Oct 17, 2018

Why Trump can't quit the Saudis

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Trump in the Oval Office. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A big reason for President Trump's accommodating stance toward Saudi rulers in the apparent killing of Jamal Khashoggi is rooted in a simple dynamic: Trump needs them.

The big picture: Rice University energy scholar Jim Krane has a helpful Forbes commentary on the "crude realpolitik" behind Trump's openness to the kingdom's denials of responsibility. It stems from the president's need for more Saudi barrels on the market to offset the effects of his Iran sanctions.

  • "[T]he decision to soft-pedal the Saudis plays well with the Trump administration’s worldview, where international norms mean little; even less when cheap Election Day gasoline is on the line," writes Krane.

Threat level: In a note this morning, a Verisk Maplecroft analyst looks more broadly at the Saudi posture, including their implicit threat a few days ago to wield oil as a weapon in response to potential punishment over Khashoggi.

  • "[T]he thinly veiled threat to drive up oil prices if the U.S., UK or France impose sanctions has raised the threshold for anyone considering punitive measures against Saudi Arabia," writes Torbjorn Soltvedt.
  • While oil production cuts are unlikely and would be "far up the escalation ladder," Soltvedt notes that in the event of a diplomatic crisis, the Saudis could take less dramatic steps like canceling arms deals or reducing intelligence sharing.

The bottom line: The Saudis' defiant responses have raised the stakes of punitive action over Khashoggi, and Trump's posture thus far suggests it's working. "By affirming King Salman’s denial of any knowledge of the matter an immediate escalation has been avoided," Soltvedt writes.

P.S.: One frame for looking at who's bailing on the Saudi's upcoming Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference — dubbed "Davos in the desert" — is to see how much risk is involved in the decision.

  • Your Generate host wonders whether as many big banks would have bailed if Saudi Aramco's plans for a massive IPO weren't shelved for a couple years at least.
  • One company that's not saying anything is Lucid Motors, the electric vehicles startup whose CTO is on the list of attendees. Lucid last month announced over $1 billion in funding from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund that's co-hosting next week's FII. Lucid has declined repeated requests for comment from Axios.
  • Go deeper: We've got a running list of withdrawals

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Mark Meadows considers new White House press secretary

Photos: Alyssa Farah, Defense Department; Stephanie Grisham, Alex Wong/Getty Images; Kayleigh McEnany, Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has privately discussed bringing on Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah or Trump campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany as a new White House press secretary, two sources familiar with the talks tell Axios.

Why it matters: Meadows' start on Tuesday as Trump's new chief — and televised coronavirus briefings that feature President Trump himself — present a chance to overhaul a press shop that's kept a low profile since President Trump ended the tradition of daily press secretary briefings.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 1,014,673 — Total deaths: 52,973 — Total recoveries: 210,335Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 244,678 — Total deaths: 5,911 — Total recoveries: 9,058Map.
  3. 2020 updates: The Democratic National Committee said its July convention will be postponed until August because of the coronavirus. A federal judge declined to delay Wisconsin's April 7 primary election.
  4. Jobs latest: Coronavirus unemployment numbers are like a natural disaster hitting every state.
  5. Public health latest: Anthony Fauci called for a nationwide stay-at-home order. FDA allows blood donations from gay men after 3-month waiting period, citing "urgent need."
  6. Business latest: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said oil companies are eligible for aid from new lending programs the Federal Reserve is setting up, but not direct loans from his department.
  7. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Navy removes captain of aircraft carrier who sounded alarm about coronavirus.
  8. 1 future thing: In developing countries, consequences of COVID-19 could be deeper and far more difficult to recover from.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

CNN: Fauci advises all states issue stay-at-home orders

Dr. Anthony Fauci listens to President Trump speak during a briefing on April 1. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci recommended on Thursday that all states across the U.S. implement stay-at-home orders, at a CNN town hall.

Why it matters: The recommendation stands in contrast to President Trump's calls for "flexibility." Nearly 4o states have issued stay-at-home orders to promote social distancing as a way to combat the novel coronavirus — but the orders vary in strictness and duration.

Go deeperArrow56 mins ago - Health