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Axios Sneak Peek

Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I'd love your tips and feedback: jonathan@axios.com. And please urge your friends and colleagues to join the conversation by signing up for Sneak Peek.

1 big thing: Lighthizer rising

Robert Lighthizer, center, arrives for a news conference at the start of NAFTA renegotiations in Washington. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

You won't see him on cable news, but President Trump's hardline trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer is wielding extraordinary — and growing — influence inside the White House.

  • Lighthizer was the lead economic adviser for Trump's Asia trip, with Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin staying home to handle tax reform. He briefed the president constantly on Air Force One and was by his side at just about every meeting.
  • Trump has huge respect for Lighthizer. He likes that he will take on his colleagues and doesn't back down, even in front of Trump. He's increasingly winning internal arguments over the administration's inevitable economic confrontation with China.

Why this matters: Lighthizer makes the pro-trade community nervous. He agrees with Trump that the mounting trade deficits with China are unacceptable. And he's staking out such hardline negotiating positions with South Korea (on the KORUS trade deal) and Canada and Mexico (on NAFTA) that top Republicans on the Hill and in Washington's business community fear he will torpedo both deals.

Behind-the-scenes: Shortly before Trump left for Asia, Lighthizer met with the entire economic team in the White House to discuss the U.S.-China relationship. If the Trump administration takes the hardline actions we expect them to eventually take on China, historians will look back on this meeting as a seminal moment.

The scene — these details were described to people outside of the White House and weren't disputed by Lighthizer's spokeswoman or the White House:

Lighthizer — in front of the whole economic team including Cohn, Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue — described the U.S.-China economic relationship as "bullshit." Lighthizer laid out the history of the last 25 years of U.S.-China relations. He went through what each "dialogue" was called under presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. His point: every administration comes up with a new catchword and strategic framework to describe the U.S.-China relationship, but the trade deficit with China just keeps ballooning by the billions.

I'm told many in the group — which includes officials like Cohn who often disagree with Lighthizer philosophically — found Lighthizer's presentation compelling.

Why he's gaining influence: There aren't many senior officials in this administration who share Trump's hardline / protectionist views on trade. Steve Bannon did — but he's gone and not missed by his colleagues. Then there's Peter Navarro — but his colleagues have little respect for him, frequently marginalize him and accuse him of leaking stories to the press. That leaves Lighthizer, whose views cannot be dismissed because he's been a major figure in U.S. trade policy since the Reagan administration. He wins internal arguments with his colleagues by swamping them with his historical knowledge.

Worth noting: Avowed free-traders in the administration didn't even push back against this narrative when I reached out to them.

What's next: The Trump administration has been very secretive about its next moves on trade policy. You won't see anything aggressive before tax reform is done. But people on the Hill and in the business community — who worry about this administration taking harsh economic actions against China — shouldn't be lulled by Trump's public praise of President Xi. Behind the scenes, Lighthizer's arguments are winning the day.

2. A sleeper story that matters

Tax reform and the end of year spending deal will consume all of Washington's oxygen until the end of the year. But quietly, a potentially far more important, though far less sexy story is unfolding.

If Mitch McConnell's schedule goes to plan, the week after Thanksgiving the Senate Majority Leader will confirm his ninth federal judge. That would beat President Reagan's eight in his first year — the most in recent history. And it triples the three federal judges President Obama appointed in his first year in office.

Why this matters: The federal courts affect almost every area of policy: gun rights, presidential executive orders like Trump's travel ban, social policy issues like abortion and freedom of religion, and tensions between regulation, litigation and private enterprise. McConnell's judges — who passed through a well-funded and organized conservative pipeline — will shape the U.S. over many decades in ways we can't yet imagine.

  • Smart Democrats are deeply concerned about this trend, and understand that these lifetime judicial appointments will have a much greater impact on the future direction of this country than any short-term spending deal or policy.
  • Example: "This will be the single most important legacy of the Trump administration," Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Business Insider. If conservatives have their way, he said, the Senate would "put judges on circuit courts all over the country, district courts all over the country, that will, given their youth and conservatism, will have a significant impact on the shape and trajectory of American law for decades."
  • As Congress becomes more and more dysfunctional, and more and more power accrues to the executive branch, it's the judges who increasingly decide policy. It wasn't Congress that blocked Trump's travel bans. It was judges in states like Hawaii and Maryland.

Inside McConnell's head: Leonard Leo, a top outside adviser on judicial appointments for President Trump and Republican leaders, told me McConnell places "an enormously high priority on the confirmation of judges" and has throughout his career. "His thinking behind that is that the federal judiciary has an enormous impact on the future direction of our country in ways that many pieces of legislation and public policy initiatives don't."

