Axios Sneak Peek

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January 16, 2022

🏈🏈 Welcome back to Sneak. We interrupt the NFL playoffs for this holiday weekend update.

Smart Brevity™ count: 1,009 words ... 4 minutes. Edited by Glen Johnson.

1 big thing: Trump dogs "dull" DeSantis

Photo illustration of a hand drawing 's on the face ofFlorida Governor Ron DeSantis
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Donald Trump is trashing Ron DeSantis in private as an ingrate with a "dull personality" and no realistic chance of beating him in a potential 2024 showdown, sources who've recently talked to the former president about the Florida governor tell Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Why it matters: The two are among the most popular Republicans in the country, and as the former president eyes another run in 2024, he's irked by DeSantis' popularity and refusal to rule out running against him.

  • DeSantis is a favorite of Republican voters when pollsters remove Trump from the hypothetical 2024 field.
  • The governor also hasn't been beyond tweaking his fellow Floridian.
  • DeSantis said on the Ruthless podcast, recorded Thursday, one of his biggest regrets in office was not speaking out "much louder" in March 2020, when Trump advised the American public to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Behind the scenes: "In the context of the 2024 election, he usually gives DeSantis a pop in the nose in the middle of that type of conversation," said a source who recently spoke to Trump about DeSantis.

  • The source, who shared the private remarks on the condition of anonymity, has heard Trump criticize DeSantis on multiple occasions.
  • The source said Trump makes a point of saying he isn't worried about the Florida governor as a potential 2024 rival.
  • "He says DeSantis has no personal charisma and has a dull personality," the source added.

What they're saying: A spokesman for Trump did not comment when presented with this reporting.

  • DeSantis also did not respond to a request for comment.

Keep reading.

2. Scoop: Hispanic caucus summons V.P. aide

Jamal Simmons is seen speaking at a public event.
Jamal Simmons. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images for Advertising Week New York

Jamal Simmons, Vice President Kamala Harris’ new communications director, is scheduled to meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Thursday to listen to their concerns about his old tweets, congressional officials tell Axios' Hans Nichols.

Why it matters: Harris has been seeking to reset her public image and professional accomplishments. Yet her new communications chief faces questions from a key constituency not only to the Biden administration but her potential presidential prospects.

  • In summoning Simmons to a full CHC videoconference, some Latino lawmakers are indicating their level of concern over his 2010 tweets — in which he appeared to call for the deportation of an undocumented migrant being interviewed on MSNBC — and want to have a frank and direct conversation with him.
  • "The statements that Jamal made were just stunning, beyond stunning. Words cannot describe my feelings," Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) told Axios.
  • “Is he a Trumper? That’s a question I might ask him,” Correa said.
  • "I am being public about it, because he was public. He was honest. And I am being honest. And that’s what the public deserves."

The other side: Simmons, who's already tweeted an apology, is willing to meet with anyone who wants to understand his perspective and regret, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

Keep reading.

3. Electoral Count Act reform picks up steam

Rep. Jim Banks is seen speaking on a cellphone.
Rep. Jim Banks, chairman of the Republican Study Committee. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

An increasingly broad and powerful array of lawmakers is coalescing around the idea of changing how Congress tallies Electoral College votes — as MLK Day comes and goes tomorrow without broader voting rights reforms, Axios' Andrew Solender and Sophia Cai report.

Why it matters: The idea of targeting the 1887 Electoral Count Act for repairs has now garnered support from some of Congress’ most conservative members, as well as leading House Democrats. It may be the best chance of passing any form of election reform in an otherwise divided Congress.

  • Former President Trump sought to use the act to have then-Vice President Mike Pence block certification of the 2020 election results.
  • "It's a muddled, flawed [act] and Congress must clarify the essential process of certifying elections," Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who objected to certifying the Arizona and Pennsylvania electors last year, said in a statement to Axios.

Driving the news: A bipartisan group of senators working on a proposal that can pass the Senate has nearly doubled in size, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), an original member of the group, said today.

  • The group, originally three Democrats and four Republicans, now has “about 12” members, Romney said on NBC's "Meet The Press."
  • "We're going to ... work together, and I think it's important to reform the Electoral Count Act," Romney added.
  • Among the expanded membership: Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), according to sources with direct knowledge of the group.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) both say they support altering the act.

  • “I have been calling for a reform of the Electoral College for most of my adult life,” Clyburn told ABC News.

Keep reading.

4. Republican warns Putin "very aggressive" on Ukraine

Rep. Michael McCaul is seen speaking with Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union."
Rep. Michael McCaul speaks with Jake Tapper in this screengrab from CNN's "State of the Union."

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said today classified intelligence on Russia's alleged plans to provoke war with Ukraine through a "false-flag" operation is "the most specific I have ever seen," and the timetable is "very aggressive," Axios' Zachary Basu reports.

Why it matters: A conventional war on the European continent could break out in a matter of days. It would fundamentally transform Russia's relationship with the West, unleash a wave of refugees and pull the U.S. further into a proxy conflict it has no interest in waging.

What they're saying: During an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) claimed the Biden administration's chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan was a "moment of weakness" that U.S. adversaries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are now exploiting.

  • "We are not projecting strength as [President] Reagan talked about, but rather projecting weakness, which historically — going back to Hitler and Chamberlain — always invites aggression," McCaul said.
  • McCaul argued the U.S. is in a "new Cold War" with Russia because President Vladimir Putin "smells weakness," and sees now as his best window to invade Ukraine to broaden a Russian sphere of influence.
  • A source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky echoed McCaul’s sentiment, telling Axios: “Until Moscow believes the Biden administration means what it says, the administration will continue to be boxed in.”

Keep reading.

5. Pic du jour

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden are seen packing food boxes to commemorate MLK Jr. Day.
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden pack food boxes as part of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

  • "Philabundance" is a hunger relief organization in Philadelphia.

🇺🇲 Thanks for reading. We'll be off for MLK Jr. Day and back Tuesday night. A reminder your family, friends and colleagues can subscribe to Sneak or any of Axios’ other free local and national newsletters through this link.