March 01, 2024

๐ŸŒท Happy Friday, and welcome to March.

  • Smart Brevityโ„ข count: 1,501 words ... 5ยฝ mins. Thanks to Dave Lawler for orchestrating. Edited by Bryan McBournie.

1 big thing: GOP's post-Roe peril spreads

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Republicans are trapped in a political minefield over reproductive rights โ€” paralyzed in fear that their vulnerabilities on abortion and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) could hand Democrats the 2024 election, Axios' Zachary Basu writes.

  • Why it matters: Rarely has a political issue proven so salient, so personal and so animating for voters at both the state and national level. The Alabama Supreme Court's ruling on IVF suggests the fallout from the end of Roe v. Wade is far from contained.

Keenly aware of their renewed political jeopardy, Republicans โ€” including former President Trump โ€” have scrambled to declare their approval of IVF, which Americans overwhelmingly support.

  • The Alabama Supreme Court's ruling declared that frozen embryos are children, prompting some clinics to pause treatment in fear they could be prosecuted for discarding embryos โ€” a common occurrence in IVF.
  • The intense backlash led the Alabama legislature to pass legislation Thursday to protect patients and doctors involved with IVF if embryos are damaged or destroyed.

But at a broader level, few Republicans have opined on whether discarding leftover embryos is illegal or immoralย โ€” or whether there should be federal protections for IVF.

  • One explanation for the silence: 125 House Republicans, including Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), co-sponsored a bill last year declaring that life begins at "the moment of fertilization."
  • Eager to paint Republicans' support for IVF as disingenuous, Senate Democrats attempted to pass a bill Wednesday enshrining federal protections for fertility treatments โ€” knowing it would be blocked.

๐Ÿ–ผ๏ธ The big picture: The GOP has yet to find a coherent strategy for countering the IVF crisis on the campaign trial.

  • The stunning streak of Democratic victories since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in June 2022 suggests the same goes for abortion rights.

๐Ÿ‘€ What to watch: The Biden campaign and other Democratic groups have a colossal war chest and no shortage of opportunities to hammer Republicans on reproductive rights โ€” with more land mines still looming.

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2. ๐ŸŽฉ "Exclusivity economy" booms

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

One of the fastest-growing areas of the economy is clubs selling exclusivity โ€” persuading the very rich that behind certain politely-guarded doors lies an expanse of grass that's especially green, Axios' Felix Salmon writes.

  • ๐Ÿ’ฐCase in point: While the price of concert tickets has soared in recent years, inflation in VIP tickets has been off the charts, with premium Taylor Swift tickets changing hands for upwards of $50,000 each.

Exclusive clubs are "sort of the industry du jour," Jennie Enterprise, the founder of the Core Club in Manhattan, told the Financial Times.

  • New York and London are seeing a rash of members' clubs opening up.
  • Pop-up events also drive millions of dollars in revenue from individuals wanting to be in glamorous places.

Between the lines: Part of the appeal is knowing most people can't join the club.

๐Ÿฝ๏ธ In New York, "house accounts" are back, Bloomberg reports:

A throwback to a Mad Men world of dining, house accounts confer a personal credit line upon the holder along with VIP status. In addition to being able to flex with a smooth, bold "Just put it on my tab" nod, such diners will be granted insider perks.

3.๐Ÿฆพ Betting big on human-like robots

 AI engineer Jenna Reher works on humanoid robot Figure 01 at Figure AI's test facility in Sunnyvale, Calif., Oct. 3, 2023. ChatGPT-maker OpenAI is looking to fuse its artificial intelligence systems into the bodies of humanoid robots as part of a new deal with robotics startup Figure. Sunnyvale, California-based Figure announced the partnership Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, along with $675 million in venture capital funding from a group that includes Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as well as Microsoft, chipmaker Nvidia and the startup-funding divisions of Amazon, Intel and OpenAI
AI engineer Jenna Reher works on humanoid robot Figure 01 at Figure AI's test facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

How's this for an investor pool: Jeff Bezos, AI chipmaker Nvidia, ChatGPT-maker OpenAI and more.

  • They're collectively pouring $675 million into humanoid robot startup Figure at a $2.6 billion valuation, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson writes.

Why it matters: Bipedal robots with dexterous hands are joining the labor force โ€” and there's a growing arms race among their producers, including Tesla and Boston Dynamics.

  • Figure's robots are joining BMW's production line.
  • Amazon is testing Digit, from Agility Robotics, for warehouse work.
  • NASA has a partnership with Apptronik to develop its humanoid robot (aptly named Apollo) for space exploration.

๐Ÿ“ฑ YouTubes: Watch Figure's robot moving a crate to a conveyor belt and making coffee, Tesla's Optimus taking a stroll and Sanctuary's Phoenix taking your blood pressure.

