Feb 16, 2021

Axios AM

⚜️ Happy Fat Tuesday — or, for Jon Meacham, Shrove Tuesday.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,162 words ... 4½ minutes.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell further explains his "acquit" vote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (subscription): "Jan. 6 was a shameful day. ... There is no question former President Trump bears moral responsibility."

  • "But impeachment is not some final moral tribunal. It is a specific tool with a narrow purpose: restraining government officers. The instant Donald Trump ceased being the president, he exited the Senate’s jurisdiction."
1 big thing: After Trump, attention economy deflates

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

President Biden was the subject of an estimated 14 million social-media posts over the past two weeks — roughly an eighth of the 104 million posts about President Trump in the first two weeks of January, Axios managing editor Scott Rosenberg writes.

  • Why it matters: That data, from the social-media analytics firm Keyhole, starkly illuminates the new world beyond the attention inflation of the Trump era.

Politicians, celebrities and business leaders are trying to adapt:

  • Trump used social media to provoke and distract Americans around the clock, rewiring the country's nervous system and diminishing the value of each individual news cycle.
  • Now we're going to learn whether our fried collective circuits can recover. 

Actors on the national stage are choosing from two different approaches in this new world.

  1. Some are using time-tested, Trump-like tactics to fill the post-Trump void. Elon Musk's social-media antics — pumping up cryptocurrencies, inviting Vladimir Putin for a chat on Clubhouse, sitting for three-hour podcast interviews — show the game isn't just for politicians.
  2. Others are aiming to reset public-square norms, believing that a pandemic-exhausted public yearns for simpler, straighter talk at lower volume. Most prominent in this camp is the Biden administration.

The bottom line: Until now, from the mass-media era to the social-media age, the attention economy moved only in one direction — toward speed and ubiquity. If you think this deflation can last, you're betting against a century-long trend.

2. ❄️ Power out for nearly 5 million
Jeremy Seidt, 44, built an igloo yesterday in Columbus, Ohio, using an empty cat-litter bucket to mold the blocks. Photo: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch via Reuters

Temperatures dove to single digits as far south as San Antonio — and power was out for more than 4 million people — as a once-a-generation freeze swept the U.S.

  • Texas alone had 4.1 million without power early today, according to the utility tracker PowerOutage.us. 700,000+ were out in nine other states.
  • Massive outages across Houston included a facility storing 8,000 doses of Moderna vaccine, leaving health officials scrambling to find takers at the same time authorities were pleading for people to stay home, AP reports.
Austin, Texas, yesterday. Photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

What's next: The National Weather Service said another storm tomorrow is expected to bring more snow, ice and sleet from the Texas panhandle through Kentucky and up through D.C. to NYC, N.J. and Boston. Reuters

3. CEOs push to speed jabs

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

CEOs more trusted than government — want a larger role in what may be the biggest countrywide undertaking of our lifetimes: the mass rollout of coronavirus vaccines, Axios markets reporter Courtenay Brown writes.

  • A slew of big businesses are offering up the resources they have, including technical expertise and physical space. But there’s no coordinated effort at the federal level to tap the full potential of the private sector’s muscle.

Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tells Axios there's an "overwhelming desire" from businesses to help.

  • There's one big way businesses can help — encouraging their own employees to get vaccinated.

Keep reading.

4. Pics du jour: Yardi Gras

Photo: Kathleen Flynn/Reuters

With today's Mardi Gras canceled by COVID, thousands of New Orleanians decorated "float houses" instead — including "DinoGras" on St. Charles Avenue.

Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
5. U.S. investors fuel China power

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A push for outside investment, and a strong rebound from the coronavirus, are drawing record global capital to China’s financial markets — particularly from U.S. investors, Axios' Dion Rabouin and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian write.

  • Why it matters: As more money flows to China’s markets, political leaders will have another potent weapon to challenge the United States’ position as the world’s financial superpower.

What we're hearing: China's goal is "internationalization" of its currency, the renminbi.

6. President Biden's first road show

President Biden boards Air Force One in Hagerstown, Md., after a holiday weekend at Camp David. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden will answer Americans' questions this evening at 9 p.m. ET at a CNN town hall, hosted by Anderson Cooper, at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee.

