Tuesday’s top stories

What Home Depot tells us about the country's housing boom

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Home Depot has been a proxy for the white-hot housing market.

What's going on: The company rode the coattails of the pandemic building boom — and just gave us a hint that it hasn't slowed down.

Biden administration says states must resume standardized testing

Photo: Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Department of Education told states on Monday that they must resume standardized testing of students this spring after it was suspended a year ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The decision to resume testing means schools will have to find a way to tests to tens of millions of students, many of whom are still learning remotely, according to Chalkbeat.

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Rochester officers filmed suffocating Daniel Prude won't face charges

Joe Prude, brother of Daniel Prude, holds his wife Valerie in front of City Hall in Rochester, New York in Sept. 2020. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Seven police officers suspended last year after putting a mesh hood on Daniel Prude until he lost consciousness will not face criminal charges following a grand jury vote, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday.

The big picture: Police Chief La'Ron Singletary was fired following Prude's death in Rochester, New York, which sparked dozens of nightly protests last September in the wake of a national reckoning in response to the deaths of Black men and women during police encounters.

4 board members of Texas' power grid operator ERCOT resign

High voltage transmission towers in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 21. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Four members of Texas' power grid operator resigned from their posts Tuesday after a winter storm led millions of homes to lose power across the state last week, according to a public filing.

Why it matters: Their resignations come days after Texas' public utility commission launched a probe to discover the "factors that combined with the devastating winter weather to disrupt the flow of power," throughout the state.

Plane's safe landing recalls Boeing's golden days

Photo: Chad Schnell via AP

Saturday's scene of a burning jet landing safely back at the airport harkens back to the day when Boeing was an engineer-driven company known as the gold standard for aviation safety.

Why it matters: That reputation took a major blow after two crashes involving the 737 MAX. Boeing has since spent billions, and the FAA has sought to overcome its own reputational hit, reengineering and re-certifying the MAX in pursuit of the same long-term safety record as its earlier airliners.

Feb 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Senate confirms Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate on Tuesday voted 92-7 to confirm former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

The big picture: Vilsack, a longtime supporter of President Biden, is returning to the department he led for eight years under the Obama administration. He served as governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007.

Senate confirms Linda Thomas-Greenfield as UN ambassador

Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate voted 78-20 on Tuesday to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The big picture: Thomas-Greenfield has promised to restore the U.S. role as a defender of human rights and will look to repair multilateral relationships that fractured under former President Trump. She will play a key role in the administration's China strategy — her "highest priority," she has said.

Ex-Capitol security chiefs say they didn't receive FBI memo warning of Jan. 6 "war"

The now-former officials responsible for Capitol security on Jan. 6 testified Tuesday that they did not receive an FBI threat report warning that extremists were planning to travel to Washington to commit violence and "war."

Why it matters: The testimony by former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, and former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger came during the first in a series of congressional oversight hearings that will examine the security and law enforcement failures that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Feb 23, 2021 - World

High-profile Hong Kong activists face trial

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Last week, nine high-profile Hong Kong democracy activists went on trial on charges related to the 2019 mass protest movement there.

Why it matters: The trial is another step in Beijing's heavy-handed destruction of Hong Kong's liberal political traditions.

Feb 23, 2021 - Health

Pfizer and Moderna expect to double vaccine shipments by spring

UCHealth pharmacist Marissa Kim prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 20 in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Moderna and Pfizer plan to significantly boost vaccine shipments to the U.S. government by this spring, according to written testimony from company executives released Tuesday ahead of a House committee hearing on vaccines.

Where it stands: Pfizer expects to increase its weekly vaccine delivery from 4-5 million doses at the start of February to more than 13 million doses by mid-March, said John Young, Pfizer's chief business officer.

Feb 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

David Perdue will not run for Senate seat in Georgia in 2022

Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) announced Tuesday that he will not enter the race for U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2022.

Why it matters: The 2022 election will play a key role in determining which party controls the Senate after Republicans — including Perdue — lost two Georgia seats to Democrats during last month's dual runoffs.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Feb 23, 2021 - Economy & Business

Commodities hit 8-year high as market divergence continues

Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Tech stocks suffered some big losses on Monday, as the specter of higher U.S. borrowing costs continued to weigh on their share prices, while bullish vaccine expectations helped make the Dow the only major U.S. index to end in the green.

What happened: The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield rose to 1.37%, a fresh one-year high, showing investors remain bullish on the economy and a recovery in inflation.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Feb 23, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Interior nominee Deb Haaland looks to thread the needle on oil

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's pick for Interior secretary faces a balancing act as she defends limits on oil-and-gas development while responding to concerns that the initiatives — and her own policy views — threaten producing states.

Driving the news: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) appears this morning before the Senate energy committee vetting her nomination and faces critical questioning from GOP members.

