Mar 18, 2021

Axios AM

🏀 Happy Thursday! March Madness tips off at 5:10 p.m. ET.

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 1,197 words ... 4½ minutes.

🚨House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy will introduce a resolution today calling for Democrats to remove Rep. Eric Swalwell from the Intelligence Committee, Punchbowl News scoops. In December, Axios reported Swalwell's ties to a suspected Chinese spy.

💻 Join Russell Contreras and me today at 12:30 p.m. ET for an Axios Virtual Event on legislation to eliminate the sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack. Our guests: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) and advocate Matthew Charles. Register here.

1 big thing: Biden's big hurdles

President Biden speaks yesterday on the Atlanta killings. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden’s next big moves require two things Republicans hate — new taxes and new filibuster limits. Both will make the $1.9 trillion spending bill look easy and calm.

  • Why it matters: Biden wants to reform voting laws and dramatically increase infrastructure spending. It's doubtful Republicans will rush to truly help on either front.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has threatened to blow up the Senate to preserve the legislative filibuster rule, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is opposed to eliminating it.

  • McConnell writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today: "If Democrats kill the filibuster by 50-50 vote, they’ll release furies they can barely imagine. ... Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like."

Senate Democrats who want to eliminate the filibuster, which would allow them to pass legislation by simple majority, don't have a plan for flipping Manchin — and he may be immovable, Axios' Jonathan Swan, Alayna Treene and Kadia Goba report.

  • Manchin, who represents a very red and Trumpy state, has said repeatedly and emphatically that he won’t get rid of the filibuster — that he respects the rights of the minority.

Swan's conversations with lawmakers over the past few days have picked up an emerging theme — moral pressure.

  • Some Democrats believe that by making this about Manchin’s legacy — Does he want to stand in the way of major voting-rights legislation? — they can overcome his entrenched opposition.
  • Manchin would be more powerful if Democrats got rid of the filibuster. You'd need 50 votes — he would get to decide everything. With 60, the current threshold for most legislation, he's less powerful.

To partially pay for Biden's coming infrastructure package, he'll need to jack up taxes on corporations and the wealthy — with some of Washington's most powerful forces opposed.

  • Look for Biden/Democrats to focus on raising the corporate tax rate to 28% and the highest tax bracket back to 39.6%, aides tell us.

The Business Roundtable "will be actively opposing efforts to raise corporate taxes," president and CEO Josh Bolten told reporters last week.

  • Caroline Harris, vice president of tax policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told Hans Nichols in Axios Sneak Peek: "Everyone loves infrastructure until you have to figure out how to pay for it."
2. Warren calls filibuster racist

Sen. Elizabeth Warren gives one of her famous pinky promises to 5-year-old Evelyn Baker on a nurses' picket line in Worcester, Mass., last week. Photo: Ashley Green / Telegram & Gazette via Reuters

Signaling a coming case by progressives, Sen. Elizabeth Warren told Alayna Treene the Senate's legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation, wasn't a creation of the founding fathers:

  • "The filibuster ... was designed to give the South the ability to veto any effective civil rights legislation or anti-lynching legislation," Warren said.
  • "The filibuster has deep roots in racism, and it should not be permitted to serve that function, or to create or to create a veto for the minority. In a democracy, it's majority rules."
3. Listening to America: How Asian Americans encounter racism

Social post by Lucky Lotus, a restaurant in Des Moines.

This week's killing of six Asian women in Atlanta elicited grieving and organizing around the country, as America confronts a yearlong escalation in anti-Asian violence.

  • Linh Ta, an Axios Local reporter in Des Moines, writes that discrimination is often invisible to much of the public:

Amanda Lovan of Iowa Asian Alliance said many people are hesitant to file reports. But friends tell friends:

  • Outside a carwash off Indianola Avenue, someone called an Asian American woman a slur and told her "go back to your own country."
  • A driver threw an egg at an Asian American woman by Double Dragon in Des Moines last month.

Between the lines: The "model minority" myth places Asian Americans on a fake pedestal that erases their struggles.

