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Axios Sneak Peek

Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus the cream of the Sunday shows. I'd love your tips and feedback: jonathan@axios.com.

Please urge your friends and colleagues to join the conversation by signing up for Sneak Peek and the other Axios newsletters. See you all week in the Axios STREAM, and next Sunday evening in Sneak Peek.

1 big thing: Trump's "ultimate deal"

Every American president fantasizes about being the Middle East peacemaker. It's the great unattainable — a sure-fire Nobel Peace Prize, and your own page in the history books.

Influential figures in the conservative pro-Israel community have concluded that President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have convinced themselves that their dealmaking talents can clinch this "ultimate deal" between Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump the dealmaker has begun inching to the left on Israel:

  • The Trump administration alienated some allies in conservative pro-Israel circles by allowing the State Department to hire Michael Ratney, who was a senior U.S. diplomat in Jerusalem under John Kerry. In recent days, a number of influential conservatives have reached out to White House officials, urging them to fire Ratney.
  • On the campaign trail, Trump promised to "move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem." As president, Trump is keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv as a bargaining chip to extract future concessions from Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.
  • Trump infuriated Palestinians by breaking with U.S. policy and saying he could potentially support a one-state solution. But during the same recent visit with Netanyahu, Trump threw a bone to the left by gently chiding the Israelis on settlement building.
  • On Friday, Trump spoke by phone to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. According to the White House, they "discussed a comprehensive agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Trump invited Abbas to visit the White House in the near future.
So what comes next?
The hardbitten view: A conservative pro-Israel leader tells me Trump's aspirations "will run up against the reality of dealing with the Palestinians."
The most hopeful words: In a recent interview on David Axelrod's podcast, The Atlantic's editor Jeffrey Goldberg repeated a joke that Jared Kushner's principal qualification to be Trump's Middle East peacemaker was that he'd been to Jewish summer camp. But Goldberg wisely noted that the "great geniuses of American diplomacy" have all failed to achieve a deal:
"There's almost like a Jewish comic novel in this ... And then a boy named Jared Kushner emerged from Trump Tower and brought peace to the tribes of Abraham. I mean ... who knows?"

2. The highest bar

The White House and Republican Hill leaders are setting a dauntingly high bar for their plan to replace Obamacare:

  • Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" that the administration will do "whatever it takes" to get the bill passed.
  • When NBC's Chuck Todd asked on "Meet the Press" what success would look like, HHS Secretary Tom Price said it means "more people covered than are covered right now, and at an average cost that is less" (which contradicts the administration's line that coverage is the wrong focus).
  • Price also told Chuck that "nobody will be worse off financially."
  • Speaker Ryan told John Dickerson on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he agrees with President Trump that the 2018 elections would be a "bloodbath" for Republicans if they fail to pass his Obamacare replacement.

Echoing into the week ... On ABC's "This Week," Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton had this warning for Republican House members: "Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote."

3. Undercutting Speaker Ryan

Inside the Oval Office last week, there was a telling exchange between conservative activist Jenny Beth Martin and the president.

During Trump's Wednesday meeting with conservative leaders over the healthcare plan, Tea Party Patriots leader Martin subtly reminded Trump that her super-PAC stood by him "through thick and thin" during the campaign, unlike a certain politician from Wisconsin.

According to two sources in the room, Martin didn't mention Paul Ryan's name. But everyone knew who she was talking about. She reminded Trump that in October — when the crude "Access Hollywood" tape leaked and Ryan disinvited Trump from a Wisconsin event — Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund volunteers were working the phones on Trump's behalf.

Trump smiled and glanced over at his chief of staff Reince Priebus. Trump said that, yes, he had been disinvited. And he thanked Martin for standing by him. (Of course, Martin wasn't always a Trump loyalist. She gave a blisteringly anti-Trump speech at CPAC in 2016, but has since changed her tune.)

  • Why this matters: Some conservatives who oppose the House GOP Obamacare replacement plan believe it's strategically smart to divide the president from the speaker. They think the president is more open than Ryan to negotiating, and they believe that branding the bill as "Paul Ryan's plan" and emphasizing Ryan's disloyalty during the campaign could make Trump less attached to the specifics of the current bill.
  • However: So far, the White House and Ryan are publicly sticking close together even on the controversial stuff. The controversial Medicaid timeline that's in the bill "is what the president supports," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday, adding: "it's not a question of negotiation."

