Axios Sneak Peek

The back of a propped up cardboard cut-out of the U.S. Capitol.

March 03, 2022

Welcome back to Sneak. The president began his State of the Union roadshow.

Smart Brevityβ„’ count: 1,311 words ... 5 minutes. Edited by Glen Johnson.

1 big thing: The GOP's untouchable loudmouths

Photo illustration of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) casting shadows with fingers held up
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Far-right Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) are untouchable inside the House Republican conference.

Why it matters: Greene and Gosar can attend as many white supremacist conferences as their hearts desire, safe in the knowledge there's nothing they need from leadership β€” and nothing left for leadership to take from them, write Axios' Andrew Solender, Jonathan Swan and Lachlan Markay.

  • They've already been stripped of their committees. They have zero need or interest in leadership's endorsements or money. And their power actually comes from offending Republican leadership in Washington.
  • "They literally have nothing tangible [to punish them] in terms of the traditional congressional levers," a GOP leadership source told Axios.

Behind the scenes: Greene has long gloated she's immune to punishment by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. That's true even after she and Gosar appeared at a gathering of white nationalists hosted by the outspoken Holocaust denier, antisemitic, homophobic and racist activist Nick Fuentes.

  • When Donald Trump was running for president in 2016, he famously boasted he "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters."
  • Greene made her own version of that statement, bragging during a rally in Texas last month that "Kevin can't do anything about me."

She's right. McCarthy can't do anything to punish her β€” even if he wanted to (which, we're told, he doesn't).

  • Greene can't be stripped of any congressional committee assignments because Democrats have already removed her and Gosar from all their committees.
  • "In a way, the Dems have helped," the GOP leadership source told Axios. "It would be a lot harder for leadership right now if she and him were both still sitting on a committee."
  • And there's no chance Greene and Gosar will be expelled from the Republican conference. That would require a two-thirds vote, which is hard to imagine ever happening even if McCarthy were whipping the votes as if his life depended on it (and he has no desire to do that).

Greene doesn't need money or connections to big-time donors that GOP leadership could offer her in exchange for good behavior.

  • She's independently wealthy and a grassroots fundraising powerhouse, due purely to her intense appeal among committed Republican base donors.

Keep reading.

2. The Untouchables - Part II

Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene are seen shouting during President Biden's State of the Union address.
Reps. Lauren Boebert (left) and Marjorie Taylor Greene shout "Build the Wall" during President Biden's State of the Union address. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) said Greene and Gosar's attendance at the white nationalist event was a "huge mistake" that "confirms what people like to say about us, which I believe is generally untrue."

Asked if there should be consequences, though, he repeated: "It was a huge mistake."

  • Crenshaw called Fuentes, the organizer of the event, a "psychopath and an antisemite," and said, "Nobody should ever be speaking at any of his events."
  • However, Crenshaw said punishments are "always for show" and balked at the idea of backing primary opponents to either lawmaker.
  • Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said his party has "got to make very clear" it is "100%, steadfast against white nationalism."
  • But Bacon said all the party can do in response is "make clear we don't like it" and "give them the stiff arm and say it's repugnant."
  • "You would hope their districts would see this and make a better choice," Bacon added. "I'll leave it to their districts."

The bottom line: McCarthy said Monday that Greene's and Gosar's appearances at the white nationalist conference were "appalling and wrong," but he's made clear he won't publicly say anything more about the subject.

  • A spokesman for McCarthy declined comment.

Keep reading.

3. Scoop: U.S. recalls cable saying India, UAE "in Russia's camp"

An illustration shows a mashup of the U.S., Indian and Emirati flags.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The State Department has recalled a cable to U.S. diplomats that instructed them to inform counterparts from India and the United Arab Emirates their position of neutrality on Ukraine put them "in Russia's camp," Axios' Hans Nichols has learned.

Why it matters: The recall of the strongly worded cable indicates either a process error with a fabled and vital work product β€” or a policy dispute inside the U.S. government involving two key allies.

  • Diplomatic cables are typically circulated through relevant parties at the State Department and vetted by numerous officials before being cleared for distribution to embassies.
  • They are the primary ways of communicating internal policy decisions and instructions from "Main State" to diplomats posted abroad.

The intrigue: The cable was blasted to U.S. embassies in the nearly 50 countries represented at the ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday but recalled Tuesday afternoon.

  • Axios, which viewed portions of the cable, initially contacted the State Department for comment on Tuesday morning.
  • "The language in question was never intended for clearance and the cable was released in error, which is why it was recalled," a State Department spokesperson said Wednesday.
  • "The inquiry was not the reason for the recall," the spokesperson said.

Details: The cable, rated sensitive but unclassified, suggested some frank language for U.S. diplomats to use to try to persuade India and the UAE to change their positions.

  • "Continuing to call for dialogue, as you have been doing in the Security Council, is not a stance of neutrality; it places you in Russia's camp, the aggressor in this conflict," said draft talking points in the cable, a template for conversations with Indian and Emirati diplomats.
  • "We strongly encourage you to take the opportunity to support Ukraine in the HRC [Human Rights Council], an opportunity you failed to seize in the UNSC [United Nations Security Council]."
  • Both countries are big U.S. partners.

Keep reading.

4. Worthy of your time

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seen smiling with other lawmakers after moving a law banning forced arbitration in sexual harassment cases.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, standing with Reps. Jerry Nadler and Cheri Bustos, holds a signed bill banning forced arbitration of sexual assault and harassment cases. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

πŸ’΅ Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told Politico his parameters for a social spending package following President Biden's State of the Union: Use half the revenue from tax and drug pricing reform to fight inflation and the deficit, and the other half for social and climate spending.

  • Manchin also said he's had an "informal back-and-forth" with the White House but no formal discussions, Andrew reports in tonight's Sneak roundup.

πŸ“„ Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) unveiled a resolution supporting Ukraine's complaint to the International Criminal Court accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of war crimes in his invasion of Ukraine.

  • "That is not a war," said Spartz, who was born in Ukraine. "It's a genocide. ... They're just killing us like we are animals. It's awful. This is criminal. These people cannot get away with that."

😷 Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a vocal opponent of COVID-19 restrictions, was heard on a hot mic encouraging college students at the University of Southern Florida to remove their masks during an event at the college.

  • "You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it's not doing anything and we've got to stop with this COVID theater," he said in a video posted by local outlet WFLA. "If you want to wear it, fine. But this is ridiculous."

🀝 The House Administration Committee held a hearing on a unionization effort by congressional staffers, during which Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said it's "well past time" for Congress to allow staff to organize if they so choose.

  • Ranking member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) argued unionization is "unworkable and impractical," and that it would accomplish "very little" because staffers "already have the benefits most unions fight for."

πŸ“Š A CNN poll found 71% of Americans had a positive reaction to the State of the Union address, down from last year, when a CNN poll had 78% of Americans reporting a positive reaction to his joint address to Congress.

  • Biden also is outpaced by his recent predecessors in terms of enthusiasm. 41% reacted very positively, compared to 48% for former President Trump and former President Obama during their first State of the Union addresses.

5. Pic du jour

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is seen with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as she made her Hill rounds.
Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other key senators, as she began her rounds as a Supreme Court nominee.

  • Jackson was accompanied by Doug Jones, a former senator from Alabama, civil rights lawyer and Judiciary Committee staffer chosen by the White House to help her win support.

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