Sep 8, 2018

Axios AM

☕️ Good Saturday morning.

Situational awareness ... Bloomberg: "Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether anyone in the Trump Organization violated campaign-finance laws, in a follow-up to their conviction last month of Michael Cohen."

1 big thing: 60 days of rage
Left: Trump on Air Force One yesterday (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images). Right: Obama at the University of Illinois in Urbana (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Today is exactly 60 days till midterms. Yesterday's personal, venomous face-off between President Obama (who went after his successor by name in Illinois) and President Trump (who attacked Bob Woodward and threatened the New York Times aboard Air Force One) said it all about the coming fall.

  • Republican lawmakers would love to talk about the growing economy.
  • House Democrats have a high-minded closing argument, "For the People."

Good luck breaking through with either of those. Instead, this is your fall foretold:

Obama, launching an aggressive schedule of fall campaign travel (continuing in Orange County, Calif., today and Cleveland on Thursday):

  • "[I]n the end, the threat to our democracy doesn't just come from Donald Trump or the current batch of Republicans in Congress or the Koch Brothers and their lobbyists, or too much compromise from Democrats, or Russian hacking. The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference."
  • "The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism."

Trump, responding to Obama at a fundraiser in Fargo, N.D.:

  • "'I'm sorry — I watched it, but I fell asleep. [Laughter] I found he's very good — very good for sleeping."
  • "He was trying to take credit for this incredible thing that's happening to our country."

A little story: On Wednesday afternoon, Republican congressional leaders met with Trump in the Roosevelt Room. They were cranky and complaining — the House leaders know they're likely to be in the minority come January, helped along by his tariffs and unpopularity. POTUS shared their mood: This was Woodward-anonymous week.

  • But then White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow whipped out a chart and showed it to Trump.
  • It was the just-published August edition of a manufacturing index from the Institute for Supply Management, pointing to "the highest expansion in factory activity since May of 2004," per Trading Economics.
Trading Economics

The president loves charts, and so do members of Congress. He was happier. The mood brightened, and the meeting ended on a better note.

  • But what are the chances of that translating to the campaign trail? Zero-ish.

Be smart: Despite relative prosperity in the nation and peace in the world, both sides expect a slash-and-burn fall — focused on what they see as the evil intent of the other side, and aimed at inflaming their own voters.

Like old times: Obama makes a campaign stop at Caffe Paradiso in Urbana, Ill., yesterday. (AP Photo/Sara Burnett)
2. Same message, 45 years later
Left: John Dean testifies in 1973 (Bettmann Archive). Right: John Dean testifies yesterday. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

John Dean, 34, fired as White House counsel by President Richard Nixon, was a dramatic witness for the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973.


16,511 days later, John Dean, 79, returned to the Senate as a Democratic witness on the closing day of Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation hearing, predicting the most "pro-presidential powers" justices in modern history.

I asked Michael Beschloss — whose 11-years-in-the-making book, "Presidents of War," is out Oct. 9 — about this reminder that history can rhyme:

"As Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, Dean was the eager tool of Nixon’s imperial Presidency, looking for ways to help Nixon illicitly expand his power. Then, before the Senate Watergate committee in the summer of 1973, ... Dean became the witness who unveiled the extent of Nixon’s secret, potentially criminal acts.
"Now, almost a half century later, Dean is back testifying before the Senate with his experience having helped to choose Nixon’s Supreme Court Justices and his special sensitivity to how dangerous it is for a President to be allowed to grab too much power."
3. Watergate echoes get louder
How Rachel Maddow's show might have looked c. 1973 (UPI via Getty Images)

"The White House seethes with intrigue and backstabbing as aides hunt for the anonymous Deep (state) Throat among them. A president feels besieged by tormentors — Bob Woodward is driving him crazy — so he tends his version of an enemies list, wondering aloud if he should rid himself of his attorney general or the special prosecutor or both," AP's Cal Woodard and Nancy Benac write:

  • "For months, the Trump administration and its scandals have carried whiffs of Watergate and drawn comparisons to the characters and crimes of the Nixon era. But this week, history did not just repeat itself, it climbed out of the dustbin and returned in the flesh."

