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February 21, 2024

🐫 Happy Wednesday! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,491 words ... 5½ mins. Thanks to Noah Bressner for orchestrating. Copy edited by Bryan McBournie.

📦 Milestone: Amazon will join the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Monday — replacing Walgreens, in a reflection of the evolving U.S. economy. Go deeper.

🏛️ 1 big thing: Dysfunction junction

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson walks to the House floor at the United States Capitol on Thursday.
Speaker Mike Johnson walks to the House floor last week. Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Axios last night popped two scoops capturing the unprecedented dysfunction among House Republicans running Congress:

1. House Republicans privately expect a government shutdown next month, Juliegrace Brufke revealed in Axios Sneak Peek.

  • Why it matters: House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) will have to choose in coming weeks between a fight with Democrats that threatens a shutdown — or a deal with Democrats that threatens his job.

"People are predicting a shutdown even if it's just for a few days," a GOP lawmaker told Axios.

  • The government will start a partial shutdown unless a budget or spending stopgap is passed by March 1. It will go into a full shutdown if there's not a budget or stopgap by March 8.
  • "We think we're going to meet the deadlines," Johnson told reporters last week.

⏰ The key date is April 30. If there's not a new budget by then, it will trigger a 1% across-the-board spending cut. Democrats won't back a stopgap bill beyond this.

  • Across-the-board cuts are A-OK for some House conservatives. They're frustrated by the lack of policy riders on abortion, gender-affirming care and medical research.

🔎 The intrigue: House Republicans have stopped laughing off the idea that Johnson could face the same treatment as former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

  • Johnson's simple but risky option to avoid a shutdown would be to use Democratic votes to pass a deal with a two-thirds majority.

But Kevin McCarthy's ouster in October was sparked by him working with Democrats on a spending stopgap.

  • "It's going to be difficult to do what we need to do and not have someone do" a motion to vacate, a member who isn't supportive of removing Johnson told Axios.

2. A moderate House Democrat is circulating a resolution to protect Johnson from removal by GOP hardliners, Axios' Andrew Solender reports.

  • Why it matters: Centrist Democrats have floated protecting Johnson to give him room to put bipartisan legislation on the floor.

The resolution, authored by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), would require Democratic or Republican party leadership to sanction any vote to vacate the speaker's chair, according to a copy obtained by Axios.

  • Under current rules, any single member can force a vote to remove the speaker.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has said she would introduce a motion to vacate if Johnson puts Ukraine aid on the floor.

2. 🏠 Latinos, Asian Americans see record homeownership gains

Homeownership rate
Data: National Association of Realtors. Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Asian and Hispanic homeownership hit record highs despite soaring interest rates over the past few years, Astrid Galván and Russell Contreras write for Axios Latino.

Why it matters: Asians and Hispanics had the biggest gains in homeownership among minority groups from 2012 to 2022, according to data released yesterday by the National Association of Realtors.

  • Black Americans also gained, but at a slower rate.

🧮 By the numbers: 63% of Asian Americans owned a home in 2022, compared to 57% in 2012.

  • Hispanics' share hit a record 51% in 2022, up from slightly more than 45% in 2012.
  • Homeownership among Black Americans went from 42.5% in 2012 to 44% in 2022.
  • White Americans continue to have the highest ownership rates, increasing from 69% to 72% in the same period.

🥊 Reality check: Black and Latino households are still seeing higher denial rates for mortgage loans, says Jessica Lautz, the association's deputy chief economist.

🔬 Zoom in: Two of the poorest states — New Mexico and Mississippi — had the highest rates of homeownership for Latino and Black homeowners, respectively.

  • Homes there are relatively affordable. Both states have programs that help first-time homebuyers.

Keep reading ... Get Axios Latino.

3. 🚨 Feds: Biden informant claimed Russia ties

Hunter Biden talks to reporters outside the Capitol in December.
Hunter Biden talks to reporters outside the Capitol in December. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP

A former FBI informant, charged with making false bribery claims involving President Biden and his son Hunter, told federal officials he has ties to high-level Russian agents.

  • Why it matters: Alexander Smirnov insisted that "officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved" in passing along a story about Hunter Biden, prosecutors write.

The memo says the former informant bragged about:

  1. Numerous contacts with a Russian official who "purportedly controls two groups of individuals tasked with carrying out assassination efforts in a third-party country."
  2. Attending an overseas meeting with a "high-ranking member of a specific Russian foreign intelligence service" about a potential resolution to the war in Ukraine.
  3. Being told that Russian intelligence intercepted "several calls placed by prominent U.S. persons the Russian government may use as 'kompromat' in the 2024 election." FBI investigators deemed a similar story relayed by Smirnov to be false.

