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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on the Axios stage Thursday morning. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

On Thursday morning, Axios Co-founder Mike Allen hosted a series of one-on-one conversations focused on topics around the armed forces, foreign policy, and the news of the day.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas
Rep. Mac Thornberry in conversation with Mike Allen on Thursday. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) discussed the importance of the U.S. maintaining its global standing and stressed that the current political environment is distracting politicians from taking action around China's growing strength in science and technology.

  • On his views of the U.S. maintaining its success: "We made two fundamental decisions [after WWII] to stay engaged in the world and maintain a strong military … if that goes away we’ll live in a different world."
  • On where China has gotten ahead: "They’re clearly ahead in counter-space — knocking satellites out of the air ... in hypersonics, directed energy (lasers, microwaves), in some ways artificial intelligence … Meanwhile, we’re dysfunctional."
  • Rep. Thornberry cites term limits on committees as one reason for the House Republican Texodus: “Part of it is the political environment. It’s less fun than it used to be.”
Denis McDonough, Former White House Chief of Staff
Denis McDonough discussing his work at the Markle Foundation on the Axios stage. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

Former White House Chief of Staff and Senior Principal at the Markle Foundation, Denis McDonough, discussed his work on strengthening the American workforce for a more digitally-connected future, as well as his views on the upcoming 2020 election.

  • On getting workers ready for the new economy: “We don’t know what the jobs of the future will be, but an attribute of all of them are fundamental digital skills ... We don’t have to wait for Washington to get ahead on this.”
  • On chances of Democrats winning in 2020: “The thing that makes me most optimistic is that these Democrats are shaking off what appears to me an unjustifiable crisis of confidence in American political leaders.”
  • On his concerns about Russian interference in American elections: "I continue to be concerned about the president’s unwillingness to name what happened in 2016."
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York

Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY) discussed her priorities after the campaign trail, including flipping the Senate, a proposed bill to reassert congressional power in engagement in wars, and taking care of U.S. service members.

  • On the 2020 election: "I’m focused on flipping the Senate ... We’ll have far more leverage to restore the balance of power in the U.S. government."
  • On the significance of a proposed bill to reassert congressional power: "Trump has continually undermined the power of Congress and undermined the power of the judiciary."
  • On taking care of U.S. service members: "We need to protect our men and women … we need to deal with underlying causes of PTSD and we will get to the heart of why [veteran] suicide rates are rising."

Thank you, Bank of America for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.