Wednesday’s top stories

$1.2 trillion "hard" infrastructure bill clears major procedural vote in Senate

Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The Senate voted 67-32 on Wednesday to advance the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

Why it matters: After weeks of negotiating, portions of the bill remain unwritten, but the Senate can now start debating the legislation to resolve outstanding issues.

Fed chair says he isn't concerned by Delta surge

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell at the G20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting in Venice last month. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

One of the country's most influential economic officials doesn't anticipate that surging coronavirus cases will knock the reopening recovery off course.

What he's saying: "There has tended to be less economic implications from each [coronavirus] wave. We'll see if that's the case for the Delta variety," Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told reporters today.

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Many Western allies are unhappy with the U.S.
Updated Jul 28, 2021 - Economy & Business

Ubisoft workers demand company accountability in open letter

Photo: Frederic Brown / Getty Images

Close to 500 current and former employees of “Assassin’s Creed” publisher Ubisoft are standing in solidarity with protesting game developers at Activision Blizzard with a letter that criticizes their company's handling of sexual misconduct.

Why it matters: Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard workers are framing the actions as part of a bigger movement meant to have lasting change in the industry and its culture.

Companies deploy tech to prevent retail crime

Customers in a Home Depot in Pleasanton, California, in February 2021. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Retailers have a new edge for fighting theft: They're using technology to disable stolen goods — from iPhones to Black & Decker drills — and render them useless.

Why it matters: Organized retail crime has a considerable affect on retailers every year, costing them an average of $719,000 per $1 billion dollars in sales, according to estimates from the National Retail Federation.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Jul 28, 2021 - Podcasts

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek does a podcast on the future of podcasts

Spotify on Wednesday reported significant ad revenue growth from its podcast business, as part of its quarterly earnings disclosure.

Take a listen: Company founder and CEO Daniel Ek appeared on the Axios Re:Cap podcast to discuss how the podcast business model is changing, why he's spending big on exclusive shows and his personal favorites in both podcasting and music.

Updated Jul 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan group reaches agreement on $1.2 trillion "hard" infrastructure bill

Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

After weeks of long nights and endless Zoom calls, a bipartisan group of senators finally reached a deal on "the major issues" in their $1.2 trillion "hard" infrastructure package, GOP senators involved in the talks announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: It could be days before the group finishes writing the bill, but the Senate can begin debating the legislation in earnest now that they have resolved the outstanding issues. The bill needs 60 votes to advance in the Senate.

After walkout, Activision Blizzard employees vow to keep fighting

Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Organizers of a Wednesday walkout at Activision Blizzard, the gaming company behind "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft," are saying the demonstration "is not a one-time event that our leaders can ignore.”

Why it matters: Within the video game industry, sweeping promises for change are often followed by a handful of half-measures that fail to solve the systematic problems that caused them.

Scoop: Trump team blames conservative for loser endorsement

Donald Trump at rally in Texas. Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Donald Trump's advisers are angry at David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, for persuading the former president to endorse a losing candidate in the special election for Texas' 6th District.

Why it matters: Susan Wright's defeat Tuesday in a Republican runoff with Navy veteran Jake Ellzey dealt a blow to Trump's aura of invincibility as a Republican kingmaker. It's critical to his 2022 midterm endorsements and continued hold on the GOP.

DOJ: State audits of 2020 election could violate federal law

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Justice Department on Wednesday issued a second warning to states that so-called audits of the 2020 election could violate federal laws, emphasizing the agency's intent to protect voting rights.

Why it matters: Several counties and states across the U.S. have completed or considered audits amid former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread election fraud.

Jul 28, 2021 - Health

CDC: Vaccinated people should get tested after exposure even if they show no symptoms

A person gets a COVID-19 test outside The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised its COVID-19 testing guidance for fully vaccinated people, recommending tests after exposure even if they don't show any symptoms.

Flashback: The agency previously said that fully vaccinated people did not need tests after coming into contact with an infected person unless they experienced symptoms.

