Donald Trump says he didn’t know that Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, brought a guest who was a well-known antisemite and white nationalist to dinner last week. But it’s also been days and he’s yet to denounce him. The Semafor team has a roundup of views on the ongoing story, which many key Republicans have yet to weigh in on.
PLUS: Special Counsel Jack Smith, tasked with overseeing any potential Trump wrongdoing with classified documents, is under attack from Trump and others, who are targeting his wife’s politics. Morgan Chalfant has the report. And we have One Good Text with global affairs expert Matthew Kroenig on China’s surprising COVID protests.
☞ White House: Biden will sign a presidential memorandum today ordering the government to step up its response to sexual violence in areas of conflict like Ukraine. The White House is timing the action with the UK’s international ministerial conference on conflict-related sexual violence.
☞ Chuck Schumer: The Senate is back in session and Schumer is intently focused on getting legislation codifying same-sex marriage rights across the finish line. The Senate holds a cloture vote tonight and is on track to pass the bill this week.
☞ Mitch McConnell: The Senate Republican leader and his caucus are key to unlocking a deal to fund the government before the end of the year. As negotiations continue, McConnell faces a decision on the omnibus package, which the White House has asked include $38 billion in additional emergency funding for Ukraine.
☞ Nancy Pelosi: The Speaker’s preparing for a bustling final stretch before she gives up the gavel. To start, the House will consider two criminal justice reform bills this week.
☞ Kevin McCarthy: The Republican leader faces questions about the direction of his party this week after Donald Trump’s dinner with rapper Kanye West and racist Nick Fuentes.
House and Senate Democrats are each considering rules changes ahead of the new Congress. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to weigh several changes within their caucus, the most interesting of which is a proposal from Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill. that would institute six-year term limits on Democratic committee chairs. It’s a longstanding divide between the two parties: Republicans rotate chairs, Democrats prioritize seniority. On the Senate side, staff are circulating a series of proposals from members for consideration. One, submitted by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. would count several leadership positions as “Class A” committee slots, which would require members to give up slots on other powerful committees without a waiver. If passed, it would impact members like Sen. Dick Durbin, who’s both the Majority Whip and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The cacophony of Republican criticism following Trump’s dinner with white supremacist Nick Fuentes hasn’t included some notable voices within the GOP, Bloomberg reports. Among those who remain quiet on the controversy are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, McConnell, and McCarthy.
Rare protests in China over the government’s stringent COVID-19 restrictions spread out across the country. Some demonstrators have even called for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step aside, according to the New York Times.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a pair of cases that could make it more difficult for federal prosecutors to bring public corruption charges, including an appeal from a former aide to ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joseph Percoco, who was charged in 2016 with taking bribes and ultimately convicted.
Punchbowl News: Democrats are talking about potentially passing another one-week stopgap funding bill to keep the government open through Dec. 23 as they work to reach an agreement on a bigger funding measure.
Playbook: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is sending a letter to Capitol Hill asking that lawmakers pass a bill funding the government for a full year that reads in part: “We can’t outcompete China with our hands tied behind our back three, four, five or six months of every fiscal year.”
The Early 202: Republicans like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. gained tens of thousands of Twitter followers after Elon Musk’s takeover, while Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. have lost them.
The fallout from Trump’s disastrous Mar-a-Lago dinner
Days after hosting Kanye West, the disgraced rapper, and Nick Fuentes, the notorious antisemite and racist, Trump has yet to denounce either. With the House and Senate returning this week and many Americans just tuning into the news after the holidays, the story may only be beginning. Here are four angles our reporters are watching.
Is the GOP ready for Trump in post-January 6th mode?
Trump has had run-ins with the racist far right before, but he’s been much more reliant on the fringe since 2020 to promote his election lies. That’s brought a host of extremists into his orbit, which had been easier for Republicans to ignore when he was off Twitter and generating fewer headlines. It will be harder with him running again.
Trump, who has become an advocate for imprisoned January 6th participants, brought a relative of a Nazi fetishist who dressed up as Hitler onstage at a rally to speak on their behalf. That person received a 4-year sentence weeks later for their role in the Capitol attack. QAnon fanatics and related conspiracy theorists, kept just barely at arm’s length when Trump was president, are now all over his own social media posts.
“Ever since the election in 2020, I think [Trump] has descended deeper into the heart of darkness,” Marc Short, former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said on CNN.
It’s telling that Trump himself raised concerns that West — in the middle of an antisemitic meltdown — would split the MAGA vote by running for president in 2024. When West ran in 2020, Republican operatives were eager to get him on the ballot. What changed?
Does Kanye-gate spill into Congress?
Few lawmakers were eager to weigh in over a long holiday weekend that made it easy to hide out, with some exceptions.
“The Mar-a-Lago dinner was appalling,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. told Semafor.
