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When rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Axios congressional reporter Alayna Treene was in the heart of it. Today, she reflects back.

  • Plus, why the era of easy money is probably over.
  • And, Tesla opens a showroom in a controversial region of China.
  • Guests: Axios' Alayna Treene, Neil Irwin and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Sabeena Singhani and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: why the era of easy money is probably over. Plus, Tesla opens a showroom in a controversial region of China.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: Axios’ Alayna Treene on the anniversary of the capitol insurrection.

NIALA: Exactly a year ago today when rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Axios Congressional reporter, Alayna Treene was in the heart of it in the Senate.

ALAYNA TREENE: At some point, someone shouted shots fired, move away from the doors and everyone screamed and moved toward the center of the room. No one knew what was going on.

NIALA: That was Alayna speaking to us last year, just hours after the insurrection. And today on the one-year anniversary, she's back to reflect on her experience. Hi Alayna, thanks for sharing with us today.

ALAYNA: Yes, of course. Hi Niala.

NIALA: So you were in the heart of it. You were in the Senate chamber. Did you realize what was happening as it was happening?

ALAYNA: I didn't. This is something I've reflected on a lot in the past year is. I actually think the people who were watching it on TV, watching it from the outside, had a lot more visibility into what was happening than those of us who were in the room that day. It wasn't until I had gone to what we were, we still call the undisclosed location on the Capitol complex with senators, that I was able to realize, you know, I was receiving calls from family hysterically crying, calls from people I hadn't even heard from in many years asking if I was okay and starting to watch on social media and network clips, that's when I really realized, oh, wow, this is a much bigger deal than I had previously thought.

NIALA: And then what was it like covering the impeachment and all of these other congressional investigations that have gone into detail of the day.

ALAYNA: That for me is when the reality of it really sunk in. I do remember I was back in the Senate chamber during Former President Trump's second impeachment. And that is when the house democrats played their video. It was a 13 minute compiled session of what unfolded on January six. And it was a very violent, stark, dark video showing the riots.

[crowd noises, screaming]

ALAYNA: Being in the same room and in the same balcony section that I was when the rioters had breached the capital, it really sunk in for me how bad it was, how violent it was. And that was a very emotional moment.

NIALA: Do you feel safe at the Capitol today? Going to work?

ALAYNA: I've always told myself, I've always told my family, my mother, you know, being in the Capitol, being next to these people was the safest place you could be. After what happened on January six I think that's now, I'm more so telling myself a lie. Maybe it is a place where you're actually more vulnerable by being in the heart of it.

NIALA: How do you feel the atmosphere is different today than a year ago? Is it?

ALAYNA: So I think, and I think maybe naively, myself and other reporters, other staffers thought that what happened was so bad, and so not a reflection of America and American democracy that politicians would get their act together. And that, that didn't happen. I think if anything looking back on it we're still saying the same vitriol, the same violent rhetoric, the same divisiveness that fed what had happened on January 6th.

And for me as a reporter, the level of toxicity it's been really hard to deal with. And I've spoken with a lot of people who work in politics directly, it's the same for them. It's a very toxic environment and it didn't end with January six, if anything, it's just continued to fester and I think we're going to see it be a very big part of elections to come as well.

NIALA: Alayna Trees is a congressional and white house reporter for Axios. Thanks for sharing with us, Alayna. I appreciate it. Stay safe today.

ALAYNA: Thank you Niala.

In 15 seconds, our new Chief Economic Correspondent joins us to explain the latest on inflation and interest rates.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. The Federal Reserve is opaque almost by design, but they do drop clues as to how they might steer the U.S. economy. Like in the minutes of their last policy meeting released yesterday. Which show interest rates could be rising sooner than we thought. Axios’ new chief economic correspondent, Neil Irwin, is here to explain. Hey Neil, welcome to Axios Today.

NEIL IRWIN: Hey, thanks for having me.

