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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. government sued to prevent AT&T from acquiring Time Warner, lost, appealed the case, and, this week, lost again. There will be no more appeals.

The big picture: When corporations and financiers want to do something, they just go ahead and do it. The government can't stop them — it can only sue to stop them, in a court of law. And what the government wants, it doesn't always get.

Puerto Rico provides the most striking example of a situation where the interest of the people is regularly being overruled by a court thousands of miles away.

  • When Puerto Rico defaulted on substantially all of its debt in 2016, the government tried to cobble together a solution that would respect the interests of the bondholders while ensuring the best outcome for the island as a whole. The result was that it gave control of the island to an unelected oversight board, the majority of which was appointed by House Republicans. Puerto Ricans were (and are) understandably unhappy about this, but there was nothing they could do.
  • The oversight board has made a series of decisions that most Puerto Ricans consider far too creditor-friendly. Those decisions were then approved by the island's bankruptcy judge, Laura Taylor Swain. But still the creditors weren't happy, and they have repeatedly appealed Swain's decisions to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Every time, the creditors have won, and Swain has been overruled.
  • In the most recent case, the oversight board itself has been ruled illegal, in a case where, once again, the First Circuit overruled Judge Swain.

The bottom line: Capital is insatiable, and it generally has the law on its side. In Puerto Rico, the equities of the case would be far less generous to creditors than even the oversight board and Judge Swain have been. But bonds come with contractual rights that even a government-appointed oversight board can't circumvent.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Manchin's massive means test

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is offering progressives a trade: He'll vote for their cherished social programs if they accept strict income caps for the recipients, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Manchin’s plan to use so-called means-testing for everything from paid family medical leave to elder and disabled care would drastically shrink the size and scope of the programs. It also would bring a key moderate vote to the progressive cause.

The China whisperer

Nick Burns. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee for ambassador to China will face aggressive questioning Wednesday about the most important, and potentially perilous, bilateral relationship in the world.

Why it matters: While Nick Burns is an experienced diplomat with support on both sides of the aisle, lawmakers want to use his confirmation hearing to force the administration into some tough positions on China.

Jan. 6 committee recommends contempt charges against Bannon

Steve Bannon. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riots unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night recommending that former Trump aide Steve Bannon be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

Why it matters: The resolution sets up a House vote to refer Bannon for potential criminal prosecution, signaling that the committee will not tolerate attempts by former President Trump and his associates to stymie the investigation.