Friday's politics & policy stories

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died of metastatic pancreatic cancer at age 87, the Supreme Court announced Friday evening.

The big picture: Ginsburg had suffered from serious health issues over the past few years. As an attorney and then as a justice Ginsburg cemented a legacy as one of the foremost champions of women's rights, raising gender equality to a constitutional issue. Her death sets up a fight over filling a Supreme Court seat with less than 50 days until the election.

NYT: White House drug price negotiations broke down over $100 "Trump Cards"

President Trump with Mark Meadows, his chief of staff, on Sept. 3 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Negotiations on a deal between the White House and pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices broke down last month after Mark Meadows, the president's chief of staff, insisted that drugmakers pay for $100 cash cards to be mailed to seniors before the election, according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: Some of the drug companies feared that in agreeing to the prescription cards — reportedly dubbed "Trump Cards" by some in the pharmaceutical industry — they would boost Trump's political standing weeks ahead of Election Day with voters over 65, a group that is crucial to the president's reelection bid, per the Times.

Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

In photos: Virginians line up for hours on first day of early voting

A long line of voters wait to cast their ballots at the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax, Virginia, for the November presidential election on Friday, the first day of early voting in the state. Photo: John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In some parts of Virginia, people waited in line up to four hours to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting, according to the Washington Post.

The big picture: The COVID-19 pandemic seems to already have an impact on how people cast their votes this election season. As many as 80 million Americans are expected to vote early, by mail or in person, Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic political data firm, told Axios in August.

Court battles shift mail-in voting deadlines in battleground states

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Michigan joins Pennsylvania in extending mail-in ballot deadlines by several days after the election, due to the coronavirus pandemic and expected delays in U.S. Postal Service.

The latest: Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that all ballots postmarked before Nov. 2 must be counted, so long as they arrive in the mail before election results are certified. Michigan will certify its general election results on Nov. 23.

Sep 18, 2020 - Podcasts

Taylor Lorenz on Trump's threat to ban TikTok

President Trump has 48 hours left to either follow through on his threatened ban of TikTok, or accept a proposed tech partnership with Oracle.

Axios Re:Cap digs into how the TikTok user community has reacted to this political drama, and what comes next, with New York Times tech reporter Taylor Lorenz.

Updated Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump admin will grant $11.6 billion to Puerto Rico's recovery, three years after Hurricane Maria

Tropical Storm Laura passes through Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico on Aug. 22. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

Three years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the White House on Friday authorized $11.6 billion in federal aid and FEMA grants to rebuild infrastructure on the island.

Why it matters: Throughout his presidency, Trump has resisted giving Puerto Rico any more federal money for its recovery from Hurricane Maria. The White House touted the grants announced Friday as some of the largest in FEMA's history.

Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump, Pence criticize U.S. Chamber CEO

Pence and Trump in the Oval Office Sept. 4. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence criticized the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during a phone call Thursday, venting their frustrations over its recent endorsement of nearly two dozen vulnerable House Democratic freshmen, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: Trump’s re-election is based largely on the idea that he has been a good steward of the economy, and if one of the largest business groups is seen as opposing him, it could undermine that case.

Sep 18, 2020 - Health

CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people

CDC director Robert Redfield testifies at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Sept. 16. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its previously revised guidance for coronavirus testing on Friday to say that testing asymptomatic people who were exposed to COVID-19 is recommended for treatment and contact tracing.

Why it matters: The CDC's modification in August to recommend against testing for asymptomatic people was not written by scientists and posted despite their "serious objections," New York Times first reported. CNN confirmed that the agency's update was published outside the agency's "normal review process."

Sep 18, 2020 - World

Trump administration renews push for Israel-Lebanon talks on Mediterranean gas fields

The platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea off the Israeli coast. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration has renewed its push for opening direct talks between Israel and Lebanon on the demarcation of their maritime borders in order to find a solution for the dispute between both countries over natural gas explorations in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Israeli and U.S. officials told me.

Why it matters: Israeli officials say the Trump administration hopes to launch Israeli-Lebanese diplomatic talks before November's election. There have been no such talks between the countries in 30 years, and renewing Israeli-Lebanese negotiations would be a big achievement for the White House.

Rep. Brooks: We need to better prepare for pandemics

Axios' Margaret Talev (L) and Rep. Susan Brooks (R). Photo: Axios

Insufficient stockpiles and a lack of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a warning for America on future preparedness, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) said at an Axios virtual event on Friday.

What they're saying: "Congress had been beefing up for years — the appropriations for preparedness — it certainly was not enough, and we recognize that," Brooks said.

Sep 18, 2020 - Health

Rep. Khanna: COVID-19 could change the perception of public health care

Rep. Khanna and Axios' Margaret Talev

The universal experience of COVID-19 could change how opponents view Medicare for All, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said at an Axios virtual event on Friday.

What they're saying: "The pandemic has reminded us of our shared humanity with other American citizens. It's no longer possible to think, 'Oh, we're not part of those who get sick.' Now almost everyone knows, unfortunately, someone who has been hospitalized, someone who had a serious bout with COVID," Khanna said.

Sep 18, 2020 - Economy & Business

Anxious days for airline workers as mass layoffs loom

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, during a Sept. 9 protest outside the Capitol. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The clock is ticking for tens of thousands of anxious airline employees, who face mass reductions when the government's current payroll support program expires on Sept. 30.

Where it stands: Airline CEOs met Thursday with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who said President Trump would support an additional $25 billion from Congress to extend the current aid package through next March.

