January 29, 2024

โ˜€๏ธ Hello, Monday! Smart Brevityโ„ข count: 1,591 words ... 6 mins. Thanks to Erica Pandey for orchestrating. Edited by Bryan McBournie.

1 big thing: War pressure rises

A satellite view last year of Tower 22 โ€” a remote logistics support base in Jordan, where a large drone killed three U.S. troops. Photo: Planet Labs via AP

President Biden and other top U.S. officials yesterday discussed a "significant military response" against pro-Iranian militias over the drone attack near the Jordan-Syria border that killed three American soldiers and wounded more than 30 others, Axios' Barak Ravid reports.

  • Why it matters: The White House and Pentagon are trying to calibrate their retaliation to contain the growing risk of regional war. But pressure for more significant action is brewing on Capitol Hill, with hawks pushing for strikes inside Iran.

"We don't want war but those who are behind this attack need to feel our response," a U.S. official told Axios last night.

  • There have been more than 150 attacks targeting U.S. troops in the region since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, many of them by pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria. The attack in Jordan was the first to kill American soldiers.
  • After a moment of silence for the three fallen soldiers, Biden said yesterday in West Columbia, S.C., "And we shall respond."

๐Ÿ”Ž Zoom in: While the Biden administration is preparing to hit Iran's proxies, Republican hawks are pushing Biden to hit Iran directly.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for "serious, crippling costs" to Iran, "not only on front-line terrorist proxies, but on their Iranian sponsors who wear American blood as a badge of honor."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) tweeted: "Target Tehran." He later specified he was calling for strikes against Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted: "Hit Iran now. Hit them hard."
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said: "The only answer to these attacks must be devastating military retaliation against Iran's terrorist forces, both in Iran and across the Middle East. Anything less will confirm Joe Biden as a coward unworthy of being commander-in-chief."
Location of Jan. 28, 2024 drone strike
Location of drone strikes. Map: Axios Visuals

๐Ÿ‘€ Behind the scenes: Biden administration officials believe a ceasefire in Gaza is key to reducing regional tensions. During a one-week pause last November, attacks on U.S. forces in the region stopped almost completely.

๐Ÿ”ญ Zoom out: The war in Gaza has sent violent tremors through the region, with the U.S. becoming steadily more directly involved.

2. ๐Ÿ›๏ธ Immigration reform is dead

Migrants walk along razor wire yesterday after crossing the Rio Grande into the U.S. in Eagle Pass, Texas. Photo: Lokman Vural Elibol via Getty Images

Republican and Democratic senators are scrambling to pass and enact very significant restrictions on migrants flooding the U.S.-Mexico border. They seem to be missing one obvious flaw: It's dead before it arrives.

  • Why it matters: Yes, the Senate can pass it. Yes, President Biden would sign it. But, no, it won't happen.

๐Ÿ’ก The reality: Former President Trump is the Republican Party, and he has vowed to proudly and loudly kill it. And House Republicans โ€” mainly new Speaker Mike Johnson โ€” are his executioners.

What's happening: Republican and Democratic senators are taking to the airwaves, scrambling to pass the all-but-dead measure, which would be one of the harshest immigration bills of the century, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • But the speaker called the deal "dead on arrival" on Friday, then doubled down over the weekend, claiming it wouldn't do enough to stop illegal border crossings.
  • He has said he talks frequently with Trump about the border.

A sign of Trump's influence: Oklahoma's GOP this weekend censured Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) for being a lead negotiator in the border talks.

3. ๐Ÿ˜ Scoop: New GOP rebellion

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

House Republicans are eating their own again โ€” this time over taxes:

  • One of the most powerful members, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith of Missouri, is in danger of losing his gavel next year, Axios' Juliegrace Brufke reports.

Why it matters: The new uprising โ€” following the loss of one speaker, and immediate internal danger for his replacement โ€” shows the House GOP is getting no better at governing. The party has little to show for its majority, with chances rising that Democrats will win the chamber back in November.

What's happening: Senior Republican members are accusing Smith of freezing them out of a tax deal he negotiated with Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

  • The bipartisan deal would bolster the child tax credit for poorer families, along with giving business tax cuts for research and development.

Some House members criticized the deal for not providing upper-middle-class tax relief, and said it would provide undocumented immigrants a tax break.

  • The Wall Street Journal's editorial board savaged "Mr. Smith's Lousy Tax Deal": "House GOP tax writers have struck a deal to give Democrats a huge policy victory in order to please big business."

๐Ÿ•ถ๏ธ What we're watching: Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), who narrowly lost the gavel to Smith last year, may launch a rematch. Buchanan could have better odds with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy gone.

4. ๐ŸŽฒ Charted: Casino spending soars

Data: FactSet, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans are taking their cash to the casino at record rates.

