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Trump v. Biden: Senility becomes 2020 flashpoint

Senility is becoming an overt line of attack for the first time in a modern U.S. presidential campaign.

Why it matters: As Americans live longer and work later into life and there's more awareness about the science of aging, we're also seeing politicians test the boundaries of electability. Biden is 77; Trump, now 74, already is the oldest person to assume the U.S. presidency.


Driving the news: As President Trump ramps up insinuations that his general election rival is doddering, Joe Biden turned the tables on Tuesday, saying Trump “doesn’t seem to be cognitively aware of what’s going on” with his own briefings about Russia and U.S. service members.

At the same news conference where he took a swipe at Trump, Biden was asked by a reporter if he has been tested for cognitive decline.

  • "I've been tested and I'm constantly tested," Biden responded, adding that "I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I'm running against."
  • A Trump campaign Twitter feed played back the clip and asked, "Did Biden take a cognitive test? What were the results? Why is he getting frequently tested?"
  • Biden campaign advisers tell Axios' Alexi McCammond and Hans Nichols that the testing Biden was talking about is the past 15 months on the campaign trail and that they see Trump's attacks, in psychological terms, as "projection." They also said Biden wasn't previewing a new theme, just highlighting Trump's attempt to distract from his own vulnerabilities.

Flashback: Candidates’ age and mental state have been questioned in past presidential campaigns — remember Barry Goldwater in '64, Ronald Reagan in '84 and Bob Dole in '96 — but never like this.

The big picture: Cognitive decline is a problem many older Americans deal with and a legitimate question for presidential candidates to be asked — and answer — says historian Julian Zelizer.

  • “We have a race right now where we have two old candidates, that's just empirically true,” he says.
  • "I think this presidency has shown us that somebody's mental state really matters."
  • "With each of these candidates, the question has been raised — Trump because of everything he's said and done" and remarks that often are "just a mishmash of words."
  • "Biden, there's questions, more subtle I think, about he doesn't finish every sentence, or during the debates he'd pause and seem to have trouble thinking about what he wants to say. Those are the moments that then become questions."

Between the lines: Both men's durability as public figures also invites easy comparisons of them now with their younger selves, Zelizer says.

  • "These are two people who at least since the '80s a lot of Americans watched, almost like a family member. These people, we've seen since they were in the prime of their age, and now they're older men."

The bottom line: Though they have different personalities, both Trump and Biden are known for speaking off the cuff, opening themselves to verbal gaffes and criticisms of rambling.

Senate confirms retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary

The Senate voted 93-2 on Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the sole "no" votes.

Why it matters: Austin is the first Black American to lead the Pentagon and President Biden's second Cabinet nominee to be confirmed.

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House will transmit article of impeachment to Senate on Monday, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that the House will deliver the article of impeachment against former President Trump for "incitement of insurrection" on Monday.

Why it matters: The Senate is constitutionally required to begin the impeachment trial at 1 p.m. the day after the article is transmitted. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had been pushing for the trial to begin in mid-February, arguing that it will force the Senate to delay other important business.

This story is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

Private equity bets on delayed tax reform in Biden administration

In normal times, private equity would be nervous about Democratic Party control of both the White House and Congress. But in pandemic-consumed 2021, the industry seems sanguine.

Driving the news: Industry executives and lobbyists paid very close attention to Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen's confirmation hearings this week, and came away convinced that tax reform isn't on the near-term agenda.

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New Energy Department roles look to animate Biden's campaign themes

The burst of Biden administration staffing picks announced yesterday revealed that the Energy Department (DOE) has newly created roles that reflect what President Biden called campaign priorities.

Driving the news: One new position is "director of energy jobs," which is being filled by Jennifer Jean Kropke. She was previously the first director of workforce and environmental engagement with Local 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

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Stuart Haselden steps down as CEO of luggage startup Away

Stuart Haselden is stepping down as CEO of smart luggage-maker Away, Axios has learned. He'll be succeeded on an interim basis by company co-founder Jen Rubio, and an outside search firm has been retained to find a permanent successor.

Why it matters: Haselden, formerly with Lululemon, appeared to have established executive stability at Away, whose co-founder Steph Korey previously resigned as CEO before retaking the reins alongside Haselden and then resigning again.

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2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance as Japan's COVID-19 cases surge

10 months ago, the Tokyo Olympics were postponed. Now, less than six months ahead of their new start date, the dreaded word is being murmured: "canceled."

Driving the news: The Japanese government has privately concluded that the Games will have to be called off, The Times reports (subscription), citing an unnamed senior government source.

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Biden's centrist words, liberal actions

President Biden talks like a soothing centrist. He promises to govern like a soothing centrist. But early moves show that he is keeping his promise to advance a liberal agenda.

Why it matters: Never before has a president done more by executive fiat in such a short period of time than Biden. And those specific actions, coupled with a push for a more progressive slate of regulators and advisers, look more like the Biden of the Democratic primary than the unity-and-restraint Biden of the general election.

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Review of Trump ban marks major turning point for Facebook

Facebook's decision to ask its new independent Oversight Board to review the company's indefinite suspension of former President Trump is likely to set a critical precedent for how the social media giant handles political speech from world leaders.

What they're saying: "I very much hope and can expect … that they will uphold our decision," Facebook's VP of global affairs Nick Clegg tells Axios.

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