Monday's politics & policy stories

Rep. Katko calls on Biden to boycott Beijing Olympics

Rep. John Katko (R-NY). Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

John Katko (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is urging President Biden to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in response to China's acts of genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups.

What he's saying: "Participation in an Olympics held in a country who is openly committing genocide not only undermines those shared values but casts a shadow on the promise for all those who seek free and just societies," Katko wrote in a letter sent to Biden on Monday.

Virginia set to abolish the death penalty

The Virginia State Capitol. Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Virginia lawmakers on Monday gave their final approval to legislation that will abolish capital punishment in the state.

Why it matters: The measure now heads to Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who has said he will sign it into law. Once signed, Virginia will become the first southern state and the 23rd state nationwide to end capital punishment.

New Jersey officially legalizes recreational marijuana

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for William Hill Race & Sports Bar

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Monday signed three bills to legalize and regulate marijuana in the state, following years of failed attempts by the legislature.

Why it matters: The bills will enact a ballot question that voters overwhelmingly approved last year, allowing people older than 21 to legally carry up to six ounces of marijuana.

Garland: U.S. "facing more dangerous period" than aftermath of OKC bombing

Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland sounded the alarm on the threat of domestic terrorism at his confirmation hearing Monday, saying the U.S. is "facing a more dangerous period" than after the Oklahoma City bombing.

The big picture: Garland drew a line between the bombing — for which he supervised the prosecution during a stint at the Justice Department — to a recent "enormous rise in hate crimes." He compared the effort to curb the violence with the "battles of the original Justice Department against the Ku Klux Klan."

Garland rips Trump's family separation policy: "I can't imagine anything worse"

Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden's nominee for attorney general, decried the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy at his confirmation hearing Monday, calling it "shameful" and agreeing to cooperate with future investigations.

Why it matters: The policy — which "came at the expense" of weighing the impact on families, according to a Justice Department watchdog report — resulted in over 500 parents still separated from their children as of October 2020. Biden has launched a task force on reuniting families as part of a campaign pledge.

Updated Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Collins, Romney to vote "no" on Biden budget nominee Neera Tanden

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) announced Monday they will not vote to confirm President Biden's nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden.

Why it matters: The moderate Republicans were viewed as possible saviors to Tanden's nomination, after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) became the first Democratic senator to oppose one of Biden's nominees last week. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has not yet announced how she intends to vote.

Supreme Court clears way for Manhattan prosecutors to subpoena Trump's taxes

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an effort by former President Trump's lawyers to block Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance from enforcing a subpoena for eight years of his personal and financial tax returns.

Why it matters: It was the last legal hurdle in the former president's long-running battle to shield his tax returns from prosecutors — and the second time the Supreme Court has dealt Trump a defeat in the case.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Texas power crisis spurs flurry of investigations

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Investigations of the Texas electricity crisis — a disaster with fatal consequences — are proliferating in the state and the Beltway.

Why it matters: The inquiries could bring regulatory changes to Texas' independent grid aimed at better preparation for extreme weather.

Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Dominion files $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sued MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell for more than $1.3 billion in damages, alleging that the Trump ally exploited the baseless conspiracy theory that Dominion's voting machines rigged the election for Joe Biden so Lindell could sell more pillows.

The big picture: Lindell is the latest Trump ally to face a multibillion-dollar lawsuit from Dominion or Smartmatic, another voting machine company subjected to a campaign of false claims about the election.

Biden's pick for health secretary heads to the hot seat

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is more likely than not to be confirmed as the next secretary of Health and Human Services, especially now that another of President Biden's nominees is in hot water.

Yes, but: Becerra's confirmation hearings this week are likely to become political brawls over abortion, Medicare for All, California's pandemic response and Becerra's qualifications for the job.

Mike Allen, author of AM
Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump to claim total control of GOP

Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

In his first post-presidential appearance, Donald Trump plans to send the message next weekend that he is Republicans' "presumptive 2024 nominee" with a vise grip on the party's base, top Trump allies tell Axios.

What to watch: A longtime adviser called Trump's speech a "show of force," and said the message will be: "I may not have Twitter or the Oval Office, but I'm still in charge." Payback is his chief obsession.

Attorneys general fight hate crimes while facing hate

Racine in his office in March 2019. Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, a Haitian immigrant, is leading one of the most diverse sets of attorneys general in the nation's history on a campaign against hate crimes while they face hateful rhetoric and threats themselves.

