Feb 26, 2019

Axios AM

📺 The L.A. Times had the scoop this morning: Our second season on HBO includes eight half-hour episodes — four this spring and four this fall — and four more specials that will air as big news breaks.

  • Matthew O’Neill (HBO’s "Baghdad ER" and "China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province") and Perri Peltz (HBO’s "Warning: This Drug May Kill You" and "Remembering the Artist Robert De Niro, Sr.") return to direct and produce.
1 big thing: One place Mueller never comes up

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

At a half-dozen events 2020 candidates held in Iowa over the weekend, attendees barely mentioned President Trump — and not a single person asked about Robert Mueller’s investigation or Russia, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports.

  • Instead, most of the questions were about policies — most often health care, climate and immigration.
  • The attendees at a soup dinner, meet-and-greets, and town halls asked hard-hitting questions about biofuels, money in politics, taxing the wealthy, preventive health care, arts in education, immigration reform, the environment, abolishing the filibuster rule in the Senate, and foreign policy.

Why it matters: Voters are giving the Democrats space to build specific brands based on their own visions and proposals.

  • At least in the first caucus state, the most active Democrats don't seem to be driven by personalities, polls or media portrayals.
  • So the field isn't a big anti-Trump chorus. It's a collection of very different voices — with the real chance for one to break out by rising to the moment.

In a bright-blue, rented Hyundai Tucson, Axios traveled 264 miles and covered six events over three days.

  • The crowds ranged from the 400+ people Sen. Kamala Harris drew at the state Capitol, to an eight-person roundtable Julián Castro held with corn growers in Paulina, Iowa.
  • If people brought up Trump — which happened once at a Castro event and once at a Harris town hall — they simply asked: How are you going to beat him?

On health care, some of the questions were more revealing than the candidates' answers, because they gave a glimpse into what's really plaguing Americans.

  • One woman asked Castro about preventive health care, telling him that when she attended her 45th class reunion recently, she "noticed a lot of people didn’t show up because they were dead. And a lot of the others were very unhealthy."
  • Castro responded: "We need to begin by empowering people to make more healthy choices."

A third candidate, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, relies on a lot of data and numbers, but pushed a message of uniting the country.

  • Recognizing he was in Trump country while speaking with a group of 20 people in Carroll, Iowa, Hickenlooper started by saying: "There’s a lot President Trump has done that I don’t disagree with."

Between the lines: All the candidates addressed Iowans’ eagerness to move past the political chaos they feel we’re in. Harris said, to a standing ovation:

  • "This moment will pass. And years from now our children and grandchildren and others will look at us … and they will ask us: 'Where were you?'"
2. Cohen to accuse Trump of racism

During congressional testimony this week, Michael Cohen will say he witnessed "lies, racism and cheating" during his decade of working behind the scenes with President Trump, The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription).

  • Appearing tomorrow before the House Oversight Committee, "Cohen also will make public some of Mr. Trump’s private financial statements and allege that Mr. Trump at times inflated or deflated his net worth for business and personal purposes, including avoiding paying property taxes."
  • "Cohen is expected to recount racist remarks Mr. Trump allegedly made to him, including instances in which Mr. Trump allegedly questioned the intelligence of African-Americans and criticized their lifestyle choices."
3. Pompeo translates Trump
Pompeo and Trump during a Cabinet meeting in July (Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images)

Besides the usual hand-holding and deal-making of international diplomacy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo does a lot of explaining to skittish allies, Mattathias Schwartz writes in a nine-page profile for the N.Y. Times Magazine:

It has often fallen to Pompeo to take Trump's shifting foreign-policy instincts and weave them together into something legible, defensible and sometimes even coherent, all without angering a president who is reputed to interpret disagreement as a form of disloyalty. Trump's tweets, abrupt changes of mind and penchant for creating staff turmoil combine to make this a Sisyphean endeavor.
And yet Pompeo has tenaciously kept on rolling this particular boulder. You can look at most every place where Trump has made a lasting impact on United States foreign policy and find Pompeo not far away: withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal; imposing sanctions against the governments of Iran and Venezuela; offering kind words for autocrats in Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Pompeo is the primary architect of Trump’s continuing negotiations over the nuclear arsenal controlled by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
In the process, he seems to have retained Trump's loyalty, even as critics of the administration ... credit him with having reined in the president's instinctive isolationism.

