Wednesday's politics & policy stories

Some companies will keep mask mandates in states that lifted COVID-19 restrictions

Photo: Emaz/VIEWpress via Getty Images

Some of the biggest chains in the U.S., including Target and Starbucks, will continue to require masks and limit capacity in Texas and Mississippi after the states lift coronavirus restrictions, Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The Republican governors' move to reopen "100%" has divided the business community, with some welcoming the decision while others worry about risk of backslide on progress and put workers at risk.

Updated Mar 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

House cancels Thursday session as FBI, Homeland Security warn of threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says extremists have discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

Arizona governor orders schools to offer in-person learning by mid-March

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaking in Prescott in November 2018. Photo: Caitlin O'Hara/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) issued an executive order on Wednesday requiring schools statewide to offer in-person learning by March 15.

Why it matters: The order comes as governors across the United States are relaxing coronavirus restrictions despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the rollbacks may be premature.

Interior Department revokes Trump-era policy to ensure "scientific integrity"

Photo: Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images

The Interior Department rescinded a Trump-era policy that the Biden administration says "improperly restricted" the use of science and data, and ordered a review of its "scientific integrity policies," effective immediately, the acting Interior secretary announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: The action is part of an effort to ensure the Interior Department remains a "leader in scientific integrity." The American public's divided trust in science was deemed a foundational crisis that President Biden would need to address to tackle other challenges awaiting him on Day 1 of his presidency, including the pandemic and climate change.

Mar 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Tom Reed hiring team for New York governor run

Tom Reed. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republican Rep. Tom Reed has begun hiring staffers to work on a campaign for governor of New York, a clear sign he’s nearing a bid, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The drama surrounding incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo has created an opening for challengers. While it’d be a long shot for a Republican like Reed to win in the heavily Democratic state, many in his party see potential in their rivals' troubles.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

Cuomo: "I am not going to resign"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized Wednesday for acting in a way that made women feel "uncomfortable," but insisted that he has "never touched anyone inappropriately" and said he will not resign.

Driving the news: Cuomo reiterated in his first public appearance since sexual harassment allegations surfaced that he will fully cooperate with a team of independent investigators appointed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, but suggested that demands for his resignation from were simply "politics."

Updated Mar 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

National Guard chief: Pentagon's "unusual" Jan. 6 restrictions led to 3-hour delay

William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, testified Wednesday that a three-hour delay in approval for National Guard assistance during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was exacerbated by "unusual" restrictions on his authorities by Pentagon leadership.

Why it matters: Walker testified that if Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy had not prohibited him in a Jan. 5 memo from using the National Guard's "Quick Reaction Force" without authorization, he would have "immediately" sent troops to the Capitol after receiving a "frantic call" from then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund.

Updated Mar 3, 2021 - World

U.S. contractor dies of "cardiac episode" after rockets hit Iraq airbase

One U.S. contractor died of a "cardiac episode" after least 10 rockets hit the Al Asad Airbase in western Iraq hosting U.S.-led coalition troops, a Pentagon spokesperson said Wednesday.

The big picture: It's the first rocket attack since the U.S. launched an airstrike against facilities in Syria associated with an Iran-backed militia group last week, citing recent assaults and "ongoing threats to American and coalition personnel in Iraq.

Updated Mar 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Capitol Police warns of attack by "an identified militia group" on March 4

Pro-Trump rioters break into U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

U.S. Capitol Police issued a statement on Wednesday announcing additional security measures after it obtained intelligence showing "a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4."

Why it matters: Washington, D.C. remains on edge following the deadly Capitol insurrection, with lawmakers continuing to conduct investigations into the security failures that led to the Jan. 6 breach.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Mar 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

House Democrats' opening statement on climate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senior House Democrats are floating a big climate bill that's consistent with President Biden's agenda, but it's more of a statement of goals than anything likely to become law as written.

Driving the news: One key pillar is a "clean electricity standard" (CES) that requires utilities to supply 100% of their power from zero-carbon sources by 2035.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Mar 3, 2021 - Energy & Environment

A look at Biden's expanding climate team

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration's team of climate experts is getting bigger still.

Why it matters: President Biden is vowing a whole-of-government approach that weaves climate deeply into White House decision-making and the work of many agencies.

