Axios Sneak Peek

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Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevity™ count: 982 words ... 3.5 minutes.

💥 Situational awareness: Former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and former U.S. Attorney in Atlanta Byung Pak — who resigned after being pressured to investigate claims of voter fraud — will testify at tomorrow's Jan. 6 committee hearing. Full witness list.

1 big thing: Next test for historic gun deal

David Hogg giving a speech at March for Our Lives

David Hogg speaks at yesterday's March for Our Lives rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Photo: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The bipartisan gun safety deal announced today falls well short of what President Biden has called for but still marks the first time in decades Republicans have shown a willingness to do anything resembling progress in this arena, Axios' Alayna Treene writes.

Why it matters: Narrowing the scope of negotiations to rule out restrictions on gun ownership was critical to securing the support of 10 Republicans — but there are still plenty of opportunities for the wheels to fall off.

  • The framework — negotiated by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) — focuses on enhanced background checks for people under 21, funding for mental health and school safety, and state grants for "red flag" laws.
  • None of the 10 Republicans who signed onto the bill are up for re-election this year — and four are retiring.

What to watch: As always with major legislation, especially something as controversial as gun safety, how the bill is ultimately written will be crucial.

  • The biggest obstacle the group faces is translating an agreement on principles into legislative text that doesn't alienate any of the Senate Republicans it needs to get over the 60-vote finish line.
  • "The details will be critical for Republicans, particularly the firearms-related provisions. One or more of these principles could be dropped if text is not agreed to," a Republican aide involved in the negotiations told Axios.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will also be decisive in the fate of this bill.

  • McConnell praised Cornyn and Murphy for their commitment to the bipartisan negotiations in a statement today, but he stopped short of specifically endorsing the agreement.
  • Cornyn, meanwhile, has a lot on the line: He's eager to succeed McConnell as the next GOP leader, and pushing this kind of deal through an increasingly conservative conference is a huge risk.

Between the lines: There's a political incentive for Republicans to allow very modest gun safety legislation to pass once they get past their primaries.

  • Americans want Congress to do something on guns, while Republicans want to go back to campaigning on inflation and the economy.
  • As long as the GOP is seen as blocking gun legislation, the issue could divert voter attention from inflation and even become a political liability.
  • Agreeing to modest measures — including those that encourage states to act but avoid major federal mandates — allows Republicans to get back to their original campaign focus.

The big picture: There's been a mass shooting in the U.S. every day this month except one, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. Thousands of protesters turned out yesterday at March for Our Lives rallies across the country.

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2. 🤝 Sandy Hook senator's bottom line

3. Scoop: Senators derailed Biden from dumping UN hunger chief

David Beasley

World Food Program chief David Beasley. Photo: Andrea Renault/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden White House was angling to replace David Beasley, the head of the Nobel-winning World Food Program, before an extraordinary bipartisan intervention by senators convinced the president to support extending his term, Axios' Hans Nichols and Jonathan Swan have learned.

Why it matters: The potential change at the top of the Rome-based United Nations agency could have complicated the WFP's ability to raise money and deliver food at a critical moment — with Russia's war in Ukraine and skyrocketing prices threatening the worst hunger crisis in decades.

  • Beasley is warning that up to 323 million people are "marching toward starvation," with 49 million "knocking on famine's door" in 43 countries.

Behind the scenes: Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, was nominated to his job by former President Trump in 2017 for a five-year term. Inside the Biden White House, he did not have strong support.

  • But Beasley did have broad — and bipartisan — backing in Congress, where he earned respect for his fundraising skills and willingness to travel to war zones.

What they're saying: "I urged that he strongly be considered for an extension because of what I'd seen of his effectiveness in the world and in Congress," Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) — a key Biden ally — told Axios.

  • "I made pretty clear to the administration you have somebody who has credibility on the Hill," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said.
  • "And you'd be making a huge mistake to try to replace him because he has a lot of support on both sides of the aisle," Graham added. "Between Ukraine and famine, it's a sh*tshow out there."

Keep reading.

4. 💬 Bernie-Graham debate tests Senate reset

Promo for Bernie Sanders vs. Lindsey Graham debate
Promo courtesy of Fox News

Tomorrow at noon ET, as the Jan. 6 committee wraps its second public hearing, two U.S. senators on opposite ends of the spectrum will meet in Boston in a life-sized replica of the Senate chambers, Axios' Margaret Talev writes.

Why it matters: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are the first participants in an unlikely experiment in saving the art of political compromise.

  • The two senators will debate for one hour in an Oxford-style policy debate on the state of the economy, moderated by Fox News' Bret Baier and streamed on Fox Nation.

Keep reading.

5. 👀 Sunday buzz: Biden in '24

Screenshot: CNN's "State of the Union"

On the heels of a New York Times story diving into Democratic fears about whether President Biden should seek re-election in 2024, a hesitant Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told CNN's "State of the Union":

We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. ... I believe that the president has been doing a very good job so far. And, you know, should he run again, I think that I -– you know, I think it's ... we'll take a look at it. 

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