3. The next wave of sexual allegations

Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Members of Congress with histories of mistreating women should be extremely nervous.

Major outlets, including CNN, are dedicating substantial newsroom resources to investigating sexual harassment allegations against numerous lawmakers. A Republican source told me he's gotten calls from well-known D.C. reporters who are gathering stories about sleazy members.

Bottom line: Democratic Sen. Al Franken is the very tip of the congressional iceberg. Many more stories are coming and we wouldn't be surprised if they end several careers.

4. The weaponization of space

I spent two days last week traveling with Defense Secretary James Mattis. The most memorable moment: inside Cheyenne Mountain, a Cold War-era fortress dug into the Rocky Mountains, and built to withstand nuclear attacks.

But the most illuminating session happened inside the Peterson Air Force Base, the hub for monitoring threats to the homeland. Colonel Todd Moore, who commands the 21st Space Wing, and his colleagues, told us about the escalating military space battle with China.

As one officer put it to us: America's superiority in space is why the 170 pound U.S. solider in Afghanistan is so much more lethal than the 170 pound enemy soldier he faces. The American soldier can look down at a screen and see the enemy on the other side of the mountain. The U.S. military has so much more information than its adversaries — provided by satellites, GPS, and other sophisticated systems.

Why this matters: A senior military officer summed it up in his briefing: "Our adversaries see space as a potential war fighting domain" and while Russia has always understood the importance of space, "it's really China that's growing incredibly [fast]."

What's next: America's adversaries are rapidly developing their military space capabilities. China is determined to dominate space, and is investing gobsmacking amounts of money to get the edge on the U.S. In 2007, China tested its first anti-satellite weapon, and its military space capabilities have grown substantially since then. These concerns will grow ever-louder as the Pentagon fights for a larger budget.

5. Exclusive: progressives to target key GOP senators on tax

Screenshot from the BRTR ad against Sen. Corker.

Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform, a coalition of progressive small business leaders, will launch a six-figure TV campaign to oppose the GOP tax bill on the grounds that it balloons the federal deficit by more than $1 trillion.

Per a source involved in the efforts: The first ads highlight promises by GOP senators James Lankford and Bob Corker to oppose any plan that increases the deficit.

  • The TV ads — which you can see here and here — will run in these senators' home states of Tennessee (Corker) and Oklahoma (Lankford.)

Why this matters: Polls show the Republican tax plans are unpopular — as Axios' David Nather has reported. But progressives know they can't rely on lackluster public opinion to sink the bill, given the extraordinary political pressure on Republicans to pass something before the end of the year.

  • Democrats know they don't necessarily have the votes to kill the tax bill in the Senate. The path to sinking the bill in the Senate is through lawmakers like Corker, Lankford and others like John McCain who care about the deficit and debt implications.
  • This campaign is the first time a progressive group has run advertising specifically calling out GOP senators on the debt issue, with the goal of making it harder to vote for the bill.

6. Bannon's new group

Steve Bannon is setting up a new 501(c)(4) — aka a "tax-exempt social welfare organization" — to promote his agenda, and, he argues, the president's.

  • Such groups don't have to disclose their donors so long as — according to the IRS code — they "be operated exclusively to promote social welfare" and so long as politics are not the group's "primary activity."

Bannon first publicly mentioned his new plans on billionaire John Catsimatidis' Sunday morning radio show, "Cat's Roundtable."

I asked a source close to Bannon to tell me more about the group. Here's what they told me:

  • The group has no name yet but will be set up this week.
  • Bannon plans to use the group to establish a "war council" to promote hawkish policies against China.
  • Bannon is obsessed with the rise of China and believes that Beijing will become a hegemony — sinisterly dominating America — if the U.S. doesn't aggressively confront it. (His detractors inside the White House say his ideas are reckless and would start a globally devastating trade war. Bannon, however, says China is already engaged in economic warfare against America, stealing the country's IP and technology, but the U.S. refuses to properly fight back.)
  • He also plans to use the group to "focus on grassroots efforts" so the base is "unified and energized to support the president's agenda."
  • Other policy issues that animate Bannon: trade, immigration, education, and inner city infrastructure development.

Why it matters: For all the speculation about Bannon's relationships with donors he's had no fundraising apparatus to date.

What we don't know: Which donors will fund the group. And we may never know because, under the law, Bannon won't have to tell us.

7. Sneak Peek diary

The House and Senate are on recess for Thanksgiving week.

