This is what Washington has been fighting about - Axios
Top Stories
Featured

This is what Washington has been fighting about

Every time you hear the Trump administration or Congress fight about rising Affordable Care Act premiums, or what will happen to people with pre-existing conditions, just remember — we're talking about issues that affect 7 percent of the population. That's how many people are in the individual health insurance market, or the "non-group" market.

Here's what the rest of the population looks like — including the much larger employer health insurance marketplace, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Data: Kaiser Family Foundation; Graphic: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Why it matters: This shows how much time we're spending on a relatively small portion of the market. The ACA was supposed to fix the problems of the individual market, which really was dysfunctional for anyone with the slightest health problems. In doing so, it created other problems, including the rising premiums. But when you hear about those sky-high rate hikes because of "Obamacare," chances are, they're not your sky-high rate hikes — unless you happen to be in that market.

Yes, but: The spending limits that have been proposed for Medicaid really do matter, and they affect a larger group — 20 percent of the population. So every minute Washington spends on the smaller group is time that could have been spent talking about Medicaid changes that will affect more people.

Featured

SoftBank preps final play for Uber

studioEAST/Getty Images

We've not discussed the Uber-SoftBank transaction lately, so let's do it now. And, in honor of Gordon Hayward's surgery apparently going well, let's treat it like the game it has become:

Possession arrow: SoftBank

  • Everyone currently is waiting on the Japanese giant, which has not yet set a price, nor even communicated how it plans to run the auction process (i.e., fixed tenders, Dutch auction, etc.). It has, however, tried to do price discovery via some one-on-one conversations, and most sources expect formal details within a week.

Over/under: 41.65.

  • That's Uber's most recent 409a valuation, which works out to around a $60 billion valuation based on the current share count. It also seems to be the number below which many shareholders won't even consider a deal (and below which those with pro rata rights — like Benchmark and TPG — could become buyers). That's got to be causing SoftBank some heartburn, given that it originally proposed pricing the deal near a $50 billion valuation.

Halftime quotes

  • "Everyone wants to provide as little transparency as possible." — Uber investor
  • "I know a lot of people don't think it gets done in the end, but they also thought Dara wouldn't get over the governance hurdles. He wants this, and I wouldn't bet against him." — (different) Uber investor

Rules clarification

  • There was a recent FT report about how Benchmark wouldn't raise its ROFR rights in regards to the tender, but sources say the ROFR only relates to shares being (possibly) offered by Travis Kalanick, Ryan Graves and Garrett Camp.

Different sort of court

  • Uber's former chief business officer, Emil Michael, yesterday was dropped as a defendant in a privacy invasion lawsuit filed by a woman who was raped by an Uber driver in India. The company itself remains party to the suit, as do Travis Kalanick and former executive Eric Alexander.z
Featured

The industries at risk if Trump quits NAFTA

The United States has a great deal to lose if it drops out of NAFTA, as 26% of imports come from the two partner nations. Canada and Mexico are its second and third largest trading partners, respectively. Here's a look at the industries that will be hit hardest if President Trump sends a NAFTA withdrawal notice.

Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Where things stand: The future of NAFTA hangs in the balance, with Mexico and Canada shutting down the hard line American renegotiations and President Trump hinting he might pull out of the deal entirely. Still, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Wednesday the other two countries will stay in NAFTA even if the United States abandons it.

Key takeaways:

  • The auto and energy industries will be among those most affected, as vehicles, nuclear reactors and mineral fuel are three of the top goods imported from both Canada and Mexico.
  • The United States stands to lose lots of business. Canada and Mexico are the top two recipients of U.S. exports.
  • In 2016, the United States had a $12.5 billion trade surplus with Canada, but a $55.6 billion trade deficit with Mexico.
  • Peña Nieto said that, if Trump backs out, trade between the United States and Mexico will continue and be governed by the World Trade Organization's rules.
Featured

It's been the second-hottest year since the 1800s

Photo: Elaine Thompson / AP

The first nine months of 2017 are the second-warmest in records that date back to the late 1800s, according to the latest monthly National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report Wednesday.

Why it matters: The data underscore how this year is part of a long-term warming trend that scientists say is largely due to human influences.

