Thursday's top stories

McConnell says he would fill Supreme Court vacancy if it opened this year

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News Thursday that he would fill a Supreme Court vacancy if it opened up this year, despite it being an election year.

Why it matters: Antonin Scalia died on this day in 2016. McConnell refused to hold confirmation hearings or a vote that year on President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland, arguing that that the Senate and presidency belonged to different parties and that the vacancy shouldn't be filled until the next president is inaugurated.

The Afghanistan conundrum

On patrol in Paktika province in 2009. Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

President Trump says he's "very close" to a deal that will begin the end of America's war in Afghanistan.

Why it matters: There’s a reason the U.S. has been stuck in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. Pulling out would leave the precarious structure it's attempted to build in danger of collapse.

Go deeperArrowFeb 13, 2020 - World

Barr: Trump's Roger Stone tweets "make it impossible for me to do my job"

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Attorney General Bill Barr told ABC News in an interview Thursday that President Trump's "constant background commentary" about the Justice Department “make it impossible for me to do my job," adding, “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases."

Why it matters: It's a rare public rebuke of the president by the attorney general, who has faced allegations of politicizing the Justice Department.

Amazon lawsuit causes judge to temporarily block Microsoft Pentagon contract

Jeff Bezos. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the $10 billion cloud computing contract the Defense Department awarded to Microsoft as it reviews a lawsuit by Amazon, CNBC reports.

The big picture: Amazon claims the decision to hand Microsoft the contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) project in late October was influenced by President Trump, who has repeatedly and publicly taken shots at Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 13, 2020 - Technology

Senate votes to curb Trump's war powers against Iran

Sens. Mike Lee (L) and Bernie Sanders. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Senate voted 55-45 on Thursday in favor of a war powers resolution curbing President Trump's ability to launch military action against Iran without congressional authorization.

Why it matters: It's a bipartisan rebuke of the president's foreign policy that passed even after the White House threatened to veto the resolution.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 13, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Justice Department slaps Huawei with new racketeering charges

Huawei CFO Wanzhou Meng. Photo: Don Mackinnon/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department on Thursday announced a 16-count superseding indictment against Chinese telecom giant Huawei and its CFO Meng Wanzhou that includes charges of racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets.

Why it matters: The superseding indictment could ratchet up the potential penalties against Huawei, which was already facing charges for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Meng is currently in Canada fighting extradition to the U.S., with the first stage of her hearing beginning last month.

Go deeperArrowFeb 13, 2020 - World

Judy Shelton vs. Fed independence

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump hasn't given up on his dream of politicizing the Fed. After failing to get Herman Cain and Stephen Moore onto the Fed's board of governors, his latest candidate is one of his former campaign advisers, Judy Shelton, who testified in front of the Senate Banking Committee today.

Why it matters: Shelton is no more qualified to sit on the Fed board than Cain or Moore. But she's already further along in the process than either of them ever managed.

Ex-Trump aide John McEntee to lead White House office of personnel

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

John McEntee, President Trump’s former body man who was fired by former chief of staff John Kelly over security clearance issues and recently returned to the West Wing, is expected to lead the Presidential Personnel Office, according to two sources with direct knowledge.

Why it matters: Trump has increasingly become furious with what he sees as a federal government full of "never-Trumpers." Administration officials tell Axios Trump feels he’s surrounded by snakes and wants to clear out all the disloyal people.

Cybersecurity is a government game

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Forget lone hackers and gangs of digital outlaws: Governments, acting for good and ill, have become the prime movers in the cybersecurity world.

What's happening: Three big stories this week drove home government's central role in a myriad of major breaches, hacks and scams.

Hope Hicks to return to White House

Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Former communications director Hope Hicks is returning to the White House as counselor to the president, an administration official confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: Hicks was one of President Trump's closest and most loyal aides before she resigned in March 2018, working with Trump dating back to the launch of his campaign in 2015.

John Kelly unloads on Trump's foreign policy toward Ukraine, North Korea

John Kelly in 2018. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Pool/Getty Images

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly took aim Wednesday at President Trump's foreign policy during an event at New Jersey's Drew University, The Atlantic reports.

The state of play: Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, defended Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman's decision to testify during the impeachment inquiry and said Trump's decision to condition military aid to Ukraine to investigate political rivals overturned long-standing U.S. policy.