In a separate filing, Hunter Biden's lawyers argued that the "rabbit hole of lies" allegedly told by the indicted FBI informant has infected the criminal case against the president's son, Axios' Sareen Habeshian reports.

4. 🎸 Taylor Swift's merch mess

Fans line up to purchase Taylor Swift merchandise at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium in August 2023. Photo: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images
Fans line up to purchase Taylor Swift merchandise at SoFi Stadium in L.A. last year. Photo: Brittany Murray/Long Beach Press-Telegram (Mike Allen's boyhood paper) via Getty Images

For many die-hard Taylor Swift fans, getting official swag has proven difficult — and disappointing, Axios' Ivana Saric writes.

  • Why it matters: Fans' ire proves that even one of the world's most powerful pop stars isn't immune to logistics.

Fans have taken to Reddit to slam Swift's store for long shipping delays and the merchandise's poor quality.

  • "That's not even the same bag," one person on the SwiftieMerch subreddit said in response to a post comparing a tote's online photo to what arrived in the mail.

Universal Music Group's merchandise division, which manages the backend of Swift's official merch store, attributed the problems to "a combination of massive, unprecedented consumer demand and seasonal shipping issues."

  • But Reddit posts and TikToks complaining about merch delays long-predate the holiday season, stretching earlier into 2023 and even 2022, when Swift released "Midnights" and announced "The Eras Tour."

Keep reading.

5. ⚖️ New York AG: I'll seize Trump buildings

New York Attorney General Letitia James on ABC News.
Screenshot: ABC News

New York Attorney General Letitia James told ABC News she's prepared to seize former President Trump's assets if he can't pay a $354 million fine — plus $99 million in interest — from the state's civil fraud case.

"We are prepared to make sure that the judgment is paid to New Yorkers, and yes, I look at 40 Wall Street each and every day," James said, referring to the Lower Manhattan property that's also known as the Trump Building.

Watch the interview.

6. 🤖 Axios interview: Pritzker's quantum boost

People work at a nanofabrication facility at the University of Chicago, which is part of the Chicago Quantum Exchange.
A worker walks through a nanofabrication facility at the University of Chicago. Photo: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (D) is devoting half a billion dollars in his new budget to boost quantum computing, Axios Closer co-author Nathan Bomey writes.

  • Why it matters: The $500 million proposal is part of a sweeping quest to remake the state as a hub for the future of semiconductors, quantum and AI.

🖼️ The big picture: The investment would complement Illinois' bid to secure the headquarters of the National Semiconductor Technology Center, an R&D accelerator being established by the Biden administration under the CHIPS Act.

  • "We already were establishing ourselves as a leading hub for quantum development — now we have the opportunity to take it a big step further," Pritzker tells us.

Keep reading.

7. 📚 Exclusive: Dana Bash's new book

The book cover for "America's Deadliest Election" by Dana Bash

Cover: Hanover Square Press//HarperCollins

Dana Bash, CNN anchor and chief political correspondent, will be out Sept. 3 with "America's Deadliest Election," a book about the little-known 1872 Louisiana gubernatorial election.

  • Why it matters: The book, being published two months before our own contentious election, "is an eye-opening warning of what's at stake and what it takes to protect our democracy," the forthcoming announcement says.

The election "led to hundreds of murders, warfare in the streets of New Orleans, [dueling] governors of Louisiana," the publisher says.

  • "The entire country watched in grim fascination as the wounds of the Civil War were ripped open and the promise of President Grant's Reconstruction faltered in the face of violent resistance and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan."

The backstory: Bash tells me she was approached by David Fisher, a bestselling author and co-author, with the cautionary tale of the contested 1872 Louisiana election, which "simply blew my mind. ... This seemingly forgotten election fundamentally changed America."

  • "Larger-than-life politicians, corruption, hubris, manipulation and raw racism in the Reconstructionist South led to months of uncertainty about basic government functions," Bash says.
  • "It ended with extreme violence — the Colfax Massacre, in which 150 African Americans were murdered, then the Battle of Liberty Place, a pitched battle in the streets of New Orleans that overthrew the government."

More about the book.

8. 🛥️ 1 for the road: Bush boat rides again

The Bush family used the "Fidelity V" off the coast of Kennebunkport, Maine.
The Bush family used the "Fidelity V" off the coast of Kennebunkport, Maine. Photo: George & Barbara Bush Foundation via AP

George H.W. Bush's Kennebunkport speedboat sold for $435,000 at a benefit auction to support the late president's library in Houston and The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M.

  • The speedboat sports a presidential seal and boasts three engines with a combined 900 horsepower. The 38-foot Fidelity V can go up to 75 mph.

Maureen Dowd, an up-and-coming White House correspondent for The New York Times, made Bush I's "beloved cigarette boat" famous.

  • The buyer was anonymous.

Keep reading.

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