11 hours ago

Axios Sneak Peek

Welcome back to Sneak. We're offering you an appetizer for President Biden's town hall meeting at 8pm ET.

Smart Brevity™ count: 1,564 words ... 6 minutes. Edited by Glen Johnson.

1 big thing: The defy-default

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Political figures are exploiting the slowness of the U.S. justice system, Donald Trump's attacks on its integrity and divisions in society to defy the law, write Axios' Margaret Talev and Glen Johnson.

Why it matters: As polarization intensifies, it's placing tribalism above a shared national code of conduct. Increasingly, accountability rests not on the ballot box but with the nine-member, lifetime-appointed and currently conservative-majority Supreme Court.

Driving the news: The House and its committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol voted today and earlier this week to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt for refusing to comply with its subpoena.

  • But even if Attorney General Merrick Garland ultimately signs off on prosecuting Bannon, getting through motions, a trial and appeals could take months if not years and outlast Democrats' control of Congress.
  • Former President Trump filed his own lawsuit this week to try to block relevant records from being turned over next month.
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) today branded Bannon's subpoena "invalid," and said he has a right to challenge it.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), indicted Tuesday on charges of lying to federal investigators and falsifying records, posted a preemptive video.

  • With his wife and dog beside him in a truck, he denied wrongdoing, pledged to fight and decried "FBI agents from California."
  • He'd taken a page from Trump's playbook: attack the agents who'd questioned him.

Even President Biden, who's implored Americans to embrace civility, compromise and shared values, has pushed the envelope and looked to the courts to stop him.

  • He recently admitted his own extension of a federal eviction moratorium likely wouldn't stand up to constitutional scrutiny.
  • The president indicated he was forging ahead anyhow to try to give renters protection while the case worked its way through the courts.

How we got here: The defy-default accelerated two decades ago with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as the White House and federal agencies assumed emergency powers and pushed the bounds of their authority.

Keep reading.

2. Steve Wynn renews his political bets

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage via Getty Images

Steve Wynn is re-engaging in midterm races this year, and Republicans who distanced themselves from the casino mogul after sexual misconduct allegations are now happy to take his money, writes Axios' Lachlan Markay.

Why it matters: The change in tone from some beneficiaries of Wynn's largesse underscores the favor and influence he still enjoys. Among the candidates he's supporting this year are Ohio Senate hopefuls Jane Timken and Josh Mandel.

  • Wynn also gave the maximum $5,800 to Adam Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general running for Senate this year.
  • “As an entrepreneur and job-creator, Wynn, just like the thousands of Ohioans who have contributed to Jane’s campaign, knows we must retake a Republican Senate majority to save America, and that Jane will put a stop to the radical agenda of Joe Biden and the Radical Left," Timken spokesperson Mandi Merritt said in a statement.
  • Efforts to reach Wynn were not successful. An attorney representing him also did not respond to a request for comment.

What's happening: Wynn has long been a top Republican donor and fundraiser.

The big picture: Wynn has continued donating to Republican political groups since his ouster from the gaming company that bears his name. And he's consistently maintained the misconduct allegations against him are false.

  • Last year, a Nevada court revived a Wynn defamation suit against the Associated Press over a story that reported on what Wynn describes as dubious rape allegations from the 1970s. The case is ongoing.
  • Nevertheless, he stepped back not just from his immensely successful casino business but from a top fundraising position for the national Republican Party after allegations initially surfaced.
  • In 2020, he resumed his donations in a big way, giving $9 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, and making a few other seven-figure contributions to other prominent GOP political groups.

Keep reading.

3. Some Republicans put it all on line

Rep. Nancy Mace speaks with reporters after voting to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A small contingent of House Republicans risked their political futures today, they say, in the name of constitutional responsibility, write Axios' Alayna Treene, Sarah Mucha and, in his Sneak Peek debut, Andrew Solender.