President Trump's schedule:

  • Monday: In the morning, Trump will hold a cabinet meeting. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to update the group on tax reform. The president then has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.
  • Tuesday: Trump participates in the "National Thanksgiving Turkey Pardoning Ceremony."
  • Rest of the week: Trump will spend Thanksgiving at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

Featured

Ascension, Providence consider mega hospital merger

Ascension CEO Anthony Tersigni is eyeing a large health system merger. Photo: Aijaz Rahi / AP

Ascension and Providence St. Joseph Health are in discussions to merge, which would create the largest hospital system in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports citing people familiar with the merger talks. The combined system would have 191 hospitals, numerous clinics and roughly $45 billion in annual revenue.

Why it matters: Although the Ascension-Providence deal is not guaranteed, it shows how health care has turned into the Wild West for mega-mergers. CVS Health is buying Aetna, Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health are merging, and Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care are combining, among other deals. Yet, research shows mergers don't lower health care costs or improve care for patients.

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Sneak Peek: Pence to the pyramids

Pence listens as Trump announces his Jerusalem move. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

With President Trump's announcement on Jerusalem lighting up the Middle East, Vice President Mike Pence embarks Saturday on his first trip to Israel since taking national office.

The vice president will be gone for a week, with stops in Egypt and Germany:

  • Pence takes off from Washington, lands in Tel Aviv and goes straight to Jerusalem for a bilateral meeting with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Pence then will light a menorah at the Western Wall.
  • An aide said that Pence's message in Israel will be that Trump, as he said in his speech recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, is committed to working for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
  • Pence will use his meetings with leaders in the region to reaffirm the administration's commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East and to "defeat radicalism."
  • On Monday, Pence will give the signature speech at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. The speech will be aimed at the region overall. Pence will emphasize that he is there on behalf of the president, and detail why Israel is a most cherished ally of the United States.
  • Pence will then fly to Cairo for a bilat with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The two will discuss security and joint efforts to fight ISIS.
  • Pence will visit the pyramids and will talk with media with the ancient wonders as a backdrop.
  • Pence will fly home through Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and will do a meet-and-greet with troops.

The takeaway: A key theme for Pence's remarks and interviews will be U.S. efforts to stop persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the region.

Go deeper: Palestinians won't meet with Pence.

Featured

Exclusive: Policy official leaving White House

The White House South Portico is adorned with Christmas lights. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Paul Winfree is leaving the White House, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the decision. Winfree, who declined to comment, has resigned from his position as Deputy Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Director of Budget Policy.

  • Why this matters: Winfree's departure is part of what we've been forecasting will be a wave of White House staff departures after year one of the Trump presidency. His last day in the White House will be Friday.

Winfree, a respected policy wonk with strong ties to the conservative movement, is the second senior official to announce a departure in three days. Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell told colleagues she's leaving to return to her family in New York.

What Winfree has been telling friends and colleagues:

  • He and his wife are expecting a second baby boy in a few weeks.
  • He'll return to the Heritage Foundation, where he will run economic policy.
  • He also plans to start his own policy consulting business. -
  • Starting in February, he will teach a seminar on policymaking at a top university, where he will draw on his experiences working in the White House, the U.S. Senate, and with think tanks.
Featured

NYPD adjusts interview techniques for sexual assault victims

New York police officers march. Photo: Andres Kudacki / AP

Amid a flood of sexual misconduct allegations — some of which have turned into police investigations — the New York Police Department has taken a new approach to questioning victims, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The bottom line: "The focus that’s occurring on sexual criminal conduct coming out of the Hollywood celebrities and members of Congress may be a watershed moment,” NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Osgood told the Journal. He says more sensitive and open-ended questioning techniques may lead to breakthroughs in cold cases that have been abandoned for years.

The backdrop: Police tactics in dealing with victims of sexual assault have long been controversial, with critics saying harsh questioning puts undue scrutiny on victims and pushes them to silence. These critcisms were thrown into the spotlight when ProPublica, in conjunction with the Marshall Project, published "An Unbelievable Story of Rape" — an investigative project which showed how a police department in Washington state coerced a woman into retracting a rape allegation.

NYPD detectives in the Special Victims division received training in Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) techniques this year. The methods include asking victims of sexual assault open-ended questions such as, "Tell me about your experience," instead of specifics about the perpetrators appearance and the time and place of the incident.

How it works: Such specific details are "stored in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which shuts down during traumatic events. In FETI training, the detectives are instructed to ask broad questions that tap into a victim’s primitive brain, which maintains sensory information of those events. Channeling this part of the brain can result in a more substantial narrative," per Osgood.

