West Wing wonders, can Kelly fix 'culture problem'? - Axios
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West Wing wonders, can Kelly fix 'culture problem'?

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General John Kelly starts Monday as the new White House Chief of Staff. After getting sworn in first thing in the morning, and sitting through his first cabinet meeting, he'll begin making his rounds in the West Wing.

West Wingers are excited and nervous about what his arrival means, but one told me it won't be enough for Kelly to fix processes and lines of authority; he needs to change the culture. For six months, White House officials have leaked unflattering anecdotes about the President and planted hit pieces on their colleagues. Officials wander freely in and out of the Oval, and some, like Omarosa, never worried about protocol, and used their personal relationships with Trump to subvert Reince's authority.

"We've got a culture problem right now," a White House official tells me. "Now you have Kelly come into this. Is it a new power center or someone without a dog in the fight? Is that level of respect that he comes in with, what it takes to have some kind of calming presence in the West Wing? Reince didn't have the credibility to broker peace between anybody."

Our big questions

  • Does Trump let Kelly be a true gatekeeper, in the tradition of effective chiefs of staff? I.e. does all information flow through Kelly, or do certain officials, such as Anthony Scaramucci, Jared and Ivanka, continue to answer only to the President?
  • Can Kelly exert any influence whatsoever over Trump's behavior? Can he stop his most egregious actions — such as his unrelenting attacks on the Department of Justice and the Intelligence Community?
  • How will Kelly rearrange West Wing staff and which new people will he bring inside? I'm told he'll appoint into a senior position Kirstjen Nielsen, his Chief of Staff from the Department of Homeland Security. Several White House officials have already clashed with Nielsen and say she's going to be a "big problem" if she comes in. A DHS spokesman, David Lapan, responded on Nielsen's behalf: "Kirstjen has advocated strongly and professionally on behalf of the Department and Secretary Kelly."
  • Under Kelly, do factional enemies in the West Wing put aside their hatreds and, while they'll never agree on policy, at least agree to stop trying to annihilate each other?
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Paul Ryan jabs Trump over tweets, staff turnover

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, hugs Speaker Ryan after he spoke last night. Photo: Julie Jacobson / AP

Speaker Paul Ryan poked fun at Trump during last night's 72nd annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation white-tie dinner, which always draws top politicians, and includes a comedy routine for New York elite (via AP and NYT):

  • "Enough with the applause ... You sound like the Cabinet when Donald Trump walks into the room."
  • "I don't think I've seen this many New York liberals, this many Wall Street CEOs in one room since my last visit to the White House."

More from Ryan

  • "I know why Chuck [Schumer] has been so hard on President Trump. It's not ideological; Chuck is just mad he lost his top donor."
  • On Trump's remarks to the dinner last year: "Some said it was unbecoming of a public figure and they said that his comments were offensive. Well, thank God he's learned his lesson."
  • "The truth is, the press absolutely misunderstands and never records the big accomplishments of the White House ... Look at all the new jobs the president has created — just among the White House staff."
  • "Every morning I wake up in my office and I scroll through Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend I didn't see later on."
  • "Every afternoon former Speaker John Boehner calls me up, not to give advice, just to laugh."
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The moral voice of Trump's White House

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks yesterday in the Brady Press Briefing Room.Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Sexual abuse in Hollywood. Social media abuse in Silicon Valley. Political abuse in the White House. Dive into Twitter for a few minutes, and these can feel like the worst of times. So everyone, and the GOP establishment in particular, seems hungry for moral clarity.

White House aides, beaten down by criticism from friends and beleaguered by the words and actions of the boss, got a rare moral boost from Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly as he offered a highly emotional and highly personal explanation/defense of Trump's outreach to families who lost young men in Niger.

  • Per Jonathan Swan, some White House aides teared up as Kelly described, during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room, what it was like for a fallen soldier to return home. Other aides stood watching him on TV, in stunned silence.
  • "Kelly has managed to make himself the moral core of the Trump administration," a top White House official told us. "He just has so much credibility right now ... And he's in the best possible position, because he doesn't have to go out there and face the press every day. If he picks his spots he is now an extraordinarily credible and effective spokesperson on issues that need some moral clarity to them."
  • Left unspoken: Trump rarely leaves staff feeling this way.
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Five other times Twitter pledged to crack down on abuse

It's not the first time Twitter has pledged to crack down on abuse. Photo: Matt Rourke / AP

The problem with Twitter's latest pledge to keep users safe on the platform isn't the words it used. It's the fact that it has done this so many times before

Do the math: This is at least the sixth time in the last four years that Twitter has pledged to crack down on abuse.

