Jan 3, 2021

Axios AM

🥞 Happy Sunday! Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 999 words ... 4 minutes.

🎙️ Situational awareness: Broadcasting legend Larry King, 87, has been hospitalized with COVID at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in L.A. for more than a week, and is isolated from family visitors, his alma mater CNN reports.

1 big thing: American fury invades 2021

Graffiti on the Louisville front door of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo: Timothy D. Easley/AP

America's 2020 fury is already scarring 2021:

  • Vandals sprayed political graffiti on the homes of the top two congressional leaders.
  • New Hampshire canceled its Republican governor's public inauguration because of armed protesters in his backyard.
  • Vice President Pence is now backing a growing movement among Republicans in Congress to stage a futile last-ditch protest of the certification of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday.
  • President Trump is eagerly promoting a loser's ball: His supporters are vowing to converge on D.C. from around the country on Wednesday, as Biden's win becomes official. "THIS COULD BE THE BIGGEST EVENT IN WASHINGTON DC HISTORY," claims a video Trump retweeted overnight.

Why it matters: Every day brings raw, even shocking new evidence that November's election, despite a clear result, did nothing to tame the turmoil in torn America.

The attacks on the San Francisco home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Kentucky home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell constitute a stunning new transgression:

  • Garbage bags were taped to the garage door of Pelosi's home yesterday, covering up a "$2K" that had been spray-painted and crossed out, for $2,000 stimulus checks, NBC Bay Area reports. The graffiti, which took up the whole garage door, also said: "CANCeL ReNT!" and "We WANT eVeRYTHING!" In the driveway, there was fake blood and a pig's head in red.
  • In Louisville, spray paint on McConnell's door read, "WERES MY MONEY." "MITCH KILLS THE POOR" was scrawled over a window, AP reports. A profanity directed at McConnell was painted under the mailbox.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican elected to a third term in November, nailed it on CNN yesterday as he explained his decision to cancel his outdoor inauguration ceremony because of "ongoing public safety concerns."

  • Sununu called it an "accumulation, I think, of what we're seeing across the whole country. ... There's this whole new boundary, there's a whole new goalpost of what people deem as acceptable when they are not happy."
  • Now Sununu will hold a virtual inauguration, attended by legislative leaders.
2. Inside the GOP rebellion

Via CNN

Here's the thinking of Republicans who plan to object Wednesday to certifying the Electoral College victory of President-elect Biden — a band that's up to a dozen senators and at least 140 House members, backed by Vice President Pence:

  • They know there's no state where the results are in any kind of doubt, and they know their protests won't change the outcome, Axios politics and White House editor Margaret Talev points out.
  • The rebels are letting other Republicans (including Senate Majority Leader McConnell) take the heat, while they stoke the base. The objections let them court Trump as part of an effort to fend off primary challenges. 

Marc Short, Pence's chief of staff, said in a statement that Pence "shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities."

  • The statement notably doesn't say that Pence, who'll be presiding, will object. Instead, it says he "welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections."
Sen. Ted Cruz greets a crowd yesterday before speaking at a rally for Sen. Kelly Loeffler in Cumming, Ga. Photo: Brynn Anderson/AP

After Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) went first, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is leading a group of 11 more senators as elector objectors, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

  • The Cruz crew is calling for "an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states."

How it works: If both a representative and a senator object to an individual state's result, members of the House and Senate head to their separate chambers — for up to two hours — to debate and vote on whether to uphold the challenge.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called the protests "egregious": "The congressional power to reject electors is reserved for the most extreme and unusual circumstances. These are far from it."
3. Car-buying has changed forever

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It took a pandemic to drag car-buying into the 21st century — and it turns out that dealers are more profitable than ever, Axios Navigate author Joann Muller writes from Detroit.

  • Why it matters: Consumers can now buy cars online as they do almost everything else.

While many other commercial transactions went digital years ago, car-buying remained a stubbornly low-tech, often aggravating, process.

  • But when the public health crisis paralyzed the industry, car dealers scrambled to install new software that would let customers browse inventory, apply for credit and choose a payment schedule.
  • And they offered virtual test drives to demonstrate in-car technology and arranged "touchless" vehicle pickup and delivery.

Some progressive dealers have been exploring online sales initiatives for several years.

  • Many worried their profit margins would suffer if they weren't able to upsell buyers with extras like extended warranties or plush floor mats.
  • Prices have stayed up because there's less haggling. And inventories are limited due to COVID-related factory shutdowns earlier in the year.

The bottom line: A three or four-hour showroom visit has been compressed into 15 minutes online.

4. Pic du jour
Photo by Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images)

Ahead of an epic political week, Washington emerged from hibernation.

5. Fauci rebuts Trump: "The deaths are real deaths"

Friends Patty Tubbs, 68, Terri Kado, 66, got in line at midnight for a COVID vaccine at Lakes Park Regional Library in Fort Myers, Fla. Photo: Andrew West/The (Fort Myers) News-Press via Reuters

As COVID deaths in the U.S. passed 350,000, President Trump tweeted: "The number of cases and deaths of the China Virus is far exaggerated in the United States because of [the CDC's] ridiculous method ...'When in doubt, call it Covid.'"

Dr. Anthony Fauci, asked about the president's assertion, told Martha Raddatz on ABC's "This Week": "The deaths are real deaths."

  • "All you need to do is to go out into the trenches. Go to the hospitals, see what the health-care workers are dealing with. They are under very stressed situations."
  • Hospitals in many states, Fauci said, "are running out of beds, running out of trained personnel, who are exhausted right now. That's real. That's not fake."
6. 🇷🇺 Russia hacked from inside U.S.

Russian hackers staged their attacks from servers inside the U.S — sometimes using computers in the same town or city as the victims, the cybersecurity company FireEye tells the N.Y. Times (subscription).

  • Why it matters: This let the intruders evade "legal prohibitions on the National Security Agency from engaging in domestic surveillance," and elude "cyberdefenses deployed by the Department of Homeland Security."
7. Tweet of the day

Pairing a tweet from 2016 with one from yesterday:

Via Twitter

Hat tip: Ben Rhodes

8. 🏈 1 smile to go: Mancave with 9 views
Photo: ESPN PR via Twitter

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, former Ohio State QB, had this incredible setup as he called the Sugar Bowl (Clemson v. Buckeyes) from his Nashville home on New Year's Day after testing positive for COVID.

  • Here's something cool: a 1-minute video of Herbstreit calling a Sugar Bowl play from his COVID command center.

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