Nov 1, 2020

Axios Sneak Peek

Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus our best scoops.

  • There's 1 full day before the election.

Tonight's newsletter is 1,402 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing ... Scoop: Biden may keep Warren, Sanders out of Cabinet

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Joe Biden’s team is considering an informal ban on naming Democratic U.S. senators to the Cabinet if he wins — which would effectively block Elizabeth Warren for Treasury or Bernie Sanders for Labor — people familiar with the discussions tell me.

The big picture: Biden, if he wins, is bracing for bruising legislative battles on day one, starting with the next phase of coronavirus relief. Many advisers don’t think he can afford to lose a single vote in the Senate if Dems hold a slim majority.

  • Biden himself hasn’t made a decision on a potential Senate ban, with his efforts focused on winning on Tuesday, the sources say.

The intrigue: An informal ban could also be an elegant way of tamping down campaigns to place progressive senators in top Cabinet roles by reminding the movement of the priority around enacting legislation.

  • Warren and Sanders both come from an unusual construct — blue states with Republican governors who'd be empowered to fill vacancies.
  • There might be a way for a Democratic supermajority in the Massachusetts legislature to force Gov. Charlie Baker to appoint a Democrat. That looks less likely in Vermont where Gov. Phil Scott is expected to cruise to re-election.

Be smart: Progressives are trying to build momentum for Warren and Sanders, to press a prospective Biden administration to embrace economic justice and eschew traditional special interests.

  • Some members of Biden’s inner circle are deeply skeptical about handing Treasury, which will play a key role in any economic recovery to Warren, who has reportedly expressed interest in the job.

Between the lines: If strictly applied, an informal ban also would dash Cabinet hopes for senators from states with Democratic governors, such as Chris Coons, Tammy Duckworth, Amy Klobuchar and Chris Murphy.

  • Biden is close to several of them and would have to gently tell them their services are needed more in the Senate.

But, but, but: If Democrats can secure a comfortable margin in the Senate, there’s less of an argument that losing a single seat would crimp Biden’s agenda.

2. Biden's congressional blitz

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If Democrats win the Senate, they may test the limits of “budget reconciliation” with a blitz to pass as much as possible with 50 votes, pending a decision on whether to finally abolish the filibuster and its 60-vote requirement.

The big picture: Biden, if he's elected, will front-load his agenda with coronavirus relief and attempt several other big-ticket items in his first year, aware that his political capital will start to diminish as soon as he takes office.

  • After a pandemic push that could top $3 billion, he'll have to decide how to prioritize immigration, climate, taxes, health care, prescription drugs and student loans. Every interest group thinks its legislation should go first. Many will be disappointed.

What we're hearing: With Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying the Senate is unlikely to consider a relief package this year, Biden may be forced to do a short-term package right away.

  • But some Biden advisers think the White House will only get one shot and want to go as big as possible on the first pass. They're determined to learn from the $787 billion stimulus of 2009, which most economists now think was too small.
3. Bonus map: Final week split screen
Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The closing week of campaigning by President Trump and Joe Biden underscores their different strategies, Axios' Alayna Treene and Alexi McCammond report.

The big picture: Low on cash, Trump is chasing free coverage and base enthusiasm he might convert to votes, via mask-optional pandemic rallies.

  • It's a big gamble with real public health implications — but so far he has fewer and softer paths to 270 electoral votes.
  • Biden said no to super-spreader events and has stuck with fewer, smaller, socially distanced stops. He still holds the edge in most polls.
4. Intel committee senators fear constitutional crisis

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Top lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee tell Axios their biggest fear in the immediate days after Tuesday's election is a "perception hack" that throws our country into a constitutional crisis, Alayna reports.

What they're saying: "This is a really dangerous moment; the only antidote is a landslide," Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) tells Axios.

  • Acting Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tells Alayna every American should "be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting."
  • He says foreign adversaries may attempt "to stage fake voter intimidation, spread last minute sensationalist claims, or target our election systems and infrastructure — or simply leave the impression that they have altered or manipulated those systems."

