April 21, 2024

🥞 Good Sunday morning! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,285 words ... 5 mins. Edited by Donica Phifer.

🏛️ 1 big thing: Speaker's historic road-to-Kyiv conversion

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks to the press
Speaker Johnson speaks at the Capitol after yesterday's historic votes. Photo: Drew Angerer/AFP via Getty Images

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) did something rarely, if ever, seen in the MAGA era when he won passage yesterday of a $95 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, Axios' Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen write in the Behind the Curtain column.

  • He defied the loudest, most threatening GOP personalities, dug deep into government intelligence — and shifted his position on the most vital foreign policy legislation in years.

Why it matters: It's hard to overstate the importance of Johnson's road-to-Kyiv political conversion. He not only shifted his own position on funding and arming Ukraine, but defied a majority of his party to do it.

  • Oh, and he risked his speakership to pull it off.

🖼️ The big picture: In an era of tribal politics and congressional dysfunction, the country witnessed a rare triumph of consequential bipartisanship. If you're a fan of both sides working together to do hard things, this was it.

  • The other three top congressional leaders — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — pushed Johnson on how Russia would expand its war beyond Ukraine absent new weapons. Jeffries called it a "Churchill or Chamberlain moment."
  • President Biden's national security team, most importantly CIA Director Bill Burns, methodically walked Johnson through the damning intelligence.

The intelligence was so eye-opening to Johnson that he soon begged colleagues to go to the secure government chamber to see it themselves, the N.Y. Times reported.

  • Johnson, 52, a new leader with predictable early stumbles, didn't just roll over. He prayed. He then helped pull together a package of other national security imperatives, including funding Israel and banning TikTok, to help the medicine go down for his angriest party members.

Reality check: Yes, this was messier and more time-consuming than necessary. But given the current dynamics among House Republicans, and where things stood a few short weeks ago, it's a wonder it happened at all.

The end result: Johnson passed the Ukraine bill with a majority of Republicans against it, but other parts with sweeping majorities.

  • Lost in the headlines over Ukraine: Funding for Israel and the Indo-Pacific + the TikTok ban passed by extraordinarily wide margins.

All these votes underscore how Jeffries, leader of House Dems, is an unsung hero in all of this — the only one to deliver majorities of his members on every bill. In many ways, he's Johnson's savior.

 Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) reads from his notes
Speaker Johnson's notes while talking to reporters yesterday. Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

🇺🇦 Zoom in: Focus on Ukraine for a minute, though. Republicans have a long history of never, ever allowing a vote on something most in the GOP opposed. So jamming this through was all the more stunning.

  • Some of the most powerful GOP committee chairs voted against Johnson on Ukraine.
  • The three House GOP chairs of the Biden impeachment inquiry — Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), James Comer (R-Ky.) and Jason Smith (R-Mo.) — all voted no.
  • So did Homeland Security Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) and GOP leadership member and Trump ally Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).

The other side: Johnson is "a real Reagan Republican. It reminds me of Reagan's handling of Gorbachev," Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) told Axios.

The bottom line: This Congress has been a hot mess. Republicans have spent as much time firing or threatening to fire their leader as legislating. But this was an interruption of historic import. Ukraine will get its weapons, Israel its financial assistance and TikTok its reckoning.

  • And it still might cost Johnson his job.

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2. 📱 TikTok's next reel

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Congress' likely passage of a law forcing TikTok's Chinese owner to sell its U.S. operations will close a long chapter of the "Washington vs. TikTok" epic — and open one that could be equally drawn-out, writes Scott Rosenberg, Axios managing editor for tech.

🔮 What's next: TikTok won't simply vanish from the devices of its millions of users the moment the ban becomes law. Its fight to remain in the U.S. under ByteDance ownership will now shift from Congress and regulatory agencies to the courts.

The latest: The TikTok ban, which passed the House earlier this year but had stalled in the Senate, was tacked onto the larger foreign-aid package the House approved yesterday. The Senate is expected to approve it in days.

  • The bill would give ByteDance up to a year to find a U.S. buyer for TikTok or face a ban.
  • China's government has signaled it would block any forced sale of TikTok by ByteDance.

Friction point: Members of Congress have already raised constitutional questions about legislation that targets a specific company by name. ByteDance is nearly certain to take up that argument in challenging the law.

  • Supporters of free trade fear that the law could set a precedent for other nations to force U.S. tech companies to sell off their local operations.

Between the lines: Legal challenges are likely not only from ByteDance but also TikTok's users and partners in the U.S.

  • A TikTok spokesperson told Axios: "It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans."

3. ⚡ Exclusive: Furthest drive for abortions

Data: Center for American Progress analysis of Myers Abortion Facility Database and Census Bureau data. (Average one-way drive times for all census tracts in congressional districts in the contiguous U.S.) Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

People driving the longest distances to get an abortion are more likely to come from congressional districts with lower incomes and more diverse populations, April Rubin writes from a data analysis by the left-leaning Center for American Progress provided exclusively to Axios.

  • Why it matters: The steep and disproportionate barriers to reproductive access in the post-Roe era are becoming more measurable.

🔎 Between the lines: Out-of-state travel for abortion surged after Roe was overturned and states implemented their own bans or protections.

  • States bordering those with strict abortion limits saw big increases, including Illinois and Florida.

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4. 🦾 Tech boom towns: Austin, NYC

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

The tech workforce grew faster in Austin than in any other metro area over the past four years (2019 to 2023), Axios' Ryan Heath writes from data by VC firm SignalFire.

  • New York City won the biggest share of relocating tech workers.
  • The Bay Area continues to dominate AI talent.

Why it matters: The U.S. is supporting a growing number of second-tier tech hubs — including Seattle and Boston — without undercutting San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

  • The Bay Area's tech workforce continued to grow despite the extra competition and heavy layoffs in 2022 and 2023.

Explore the data ... Share this story.

5. 🥊 Trump's new prop

A campaign worker carries out a podium that indicates former President Donald Trump will debate President Joe Biden anytime, anywhere or anyplace, before Trump speaks at a rally in Wilmington, N.C.
Photo: Chris Seward/AP

This sign — seen yesterday at a planned rally for former President Trump in Wilmington, N.C. (canceled because of stormy weather) — is becoming a regular at his campaign events.

  • The empty podium, also spotted at recent Trump events in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, carries the message that he's willing to debate President Biden "Anytime. Anywhere. Anyplace."

6. 🎙️ 1 for the road: "Theeeeee Yankees win!"

New York Yankees broadcaster John Sterling holds a jersey that has the number of games he broadcasted during a retirement ceremony before a baseball game agains the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium
John Sterling during a retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium yesterday. Photo: Noah K. Murray/AP

After 36 seasons as the hyperexcitable voice of the New York Yankees, John Sterling, 85, was given a jersey with No. 5,631 — his total games — during an on-field retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium yesterday.

  • Sterling called 5,420 regular-season games plus 211 postseason games, AP reports.
  • Fans pined to hear him follow final outs with: "Theeeeee Yankees win!"

In his booming baritone, Sterling explained the origin of his signature, exclamatory home run calls:

  • "I just happened to do something for Bernie Williams. He hit a home run and I said, 'Bern, baby, Bern!'"
  • "I did say `A-bomb from A-Rod!' when he hit a home run and I did say: `Robbie Canó, don't you know,'" Sterling recalled of his calls for Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Canó.

And don't forget: "It's a Jeter jolt!"

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