Zelenskyy helps Biden lay down markers for Ukraine support: The Note
Wednesday may be the most audacious challenge to the incoming GOP majority.
The TAKE with Rick Klein
The flurry of action by Democrats in the waning days of their united control of Washington could go down as a series of challenges to Republicans -- precedent-busting referrals and revelations that practically dare the GOP to take similar steps when they run the House.
The scene Wednesday at the White House and the Capitol -- capping a surprise and dramatic trip by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy -- might amount to the most audacious and highest-stakes challenge yet to the incoming majority.
With Zelenskyy by his side, President Joe Biden guaranteed the Ukrainian people directly: "You will never stand alone."
Zelenskyy himself referred to the shifting political climate in Washington to offer his own assurance: "Regardless of changes in the Congress, I believe that there will be bipartisan and bicameral support."
Beyond the triumphant and bipartisan welcome Zelenskyy received on Capitol Hill Wednesday night are raw Republican dynamics surrounding support for Ukraine. A scattered but growing group of Republicans object to continued financial help against Russia on either policy or fiscal grounds.
Shortly before the midterm election, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy drew swift condemnation -- and offered some swift clarification -- when he said a GOP majority wouldn't provide a "blank check" to Ukraine. In his bid to secure the speakership, McCarthy needs the support of House members who agree with his original notion more than any clarification.
"No more blank checks to Ukraine," Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. -- the main alternative to McCarthy putting himself forward for the speaker's job -- tweeted in advance of Zelenskyy's arrival.
Questions of support for Ukraine are caught up in MAGA dynamics -- and the mere mention of "Ukraine" or "Russia" draws strong reactions from some based on the impeachment battle that preceded the current war. Among those criticizing Zelenskyy around his visit were Donald Trump Jr. and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who likened foreign aid to the American people being "raped every day."
Support for Ukraine is stronger among Senate GOP leaders and key incoming House chairmen. Still, even the nearly $45 billion in additional Ukraine funding Biden touted on Wednesday is part of a year-end spending bill that McCarthy and House Republican leaders are rallying their side to oppose -- offering a hint of the new reality both Biden and Zelenskyy know is coming.
The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper
New York congressman-elect George Santos has remained silent as questions continue to swirl about the validity of his life story. Now House Democrats say they will "target" that seat next cycle as they aim to win back the majority in 2024.
Incoming Democratic House leadership slammed Santos during a press conference on Wednesday.
"Right now, George Santos appears to be in the witness protection program. No one can find him," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. "He's hiding from legitimate questions that his constituents are asking."
Santos, a Republican, was elected in November to represent New York's 3rd Congressional District. He claimed to have been employed by Citigroup and Goldman Sachs and to have attended Baruch College and New York University. But those institutions told ABC News they couldn't confirm Santos' employment or attendance. The discrepancies were first reported by The New York Times as Santos' attorney accused the paper of a "smear" campaign.
Jeffries on Wednesday suggested that Santos might not be seated while acknowledging that any such effort would need the buy-in of Republicans, namely Rep. McCarthy who is likely to lead the GOP's new majority.
"It's an open question to me as to whether this is the type of individual that the incoming majority should welcome to Congress. That's a question from Kevin McCarthy at this point in time," Jeffries said.
House Republican leadership has, so far, remained silent on the issue. Santos' win, which flipped a seat red, helped the GOP clinch their narrow control of the House.
The TIP with Alisa Wiersema
After a short respite over the holidays, 2023 will usher in a new -- albeit smaller -- wave of campaigns that include three gubernatorial races across Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Kentucky and Mississippi will see more imminent political action as candidate filing deadlines fall on Jan. 6 and Feb. 1, respectively. Louisiana's deadline comes later in the year, on Aug. 10.
Incumbent Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear already filed to run for reelection in what could be a challenging statewide environment for a red state Democrat. Beshear's 2019 victory over Republican Matt Bevin came down to less than half a percentage point while other Kentucky Democrats have floundered in subsequent elections.
In 2020, Trump won Kentucky with 62% of the vote, then in November Sen. Rand Paul won reelection by a nearly identical margin. Ahead of the May 16 gubernatorial primary, a crowded Republican field is shaping up with at least six contenders joining the race hoping to face Beshear.
Louisiana's Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards overcame similar political hurdles in his 2019 victory but is term-limited in 2023, which leaves the door open for Republican candidates to capitalize on an environment that favors their party. Republican state Attorney General Jeff Landry has already entered the race, and more contenders are sure to follow.
Meanwhile in Mississippi, incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves -- who won his 2019 election by only about 5 points -- has yet to announce a reelection bid. The uncertainty among the GOP there could offer Democrats the opportunity to consider trying to contest the race.
ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. "Start Here" begins Thursday morning with a look at Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to Capitol Hill. ABC's Terry Moran leads us off. Then ABC's Rick Klein breaks down allegations of a made-up biography against an incoming Republican congressman. And, ABC's Jordana Miller reports from Jerusalem on Israel's Law of Return and why a far-right coalition is trying to make changes to restrict Jewish immigration. http://apple.co/2HPocUL
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY
- Congress continues to consider a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government through most of next year. The legislation must pass by the end of this week, or lawmakers will have to agree on a stop-gap measure to avoid a shutdown.
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