Apr 16, 2021

Axios Sneak Peek

Welcome back to Sneak.

Situational awareness: Sarah Huckabee Sanders reported raising over $4.8 million for her Arkansas gubernatorial campaign.

  • Her take in two months surpassed the $4.4 million outgoing Gov. Asa Hutchinson raised during his entire first campaign in 2014.

Today's newsletter — edited by Glen Johnson — is 671 words, a 2.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Dems race to address, preempt stimulus fraud claims

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Biden officials are working to root out the systematic fraud in unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program claims that plagued the Trump administration’s efforts to boost the economy with coronavirus relief money, Gene Sperling told House committee chairmen privately this week, Axios' Hans Nichols and Kadia Goba report.

Why it matters: President Biden just signed another $1.9 trillion of aid into law, with Sperling tapped to oversee its implementation. And the administration is asking Congress to approve another $2.2 trillion for the first phase of an infrastructure package.

  • Organized efforts to steal the COVID-19 money — or partisan efforts to spin tales of waste — could not only hurt the infrastructure plan but Democrats at the polls in 2022.
  • Congressional Democrats also expect Republicans to repeat the claims of "waste, fraud and abuse" they used against President Obama's 2009 stimulus package.

What we're hearing: Crime syndicates have used data readily available online, as well as information from identity theft, to claim or intercept billions in pandemic unemployment benefits during the past year.

  • With more money headed out the door — including six monthly checks of $250 per child ages 6 to 17, and $300 for each under 6 starting in July — even more theft is possible.
  • Several of the chairmen on the call — which is held at 8:15am each Wednesday by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer — said Sperling welcomed their oversight and wanted their help in preventing fraud, Axios was told.
  • Sperling is a veteran Democratic economic aide.

Keep reading.

2. Scoop: Biden close to picking Nick Burns as China ambassador

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Hans.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.

  • Biden set the table for those nominations Thursday, drawing from the State Department Foreign Service as he named nine career diplomats for postings from Somalia to Senegal.

Between the lines: Burns is a Harvard University professor and former State Department spokesman who capped his Foreign Service career by serving as undersecretary of state for political affairs for President George W. Bush.

  • By sending him to Beijing, Biden would be indicating a preference for a seasoned diplomat instead of a high-wattage politician.

Keep reading.

3. Biden's Russian sanctions likely to achieve little

President Biden announces new sanctions against Russia. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Despite bold talk from top administration officials, there's little reason to think the Russia sanctions package Biden announced today will do anything to alter Vladimir Putin's behavior or calculus, write Axios' Zachary Basu and Jonathan Swan.

Why it matters: While it's true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia's sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the action, telling reporters: "We can't predict what the impact will be, but we still believe that when there's unacceptable behavior, we should put consequences in place."

Between the lines: Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had known and dealt with Putin for years while running Exxon Mobil, used to tell colleagues sanctions did little if anything to deter the Russian leader.

  • The U.S. and its international allies have imposed some form of sanctions against Russia every year since 2014, when Putin's "little green men" first appeared in Ukraine.
  • Since then, Russia has continued to occupy Crimea and eastern Ukraine; propped up the brutal Assad regime in Syria; hacked U.S. and other Western elections; crushed protests at home; and attempted to assassinate dissidents on foreign soil, among other things.

Keep reading.

4. From "Hillbilly Elegy" to U.S. Senate campaign

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Dan Primack reported in his Axios Pro Rata newsletter that J.D. Vance, venture capitalist and author of "Hillbilly Elegy," had told friends and colleagues he planned to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

Why it matters: Vance will need to reconcile his growing antagonism to Big Tech with a career that's been facilitated by it.

  • Another challenge is it may be tough to out-Trump former Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel.

Delicate dance: Vance made his name as an author, but he's made his career as a venture capitalist, backed by many of the coastal billionaires he now plans to rhetorically run against.

🎧 Worthy of your time: Listen to Dan's Axios Re:Cap podcast from today, as he interviews Georgia attorney general candidate Jen Jordan about her state's time under the political microscope.

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata.

5. Pic du jour

Photo: Glen Johnson/Axios

Back by popular request, we end the week as we began: with a view from an arresting approach to Reagan National.

🙏🏼 Thanks for reading Sneak this week. We'll be back Sunday evening!

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