April 15, 2022

Welcome back to Sneak. The day started with the tweet heard 'round the world.

Smart Brevity™ count: 1,044 words ... 4 minutes. Edited by Glen Johnson.

1 big thing: Musk's megaphone

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

No matter what happens with Elon Musk's hostile bid for Twitter, the political megaphone is up for grabs in a way we've never seen before, write Axios' Margaret Talev, Alayna Treene and Andrew Solender.

Why it matters: No single company does more to drive moment-t0-moment political conversation. For all its toxicity and biases, Twitter is politicians' first stop for breaking news and shaping views.

Musk's surprise move sent shockwaves through Washington, even with Congress in recess — and through state and global capitals.

  • Several Republicans hailed Musk as a hero and Twitter as the problem. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) tweeted (!): "Twitter's censors are freaking out about Elon Musk because they can't buy his silence."
  • Democratic analyst Mary Anne Marsh tweeted: "@elonmusk offer to buy @Twitter heading into the #2022Elections and #2024Elections isn’t a coincidence. It is a threat to our #democracy."
  • "The cheers and jeers for this tweet is all the proof needed," she wrote afterward.

Between the lines: The debate over whether Musk would be good or bad for Twitter isn't just about power or money. It's about the most American of ideas — free speech — and private companies' rights and obligations to sort the boundaries between disinformation and censorship.

  • It's also about where to draw the line on concentrating power in one person's hands. And the anti-big tech antitrust fervor right now means there may be less chance of a rival bid.

Keep reading.

2. Pennsylvania focus group: Drill

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Pennsylvania swing voters in our Axios Engagious/Schlesinger focus group strongly favored ramping up domestic oil drilling in response to rising gas prices, Axios' Sarah Mucha and Shane Savitsky report.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 economy and war in Ukraine have driven up fill-ups. Republicans trying to retake Congress say President Biden's approach to energy and environmental regulation also are to blame — and say if they win back power, they'll push to increase domestic oil production.

👀 Axios will cover a focus group in a different battleground state each month until the November midterms.

Driving the news: Pro-drilling sentiment was a key takeaway from two online, statewide focus-group panels Axios sat in on Tuesday night.

  • Eight of the 13 Pennsylvanians said they favor ramping up domestic oil drilling.
  • Two in three said they place more blame for gas prices with Russian President Vladimir Putin than Biden.
  • Biden has been branding higher costs as "Putin's price hike."
  • None of the swing voters bought the notion that paying more at the pump is the cost of showing support for the people of Ukraine.

Participants didn't say drilling should be the only answer.

  • Several expressed interest in tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
  • The also supported removing the gas tax, requiring better gas mileage in cars, making electric vehicles more cost-effective and installing more charging stations to incentivize more EV-buying, said Engagious president Rich Thau, who moderated the groups.

Keep reading.

3. RNC questions Virgin Islands fundraising

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Republican National Committee is threatening legal action against the former chair of the Virgin Islands GOP, who for years has used the post to rake in money spent less on candidates than political consultants and fundraising vendors, Axios' Lachlan Markay reports.

Driving the news: The RNC's general counsel sent a cease-and-desist letter yesterday to John Canegata. The former territorial party chairman continues to represent himself as its leader despite being forced out by the national party.

  • The letter demands Canegata stop claiming to be the head of the territorial party, and cease the use of the Republican Party brand in official communications.
  • The RNC also disavowed a separate political group run by Canegata called the "Virgin Islands Republican Party."
  • It's not a party committee but political action committee Castegata has used for years to raise millions under the "VIGOP" moniker.
  • Canegata defended the group in emails with Axios and said he'll be suing the RNC to secure his position in the party against a new slate of RNC-backed leaders, which he says were illegitimately elected.

Between the lines: Canegata's internal rivals have long accused him of using the PAC to advance his own interests.He formed it in late 2013.

  • Of the more than $10 million the PAC has spent since 2013, at least two-thirds went to 10 fundraising and direct-mail vendors, according to Federal Election Commission records. It donated just 3% to other campaigns and committees.

Canegata attributes its expenses to the high cost of fundraising."It’s printing and postage that make up 80% of the average direct mail fundraising package," he told Axios in an email.

  • "I am proud of our fundraising initiative that has allowed us to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in races to elect Republicans who fight for lower taxes, less government, traditional values and personal freedoms."

Keep reading.

4. Worthy of your time

National security adviser Jake Sullivan (left) speaks with David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group Inc., during an interview at The Economic Club of Washington. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

🇹🇼 Members of Congress are placing a new focus on Taiwan — specifically the threat to its sovereignty posed by China — amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with several senators traveling on a CODEL there this week, Axios’ Sophia Cai reported earlier today.

🗣️ Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) age is once again the subject of intense discussion after four senators, three former Feinstein staffers and a House member from California anonymously voiced concerns about the 88-year-old's "rapidly deteriorating" memory to the San Francisco Chronicle, Andrew writes in the remainder of tonight's Sneak roundup.

📊 A poll from The New Republic and Hart Research Associates found Republicans are split between whether the Jan. 6 attack was an "insurrection" or an "act of patriotism," with 43% saying the former and 57% saying the latter. By contrast, 88% of Democrats characterize it as an "insurrection."

🐘 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the chair of the panel, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), calling for a hearing on the Biden administration’s plans to end Title 42. They cited criticism of the move from Senate Democrats.

🇺🇦 The president dodged when asked if the U.S. plans to send an envoy to Ukraine after a drawdown of Russian troops in parts of the country. He told reporters, ”We’re making that decision right now."

5. Pic du jour

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The owner of Major, Commander and the late Champ watches the robotic dog Spot walk during a visit to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

  • President Biden was in Greensboro, North Carolina, to tout his efforts combating inflation and jumpstarting high-tech research and manufacturing.

🥂 Thanks for reading during this busy week! We'll be back Sunday evening for an Easter update. A reminder that you can subscribe to Sneak or any of Axios’ other free local and national newsletters through this link.