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Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday morphed from a shy tech nerd into a confident business executive who ran circles around lawmakers.

Why it matters: Zuckerberg's performance stoked investor confidence and made it less likely that this Congress will stringently regulate tech giants like Facebook.

Zuckerberg was well prepared, but he also benefited from redundant questioning that rarely included smart follow-ups.

  • Many senators either tried to clumsily show off for the cameras, blatantly suck up to Zuckerberg, or ask long, cringe-worthy questions that sounded like grandparents checking out their first flip phone.
  • Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), for example, didn't seem to understand what it meant for Facebook's messaging app, Whatsapp, to be encrypted.
  • Senator after senator asked about Facebook "selling data," allowing Zuckerberg to run time off the clock by repeatedly explaining that its business model doesn't technically work that way.
  • While Zuckerberg explained some of his own perspectives — such as denying that Facebook is a monopoly and accepting responsibility for content on its platform — he mostly sidestepped sticky situations by calmly offering to have his "team" follow up with details at a later time.

By the end, some lawmakers were making jokes and asking Zuckerberg for his help. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) even asked if Zuckerberg would help build more rural fiber cable to service her constituency.

  • Zuckerberg also benefited from what happened outside the chamber, with the Trump vs. Mueller battle royale sucking up an enormous amount of D.C. media oxygen.
  • The only exception was Fox News, which often framed the Facebook issue as more about censorship of conservative voices than about privacy. That might get Trump's attention, but also could force Democrats into the unlikely role of Facebook defenders.

Bottom line: Congress might adopt some minor regulations on political advertising, but the idea of this group of senators regulating digital data right now seems far-fetched. The danger to Facebook and others isn’t quick cuts — it’s a long, slow bleed that forces Congress into action after some future data-breach or platform-manipulation crisis. 

Zuckerberg and Facebook won by default, or forfeit. 

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.

Updated 6 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.