Dec 8, 2020

Axios Sneak Peek

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

🚨Breaking: Tune in to "Axios on HBO" tonight for the results of a year-long Axios national security investigation at 11pm ET/PT on all HBO platforms. It will also be in an "Axios Investigates" takeover edition of tomorrow's Axios AM.

Situational awareness: Tomorrow is the Safe Harbor deadline — when states that have certified their vote totals can no longer have their electors overturned by Congress.

Today's newsletter — edited by Axios contributor Glen Johnson — is 620 words, a 2-minute read.

1 big thing: Scoop ... Trump plots mass pardons — even to people not asking

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Trump isn't just accepting pardon requests but blindly discussing them "like Christmas gifts" to people who haven't even asked, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations tell Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Behind the scenes: Trump recently told one adviser he was going to pardon "every person who ever talked to me," suggesting an even larger pardon blitz to come. As with most Trump conversations, the adviser wasn't sure how seriously to take the president — although Trump gave no indication he was joking.

The big picture: The president relishes his unilateral authority to issue get-out-of-jail-free cards. Lately, though, he's been soliciting recipients, asking friends and advisers who they think he should pardon, Swan reports.

Trump has also interrupted conversations to spontaneously suggest that he add the person he's speaking with to his pardon list, these sources said.

  • The offers haven't always been welcome.
  • One source felt awkward because the president was clearly trying to be helpful but the adviser didn't believe they had committed any crimes.
  • The adviser also believed being on the list could hurt their public persona.
  • The White House declined to comment.

Go deeper.

2. Biden faces battle to land Austin at Pentagon

Lloyd Austin. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden’s plan to nominate retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as Defense secretary will set off an explosive fight in the Democratic Party about civilian control of the military.

Why it matters: Many Democrats have been horrified by what they saw as politicization and the erosion of civilian control under President Trump, and they put the Biden team on notice that Austin wouldn't be guaranteed the congressional waiver he needs to serve.

“Waiving the law should happen no more than once in a generation,” Sen. Jack Reed, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, said when retired Gen. James Mattis was confirmed as Pentagon chief in 2017. “Therefore, I will not support a waiver for future nominees.”

  • A person familiar with the matter said there have been "early consultations" with lawmakers on the waiver issue, and the transition is aware it's a hurdle they need to clear.

Be smart: Austin also sits on the board of defense contractor Raytheon, which could be problematic for some Democratic senators.

Go deeper.

3. The new-age Congress
Data: The United States Project, Axios Research; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios
4. Biden risks CBC strain if Fudge bypassed

Rep. Marcia Fudge. Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Allies of Rep. Marcia Fudge think Joe Biden is unlikely to pick her for Agriculture secretary, risking a strain with the Congressional Black Caucus as it seeks to turn the agency from farmer-focused to consumer-focused.

The big picture: Backed by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the CBC signaled that nominating Fudge — who sits on the Agriculture Committee — was a key priority for its members. A report that Tom Vilsack, a white man who already was Agriculture secretary for eight years, is the top choice for the job only highlights the disagreement.

The CBC argues the agency needs to be refocused to better serve minority communities.

  • "80% of the Agriculture Department’s work has nothing to do with farming," Clyburn told Fox News host Juan Williams early this month. “It is food stamps, nutrition, building schools in rural areas, making sure people have broadband.”
  • Fudge (D-Ohio), a former prosecutor and mayor, has focused on education, child nutrition, food stamps and other community-support programs during her 12 years in the House.

Go deeper.

5. Advocates expand focus to lower agency slots

Rep. Steven Horsford. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The dwindling number of remaining Cabinet seats has led the CBC to shift from targeting secretarial slots to instead placing qualified Black candidates in chief of staff and top communications roles.

Why it matters: As with progressives shifting from people to policy, the recalibration for Black leaders is a grudging nod to transition math, as well as proof of their determination to expand opportunity for their community.

What they're saying: Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), who leads the CBC's Transition/First 100 Days task force, tells Axios' Alexi McCammond: "Our point is there are more than enough qualified African Americans in every key area, from defense to housing, from education to health care."

  • "We want to see African Americans — if they're not in the No. 1 slot — we expect, and we'll continue to demand, that they be in the No. 2 or 3 position."

Go deeper.

6. Pic of the day

A champagne bottle and rose last week at the "Imagine" memorial to John Lennon in Central Park. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP

The founder of the Beatles was shot and killed 40 years ago tomorrow, Dec. 8.

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