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Jan 21, 2022

Axios Sneak Peek

Welcome back to Sneak. As Jake Tapper put it, "Cleanup on Aisle 1600."

Smart Brevity™ count: 1,068 words ... 4 minutes. Edited by Glen Johnson.

1 big thing: Scoop - Trump friends alarmed by legal pick

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Close associates and advisers to Donald Trump tell Axios' Jonathan Swan they're concerned by Trump's decision to use a relatively inexperienced New Jersey attorney, Alina Habba, in his high-stakes legal fight against New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Why it matters: A former president typically has access to the country's most prestigious experts, including lawyers. Trump has turned to the onetime general counsel for a parking garage company, who works from a small law office near his Bedminster, N.J., country club.

What they're saying: "He has some lawyers that are very sophisticated with years of experience litigating, and he has now fallen prey to inexperienced lawyers who are just telling him what he wants to hear," said one source close to the former president. Like others, the source requested anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

  • "It's disconcerting to everyone around him who actually care about him," the source said.
  • A second source, who's close to the Trump legal team, told Axios: "There are real concerns about having a state court tort lawyer come in to represent Donald Trump, not understanding the nuances and issues that surround a former president."

Habba responded in a statement to Axios: "It is a sad day when the press finds the need to belittle someone who has elected not to work at a 'white shoe' firm but has rather opted to build and manage her own law firm."

  • "If you believe former President Donald Trump has fallen prey and is being victimized by someone such as myself, then you do not understand Donald Trump, the Trump Organization or his family very well."
  • Eric Trump, a son of the former president and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, also defended Habba.
  • In a statement to Axios, he described her as "an incredibly competent attorney" who has "our utmost trust and confidence and has the fortitude to take on some of the most politically corrupt and unethical institutions in this country."

The details: Habba, 37, began representing Trump last year. She frequents Bedminster, which is how she and the former president got to know each other, according to a source familiar with the club's membership.

  • Over the past six months, Habba has represented Trump in a lawsuit against his niece Mary Trump and The New York Times.
  • She's also represented him against defamation claims from two women who allege Trump sexually assaulted them.

Keep reading.

2. Scoop: Klain's message to progressives

Ron Klain attends a Cabinet meeting last July. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told allies and staff during a conference call Wednesday night President Biden wants to include funding for child and elder care in any revised Build Back Better agenda, people familiar with the matter tell Axios' Hans Nichols.

Why it matters: Klain’s comments came after his boss failed to mention those two priorities during his earlier news conference, while explaining how he planned to revive his agenda and pass it in “chunks” in the face of concerted opposition.

  • Klain’s private comments are yet another indication the White House has a core set of priorities it plans to fight for, and it hasn’t given up on convincing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support big parts of the president’s agenda.
  • The programs Klain listed during the call were not intended to be exhaustive, a White House official told Axios.
  • The official said the White House doesn't plan to engage on specifics or timelines for any final package.

Keep reading.

3. Charted: Backlog boom
Expand chart
Data: TRAC; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

The number of people waiting for immigration court decisions is greater than the population of Philadelphia — and is building, according to new data and analysis from Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

Why it matters: The booming backlog points to a broken immigration system and often leaves immigrants awaiting decisions on asylum or other cases in legal limbo for longer periods of time, Axios' Stef Kight writes.

  • Court closures caused by the pandemic have played a role in slowing judges' ability to complete cases.
  • But the number of new cases being added by the Department of Homeland Security has also risen during the Biden administration, according to TRAC.

By the numbers: Cases in the backlog include asylum seekers hoping to be granted permanent refuge in the U.S., immigrants arrested by ICE who are fighting to avoid deportation and other denied applicants for immigration benefits.

  • The backlog grew by 139,000 pending immigration court cases between October and December 2021 — the largest quarterly growth on record, according to TRAC.
  • It brings the total number of pending cases to nearly 1.6 million as of the end of December.
  • Asylum seekers now wait on average 58 months — almost 5 years — for a hearing.

What to watch: The immigration court system is overseen by the Justice Department.

The House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration and citizenship held a hearing this afternoon to discuss making the immigration court system independent.

  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) also plans to propose a bill to revise the court system, according to reporting by Roll Call.
4. Scoop: Harris aide hammered by Hispanic caucus

Jamal Simmons. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images for Advertising Week New York

Senior members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus privately upbraided Vice President Kamala Harris’ new communications director today for comments he made about undocumented migrants — but most appeared willing to accept Jamal Simmons' apology.

Why it matters: Hispanics are a key constituency both for the Democratic Party and Harris herself. Venting their frustrations but then letting Simmons explain himself defuses a potential crisis for an already challenged VP team, Hans also writes.

  • Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), the current CHC chair, explained to Simmons why his old tweets — in which, in 2010, he appeared to call for the arrest of an undocumented migrant — were so hurtful to some Hispanics, people familiar with the matter told Axios.
  • Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), dean of the caucus, also had strong words for Simmons. He noted how many undocumented families live in fear of being deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Menendez told Simmons his future actions would now be more important than his current apologies.
  • Simmons both apologized and took responsibility for his comments.

What they're saying: "Jamal had an open and honest conversation with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, where he reiterated his deep regret for his past words and longstanding commitment to immigrant rights," said a White House official.

  • "Members expressed their concerns and willingness to move forward. Jamal is grateful for their generosity," the official said.

Keep reading.

5. Tweet du jour

A rejoinder by Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky to a president of the United States all-too-familar with grief.

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