4. Lowering sights on tax

It didn't get much media attention, but Trump's chief economic adviser Gary Cohn said something very important in a Friday interview with CNBC:

"We're going to have to be deficit neutral over a 10-year period."

Why this matters: Sources familiar with the administration's tax planning say there's nothing close to agreement on how — or if — the administration will "pay for" the cuts it has planned to corporate and individual rates. Given Trump's oft-professed love for debt, many sources had been assuming the administration would give up on revenue neutrality, instead suffering short-term deficit hikes in hopes of long-term growth.

Cohn's comments change that calculus, since they sure look like an official White House endorsement of the House's commitment to revenue neutrality.

I checked in with Stephen Moore, one of Trump's top economic advisors during the campaign. He worries that Cohn & Co. are preparing for a less ambitious rate cut.

  • Here's the rub: If the administration doesn't get behind new taxes to pay for the cuts — like the House Republicans' trillion-dollar border adjustment tax — then taxes won't be cut as much as Trump originally promised.

1 fun thing: celebrities struggling with Trump

The celebrity community is still having trouble adjusting to Trump's America, as was on display this week in two big ways:

  • First, Madonna — never one to err on the side of understatement — released a short video announcing that we have entered a "New Age of Tyranny."
  • Even more dramatic, if that's possible, was the escalating feud between Shia LaBeouf and members of the troll-infested Internet message board 4chan. According to Page Six, LaBeouf livestreamed a flag that read "He Will Not Divide Us," billowing in the wind over an undisclosed location. 4chan members reportedly found the flag, pulled it down, and replaced it with a "Make America Great Again" hat.

Not your daddy's culture war, but here we are.

Featured

Fox renewed O'Reilly's contract after a sixth harrassment settlement

Photo: Andy Kropa / AP

Bill O'Reilly's contract with 21st Century Fox was renewed — with an approximate $7 million pay raise — after O'Reilly made a $32 million agreement to settle sexual harassment allegations, the New York Times reports.

What happened: Lis Wiehl, an analyst at Fox News, notified O'Reilly of her sexual harassment lawsuit in early January. Five days later, the two reached a settlement, per the Times, and Wiehl agreed "not to sue Mr. O'Reilly, Fox News, or 21st Century Fox," as well as destroying texts, photos, and other communications between them. The four-year contract extension with the network was granted in February, the Times reports.

Why it matters: This was the largest settlement made by O'Reilly and 21st Century Fox; it was also the sixth one of its kind.

Featured

The failed U.S. attempt at a Kirkuk compromise

Iraqi soldiers remove a Kurdish flag from a checkpoint in Bashiqa, Iraq. Photo: Khalid Mohammed / AP

The U.S. tried to form a compromise between Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Kurdistan Regional Government over the weekend, but ultimately failed, leading to the Iraqi forces overthrowing the Kurds in Kirkuk, according to Bloomberg's Eli Lake.

Why it matters: The compromise would have taken Kurdish control of the K-1 air base outside the city, and suggested a joint administration of the Kurds and Iraqis with a U.S. general. It would've allowed Abadi to "save face...while avoiding the trauma of Iraqi forces taking over" the city. But, Abadi was not convinced, and ultimately ordered troops into Kirkuk.

As Lake writes, "the Kurds have lost their Jerusalem, as Iraqi forces approach what Kurds voted last month should eventually be their independent state's national borders."

Featured

Scoop: Trump pledges to personally pay some legal bills of WH staff and associates

President Trump has promised to spend at least $430,000 of his own money to defray legal costs incurred by campaign associates and White House staff due to the Russia investigations, a White House official tells Axios.

What we know: The Republican National Committee has paid roughly $430,000 to lawyers representing the president and his eldest son, Don Jr. A White House official told me Trump will not be reimbursing the RNC for these costs. However, the White House official says he has pledged to spend the same amount, from his personal finances, "to defray the costs of legal fees for his associates, including former and current White House aides."

To understand the details of the RNC's payments for Trump and his son's lawyers, read this WashPost report — the substance of which the RNC confirmed to Axios.

