Sep 14, 2021

Axios Sneak Peek

Welcome back to Sneak. The president lobbied for his fellow Democrat in the nation's most populous state.

Smart Brevity™ count: 1,594 words ... 6 minutes. Edited by Glen Johnson.

1 big thing: Scoop - The Modi shot campaign

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The Biden administration is quietly pressuring India to restart vaccine exports with plans to offer a higher-profile role for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an upcoming COVID-19 global summit in New York if he agrees to release vaccines soon, sources with direct knowledge of the high-level discussions tell Axios' Jonathan Swan and Hans Nichols.

Why it matters: India is the world's biggest vaccine maker. In March, Modi halted exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine — one of the cheapest on the market — because the virus was ravaging his own population.

  • Convincing Modi to renew his vaccine supply to the world — through the global vaccination organization COVAX — is an important part of the Biden administration's strategy to mitigate the international spread of the virus.
  • Vaccinating as much of the developing world, as quickly as possible, is in America's vital interest, because the uncontrolled spread of the virus inevitably produces more dangerous variants.

An administration official acknowledged discussing vaccine exports but denied they're tied to Modi's upcoming participation.

  • "We have regularly been communicating with [the] government of India in bilateral and multilateral channels to discuss vaccine supply and inquire about timeline for exports, and these conversations are not tied to a specific summit or engagement," the U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity.

The backstory: The U.S. itself effectively banned its own vaccine exports for months until it had enough supply for all Americans. It's also reserved hundreds of millions of doses for boosters, complicating its position as a proponent of dose-sharing.

  • Modi's government faced internal criticism for allowing millions of doses to be exported before the emergence of a second wave it failed to anticipate.
  • Now, six months later, more than half of India's eligible population has received at least one shot, according to official data, making it more palatable to resume exports.

Behind the lines: The Biden administration understands vaccine diplomacy is a delicate subject with the Indians. In internal meetings, high-ranking Biden officials decided to take a soft approach to Modi.

  • President Biden plans to host a COVID-19 summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings next week, with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy hinting the president will make some new announcements ahead of the summit.
  • Biden aides decided against trying to strong-arm Modi by conditioning his participation on his willingness to release vaccines to COVAX. He'll be welcomed regardless of his decision, according to one of the sources.
  • Modi also has been invited to a White House summit on Sept. 24 along with the leaders of Japan and Australia.

Keep reading.

2. Scoop: Sinema's secret spreadsheets

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is negotiating the size and scope of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget plan armed with her own spreadsheets about the costs and tax hikes needed for each program, people familiar with the matter also tell Hans.

Why it matters: While Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is getting attention for balking at a $3.5 trillion top-line price tag, Sinema's accountant-like focus on the bottom line will be equally important to winning the votes of them and other key Democrats.

  • Sinema’s intense interest in the numbers also suggests she’ll be a formidable foil for progressives — like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who are working to make the spending bill as big as possible.
  • “As she has said publicly, Sen. Sinema will continue working in good faith with her colleagues and President Biden as this legislation develops — and will be closely reviewing what the committees propose," said John LaBombard, Sinema’s communications director.

The big picture: Despite the focus on Manchin, party leaders and the White House are aware of Sinema's potential concerns.

  • As early as July, she was clear the $3.5 trillion price tag was too high for her.
  • The lack of clarity about how long each program will last has frustrated both senators and outside budget groups.
  • The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has tried to bring uniformity to the process and ended up pricing the reconciliation package at $5.5 trillion.

Between the lines: Sinema and Manchin aren’t necessarily on the same page on which programs — and which tax increases — they can stomach.

  • Crafting a deal to address Manchin’s concerns doesn’t ensure Sinema also will be happy.

Behind the scenes: Sinema refers to her spreadsheets as she strategizes with colleagues about next steps in the budget process.

  • As House and Senate committees begin to write specific legislation, she’s updating her data to ensure she has accurate top- and bottom-line figures.

The bottom line: By internalizing the numbers, Sinema is prepared to challenge parts of Biden's overall $3.5 trillion package.

  • She’s also putting herself in a position to cut deals, as she did when she helped broker the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.
  • It received 69 votes, including 19 Republicans, in the Senate last month.

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3. Black Democrats target GOP

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A growing group of Black Democrats — mostly men — is stepping up to try to unseat Republican House members in California, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and Illinois, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports.