  • Why it matters: It may be another sign that consumer mood โ€” which has been incredibly sour in the post-pandemic era, is getting sunnier, Axios' Matt Phillips writes.

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5. ๐Ÿ’ฐ Scoop: Haley's coast-to-coast money swing

Nikki Haley speaks in Conway, S.C., yesterday. Photo: Matthew Kelley/AP

She'll have the money:

  • Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has 10+ fundraisers scheduled over the next two weeks, including stops in California, Florida, New York, and Texas, Axios' Dan Primack and Sophia Cai report.

Why it matters: After coming in third in Iowa and losing by double digits to Donald Trump in New Hampshire, Haley is in a deep delegate hole. But she asserted yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press": "I'm not going anywhere."

๐Ÿ‘€ The intrigue: Tomorrow evening, she'll be in Manhattan for a reception with minimum contributions of $3,300 to $16,600 per person, according to an invitation obtained by Axios.

  • The host committee includes Ken Langone, the Home Depot co-founder who previously said he was waiting for Haley's New Hampshire results because he "did not want to throw money down a rat hole."
  • Other hosts include private equity titan Henry Kravis, hedge fund manager Cliff Asness, Campbell Brown, Stan Druckenmiller, Ken Mehlman, former Sen. Pat Toomey and Spencer Zwick.

A week from tomorrow, Haley will be in the Bay Area for a $3,300-a-plate luncheon in San Francisco ($13,300 for VIP photo reception), followed by an evening reception in wealthy Atherton, Calif. ($6,600 per individual, or $16,600 to be a co-host).

๐Ÿงฎ By the numbers: Haley has raised $4 million in online grassroots donations since New Hampshire โ€” including $1 million after Donald Trump threatened her donors five days ago with being "permanently barred from the MAGA camp" if they give top Haley.

6. ๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ New honor for press pioneers

Left: Ethel Payne. Photo: Bettmann Archive via Getty Images. Right: Alice Dunnigan. Photo: Courtesy University of Georgia Press

The first Black women to cover the White House โ€” Ethel Payne and Alice Dunnigan โ€” are being honored in the briefing room, Axios D.C.'s Anna Spiegel writes.

  • Karine Jean-Pierre, the first Black person to be White House press secretary, dedicated a new press toast lectern late last year to the two journalists, the N.Y. Times' Erica L. Green reports.

๐Ÿ’ก Zoom in: Dunnigan, who authored the book "Alone atop the Hill" about her experiences, was the first to be credentialed during the Truman presidency for the Associated Negro Press.

Dunnigan pawned her jewelry to afford food. She was forced to pay her way โ€” over $10,000 in today's dollars โ€” to join Truman on a West Coast tour, the first African American reporter to travel with the president.

  • It led to one of her first big scoops and a great headline: "Pajama Clad President Defends Civil Rights at Midnight."

Read the full Times story (gift link โ€” no paywall).

7. ๐ŸŽน Condi Rice's musical message

The Alfalfa Club after-party at Cafe Milano included (from left): Josh Harris, Mark Ein, Beverly Perry (senior adviser to the mayor), D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had the titans and swells at the 111th annual Alfalfa Club dinner on their feet Saturday night as she played Ukraine's national anthem on an onstage piano โ€” and asked her "fellow Republicans" to support Ukraine.

  • Why it matters: Rice, director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, was part of the evening's through-line โ€” protecting democracy. Some senators at the dinner fear they're on the brink of a historic mistake by tanking Ukraine aid. One speech talked up NATO, which Donald Trump derides.

Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, was part of the audience.

  • The black-tie Alfalfa dinner at the Capital Hilton brings together the diplomatic corps; all three branches of government, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo; plus lots of moguls โ€” Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Michael Bloomberg. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan was inducted as a new member.
  • The menu included poached lobster and medallions of beef.

๐ŸŽต On a lighter note, Rice said Trump would replace {plays "Hail to the Chief"} with {plays "How Great Thou Art."}

  • Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy joked: "The mob on the outside of the Capitol was nothing compared to the mob on the inside."

8. ๐Ÿˆ 1 for the road: Red-on-red Super Bowl

Illustration: Axios Visuals

The Kansas City Chiefs will face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas on Feb. 11 โ€” a rematch from the 2020 game, which the Chiefs won.

The 49ers rallied from 17 points down to tame the Detroit Lions, 34-31, in the NFC championship, crushing euphoric Detroit fans.

๐Ÿฆ Detroit remains the only team to play every season of the Super Bowl era without reaching the ultimate game.

Taylor Swift celebrates with Travis Kelce after his Kansas City Chiefs won in Baltimore. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Chiefs beat the Baltimore Ravens at home, 17-10, in the AFC title game to advance to their fourth Super Bowl in five years.

  • Kansas City hasn't played San Francisco this season.

Taylor Swift on field ... Super Bowl lookahead.

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