Angela Merkel needs a new heir

On to the next one. Merkel (R) with Kramp-Karrenbauer. Photo: Gregor Fischer/picture alliance via Getty Images

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s resignation as chair of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was abrupt, but her fall as Angela Merkel’s heir apparent was inevitable.

Why it matters: The CDU has been longing for a different chancellor candidate throughout the short and bumpy tenure of Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as AKK, because of her blunders and the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). Now it can cut its losses and prepare for the 2021 election. 

Go deeperArrowFeb 13, 2020 - World

Local publishing giant McClatchy files for bankruptcy

The Sacarmento Bee is one of the many local newspapers owned and operated by McClatchy. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

McClatchy announced Thursday that it voluntarily filed for bankruptcy to allow the company to restructure its debt and pension obligations.

Why it matters: The bankruptcy ends family control of one of the largest newspaper publishers in the country. It will also hand the company to creditors, who "have expressed support for independent journalism," McClatchy DC writes.

The decline of the basketball shoe

Illustration:Aïda Amer/Axios

Basketball shoe sales are down for the fourth consecutive year, and the industry is being crushed by the athleisure wave.

By the numbers: Basketball shoe sales currently represent less than 5% of the athletic shoe market, a huge drop from their 13% market share in 2014, per research firm NPD.

Go deeperArrowFeb 13, 2020 - Sports

Mike Bloomberg embraces the meme

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Mike Bloomberg is working with Instagram meme influencers with millions of followers to help promote his presidential campaign in paid posts, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: It’s an innovative and fresh strategy that reflects the prowess of Bloomberg’s massive and well-funded digital operation — and it specifically targets Generation Z, a demographic that might know the least about the former New York mayor.

Investors see stocks overvalued, recession looming

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

An overwhelming majority of the world's asset managers think stocks are overvalued and expect a recession this year or in 2021, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Boston Consulting Group.

  • Many say "the current bull market is running on borrowed time."

Why it matters: The survey of more than 250 asset managers and analysts who oversee $300 billion at firms that collectively manage over $10 trillion shows the continued apprehension of investors from around the globe.

Democratic establishment's angst over Sanders grows

Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

In a mirror image of the queasiness among establishment Republicans as Donald Trump gained momentum in 2016, Democratic insiders see an increasing possibility that Bernie Sanders — a democratic socialist who tied Pete Buttigieg in Iowa and edged him in New Hampshire — will be their nominee.

The state of play ... There are two groups of Democratic worry: those who think he'll be the nominee and can't get elected (and would risk taking the House with him), and those who think he'll be the nominee and can get elected — and would sink the economy and blow up health care.

Why Trump is very beatable

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

There is a growing sense among top Republicans and Democrats that President Trump is stronger than ever and very hard to beat this fall, but several data points suggest otherwise.

Why it matters: Amid record-high stock markets and record-low joblessness, Trump trails almost every 2020 Democrat nationally, and is in a statistical tie in swing-state polls.

Streaming TV explodes

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Streaming now accounts for nearly 20% of television consumption for most Americans, almost doubling since 2018, a new report from Nielsen shows.

Why it matters: The data shows how quickly consumers are flocking to streaming as a replacement or complement to traditional TV.

The boom times of insulin sales

Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

The three drug companies that control the insulin market have seen their net sales climb over the past 12 years even as they have had to agree to bigger discounts, according to an Axios analysis of insulins sold by Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi.

The big picture: Drug manufacturers have largely blamed the broken insulin market — where many people with diabetes are rationing their medication — on other actors within the supply chain. But insulin makers have still been able to collect more money overall and retain their power over the market.

Go deeperArrowFeb 13, 2020 - Health

Marie Yovanovitch: The State Department is in trouble

Former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch speaks during a ceremony awarding her the Trainor Award for excellence in the conduct of diplomacy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Marie Yovanovitch, the retired former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, used an award acceptance speech at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to criticize the Trump administration.

"Right now, the State Department is in trouble. Senior leaders lack policy vision, moral clarity, leadership. The policy process has been replaced by decisions emanating from the top with little discussion, vacancies go unfilled, and our officers are increasingly wondering whether it is safe to express concerns about policies even behind closed doors."