Why it matters: Although independent analysts like the Cook Political Report think the members' districts are friendly GOP territory, a Black political group backing the challengers believes the candidates have a chance because of their local ties and the districts' changing demographics.

The backdrop: So far, nine Black Democrats are running to challenge Republicans in these states, but The Collective PAC tells Axios that number will grow by five or more. All but one is a Black man.

  • The group looked for candidates with experience in fields that directly serve the community, such as pastors, doctors, educators, veterans and community leaders.
  • It's also supporting six Congressional Black Caucus members who are so-called frontline members and running tough re-election races in 2022: Democratic Reps. Lauren Underwood (Ill.-14), Lucy McBath (Ga.-6), Steven Horsford (Nev.-4), Jahana Hayes (Conn.-5), Colin Allred (Texas-32) and Antonio Delgado (N.Y.-19).
  • The Republicans they're targeting so far include: Reps. Tom McClintock (Calif.-4), David Schweikert (Ariz.-6), Devin Nunes (Calif.-22), Mike Garcia (Calif.-25), Ken Calvert (Calif.-42), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.-14), Rodney Davis (Ill.-13) and Madison Cawthorn (N.C.-11).
  • They're also supporting Michele Rayner, Black civil rights and justice attorney running in Florida's 13th District, the St. Petersburg-area district held by retiring Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.).

What they're saying: "Our mission is about building Black political power," said Kevin Olasanoye, The Collective PAC's political director. It works to ensure equal Black representation at all levels of government.

  • "We’re being one of the loudest, strongest, boldest voices supporting Black candidates running for office around the country."
  • Kermit Jones, a physician running against Republican Rep. Tom McClintock in California's 4th District, told Axios his work and mother's Stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis pushed him to run for Congress.
  • "We don't have a lot of people [in the U.S. House of Representatives] who understand medicine, who have worked on the frontlines and who have seen patients."
  • He said witnessing his mother's struggle to get quality access to care for her cancer refocused what he could do to help.
  • "I felt that even if I saw patients every day until I retire, I wouldn't be able to do enough unless I went in there [Congress] to actually help get people the care that they need," Jones said.

Keep reading.

4. Conservatives crow over ATF withdrawal

David Chipman, failed nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Even before Biden withdrew his nominee to be the nation's top firearm regulator last week, a new conservative opposition research group was ready for a victory lap.

Why it matters: Democrats honed a research operation during the Trump era that effectively opposed some of his top nominees. Two veteran Republican operatives behind the American Accountability Foundation didn't see a comparable apparatus for the GOP, so they set out to create one, Axios' Lachlan Markay writes.

  • AAF co-founder Tom Jones was a senior staffer to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
  • Matt Buckham, the other co-founder, worked in Donald Trump's White House Office of Presidential Personnel, which oversees nominations to Senate-confirmed posts.
  • "We know they put [David Chipman] up because he aligned with the Biden administration on guns. ... You know that there's gonna be issue advocacy galore out there," Buckham told Axios. "But is this individual qualified, what is his character, what is his background? Those are the questions that groups weren't digging into."

Driving the news: Chipman, who lobbied for gun safety group Everytown after leaving ATF, was the first high-profile Biden nominee to withdraw from consideration.

  • His nomination immediately drew opposition from gun rights groups such as the NRA.
  • In withdrawing the nomination, the president conceded Chipman was unlikely to get the 50 votes in the Senate needed for confirmation.

What's new: During an interview, Jones took credit for helping to unearth and publicize allegations from Chipman's former colleagues at ATF — where he was a special agent until 2012 — that he'd disparaged agents of color who received promotions.

  • Jones said he learned of the allegations while speaking to some of those former colleagues personally. AAF compiled all they could, he said, then shared its findings with the Daily Caller.
  • Within a week, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were demanding additional hearings about Chipman's nomination.
  • AAF also helped organize a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, from seven retired ATF agents and investigators opposing Chipman's nomination.
  • Jones shared Chipman research memos with Judiciary Committee Republicans — while also publishing the memos publicly on the AAF's website — and suggested potentially damaging lines of questioning for Chipman's hearings.

Keep reading.

5. Pic du jour: Cavalry comes

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom greets President Biden as he arrives outside Sacramento to campaign on his behalf before the state's recall election tomorrow.

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