Why it matters: That will only be amplified if President Trump joins in on questioning the credibility of the system.

  • "In recent months, the perception hack is coming from the White House," the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) tells Axios.

What we're hearing: The chief concern is around Russia and Iran in particular. "They don't have to change votes," King says. "They don't have to wipe registration rolls. All they have to do is raise doubt."

5. Scoop: Trump's plan to declare premature victory

Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

President Trump has told confidants he'll declare victory on Tuesday night if it looks like he's "ahead," according to three sources familiar with his private comments, Axios' Jonathan Swan scooped earlier today.

  • That's even if the Electoral College outcome still hinges on large numbers of uncounted votes in key states like Pennsylvania.

Behind the scenes: Trump has privately talked through this scenario in some detail in the last few weeks, describing plans to walk up to a podium on election night and declare he has won.

  • For this to happen, his allies expect he would need to either win or have commanding leads in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Arizona and Georgia.

Why it matters: Trump's team is preparing to falsely claim that mail-in ballots counted after Nov. 3 — a legitimate count expected to favor Democrats — are evidence of election fraud.

Go deeper.

6. The race for 2024

Kristi Noem at an event in July. Photo: Chris Elise/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First, America must survive 2020 — but early positioning for 2024 is already underway.

Why it matters: If President Trump loses to Joe Biden, jockeying for control of the Republican Party starts immediately, Axios contributor Glen Johnson writes.

Driving the news: South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem set Trump campaign stops in Florida, Maine and the first-primary state of New Hampshire all in the closing weeks of the campaign.

  • Since the Republican National Convention, she's been on-air with a $5 million commercial that's run heavily on Fox News, using federal coronavirus relief funds, aimed at luring tourists back to South Dakota.

The big picture: There are many other smoke signals from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who gave his RNC address from Israel; former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley, seated by Melania Trump at the last presidential debate; U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas; and even Trump’s own children.

Don't forget: Nothing prevents President Trump himself from running again in 2024, if he loses to Biden, per the 22nd Amendment.

The other side: If Dems lose twice to Trump, progressives may get the jump ball in a party meltdown. But if Biden wins, 2024-curious Democrats face a more delicate situation. As the oldest U.S. president who would be sworn in and a self-described “transition” figure, he could immediately face a lame-duck perception.

  • Kamala Harris, as V.P., would have institutional and media advantages — but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and 2020 contenders including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar could weigh running.

Who gets what in a Biden Cabinet could turn potential rivals into allies — or vice versa — giving Harris incentive to weigh in on nominations. Plum posts for Pete Buttigieg or Julian Castro could impact the field.

Don’t forget: AOC will turn 35— the minimum age to serve as president — three weeks before Election Day 2024.

7. Sneak Peek diary

A home in Brooklyn is decorated with a jack-o'-lantern reading "vote," Oct. 31. Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

The House and Senate are on recess through the end of the week, Alayna reports.

President Trump's schedule:

  • Monday: Trump will deliver remarks at rallies in Fayetteville, North Carolina; Avoca, Pennsylvania; Traverse City, Michigan; Kenosha, Wisconsin; and Grand Rapids; Michigan.
  • Tuesday: Trump and first lady Melania are expected to host an election night at the White House, sources familiar with the plans tell Alayna.

Joe Biden's schedule:

  • Monday: Biden will appear at events in Beaver County and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Tuesday: Biden will spend Election Day in Wilmington, Delaware, where he'll deliver remarks that night, Alexi reports.
8. First look: Madeleine Albright's advice for Kamala Harris

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Feb. 26, 2019. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The first woman to be U.S. secretary of state offers advice to Biden's historic running mate in a forthcoming episode of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s Reimagine Podcast, Alayna reports:

It's an honor to be the first, but it's not the easiest. ... You are constantly being compared with your predecessors ...
[T]here were people who said: 'Well, Arab countries will not deal with a woman secretary of state.' And so the Arab ambassadors at the UN got together and said: 'We've had no problems dealing with Ambassador Albright. We won't have any trouble dealing with Secretary Albright.'
I had more problems with the men in our own government.