Wednesday’s top 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.

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.

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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.

Jul 21, 2021 - Health

Drug distributors, J&J reach $26 billion opioids settlement

Four key opioid companies have reached a near-global settlement. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The three dominant prescription drug distributors — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — and Johnson & Johnson have agreed to pay a combined amount of $26 billion to settle allegations that they fueled the country's opioid crisis.

Why it matters: The companies, which have admitted no wrongdoing, are paying a sum of money that equates to 4% of their combined annual revenue. Meanwhile, a record 70,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses during the pandemic in 2020.

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.

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."

Western wildfire smoke chokes Upper Midwest, East Coast

New York City 's Statue of Liberty sits behind a cloud of haze from the western wildfires. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Smoke from the wildfires engulfing the U.S. West and Canada and carrying harmful air pollution has triggered air quality alerts in the Upper Midwest and East Coast cities including New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Driving the news: The coast to coast smoke, which is clearly visible from space, is due to the nearly 300 wildfires burning in British Columbia and the more than 80 large blazes in the U.S.

Jul 21, 2021 - World

Scoop: U.S. won't reopen consulate in Jerusalem until Bennett passes budget

Tony Blinken (L) meets with Yair Lapid (R) in Rome, June 27. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration has decided to hold off on reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem until after Israel's new government passes a budget, likely in early November, Israeli, U.S. and Palestinian sources say.

Why it matters: The decision shows how invested the Biden administration is in helping to stabilize the new Israeli government. The Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry had requested the delay.

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.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jul 21, 2021 - Energy & Environment

What more space flights would actually mean for emissions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Jeff Bezos says his suborbital space flight Tuesday reinforced his commitment to fighting climate change, but growth of this kind of travel planned by multiple companies would also add new sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

The big picture: The flight comes as Bezos' Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are all planning significant increases in launches.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jul 21, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Coal's global staying power

Expand chart
Adapted from BloombergNEF; Chart: Axios Visuals

Environment ministers from the G20 face a stark reality as they gather this week in Italy: Coal is proving quite resilient despite steep declines in some economies.

Why it matters: Burning coal emits more CO2 than any other fuel source.

Gaming is coming to Zoom

Image: Playco

Users of the popular video-conferencing platform Zoom will now be able to play social multiplayer games as they chat, as part of a new expansion of apps for the service.

Why it matters: The popularity of Zoom and gaming soared during the pandemic. As people isolate less, Zoom needs to give users more reasons to use video chat.

Stocks and bonds tell similar stories

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Treasury yields have been falling, and yet stock prices remain near record highs. On the surface, this seems like conflicting attitudes toward risk. But a closer look at these markets reveals a much more consistent narrative.

Why it matters: Since March, long-term Treasury yields have been sliding, with the 10-year yield falling from 1.74% in late March to as low as 1.13% on Monday.

Jul 21, 2021 - Sports

U.S. soccer suffers stunning defeat to Sweden in Olympics opener

Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The U.S. women's soccer team lost 3-0 to Sweden on Wednesday in the team's first appearance in the group stage of the 2020 Olympics.

Why it matters: The stunning defeat marks the first loss for the U.S. team in 44 matches, the first loss under head coach Vlatko Andonovski and it raises the stakes for the next two games if the U.S. team wants to get out of Group G.

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 - Sports

Six new sports makes Tokyo 2020 the biggest Olympics ever

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Tokyo Olympics will feature six new or returning sports, giving this year's Games a record 41 disciplines and 339 gold medals.

  • Returning: Baseball, softball
  • New: Surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing, karate
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 - Sports

Olympics to return to Australia as Brisbane named host of 2032 Games

IOC president Thomas Bach announcing Brisbane as the host of the 2032 Olympics. Photo: Toru Hanai/Getty Images

The International Olympic Committee awarded the 2032 Olympics to Brisbane, Australia, on Wednesday, capping a new one-city selection process meant to minimize costly bidding wars between countries.

Why it matters: It will be the third time that Australia hosts the Olympics, following the popular 2000 Summer Games in Sydney and the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne.

Jul 21, 2021 - Economy & Business

The C-suite job of the future: Chief purpose officer

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

To appease employees, customers and shareholders alike, companies are spending time and money grappling with huge social problems like systemic racism, income inequality and climate change.

What's happening: More and more firms are dedicating entire departments to tackle societal issues and even hiring a purpose-focused executive — chief purpose officer — to lead the efforts.

Updated Jul 21, 2021 - Health

CDC: Pandemic drives U.S. life expectancy down by 1.5 years

Naming the Lost Memorials honoring COVID-19 pandemic victims in New York City in June. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

U.S. life expectancy fell by a year and a half in 2020 — and the drop was some three years for Black and Hispanic Americans, CDC data published Wednesday shows.

Why it matters: The overall life expectancy decline to 77.3 years is the biggest since World War II to 77.3 years is driven by the COVID-19, per the provisional data from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). It also underscores the racial disparities of the pandemic.

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.

Milwaukee Bucks win first NBA Finals title in 50 years

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots the ball against the Phoenix Suns during Game Six of the 2021 NBA Finals on July 20, 2021 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, 105 to 98, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Why it matters: The home court win earns Milwaukee its first championship ring in 50 years.

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

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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.

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.