Nov 13, 2020

Axios Login

Time for the intro. Now, where did I put my clever hat? I know it's here somewhere.

Today's Login is 1,444 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: The fight over Trump's FCC pick

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

President Trump is pushing the Senate to confirm his hand-picked nominee for a seat on the Federal Communications Commission, but people familiar with the state of play on Capitol Hill don't expect him to get his wish, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: The FCC oversees broadband internet rules, media ownership regulation and other policies that hold special importance to the president. A Trump-aligned commissioner could likely agitate for greater agency involvement in how online platforms moderate speech and otherwise extend Trump's influence into the Biden administration.

Catch up quick: Trump plucked Nathan Simington from the Commerce Department in September to join the FCC.

  • Simington, who is a relative unknown in telecom policy circles, had helped implement the president's social media executive order seeking to curb platforms' ability to moderate content.
  • Trump had previously tapped GOP Commissioner Mike O'Rielly for another term, but the president revoked that nomination after O'Rielly questioned the FCC's authority to craft online speech rules.
  • Simington had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee this week.

Driving the news: A quick confirmation for Simington in Congress' lame-duck session would give Republicans a chance to sabotage the early work of the Biden FCC.

  • The 5-member FCC gives 3 seats to whichever party holds the White House and 2 from the other side.
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is widely expected to step down before Biden takes office, and O'Rielly's term is up.
  • Their impending departures set up the Biden administration to start with a 2-1 Democratic majority at the FCC that could advance policy before other Biden nominees are confirmed to the empty slots.
  • If Simington is confirmed first, that would instead leave the FCC with a 2-2 party-line split, hampering big policy changes on issues such as net neutrality until another Democrat is confirmed.

What they're saying: "[Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell may see the bigger picture — keeping the FCC at 2-2 is better for a conservative approach to regulatory policy than allowing the Democrats to hit the ground running with a 2-1 advantage," said former Pai aide Nathan Leamer, now vice president at public affairs firm Targeted Victory.

On the morning of Simington's hearing Tuesday, Trump tweeted, "Republicans will hopefully confirm him to the FCC ASAP! We need action NOW on this very important nomination!!"

  • Per a spokesperson, Sen. Ted Cruz "looks forward to working with Mr. Simington and hopes he will be swiftly confirmed."

Yes, but: Simington is still viewed as unlikely to make it through the confirmation process in the limited time left in this Congress. He may lack the votes to get approved by the Senate Commerce committee, and he faces broader procedural hurdles.

  • Observers argue McConnell is unlikely to view confirming Simington as a great use of the time the Senate has left this year. (A McConnell spokesperson said there were no floor scheduling announcements or guidance to share on Simington.)

Meanwhile: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he would put a hold on Simington's nomination — slowing down its progress — unless Simington commits to recusing himself from FCC deliberations relating to Trump's executive order because he was involved in implementing it.

The bottom line: "The Senate Majority Leader has been very clear he wants to get more judges through — is jamming up the FCC really a priority for Republicans?" former FCC adviser Gigi Sohn said.

2. Microsoft: Russia, North Korea attacking COVID-19 vaccine efforts

Microsoft said Friday it has detected at least seven attacks on companies working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine or treatments.

Details: The company said attacks by three nation-state actors — two from North Korea and one from Russia — have targeted companies in Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States.

What they're saying: "Two global issues will help shape people’s memories of this time in history — COVID-19 and the increased use of the internet by malign actors to disrupt society," Microsoft deputy general counsel Tom Burt said in a blog post.

  • "It’s disturbing that these challenges have now merged as cyberattacks are being used to disrupt health care organizations fighting the pandemic."

Between the lines: Attackers have used a range of approaches including phishing schemes and brute force to get needed passwords, with one group tied to North Korea posing as the World Health Organization in its spear-phishing effort.

  • Microsoft said its built-in security protections stopped a majority of the attacks.
  • "We’ve notified all organizations targeted, and where attacks have been successful, we’ve offered help," Burt said.