4.๐ŸŒ The fruit inflation forgot

Average U.S. fruit retail prices
Source:ย USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service. Chart: Deena Zaidi/Axios Visuals

Soaring food prices have taken a serious bite out of consumer spending, but bananas have consistently bucked the trend, Axios' Deena Zaidi writes.

  • Bananas have never exceeded $1 per pound. At Trader Joe's, they've been 19 cents apiece for two decades.

๐Ÿ–ผ The big picture: Favorable growing conditions, low labor costs, efficient shipping and distribution system, free trade agreements and massive plantations have insulated bananas from soaring prices.

  • And they're good for you!

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5. ๐Ÿ“ˆ Behind the scenes: Bidenworld's big gauge

Biden looks into crowd
Biden speaks at a brewery in Wisconsin last month. Photo: Nicole Neri/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For some Biden advisers, the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment survey โ€” which drops at 10 am ET today โ€” is becoming perhaps the most important economic reading of the month, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.

  • Why it matters: For President Biden to win reelection, voters need to feel the economy is as good as Wall Street and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen insist it is.

Over the past three months, the Michigan reading โ€” along with the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) โ€” have brought into focus something the White House has been squinting to see: a happy, healthy consumer.

  • We'll have today's number in Axios PM!

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6. ๐Ÿ”ฎ What Biden will tell the nation next week

Biden and Trump split screen
Biden and Trump during their split-screen visits to the Texas border yesterday. Left: Cheney Orr/Getty Images. Right: Eric Gay/AP

President Biden's State of the Union address next Thursday will highlight "historic" accomplishments โ€” from infrastructure spending to scrapping junk fees โ€” and make the case for "protecting and implementing" that agenda, a White House official tells Axios.

  • "The president will talk about whose side he is on and the work ahead to make life better for every American," the official said.

๐Ÿ’ญ Alex Thompson's thought bubble: Based on this outline, Biden will focus on selling his existing accomplishments โ€” "protecting" rather than pivoting โ€” and betting voters will opt for stability over change.

The preview says the speech will cover "making the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share," "saving our democracy," and a "unity agenda" that includes curbing fentanyl, helping veterans and ending cancer.

7. ๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Scoop: Pro-Trump spots aim for Black voters

Trump at the border in Eagle Pass, Texas, yesterday, as seen from Piedras Negras, Mexico. Photo: Go Nakamura/Reuters
Trump at the border in Eagle Pass, Texas, yesterday, as seen from Piedras Negras, Mexico. Photo: Go Nakamura/Reuters

MAGA Inc., the main super PAC backing former President Trump, will go on the radio waves in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan on Monday with a monthlong campaign aimed at Black voters.

Why it matters: The Trump campaign and its allies see vulnerabilities for President Biden with Black and Hispanic male voters.

  • Taylor Budowich, CEO of Make America Great Again Inc., tells Axios: "This is a first step in a sustained effort to reach every voter, in every corner in America."

๐Ÿ“ป "President Trump will protect our daughters' sports teams," a narrator who is African American, according to the super PAC, says in the minute-long ad.

  • "Trump will declare war on the cartels and stop the flood of drugs and crime into our communities. President Trump โ€” delivered for us before and he'll do it again."

Reality check: Trump remarks to Black leaders in South Carolina last week, where he suggested his mugshot has helped his outreach, were criticized by the White House as "divisive ... repugnant."

๐ŸฅŠ In response to the new ad, Michael Tyler, communications director for Biden-Harris 2024, told me: "There's a reason they waited until Black History Month was over to run this: The only thing Donald Trump did for Black people was lose to Joe Biden in 2020."

CNN calendars showing cases
Screenshot: CNN

โš–๏ธ A Trump campaign twist: His legal delay tactics are paying off, meaning he's likely to spend less time in one of his favored campaign venues โ€” courthouses, Axios' Erin Doherty writes.

  • Why it matters: Trump has tried to make the best of the legal burden โ€” some of his biggest fundraising hauls have followed courthouse speeches.

It's now likely that just one of Trump's four criminal cases โ€” the one in Manhattan involving hush money paid to Stormy Daniels โ€” will be tried before the election.

  • That case is likely to give Trump his next courtroom platform, on March 25.

8. โœˆ๏ธ 1 fun thing: Eclipse aloft

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Airlines are offering special flights for viewing the total solar eclipse on April 8, when the moon will cover the sun, Axios Salt Lake City's Erin Alberty writes.

  • Why it matters: At 30,000+ feet, you don't need to worry about clouds obscuring the effect.

Delta is offering a "path-of-totality flight" that's "timed to give those on board the best chance of safely viewing the solar eclipse at its peak."

  • Basic seats for the one-way fare from SLC to Austin are $469, and $449 to San Antonio.

Southwest also announced a list of flights scheduled to operate in the direct and partial paths of the celestial event."

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