Why it matters: The country's electorate is becoming more diverse, yet hate crimes jumped to record levels last year. And the problem may even be worse. Most police departments don't bother reporting hate crimes.

Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to temporarily target PPP loans to smallest businesses

Biden's nominee for small business administrator, Isabel Guzman. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Biden administration will temporarily prevent big businesses from applying for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, restricting applications to businesses with fewer than 20 employees, according to administration officials.

Why it matters: The White House wants to target small businesses and ensure that they are not shut out of the application process, as some were during the first round of the program last spring.

Thousands rally in Myanmar despite military warning of "loss of life"

A protester waves the National League for Democracy flag during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Monday. Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of anti-coup protesters were demonstrating in Myanmar cities Monday despite the military warning it might use "lethal force," per AFP.

Driving the news: The Guardian reports that the army warned on TV Sunday night, "Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life."

AOC raises $5 million for Texas relief fund

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during a November news conference. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) announced Sunday night that her fundraising efforts for a Texas relief fund "just hit $5 million."

The big picture: Ocasio-Cortez launched the fundraiser last Thursday, as Texas was gripped by a deadly winter weather emergency that saw millions of people Texans lose power and water.

Updated Feb 22, 2021 - Health

Fauci boss gives Trump administration credit on Operation Warp Speed

National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins tells "Axios on HBO" that the Trump administration deserves credit for the "breathtaking" speed of COVID vaccine development.

The big picture: The fact that it "got done in 11 months from when we first knew about this virus is at least five years faster than it's ever been before before," Collins said.

Previewing GOP's Biden-era villains

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In a first taste of Republicans' Biden-era villains, the Virginia GOP is rolling out some of Donald Trump's favorites — China and Hillary Clinton — for the state's 2021 election.

Why it matters: Virginia’s off-year elections are an early battleground in defining the Republicans’ post-Trump identity. A spate of attacks against GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin appears to be drawing from the same playbook, hyping familiar Trump-era GOP villains.

Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisanship ends this week with stimulus vote

Rep. Jason Smith (from left), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Bipartisanship - at least over President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan — appears over, with House Democrats ready to approve the measure this week through a party-line vote.

Between the lines: The GOP, which is already whipping against the bill, plans to cast it as a progressive wishlist and argue Democrats are bulldozing Republicans despite Biden's pledge to work with them.

Mike Allen, author of AM
Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden's big summertime verdict

President Biden after visiting the Pfizer vaccine plant in Kalamazoo, Mich., last week. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden is promising COVID-19 vaccines will be available to all Americans by the end of July — and a Quinnipiac poll finds three-quarters of Americans expect him to pull it off.  If he fails, the coronavirus could start to haunt the new president just like it did his predecessor.

Why it matters: Biden’s presidency is built on the notion of restoring competence — and confidence — in government. So, he'll need the huge infusion of cash from his virus relief bill — and heroics by drugmakers and distributors — to carry out mass vaccinations.

Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden to hold moment of silence for COVID victims

President Joe Biden. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden will mark the expected confirmation of 500,000 Americans who have died from coronavirus with remarks Monday evening, followed by a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at sundown, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The milestone, expected to be crossed Monday, will tally more American deaths than in World War II and the Vietnam War. The new president has worked to ramp up vaccinations and economic stimulus to accelerate recovery from the pandemic.

Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Collins' likely "no" on Tanden a sign of Biden's peril

Photo Illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty, Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Close associates of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) tell Axios they're convinced she’ll vote against Neera Tanden to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget, eliminating a possible safety valve to save the nomination.

Why it matters: Tanden's uphill climb is emblematic of the challenges facing some of President Biden's remaining high-profile nominees. Interior Department pick Deb Haaland, Health and Human Services secretary-designate Xavier Becerra and Attorney General designee Merrick Garland risk varying outcomes.

Scoop: Cruz's Cancún trip included college roommate

The front page of a Jamaican newspaper shows Sen. Ted Cruz and his college roommate David Panton (center) in 2001. Photo: Rosalind Helderman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In explaining his disastrous Cancún trip, Sen. Ted Cruz failed to mention his college roommate also was along for the visit.

  • Axios has learned Cruz (R-Texas) invited David Panton, his longtime friend and former roommate at Princeton and Harvard Law, to join the family getaway.