House Democrats ask DOJ watchdog to probe Durham's Trump-Russia investigation

Attorney General Bill Barr. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynsky/AFP via Getty Images

Four Democratic House committee chairs on Friday asked the Justice Department's inspector general to launch an "emergency investigation" into whether Attorney General Bill Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham, his appointee, are taking actions that could "improperly influence the upcoming presidential election."

Catch up quick: Last year, Barr tapped Durham to conduct a sweeping investigation into the origins of the FBI's 2016 Russia probe, after he and President Trump claimed that it was unjustified and a "hoax."

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Sep 18, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Tallying Trump's climate changes

Reproduced from Rhodium Climate Service; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Trump administration's scuttling or weakening of key Obama-era climate policies could together add 1.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent to the atmosphere by 2035, a Rhodium Group analysis concludes.

Why it matters: The 1.8 gigatons is "more than the combined energy emissions of Germany, Britain and Canada in one year," per the New York Times, which first reported on the study.

New downloads of TikTok, WeChat to be blocked in U.S. on Sunday

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Commerce Department issued Friday an order blocking new downloads of WeChat and TikTok in the U.S. as of Sept. 20.

The state of play: President Trump has been in a standoff with TikTok, threatening to ban the app if its Chinese owner, ByteDance, does not relinquish control to a U.S. company. A deal is in the works with the American tech company Oracle, but would need to go through before Sunday to prevent TikTok from being ousted from app stores.

Mike Allen, author of AM
Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Michael Schmidt: Private eye rummaged Bolton's trash for book drafts

Here's a juicy nugget near the end of the new book by New York Times scoop machine Michael Schmidt, "Donald Trump v. The United States."

What's happening: It's about the scramble during impeachment to learn what was in former national security adviser John Bolton's manuscript of his White House memoir, "The Room Where It Happened." Schmidt writes:

Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

1 million mortgage holders fall through safety net

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

"About one million homeowners have fallen through the safety net Congress set up ... to protect borrowers from losing their homes, according to industry data, potentially leaving them vulnerable to foreclosure and eviction," The Wall Street Journal reports.

What's happening: "Homeowners with federally guaranteed mortgages can skip monthly payments for as long as a year without penalty and make them up later," The Journal reports. "Many people have instead fallen behind on their payments, digging themselves into a deepening financial hole through accumulated missed payments and late fees."

Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

What might have been: Massive USPS coronavirus face mask operation called off

In April, the Postal Service "drafted a news release announcing plans to distribute 650 million masks nationwide, enough to offer five face coverings to every American household," the Washington Post reports, based on documents obtained by American Oversight, a watchdog group that requested them under FOIA.

  • What's happening: The idea originated at HHS, "which suggested a pack of five reusable masks be sent to every residential address in the country, with the first shipments going to the hardest-hit areas," per The Post.

Why it matters: Imagine if five months ago, Americans not only got a signal from their government that they should wear masks, but even had them handed to them. Incalculable loss — human and economic — could have been avoided.

Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump vs. his own administration

President Trump holds a "Great American Comeback" rally in Mosinee, Wisc., last night. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The day after President Trump slapped down his CDC director, we had two stunning new cases of administration officials being undermined from the top.

The state of play: On the Hill, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified about "very active" efforts by Russia to denigrate Joe Biden and sow discord ahead of the election.

Mike Allen, author of AM
Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

First look: Biden's tough "Knock on the Door" ad

Joe Biden, believing President Trump is suddenly vulnerable with military voters, goes up today with an ad called "Knock On The Door," featuring retired Air force Brigadier General John Douglass, a former casualty notification officer.

Mike Allen, author of AM
Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Mike Bloomberg's anti-chaos theory

CNN's Anderson Cooper questions Joe Biden last night at a drive-in town hall in Moosic, Pa., outside Scranton. Photo: CNN

Mike Bloomberg's $100 million Florida blitz begins today and will continue "wall to wall" in all 10 TV markets through Election Day, advisers tell me.

Why it matters: Bloomberg thinks that Joe Biden putting away Florida is the most feasible way to head off the national chaos we could have if the outcome of Trump v. Biden remained uncertain long after Election Day.

Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden's hardline Russia reset

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Getty Images photos: Mark Reinstein

When he talks about Russia, Joe Biden has sounded like Ronald Reagan all summer, setting up a potential Day 1 confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin if Biden were to win.

Why it matters: Biden has promised a forceful response against Russia for both election interference and alleged bounty payments to target American troops in Afghanistan. But being tougher than President Trump could be the easy part. The risk is overdoing it and making diplomacy impossible.

Biden calls Russia an "opponent," sees China as a "serious competitor"

Joe Biden at a CNN town hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Joe Biden described Russia as an "opponent" of the U.S. at a CNN town hall on Thursday, while identifying China as a "serious competitor."

Flashback: The former vice president opened himself to attacks early in his campaign last year when he said China was "not competition" for the U.S. — a comment that drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, per Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Trump won't attend UN General Assembly in-person, White House says

Trump talks to reporters outside the White House on Sept. 17. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Thursday that President Trump will not attend the United Nations General Assembly in-person this year, per pool reports.

The big picture: The UN turns 75 this year, but the pandemic has muted the anniversary to virtual meetings. Trump has yet to submit a virtual speech for the New York City event, Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs reports.

Joe Biden: "I've benefitted" from white privilege

Biden at a Scranton, Pennslvanyia CNN town hall. Photo courtesty of CNN.

Joe Biden said at a CNN town hall on Thursday that he has benefitted from white privilege "just because I don't have to go through what my Black brothers and sisters have had to go through."

Why it matters: Biden's response stands in contrast to the Trump administration's moves to order government agencies to halt trainings on critical race theory and white privilege, referring to them as "anti-American propaganda."