Wednesday's politics & policy stories

Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Pennsylvania decertifies county's voting machines after audit

Photo: Aaron Jackendoff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pennsylvania's acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid announced Wednesday she decertified Fulton County voting equipment for future elections after officials allowed a private company to examine the machines during an audit of the 2020 election, violating the state's election code.

Why it matters: Degraffenreid said the company was able to "access certain key components of its certified system." Pennsylvania is the second state after Arizona to have decertified an election system because of dubious audit requests by pro-Trump Republicans.

News orgs lobby Biden admin for visas for Afghans who supported U.S. press

Village elders speak with a U.S. Marine (L), through an interpreter in the Korengal Valley in 2008. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

A coalition of more than 20 U.S. media companies delivered letters to Congress and the Biden administration, seeking assistance with the relocation of Afghan journalists and staff who worked for American outlets.

Why it matters: Afghans who worked with the U.S. press “fear retaliation from the Taliban" as the U.S. military nears the complete withdrawal of troops in Afganistan, per the letters.

New civilian commission will oversee Chicago police after push for reform

Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski via Getty Images

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday voted to establish a new civilian commission composed of publicly elected community members who will oversee the Chicago Police Department.

Why it matters: Chicago police have been the center of controversy for decades. In recent years, pressure for reform has increased when it was revealed that officers had tortured and coerced over 100 people into false confessions, and after police shot and killed Laquan McDonald, a Black teen, in 2014.

Harvey Weinstein pleads not guilty in second rape trial in Los Angeles

Weinstein arriving to court in February 2020. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

Disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday to four counts of rape and seven sexual assault counts, AP reports.

Driving the news: Weinstein is accused of allegedly attacking five women between 2004 and 2013, per Reuters. His appeared in court comes just a day after being extradited from New York for the trial.

Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Cheney: McCarthy is "playing politics" with Capitol riot

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is "playing politics" with the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot by pulling select Republicans off the committee created to investigate the origins of the attack and pursuing a separate investigation.

Why it matters: Cheney said she believes McCarthy's "disgraceful" actions and rhetoric on the insurrection should disqualify him from becoming House speaker if the GOP reclaims the chamber in the 2022 midterms.

Kamala Harris says she'll campaign for California Gov. Newsom in recall election

Photo: Alex Edelman/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle Wednesday that she is planning to campaign for California Gov. Gavin Newsom ahead of his recall election this fall.

Why it matters: Harris' support in the campaign would be a "significant step" from Democratic Party leaders to aid Newsom in the recall fight and could also prove to be a "strong fundraising draw," per the Chronicle.

Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden picks Vicki Kennedy as Austria ambassador

Vicki Kennedy. Photo: Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

President Biden is nominating Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), to be his ambassador to Austria.

Driving the news: Biden also will name David Cohen, a former top lobbyist for Comcast and bigtime Democratic bundler, as his choice Canada. In addition, Jamie Harpootlian, a South Carolina lawyer and major Biden bundler, is being nominated as ambassador to Slovenia.

Jul 21, 2021 - Podcasts

Inside the arrest of Trump pal Tom Barrack

Tom Barrack, the billionaire real estate investor and close friend to former President Trump, was arrested yesterday on federal charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates. It's a case that touches the highest levels of American finance and power.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper with Vicky Ward, an investigative journalist who's reported Tom Barrack through her books on New York real estate, the Kushner family and her new podcast series on Jeffrey Epstein.

Salt Lake City declares racism a public health crisis

Photo: Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Salt Lake City has declared racism a public health crisis after the city council and mayor adopted a joint resolution, pledging to eradicating racist policies.

The big picture: The resolution comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared racism a serious public health threat in April.

Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Republicans sink key procedural vote on bipartisan infrastructure package

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A key procedural vote meant to advance the bipartisan "hard" infrastructure package failed 49-51 on Wednesday after Senate Republicans came together to sink the measure.

Driving the news: A core bipartisan group of senators have been negotiating for months and given how close they are to a deal, senators tell Axios they do not expect this to be the last vote on the $1.2 trillion package.

Judge orders $150M in initial compensation for Surfside victims

People pray at the memorial to the victims of the collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

A judge said Wednesday that victims and families who suffered losses in the collapse of the oceanfront condo in Surfside, Florida, are entitled to a minimum of $150 million in initial compensation, AP reports.

Catch up quick: The June 24 collapse killed at least 97 people and led to several lawsuits, per an NBC affiliate. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is leading a federal investigation into the structural failure.

Defense Secretary Austin defends Joint Chiefs Chair Milley amid controversy

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, hold a press conference on July 21. Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin defended Gen. Mark Milley Wednesday, following allegations that the latter had made plans to prevent former President Trump from staging a coup during the 2020 election, Politico reports.

Why it matters: Austin's remarks come as Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, faces criticism from conservatives over accusations presented in an upcoming book detailing the end of Trump's presidency.