  • Look for Biden to stress COVID and the economy, acknowledging how hard the problems are but spelling out what he's doing, Axios' Hans Nichols tells me.

Axios' Margaret Talev points out that this is Biden's first trip as president to engage with Americans — and Wisconsin is a symbolic destination:

  • Milwaukee hosted the Democratic National Convention, with most of the excitement, crowds and festivities canceled by COVID.

The Badger State is a swing state that Donald Trump won in 2016, and Biden in 2020 by just 20,000 votes. And it'll be key again in 2024.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is up in '22, with a battle expected.

What's next: Biden is going to another Midwestern swing state he won in November — Michigan — later this week to promote the vaccine.

Former President Trump is driven past supporters yesterday in West Palm Beach. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

GOP backlash ... North Carolina’s Republican Party voted unanimously last night to censure Sen. Richard Burr, two days after the retiring Republican voted "guilty" at former President Trump's impeachment trial. —Raleigh News & Observer

  • On Saturday, the Louisiana GOP censured Sen. Bill Cassidy, who voted to convict.

🥊 75% of Republicans think Donald Trump SHOULD play a prominent role in the party, according to a Quinnipiac Poll.

MSNBC's "Way Too Early"
7. Biden follows Trump space lead

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration is staying the space course set by the Trump administration, Axios Space author Miriam Kramer reports.

  • Why it matters: Administrations often abandon their predecessors' goals. That kind of "moonshot whiplash" can leave NASA grounded: It takes consistency between administrations to accomplish big exploration goals.

The Biden administration this month affirmed its plans to continue the Artemis program to land the first woman and next man on the surface of the Moon.

  • The administration threw its weight behind Space Force.
  • And it's also re-emphasizing the importance of climate-change research at NASA.

Keep reading.

8. Winter surge deepens COVID toll
Reproduced from APM Research Lab. Chart: Axios Visuals

The giant surge of coronavirus cases over the fall and winter hit white Americans disproportionately hard, narrowing racial disparities in COVID deaths, Axios Vitals author Caitlin Owens writes.

  • The virus slammed the Midwest last fall, and then eventually spread rapidly across the entire country.
  • The Midwest has a higher white population than regions hit earlier on in the pandemic, particularly the South and Sun Belt.

Keep reading.

9. Axios interview: Kudlow changes channels

Photo: Fox Business

Larry Kudlow, the longtime CNBC host who became President Trump's economic adviser, returns to live anchoring today — this time on Fox Business, with "Kudlow," from New York at 4 p.m. ET (repeating at 7 p.m. ET).

  • Debut guest: Former Trump administration colleague Steven Mnuchin.

In a phone interview, I asked him about covering the Biden economy: "I think the economy is a whole lot stronger than most folks seem to think. ... I'm still in the V-shaped recovery mode. I think many people are far too pessimistic."

  • "I'm not a big political guy; I'm a policy guy. ... I want America to prosper."

On his last conversation with Donald Trump: "I spoke to him on the Thursday afternoon before the inaugural. We had about a 20-minute chat. ... He was very calm. He was very gracious, very complimentary."

  • On whether they'll stay friends: "I hope to. [The reaction to the Electoral College] was disappointing ... I believe he'll get through this. If he ever calls me for some economic advice, I'd be more than happy to give it."

Should Trump run again? "I don't have a view on that. You gotta ask the political sharpies."

10. 1 puck thing: World's longest hockey game

Photo: Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

The World's Longest Hockey Game — played on an outdoor rink during an extreme weather warning — ran 252 hours (10½ days) near Edmonton, Alberta.

  • 40 players took turns 24 hours a day, seven days a week, AP reports.

Temperatures plunged at times to minus 67 Fahrenheit.

  • Pucks were shattered as players passed them along the boards, skate blades broke in half, pieces of masks fell off as glue let go and goalie pads cracked.

The seventh edition of the game, which broke its own Guinness World Record, raised about $1.5 million for cancer research at the University of Alberta.

  • Final score: 2,649 to 2,528.
Photo: Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

Kate Gallagher sets up cardboard fans for the World's Longest Hockey Game.

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