted the Indiana representative would officially endorse Trump after Tuesday’s endorsement.

Rep. Elise Stefanik gave a full-throated Trump endorsement last week, calling him “the leader of the Republican Party.” The New York representative is running to serve another term as the conference’s chair against Rep. Byron Donalds, a freshman. On Saturday, a Fox News reporter tweeted that Donalds, who is from Florida, was telling people in private that he supports Gov. Ron DeSantis over Trump. Neither have announced, but Donalds denied the claims.

The elections are expected to happen Tuesday. Some members and members-elect think the leadership race should be postponed until the outstanding midterm contests are called.

“I think we don’t even know if we’re in the majority. So I think it’s responsible to just, look, let’s see where the cards fall right now and we don’t know yet,” Representative-elect George Santos told reporters Sunday.

Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, which has its own demands for leadership, feels the same way. “I would say we should wait to know the final makeup of the U.S. House before we hold leadership elections,” he said in a tweet on Sunday.

— Kadia Goba

Trump Beat
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally ahead of the midterm elections, in Miami, Florida, U.S., November 6, 2022.
REUTERS/Marco Bello

In between his daughter Tiffany’s wedding — hosted at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday — former President Donald Trump spent the weekend still fixated on the midterms, despite a potential campaign announcement coming this Tuesday.

On his social media platform Truth Social, Trump spent the holiday weekend shifting blame for Republicans’ lackluster results onto Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for not spending more on his favored candidates, touting his own “endorsement record,” and baselessly railing against “RIGGED ELECTIONS” in places like Nevada and Arizona.

“He [McConnell] blew the Midterms, and everyone despises him and his otherwise lovely wife, Coco Chow!” Trump wrote, referring to McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao, who was Trump’s own Labor Secretary and born in Taiwan.

Conservative critics shot back that Trump spent little of his own super PAC money in races, while also taking a large chunk of joint fundraising appeals for candidates.

While Trump spent the weekend crying fraud in various elections, many of the candidates who backed his 2020 election fraud claims have conceded after losing in the midterms, including Tudor Dixon in Michigan, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, and even Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, who participated in the January 6th rally. Senate candidate Adam Laxalt, who aided Trump’s 2020 efforts to overturn the election in Nevada, prepared supporters for a defeat (his race was called by networks on Saturday) by warning his “victory window” had narrowed.

Trump still spent time prepping for his big Tuesday announcement. He’s invited members of Congress to attend his event — which coincides with House leadership elections –— according to Punchbowl News founder Jake Sherman.

— Shelby Talcott


One Good Text With... U.S. Representative-Elect Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez


WHAT THE LEFT ISN’T READING: A sheriff in northern California’s Tehama County suspended patrol services during the daytime because of staff shortages.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: An influx of flu patients has forced hospitals in southern California to resort to using overflow tents to house patients.

— with our partners at Ground News

Staff Picks
  • Democrats’ surprising midterm success was buoyed by independent voters, smart strategic spending decisions, disciplined messaging, and, most of all, the impact of the Dobbs decision, Democratic strategist David Shor tells New York Magazine.
  • But Democrats still face significant challenges in attracting Hispanic and working class voters, Ruy Teixeira writes in his Substack newsletter, The Liberal Patriot. Teixera says data from the AP-NORC VoteCast survey “cast doubt on the idea that Democrats’ problems with these groups have been solved — or even substantially mitigated.”
  • Staffers for the House Jan. 6 Committee have been told that the panel’s final report will focus primarily on former president Trump and much less on failures by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in the lead-up to the attack, NBC News reports.

Join me in Washington DC or online Nov. 18 for our third event on the future of news.

Semafor Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith will be speaking with the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, author of “Confidence Man,” the definitive new portrait of former President Trump. I will be chatting with former presidential spokesfolk Symone Sanders, Jason Miller, Joe Lockhart and Anthony Scaramucci as well as Senator Amy Klobuchar. Semafor Executive Editor Gina Chua will be sitting down with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

RSVP here to join us virtually — or to join us in person for the event and the happy hour that follows.

— Steve Clemons

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— Steve Clemons

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