Jan 4, 2021

Axios AM

☕ Welcome back! Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,180 words ... 4½ minutes.

🇮🇷 Iran has resumed 20% uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear facility, a government spokesman said. Reuters

🐝 Busy, busy! President's Trump's public schedule for today is blank until his rally in Georgia tonight, but notes: "President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings."

1 big thing: McConnell Party vs. Trump Party
Vice President Pence holds a ceremonial swearing-in yesterday for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. His wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, held the Bible. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Pool

The Republican battle lines being formed in President Trump's final days — his loyalists vs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's establishment — will shape American politics for the next four years. 

  • Why it matters: This power struggle will help define everything from the future of conservatism and right-wing media to President-elect Biden’s ability to win Republican cooperation in office. More broadly and more importantly, the outcome will determine if Trumpism — and its norm-smashing tactics — come to permanently define one of America's two major political parties.

The camps are clear as we begin this epic political month:

  • The Trump camp includes House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, the 12 senators and 140+ House members who plan a futile fight Wednesday against certification of Biden’s victory. That group includes GOP 2024 hopefuls, including Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
  • With Trump out of office, McConnell will be the GOP’s de facto leader, backed by Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and other establishment types who don't have to worry about primary challenges from the right, where Trump has shown he’s willing to play a decisive role.

Look for McCarthy to straddle the camps.

  • So will Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, primed for a 2024 presidential run. Cotton, a vocal Trump ally, announced last night that he won't join the protest: "[O]bjecting to certified electoral votes won’t give him a second term."

Between the lines: Some top Republicans tell us this split will blur. McConnell is unlikely to chart a true separation, and will do plenty for Trumpy Republicans in coming years.

  • McConnell has greater street cred with the base than he did a few years ago, after helping Trump seat three justices on the Supreme Court.

🥊 Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2012, who has said little since leaving office, issued a scathing statement about the lawmakers' planned resistance:

It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections.

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2. America's new startup hotspots

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Venture capitalists historically have been reluctant to invest in startups based too far from home, making it easier for "good ideas" to get funded in the Bay Area or the Acela corridor, Axios' Dan Primack writes.

  • Shutdowns have changed that, which could create a virtuous cycle of economic opportunity in cities and regions left out of America's tech boom.

As a sign of these rising markets, 2020 saw several large IPOs for VC-backed companies in non-bubble areas, including Columbus, Ohio (Root Insurance), and coastal North Carolina (nCino).

Many VCs used to abide by the "20-minute rule": They wouldn't invest in a company located more than a 20-minute drive from their home or office.

  • One Boston-area investor put a subway spin on it, saying he wouldn't meet with companies located past a certain stop on the MBTA's Red Line.
  • But the pandemic forced venture capitalists to attend board meetings via Zoom. And they learned that, while often missing the in-person interaction, their work didn't suffer.

Keep reading.

3. Trump on tape: "I just want to find 11,780 votes"

The White House on New Year's Day. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Former Manhattan U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Trump, tweeted that the "odds of Trump declaring a self pardon just went up a bunch" after the leak of an hour-long tape of the president trying to beg, bluff and bully a Georgia official into flipping the state's presidential vote.

  • "I won this election by hundreds of thousands of votes," Trump said on the Saturday call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, posted in full by The Washington Post. "There’s no way I lost Georgia."
  • "[T]he ballots are corrupt," Trump continued. "[I]t is more illegal for you than it is for them because, you know, what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. ... That’s a big risk to you."
  • "All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state."

Trump's call may have violated Georgia and federal statutes that prohibit interference in elections, but lawyers said it "would be difficult to pursue such a charge," the N.Y. Times reported (subscription).

  • Go deeper: Listen to the audio, read the transcript.

🗞️ How it's playing ...

The New York Times

😲 One last bit of intrigue ... Former Vice President Cheney, who has kept a low profile in the Trump years, "originated" the idea for a WashPost op-ed in which all 10 living former SecDefs — including both of Trump's — argue that the "time for questioning the results has passed," former SecDef William Perry tweeted.

4. Pics du jour: 117th Congress convenes
Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Above: Speaker Nancy Pelosi — elected to lead the House a fourth time, by a narrow 216-209 vote — waves the gavel before addressing members.

Below: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy held ceremonial swearing-in ceremonies for Republican members — including freshman Rep. Blake Moore of Utah (below) — in front of a Ronald Reagan portrait in the leader's Capitol office.

Photo via Rep. Blake Moore
5. The no-to-Nancy Democrats
Speaker Pelosi swears in House members yesterday. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Two Democrats voted against Speaker Pelosi: Rep. Jared Golden (Maine) voted for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) ... Rep. Conor Lamb (Penn.) voted for House Democratic Chair Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.)

  • Voting present: Reps. Mikie Sherrill (N.J.), Elissa Slotkin (Mich.) and Abigail Spanberger (Va.).
6. "Harder Line": 10 energy and climate issues to watch

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amy Harder's fourth annual list includes:

  • Biden’s presidency will drastically change how corporations engage on climate change. Corporations will now be tested on what kind of regulations they could support.
  • New tech rising: Expect Congress and Biden's Energy Department to pour money and attention into new technologies, including hydrogen, carbon capture, advanced nuclear power and energy storage.
  • Extreme weather could force political will to act on climate change.

Keep reading.

7. Poor vaccine planning could increase racial divide

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

States and the federal government have incorporated equity into their vaccine distribution plans, but adherence will largely depend on the honor system, Axios Vitals author Caitlin Owens writes.

  • Why it matters: Vulnerable populations tend to be harder to reach and more hesitant about receiving the vaccine. If these obstacles aren’t addressed early, people of color will be left behind once again.

One solution: Vaccines need to be administered in a setting that vulnerable people can comfortably access, like a local church.

8. 🌏 Ian Bremmer's "Top Risks 2021"

Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer and Chairman Cliff Kupchan say that No. 1 on their annual list of top global risks is "46*."

  • "Biden’s term opens the era of the asterisk presidency," they explain, "a time when the occupant of the Oval Office is seen as illegitimate by" much of the country.
  • "[T]he size of Trump’s base and the demographic broadening of his political coalition will force allies to reckon with the possibility of another 'America First' president taking office four years from now."

No. 2 is "Long Covid": "[T]he pandemic will leave a legacy of high public debt, displaced workers, and lost trust. Sharply different rates of recovery, both within and among countries, will stoke anti-incumbent anger and public unrest."

9. 1 for the road: Biden parade goes virtual
Photo: Presidential Inaugural Committee

Drawing on the Democratic convention's popular virtual roll call, President-elect Biden will stage a "Virtual Parade Across America" after his swearing-in, as part of planners' effort to deter crowds during the pandemic:

  • After the oath of office, Biden and Vice President-elect Harris — joined by Dr. Jill Biden and incoming second gentleman Doug Emhoff — will conduct a military review on the Capitol's East Front.

The inauguration committee opened a page to encourage participation: "Share Your Voice. Record a Video."

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