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Dec 11, 2020

Axios Sneak Peek

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

Today's newsletter — edited by Axios contributor Glen Johnson — is 677 words, a 2-minute read.

1 big thing: Pentagon pick may need GOP rescue

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Lloyd Austin will begin courtesy calls with Congress next week, but his nomination to be Defense secretary may not even make it out of committee unless Republicans help grant the waiver he needs to hold the job, people familiar with the matter say.

The big picture: While civil rights groups are hailing Austin’s nomination to be the first Black Defense secretary, some Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee have already said they oppose the waiver, leaving it up to Republicans to rescue him — and some predict the vote will fail in committee.

The close math could mean Austin's confirmation hinges on his public testimony, especially about how he'll ensure civilian control over the military. The retired general needs a waiver because he has not been out of the armed forces for more than seven years.

  • "We have been gratified by the support secretary-designate Austin has received from lawmakers of both parties," said a transition official. "We are confident his barrier-breaking nomination will garner the support it deserves."

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2. Biden taunts GOP with Cabinet picks

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Beyond Austin, Joe Biden is daring Senate Republicans with Cabinet picks and nominees who have grated on the party but also have flaws that could now give the GOP an easy out for rejecting them, Axios contributor Glen Johnson writes.

Why it matters: Familiar faces like Denis McDonough, Tom Vilsack and Neera Tanden may be comfort food for the president-elect’s soul, but they're flashbacks to an era where Republicans sought to obstruct Democratic people and policies.

"They're likely to lose a significant number of Republican votes," said former Republican Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire. "And depending on exactly how the Democrats in the Senate respond to the issues, and decide to vote themselves, these are nominees that could find themselves in trouble.”

  • Biden picked McDonough to be secretary of Veterans Affairs even though the former White House chief of staff has never served in the U.S. military.
  • Vilsack has been tapped for Agriculture secretary despite holding the job for both of President Obama's terms, and after most recently earning nearly $1 million a year heading a dairy advocacy group.
  • Tanden has been pegged for the Senate-confirmable post of director of the Office of Management and Budget without major governmental budgeting experience — and following eight years of caustic anti-Republican tweets.

Transition spokesperson Andrew Bates said, "President-elect Biden has announced tested, qualified nominees who can meet this moment of unrelenting crisis and are ready to hit the ground running on day one, reach across the aisle and deliver immediate relief for the American people."

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3. Aides try to save Trump from himself

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some of President Trump's advisers are trying to convince him that if he vetoes a defense reauthorization bill that could pass Friday, his fellow Republicans won't sustain it and he'll risk losing credibility with the troops, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations tell Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Behind the scenes: In private conversations, Trump seems to believe Republicans would ultimately bend to his will and support a veto. He argues the bill needs a provision repealing protections for social media companies, but several confidants have tried to persuade him his fellow Republicans don't agree.

One argument made to the president: You have a legacy of rebuilding the military by increasing its budgets. Don't be remembered for trying — and embarrassingly failing — to veto your last big defense bill, the sources said.

  • Another message: While you're trying to hold Republicans together for your election challenges, is it really a good idea to poke them in the eye?

The fallout: The arguments don't seem to be working. Today, Trump poked Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe by announcing a foreign policy decision related to Morocco that Inhofe had made very clear he opposed, and was personal to him.

4. The new Bernie Bros

Photo: Kadia Goba

The stimulus' strangest Senate bedfellows? Maybe Bernie Sanders and Josh Hawley.

Driving the news: The push for cash payments as part of more COVID-19 relief has forged an unlikely alliance between the Vermont liberal, 79, and Missouri conservative, 40.

  • They joint-gaggled, masks-on, with reporters tonight outside the Senate chamber, talking about their shared call for $1,200 relief checks.
  • "I just don't know how any member of the Congress could go home to their families at a time when so many families are struggling," Sanders said, Axios' Kadia Goba reports.

But, but, but: Sanders is threatening to sink the stopgap government funding bill over the cash; Hawley isn't.

  • And Hawley declined to embrace HuffPo's reporter Igor Bobic's suggestion that he might now be considered a "Bernie Bro."
5. Tweet of the day: Liz Cheney throws high heat
6. Hanukkah begins

The first light was lit on the National Menorah tonight to mark the beginning of the Festival of Lights. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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