What we don't know: The president and his legal team haven't announced the mechanism to make these payments. The arrangement raises a number of questions, none of which the White House official answered:

  • Is the plan to put this money into a general legal defense fund that all of the president's associates could request access to, or will the money be disbursed directly to attorneys?
  • $430,000 is a relatively small amount, given the ballooning legal fees of Trump's associates who are under the most intense investigation. Will Trump's legal fund pay the bills of associates with the most expensive legal fees, including Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort?
  • Who decides which of the president's associates get the money and when they get it?
  • What are the president's intentions regarding future legal bills for the first family? Will the RNC keep paying them?
  • Why isn't the president reimbursing the RNC in addition to partially defraying his associates' costs?

Bottom line: TBD on everything. The official said: "We're working on appropriate legal and ethical approval" — and said the president hasn't ruled out spending more of his own money on these legal fees. It's also unclear what the president will do in the future as he and the first family continue to rack up legal bills.

Update: I'm told there's no chance Trump will pay Flynn's legal bills. A source close to Flynn told me that the former National Security Adviser will not accept contributions to his legal defense fund from President Trump or the Trump campaign. Nor will he accept funds from the RNC.

Featured

Trump: Syrian victory in Raqqa is a “critical breakthrough”

Photo: Gabriel Chaim / AP

The image above from drone video shows damaged buildings in Raqqa, Syria, two days after Syrian Democratic Forces said that military operations to oust the Islamic State have ended, and that their fighters have taken full control of the ancient city on the Euphrates River.

  • The devastation was "caused by weeks of fighting between Kurdish-led forces and the Islamic State group, and thousands of bombs dropped by the U.S.-led coalition," AP writes.
  • Why it matters: "Entire neighborhoods are seen turned to rubble, with little sign of civilian life. ... The U.N. and aid organizations estimate about 80 percent of the city is destroyed or uninhabitable."
  • Now, a humanitarian crisis is escalating.
President Trump issued a statement on the Syrian victory, saying it "represents a critical breakthrough in our worldwide campaign to defeat ISIS."
"Today, we reaffirm that ISIS leaders, and anyone who supports them, must and will face justice."

Go deeper: Axios' Shannon Vavra and Steve LeVine explain how ISIS is scattered, but not gone.

Featured

Blueberry-picking robots' threat to human beings

"Tech Support," by R. Kikuo Johnson

"Welcoming Our New Robot Overlords: Once, robots assisted human workers. Now it's the other way around," by The New Yorker's Sheelah Kolhatkar:

The frontier: "An industrial robot will pick up the same object, in the same location, over and over. The challenge, and the multibillion-dollar business opportunity, [is] to teach a robot to function in an environment that [is] constantly changing."

Why it matters: "Harvesting fruit and other produce ... is the kind of job that Americans are increasingly reluctant to do ... Yet the implications extend beyond agriculture. A robot that could efficiently pick blueberries could probably do a lot of things that are currently the exclusive province of human beings."

Featured

300 people have been killed in U.S. disasters this year

Home destroyed from fires in the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: Jeff Chiu / AP

Damage from California wildfires is now estimated to exceed $1 billion, giving the U.S. 16 separate billion-dollar disasters so far this year, tying 2011 for the most in one year, per the Weather Channel.

Why it matters: The disasters, combined, have killed over 300 people, the Weather Channel reports. There have been 218 climate disasters since 1980, which has cost the U.S. over $1.2 trillion, not including the hurricanes last month or the wildfires in California.

Featured

A new North Korea problem

Kim Jong-un speaks to the central committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on Oct. 7. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

"[A]nalysts ... see signs that Mount Mantap, the 7,200-foot-high peak under which North Korea detonates its nuclear bombs, is suffering from 'tired mountain syndrome,'" the WashPost reports on A1:

Why it matters: "Chinese scientists ... have warned that further nuclear tests [by North Korea] could cause the mountain to collapse and release the radiation from the blast."

P.S. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Thursday a Foundation for Defense of Democracies forum that North Korea is months away from perfecting its nuclear weapons capabilities, AP reports:

  • Pompeo: "They are close enough now in their capabilities that from a U.S. policy perspective we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving" their objective of being able to strike the United States.
  • John Brennan, Pompeo's predecessor as CIA director, said at Fordham University in New York on Wednesday that the prospects of a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula "are greater than they have been in several decades": "I don't think it's likely or probable, but if it's a 1-in-4 or 1-in-5 chance, that's too high."
Featured

Trump: Rep. Wilson is "killing" the Democratic Party

Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump sent a series of tweets Saturday morning regarding Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, the new budget passed in Congress on Thursday, and more.