After Axios wrote about Twitter's latest crackdown on Thursday, writer Chuq Von Rospach said, "For the sixth time by my count…"

Von Rospach said he initially just made up a number. Then he counted them.

Here are five other times in recent years that the company has said it was cracking down:

Twitter's response: Asked why Twitter should be believed, a spokesman acknowledged "that's a fair question" and added the following:

Too many times we've said we'd do better and have promised more transparency but have fallen short delivering on them. However, we've never publicly opened up our internal roadmap around safety like this before. Now — for the first time — everyone can see exactly what updates we have planned and where we're headed, and most importantly, hold us accountable for delivering on those specific promises. We'll be giving real-time updates on these efforts to give people a better understanding not only of what these changes are but the process involved. Ultimately our hope is that this new level of openness will help build trust as we work to make Twitter safer place.
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CIA contradicts Pompeo on Russian interference

CIA Director Mike Pompeo speaks during the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) National Security Summit Thursday. Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

After CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Thursday the intelligence community had determined that "Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election," a CIA spokesman told The Washington Post the agency had made no such determination. Ryan Trapani, the spokesman, said the CIA had no new conclusions since its January assessment, which found Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election, but not whether it was successful.

Why it matters: Pompeo's statement won't reassure the intelligence community that their assessments will be trusted and given due attention, especially after Trump has indicated he doesn't believe the conclusions on Russian interference.

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The (slowly) changing face of VC's next generation

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Venture capital is well-known to be dominated by white men, causing many of the industry's few people of color to raise their own funds.

  • Only 2% of senior venture investors are black or Latino, per a 2015 analysis by Social Capital.

Why it matters: Like the broader tech industry, venture capital has been reckoning in recent years with its lack of racial diversity. But the pace of change has been glacial, mirroring its better-documented issues with gender diversity.

Investors of color going independent:

  • "I just wanted to be able to bring every single piece of me into the office every day," Cross Culture Ventures co-founder Marlon Nichols, who was previously at Intel Capital, explains. This has meant both the ability to focus on sectors and startups he and his partner see as promising, plus establishing their own culture and policies.
  • "It was a means to an end to get capital to certain people," says Arlan Hamilton of her decision to form Backstage Capital.
  • "The cost to start a fund has come way down," Precursor Ventures founder Charles Hudson says. "Now if you can raise $10 million, you could be a full-time VC – you won't make a ton of money but you can do it."

Conventional wisdom: Most still agree that venture capital remains an apprenticeship business, so learning the ropes – and building out personal networks – by working at an established firm is still valuable (and, to some, even necessary).

  • But: Getting into and moving up the ladder at existing funds remains particularly challenging for women and people of color. Firms still use signals like alma maters and experience at particular organizations when making hiring decisions, as former Venrock vice president Richard Kerby has written. It becomes circular, and exclusionary.
  • The gap between underrepresented minorities at the junior and senior levels also exposes the venture industry's lack of true commitment to diversity. "From what I hear from a lot of my friends, they're constantly being passed over," says Unshackled Ventures associate Maria Salamanca.

Missing conversation: As is the case in the broader tech industry, there's a lack of focus on how various underrepresented demographics overlap, multiple women of color in VC tell Axios. "Even within the underrepresented set, women have it more difficult than men in general," says Arlan Hamilton, adding that she's focusing more and more of her investment into companies led by women of color.

  • Women only make up on 7% of decision makers at VC firms, according to data Axios recently compiled. One caveat is that this data only included funds that had raised at least $100 million, while the recent boom in small, seed-stage funds has created more opportunities for venture's underrepresented demographics. For example, 21% of all micro-VC funds raised in the past three years were founded by women, according to Crunchbase.
Follow the money: Michael Kim is the founder of Cendana Capital, which invests in other venture capital funds. He says that the racial and gender demographics of startups are changing, and that it's imperative for VC firms to keep up. "VC firms have to be able to work with [minority and women-led startups] and have them part of their networks," he explains. "So if traditional funds aren't attracting the best startups, then LPs have to ask what are the funds not doing."