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White House: "Unfortunate" that Palestinians won't meet with Pence

Vice President Pence's office has called the decision by Palestinian officials not to meet with Pence on his visit to the region "unfortunate. The Palestinians are refusing to meet with Pence over President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The statement:

"The Vice President very much looks forward to traveling to the region to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President el-Sisi. It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region, but the Administration remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan."
Featured

The mental health crisis among young Americans, by the numbers

Illustration: Sam Jayne / Axios

One in five American young adults under the age of 25 lives with a mental illness or behavioral disorder, NBC reports, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: Per the CDC's research, the state of young adult mental health in the U.S. is only worsening, with the suicide rate among teenage girls reaching a 40-year high in 2015. Here's a look at the numbers that tell the story of this crisis.

The numbers:

  • 15 million, or 1 in 5, American children and young adults battle mental illnesses or learning disorders.
  • 10 million, or two-thirds of them, are undiagnosed or aren't receiving treatment.
  • Among children ages 3 to 17: 6.8% are diagnosed with ADHD, 3.0% suffer from anxiety, 2.1% suffer from depression
Featured

The case that bitcoin is a bubble

A man uses a Bitcoin ATM in Hong Kong. Photo: Kin Cheung / AP

The case against bitcoin, stated concisely by the Economist:

"It seems that every day, Bitcoin seems to hit a new high. But the reported price can move up and down by $1,000 or so within a few hours. This might have made it a great investment for those who got in at the right price and are nimble enough to get out in time. But it doesn't make it a useful means of exchange. When the price is rising fast, those who use bitcoin will be reluctant to part with it; when the price falls, those who sell goods will be reluctant to accept it."

Bitcoin as bubble: "This blogger remains convinced it is a bubble. Indeed its exponential rise only reinforces the argument. The beauty of bitcoin is that its intrinsic value is impossible to determine and that makes any value plausible to true believers. This is not the same as saying there is no merit in electronic currencies or blockchain technology; of course there is. But the range of prices which can be found on cryptocompare shows this is a narrow, illiquid market."

Go deeper: Read the whole article for an excellent Monty Python reference.

Featured

The state of racial inequality in 12 major U.S. cities

The March Against Racism in Boston Common in 1974. Photo: Frank C. Curtin / AP

A deep-dive into racial inequities from the Boston Globe's Spotlight team reveals the cities where gaps between white and black residents are closing and the cities where little has changed since the 1970s.

The big picture: A survey commissioned by the Globe found that 54% of African-Americans feel Boston isn't welcoming to people of color, the highest of the cities surveyed. That percentage is 34% for Chicago and 28% for New York. Atlanta fares best, at 16%.

Boston

  • 7% of residents are black; 73% are white
  • 54% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 4 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations meaning, per the Globe's analysis, "At least 15 percent of the residents are black; and among the black residents, at least 30 percent had a four-year college degree and their household income was at or above the median for their metro area."

New York

  • 16% of residents are black; 48% are white
  • 28% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 150 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Washington, D.C.

  • 25% of residents are black; 47% are white
  • 119 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Philadelphia

  • 20% of residents are black; 63% are white
  • 34% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 36 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Chicago

  • 17% of residents are black, 54% are white
  • 34% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 33 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Atlanta

  • 33% of residents are black; 49% are white
  • 16% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 110 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Dallas

  • 15% of residents are black; 49% are white
  • 50 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Houston

  • 17% of residents are black; 38% are white
  • 57 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Miami

  • 20% of residents are black, 33% are white
  • 24% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 38 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Los Angeles

  • 6% of residents are black; 31% are white
  • 24 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Charlotte

  • 35% of residents are black, 45% are white
  • 38% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color

San Francisco

  • 6% of residents are black, 54% are white
  • 34% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 9 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Go Deeper: The full piece from the Globe is well worth the click.

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Nikki Haley: Trump's accusers deserve to be heard

Diverging from the White House line, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that the women accusing President Trump of sexual harassment and assault "should be heard."

"I know that he was elected, but, women should always feel comfortable coming forward and we should all be willing to listen to them," she said. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has denied all of the dozen-plus claims and said Thursday that "the people of this country addressed" the allegations when they elected Trump.

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Sen. Shelby says Alabama "deserves better" than Roy Moore

Shelby. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Richard Shelby, Alabama's senior senator, told Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that the Ethics Committee will have to investigate Roy Moore should he be elected on Tuesday, and the Senate will have to make a decision as to whether he's fit to serve.

Why it matters: As the NY Times' Jonathan Martin notes, "The most senior Ala R goes on nat’l TV to torpedo his would-be colleague!... Shelby has been in Cong for 40 years. He knew exactly what he was doing accepting this Sunday show invite."

  • "I'd rather see the Republican win, but I'd rather see a Republican write-in. I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. I didn't vote for Roy Moore."
  • "There's a tipping point.... When it got to the 14-year-old's story, that was enough for me."