McCarthy threatens to launch GOP investigation of Capitol riot

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

The GOP will pursue its own investigation into the Capitol insurrection if Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) doesn't reverse her rejection of the two Republicans named to the Jan. 6 select committee, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Pelosi on Wednesday rejected McCarthy's naming of Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) to the committee, citing their objection to President Biden's Electoral College victory. In response, McCarthy accused her of running a "sham process" with her "egregious abuse of power."

Jul 21, 2021 - Axios Tampa Bay

DeSantis again refuses to declare state of emergency for Tampa Bay red tide

Dead fish being pulled from the water at Crisp Park in St. Petersburg, Fla. Photo: courtesy of the City of St. Petersburg

Despite pleas from the city of St. Petersburg, environmentalists and activists, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down Wednesday and again refused to declare a state of emergency for Tampa Bay's ongoing red tide.

Why it matters: DeSantis said his office is committed to working with the community to fight the red tide, but argued that a state of emergency would hurt businesses by sending the message that "Florida has problems."

Updated Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

McCarthy pulls Republicans from Jan. 6 select committee after Pelosi rejects picks

Rep. Jim Jordan. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that she rejects Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy's naming of Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) to the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, citing their objection to President Biden's Electoral College victory.

The latest: "Pelosi has broken the institution" with her actions, McCarthy said at a Wednesday press conference. Unless she reverses course and seats all five GOP nominees, "Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts," he noted in a separate statement.

Court blocks Arkansas ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked the enforcement of an Arkansas law that criminalizes gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth.

The big picture: The legislation is among the first of its kind to pass in a state legislature. It forbids doctors from providing access to hormone treatments and puberty blockers to anyone under the age of 18.

Ukraine fears U.S.-Germany deal on Putin's pipeline falls far short

Zelensky and Merkel. Photo: Stefanie Loos-Pool/Getty Images

The soon-to-be-announced deal between the U.S. and Germany on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline falls well short of Ukraine's hopes and fails to address the country's national security concerns, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky tells Axios.

Why it matters: The deal is designed to allay concerns in Kyiv and on Capitol Hill about the imminent completion of the Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline, which the Biden administration itself has condemned as "a Kremlin geopolitical project that threatens European energy security."

U.S. extends travel restrictions at Canada, Mexico borders until Aug. 21

Photo: Tara Walton for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The U.S. will extend its restrictions on non-essential travel at the borders with Canada and Mexico until at least Aug. 21, the U.S. Homeland Security Department said on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The announcement of the 30-day extension comes after Canada said Monday that it would begin allowing fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents to enter the country starting Aug. 9.

Treasury distributed over $1.5 billion in rental assistance in June

Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it distributed over $1.5 billion in rental assistance across the country in June before the national moratorium on evictions expires July 31.

Why it matters: The number of households assisted in June grew by almost 85% over the previous month and nearly tripled since April. But, in some states and cities, funds still aren't flowing fast enough to renters and landlords who don't have the infrastructure in place.

Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Tom Barrack indictment could strain U.S.-UAE ties

Tom Barrack. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

The arrest on Tuesday of Tom Barrack, a business tycoon and close Trump ally, for allegedly acting as an unregistered Emirati agent could complicate relations between the Biden administration and the UAE.

Driving the news: The indictment against Barrack, a real estate investor who chaired Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee, indicates he was in contact with the highest echelons of the Emirati leadership, without naming specific officials.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Trump confidante Tom Barrack's fall from grace

Photo illustration: Trent Joaquin/Axios. Photo: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tom Barrack is an extraordinarily successful private equity and real estate investor, building a multibillion-dollar empire that spans data centers to hotels to telecom towers. He's also under arrest and being held in federal custody.

Driving the news: Barrack, a longtime friend of Donald Trump and chair of his 2017 inaugural committee, was charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates.

Mike Allen, author of AM
Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Top former state, city officials back infrastructure deal as long overdue

Former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Photo: William Campbell/Getty Images

A group of key former governors and mayors — including former Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke — today embraced the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal as long overdue.

What they're saying: "We know first-hand the overwhelming need for improvement," the group said in a statement provided first to Axios.

Jul 21, 2021 - World

Wendy Sherman to become highest-ranking Biden official to visit China

Wendy Sherman in France in 2014. Photo: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will visit Tianjin, China, on July 25-26 to meet with Chinese government officials, including State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the State Department announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: Sherman will become the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit China, just days after the U.S. and its allies accused Chinese state-sponsored actors of carrying out massive cyberattacks all over the world.

Jill Biden heading to Olympics, Alaska, Hawaii

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

First lady Jill Biden is embarking on a solo Pacific tour Wednesday, leading the U.S. delegation to the Olympics in Tokyo between domestic stops in Alaska and Hawaii.

