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In today’s edition: Senate negotiators prep for a weekend full of border talks, U.S. crude oil produ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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December 15, 2023


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Today in D.C.
  1. Crunch time for border deal
  2. US oil hits new high
  3. Biden wants ‘targeted’ Hamas war
  4. Qatar in hostage efforts
  5. Biden’s Cornel West problem
  6. GOP’s George Santos successor

PDB: McCarthy lets loose in final press gaggle

Sullivan travels to the West Bank … EU agrees to start Ukraine membership talks … WSJ: The Trump allies shaping his second-term agenda

— edited by Benjy Sarlin, Jordan Weissmann and Morgan Chalfant


A new danger in border talks? Misplaced commas.

REUTERS/Go Nakamura

Senate negotiators say they’re planning to work through the weekend in order to lock down a deal on the border and Ukraine aid, after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer put the chamber’s holiday break on hold to make more time for bargaining. “Everybody’s still committed to getting it done,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. told reporters Thursday. One big hurdle remaining? Lankford said lawmakers hadn’t started drafting actual bill text yet, and another negotiator conceded that molding a deal into technical language would be particularly tough. “The drafting is sort of more fraught and more complicated than any other drafting,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. told reporters. Immigration advocates are already warning that time-pressed lawmakers are bound to make slip-ups that could trigger years of legal battles. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, noted the Supreme Court has heard three cases over the past five years about the placement of the letter “a” in one portion of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. “Rushed drafting on the most consequential changes to immigration law in nearly 30 years will inevitably produce a chaotic mess down the line,” he told Semafor. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., told Semafor it’s “always a concern” that mistakes could be embedded in immigration law for years to come. But he argued it was more critical to support Ukraine while it attempts to break a stalemate against Russia. “Nothing is more important than seizing the moment and getting Ukraine done while we can,” he said.

— Joseph Zeballos-Roig


The story behind Biden’s secret oil boom

Republicans are ignoring it. The White House isn’t bragging much about it, lest they upset climate activists. And yet: U.S. crude oil production has hit an all-time high in recent months, passing 13.2 million barrels per day, and helping to keep a lid on gas prices in the face of cutbacks by OPEC+. It’s a somewhat unexpected turn: Two years ago, conventional wisdom held that oil companies were unlikely to expand production much despite high prices, because they wanted to send their windfall profits back to investors. But that’s not how things worked out, as Reed Olmstead, executive director of upstream research at S&P Global Commodity Insights, explained to Semafor. Public companies did pay out big dividends and pay down debt, but privately owned operators decided to invest in more drilling. “They were still in this growth mindset,” he said. “They were in the grow it and flip it mentality. So they continued to drive production growth into this year.” Even with rig counts falling recently, Olmstead said his team expects growth next year of up to a half-million barrels per day. He added that the increases so far have had little to do with the president’s policies aimed at stabilizing the oil market, such as purchases to refill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Still, the White House certainly hasn’t held back the boom.

Jordan Weissmann


U.S., Israel talk new phase of war

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Biden administration wants to see Israel shift away from large-scale bombing to more “targeted” operations in the Gaza war. “I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives,” President Biden told reporters Thursday. “Not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful.” The topic was a central focus of White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials. Sullivan said he had “constructive” talks with Israeli officials about when to shift to a “different phase of this conflict, one that’s more precise, more targeted, more driven towards things like those high-value individuals.” Nearly half of the air-to-ground munitions Israel has used in Gaza have been unguided “dumb bombs,” according to an assessment by U.S. intelligence. At the same time, the Biden administration is trying to avoid the appearance of giving ultimatums or demanding specific timelines of Israel, The Wall Street Journal writes. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Sullivan the war would require “more than several months.” The administration still isn’t pushing for a ceasefire, despite pressure from the left and even some staffers, and Congress still largely agrees. “I personally believe a ceasefire would be wrong,” Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin, D-Md. told reporters Thursday.

Morgan Chalfant


Qatar is key in fight for release of American Ryan Corbett


Qatar is quietly emerging as a key intermediary in the case of Ryan Corbett, an American detained by the Taliban whose case has attracted growing attention in Washington, Semafor’s Morgan Chalfant reports. Corbett was arrested by the Taliban in August 2022 and classified by the State Department as wrongfully detained this past September. His family has little information beyond secondhand accounts about his well being, and the only outside visit he has received was from a Qatari official last January — almost a year ago. The Qataris “have expressed an interest in visiting him and there’s been a lot of communication with them,” Anna Corbett, Ryan’s wife, told Semafor in an interview earlier this month. She said she hoped Qatar would arrange a second visit to her husband again “as soon as possible.” The U.S. government has also been slowly stepping up its own engagement with the Taliban, despite not recognizing them as the government of Afghanistan. At a recent meeting in Doha, “American detainee releases were central to the discussion,” a State Department spokesperson said.


Can Cornel West win young progressive votes over Gaza?

Troy Sambajon/Christian Science Monitor

Cornel West made the case for his left-wing independent bid in Washington Thursday just as Biden’s polling with his own base hit new lows. At a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, West described Donald Trump as “a bona fide gangster and a neo-fascist” and Biden as an agent of “military adventurism,” while dismissing concerns he’d play spoiler on Trump’s behalf. Rather, West argued, he’s simply “trying to give voice to some of the most crucial anti-fascist voices, figures, [and] movements.” Biden is currently struggling with young voters as the Israel-Gaza war rages, but the highest-polling third-party candidate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is a relative hawk on the topic. That makes West, who called Israel’s military campaign “genocidal” on Thursday, perhaps the biggest threat to win crossover votes from progressives upset with Biden. “I think the two-state solution is now far gone,” West said, instead suggesting he favors a secular binational country, an idea that’s popular with many U.S. leftists but has little traction in the region. He conceded it was difficult to imagine a joint Israeli-Palestinian state, however, since it would require a “fundamental transformation” from groups like Hamas away from violence in addition to a shift in Israeli politics.

