Nov 15, 2020

Axios Sneak Peek

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

  • The inauguration is 66 days away.
  • Reminder that we'll be going five days a week at the end of the month. Giddy Up.

Tonight's newsletter is 1,512 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing ... Scoop: Trump plans last-minute China crackdown

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump will enact a series of hardline policies during his final 10 weeks to cement his legacy on China, senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the plans tells Axios' Jonathan Swan and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

Why it matters: He'll try to make it politically untenable for the Biden administration to change course as China acts aggressively from India to Hong Kong to Taiwan, and the pandemic triggers a second global wave of shutdowns.

  • Watch for National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe to publicly describe in granular detail intelligence about China's nefarious actions inside the U.S.

Details: Trump officials plan to sanction or restrict trade with more Chinese companies, government entities and officials for alleged complicity in human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, or threatening U.S. national security.

  • The administration also will crack down on China for its labor practices beyond Xinjiang forced labor camps.
  • But don't expect big new moves on Taiwan or more closures of Chinese consulates in the U.S., officials say.

National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot told Axios, "Unless Beijing reverses course and becomes a responsible player on the global stage, future U.S. presidents will find it politically suicidal to reverse President Trump’s historic actions."

Behind the scenes: Senior administration officials are discussing expanding a Defense Department list of Chinese companies deemed to have ties to the Chinese military.

  • An executive order issued last week barred U.S. investment in 31 such companies, and any additions would likely face a similar restriction.
  • Officials plan to target China's growing use of forced labor in the highly competitive fishing industry. Coerced and unpaid labor isn't just a human rights concern — it can also give Chinese fisheries an advantage over rivals in an industry with geopolitical significance.
  • Trump officials have been looking to move more hawkish China experts into senior roles across the government, another senior official added.

What they're saying: "Director Ratcliffe will continue playing a leading role, in coordination with other national security principals, in delivering a necessary mindset shift from the Cold War and post-9/11 counterterrorism eras to a focus on great power competition with an adversarial China," DNI senior adviser Cliff Sims tells Axios.

  • The Biden transition team declined a request for comment.
2. Podium politics

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Kate Bedingfield, Symone Sanders and Karine Jean-Pierre are all in contention to serve as President-elect Joe Biden's White House press secretary, but sources tell Axios there are other alternatives — including the possibility of bringing on a prominent TV personality.

Why it matters: The face and voice at the podium matters substantively and symbolically.

  • Given that Biden is a white man whose top advisers may include many white men, and that he has promised to diversify Democratic Party leadership, it's likely he will pick a woman, a person of color or both for the podium.
  • Where the press secretary ranks on the White House org chart is up to the chief of staff — so Ron Klain will decide whether the role reports to him or the communications director.

Details: Sanders worked for Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016 and joined Biden's 2020 bid early. Observers note her deftness on TV and that she was a frequent Biden travel companion during the campaign's closing weeks.

  • Jean-Pierre, a former Obama official, joined the team in May and served as Kamala Harris' chief of staff after she was tapped for running mate in August. Jean-Pierre traveled less with Harris toward the end of the campaign.
  • Kate Bedingfield, Biden's communication director when he was vice president, drew accolades for the communications plan correctly envisioning him securing the nomination in South Carolina. She has remained close to him and also could end up as White House communications director.
  • Jen Psaki, who has joined Biden's transition team and served as Obama's communications director, has told officials that with young kids at home, she has no plans to come back.

Flashback: When Biden became vice president, he picked Time magazine journalist Jay Carney for his communications director. Carney later became President Obama's second press secretary.

  • More recently, Biden tapped historian and former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham for help with his campaign speeches, bringing another white man's perspective with some rhetorical and celebrity wattage.
3. Hispanic lawmaker says progressive ideas alienating Texas Latinos

Rep. Henry Cuellar. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

"Defund the Police" rhetoric and fears that progressive climate policies could cost oil jobs boosted President Trump's performance in blue, largely Latino Texas counties bordering Mexico, a top Hispanic leader tells Axios' Stef Kight.

Driving the news: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), whose 28th Congressional District runs from the outskirts of San Antonio to the Rio Grande, toured eight counties in his district over four days last week.

  • Several counties swung to President Trump even as down-ballot Democrats held strong.
  • Most notably, Trump won the small border county of Zapata with 53% of the vote after losing it to Hillary Clinton by 33 percentage points.