The gritty details: The January-September period was 0.87°C (1.57°F) above the 20th-century average.

  • "Nine of the 10 warmest January-September global land and ocean temperatures occurred during the 21st century (since 2005), with only one year from the 20th century (1998) among the top 10. Based on three simple scenarios, 2017 will likely end up among the top three warmest years on record," NOAA said.
Featured

Spain might seize control of Catalonia's government

A woman wearing a Spanish flag on her shoulders looks at a giant flag of Catalonia in Barcelona. Photo: Santi Palacios / AP

Spain signaled today that it would move to seize control of Catalonia's regional government under a constitutionally allowed process by this weekend, per The Washington Post. The move comes after Catalonia's president essentially refused to respond to a Spanish government demand regarding the region's intentions for its independence.

Why it matters: Tensions between Spain and Catalonia have been running high for months, culminating in a seconds-long Catalonian declaration of independence earlier this month after a contested referendum. Catalonia's president immediately suspended the declaration, hoping to begin negotiations with the Spanish government — but this newest move would be an unprecedented step in a nation where memories of Francisco Franco's dictatorship remain fresh.

Featured

The U.S. export surge

Note: "Other oils" includes natural gas liquids other than propane, as well as other petroleum products such as lubricants and unfinished oils; Data: Energy Information Administration; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

The Energy Information Administration issued a report yesterday that shows exports of crude oil and refined petroleum products reached record levels in the first half of 2017.

Why it matters: The data signals how the U.S. has become a major player in global petroleum markets. The expansion of crude oil exports is especially noteworthy — the lifting of the crude export ban in late 2015 combined with the shale oil surge has enabled a major rise in U.S. crude shipments.

The gritty details: Crude oil exports, which grew by 300,000 barrels per day to 900,000 bpd in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2016, have really taken off in recent weeks, fueled in part by the size of the discount of WTI compared with Brent crude.

Other EIA data released yesterday shows exports of 1.8 million barrels per day in the week ending Oct. 13, which is up from the 1.3 million the prior week. It's not quite the nearly 2 million in late September when refinery outages from Hurricane Harvey was pushing excess supply of discounted crude into the arms of willing global buyers.

Featured

Family members of fallen military speak out on Trump

Myeshia Johnson cries at the casket of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, killed in an ambush in Niger, when his remains arrived in Miami on Tuesday. Photo: WPLG via AP.

Relatives of nine of the 43 military members who have died during Trump's presidency (21%) tell AP that they haven't heard from him.

Why it matters: Trump told Fox News Radio's "Brian Kilmeade Show' on Tuesday: "[T]o the best of my knowledge, I think I've called every family of somebody that's died ... I have called, I believe everybody but certainly I'll use the word 'virtually' everybody ... I've called virtually everybody."

  • "Despite Trump's boast that he reaches out personally to all families of the fallen, interviews with families members did not support his claim. Some never heard from him at all, and a few who did came away more upset."
  • AP "reached out to the families of all 43 people who have died in military service since Trump became president and made contact with about half the families. Of those who would address the question, relatives of nine said they had heard from Trump by phone or mail. Relatives of nine others said they haven't."
  • "Chris Baldridge of Zebulon, North Carolina, told The Washington Post that Trump promised him $25,000 of his own money when they spoke in the summer about the loss of his son, Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, killed in Afghanistan, but the check never came. The White House said [yesterday] that 'the check has been sent.'"
  • "After Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter [23] died in a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan in August ... Mark Hunter, his father, said a military casualty officer informed the family that Trump would call and the family was let down when he didn't."
Featured

McCain's latest surprise: Regulate Facebook

Sen. John McCain questions Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) knows his time in the public eye is short, so his big statements in recent weeks are especially resonant. Today, McCain will join with two Democrats — Sens. Mark Warner (Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) — to give bipartisan imprimatur to the first of the "Facebook bills," responding to last year's election interference.

Axios has a sneak peek at provisions of the Honest Ads Act, which would increase disclosure requirements for online political ads like the ones Russians surreptitiously bought, putting the rules on par with those for radio and TV ads.

Why it matters: This is the first in a wave of legislative and regulatory proposals we can expect in response to the disclosures that Russian agents used tech platforms to meddle in the 2016 election.