Pence breaks silence to condemn Democrats' sweeping voting reform bill

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In some of his most extensive remarks since Jan. 6, former Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed Wednesday condemning House Democrats' sweeping election and anti-corruption proposal as an "unconstitutional power grab" by "leftists."

Why it matters: Pence has largely stayed quiet since the Capitol insurrection, during which rioters were heard chanting "hang Mike Pence" after former President Trump promoted the claim that the vice president could block the certification of the Electoral College.

Democrats' hypocrisy moment

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be facing explicit calls to resign from President Biden on down, if you apply the standard that Democrats set for similar allegations against Republicans. And it's not a close call.

Why it matters: The #MeToo moment saw men in power run out of town for exploiting young women. Democrats led the charge. So the silence of so many of them seems more strange — and unacceptable by their own standards — by the hour.

Mike Allen, author of AM
Mar 3, 2021 - Economy & Business

First look: Obama strategist David Plouffe's next chapter

David Plouffe talks to The Wall Street Journal's Gerry Baker at Fox Business Network in New York on March 4, 2020. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

David Plouffe, an architect of President Obama's winning campaign and specialist in the intersection of grassroots and tech, joins Precision — and co-founders Stephanie Cutter and Teddy Goff — as "of counsel."

What they're saying: Cutter pointed to "David’s experience in creating and driving data-driven strategies and managing integrated campaigns."

Mike Allen, author of AM
Mar 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Vernon Jordan discusses friendship with Bill Clinton in new Gary Ginsberg book

Cover courtesy Gary Ginsberg

Gary Ginsberg — lawyer, corporate executive and former Clinton administration aide — had a three-hour lunch with Vernon Jordan for "First Friends," a book about presidential confidants, out July 6:

Numerous former aides recall with astonishment how over eight years they never saw or heard Jordan ask for anything from Clinton except for one small request — that he attend the 1994 President's Cup golf tournament due to his friendship with Robert Trent Jones ... He never sought time on Clinton's schedule or input on legislation for clients, nor did he seek special favors for himself or his friends. Of course it didn't hurt Jordan's law practice to be known as the First Friend ...
"People think I needed Bill Clinton to be who I was," Jordan said in 2018, spelling out his words: "My L-I-F-E," he continued, "did N-O-T start when Bill Clinton became President."

Police officers' immunity from lawsuits is getting a fresh look

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, advocates of changes in police practices are launching new moves to limit or eliminate legal liability protections for officers accused of excessive force.

Why it matters: Revising or eliminating qualified immunity — the shield police officers have now — could force officers accused of excessive force to personally face civil penalties in addition to their departments. But such a change could intensify a nationwide police officer shortage, critics say. 

Mar 3, 2021 - Technology

First on Axios: Baltimore's powerful new tool to fight illegal guns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Baltimore is piloting a software program developed by Everytown for Gun Safety that will enable it for the first time to identify patterns of gun trafficking and illegal sales.

Why it matters: If successful, this crime-fighting software — which draws data from multiple systems and connects the dots — could be used to crack down in many cities where gun violence is a big problem.

Fauci donates personal COVID-19 model to Smithsonian

Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, with the model, which shows the "components of the SARS-CoV-2 virion (the complete, infectious form of the virus), including the spike protein," per a statement. Photo: Smithsonian/National Museum of American History

NIAID director Anthony Fauci gave the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History his personal COVID-19 model Tuesday, as he was honored with the institution's Great Americans Medal.

The big picture: Fauci virtually presented the educational tool, made with a 3D printer, to museum director Anthea Hartig. She praised him in a statement for his "humanitarianism" and "dedication," helping to "save millions of lives" and advance the treatment and understanding of infectious and immunologic diseases. Fauci said in a video the medal was a "humbling honor."

Updated Mar 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Report: Pentagon watchdog finds Ronny Jackson drank on duty and harassed staff

Rep. Ronny Jackson walking through the Canon Tunnel to the U.S. Capitol in January. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) allegedly made "sexual and denigrating" comments about a female staffer, drank alcohol and took sleeping medication while working as White House physician, according to a report obtained by CNN Tuesday night.

Driving the news: The Defense Department inspector general's report stems from a years-long investigation. Jackson has called the allegations "false and fabricated."

