Axios Sneak Peek

The back of a propped up cardboard cut-out of the U.S. Capitol.
December 15, 2020

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

  • The inauguration is in 37 days.

Situational Awareness: Alex Goldstein of Massachusetts, who started @FacesofCOVID to mourn those lost to the coronavirus, today launched @2ShotsInTheArm to celebrate those getting the vaccine.

Today's newsletter is 1,051 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Scoop — Trump’s frenetic, fanciful, bitter final plea

Photo illustration of President Trump with his fingers crossed
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Right up to today's Electoral College vote, President Trump held the false hope that Republican-controlled state legislatures would replace electors with allies who'd overturn Joe Biden's win, two people who discussed the matter with him tell Axios' Jonathan Swan.

The big picture: Through the past week, the sources said, the president browbeat GOP legislators in multiple states, launched tirades against Republican Govs. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Brian Kemp of Georgia, vowed to make Fox News "pay" for accurately calling the race, and tested ways to say he didn't win without acknowledging he had lost.

Behind the scenes: One source who talked to Trump over the weekend said the president continued to insist there was significant fraud in multiple states, paraphrasing him: "Do you think if the legislatures know this is all true, they would just act to overturn this?'"

  • Like other confidants, this person tried to gently explain that even lawmakers who are allies probably wouldn't overturn a presidential election without a court order.
  • A second source said Trump ranted about how Ducey had been close to the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Trump nemesis — and how Kemp, in Trump's view, owes him his election but gave him nothing in return.
  • In Trump's private telling, Kemp was way down in the polls during the primary race, and Trump was bored one day in 2018, "so I started tweeting" an endorsement, and his support put Kemp in office. (Kemp was behind, and it's hard to imagine he would have won without Trump's support.)

Go deeper.

2. Biden's make-or-break first 6 months

Photo illustration of Joseph Biden in front of three hundred dollar bills with a downward trend line
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Business leaders see Biden's first six months as a make-or-break period for the economy — when he will either emerge as a promised bipartisan, centrist leader or submit to the demands of his party's progressive wing, lobbyists, top banks and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tell Axios.

Why it matters: Both Presidents Trump and Obama were able to pass big-ticket legislative items, like the Affordable Care Act and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, at the outset of their terms, thanks to having a unified government in both chambers of Congress.

  • Biden needs to do similar Big Things, but he currently faces a narrowly Democratic House and a Republican Senate. Even in a best-case scenario, he will operate with no better than a 50-50 Senate, making it a constant challenge to maintain his governing coalition.

What we're hearing: The business leaders say the pandemic is keeping the economy fragile, and they fear Biden will try to appease progressives, who want immediate regulatory action, through executive orders.

  • "We prefer him to legislate rather than regulate, and we'll know which path he's able to take within the first six months," the Chamber's chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, tells me.

Go deeper.

3. Biden's victory speech — by the numbers

Jill Biden hugs her husband, President-elect Joe Biden, after he finishes a speech today.
Jill Biden hugs her husband after his speech tonight. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In a 13-minute address just hours after the Electoral College voted him the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden focused on the framework of democracy while speaking to a national TV audience, Axios contributor Glen Johnson reports.

By the numbers: An instant speech review from showed the president-elect’s most frequently used word was “votes,” which he uttered 13 times.

  • Next was “people,” which he said 11 times, followed by “Americans” and “Trump,” which he said 10 times each.
  • The next six words — each of which he said nine times — were “America,” “American,” “democracy,” “electoral,” “know” and “president.”

Go deeper.

4. Trump tweets about Barr as Biden wins Electoral College

Attorney General William Barr and U.S. President Donald Trump
Attorney General Bill Barr stands behind President Trump in the Oval Office. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Joe Biden's moment of glory — officially becoming the 46th president at 5:29 p.m. following daylong Electoral College voting — was eclipsed when President Trump tweeted that Attorney General Bill Barr had resigned.

Between the lines: Trump has been contemplating firing Barr for months, but he released the news today at its most theatrical moment.

  • While the announcement was uncharacteristically cordial for Trump, he had re-explored replacing the attorney general after the Wall Street Journal reported Barr tried for months to conceal a federal investigation into Hunter Biden.

Trump's tweet was premature in one regard: It came two hours before Biden assumed a presidential posture by addressing the nation following the electors' vote.

5. Biden's DHS pick wins law enforcement support

Department of Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas is seen delivering a speech.
Alejandro Mayorkas. Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A number of immigration and law enforcement groups are publicly backing Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas after he failed to receive a single Republican vote when he last faced Senate confirmation, according to support letters reviewed by Axios’ Stef Kight.

Why it matters: Mayorkas would be the first immigrant and Latino to run the Department of Homeland Security, and the push from typically right-leaning law enforcement groups in particular could give him a critical boost with GOP lawmakers.

Mayorkas, a Cuban-American, already was a favorite among immigration advocates. Letters of support from Major County Sheriffs of America, the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, the National Fusion Center Association and the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition are being sent to the Senate this week.

  • Mayorkas "has a strong understanding of how critical state and local law enforcement and investigative agencies are in fulfilling the shared homeland security mission," Mark Keel, president of the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, wrote in his letter.
  • “We're gratified by the overwhelmingly positive reaction and strong bipartisan acclaim that Alejandro's nomination has received," Sean Savett, a Biden transition spokesperson, told Axios.

Go deeper.

6. Progressives want empowered domestic climate czar

John Kerry speaks after Joe Biden announced his appointment as his international climate czar.
John Kerry speaks last month after Joe Biden appointed him as his international climate czar. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Progressives are demanding that Biden's domestic climate policy czar, whom he is expected to name this week, have "direct access to the president" and "wide-reaching power," according to a memo to Biden transition officials obtained by Axios’ Alexi McCammond.

Why it matters: After focusing on personnel and policy, progressives are looking at other ways to wield power with the Biden-Harris administration — including spelling out explicit demands.

The backdrop: John Kerry was previously announced as Biden's special climate envoy, focusing on international climate matters as a member of the National Security Council.

  • The assistant to the president for climate mobilization is expected to act as Kerry's domestic counterpart.

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is a leading candidate for this domestic climate role, multiple people tell Axios.

7. Clock ticks down on last-ditch stimulus effort

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as a woman receives the new coronavirus vaccine today.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar applauds as nurse Barbara Neiswander receives the coronavirus vaccine today at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images

Congress is running out of time to pass a coronavirus stimulus package that can be tied to a federal spending bill, with the holidays approaching and just four days left until the government runs out of money.

The latest: A bipartisan group of lawmakers has split their initial $908 billion plan into two parts — separating out the most controversial provisions of a relief bill in the hopes that a less-disputed version can pass both chambers.

  • The first is a $748 billion package with all of the major priorities both parties want — including enhanced unemployment benefits, an extension of the small business Paycheck Protection Program, more money for education, and increased funding for vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing.
  • The second is a $160 billion bill with additional funding for state and local government and liability protections for companies bringing employees back to work.

What neither bill includes: Stimulus checks.

Go deeper.

8. A day to mourn

A sign marks the entrance to the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 teachers and students were shot and killed eight years ago Monday.
Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Eight years ago today, a gunman shot and killed 26 teachers and students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

👏 Thanks for reading. We'll be back tomorrow night. A reminder that you and your friends can sign up here.