Worthy of your time.

4. Pic du jour: The next Rahm
Photo: E. Jason Wambgans/Chicago Tribune

Chicago voters today pick from largest field of mayoral candidates in the Windy City's 181-year history — a record 14 contenders, per the Chicago Tribune.

  • If no candidate eclipses 50%, a high likelihood, "the top two finishers will move on to an April 2 runoff to determine who will succeed eight-year incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel."
  • "The record for the most candidates before this year dates to 1897, when Democrat Carter Harrison Jr. handily defeated seven other contenders to follow in his father’s footsteps as mayor. The 1977 special primary following the death of Mayor Richard J. Daley saw a total of nine candidates run."
5. Lead of the day
Photo: Japan's TBS TV via AP

"SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — It's unclear whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is going to give up his nukes anytime soon, and the same could probably be said for his cigarettes."

  • Kim, a habitual smoker, took a pre-dawn smoke break at a train station in China, just before arriving in Vietnam for his summit with President Trump.
Kim's motorcade in Hanoi today (Susan Walsh/AP)
6. 🎧 What we're listening to: Turning the tables on Reid Hoffman
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Long before the techlash, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman presciently predicted that "social networks do best when they tap into one of the seven deadly sins" (listed on the monitor above).

  • In a "Turn the Tables" episode of Hoffman's Masters of Scale podcast, he's interviewed about his theories of human nature.
  • Why it matters, from Axios' Rameez Tase, vice president of audience development and insights: We now better understand psychological triggers that Big Tech employs to manipulate users.

The art of hooking users — once celebrated across Silicon Valley — is now viewed by some with skepticism.

Our thought bubble: Fake news and the chaos of social media are beginning to wear on users' trust, which could make it harder for social networks to continue scaling.

7. One of the year's biggest issues: Congress dives into privacy

Lawmakers who'll write national privacy law will tip their hands beginning today, Axios' David McCabe writes.

  • Why it matters: Industry groups have been pushing Congress to take action that would override a growing number of state privacy laws, led by regulations set to go into effect in California next year.

What to watch at a House Energy and Commerce hearing today and a Senate Commerce Committee hearing tomorrow:

  • The privacy debate has centered on Silicon Valley and Facebook. Will lawmakers continue that, or more aggressively question other industries — like retailing and DNA testing — that also produce sensitive consumer data?
8. New approach to slavery reparations
Screenshot via CNN

"Several Democratic presidential candidates are embracing reparations for the descendants of slaves — but not in the traditional sense," AP's Errin Haines Whack writes:

  • What's new: "Over the past week, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro spoke of the need for the U.S. government to reckon with and make up for centuries of stolen labor and legal oppression."
  • Why it matters: "[I]nstead of backing the direct compensation of African-Americans for the legacy of slavery, the Democratic candidates are talking about using tax credits and other subsidies."

The proposals: "Harris has proposed monthly payments to qualified citizens of any race in the form of a tax credit. Warren has called for universal child care that would guarantee the benefit from birth until a child enters school."

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, asked about the issue at a CNN town hall last night, didn't directly answer.
9. Exclusive: Kasich to contradict Trump on climate

Republicans should stop denying humans’ impact on climate change and start putting forth policies to address it, former Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich tells Axios' Amy Harder ahead of a speech tonight in British Columbia, Canada.

  • What's new: Kasich revealed the speech's message in an interview: "This is like a call to arms. Let's have conservatives have a discussion instead of being in denial that this is a problem. You can’t just be a science denier."
  • Why it matters: Kasich is a potential 2020 opponent of President Trump — and he represents the leading edge of a Republican Party slowly evolving away from a decade-long position denying that climate change is a real problem.

Flashback: Kasich said during the 2016 GOP primary that the overall human impact on climate change is unclear.

  • When presented with those comments, Kasich responded: "Yeah, well you know what, we all evolve."
  • He said his evolution on climate change is similar to that of his shifted position on guns after the Parkland shooting.

Go deeper.

10 1 fun thing: Supreme Court humor

The Supreme Court said in an unsigned opinion that a federal court can't count the vote of a judge who died before a decision was issued, per AP.

  • The justices wrote: "[F]ederal judges are appointed for life, not for eternity."