Updated Feb 23, 2021 - World

Blinken asks for Israeli help in facilitating COVID vaccines to the Palestinians

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked his Israeli counterpart in their phone call on Monday for Israel to facilitate the transfer of COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli officials told me.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister’s office announced that Israel has decided to send a "symbolic amount" of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority and to several countries that have asked for assistance.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Feb 23, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: New plan to expand online education for U.S. workers

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

2U, a major provider of remote college and professional training, is partnering with a company that works on education reimbursement to expand online schooling opportunities for U.S. workers, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: American workers need help affordably reskilling for the age of automation, but existing higher education opportunities often leave them unprepared and laden with debt. The new partnership aims to take advantage of remote education to meet workers where they are, with what they need.

How memes became a major vehicle for misinformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Wall Street's populist uprising, the Capitol siege and a strong U.S. anti-vaccination movement show the power of memes in spreading misinformation and influencing communities online.

Why it matters: For years, there's been growing concern that deepfakes (doctored pictures and videos) would become truth's greatest threat. Instead, memes have proven to be a more effective tool in spreading misinformation because they're easier to produce and harder to moderate using artificial intelligence.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 23, 2021 - Science

The new "Right Stuff"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Space travel experts are advocating for people with disabilities to be eligible to fly to orbit and beyond.

Why it matters: Long-held beliefs about who is best suited for space travel have limited the industry and those it inspires. Widening the scope of who is considered fit for spaceflight could help invite more people to be invested in the future of humanity in space.

Feb 23, 2021 - Health

Axios-Ipsos poll: Biden's window of opportunity on COVID

Data: Axios-Ipsos survey; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

One month into his administration, President Biden has won the confidence of a majority of Americans in his ability to get Americans vaccinated and reopen the schools, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

The catch: That confidence will only last if Americans see a clear improvement in their lives and a path back to normal, or something close to it, in the coming months.

Exclusive: White House defends budget for reopening schools

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a news briefing at the White House on Monday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The White House is defending against criticism of its proposed budget to reopen schools found in its larger $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, stressing the need for “aggressive action” in points shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans have been hammering the White House for insisting the proposed funding is necessary to reopen schools, arguing much of the money from the original CARES Act has yet to be spent.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Feb 23, 2021 - Health

Nursing home COVID cases have drastically declined

Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Michelle McGhee, Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The number of coronavirus cases in nursing homes and assisted living facilities has drastically declined over the last two months, almost certainly an effect of vaccinations.

Why it matters: Nursing homes have been devastated by the virus, which is why residents were among the first Americans to be vaccinated.

Feb 23, 2021 - Technology

Facebook strikes last-minute deal with Australia around news content

Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook on Monday said it had struck a deal with Australian lawmakers to pay local publishers for their news content, after the government finally agreed to change some of the terms within its new media code.

Why it matters: The agreement ends Facebook's temporary ban on sharing news links on its platform in the country. Data showed that the link-sharing ban caused news traffic to plummet in the region.

Scoop: Allies worried Biden shaky on Putin's pipeline

Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Russia's adversaries in central and Eastern Europe are worried President Biden isn't willing to fight hard to stop the Russia-Germany gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 — one of Vladimir Putin's core priorities.

Why it matters: The fight is the first significant test of whether Biden's tough rhetoric against the Russian leader will be matched by action. Russian opponents fear Biden doesn't want to antagonize Angela Merkel and won't inflict serious costs on the Germans.

Scoop: Biden's OMB Plan B

Neera Tanden. Photo: Leigh Vogel-Pool/Getty Images

House Democratic leaders are quietly mounting a campaign for Shalanda Young, a longtime congressional aide, to replace Neera Tanden as nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: The nascent campaign for Young, who would be OMB's first Black female leader, reflects a stark reality taking hold in the Democratic Party: Tanden's prospects are rapidly fading.

Biden on COVID deaths milestone: "We have to resist becoming numb"

President Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and first gentleman Douglas Emhoff at the White House ceremony. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden urged Americans to "remember those we lost and remember those we left behind" in a candle-lighting ceremony Monday — noting the "grim milestone" of the U.S. surpassing 500,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Details: "As a nation, we can't accept such a cruel fate. We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow," the president said, calling on the U.S. to fight the coronavirus together.

Dave Lawler, author of World
Feb 23, 2021 - World

Biden has only bad options as Afghanistan withdrawal deadline nears

Biden greets the remains of a soldier killed in Afghanistan at Dover Air Force Base in 2016. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

There are just 10 weeks left of America's war in Afghanistan — at least on paper.

Why it matters: Donald Trump pledged a full troop withdrawal by May 1 as part of a deal struck one year ago with the Taliban. President Biden must now decide whether he can bear the risks of honoring it.

Feb 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Colorado police had no legal basis to stop, frisk or restrain Elijah McClain, report finds

A protester holds a poster of Elijah McClain during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march. Photo: Tim Evans/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Police in Aurora, Colorado, had no legal basis to stop, frisk or use a chokehold on Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man who died in custody in 2019, according to a report by independent investigators released Monday.

Driving the news: The City Council in the Denver suburb ordered the independent review in June amid nationwide protests over the police killing George Floyd and other Black people.