Why it matters: Latinos were an important part of Joe Biden's winning coalition, but leaders are warning that Democrats could lose more loyalty in 2022 midterms or the 2024 presidential race if they feel taken for granted or the party pushes too far left.

The big picture: The top two recurring concerns in Cuellar's constituent conversations were oil and defunding the police.

  • In small counties, sheriff and police departments are often one of the biggest local employers. The Texas Democrat found himself having to reassure numerous law enforcement officials who were anxious about budget cuts.
  • In Zapata, Webb and Starr counties, Cuellar heard support for moving to cleaner energy but he worries about its impact on employment. "You can't go in and get rid of jobs," he said. Trump pounded the Democrats over their Clean New Deal and stoked concern they would ban fracking.

Between the lines: Concerns about illegal immigration also played a role.

  • Cuellar has loudly opposed the president's border wall but says many Latinos in border counties work for the Border Patrol and want strong immigration enforcement.
  • "There are folks [elsewhere] that feel that we should have a more open-border type of system, and I'm telling you, down here? No way. There's just no way."
4. Bonus cartogram: Electoral College by vote per capita
Data: United States Elections Project. Graphic: Naema Ahmed/Axios
5. The McAuliffe comeback

Terry McAuliffe at a Virginia State University homecoming parade. Photo: Parker Michels-Boyce for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Terry McAuliffe is telling friends he'll announce plans to again run for governor of Virginia in the coming weeks.

Why it matters: This could spark a divisive primary with younger, more diverse candidates and serve as a bellwether for 2024 races — including the next presidential election.

Details: Virginia holds its gubernatorial election a year after the presidential race, and its outcome can preview where the Democratic Party is heading and how it's viewed by Americans nationally.

  • This 2021 contest could expose deep divisions since it is expected to draw candidates from across the racial, gender and ideological spectrum.
  • It also may mirror the brewing battle between centrists and progressives in what had been a swing state but in recent cycles has become bluer.

The big picture: Other candidates already include two female members of the state legislature — Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Sen. Jennifer McClellan — and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is African American.

McAuliffe, as governor from 2014 to 2018, cast himself as a pro-business, job-creating Clinton Democrat.

  • He also made inroads with progressives by pushing for women's access to reproductive health, gun control and voting rights for former felons.
  • His PAC is flush with cash, having raised some $1.7 million as of this summer, and he counts nearly half of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus as supporters.

Between the lines: McAuliffe had been discussed as a possible ambassador or commerce secretary in the Biden administration, but he's made it clear the job he loves the most is being Virginia's governor.

  • Virginia law limits governors to a four-year term, but it also lets them run again after being out of office for four years.
  • McAuliffe passed on running for president in 2020, but if he won the governor's race, he could be primed to run for president in 2024.
6. Biden team to Obama staff: No guarantees

Barack Obama and Joe Biden campaign together last month. Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The president-elect's transition team is telling Obama alumni they're welcome to apply for jobs but it will prioritize those who were on Biden's campaign, according to a staff email reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: While many Democrats are eager to undo what they see as damage caused by the Trump administration, the transition is trying to manage expectations as it urges experienced candidates to apply for jobs.

  • "As you likely know from your past service, there are far fewer roles in an administration than there are talented, capable, humble and diverse candidates who are interested in serving," according to an email sent by the Obama-Biden Alumni Association on behalf of the transition.
  • The email and the new website link for where to apply are an indication the transition is ramping up hiring for Biden's administration.

The big picture: The incoming administration has more than 4,000 political jobs to fill, including some 1,200 requiring Senate confirmation.

  • "Due to the high level of interest and limited timeframe, the transition team will only follow up with candidates who are moving forward in the process for positions they expect to start on or shortly after Inauguration Day," the email says.
7. Sneak Peek diary

Pro-Trump protesters gathered in Washington, D.C., Nov. 14. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The House comes back into session Monday night.

  • Monday: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with Sen. Jeff Merkley, will call for the Biden administration to pass H.R. 1, democracy reform legislation, as a top priority post-election.
  • Wednesday: House leadership contests begin.

The Senate is in session and will likely vote on the nomination of Judy Shelton to join the central bank’s board of governors on Tuesday or Wednesday.

President Trump: The White House did not provide a schedule.

President-elect Joe Biden: On Monday, Biden will deliver remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on the economy.