  • It is also used to excuse racism against other marginalized groups — as in, if Asians can succeed in America, so can Black people, Latinos, etc.
  • This racist thinking makes it easier for the public to ignore acts of violence against minority groups.

Linh writes: After seeing national news about attacks, my mom asked me a few weeks ago if she should buy mace. My heart feels heavy.

4. Pic du jour

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The White House is lit for St. Patrick's Day.

  • President Biden, of Irish descent, met virtually with Ireland's prime minister, Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
5. Voices of swing voters

A migrant camp yesterday outside the port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico, as asylum seekers wait for U.S. authorities to allow them to start the immigration process. Photo: Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images

Swing voters said in a focus group that President Biden isn't doing enough to discourage the migration surge, Axios' Ursula Perano reports.

  • Why it matters: The immigration crisis — plus rising fears about inflation — are presenting new tests for Biden, who had hoped to be focusing on the twin wins of stimulus and expanding vaccinations.

Axios watched two Engagious/Schlesinger swing-voter focus groups this week, with sessions that included a total of 12 people from battleground states who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but Biden in 2020.

6. The threat within: New warning for 2021

Shattered glass remained a week after the Jan. 6 attack on Congress. Photo: Scott Applewhite/AP

The intelligence community issued a rare warning that the U.S. faces an "elevated threat" in 2021 from "domestic violent extremists ... motivated by a range of ideologies and galvanized by ... political and societal events."

  • "Enduring ... motivations pertaining to biases against minority populations and perceived government overreach will almost certainly continue to drive ... radicalization and mobilization to violence," says the report, released by the DNI.
  • Go deeper: Read the 4-page intelligence assessment.

New data from the Anti-Defamation League shows white supremacist propaganda reached alarming levels across the U.S. in 2020, AP reports:

  • There were 5,125 cases of racist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ and other hateful messages spread through flyers, stickers, banners and posters. That’s nearly double the 2,724 instances reported in 2019.
  • Read the report.
7. Our weekly map: Normalcy gets closer
Expand chart
Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University. Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The pace of new COVID cases in the U.S. has stabilized as vaccinations ramp up, Axios health care editor Sam Baker writes.

  • Why it matters: A safe return to some version of normalcy, even if it’s not as complete as it could be, is still close at hand, thanks to the vaccines.

The pace of new infections got better over the past week in 13 states, got worse in another 13, and held steady everywhere else.

  • Michigan saw the biggest jump in new cases, at 53%.
  • The biggest improvements were in Alabama, Arizona, California and Georgia, each of which saw a decline of over 30% in new cases per day.

Share this map.

8. Streaming boosts big-media stocks
Data: Investing.com. Chart: Axios Visuals

Stocks for traditional media giants are hitting record highs, largely due to streaming, Axios Media Trends expert Sara Fischer writes.

  • Why it matters: The COVID crisis has taken a toll on the pay-TV industry. But investors feel optimistic that traditional content companies have value in launching their own streaming services, or producing content for others.

Keep reading.

9. AP journalist spends birthday in prison
Thein Zaw in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Family via AP

Today is the 33rd birthday of Thein Zaw, an AP journalist arrested in Myanmar on Feb. 27 while covering demonstrations against a coup.

  • He faces a charge that could send him to prison for three years; his next hearing will be March 24.

Thein Zaw was arrested as he was photographing police, some of them armed, charging down a street at anti-coup protesters, AP reports:

  • A video shows that although he stepped to the side of the street to get out of their way, several police rushed over and surrounded him.

AP Asia-Pacific News Director Adam Schreck said: "His images and brave reporting for the global news agency — and the work of other detained journalists in Myanmar — helped illuminate what is happening in one of the world's hardest to cover countries."

10. 🎞️ Milestone: 98% of AMC cinemas open tomorrow

"Tenet" director Christopher Nolan watches "Judas and the Black Messiah" on reopening day at AMC Burbank on Monday. Photo: Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images

AMC, the country's largest theater chain, will be almost fully reopened tomorrow, including the return of all 25 locations in L.A. County.

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