Monday’s top stories

Feb 22, 2021 - Health

Over 500,000 dead from coronavirus in U.S.


Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than half a million people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus as of Monday, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Why it matters: The death toll is larger than the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. It comes just one year after the country's first coronavirus death was confirmed.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Feb 22, 2021 - Podcasts

The story behind the first all-civilian space flight

Hayley Arceneaux, a 29 year-old physician's assistant and childhood cancer survivor, today was named the second crew member for Inspiration4, which is set to be the first-ever all-civilian space flight.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the story behind the flight, Arceneaux's selection and what Inspiration4 means for the future of space tourism, with Axios Space editor Miriam Kramer.

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Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 22, 2021 - Science

Watch and listen to Perseverance's first moments on Mars

When NASA's Perseverance rover landed on Mars Thursday, a set of cameras captured the car-sized spacecraft's descent and landing on the Red Planet.

Why it matters: This is the first time this type of high-quality footage has been captured.

Feb 22, 2021 - World

Netanyahu corruption hearings postponed until after Israel's election

Netanyahu ahead of his most recent court appearance. Photo: Reuven Castro/Pool/AFP via Getty

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got some good news on Monday: The testimony phase of his trial won't begin until after Israel's March 23 elections.

Why it matters: Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in connection with a series of corruption scandals. If witness testimony and the presentation of evidence began before the election, it could have dominated the news cycle and damaged his hopes of winning a majority.

Feb 22, 2021 - Health

Boris Johnson unveils roadmap to fully reopen England's economy by June 21

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a four-step roadmap on Monday to "remove all legal limits on social contacts" in England by no earlier than June 21, assuming certain tests are met.

Why it matters: The U.K. has the worst coronavirus death toll in Europe and saw its economy contract by 9.9% in 2020 — the biggest drop in output in more than 300 years.

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."

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.

Feb 22, 2021 - Economy & Business

Scoop: Google to lift political ad ban put in place following Capitol siege

Photo: Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

Google informed its advertising partners Monday that its platforms will resume accepting all political ads starting Wednesday, after banning them following last month's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, according to an email obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: Google and rival Facebook have been instituting political ad bans on and off over the past few months to slow the spread of misinformation and curb confusion around sensitive events, like the Capitol attack and the election.

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.

Feb 22, 2021 - Economy & Business

Exclusive: Pocket Outdoor Media raises $150 million from Sequoia Heritage

Outside

Pocket Outdoor Media, the 4-year-old media company that's home to 22 active lifestyle publications and several technology groups, announced a Series B funding round led by Sequoia Heritage to fuel acquisitions.

Driving the news: The company is also announcing the purchase of five outdoor sports media and tech companies and is changing its name to reflect the branding of one of those companies, "Outside."

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.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Feb 22, 2021 - Economy & Business

U.S. growth expectations are going through the roof

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Expectations for U.S. growth in the first quarter, for the year and even for 2022 are roaring higher as economists race to price in the impact of big government spending, vaccinations and higher inflation.

Why it matters: These bullish expectations are unusual — not only are they historically high, even given the large contraction the country suffered in 2020, but also because they seem to completely disregard any fears of the weak U.S. labor market or rising prices to get in the way.

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.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

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.

Pandemic puts money, political muscle behind broadband

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Now that the pandemic has made it clear just how essential it is to be connected to high-speed internet, lawmakers are finally putting billions of dollars into funding government programs to expand access to it.

Why it matters: The big lesson from the pandemic is that broadband service is no longer a nice-to-have amenity — it’s critical for virtual school, remote work and telemedicine. Yet around 14.5 million Americans still lack access to it, according to the FCC. (Many advocates believe that figure undercounts the number of people still not connected.)

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 22, 2021 - Science

Childhood cancer survivor named 2nd crew member for all-civilian mission to space

Hayley Arceneaux in front of a SpaceX rocket. Photo: Inspiration4

St. Jude physician assistant and childhood cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux has been selected as the second crew member for an all-civilian mission to space expected to launch later this year.

Why it matters: The mission is a marker of a new age of commercial spaceflight, one in which private citizens and companies are able to go to space without government backing.

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.

Vaccine trials fail to capture representative sample of Americans

Note: Trials occurred in the U.S. between 2011 and 2020; Population reflects average U.S. Census figures for 2011 to 2018. Source: 2021 Flores LE et al. JAMA Network Open; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

U.S. vaccine trials over the past decade have not included enough seniors and Hispanic and Black adults, and show a failure to report needed demographic details, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open Friday looking at a large sample of trials.

Why it matters: By not capturing a representative sample of Americans, vaccine trials cannot fully demonstrate the safety and effectiveness for all people and miss out on an opportunity to build trust within underrepresented communities — something vitally important in the COVID-19 pandemic, two experts tell Axios.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Feb 22, 2021 - Health

Fitbit CEO: Wearables can detect COVID and more

Fitbit started out trying to make us healthier by making us take a few extra steps. Now such wearables can help detect diseases like COVID-19 and even spot signs of depression, CEO James Park told "Axios on HBO."

Why it matters: Early detection is important for a range of health conditions, but especially so with communicable diseases like the flu or COVID-19.

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.

Updated Feb 22, 2021 - Science

Airlines ground some Boeing 777s after Denver engine failure

Debris fallen from a United Airlines airplane's Boeing engine on the neighborhood of Broomfield, outside Denver, Colorado, on Saturday. Photo: Chet Strange/AFP via Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Sunday there must be "stepped up" inspections of Boeing 777 aircraft that contain the same engine model that failed on a United Airlines flight over Denver this weekend.

Why it matters: United, Japan's two main airlines and Korean Air have grounded Boeing 777s with the same Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines as the jet involved in the Denver incident.

Updated Feb 22, 2021 - Energy & Environment

In photos: Water crisis in Texas continues

Volunteers pass out water on Feb. 20 in Houston, Texas. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Power has returned to most of Texas after a week of statewide blackouts caused by historic winter storms, but millions still don't have access to safe or running water.

The big picture: A Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesperson told CNN that some 8.8 million people, or roughly a third of the state's population, still had issues with their water supply Sunday evening. Food banks and volunteers delivered bottled water to thousands of people in the past few days.

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.