Heat dome roasts Northwest, Central states as "derecho" threat looms in Midwest

Weather map showing a sprawling heat dome centered over Kansas on July 30, 2021. (WeatherBell.com)

The latest in a series of relentless heat waves is bringing dangerously hot temperatures to a the Central U.S. on Wednesday, and will contribute to a severe thunderstorm outbreak across the Upper Midwest. The heat will expand in scope toward the end of the week.

The big picture: Heat watches, warnings and advisories are in effect across 19 states, from Portland, Oregon east to Minneapolis, and running all the way south to New Orleans. Temperatures of between 10°F and 15°F above average in these areas along with high humidity poses a public health threat.

Jul 28, 2021 - World

Israeli and Palestinian officials are speaking again

Isaac Herzog (L), then the leader of the opposition, meets with Mahmoud Abbas in 2015. Photo: Abbas MomaniI/AFP via Getty

Relations between the new Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have shifted substantially in recent weeks, with Israeli officials going so far as to call it “a renaissance."

Why it matters: During Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year tenure as prime minister, relations deteriorated to the point where there was almost no contact other than security coordination.

Jul 28, 2021 - Health

Pfizer raises estimate of COVID-19 vaccine sales by 29%

Pfizer anticipates manufacturing 4 billion doses of its vaccine next year. Photo: Chet Strange/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pfizer expects revenue from the COVID-19 vaccine, co-developed by BioNTech, will reach $33.5 billion this year — a 29% jump from the previously estimated $26 billion.

Why it matters: This vaccine, which has dramatically slowed the coronavirus pandemic, is on pace to be the world's top-selling drug of all time, by far. And now Pfizer is pushing for people to get a third "booster" shot of its vaccine to combat the growing Delta variant.

GOP Rep. Andrew Clyde defends comparison of Jan. 6 riot to "tourists"

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) departs a press conference on June 14. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) defended comments made during a House committee hearing in which he compared the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot to a "normal visit."

The big picture: In a heated back-and-forth during a Rules Committee meeting on Tuesday, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who sits on the select committee investigating the attack, pressed Clyde on whether he had watched the officers' testimony earlier in the day.

Jul 28, 2021 - Health

England lifts quarantine requirement for vaccinated EU, U.S. citizens

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Biden at the G7 in Cornwall last month. Photo: Leon Neal - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Fully vaccinated travelers from the European Union and the U.S. will no longer need to quarantine when arriving in England, effective Aug. 2 at 4 a.m. local time, the U.K. government announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: It's a reflection of the British government's confidence in its highly successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout, despite the spread of the Delta variant. The move stands in stark contrast to the Biden administration's continued refusal to lift restrictions for travelers from the U.K. and Europe.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jul 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The private climate finance surge

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There's so much private equity and infrastructure fund action in the climate tech space these days that it's hard to keep up.

Driving the news: Brookfield Asset Management on Tuesday closed $7 billion for its Global Transition Fund that aims to scale clean energy and help carbon-intensive industries cut emissions.

Jul 28, 2021 - Sports

Simone Biles is still a winner

Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Simone Biles' leadership on the mat has never been questioned. After her shocking withdrawal from Tuesday's team final, she proved just as capable a leader off of it.

What happened: During the first rotation, Biles performed an uncharacteristically bad vault, appearing to lose herself in midair.

The "remarkable" business investment recovery

Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Businesses are investing in themselves.

Why it matters: Core capital goods orders, or those for durable goods that aren’t aircraft or defense-related, are a proxy for business investment.

Job market optimism among Americans hits 21-year high

Data: The Conference Board; Chart: Axios Visuals

American workers are increasingly optimistic about their options.

Why it matters: Employers are scrambling to find workers as demand for goods and services has been booming.

Jul 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

National parks "drowning in tourists"

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Data: National Park Service; note: Gateway National Recreation Area is excluded due to missing data in 2021. Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

National parks across the U.S. are overflowing with a post-pandemic crush of tourists, leading to increased issues with congestion, traffic jams, user experience, strain on staff and increased damage to the parks.

Why it matters: Some are seeing such a record number they're being forced to limit, and even close, access to certain areas to avoid the danger of eroding the land. The result, ultimately, could change the way Americans interact with the parks going forward.