The preview of the act:

  • "Amending the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002's definition of electioneering communication to include paid Internet and digital advertisements. Currently only broadcast television, radio, cable and satellite communications are included."
  • "Requiring digital platforms to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications it sells above specific thresholds."
  • "The file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contract information of the purchaser."
  • "Requiring online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate."

Be smart: The tech giants won't resist all legislation — they know that's not tenable in this environment. So they'll work to shape the proposals to give Congress a win, with a minimal hit to the bottom line.

P.S. Bite of the day ... Former Google Ventures CEO Bill Maris, who now runs a San Diego-area V.C. firm called Section 32, said yesterday during a Wall Street Journal tech conference: "It wouldn't surprise me if the sun is setting on the golden age of Silicon Valley."

  • Axios' Dan Primack writes that Maris added that he also wouldn't be surprised if federal regulators try breaking up tech giants like Google or Facebook, saying that such companies "are more powerful than AT&T ever was."
Featured

The background on Trump's Clinton tweet

Bill Frakes, Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Matt Rourke / AP

President Trump singled out Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration Thursday for their involvement in a controversial Russian uranium deal, calling it "the biggest story that Fake Media doesn't want to follow." The story centers on a the 2010 deal approved by the Obama administration that gave Russia control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the U.S.

Why it matters: The New York Times later reported that the Clinton Foundation had received donations from leaders involved in the uranium deal, and The Hill reported this week that the Obama administration had signed off on it even though the FBI had evidence that Russia had used bribery and extortion to expand Moscow's atomic energy footprint in the United States.

What to watch: There was no evidence that Clinton personally got involved in the deal, as the Washington Post pointed out last year, despite Trump's repeated claims that she did. But Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley says he's asking the agencies involved in the deal whether they knew about the criminal probe. That's the critical question in the latest story.

The Uranium One deal

The Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom, took control of the Canadian company Uranium One, which had uranium-mining stakes that stretched from Central Asia to the American West. The deal made Rosatom one of the world's largest uranium producers, per NYT, and brought Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of becoming one of the world's major atomic energy players.

Where things get complicated

The Clintons' involvement

  • A 2015 story by the New York Times' Jo Becker and Mike McIntire revealed that leaders of the Canadian mining industry that built, financed, and eventually made the sale of what would become Uranium One to Russia have been major donors to the Clinton Foundation.
  • And since uranium is considered a "strategic asset with implications for national security," the deal needed approval from several U.S. government agencies. Becker and McIntire note that the State Department, then run by Hillary Clinton, was among the agencies that signed off on the sale.
  • Canadian records show that as Moscow gradually took over Uranium One from 2009-2013, Uranium One's chairman, among others with ties to the company, used his family foundation to make a series of donations to the Clinton Foundation, totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite Hillary Clinton being under a White House agreement to publicly identify all donors.
  • In June 2010, Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 to speak in Moscow, the same month the Rosatom deal went through. The money came from a Russian investment bank with ties to the Kremlin.
  • The Clintons' defense: Brian Fallon, then a spokesman for Hillary's Clinton's initial presidential campaign, said there was no evidence supporting the theory that she, as secretary of state, helped support the interests of donors to the Clinton Foundation. He also noted that multiple U.S. agencies, as well as the Canadian government, had signed off on the uranium deal.

The Obama administration's involvement

  • A report this week by The Hill's John Solomon and Alison Spann says the FBI had evidence as early as 2009 that Russia had used bribery, kickbacks, and extortion to get a stake in the U.S. atomic energy industry — but the Obama administration allowed the deal to move forward anyway. The Justice Department kept investigating for four more years.
  • Why it matters: "The Russians were compromising American contractors in the nuclear industry with kickbacks and extortion threats, all of which raised legitimate national security concerns. And none of that evidence got aired before the Obama administration made those decisions," a person who worked on the case told The Hill.

