Feb 14, 2021

Axios AM

💐 Happy Valentine's Day! Every year, I call my mom to thank her for being my first valentine.

🎥 Tonight on "Axios on HBO" (6 p.m. ET/PT on all HBO platforms):

  • Margaret Talev asks Dr. Fauci if he knows what "Fauciing" means ... I go backstage with Vice President Harris (See a clip) ... Alexi McCammond travels to Puerto Rico to interview Gov. Pedro Pierluisi (See a clip) ... Dan Primack has a lively exchange with NYSE President Stacey Cunningham.

⚡ Situational awareness: TJ Ducklo resigned as White House deputy press secretary after threatening a reporter. Jen Psaki said the White House is "committed to ... treating others with dignity and respect." Ducklo: "I know this was terrible."

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,171 words ... 4½ minutes.
1 big thing: McConnell's impeachment play
Mitch McConnell speaks after voting to acquit Trump. Photo: Senate TV via Getty Images

Mitch McConnell is showing how to retain power even after you give it up, Axios' Glen Johnson writes.

  • Why it matters: Perhaps the most powerful Senate leader since LBJ, McConnell set the chamber’s agenda in the majority and is still steering it in the minority — with huge consequences for President Biden.

McConnell showed his survival instincts yesterday at the end of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial:

  • McConnell previewed, then cast, his influential vote against convicting the former president — only to deliver a blistering condemnation of Trump after acquittal, noting he can still be held accountable by civil or criminal courts.

Between the lines: McConnell's two-step allows him to maintain fidelity with the majority of the Republican caucus while trying to damage Trump's chances at a comeback, and claiming some moral high ground.

  • In areas where Democrats can now steamroll McConnell — such as budget reconciliation power to pass COVID relief with a simple majority — he is positioning Republicans as victims, rather than drivers, of partisan excess.

Keep reading.

2. Curtain call for Trump presidency


Senate President Pro Tem Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who presided over the trial, at 3:50 p.m.:

  • "The Senate adjudges that the respondent, Donald John Trump, former president of the United States, is not guilty as charged in the article of impeachment."

Go deeper: Alayna Treene reports from the Capitol on how the day unfolded.

Graphic: AP

What happened to witnesses?

  • In a Saturday morning surprise, the Senate voted 55-45 to call at least one witness. But just over two hours later, Democratic House managers made a deal with President Trump's counsel.
  • Democrats feared that a protracted trial could delay President Biden's nominations and legislation. Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic delegate from the Virgin Islands who was one of the impeachment managers, told the WashPost that "individuals who may have been there with the president were not friendly ... to us and would have required subpoenas and months of litigation."

Former President Trump said in a statement: "Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun."

President Biden said: "[E]ach of us has a duty and responsibility ... to defend the truth and to defeat the lies. That is how we end this uncivil war."

🥊 P.S. The Wall Street Journal reports: "Manhattan prosecutors are examining loans Mr. Trump took out on his flagship Fifth Avenue building, Trump Tower; 40 Wall St., an art deco skyscraper in New York City’s Financial District; Trump International Hotel and Tower, a hotel and condominium building at Columbus Circle; and Trump Plaza, an apartment building on Manhattan’s East Side."

3. Rise in anti-Asian violence

Graphic: CBS News

A string of recent attacks on elderly Asian Americans has led to an uproar in the Asian American Pacific Islander community, Axios' Shawna Chen reports.

  • Why it matters: Violence and discrimination against Asian Americans appears to have risen dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic.

Within the past two weeks, a 61-year-old Filipino man was slashed across the face in Manhattan; an 84-year-old Thai immigrant died after he was slammed into the ground in Daly City, Calif.; and a 91-year-old man was shoved to the ground in Oakland's Chinatown.

Data: Stop AAPI Hate. Chart: Axios Visuals

Between the lines: Assaults and homicides against people 60 and older have surged in recent years, and elderly Asian Americans are particularly vulnerable.

  • 60% of Asian and Pacific Islanders over 65 are estimated to have limited English proficiency, making them less likely to report a hate crime.

What we’re watching: Within days of taking office, President Biden signed an executive order directing an examination of anti-Asian discrimination.

4. Pic du jour

Photo: Ronny Hartmann AFP via Getty Images

A man uses a stand-up paddleboard to slide down a hill in a park in Magdeburg, eastern Germany.

5. FBI warns of romance scammers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The pandemic has mostly left the search for love online, and the FBI says it's seen a rise in reports of romance scams, Axios' Oriana Gonzalez writes:

  • There were 23,768 relationship fraud complaints reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2020 — 4,295 more than the year prior.

Criminals can come across as genuine and caring. So the FBI recommends:

  • Don't send money or personal information to anyone you don't know.
  • Be suspicious of people who refuse to meet in person or decline to show their face.
  • Be wary of any links sent to you.
  • If someone's trying to rush a relationship, take it slow and see how they react.

Share this story.

6. What you didn't see on TV: Inside the Capitol
Photo: Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters

Jason Miller, adviser to former President Trump, carries a list of potential witnesses to the Senate Chamber — a threat to call more than 300.

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

Michael van der Veen (blue tie), an attorney for former President Trump, fist-bumps a colleague as they depart on the Senate subway.

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who voted to convict, talks with staff in the Senate Reception Room.

7. Incoming Biden cabinet member: How to reopen schools
Photo: Brian Ulrich for The New York Times

When Providence, R.I., became the rare blue-state urban system to reopen schools open in September, "[s]ome teachers and students got sick. ... But it worked — mostly," Susan Dominus writes in the N.Y. Times Magazine.

  • Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, President Biden's nominee for Secretary of Commerce, made keeping public schools open a priority:
"This is how I analyzed it, right, wrong or indifferent," she said. "If you look at the risk that children who go virtual will be left behind — get behind academically, suffer from severe mental-health issues, suffer from food insecurity, suffer from abuse and neglect — it’s 100 percent." ...
"The people leading my response are all mothers," Raimondo said. ... Working mothers, she said, often urged her to stay strong on schools.

Keep reading (subscription).

8. Afrofuturism: Rise of Black science fiction and fantasy

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Gérard Sioen/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

More Black writers and artists are turning to science fiction — and an artistic movement known as Afrofuturism — to tackle issues around race and inequality and give fans an escape from the harsh realities on Earth, Axios race and justice reporter Russell Contreras writes.

Black writers, including Sheree Renée Thomas and Nikki Giovanni, next month will release an anthology, "Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda" — a collection of stories inspired by the first mainstream superhero of African descent.

  • Thomas said the art has gone from being enjoyed by a small number of "blerds" — Black nerds — to wide acceptance.
  • Casey Bloys, chief content officer of HBO and HBO Max, has expressed interest about a second season of "Lovecraft Country," a series set in midcentury, segregated America that blends racism, horror, and monsters.

Between the lines: Superheroes like Superman, Batman, Captain America and Spider-Man were created by Jewish writers who saw themselves in their creations, and as a way to fight discrimination,

What's next: Black writers are set to announce this year Afrofuturist projects around gaming and virtual reality.

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