Friday’s top stories

Big Tech's bundle of lawsuits — and record valuations

Data: Axios research. Table: Sara Wise/Axios

Two sets of data for 2020 show Big Tech's split-screen reality of cascading investigations on one side and surging valuations on the other.

Why it matters: Technology companies have never been under more regulatory scrutiny. But it so far hasn't impacted their growth or spooked investors.

Congress overrides Trump's veto of defense spending bill

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Congress handed President Trump a rare blow on Friday when the Senate joined the House in voting to override his veto of the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Why it matters: The bipartisan New Year's Day legislative rebuke is the first veto override of Trump's presidency. It comes less than three weeks before Trump leaves office and underscores the popularity of the military legislation, passed each Congress since 1967, that includes increased pay for troops.

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Gottlieb first floated the idea of banning menthols in 2017 — and the idea remains controversial.
Mike Allen, author of AM
Jan 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

McConnell slaps back Trump — repeatedly

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell departs the Capitol on Dec. 11. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

It took four years and an election defeat. But someone with real power inside the Republican Party is standing up to — and swatting back — President Trump: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Why it matters: This is a preview of the power struggle that will define the Republican Party in 2021.

What we're watching in 2021

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new phase in the battle against the coronavirus and the beginning of Joe Biden's presidency will dominate the news this year, but there will be plenty of other changes ahead that will shape our lives, too.

  • Here’s what Axios’ newsletter authors and expert reporters will be watching — from the future of the economy and Big Tech's antitrust fights to the next stages in developing artificial intelligence and biotechnology. (Sign up for their newsletters here.)
Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Jan 1, 2021 - Economy & Business

Post-Brexit Britain arrives

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It took two general elections, three prime ministers, and just over 4 1/2 years, but as of today Britain finally has the Brexit it voted for in June 2016.

  • It's not a pretty sight.

The big picture: Britain has left Europe's single market and customs union, and is no longer governed by European law.

Jan 1, 2021 - World

In pictures: The world rings in the new year amid a pandemic

New Year's Eve fireworks erupt over the Chao Phraya river during the fireworks show in Bangkok. Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images

People around the world on Thursday held celebrations to end the year and welcome a new — and hopefully better — one.

Why it matters: 2020, ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, economic upheaval and natural disasters, is finally behind us.

NYSE to delist three Chinese companies on U.S. executive order

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The New York Stock Exchange announced late on Thursday that it will delist three Chinese companies to comply with an executive order that imposed restrictions on firms the U.S. identified as being affiliated with the Chinese military.

Why it matters: The announcement, coming late on New Year's Eve when many aren't paying attention, is the latest escalation in tensions between the U.S. and China.

McConnell calls Jan. 6 certification his "most consequential vote"

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

In an extraordinary conference call this morning with fellow Senate Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his Jan. 6 vote certifying Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election will be "the most consequential I have ever cast," according to a source on a call and two other sources briefed on the private remarks.

The big picture: The conference call came in the wake of Sen. Josh Hawley defying McConnell's wishes and publicly declaring that he'll object to certifying the electoral votes in Pennsylvania and perhaps in other states as well.

1 peaceful thing: How to actually tune out

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Heading into 2021, take a half-hour to give yourself a priceless gift: freedom from notifications.

The big picture: Most smartphone users feel besieged and beset by a horde of banners, badges and beeps demanding their attention — heedless of the power they have to stem, shape or squelch this notification onslaught.

Dec 31, 2020 - Health

U.S. set to end 2020 with just over 3 million vaccine doses administered

A healthcare worker hands Patrick Range, Sr., 88, a vaccination card after giving him the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Dec. 30. Photo: Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Americans received just over 3 million initial doses of coronavirus vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech in the 19 days following first shipments, according to a Bloomberg tally of government websites and CDC data.

Why it matters: It's far below Operation Warp Speed's goal of administering 20 million doses by the end of the year, raising concerns about how long it may be until enough people are vaccinated in the U.S. for life to return to normal.

Dec 31, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump era drives largest-ever party divide in media trust

Expand chart
Reproduced from Gallup. Chart: Axios Visuals

The gap in trust between Democrats and Republicans in mass media reached an all-time high during the Trump administration, according to an annual Gallup poll.

Why it matters: The divide represents one of the most profound elements of President Trump's legacy.

Dec 31, 2020 - World

Israel to assess Erdoğan's seriousness on normalizing relations

Erdoğan holds up a map of Israel during his speech at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2019. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly stated last week that he wants to improve relations with Israel, the Israeli government decided to start a low-profile outreach to Turkey in order to determine whether his intentions are sincere, two Israeli officials told me.