But Trump’s antisemite dinner party couldn’t have come at a worse time for Kevin McCarthy, who has been quiet on the matter. McCarthy needs support from the conservative House Freedom Caucus to become Speaker. Unfortunately for him, two of the most prominent members, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. participated in a white nationalist conference with Fuentes last year. They later pleaded ignorance. Democrats and some Republicans voted to strip them of their committee assignments over separate violent social media posts, a decision McCarthy is set to reverse.
Especially after a weak midterms for MAGA candidates, the prospect of two years of Trump-laced outrages might give moderates more motive to try to seize control of the caucus.
Do Jewish Republicans break with Trump?
Trump has enjoyed strong support from prominent Jewish conservatives who were especially grateful for his approach to Israel as president. But allies who helped him bat away accusations of antisemitism in the past aren’t defending his repeated failure to condemn and disavow West and Fuentes. Even his own former ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and the reliably partisan Republican Jewish Coalition have voiced criticism.
Longtime Trump fan Mort Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, called on him to “publicly condemn Kanye West and Nick Fuentes’s despicable Jew hatred, and publicly state that he regrets having dined with them.”
“This does not in any way detract from [Trump’s] extraordinary accomplishments in helping Israel,” Klein told Semafor. “But this does sully his general pro-Israel record.”
Does this push some Republicans towards Trump’s primary opponents?
Republicans upset with then-President Trump had to weigh whether to undermine their own party’s leader. Now they can simply support someone else for the job. “People are tired of having to defend this shit,” one Republican Jewish Coalition conference attendee told Semafor. “Nobody thinks he’s an antisemite, but they’re just tired of the drama.” Ultimately voters decide the nominee, but Trump’s campaign has garnered few prominent endorsements — he needs Republicans to actively support him, not just hold their tongue when he’s in trouble.
— David Weigel, Kadia Goba, Shelby Talcott, and Benjy Sarlin
The conservative attacks on Jack Smith are just starting up
U.S. Justice Department
Jack Smith is already under attack from conservatives after being tapped to become the newest special counsel in charge of investigating Donald Trump. The former president alone has blasted out criticism of Smith on Truth Social 20 separate times, calling the longtime prosecutor a “highly partisan Trump hater.”
Trump’s conservative media allies have also suggested Smith may be politically biased based on his wife’s history of donating to Democrats, as well as her work producing a documentary about Michelle Obama.
There are no records of Smith, who until recently was a war crimes prosecutor at the Hague, making political contributions himself. Former colleagues described him to Semafor as apolitical. “It’s his wife. It’s not him,” Alan Vinegrad, who worked with Smith at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, said. “To automatically attribute one to the other doesn’t seem appropriate.”
Kelly Currie, an attorney who also worked with Smith in the Eastern District of New York, said he wasn’t politically motivated “at all.” He added that Smith is particularly prepared for the role of special counsel thanks to his experience leading the DOJ’s Public Integrity section, where he oversaw cases involving high-profile politicians from both parties, including Bob McDonnell, the Republican former governor of Virginia, and John Edwards, the former Democratic vice presidential hopeful.
Smith’s non-partisan professional reputation could help tamp down some criticism of him from the right. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, a Fox News regular who famously called Trump’s second impeachment “unconstitutional,” recently described Smith as a “solid appointment.” Speaking to CNN, a Republican source also complimented Smith’s 2010 decision not to bring charges against former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay related to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Still, Trump’s attacks on Smith are likely to grow louder, and a Republican-controlled Congress could also try to disrupt his work. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is expected to lead the powerful House Judiciary Committee, was quick to point out that Smith was interviewed by Republicans as part of the investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative groups, claiming that his involvement with that controversy showed he may have a political bias.
Smith, who headed the public integrity section at the time, testified that his office discussed opening investigations into politically active nonprofits after a meeting with then-IRS chief Lois Lerner but didn’t do so, according to CNN.
Jordan suggested on Fox Business earlier this month that Smith’s inquiries could be an avenue of investigation: “We’re going to look into this issue, and we’re going to get to the bottom of everything they’ve been doing at the politicized DOJ.”
Joe Manchin’s push to pass a permitting reform bill during this year’s lame duck session is looking wobbly. The senator needs GOP support for legislation that would speed the approval of new energy projects and finally authorize a major natural gas pipeline in West Virginia that’s been tied up in legislation. But The Hill reports that Republicans are wary of handing him any major policy victories he can take home before running for re-election in 2024.
Republicans won big in New York City’s suburbs during the midterms by hammering the state’s Democrats over rising crime. The New York Times talked with voters to find out why the messaging resonated in so many relatively safe, well-off communities. One theory? A lot of Long Islanders have stopped regularly commuting to Manhattan since COVID, and their perceptions of the city are now shaped by the conservative New York Post.
In the wake of their disappointing midterms, state-level Republican parties in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire are debating their allegiances to Donald Trump, Politico reports. But the “great reckoning” isn’t happening everywhere; despite losses in three major statewide races, Arizona’s GOP shows no sign of a pivot.
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