Axios Sneak Peek

The back of a propped up cardboard cut-out of the U.S. Capitol.

January 04, 2021

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

  • Happy 2021. We made it. I hope you and your loved ones had a happy and healthy holiday season.

Situational awareness:

  • All 10 living ex-defense secretaries, including Trump appointees Jim Mattis and Mark Esper, declared in a new Washington Post op-ed that the election is over and involving the military in any dispute would cross into “dangerous territory.”
  • President Trump on Monday is expected to give Rep. Devin Nunes the Presidential Medal of Freedom, according to the Washington Post.

Today's newsletter — edited by Glen Johnson — is 916 words, a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Trump's powers backfire

A black-and-white illustration of President Trump between spotlights.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

President Trump’s caught-on-tape effort to bully the Georgia secretary of state shows that the powers Trump used to cajole his way to the top of business — and into the presidency — are now failing him in his White House final days.

Why it matters: “The clock is ticking," a longtime friend and Trump adviser told me. "The only thing that has made it sound more desperate is he knows that come Wednesday, it’s game over. The closer he gets to [Congress accepting the Electoral College vote], the more desperate he's getting.”

The one-hour conversation, obtained and released today by the Washington Post, captures Trump floundering with one of his go-to moves:

  • He likes to try to create intimacy with a negotiation target — a "just-you-and-me" posture.

In this case, Trump was trying to get the secretary of state — Brad Raffensperger, a Republican — to change the outcome of the presidential race.

  • Even with that change, for which there's no justification, Joe Biden would still be president-elect: Georgia's electoral votes aren't enough for Trump to win.

The longtime friend and adviser told me: "If you listen to the tape, it's all the same things he does whenever he's trying to get something in the bloodstream but can't attribute it to anybody."

Anyone who was surprised by the rambling, Nixonian tape wasn’t listening in August when the president spoke to Axios’ Jonathan Swan.

  • The president telegraphed the mayhem that was to follow his Election Day loss, claiming mail-in ballots would lead to voter fraud and laying the seeds for a period that has become the most tumultuous of his already topsy-turvy presidency.
  • During his interview with Swan, the president warned "lots of things can happen" with voting by mail if the presidential race isn't decided on election night — which ended up happening.

Go deeper.

2. Money rush: Senate races' Top 10

Data: FEC; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: FEC; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate has triggered unprecedented fundraising at the congressional level, with one Democratic candidate in Georgia outraising Al Gore in his presidential race just 20 years ago, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

By the numbers: The top 10 Senate fundraisers in 2020 brought in more than double the money raised by the top 10 campaigns in 2018, raking in over $1 billion collectively, according to data filed with the Federal Election Commission by Dec. 24.

Historical note: In the disputed 2000 presidential race between Gore and George W. Bush, the two candidates for the nation's highest office together raised $327 million —less than one-third of this year's tally by the top Senate candidates

  • Gore raised $133 million himself in 2000; adjusted for inflation, that would equal $201 million today. The overall total raised by Bush and Gore would equate to $494 million in today's dollars, but the year-to-year comparison remains telling.

Go deeper.

3. Georgia runoffs: 3 things to watch

Kamala Harris is seen waving from a stage in Savannah, Ga., with Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris campaigns today in Savannah, Ga., with Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters 

Three things to watch in Tuesday's twin Senate runoffs in Georgia, from a conversation I had with Patricia Murphy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who's covering the race:

  1. Republicans don't trust the election, potentially dampening turnout. Not one Republican voter Murphy has spoken to since Election Day believes that President-elect Biden won. "Not one, not a person," she said. "And many of them don't even think he'll be inaugurated on January 20."
  2. Tying Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff together has been effective for the two Democrats — they even share a Warnock-Ossoff campaign sign. The pairing gives Warnock a boost from the younger voters expected to come out for Ossoff, and gives Ossoff the benefit of the African American voters who are expected to come out for Warnock.
  3. Keep your eyes on Gwinnett County in suburban Atlanta— the former Newt Gingrich territory that's now a stronghold for Democrats. "These are the suburban districts where you can just feel the movement of the ground under your feet,” Murphy said as she drove through the county. "Eight years ago, it could not be more Republican." Today, signs for Warnock and Black Lives Matter dot the area.

4. COVID worries, time with Dad for new House member

A photo array shows Representative-elect Jake Auchincloss on his first day in Congress.

Jake Auchincloss, clockwise from upper left, walks to COVID test; visits Statuary Hall; has his father affix his member pin; looks at a painting of the signing of the Constitution. Photos: Kadia Goba/Axios

Jake Auchincloss said being sworn in to the U.S. House today reminded him of reporting to Quantico for Marine duty a decade ago, but instead of contemplating a foreign enemy, he had to navigate one he couldn't see: the coronavirus.

Why it matters: The 32-year-old freshman from Massachusetts offered fresh eyes to commonplace routines for Washington veterans. He stood in awe of a Capitol painting and wide-eyed in its gilded rooms, gave his lone guest pass to his father, and reported for COVID testing before the House proceedings.

The backstory: Auchincloss beat a massive field of fellow Democrats to succeed Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III in Congress, after Robert F. Kennedy's grandson tried but failed to unseat Edward J. Markey from the U.S. Senate. Auchincloss has his own Kennedy connection: He is distantly related to the late Jacqueline Kennedy.

The newcomer agreed to let Axios' Kadia Goba tag along today as he embarked on his congressional tenure.

Go deeper.

5. Sneak Peek diary

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks via television monitor with Transportation Secretary-designate Pete Buttigieg.

The two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue were joined via teleconference over the holiday recess as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke with Transportation Secretary-designate Pete Buttigieg. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

All eyes are on Georgia and Tuesday's runoffs.

  • On Monday: The president will hold a rally in Dalton, Georgia, for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
  • Biden will campaign in Atlanta for Ossoff and Warnock.

On Wednesday, Congress will meet to certify the results of the presidential election, a spectacle that could take several hours given at least 12 GOP senators support rejecting Electoral College tallies from the states.

  • The big question is whether these Republicans will challenge the Electoral College votes in states beyond Pennsylvania, which would further complicate the vote.
  • McConnell’s office is not whipping the vote, but Trump promises more GOP senators will join the effort.

Simultaneously, the president said today he will attend rallies in D.C. on Wednesday in protest of the certification.

After this week, both the House and Senate will be in recess until the inauguration on Jan. 20.

6. Pic du jour: "Madam Speaker" once more

An overhead view shows the House chamber giving Nancy Pelosi a standing ovation after her re-election as speaker.

Photo: C-SPAN via Twitter

C-SPAN's Howard Mortman captioned this: "What a standing ovation in the House looks like from the ceiling."

Thanks for taking time to read Sneak. We'll be back tomorrow night, through Thursday.