Why Mark Zuckerberg is going meta

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Michaela Handrek-Rehle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Facebook's "next chapter," Mark Zuckerberg says, is to be prime builder of "the metaverse" — an open, broadly distributed, 3D dimension online where, he says, we will all conduct much of our work and personal lives.

The big picture: Zuckerberg admits Facebook will only be one of many companies building this next-generation model of today's internet — but he also intends Facebook to lead the pack.

Jul 28, 2021 - Health

The new mask logic

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Biden administration is essentially asking vaccinated Americans to help save the unvaccinated from themselves.

The big picture: America's "pandemic of the unvaccinated" has gotten bad enough that vaccine mandates are starting to catch on, and masks are coming back — in some cases, even for the vaccinated.

Jul 28, 2021 - Sports

Simone Biles lauded for "bravery in prioritizing" mental wellness

Team USA's Simone Biles during the women's team final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Center in Japan on Tuesday. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Olympic champion Simone Biles is receiving widespread praise for putting "mental wellness over all else" after withdrawing from the U.S. women's team finals and the upcoming all-around final at the Tokyo Games this week.

The big picture: Leading figures from the world of sports, politics, entertainment and fans, including former first lady Michelle Obama and U.S. swimming legend Michael Phelps, have lauded the four-time Olympic gold medalist.

Jul 28, 2021 - Health

Understanding the unvaccinated

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Data: Axios-Ipsos Poll; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The most hardcore opponents of coronavirus vaccination — the group who say they'll never get one — tend to be older, whiter and more Republican than the unvaccinated Americans who are still persuadable, according to an analysis of our Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: As the Delta variant triggers more COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, mostly among the unvaccinated, the Biden administration and even some high-profile GOP political and media figures are trying to figure out how to nudge the country's vaccination rate higher.

Jul 28, 2021 - Sports

Female Olympians push back against double standard in uniforms

Pauline Schaefer-Betz of Team Germany competes on balance beam during Women's Qualification on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Female Olympians in Tokyo are rejecting the uniforms that have long defined their sports, highlighting a double standard that exists how women dress in competition vs. men.

Driving the news: During their qualifying round Sunday, Germany's women's gymnastics team wore full-length unitards, eschewing the conventional leg-barring leotards worn by most female gymnasts.

Updated Jul 28, 2021 - Sports

Simone Biles withdraws from Olympic all-around gymnastics final

Simone Biles gets ready to compete in the uneven bars event of the artistic gymnastics women's qualification during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on July 25. Photo: Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. gymnastics great Simone Biles won't defend her Olympic title in the upcoming all-around final as she continues to focus on her mental health, USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday.

Driving the news: The 24-year-old four-time Olympic gold medalist's decision comes after she pulled out of the women's gymnastics team finals on Tuesday, saying she didn't want to jeopardize her health and well-being. USA Gymnastics said in a statement it applauded Biles' "bravery in prioritizing her well-being."

Updated Jul 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Dem donor Ed Buck convicted of providing fatal meth doses to 2 men

Survivor Dane Brown (second from left), and LaTisha Nixon, Gemmel Moores mother (center) with friends and family orejoice in the guilty verdict for Ed Buck in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Photo: Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Ed Buck, a wealthy Democratic donor, was convicted Tuesday of charges related to the supply of fatal methamphetamine doses to two men at his West Hollywood apartment.

Driving the news: A federal jury found the prominent 66-year-old political activist guilty of all nine felony counts over the deaths. Prosecutors made the case of "an older white man using his power and money to exploit the poverty and drug addiction" of younger, gay Black men, per the Los Angeles Times.

DOJ declines to defend Mo Brooks in Capitol riot lawsuit

Rep. Mo Brooks during a June news conference on Capitol Hill. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The Department of Justice declined late Tuesday to represent Rep. Mo Brooks in a civil lawsuit against the Alabama congressman concerning the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Brooks had argued he should have immunity in the suit, filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) against him, former President Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani. Brooks said he was acting as a government employee when he spoke at a rally before the insurrection.