Why it matters: Relations between Israel and Turkey, once close allies, started deteriorating in 2008 and have entered a state of ongoing crisis. In 2018, Turkey downgraded its diplomatic relations with Israel after unrest surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

19.5 million Americans remain on unemployment at end of 2020

Food distribution event on Dec. 12 in Orlando. Photo: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

787,000 Americans filed for initial jobless claims last week, a decline of 19,000 from the previous week and 41,000 fewer unemployment claims than economists had projected, according to Labor Department data.

Why it matters: It's the lowest weekly figure this month, but the overall level of economic pain experienced across the U.S. during the holiday season remains astonishingly high. Over 19.5 million Americans are claiming benefits across all unemployment programs to close out the year.

Mike Allen, author of AM
Dec 31, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden's plan for Inauguration Eve: Lights, church bells for COVID lives lost

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

To set the tone for his inauguration the next day, President-elect Biden will lead a memorial to remember and honor lives lost to COVID-19, with church-bell ringings and light shows across the country on Tue., Jan. 19, at 5:30 p.m. ET.

Driving the news: The Presidential Inauguration Committee is announcing Thursday morning that a D.C. ceremony, led by Biden, will feature lights around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool — the first time lighting around the Reflecting Pool has memorialized American lives lost. 

America hopes 2021 will be less terrible

Data: Axios/SurveyMonkey online poll; Note: ±2.5% margin of error; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

More than six out of 10 Americans are hopeful about what 2021 has in store for the world, according to a new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll.

The big picture: After a year dominated by the pandemic and a seemingly endless presidential election, Americans are overwhelmingly hopeful that things will get better with the pandemic — and more narrowly hopeful about Joe Biden's presidency.

Dec 31, 2020 - Health

Pfizer: "No data" to show single dose of vaccine offers protection after 21 days

Vial of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Pfizer said in a statement that there are "no data" to demonstrate that a single dose of its coronavirus vaccine will provide protection from infection after 21 days.

Why it matters: The U.K. announced on Wednesday that it would shift its vaccination strategy "to give as many people in at-risk groups their first dose, rather than providing the required two doses in as short a time as possible." Some provinces in Canada are doing the same.

Dec 31, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: New leader for conservative Hudson Institute

John Walters. Courtesy photo.

The Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank that's been a center for political dialogue and forums for both Democrats and Republicans during the Trump era, has tapped its longtime COO John Walters as its new leader, Axios has learned.

The big picture: While left and center-left think tanks empty to help stock the incoming Biden administration, conservative groups are shuffling their leadership and welcoming back scholars and analysts who worked for President Trump.

Facial recognition tech under spotlight after 3rd false arrest

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Law enforcement's use of facial recognition faces a new wave of scrutiny because of a wrongful arrest lawsuit by Nijeer Parks, a 33-year-old Black man in New Jersey.

Why it matters: While advocates of the tech say it's a valuable tool in solving crime, facial recognition programs repeatedly show they are less accurate on people of color.

Updated Dec 31, 2020 - Health

California reports first case of new coronavirus variant

Healthcare workers treating a patient in UCLA Medical Center in Torrence, California, on Dec. 29. Photo: Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California reported its first case of a new variant of the coronavirus that may be more transmissible, AP reports.

The big picture: California is the second state to document a confirmed case of the variant — which originated in the United Kingdom — after Colorado reported the first case in the United States on Tuesday.

Updated Dec 31, 2020 - World

Post-Brexit trade deal with EU signed into U.K. law

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson celebrates reaching a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU. Photo via Downing Street

The historic post-Brexit trade deal reached between Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government and the European Union was signed into U.K. law by Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday morning.

Why it matters: The law will come into effect at 11pm Thursday U.K. time when the Brexit transition period officially ends.

Dec 31, 2020 - Sports

Spurs' Becky Hammon becomes first woman to direct NBA team

San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon with the Spurs' Quinndary Weatherspoon in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in August. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

San Antonio Spurs' Becky Hammon took over to direct the NBA team in Wednesday's 121-107 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, after head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected minutes before the end of the second quarter.

Why it matters: She's the first woman to serve as head coach during a regular-season NBA game. The former WNBA star player has been coaching with the Spurs since 2014, when she became the first female full-time assistant coach on a major U.S. pro-sports team. Hammon also coached their July exhibition game loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Dec 31, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Census Bureau to miss Dec. 31 deadline for first time

Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Census Bureau has confirmed it will miss Thursday's deadline to produce the first set of 2020 census results for its count used to determine representation in Congress.

Why it matters: It's the first time the bureau has missed the end-of-year deadline since Congress set the Dec. 31 date 44 years ago.