Why it matters: The nine Republicans who voted to hold former Trump aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress are now in peril of becoming political pariahs. They've opened themselves up to potential primary challengers and public attacks from their party's kingmaker — Trump.

  • They also face blowback from their caucus leaders, after McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) tried to rally the GOP against the vote.

The big picture: Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), one of the most conservative lawmakers policy-wise, is a clear example of what's at stake.

  • After she voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, McCarthy moved to strip her of her leadership role, Wyoming Republicans targeted her in her re-election fight and she became the focus of Trump's ire.
  • Now lobbyists are beginning to turn on her, the New York Times' Jonathan Martin reports, with one warning that consultants must choose between her and McCarthy.
  • Cheney continues to dig in — hoping her gamble that voters are less attached to Trump than Republican leaders think will pan out.
  • "It's fundamentally not acceptable," she told Axios after today's vote.

Between the lines: Besides Cheney, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) — the other Republican member of Jan. 6 Select Committee — voted "yea."

  • They were joined by Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) — all of whom voted to impeach Trump in January.
  • Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) provided the final two Republican votes to hold Bannon in contempt.

What they're saying: Mace's vote surprised many Republicans, given she didn't vote either for impeachment or the creation of the Jan. 6 commission.

  • Mace, a freshman and the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, told reporters: “I want the power to subpoena when we start to investigate some of the crises that are facing the Biden administration right now, from what's happening at the border, to Afghanistan."

Keep reading.

🥊 Go deeper: There are tensions in both chambers of Congress.

4. Biden rethinks U.S. sanctions

Donald Trump greets Joe Biden and Barack Obama on Inauguration Day. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Biden administration is rethinking the U.S. approach to sanctions after four years of Trump imposing and escalating them, Dave Lawler writes in tonight's edition of Axios World.

The big picture: Sanctions are among the most powerful tools the U.S. has to influence its adversaries’ behavior without using force. But they frequently fail to bring down regimes or moderate their behavior, and they can increase the suffering of civilians and resentment of the U.S.

  • A new Treasury report finds that sanctions designations have increased 933% since 2000, spiking particularly dramatically under Trump.
  • Experts worry overuse of sanctions will ultimately weaken the tool as countries and businesses find new workarounds.

Driving the news: The Treasury’s review determined that sanctions must be calibrated more carefully to limit their humanitarian costs and coordinated more closely with allies to maximize effectiveness.

  • It also emphasized that sanctions must be tied to specific policy objectives and circumstances under which they’d be lifted.

What they’re saying: “Sanctions are a tool, they’re not the end in themselves. If the tools are not used in service of a broader diplomatic approach, you may well inflict pain but you won’t achieve your goal,” former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said today.

  • He spoke on a panel alongside deputy Treasury secretary Adewale Adeyemo, who led the policy review.
  • Lew bemoaned the fact that imposing sanctions is often framed as “tough” and lifting them (or even including humanitarian carveouts) as “weak” — the kind of outlook that results in failed policies remaining in place, and potentially in sanctions hurting civilians more than regimes.
  • Worth noting: Biden has been much less inclined to impose new sanctions than his predecessor, but he seems in no rush to lift long-standing sanctions on Cuba.

Sanctions are too often imposed out of an impulse to “do something” in response to some malign activity, Daniel Fried, who served as sanctions coordinator during the Obama administration, tells Axios.

  • Such circumstances may call for sanctions on individuals in and around a regime, rather than whole industries and economies, he says.
  • Fried argues that sanctions succeeded in getting Iran to the nuclear negotiating table, but that the Trump administration’s subsequent “maximum pressure” approach was more “symbolic punishment” than policy tool.

Subscribe: Get Axios World emailed directly to your inbox through this link.

5. Pic du jour

Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland testified before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time.

  • Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) sat in the audience alongside Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a member of the committee.

🥂 Thanks for reading this week! We'll be back Sunday evening. A reminder that your family, friends and colleagues can subscribe to Sneak or any of Axios’ other free local and national newsletters through this link.