Updated Jul 28, 2021 - Sports

Katie Ledecky wins gold in first women's 1500m freestyle

Team USA's Katie Ledecky celebrates after winning the final of the women's 1,500m freestyle swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo on Wednesday. Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images)

Katie Ledecky took home the Olympic gold medal in the women's 1,500-meter freestyle swimming race Tuesday night ET, becoming the first female swimmer to win the newly added division. Team USA's Erica Sullivan won silver.

Of note: The Tokyo Games mark the first time that the long-distance race has been open to women, and Ledecky paid tribute to her predecessors after the race. "I just think of all the great U.S. swimmers who didn’t have a chance to swim that event," she said on NBC.

Activision Blizzard CEO calls company's response to suit "tone deaf"

Photo: Bloomberg/ Getty Images

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick sent a lengthy letter to employees late on Tuesday, listing steps the company will take to address widespread allegations of sexist and discriminatory conduct at the "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft" gaming company.

Why it matters: This was the most comprehensive message from the company, and a softer one than had been sent by Kotick's PR people and a top executive last week.

Jake Ellzey defeats congressman's widow in Texas House runoff

Photo: Justin Hamel/AFP via Getty Images

Jake Ellzey won a special a runoff election for a U.S. House seat in Texas on Tuesday night, per AP.

Why it matters: To win the seat, Ellzey defeated Susan Wright, widow of Rep. Ron Wright. She was backed by former President Trump, whose endorsements have often boosted Republican candidates' chances of winning elections.

Biden weighing tailored vaccine mandates

Vice President Kamala Harris resumed wearing a mask indoors on Tuesday. Photo: Ken Cedeno/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Biden administration officials are debating how to expand vaccine mandates for some federal civilian health care workers as they prepare to put more testing pressure — and requirements — on the rest of the federal workforce.

Why it matters: With the Delta variant surging across the country, officials are exploring ways to persuade or pressure Americans hesitant or downright opposed to getting a coronavirus vaccine.

Jul 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

GOP doubters unswayed by Jan. 6 testimony

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Elise Stefanik watch Rep. Jim Jordan speak before today's meeting of the Jan. 6 select committee. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rather than winning over House Republicans, the dramatic testimony delivered during the Jan. 6 select committee's first public hearing led them to double down on their criticism that the investigation is purely political.

Why it matters: The remarks signal that regardless of the panel's eventual findings, many Republican lawmakers — most of whom didn't even watch Tuesday's hearing — will dismiss the proceedings as a partisan witch hunt.

Biden border policies rebuild that wall

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden is building his own kind of border wall.

Why it matters: By maintaining a Trump-era policy allowing border agents to kick asylum seekers back to Mexico — and now allowing some migrant families to face detention and fast-track deportations — a Democrat who promised a more humane immigration approach is taking some tough stances.

Seven-week House recess faces cut

The steps to the House of Representatives. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As members of the House fly home Friday for an extra-long August recess, they leave knowing they’ll almost certainly have their break cut short.

Why it matters: Despite the threat of a spreading Delta variant, riveting testimony about the Jan. 6 insurrection and debate over an infrastructure bill that will affect roads and bridges coast to coast, lawmakers are currently scheduled to be away from Washington until mid-September.

Updated Jul 28, 2021 - Technology

Video game developers at Activision Blizzard say they'll walk out Wednesday

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Employees at Activision Blizzard will hold a walkout Wednesday in protest of widespread harassment allegations across the company, a spokesperson on behalf of the group told Axios.

The latest: The company has extended paid time off to all employees planning to attend the walkout, sending a "strong signal they intend to work with us," the source said late Tuesday.

Maryland man accused of threatening to kill Fauci and his family

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a May Senate hearing in Washington, D.C. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Maryland man has been arrested on suspicion of sending repeated threats to harm Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, according to a newly unsealed criminal complaint.

Why it matters: Having advised two administrations on the COVID-19 pandemic, Fauci has become a target for conspiracy theorists and others with a political agenda. He had to have security stepped up in the spring of 2020 due to threats made to him — as noted in the complaint against Thomas Patrick Connally, Jr., 56.