The Senate’s stalled negotiations over border policy jolted back to life Thursday afternoon, giving new hope for a deal that could unlock new aid for Ukraine. Two people familiar with the talks told Semafor that Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., was reviewing a new proposal from Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., but there were still significant differences for them to resolve. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., is also involved in the talks. One of the people said the trio met at her Capitol hideaway for a little over an hour on Thursday, and the senators and their staffs intend to be in frequent contact heading into the weekend. The revival of the talks, which frustrated Democrats walked out of late last week, comes a day after President Biden signaled a fresh willingness to support stiffer border restrictions that Republicans have demanded as the price for more aid to Kyiv. The president is also facing pressure from some Democrats to take action on the migrant crisis. Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., told Semafor that he called White House officials on Thursday morning to warn the situation at the border was “untenable.” The talks, he added, “need to go somewhere.”
A grand jury in California handed down a nine-count, 56-page federal indictment against Hunter Biden on Thursday accusing him of dodging $1.4 million in taxes between 2016 and 2019. The early reviews? It looks daunting. Los Angeles Times legal affairs writer Harry Litman called the indictment “very tough, very aggressive,” while Anthony Coley, the former head of public affairs for the Justice Department, suggested his lawyers made a “colossal mistake” by not reaching a settlement this summer when a plea deal collapsed. The charges cover a period where Biden, who has since paid his back taxes and fines, was struggling with addiction. But prosecutors argue that he had ample funds to cover his tax debt, and instead chose to spend it funding an “extravagant lifestyle,” which included hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on “adult entertainment” and payments to “various women.” It’s the second set of charges special counsel David Weiss has brought against Biden, following a federal gun case in September. Still, Republicans suggested they weren’t satisfied. “Unless US Attorney Weiss investigates everyone involved in the Bidens’ fraud schemes and influence peddling, it will be clear President Biden’s DOJ is protecting Hunter Biden and the big guy,” said Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky.
House panel to investigate elite colleges over antisemitism
REUTERS / Ken Cedeno
There appears to be one thing that (almost) everyone in Washington can agree on this week: The presidents of Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, and M.I.T. absolutely blew it during their congressional testimony on campus antisemitism. And on Thursday, the fallout from their performances continued to spread. Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce announced they would launch a formal investigation into the three schools, after the their leaders offered waffling, bizarrely legalistic answers about whether calling for the genocide of Jews would count as harassment at their institutions (they later issued cleanup statements that failed to quell the blowback). In a press release, committee Chair Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. warned that “the disgusting targeting and harassment of Jewish students is not limited to these institutions, and other universities should expect investigations as well.” Democrats lobbed condemnations as well, including second gentleman Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish. “Seeing the presidents of some of our most elite universities literally unable to denounce calling for the genocide of Jews as antisemitic — that lack of moral clarity is simply unacceptable,” he said while appearing at the National Menorah Lighting in Washington. The PR disaster is quickly becoming a financial one, as well: A wealthy donor asked Penn to return his $100 million dollar gift over the testimony. The winner in all this? That would probably be Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., whose cross-examination of the three university heads led to the viral moment, which even she didn’t expect. “I was so stunned,” she told the New York Times.
Lawmakers talk AI warfighting and regulation at Semafor summit
The Pentagon is not moving fast enough “by orders of magnitude” to take advantage of artificial intelligence in its warfighting capabilities, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told Semafor’s Morgan Chalfant. “We don’t need to be perfect, we just need to be considerably better than our adversaries,” Himes said at Semafor’s Finding Common Ground on AI event on Thursday afternoon. Himes also disagreed with proposals to restrict U.S. capital flowing into Chinese companies working on AI, saying “we want as much visibility as possible into cutting-edge Chinese research.” In a rare bipartisan discussion moderated by Semafor’s Louise Matsakis, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. discussed his proposed “blue-ribbon” commission on regulating AI, while Rep. Jay Obernolte, R-Calif. called for a comprehensive data privacy law this Congress and expressed concerns about the way AI could be used to spread misinformation and disinformation. “AI is a tool for empowering human endeavors; it empowers the good and the bad,” Obernolte said. “Bad people are going to bad, and they’re going to bad better with AI.”
Defense policy bill OKs AUKUS sub transfers, drops drag show ban
REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / File Photo
Washington has finally digested the final $900 billion defense policy bill negotiated by the House and Senate. What’s in: A 5.2% troop pay raise; military training for Taiwan; a requirement that more weapons components be made in the U.S.; and a greenlight for the transfer of three Virginia-class submarines to Australia as part of the AUKUS pact. What’s out: House-passed amendments preventing the Pentagon from allowing drag shows or funding gender-affirming healthcare for service members; and an amendment blocking the Pentagon’s abortion travel and leave policy. The compromise version has some conservatives angry. “The watered-down #NDAA should NOT be passed by the @HouseGOP,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, wrote on X. “‘Negotiated’ Defense Bill Lets Leftists Keep Using The Military To Push Abortion, DEI, And Trans Agendas,” read a headline from the conservative magazine the Federalist. The bill does include a cap on salaries for civilian diversity, equity, and inclusion jobs, in addition to other measures targeting DEI programs. The surveillance program known as Section 702 will get extended until April, another detail that bothered some on the right. Two competing bills to reform the program will get a vote on the House floor next week, Speaker Mike Johnson wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter.