Mississippi Rep. Palazzo investigated over campaign funds misuse claims

Rep. Steven Palazzo. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The House Committee on Ethics is conducting a review after an independent watchdog unanimously recommended an investigation into allegations that Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) has abused his office.

Why it matters: The Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics found there's "substantial reason to believe" that Palazzo "converted funds to personal use to pay expenses that were not legitimate" — allegations the congressman denies.

DOJ pressed to enforce Al Jazeera foreign agent ruling

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Justice Department is being pressed to enforce its own demand that the U.S. arm of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera register as a foreign agent.

Why it matters: The launch of Al Jazeera's new right-of-center U.S. media venture, Rightly, has refocused attention on the media company's alleged links to Doha, and DOJ's efforts to crack down on media outlets viewed as foreign interest mouthpieces.

Remembering Vernon Jordan

Vernon Jordan leaves his home in D.C. in 1998. Photo: Khue Bui/AP

Vernon Jordan, a civil rights champion in the segregated South who became a political and corporate power broker, has died at 85.

  • I got to know Jordan in 2015 when I was the Bloomberg News reporter covering President Obama's vacation to Martha's Vineyard, where Jordan summered and played golf with Presidents Clinton and Obama.

Here's the backstory about a profile I wrote on his 80th birthday, and the window I gained into an incredible American life:

Poll: Immigration is America's most-polarizing issue

Data: The American Aspirations Index/Populace; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Immigration was found to be the most polarizing issue in America based on new polling from Populace.

Why it matters: Americans have surprisingly similar priorities for the U.S., but immigration stands out as one of the few issues with clear partisan differences. It underscores the challenge for advocates and lawmakers hoping to pass immigration reform in the coming weeks amid narrow margins in Congress.

Mar 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Lawmakers hide behind AG's investigation as Cuomo lingers

A billboard outside Albany, N.Y. Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is politically wounded but not yet dead, several state lawmakers tell Axios.

The state of play: Most are holding their fire and punting to state Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into sexual harassment allegations. They expect the inquiry to be credible and thorough — and buy Cuomo badly needed breathing room.

Progressives ready challenge to Democratic old guard

Rep. Steny Hoyer. Photo: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Progressive Democrats, including two who are Black, are lining up to challenge House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer even before Maryland sets the date for its 2022 primaries.

Why it matters: Recent progressive victories for Reps. Cori Bush in Missouri and Jamaal Bowman in New York, plus the country's changing demographics and post-#MeToo and George Floyd eras, are giving organizers and candidates new hope that the political landscape is changing and rewarding diversity.

Pentagon report: Domestic extremists pose serious threat to military

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol in tactical gear. Photo: Samuel Corum via Getty Images

Domestic extremists pose a serious threat to the military by attempting to recruit service members into their movement, according to a Pentagon report released Tuesday.

Why it matters: Domestic extremism in the military has become a growing concern in recent years, the report notes. It blew into a bigger issue after the Justice Department charged several former and current military members for their involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, which the FBI classified as domestic terrorism.

House Dems set for fresh months-long fight for Trump financial records

Former President Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Hyatt Regency on Feb. 28. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The House Oversight Committee is preparing for a months-long battle seeking to obtain access to former President Trump's financial records, per a legal schedule outline proposed by their counsel Doug Letter on Tuesday.

Why it matters: House Democrats say obtaining Trump's records would "promote transparency, enhance public confidence in the integrity of elected officials including the President, and prevent grave conflict of interests for this and any future presidents."

Mar 3, 2021 - Health

Education Department to hold summit on reopening schools

Miguel Cardona, U.S. secretary of education, speaking during a confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., in February 2021. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP Photo/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Department of Education is planning a national summit in March on how to safely reopen schools, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced in a USA Today op-ed Tuesday.

Why it matters: By announcing the summit, the Biden administration is trying to depoliticize an issue that some of the president's advisers worry will hurt them with suburban parents.

Senate confirms Cecilia Rouse as Council of Economic Advisers chair

Cecilia Rouse speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, in December 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Senate voted 95-4 on Tuesday to confirm labor economist Cecilia Rouse to chair the Council of Economic Advisers for the Biden administration.

Why it matters: Rouse, dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, is the first Black person and fourth woman to lead the organization, which is responsible for advising the president on domestic and international economic policy.