NIALA: So what's the big headline here about inflation and what we can expect this year? NEIL: Look, this inflation problem has persisted longer than a lot of economists were expecting, longer than The Federal Reserve thought would be the case. So they're doing what they can to try and slow that inflationary pressure in the economy. And what that means is getting rid of this era of ultra-easy money, trying to raise interest rates sooner than we may have thought just a couple of months ago.

NIALA: And so when do we think interest rates may go up?

NEIL: Well, The Fed is signaling there's a good chance that they're going to start raising the short-term interest rates that they control in March. And once they do that, that'll increase rates on, you know, home loans on, uh, car loans, things like that. But because markets are forward-looking, what we saw on Wednesday on Wall Street was the bond market adjusting in advance of those moves. So you're already going to be paying a little more to borrow money than you would have because The Fed is ready to really tighten the screws and take the easy money away.

NIALA: So is this a mind shift from, I think you said easy money…Do we have to start thinking about that differently?

NEIL: Well look, since the pandemic started, uh, almost two years ago, The Fed has said we're at zero interest rates. They've been pumping tens of billions of dollars into the financial system every month, through-through their quantitative easing policies. If those are over by, you know, a couple of months from now, that's a big change. And we don't know exactly how high they will raise rates, how quickly they will do it. But we do know that it's a different kind of world where there's going to be a higher hurdle rate, a higher threshold for-for borrowing money across the economy, whether that's businesses investing, consumers thinking about what to spend.

NIALA: Neil, given the fact that we have all of these supply chain problems that everyone is experiencing all the time. How much are these actions The Fed is going to take, how much can that really affect inflation and prices that people are paying?

NEIL: The truth is we don't know exactly how these rate increases are going to affect every industry and every sector of the economy. We do know the general direction and to the degree that what we have is a problem of too much money floating around and that's causing prices to rise, over time, rate increases should tamp down those pressures.

NIALA: Axios’ chief economic correspondent, Neil Irwin. Thanks, Niala.

NEIL: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: We've talked before about how U.S. companies are navigating doing business in China's Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government is carrying out genocide against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. The latest company is now Tesla.

The electric car business opened a showroom in the region, despite calls from human rights and advocacy groups to close it. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian covers China for Axios and is here to catch us up on the story.

Hey Bethany, especially with the Olympics approaching, we've talked a lot about companies like Airbnb and H&M and how they've been doing business in China. How is this different with Tesla?

BETHANY: So the difference here is that with H&M and you know, various clothing and shoe retailers, they have in their supply chains, inputs from Xinjiang, something made in a factory there. And that's not something that they went out of their way to go and get. It's just something that now in retrospect we realize is problematic. What Tesla has done is very different. They purposefully opened a showroom with a big party, a big fanfare with crowds, you know, waving little flags that say “Tesla loves Xinjiang.” They did this on purpose.

NIALA: Do we know why?

BETHANY: Well, Tesla is huge in China and the Chinese market is Tesla's second largest market after the U.S. I am not privy to Tesla's private decision-making on this, but what I can say is that the Chinese government has started offering perks or incentives for foreign companies to open operations in Xinjiang. And that is so that the Chinese government can say to the world, “Look how successful our policies in Xinjiang are, look how we're bringing development and urbanization there.”

And so, you know, some companies have taken the Chinese government up on those incentives. It doesn't actually make financial sense to open a Tesla showroom in Xinjiang. I can't speak to Tesla's private decision-making, but that is the context.

NIALA: Just a note for our audience. We did reach out to Tesla for comment. If they respond, we will let you know. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian covers China for Axios. Thanks Bethany.

BETHANY: Thanks so much, Niala.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! Text me your feedback and story ideas: I’m at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper

Rising mortgage rates could slow house price surge

Chart: Axios Visuals

Mortgage rates have jumped to their highest level since early 2020.

Why it matters: The rising cost of home loans could slow the booming American market for residential real estate.

Updated 5 hours ago - Energy & Environment

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Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

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