Jamaal Bowman completes a censure hat trick for the 118th Congress
REUTERS / Eduardo Munoz
The House censured Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y. on Thursday for pulling a file alarm during a critical funding vote in September. Three swing seat Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the measure: Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., Chris Pappas, D-N.H. and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Wash. Bowman, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor over the incident and faces a fresh primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer, called the vote “unserious and unproductive.” Censures used to be extremely rare, but Bowman became the third Democrat to face a successful resolution just this year, joining Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. Prior to this Congress, Rep. Paul Gosar’s, R-Ariz. censure in 2021 for posting violent content about members was the first since then-Rep. Charlie Rangel’s, D-N.Y. in 2010 for tax violations, which was the first since 1983, when a Republican and Democrat were each censured for sexual misconduct with House pages. As the taboo on once-historic censure, expulsion, and impeachment resolutions fades away, individual members are increasingly using them to force floor votes with or without leadership’s support.
Tucker Carlson joked about speculation that he could be Donald Trump’s vice presidential nominee on Thursday night. But he didn’t rule it out completely. “God would have to yell at me very loud,” Carlson said at the American Principles Project Foundation’s annual Christmas gala, where he delivered a keynote speech about his Christian faith, cheerfulness, and a country where “everything’s falling apart.” One audience member in the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City ballroom asked about an Axios item claiming that former first lady Melania Trump was an “advocate” for Carlson on the ticket. “I don’t know her, really,” said the former Fox News host, who has raised millions of dollars to launch a new media company. “To go from being, like, a well-paid street corner schizophrenic to, like, a politician — it’s just kind of hard to envision.” But there were cheers when Carlson didn’t fully rule it out.
Punchbowl News: Over a dozen Senate Democrats want to condition U.S. military assistance to Israel on the country delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza and adhering to laws of armed conflict.
Playbook: Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. predicted an eventual border agreement will get support from 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats. “I think it’s going to be equally divided. I really do. We’re going to have folks on my side that are going to say, ‘Not enough. There are a few loopholes that are still left. This is not enough. We can’t do it.’ We’re going to have folks on the other side that are gonna say, ‘Draconian, non-compassionate,’” he said.
The Early 202: “A smaller share of Americans than at any point in the modern era” will be targeted by candidates in the 2024 presidential campaign despite a huge increase in the amount of campaign money: Just 27% of Americans live in key states.
Axios: Spending on political ads is growing. Next year, the market for them in the U.S. “could be bigger than the entire Australian advertising market combined.”
President Biden is heading out west again, traveling to Las Vegas and Los Angeles where he’ll highlight $8 billion in funding for passenger rail projects including a major high-speed rail line between the two cities.
Sen. Kevin Cramer’s, R-N.D. son faces manslaughter charges in the death of a North Dakota sheriff’s deputy. The senator said the 42-year-old “suffers from serious mental disorders which manifest in severe paranoia and hallucinations.”
House Republicans released text of a resolution that would formalize their impeachment inquiry into President Biden, which is expected to get a vote next week. White House spokesman Ian Sams accused Republicans of a “baseless stunt.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas released a report on his review of the Commerce Department agency handling export controls, accusing it of too often approving technology exports to China. “The Biden Administration has been thoughtful and vigorous in its expansion and application of controls on key enabling technologies,” a department spokesperson said.
U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron, formerly prime minister, warned U.S. senators this week about the political pitfalls of immigration in a meeting in Washington earlier this week. “He said he lost on Brexit because of immigration. He said, ‘If you don’t fix immigration, immigration will fix you,’” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah told Politico.
Puppies! Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Va. with black labrador retrievers in training to hunt explosives and contraband as part of the American K-9 Interdiction program.
Rep. Jen Kiggans / X
Outside the Beltway
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is threatening felony charges against doctors if they perform an abortion allowed by a district court. The judge in the case ruled that a woman who is 20 weeks pregnant, and whose fetus has been diagnosed with a fatal condition, qualified for an abortion under the state ban’s exceptions.
A woman was arrested and charged with attempting to burn downMartin Luther King Jr.’s birth home in Atlanta.
In the latest sign of daylight between the Biden administration and the Israeli government, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged at a news conference that there is a “gap” between Israel’s intent to protect civilians in Gaza and the reality on the ground. Israeli forces surrounded Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city, and launched attacks into the city center.
The liberal Jewish advocacy organization J Street threatened to withdraw support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza unless Israel changes the way it is conducting the war.
Emirati AI company G42 plans to cut ties with Chinese hardware companies in order to preserve access to U.S. semiconductors. — FT
A Reuters investigation determined that fire from an Israeli tank killed a Reuters journalist in southern Lebanon near the border with Israel in mid-October.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink accused Republican presidential candidates of spreading lies about the company at this week’s debate.
A record 11.79 million college students are about to graduate in China next year, which is expected to put additional strain on the country’s already stretched job market and high youth unemployment, which hit a record 21.3% for 16-24 year-olds in June before Beijing stopped releasing numbers.
Despite the weight of international sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine, record percentages of Russians believe their local economy (56%) and their living standards (46%) are getting better, according to new figures from Gallup. (Only 23% of Americans think economic conditions in the U.S. are getting better.)
Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley got the highest marks for their debate performances Wednesday among Republican primary voters who watched, according to a FiveThirtyEight poll, while Vivek Ramaswamy fared the worst. But it probably doesn’t matter much: 72% of likely GOP primary voters in the survey didn’t even watch the debate.
The most memorable debate moment might have been when Haley said a study found that “for every 30 minutes that someone watches TikTok every day they become 17% more antisemitic, more pro-Hamas.” But a researcher behind the data told Semafor’s J.D. Capelouto that it’s been widely misinterpreted.
CNN plans to host two debates for Republican presidential candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire next month that are not sanctioned by the RNC.
Businessman Eric Hovde will challenge Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. for her seat and the NRSC plans to back him. — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Dean Phillips is fighting to get on the primary ballot against Biden in Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee after being initially left off.
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: Charlamagne Tha God said President Bidenshouldn’t run for reelection.
What the Right isn’t reading: Philip Grillo, who filed to run for Rep. George Santos’ seat earlier this year, was convicted for charges over his involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.