Axios Sneak Peek

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January 20, 2022

Welcome back to Sneak. A president staunchly defended his record, one year in.

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Smart Brevity™ count: 1,299 words ... 5 minutes. Edited by Glen Johnson.

1 big thing: Scoop - Migrant mandate

A migrant is seen receiving a COVID-19 vaccine dose before crossing from Mexico to the United States.
A migrant receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Mexico before continuing to the U.S. border. Photo: Luis Barron/Eyepix Group/Future Publishing via Getty Images

The White House is considering requiring migrants aged 5 and older to receive a coronavirus vaccination as a condition for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to await court hearings, Axios' Stef Kight has learned.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has been offering the COVID-19 vaccine to people in immigration detention centers or shelters but hasn't yet offered it to other migrants who've crossed the border — much less required it.

  • The new push comes as all other foreigners legally traveling to the U.S. have to provide proof of vaccination.
  • The same rule applies to Americans returning home from overseas travel.

By the numbers: Under the proposal, the government would have provided vaccines to 86,000 migrants in November who were sent to ICE detention, provided tracking devices or otherwise released into the U.S. using the regulation called Title 8, according to the latest Department of Homeland Security data.

  • Another 87,000 encounters with migrants in November resulted in them being sent back to Mexico or elsewhere under Title 42.
  • That Trump-era restriction allows the U.S. to limit entry based on the public health concerns generated by the pandemic.
  • Those would-be migrants would not have been impacted by the policy being considered.

The big picture: ICE has been dealing with a recent surge in COVID cases. There are 2,000 detained immigrants currently infected, according to agency data.

  • Roughly 1 in 3 immigrants in ICE detention have been refusing the vaccine, according to Axios' and others' reporting.

What they're saying: “Since the beginning of the administration, we have put in place public health protocols that prioritize the health of border communities, agents and migrants," a White House spokesperson told Axios.

  • The administration is "always evaluating" those protocols, including the use of vaccines, "but no final determinations have been made," the official added.
  • Both DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services referred Axios to the White House.

Keep reading.

2. Biden to GOP: "Here I come"

President Biden is seen checking his watch as his news conference goes into overtime on Wednesday.
President Biden checked his watch as his news conference went into overtime this evening. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Over nearly two hours today, President Biden admitted the GOP has effectively blocked his agenda, Vladimir Putin can invade Ukraine with impunity and the coronavirus moves faster than the public health apparatus.

Why it matters: A big part of any president's mystique and leverage comes from the perception of the power they wield. Biden gave himself high marks on nearly every issue during his news conference, but he also gave his allies and adversaries — not to mention his staff — plenty to address during the next 24 hours, Axios' Hans Nichols writes.

  • Where Biden did seize control was near the end, when asked how he might change course.
  • He promised to get out of the White House and take his case to the people, seek more advice from outsiders and campaign hard on his record in the run-up to this fall's crucial midterms.
  • “I tell my Republican friends: Here I come,” said Biden, after declaring Vice President Kamala Harris would remain on his ticket in any re-election campaign.
  • His lament in dealing with the current Congress? “My buddy John McCain's gone."

Driving the news: Biden used his opening remarks and reporter answers to do a victory lap over his first year in office.

It included enacting a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and managing a once-in-a-century, evolving pandemic.

  • "I didn’t overpromise," the president declared more than once. "I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen."
  • “Can you think of another president who has done as much in one year?”

Keep reading.

3. Scoop - Jill Biden expands comms team before midterms

First lady Jill Biden is seen speaking at a vaccination clinic in Washington, D.C.
First lady Jill Biden visits a vaccination clinic in Washington in November. Photo: Rich Kessler/NBAE via Getty Images

Jill Biden is expanding her communications team in anticipation of increased demand for the first lady ahead of this fall's midterm elections, Axios' Sarah Mucha has learned.

Why it matters: First ladies are often more popular than their husbands and become valuable surrogates during elections. Kelsey Donahue, who worked as an assistant press secretary for first lady Michelle Obama, will join the three-person communications team.

  • In lieu of pushing a single main cause, Jill Biden has pursued a wide-ranging portfolio that's kept her travel and event schedule busy and diverse.
  • She's traveled to 35 states, over 60 cities and three countries.
  • By contrast, Melania Trump didn't move to Washington until June 2017 as her son finished school in New York City, and Michelle Obama also had limited first-year travel for similar family reasons.

What they’re saying: First ladies "are hugely powerful because they really bridge that gap between the politician and the people, and make each person feel like they're talking to them,” said Kate Andersen Brower, author of "First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies.”

  • “Jill Biden, she's a very powerful weapon for the campaigns to use. Any House member would be lucky to have her.”

Driving the news: Donahue joins the East Wing staff from Snap Inc., after previously working at the Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics.

Keep reading.

4. Charted: The great Democratic bailout

Data: Ballotpedia; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

More Senate and House Republicans than Democrats have dropped out of re-election races during the past four election cycles — but the trend is being reversed this year, according to data from Ballotpedia reviewed by Stef.

Why it matters: Incumbents have a huge re-election advantage. When they don't run, it opens the door for new candidates — including more partisan ones, or those from the opposing party. Democrats face tough times: they're led by an unpopular president and are part of a divided party.

By the numbers: As of yesterday, 29 Senate and House Democrats have announced they will not seek re-election in their state or district this November, along with 18 Republicans.

That's a total of 47, with more than nine months to go.

  • 55 total members of Congress did not seek re-election in the 2018 midterms — up from 48 in 2014.
  • Two Democratic retirement announcements were made Tuesday, part of a recent steady stream.
  • In the last two midterm cycles, 10 or more congressional members announced their retirement between February and November of the election year, according to Ballotpedia.

In the Senate, the number of retirement announcements is outpacing both the 2020 and 2018 election years.

  • In the House, the number of members not seeking re-election is higher than 2020 but lower than 2018 at the same point in each cycle.

Go deeper with Axios' 2022 House retirement tracker.

5. Congress joins Biden in shifting BBB strategy

An illustration shows a "Work Ahead" sign with an image of the Capitol Dome.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A growing number of Senate Democrats are urging their colleagues to begin paring back the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better agenda to salvage what they can, abandoning hopes of the transformational to achieve the possible, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

Why it matters: Democrats are desperate to notch a win. The president's popularity is sagging in the polls, the pandemic is raging and the party's record of passing crucial legislation has been muddled. Biden himself conceded during his news conference today that passing the parts was more likely than getting the whole.

What they're saying: The agenda's $555 billion climate provision is seen as a good starting point, given Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — the key Senate holdout — has said he thinks they can come to an agreement.

  • “We need to move to pass a package now that has 50 votes," Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) told Axios. "The climate, justice and clean-energy provisions in Build Back Better have been largely worked through and financed, so let’s start there and add any of the other important provisions to support working families that can meet the 50-vote threshold."
  • Markey says the goal is to assemble pieces that can garner the necessary 50 votes to pass via the budget reconciliation process. "We need to move from words to action, negotiation to agreement," he said.
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told Axios he agrees. "We need to do whatever is possible, and make it as broad and inclusive as we can."

Keep reading.

6. Pic du jour

Sen. Bill Hagerty is seen speaking with Sen. Joe Manchin across the Capitol escalators.
Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) has a passing conversation with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in the Capitol basement.

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