Shelby Talcott


GOP picks local lawmaker Mazi Melesa Pilip in NY–3 special election

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo

The Nassau County GOP is expected to officially announce Mazi Melesa Pilip as their nominee to fill the seat vacated by George Santos, the New York Times first reported. Pilip, a Jewish Nassau County lawmaker who was born in Ethiopia and served in the Israeli Defense Forces, will face Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who previously held the seat and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2021, in a Feb. 13 special election. “Pilip is an effective tax fighter who will prioritize public safety, economic recovery, border security and tax relief in Congress,” the Nassau County GOP said in a statement announcing her candidacy. Democrats indicated they’d tie Pilip to Santos. Suozzi is a far more established politician and starts as the favorite, but Democrats have struggled with Long Island voters in recent elections as the ongoing influx of migrants adds another layer of tension. The choice of Pilip, who is still technically registered as a Democrat, was a minor surprise — early indicators suggested the party was considering Mike Sapraicone, a New York City detective. His baggage may have been a factor: Sapraicone had been sued for his handling of a murder case that wrongly sent a man to jail, Politico reported. An X account with the handle @MaziPilip was deleted Thursday after only a few days.

— Kadia Goba


Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: There’s not a ton of optimism that Senate negotiators will reach a border security deal by next week. “When the administration and the Democrats come to a place where we get the policy right, we’ll be ready to vote,” Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said. “But I don’t, honestly, realistically, see how that happens [next week].”

Playbook: Some Republicans think it’s an asset for Mazi Melesa Pilip to be registered as a Democrat. “The fact that she’s a Democrat, that actually could be a plus because that is more of a Democratic district,” said former Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y.

The Early 202: Evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats worries that a second Trump administration will find it hard to fill its ranks. “I’m very concerned about that. A lot of his team members have been under litigation, and it’s been expensive for them,” he said. “It’s awfully hard now to recruit people to come in.”

White House

  • President Biden and Vice President Harris are having lunch today.
  • Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed Sweden’s bid to join NATO, which Ankara continues to delay.


  • The Senate passed a bill by unanimous consent that would give back pay to senior military officers caught up in Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s, R-Ala. hold on nominations.
  • The Senate will vote on Martin O’Malley’s nomination to lead the Social Security Administration next week.
  • The House passed the NDAA in a 310-118 vote. Seventy-three Republicans opposed the bill, as did 45 Democrats. It includes an extension of the Section 702 surveillance program, a 5.2% pay raise for troops, and a provision creating a new archive for government information on unidentified anomalous phenomena (a.k.a. the aliens.)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. boasted that the new NDAA contains language barring a hypothetical future president (he didn’t name names) from leaving NATO without the Senate’s approval. The provision was sponsored by Rubio and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
  • JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon visited his “friend” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. wrote a letter to Meta demanding information on its content moderation policies leading to “reported suppression, filtering, and mistranslation of Palestine-related content” on Instagram. — The Intercept
  • Retiring former Speaker Kevin McCarthy once again let loose in his final press gaggle Thursday. Among the choice bits: He said he’d be open to a job in a potential Trump administration; criticized his successor Mike Johnson’s decision to attach IRS cuts to an Israel aid bill; and threw a final elbow at his “psychotic” archnemesis Matt Gaetz: “People study that type of crazy mind, right? Mainly the FBI,” he said.

Outside the Bullway

A bull was on the loose at Newark-Penn Station Thursday, which — shockingly — was not a stunt to celebrate the Dow cracking 37,000.

NJ Transit (@NJTRANSIT) / X


Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she would make a second trip to China in her role next year “where a significant portion of the agenda will focus on discussing difficult areas of concern with my counterpart.”


Michigan Republicans gave testimony on Thursday that directly linked Donald Trump’s campaign to the 2020 fake electors plot in the state. — The Detroit News

Foreign Policy

  • European Union leaders agreed to begin talks with Ukraine about joining the bloc, overcoming opposition from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. However, they were not able to agree on a new aid package for Kyiv.
  • With new U.S. aid to Kyiv in doubt, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tries to dispel the “dangerous” pessimism about his country’s path forward against Russia in a piece for Foreign Affairs. “Policymakers in Washington and other capitals should keep the big picture in mind and stay on track,” he writes. “A Ukrainian victory will require strategic endurance and vision — as with our recent counteroffensive, the liberation of every square mile of territory requires enormous sacrifice by our soldiers — but there is no question that victory is attainable.”


President Biden is at 33% approval in the latest Pew Research poll, including just 61% approval among Democrats and Democratic leaners. (He performs worst among 18-to-29 year olds.)

Big Read

The National Archives may have been fighting with Donald Trump for the better part of two years, but it’s not had the same hostile relationship with his wife, Melania Trump. Politico reports that the former first lady will be today’s guest speaker at a naturalization ceremony for new citizens hosted at the Archives in Washington. The Archives said Melania Trump was invited by Colleen Shogan, the Biden-appointed Archivist of the United States, and is appearing in her personal, not political, capacity. Regardless, Politico argues that the event could be used by the Trump campaign to “soften his image with voters who might see bigotry in his rhetoric about Mexican rapists, or even his more prosaic calls for reducing legal immigration.”


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: Elon Musk’s mother is angry after the Federal Communications Commission denied a bid by Starlink for $900 million in subsidies.

What the Right isn’t reading: A group of teachers in Florida sued over a new law that bars teachers from using a student’s pronouns in school that are inconsistent with the person’s sex at birth.

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

Marc Molinaro is a Republican congressman from New York.

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