October 08, 2021

Welcome back to Sneak. Congress moved to avoid a debt default.

Smart Brevity™ count: 1,825 words ... 7 minutes. Edited by Glen Johnson.

1 big thing: U.S. keeps distance from IMF chief

IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The Biden administration is publicly keeping its distance from the leader of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, ahead of a key meeting tomorrow that could decide her fate, writes Axios' Hans Nichols.

Why it matters: The global economy is at risk from any new COVID-19 variant. The IMF is confronting a credibility crisis, and questions about whether China is exerting undue influence on multilateral institutions in Washington. As the fund's biggest shareholder, the U.S. has an important say in its future direction.

  • Georgieva was scheduled to join President Biden at his COVID-19 summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month — but never appeared with him.
  • So far, the administration has adopted a wait-and-see approach as key senators urge the president to "ensure full accountability."

Between the lines: Losing the head of the IMF would present another political headache for Biden and weaken an institution serving as an international firefighter for countries facing economic collapse.

  • “There is a review currently underway with the IMF Board and Treasury has pushed for a thorough and fair accounting of all the facts,” said Alexandra LaManna, a spokesperson at the Treasury Department.
  • “Our primary responsibility is to uphold the integrity of international financial institutions."

Driving the news: The world’s central bankers and finance ministers are scheduled to converge in Washington for the annual IMF and World Bank meetings, marking the first in-person gathering in two years.

  • Georgieva spent hours before the IMF executive board yesterday defending herself.
  • She faces allegations she acted improperly in helping to compile the annual “Doing Business” report for the World Bank, which saw China’s ranking improve.
  • “I am pleased that I finally had the opportunity to explain to the IMF Board my role in the Doing Business report and how I respected the integrity of the report,” Georgieva said in a statement.
  • “I look forward to an expeditious resolution of the matter in a way that preserves the core strengths of the IMF and the World Bank as strong multilateral institutions that fulfill their important missions during these times of unprecedented crisis.”

Go deeper: The World Bank commissioned WilmerHale, a global law firm, to conduct an internal review examining whether bank officials manipulated data in the annual “Doing Business” report.

  • The review examined the role played by Georgieva — at the time the World Bank’s CEO — in the context of China's improved ranking. That review, in turn, triggered a review by the IMF.
  • After the World Bank published the WilmerHale findings, The Economist called for Georgieva to resign.

Keep reading.

2. Dems trying Facebook - to boost candidates

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

One new strategy Democrats are trying ahead of the 2022 midterms: flooding voters' Facebook feeds with factual, positive news articles about the president's Build Back Better agenda, writes Axios' Alexi McCammond.

Why it matters: While the 2016 and 2020 elections — and this week's congressional testimony — were all about Facebook and other social media being used for nefarious purposes, this tack tries to harness the Social Network for positive political gain.

Driving the news: House Majority Forward — a nonprofit aligned with the Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC — launched a $2.5 million campaign today.

  • It aims to combat mis- and disinformation from bogus news sites and local Republican groups over the next year in 30 House Democrats' districts.
  • The list of districts hasn't been finalized, the group said, since redistricting stands to alter the electoral map in the coming months.
  • Already certain is that the effort will target swing districts like Illinois' 14th (Rep. Lauren Underwood), Iowa's 3rd (Rep. Cindy Axne) and New Jersey's 3rd (Rep. Andy Kim).

What they're saying: "With so much misinformation and disinformation on social media, the best way to combat it is to make sure you're in the space with real facts from trusted news sources," said Abby Curran Horrell, executive director of House Majority Forward.

  • "The past week ups the ante and demonstrates for a larger audience the importance of this, and the role that misinformation plays in every part of our lives — not just politics."
  • "The only consistent way to achieve that is to pay to get in people's feeds," she added.

Both the Democratic establishment and Biden administration believe the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion proposal to expand the social safety net are backed by the public at large.

  • The bipartisan bill, which passed the Senate with Republican support, would achieve the largest volume of road and bridge construction since the creation of the interstate highway system.
  • The $3.5 trillion package, which Republicans say Democrats will have to pass purely through the partisan reconciliation process, would increase or create federal funding for child care, free community college and climate change mitigation.
  • The House delayed a vote on the bipartisan bill last week after objections about the reconciliation bill's price tag, and political leaders are now discussing a cost for that package closer to $2 trillion.

3. No one likes the debt deal

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks though the Capitol today. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The leaders of the Senate were happy today with their deal to avoid a debt default. They were about the only ones, Axios' Alayna Treene writes.

Why it matters: The Band-Aid does nothing to solve the debt ceiling problem long term for Americans. Democrats fear it only kicks the can down the road to a very busy December. Republicans, meanwhile, are mad their party blinked.

  • “Why the hell would I make it easier for them to raise the debt ceiling through regular order? We had a strategy and we abandoned it," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN's Manu Raju.