Go deeper: Chief of Staff John Kelly misrepresented a story about Rep. Wilson earlier this week, which further intensified a feud between Trump and the Florida Congresswoman, evidenced by his tweet this morning. Yesterday Wilson raised the issue of race, suggesting that the animosity from Kelly is racially charged and called him a liar. "The White House itself is full of white supremacists," she said.

Featured

Big Tech's new Wall Street problem

Photo courtesy of Barron's

Just as Big Tech has begun to seriously worry about Washington, now Wall Street is waking up to possible government threats to the market dominance of the Silicon Valley giants.

While the "biggest companies don't face an immediate threat of being broken up ... just the possibility creates a risk factor in the stocks," Barron'sreports in its new cover story:

  • "More than antitrust issues are in play. The huge amounts of personal data that Google, Facebook, and Amazon are amassing is just as troubling to some."
  • Why it matters: "Taken together, these challenges threaten the stock valuations of the group. To get an idea of the worst-case scenario, take a look at two of tech's dominant players from previous eras: IBM [1969] and Microsoft [1998]."
  • "If these giants get sideswiped, it could be because of the fatal flaw in large tech companies that's often drawn social ire and regulation — the will to exploit their dominance."

Possible hits to the platforms' business models are blossoming in Europe, and the contagion could spread across the Atlantic. An AP takeoutfrom London points out that the giants "are increasingly facing an uncomfortable truth":

  • "[I]t is Europe's culture of tougher oversight of companies, not America's laissez-faire attitude, which could soon rule their industry as governments seek to combat fake news and prevent extremists from using the internet to fan the flames of hatred."

Be smart: My conversations with tech execs show they're skeptical that Congress will figure out the mechanics of inhibiting the platforms in a way that would do serious damage to the bottom line.

  • It's true that potential D.C. action is in the early stage. And there are huge impediments to doing anything radical. But the companies are now such tempting targets, this is a rising passion in both parties.
Featured

Those "puppy eyes" are all for you

Photo: Alan Diaz / AP

"Puppy dog eyes" — the pleading look a dog gives by lifting its inner brow and widening its eyes — has become synonymous with a sad pup hoping for a scrap of food off its owner's plate. However a new study published Thursday in Scientific Reports suggests "puppy dog eyes" may not be meant to be manipulative, but are simply a reaction to human expression.

Key findings: The study, conducted by researchers in Britain who closely monitored dogs' facial expressions, found that dogs were much more expressive when a person was paying attention to them as opposed to when they were turned away. The presence of food didn't make a difference in the dogs' reactions.

Why it matters: "This study is the first to show evidence that dogs adjust their facial expressions when humans are looking at them," Angie Johnston, a graduate student at Yale university working in the Psychology Department's Canine Cognition Center, told Axios. "This suggests that the methods dogs use to communicate with us may be more nuanced than we previously thought."

Details of the study and other findings:

  • Juliane Kaminski, a psychologist at the Dog Cognition Centre at the University of Portsmouth, U.K. and her colleagues studied 24 pet dogs of various breeds from ages 1-12 years.
  • The researchers filmed the dogs' facial expressions while a woman was a) facing the dog and displaying food in her hands; b) facing it and not displaying food; c) facing away and displaying food; and d) facing away and not displaying food.
  • The dogs were found to be much more expressive when the woman was facing them, and stuck out their tongues and barked more when they got attention.
  • Meanwhile, the presence of food didn't seem to make a difference. "This kind of 'dinner table effect' that dogs try and look super cute when they want something is something we did in fact not find," wrote Kaminski, "meaning, there was no effect of food being visible or not."
  • Take note: Kaminiski underscored that the team doesn't know dogs' intentions for making certain faces. "We cannot in any way speculate what dogs might 'mean' with whatever facial movement they produce," she wrote.

What they're saying:

  • "That the dogs raised their eyebrows and flicked their tongues more when people are looking at them... suggests that dogs might be using the actions communicatively, just as people do with facial expressions," Alexandra Horowitz from Barnard University's Dog Cognition Lab told Axios.
  • Looking forward: "This study represents a promising new frontier in canine science... I was surprised that dogs made 'puppy dog eyes' at the person regardless of whether she had food in her hands or not. This makes me wonder exactly what it is that dogs are trying to communicate," says Johnston. "More work is going to be needed to pin down exactly what dogs are trying to tell us, if anything, when they make these facial expressions."

Go deeper: