Thursday’s top stories

Nathan Bomey
Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
Jan 13, 2022 - Economy & Business

Exclusive: Fugitive Carlos Ghosn calls Japanese justice system a 'joke'

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Nissan boss and international fugitive Carlos Ghosn predicts a major reordering of the power center in the auto industry, he told Axios in an exclusive interview.

Why it matters: Ghosn was once one of the automotive industry's most powerful leaders — among the first major execs to invest in electric vehicles. His comments now come during a major inflection point in the sector's transition to EVs as companies battle for positioning.

Jan. 6 committee subpoenas tech giants

A mob of Trump supporters breaches the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Jan. 6 select committee on Thursday subpoenaed Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter for records as part of its investigation of the Capitol insurrection.

Why it matters: The four social media companies have key information related to the spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election and domestic violent extremism, the panel said.

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Breyer's retirement gives Biden his first chance to determine who's on the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers

Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers, but it will allow a similar mandate to continue for workers at federally funded health care facilities.

Driving the news: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency measure went into effect on Monday. It said that employers with more than 100 workers must require their workers to either get vaccinated or tested every week.

Oath Keepers leader indicted on charges related to Jan. 6

Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Stewart Rhodes, a founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, has been arrested and charged in connection with events leading up to and including the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Why it matters: Rhodes is the most prominent figure arrested on charges related to the Capitol insurrection.

In photos: 2021's devastating climate disasters

Firefighters work on a wildfire in the Sequoia National Forest near Johnsondale, Calif., in September 2021. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Climate disasters in 2021 affected millions of lives, caused billions of dollars in economic loss across the world and brought into stark reality the perils of higher temperatures and climate change in general.

The big picture: Early data has ranked 2021 as the sixth warmest year on record. Climatologists have warned that increased surface temperatures make floods, droughts, heat and cold waves, wildfires and tropical storms and hurricanes more common and intense.

Navient paying $1.85B over claims of predatory student loan practices

Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Navient, one of the nation's largest student loan services, reached a $1.85 billion settlement with a coalition of 39 state attorneys general to resolve allegations of predatory student loan servicing practices.

Driving the news: "Today’s settlement corrects Navient’s past behavior, provides much needed relief to Pennsylvania borrowers, and puts in place safeguards to ensure this company never preys on student loan borrowers again," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.

RNC threatens to block candidates from participating in official debates

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The Republican National Committee on Thursday sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates threatening to block future GOP presidential nominees from sanctioned debates if "meaningful reforms" are not made.

Driving the news: "So long as the CPD appears intent on stonewalling the meaningful reforms necessary to restore its credibility with the Republican Party as a fair and nonpartisan actor, the RNC will take every step to ensure that future Republican presidential nominees are given that opportunity elsewhere," RNC chair Ronna McDaniel wrote.

House passes voting rights bill

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed voting rights legislation, approving a measure that combines the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act.

Driving the news: The package will be sent to the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle because of Republican opposition. Democrats are considering changing the Senate's filibuster rules to pass the bill.

Biden announces purchase of additional 500 million COVID-19 tests

Photo: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden announced Thursday that his administration is buying an additional 500 million rapid tests to distribute to people in the U.S. for free.

Driving the news: The administration previously bought 500 million rapid tests in December, which are scheduled to arrive this month. With the purchase announced today, the U.S. will have 1 billion tests in total "to meet future demand," Biden said.

Jan 13, 2022 - World

Russian officials to brief Putin on "very disappointing" security talks

Putin with Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu. Photo: Russian Defence Ministry\TASS via Getty Images

Russian diplomats panned this week's security talks with the U.S., NATO and other European countries after the final set of negotiations on Thursday, telling reporters that Vladimir Putin will be briefed on the "really disappointing" state of affairs before deciding "next steps."

Why it matters: The diplomats wouldn't say what Russia would do if NATO declined to provide legal guarantees that it will not expand east or admit Ukraine as a member. But officials have warned all week that Russia will not hesitate to "eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security" if diplomacy fails.

College enrollment plummets — again

Students walk down a campus path amidst a mostly empty University of California-Irvine campus on Jan. 7. Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Undergraduate enrollment in fall 2021 fell 3.1% over the last year, or by approximately 465,300 students, compared with the previous year, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Why it matters: College enrollment has been on the decline for nearly a decade, but the pandemic is accelerating the trend, raising concerns about a possible generational shift in attitudes about higher education.

How Fed policy can narrow racial divides

Data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED; Chart: Axios Visuals

When the Federal Reserve moves to raise or lower interest rates, it affects nearly every corner of the economy at once, not just one group or another. Fed leaders refer to their tools as blunt instruments.

Why it matters: But it's becoming clearer that the Fed does has surprisingly powerful effects on whether people historically more likely to be on the fringes of the job market, including Black Americans and those with less education, prosper.

Blue Nashville to be split into three red congressional districts

Map courtesy of the House Select Committee on Redistricting

Nashville will be split between three conservative congressional districts, according to a map released Wednesday by Republican lawmakers.

Why it matters: The map sets the stage for a new political reality in the state capital, which has had Democratic representation in Congress for decades.

Jan 13, 2022 - World

Assad regime officer sentenced to life in prison for Syria war crimes

Yasmen Almashan, a Syrian human rights campaigner, holds a photo of victims of the Assad regime outside a German courthouse. Photo: Bernd Lauter/AFP via Getty Images

A German court has sentenced a former Syrian intelligence officer to life in prison for crimes against humanity, making him the first person criminally convicted over the Assad regime's torture program.

Why it matters: Anwar Raslan, who fled Syria in 2012, was accused of overseeing a detention center that tortured over 4,000 people during the first year of Syrian unrest that eventually devolved into a devastating, decade-long civil war.

Electric cars could become charging stations too

Ford's F-150 Lightning pickup can top off the battery in a Mustang Mach-E. Photo: Ford

Electric vehicles will soon have "bidirectional" or two-way batteries that can turn cars into useful sources of power for your home, worksite or even another car.

Why it matters: One of the biggest obstacles to EV adoption is the lack of charging infrastructure.

  • But if you think of your car as a source of energy — not just a consumer of it — that whole calculus begins to change, says Reilly Brennan, a transportation investor at Trucks Venture Capital.
Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Jan 13, 2022 - Health

America rethinks its endgame for COVID

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Americans' views of life with COVID, and the ultimate goal we're trying to achieve, appear to be evolving quickly at this point in the pandemic.

The big picture: In the beginning, efforts were aimed at reducing the overall spread of COVID. Over time, the focus has shifted to preventing the worst outcomes — hospitalizations and deaths.

Jan 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

First look: NRCC raised $140 million in 2021

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The House Republicans' campaign arm raised $140 million in 2021, and $17.9 million in December alone, setting a new record for the committee's off-year fundraising, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The hefty cash infusion into the National Republican Campaign Committee comes as House Republican leaders are ramping up their efforts to take back the chamber's majority in November. The party plans to focus its messaging on inflation, immigration, crime and pandemic closures.

McCarthy's plot to build the House of Trump

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Al Drago/Bloomberg, Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy is signaling he'll institutionalize key Trumpian priorities if he takes over as House speaker next year — aggressive tactics targeting undocumented immigrants, liberals and corporate America. 

Why it matters: He'd govern with an edge and agenda in stark contrast not just to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) but to Paul Ryan, the last Republican in the role. McCarthy's vision would empower populists and pugilists to complete the Republican makeover Donald Trump drove this far.

COVID deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket

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Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Daily COVID infections have more than doubled over the past two weeks, reaching an average of more than 760,000 new infections per day in the U.S.

By the numbers: COVID deaths are also on the rise, up from about 1,200 per day two weeks ago to an average of over 1,700 per day now. The toll is a reminder that while Omicron is not as deadly as past variants, it’s still a serious threat for vulnerable people.

Updated Jan 13, 2022 - World

U.S. presses UN to hit North Korea with more sanctions over missile tests

A broadcast reports on North Korea's Kim Jong-un at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea. Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The Biden administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on North Korean and Russian individuals and entities for supporting North Korea's ballistic missile program.

Driving the news: The announcement follows North Korea's two missile tests in the past week and leader Kim Jong-un's threat to bolster the country's nuclear weapons program.

Amtrak pays $2.25M to passengers with disabilities over station access

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Amtrak paid $2.25 million to more than 1,500 people as part of a disability discrimination lawsuit settlement, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

The big picture: The train operator and the DOJ reached a deal in December 2020 over Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) violations — which saw people with disabilities encounter "significant accessibility issues" at 78 stations across the U.S., the settlement states.

Updated Jan 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Kevin McCarthy declines interview with Jan. 6 select committee

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday he will not participate with the Jan. 6 select committee's request to interview him about his communications with former President Trump.

Driving the news: McCarthy, the highest-ranking elected official the panel has asked for information, said that he had nothing to add and criticized the panel's "abuse of power."

House Democrats to combine 2 key bills in push for voting rights

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a December news conference in Washington, D.C. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats the House Rules Committee was meeting Wednesday night to combine key provisions of two voting bills and pass the rule before sending it to the Senate for a vote.

Why it matters: Pelosi's announcement in a letter to Democrats comes a day after President Biden called for a change to the Senate's filibuster rules in an effort to pass voting rights legislation.

Dems frustrated with Biden’s Omicron response

Reps. Tim Ryan and Elissa Slotkin. Photos: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call (left); Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Fed-up Democratic lawmakers are prodding the Biden administration to do more to contain COVID-19.

Why it matters: The outreach reflects building pressure from constituents left confused and wary by shifting and conflicting guidance — a black eye for an administration that ran on its competence.