"Nearly every element in Trump's trouble has a Watergate parallel":

  • "Special prosecutor Robert Mueller is leading an independent investigation sparked by a break-in at the Democratic National Committee, the same target that opened the Watergate can of worms, though this time the burglary was digital and linked to Moscow, not the Oval Office."

Tim Naftali, a New York University historian who directed the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum:

  • "This is a president who says things publicly that we know from the tapes that Nixon said privately."
Bonus: Cover du jour
Courtesy N.Y. Post
4. Jobs boom in health care
Expand chart
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The health care industry has added more than 300,000 jobs in the past year, including 33,200 in August, and now employs almost 16.1 million people, Axios health care business reporter Bob Herman reports.

  • The big picture: Health care continues to hire thousands of people per week as more Americans age into Medicare and as demand for home health grows. The catch: The country's health care spending also will continue to rise to pay for those jobs.
5. A toke in a T-shirt
Joe Rogan podcast

Tesla's stock "sank to near its lowest point for the year ... after the electric-car maker lost more executives and Chief Executive Elon Musk appeared to smoke marijuana during an interview streamed on the web," The Wall Street Journal's Tim Higgins reports (subscription):

  • "Musk’s actions in a late-night interview with comedian Joe Rogan — drinking whiskey and revealing a personal side of himself — was another example of the CEO’s unorthodox style that has won him legions of fans."
  • "But some analysts and investors say his erratic behavior is creating distractions for the company and its employees."

On the podcast, Musk says: "So it that a joint? Or is it a cigar?"

  • Rogan: "It's marijuana inside of ... tobacco ... You probably can't because of stockholders, right?"
  • Musk: "I mean, it's legal, right?"
  • Rogan: "It's totally legal. ... It's tobacco and marijuana in there. That's all it is. "
  • [Musk takes a sip of what the host says is whiskey.]

Worthy of your time: The podcast's real trip is a fascinating conversation about a future driven by artificial intelligence.

Breaking: Transatlantic Bannon

Shot: "The most powerful figure in Italy’s new populist government signed up [yesterday] with Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, to help bring about a continentwide populist takeover during European Parliamentary elections next spring," N.Y. Times Rome bureau chief Jason Horowitz writes.

  • "Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister and the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, has joined The Movement, a group founded by Mr. Bannon, the minister’s spokeswoman confirmed."

Chaser: One America News Network will announce today that it will premiere Bannon's documentary, "Trump @War," on Wednesday during a two-hour prime-time block beginning at 8 p.m. ET. The film will repeat periodically on OAN.

6. 1 🎵 thing: McCartney plays Grand Central
Paul McCartney in August with head writer Lauren Greenberg during promo for "Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney Live From Liverpool" (Terence Patrick/CBS via Getty Images)

Commuters with tickets to ride out of New York's Grand Central Station last evening heard Paul McCartney, 76, take over a corner of the majestic hub for a sweaty, dancing crowd, AP's David Bauder writes:

  • "Only invited guests including Jon Bon Jovi, Meryl Streep, Amy Schumer, Kate Moss and Steve Buscemi were let behind black curtains to see the stage, but everyone could hear a 24-song set that spanned more than 50 years of music."
  • "It was a stunt to promote a new album called 'Egypt Station.' McCartney said he wondered 'what's the coolest station we could think of?' and settled on the Manhattan landmark."

"The band set up under a chandelier and in front of a giant clock, just off the 42nd Street entrance."

  • The former Beatle performed familiar hits like "Let it Be," ''Can't Buy Me Love," ''A Hard Day's Night" and "Lady Madonna." He also dug deeper into his songbook for "I've Got a Feeling," ''Hi Hi Hi" and "1985."

Standing in the middle of the audience with an acoustic guitar for one song, McCartney flubbed the words to "Blackbird" twice, starting over both times.

  • "Surrounding fans ... knew all the lyrics and coaxed him on."
  • "I know this song," he said in frustration. "I wrote it!"

Thanks for reading. See you all weekend on