May 26, 2021

Axios Sneak Peek

Welcome back to Sneak. A somber one-year mark this evening.

Situational awareness: NAACP President Derrick Johnson met today with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) to discuss police reform legislation spurred by George Floyd's death, Axios’ Sarah Mucha reports.

Today's newsletter — edited by Glen Johnson — is 1,334 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Scoop — Israeli spy chief in talks to join Mnuchin's investment fund

Then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in January. Photo. Emil Salman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The boss of Israel's spy agency has been in private talks with former Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin about joining his investment fund that will work with Gulf countries, two sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios' Jonathan Swan and Barak Ravid.

Why it matters: Yossi Cohen, director of the Mossad, is retiring next week. But the discussions between him and Mnuchin occurred while he was still serving in his government role, which also included handling Israel's ties with Gulf countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, these sources said.

  • Cohen and a representative for Mnuchin declined to comment when Axios approached them about these discussions. A source who spoke to Cohen said no final decision has been made about him joining Mnuchin's fund.
  • Ravid writes extensively about the region and is the author of the Axios from Tel Aviv newsletter.

State of play: Mnuchin's fund is expected to raise money from sovereign wealth funds in the Persian Gulf region. Funds for Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are evaluating cooperation with Mnuchin, according to sources familiar with their deliberations.

  • Former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman also has discussed joining Mnuchin's fund. Friedman worked with Cohen during the Trump presidency on many issues, including Israel's relations with Gulf countries.
  • They resulted in a series of direct normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab countries known collectively as the "Abraham Accords."

The big picture: Both Mnuchin and Cohen worked closely with Qatar, the UAE and other Gulf states as part of their government jobs and traveled to the region several times.

  • The Mossad has been working closely with Qatar in recent years on the issue of Gaza. This work continued during the recent crisis, with the Israeli spy agency passing messages to Hamas via Qatar.
  • Israel has approved and sometimes requested Qatari transfers of hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas-controlled Gaza. This has given Qatar sizable diplomatic influence.
2. Scoop: States warn banks — Drop coal, and we drop you

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

More than a dozen state treasurers are threatening to pull assets from large financial institutions if they agree to decarbonize their lending and investment portfolios, Axios' Lachlan Markay has learned.

Why it matters: The Biden administration — led by special presidential climate envoy John Kerry — has leaned on the banks to help reduce U.S. carbon emissions. That's prompted Republican lawmakers to criticize efforts to "de-bank" fossil fuel firms. The treasurers collectively control hundreds of billions worth of investment funds.

  • Fifteen of them, led by coal-heavy West Virginia, say they're prepared to use this financial muscle to push back.
  • The effort includes treasurers from other states with large energy industry presences such as North Dakota, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.

What's happening: The treasurers sent a letter on Tuesday to Kerry, who's leading the administration's efforts to enlist banks in its climate policy fight.

  • "We intend to put banks and financial institutions on notice of our position, as we urge them not to give in to pressure from the Biden administration to refuse to lend to or invest in coal, oil and natural gas companies," the officials wrote.
  • In an interview with Axios, West Virginia state treasurer Riley Moore said he was prepared to terminate contracts with banks that pull back their fossil fuel industry lending in response to administration pressure.
  • "Frankly, it is not fair for the people of West Virginia to allow a bank to handle our money when they're diametrically opposed to our way of life," Moore said.
  • A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Between the lines: The officials signing the letter collectively manage more than $600 billion in assets in state treasuries, pension funds and other government accounts.

  • Those states work with large financial institutions to invest and grow those funds, to support state spending and retirement payments to former workers.
  • Even for sizable investment banks, states can be some of their largest accounts.

Keep reading.

3. By the numbers: Declining wages for U.S. men
Reproduced from Guvenen, et al., 2021; "Lifetime Earnings in the United States Over Six Decades"; Chart: Axios Visuals

President Biden’s focus on creating more manufacturing and union jobs is propelled by the steady and persistent decline in lifetime earnings for the American male since he graduated from law school in the late 1960s, data reviewed by Axios' Hans Nichols shows.

The big picture: The lifetime earnings of the median male worker declined by at least 10% for those who entered the workforce at age 25 in 1967, compared to those who entered the workforce at the same age in 1983.

  • That decline comes to roughly $136,000 (in 2013 dollars) in lost earnings during the lifetime of those workers, according to new research from the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago.
  • “The middle class built the country. And unions built the middle class," Biden said in his joint address to Congress in April. "It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom-up and the middle-out.”
4. Scoop: Biden ready to name Eric Garcetti ambassador to India

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Biden is ready to nominate Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as his ambassador to India, sending a trusted political ally to the world's biggest democracy, people familiar with the matter tell Hans.

Driving the news: Biden is planning to name his first slate of political ambassadors as soon as next week, rewarding political allies like Garcetti, as well as big-dollar donors, many of whom covet postings in elegant European capitals.

What we are hearing: Tom Nides, a former deputy secretary of State, is in line for Israel, as Axios first reported.

  • Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator and Interior secretary, is preparing to go to Mexico.
  • Mark Gittenstein, an international lawyer who was President Obama's first ambassador to Romania, will end up in Brussels as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
  • Julie Smith, a former Biden deputy national security adviser, will likely serve as ambassador to NATO.
  • Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is expected to be the ambassador to the World Food Program in Rome.
  • Former Chicago mayor and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel will be heading to Japan.
  • Nick Burns, a career diplomat, is Biden's likely choice for China.
  • Denise Bauer, a prominent fundraiser and former Obama ambassador to Belgium, is scheduled for France.
  • Michael Adler, another big-dollar donor, is slated for Belgium, as first reported by the Washington Post and confirmed by Axios.
  • David Cohen, a former lobbyist for Comcast who's now chairman of the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, should be heading north to Canada.

What we are watching: Will Jeff Flake, a former Republican senator who endorsed Biden, be offered a prominent G20 country or an important multilateral position?

  • Also, there's a big focus on who gets the United Kingdom (formally, the ambassador of the United States of America to the Court of St. James's).

Keep reading.

5. White House sets second meeting with Jewish groups

Pro-Israel demonstrators in New York attend a rally denouncing antisemitism and antisemitic attacks. Photo: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

The White House is calling a second meeting this week between administration officials and Jewish advocacy groups amid pressure to respond more forcefully after a spike in antisemitic attacks in the U.S., Hans and Axios' Margaret Talev report.

Driving the news: The virtual meeting set for tomorrow follows a session yesterday with representatives from within the White House and other parts of the administration after some criticism for a slow initial response.

  • Leaders from five Jewish organizations that participated in the first session had also asked to meet with representatives from the Justice Department, including the FBI.
  • The second meeting comes a day after the confirmation of Kristen Clarke to lead the DOJ's civil rights division. It was not immediately clear whether she will attend.

Details: Advocates are asking for more grant funding to boost security around synagogues and other houses of worship or nonprofit organizations.

  • They're also pressing the administration to fill two posts to combat antisemitism, after rising attacks and threats following the violence in Israel and Gaza.
  • That includes reinstating a White House liaison to the Jewish community and nominating a special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.

What they're saying: "The administration is taking this very seriously," said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Orthodox Union, who has been involved in the discussions.

  • The White House did not preview the meeting or discuss forthcoming nominations.
  • One official tells Axios that Biden has been outspoken against antisemitism for decades and sees it as a persistent evil. The official said the administration is coordinating with the Jewish community groups to respond to rising violence and hate speech and working with nonprofit groups seeking to apply for security grants.

Keep reading.

6. Pic du jour

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A year to the day after her father was murdered, Gianna Floyd walked out of the West Wing following a family meeting with President Biden.

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