The big picture: The attacks come amid growing threats to health care providers and nongovernmental agencies, including ransomware attacks against hospitals.

  • Microsoft noted that it made its AccountGuard notification service available starting in April to human rights and health care organizations working on coronavirus-related efforts, signing up 195 such groups.
3. Parler exec defends allowing conspiracy theories, misinformation

Parler chief policy officer Amy Peikoff criticized those who knowingly post false information online, but defended the fast-growing social network's tolerance of such content.

Why it matters: Parler has become a social network refuge for Trump supporters who believe that giant platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become too restrictive. That has helped the newcomer shoot to the very top of app store charts.

What they're saying: "That's a terrible thing to put out things with no evidence," Peikoff told Dan Primack on the Axios Re:Cap podcast. "That is not good. ... But I'm not going to prevent people from doing it. Let them stand and fall. Let's let the marketplace of ideas decide."

The big picture: Parler has more than doubled in size in recent days, topping 8 million users. "It's probably over 9 million by now," Peikoff said.

Yes, but: Although Parler allows people to post false information or conspiracy theories, there are limits to free speech on the fast-growing social network. The site doesn't allow people to pretend to be someone else or to post pornography.

  • To determine whether content violates Parler's terms of service, reports are adjudicated by a jury of the service's users, with 4 out of 5 jurors required to find a piece of content offensive. Parler does have the ability for jurors to escalate child pornography or terrorism-related content.

"We really do try to emulate the justice system of the United States," Peikoff said.

Our thought bubble: Dan says Parler is basically an echo chamber right now. Its biggest challenge might be in convincing users to stick around on a social platform where they don't have an opportunity to argue with liberals.

4. Charted: The top science and tech states
Data: Milken Institute; Table: Axios Visuals

Massachusetts, Colorado and California top a list of U.S. states with the greatest "capacity for achieving prosperity through scientific discovery and technological innovation," according to the Milken Institute's 2020 State Technology and Science Index released today.

Why it matters: Addressing the factors that allow states to create more jobs and economic growth could help them recover from the pandemic's economic fallout and adapt to future downturns and disruptions, Axios' Alison Snyder reports.

Maryland, Washington and Utah rounded out the top tier of states on the index, which has been reported every two years for almost two decades.

Zoom in: "Utah did several things right," says study author Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute’s Center for Regional Economics.

  • The state is anchored by three universities (University of Utah, Utah State and Brigham Young University), matched investments by various tech and life sciences companies in the state, and sold people on the lifestyle, he says.

Key takeaway: "Policy matters tremendously," says Klowden. "Geography and history are an advantage, but it is really about the states that invest and protect what they do."

  • The states consistently in the top 20 make an effort around education and linking people to jobs, he says.
Take Note

On Tap

  • It's Friday the 13th, and it's 2020. Be careful out there.

Trading Places


  • DoorDash filed for an IPO Friday, revealing nearly $2 billion in revenue in the first three quarters of 2020 and narrowing losses, as the pandemic drives big delivery business. (CNBC)
  • Unity Software and Palantir both reported their first earnings as public companies — and both the game engine maker and the big data firm saw rising losses year over year. (MarketWatch, CNBC)
  • Twitter said it labeled 300,000 pieces of misinformation related to the recent U.S. election. (Engadget)
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees that Joe Biden won the presidential election. (BuzzFeed News)
  • The government's top cybersecurity official expects to be fired after refusing to validate Trump's false claims of election fraud. (Reuters)
  • The Trump administration is appealing a court order that halted a ban on TikTok that would've taken effect Thursday. Another aspect of the would-be ban remains unresolved, but TikTok remains operational in the U.S. as of Friday. (Reuters)
6. After you Login

I'm not going to say what exactly spilled out of a truck in this accident. But I can give you a hint: It was funny, hilarious, comical and amusing. (OK, OK, the backstory in the tweet may just be a bit dubious, fishy and questionable.)