Multiple Senate Republicans are so frustrated by the compromise between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), they not only refused to support the vote but threatened to prevent it from happening via a simple majority.

  • That left McConnell and his team scrambling, hunting for at least 10 members to help push the deal past the 60-vote threshold for major legislation.
  • Those Republicans would be forced to attach their names to an increase in the debt ceiling, even a temporary one — something McConnell had been trying to avoid.
  • In the end, McConnell helped get 61 senators to invoke cloture and bring the deal to a final vote. And then it passed 50-48. The measure moves to the House, where there is a clear Democratic majority to pass it.

Senate Republicans met for 90 minutes this evening. Several expressed their concerns McConnell gave away important leverage as Democrats try to pass President Biden's $3.5 trillion social spending package and $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill before the next debt-limit fight.

  • “I believe it was a mistake to offer this deal," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told reporters. "Schumer was on the verge of surrender. And, unfortunately, the deal that was put on the table was a lifeline for Schumer. And I disagree with that decision.”

Meanwhile, many Democrats are frustrated they didn't take advantage of party unity to more permanently deal with the debt ceiling on their own — especially since pressure to alter the filibuster was picking up steam.

  • "I think the short-term options are not the ideal situation," Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) told Axios.
  • "I think if Senator McConnell tries to run the same play, where he insists that we do it through reconciliation and we insist we won't ... I think we'll come right up against a rule change all over again," Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Keep reading.

4. By the numbers: Debt limit intrigue

Google interest over time in the debt ceiling
Data: Google Trends; Chart: Axios Visuals

Public interest in the debt limit was just starting to rev up before Senate leaders struck their deal this morning to push the dilemma to December, Axios' Neal Rothschild reports.

The big picture: Google searches for the topic were higher than at any point since 2013, but still well below levels from 2011 and '13, according to Google Trends data.

Why it matters: While the procedural debate about the debt limit has narrow Beltway appeal, the issue has the explosive potential to upend American life if the worst fears of a sovereign default and economic collapse are realized.

The topic broke into the national conversation over the last couple weeks, with interest starting to build last Monday, Sept. 27, according to data from NewsWhip.

  • This week, debt limit stories have generated more social media interactions (likes, comments, shares) than those about the California oil spill, Squid Game and Tom Brady, per NewsWhip data.
  • Over the last couple days, the story has attracted as much interest as the Gabby Petito case.

5. McAuliffe alters Biden tune

President Biden appears with Terry McAuliffe during a rally in Arlington, Virginia, in July. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

Terry McAuliffe latched onto the president late this summer as he sought to boost his campaign for governor of Virginia. Now, with his race tightened, the Democrat admits Biden is "unpopular" in the state.

Why it matters: The off-year election in Virginia is often viewed as a national bellwether. The question confronting Biden is how many candidates like McAuliffe are worried about fallout from his policies — and fear it portends disaster for them in the 2022 midterms, writes Axios' Glen Johnson.

  • 'The president is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia, so we have got to plow through," McAuliffe said during a video conference call that surfaced this week and was published by the Daily Mail and others.
  • Likewise, McAuliffe complained last week about members of Congress stalling action on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that would send billions to each state for road, bridge and other construction work.
  • "I say: 'Do your job,'" CNN quoted McAuliffe as telling Virginia entrepreneurs last Friday, after being asked for his message to his fellow Democrats. "You got elected to Congress. We in the states are desperate for this infrastructure money."

What they're saying: A McAuliffe spokesman told Axios, "Terry's point was clearly that Democrats can't take anything for granted and must turn out to vote this year. Glenn Youngkin is running on a divisive, Trumpian agenda that puts election conspiracy theories and banning abortion first."

McAuliffe, seeking a second, non-c0nsecutive term as governor, has spent much of his campaign branding his Republican rival Youngkin as an acolyte of former President Donald Trump.

  • That worked for a while in a formerly red state that's turned purple and had been trending blue.
  • While Biden beat Trump in Virginia last fall, Youngkin has closed the gap on McAuliffe, in part over public doubts about how the current president handled the Afghanistan withdrawal and amid confusion about mask mandates and Democratic spending disagreements on Capitol Hill.

During a July rally with Biden in Arlington, Virginia, McAuliffe didn't just embrace the president but asked voters to think of them as a team.

  • "Imagine what we can do for Virginia, as Joe Biden as president and I'm back as governor?" McAuliffe said to the crowd. "Let me tell you, folks, this state is going to take off like a rocket booster."

Keep reading.

6. Pic du jour: Jefferson rules

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A staff member for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) takes photos of her puppy Jefferson before her boss held a legislative news conference.

  • The FDA Modernization Act would end the agency's mandate that experimental drugs be tested on animals before they can be used on humans in clinical trials.

Editor's note: The top story was corrected to show Kristalina Georgieva was CEO (not chief economist) of the World Bank in 2017–2019.

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