Sen. Chuck Grassley's current probe

  • Grassley opened an investigation this month into potential "conflicts of interest" for Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration regarding the deal.
  • On Wednesday, Grassley released a series of letters that he sent to 10 federal agencies last week asking whether the Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS), which approved the transaction, was aware of the FBI probe. Note that the committee included then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  • In the letters, Grassley wrote that he's "not convinced" by previous "assurances" that there were no unresolved national security concerns.
  • Grassley's bottom line: "The fact that Rosatom subsidiaries in the United States were under criminal investigation as a result of a U.S. intelligence operation apparently around the time CFIUS approved the Uranium One/Rosatom transaction raises questions about whether that information factored into CFIUS' decision to approve the transaction," he wrote.

Go deeper:

Featured

Republican senators ask McConnell to open Senate 24/7

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Nine Republican senators have signed a letter to Mitch McConnell calling on him to "turn the Senate on full time, 24/7, to advance the president's agenda." The senators write that "perversion of Senate rules" by Democrats, "designed to imperil" Trump's agenda, necessitates the step.
This comes after McConnell told Senate Republicans that he planned to keep them working more Fridays and weekends. It shows the pent up frustration Republicans are feeling after a series of legislative setbacks.
It's an inconvenient reality, however, that several GOP senators, including Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst from Iowa, have been holding up EPA nominees to get their way on biofuels policy.

The letter

Dear Leader McConnell:

The 115th Congress is being disrupted by sustained, partisan obstruction. We believe our conference must be willing to change how the Senate operates both by tradition and by rule.

We appreciate your acknowledging our concerns and applaud your plan to work nights and weekends when necessary to overcome this gridlock. You have our full support to turn the Senate on full time, 24/7, to advance the president's agenda, including a meaningful health care solution, bold changes to our tax code, and funding the government by year's end.

As you know, one glaring example of this unprecedented obstruction is the minority party's perversion of Senate rules to undercut the confirmation process of the administration's nominees and judicial appointments. When new presidents are elected, they have always been given an opportunity to put their team in place in short order. Historically, this is not just a common courtesy, it is an expectation of Americans to have a seamless transition of power resulting in a functioning federal government.

It is abundantly clear that the tactics employed by the minority are designed to imperil the new administration and its agenda. Overcoming this obstruction will require a real commitment on our part. An aggressive work calendar, as you have proposed, which should include nights and weekends, will enable administration and judicial nominees to be confirmed more quickly.

You have our pledge to be available for voting day and night and we offer our time to preside over the Senate when necessary to keep us on track. Given the unprecedented obstruction by our colleagues across the aisle, we hope you will also take a renewed look at the rules governing executive branch nominations.

Our conference should always remember that we are fighting for hardworking Americans. In their daily lives, when there is work to be done – whether on assembly lines, in the fields of family farms, fishing in our bountiful waters, or standing in harm's way – everyday Americans do what it takes to get the job done. We owe them the same unrelenting effort in the job they gave us to do.

The senators: Daines, Ernst, Heller, Johnson, Kennedy, Perdue, Rounds, Strange, Wicker

Featured

Don’t rush to judgment on Alexander-Murray

Alexander and Murray may have another chance in December. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Yes, the Senate's bipartisan Affordable Care Act bill ran into some political roadblocks yesterday. The White House said President Trump, who had taken several positions over the course of the day, is against it. House Speaker Paul Ryan is also against it. And conservatives are against it.

Why it doesn't matter: The story of the Alexander-Murray bill likely won't be over until December, when Congress has to take care of several must-pass bills, in negotiations where Democrats have a lot of leverage.

  • The December agenda already includes funding the government and raising the debt ceiling — must-pass items that can only pass with a lot of Democratic votes, just like Alexander-Murray.
  • If Alexander-Murray doesn't pass before then, it's pretty easy to see Democratic leaders insisting on some form of Affordable Care Act stabilization as part of the end-of-year package. And this bill, or something close to it, is likely the best Republicans are going to get.
  • As one senior GOP aide told to my colleague Caitlin Owens: "At some point McConnell and Ryan will need this."

The catch: The Alexander-Murray bill would guarantee funding for the ACA's cost-sharing subsidies, but it doesn't provide for retroactive payments. So if the bill did pass in December, insurers wouldn't get any help with the financial hit they'll take between now and then. And those losses alone could total $1 billion.

In the meantime, look for Alexander and Murray to roll out a new, bipartisan roster of cosponsors today, along with the official introduction of their bill.