Why it matters: This is Biden's first solo trip abroad as first lady. She has had an aggressive domestic travel schedule in support of her husband's administration.

Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Milley to Trump: "I don't expect you to understand"

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The new book by The Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender — "Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost" — pinpoints the moment that the relationship between former President Trump and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley began to disintegrate.

Mike Allen, author of AM
Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Top Moody’s economist: Infrastructure and budget deals will help economy

Schumer. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday will release a report by Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi to push back on GOP attacks, arguing that the bipartisan infrastructure deal and Democrat-only social-spending package would help the economy.

Zandi writes, in excerpts provided to Axios: "Greater investments in public infrastruc­ture and social programs will lift productivity and labor force growth, and the attention on climate change will help forestall its increas­ingly corrosive economic effects."

Jul 21, 2021 - Technology

Survey: U.S. majority supports more tech regulation

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A new survey finds that 68% of Americans believe Big Tech companies have too much power in the economy, and 56% think these firms should be regulated more than they are now.

Why it matters: The Pew Research Center survey, conducted April 12-18, 2021, shows a statistically significant increase for those who support more regulation — a big uptick from 47% in June 2020.

The "right to repair" has its moment

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

The effort to make it easier for consumers to get smartphones and other products fixed is gaining ground across the country.

Why it matters: Repairing pricey devices — rather than replacing them — can help consumers save money and extend the lifecycle of their products.

Jul 21, 2021 - Technology

Biden chooses a tough top antitrust cop

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Biden's nomination of veteran antitrust attorney Jonathan Kanter to lead the Justice Department's antitrust division — the government's most powerful competition watchdog — shows just how serious the White House is about getting tough on tech.

Why it matters: Kanter, known for his strong views that the feds should do more to rein in the power of large corporations, has been a favorite of progressives who share those beliefs.

Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Top U.S. Catholic Church official resigns over report linking him to gay bars and Grindr

Photo: Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced Tuesday the resignation of its top administrator for "possible improper behavior" after an outlet linked Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill's phone activity to gay bars and the LGBTQ dating app Grindr.

Why it matters: The small Catholic outlet, The Pillar, was able to achieve this by obtaining "anonymized" data from a broker, and having a consulting firm analyze it and link it to the church official — showing how easy and legally this can now be done.

Scoop: One-third of reunited migrant families went homeless

El Salvadoran families reunited in the U.S. in 2018. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

At least a third of migrant families separated at the border during the Trump administration and reunited in the U.S. so far under President Biden were homeless initially, three people familiar with estimates discussed by advocates and government officials told Axios.

Why it matters: As the number of reunions grows, such homelessness rates have the potential to significantly strain non-governmental organizations already plagued by limited resources.

By the numbers: More migrants from farther away

Expand chart
Data: U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios. Note: South American nations included are Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador

Border officials are encountering migrants from more distant countries, rather than just Mexico or the Northern Triangle, according to the latest public figures from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

Why it matters: These longer journeys to the U.S.-Mexico border underscore the desperate situation many migrants face in their home countries, as well as the multi-dimensional diplomatic, economic and moral challenge the United States faces trying to control their flow north.

Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Senate Democrats' $4.1T Plan B

Sen. Tim Kaine. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Senate Democrats are weighing a Plan B if the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations fail: adding the nearly $600 billion in spending Republicans have already accepted to the $3.5-trillion plan they want to enact alone — a $4.1 trillion overall price tag.

Why it matters: The combination gets the roads and bridges both parties favor; the reconciliation package covers the "soft" climate and child care items wanted by progressives, and Republicans would have to answer why if they oppose a measure that includes all of what they want.

Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

The Capitol petri dish

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congress, staffers and reporters are wearing masks again as Capitol Hill faces a new wave of the coronavirus despite widespread vaccinations.

Why it matters: The Delta variant is surging, and Congress is a potential petri dish for the new variant. House and Senate leaders are weighing whether to reintroduce coronavirus protocols to the Capitol. While most lawmakers have been vaccinated, they fit high-risk profiles and work in close quarters.

Nxivm sex cult leader Keith Raniere ordered to pay $3.4M to victims

Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Keith Raniere, leader of the cult Nxivm who in 2020 was sentenced to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking, to pay $3.4 million to 21 victims, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Nxivm marketed itself as a self-help organization and forced women, who were called "slaves," to submit sensitive, personal material including naked photos to ensure their loyalty. Higher-ranking members would use the "collateral" to coerce compliance with orders including participation in sexual acts.

Updated Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Judge blocks Arkansas' near-total abortion ban

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson at a June state Senate hearing at the state Capitol. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to stop an Arkansas law banning nearly all abortions in the state following a lawsuit disputing its constitutionality, per AP.

The big picture: The law that Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed in March would have banned nearly all abortions in Arkansas — with no exceptions for rape or incest, only for if a pregnant person's life is in danger.