Go deeper:

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New player in solar trade fight: Sean Hannity

Hannity interviews Trump. Screengrab via YouTube

As the White House tariff decision looms, Fox News personality and radio host Sean Hannity has come out against proposals for new penalties on imported solar panel equipment.

Why it matters: Hannity is friends with President Trump, and has a big platform.

The White House will make the final decision on potential new import restrictions at some point after next month's recommendations from the U.S. International Trade Commission, which concluded in September that low-cost imports from Asia and elsewhere are harming U.S. manufacturers.

Hannity cut a radio ad that ran in South Carolina over the past two weeks that calls the tariff petition by two financially distressed panel-makers an attempt to "manipulate" trade laws, and a "bailout" that would increase prices by "government mandate."

  • "Now that the Obama gravy train has run dry, well now they want President Trump to also stick you with the bill for their bankrupt businesses," Hannity says in the spot. "Taxpayers should not have to bail out one foreign-owned company only for their foreign financiers to get another payout."

One level deeper: The spot was commissioned by the group Solar Powers America. The group, a relatively new entrant in the renewables advocacy world, is focusing on topics including the benefits of solar energy in southeastern states, according to Bret Sowers, a board member.

Hannity was compensated for the ad, but Sowers did not disclose the amount of the payment or the overall cost of the buy. It was targeted around Trump's visit to South Carolina a few days ago.

  • "Sean Hannity is a well-respected voice in the south," Sowers, an executive with the South Carolina-based solar developer Southern Current, told Axios on Thursday. "We were pleased with it and we hope to work with Sean and others to continue educating the public on this trade issue," he said.

"The solar industry itself needs to be working with conservatives, needs to be working with both sides of the aisle," Sowers said.

Why you might be hearing about it: The spot achieved wider circulation when the Solar Energy Industries Association—a trade group that fears tariffs would spike costs for solar power projects enough to badly hinder growth—circulated it via Twitter and YouTube on Tuesday.

A spokesman for SEIA said: "We were sent the audio via email, and we thought the message was so great that we put it to video and shared it on social media. Sean Hannity is a highly-influential conservative voice and we are thrilled to have him speaking on behalf of American solar workers."

Big picture: The ad underscores how the tariff petition has emerged as one of the most intense, closely watched energy policy battles of the Trump era. Solar Powers America is also part of U.S. Made Solar, one of the industry coalitions fighting new tariffs via ads on Fox News and other steps.

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Facebook's new subscription efforts hit a roadblock with Apple

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Facebook announced Thursday that it will begin testing a feature within Instant Articles that would help publishers get people to sign up for subscriptions to their sites. But the test will only roll out on Android devices at first because Facebook and Apple are still negotiating a revenue agreement — which is being complicated by Apple's rules on its partners' subscription services.

Why it matters: It's unclear, at this point, if and when Facebook will test the subscription feature on iPhones if it can't come to an agreement with Apple. For now, publishers will only be able to take advantage of the subscription tool test on Android.

Driving the news: Apple's longstanding rule that it takes a 30% revenue cut from partners when a user purchases a subscription within an iPhone app is complicating Facebook's commitment to giving 100% of subscription revenue to publishers.

" I trust they'll get their priorities straight soon enough," says Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, the premium publishers association. "Everyone is watching them."

Apple is conflicted because the company's policy is to take 30% of all subscription revenue from "in-app" sales in the first year of a user's subscription (15% in years that follow). Although Facebook will take people outside of the app to subscribe to a publishers' site, the transaction begins within Facebook's app. Apple's 30% rule has affected its partnerships with other big companies, like Amazon and Microsoft.

Aside from the Apple saga, Facebook has revealed new information about their subscription program that's being tested on Android:

  • Here are the 10 test partners Facebook is working with: Bild, The Boston Globe, The Economist, Hearst (The Houston Chronicle and The San Francisco Chronicle), La Repubblica, Le Parisien, Spiegel, The Telegraph, tronc (The Baltimore Sun, The Los Angeles Times, and The San Diego Union-Tribune), and The Washington Post.
  • The feature will support both metered models: It will start with a uniform meter at 10 articles and test variations from there, plus “freemium" models. That's where the publisher controls which articles are locked, similarly to the way Google is working with publishers to create a "flexible sampling" subscription model.
  • How users are prompted: When someone who isn't yet a subscriber to a publication encounters a paywall within Instant Articles, they will be prompted to subscribe for full access to that publisher's content.
  • Publishers keep the cash and do the transaction: If a person subscribes, the transaction will take place on the publisher's website and the publisher will process the payment directly and keep 100% of the revenue.The publisher has direct access and full control over setting pricing and owning subscriber data.
  • What users get: The subscriptions purchased through Facebook include full access to a publisher's site and apps. A user who is already a subscriber to a publication in the test can authenticate that subscription within Instant Articles in order to get full access to that publisher's articles.
  • Facebook will try to hook subscribers quickly: It will be testing other units to help publishers drive additional subscriptions before a person might hit the paywall. It will also test a "Subscribe" button that will replace the "Like" button on the top right corner of an article.
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Senate largely ignoring Trump's flip-flopping on health care

The Senate isn't taking President Trump's constantly-changing position on the health care bill very seriously. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

President Trump keeps flip-flopping on whether he supports a bipartisan bill to stabilize health care markets. And it has created a weird dichotomy in the Senate: No one's taking his position on the bill very seriously at any given moment, even though it needs his support to pass and become law.

Bottom line: There's a lot of enthusiasm in the upper chamber for this bill, sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, and not much weight is being given to Trump's vacillating opinions.

"In this town, at this time, change seems to be the norm," Sen. Pat Roberts told me when asked if members take the president's position less seriously the more he changes his mind. "It is what it is. So we just work around it."

What's happening: At first, the president's flip from being supportive of the deal to tweeting that it's an "insurer bailout" seemed to rattle its prospects for passage. But on Thursday, Alexander and Murray pushed ahead, introducing the bill with 24 cosponsors. As the president's position continued to shift — seemingly by the hour — some senators were even cracking jokes about it.

  • At the beginning of my question on the president's changing positions, Sen. Johnny Isakson quipped: "Which one's he on now?" He told me that even with the president's shifting support of the bill, "I'm moving it ahead to try to get it in a position where if it's signed, it's a good law for Georgia."
  • When asked if Trump changing his mind so much made it hard to predict where he'll land on the bill, Sen. Jeff Flake said, "I think that's rather obvious."
  • "They just need to pass it during the 5 minutes he is supportive," one GOP lobbyist told me.
On a serious note: What Trump says right now isn't the most important thing, Sen. John Thune said: "In the end it's going to be what he does. And if he comes out actively, gets behind it, tries to help get votes for it, and then if he announces that he'll sign it, that sort of thing, I think those are the type of messages that will help bust it loose."
Yes, but: The Senate may be plowing ahead with its work on the bill, optimistic the president will be supportive when they need him, but the bill really can't become law without him — because of the obvious necessity that he sign it, but also because his support will likely mean a lot more to House Republicans. If Trump can take advantage of that, he really could have some leverage.
  • "What I would do if I were in his shoes is, I'd read it, and then I'd try to improve it," said Alexander, whom Trump called twice on Wednesday to offer encouragement.
  • "He's president of the United States and I take him seriously, and I'm a member of the Senate and he takes me seriously," Isakson said. "But the fact that he's vacillated some, that's the luxury you have when you're president."
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Before media firestorms, decades of assaults

One common trait shared by recent high-profile sexual assault scandals is that it took a major media event for many of the women to come forward with their stories. For some, the alleged assault happened decades ago.

How we collected the data: This visual is based on multiple press reports from other news organizations, all of which covered the alleged assaults in detail. To get more information on them, you can take a look at the underlying data and find the links to the news sources here.

Worth noting: Cosby, Ailes, O'Reilly, and Weinstein were all condemned — and to an extent, punished — once the allegations against them were brought to light. One month after Trump's Access Hollywood tape leaked and more than 20 women came forward with allegations of sexual assault, he was elected president.

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Senate passes budget, clearing hurdle for tax overhaul

Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The Senate passed a budget bill Thursday night, moving Republicans toward the big tax cuts they hope to pass through Congress late this year or early next year. Having cleared this hurdle, they'll only need a simple majority to pass the tax plan. Rand Paul was the lone Republican voting against the budget, contending it didn't include enough spending cuts.

What's next: It currently appears that the House (which already passed a budget) will vote on the Senate budget as a shortcut to the tax push, though that's not a done deal. If the House declines to do so, a compromise would have to be worked out in conference.