April 26, 2024

🥂 Happy Friday, and welcome to White House Correspondents' Association dinner weekend. Party guide by Axios' Mimi Montgomery and Sara Fischer.

  •  Smart Brevity™ count: 1,394 words ... 5 mins. Thanks to Noah Bressner for orchestrating. Copy edited by Bryan McBournie.

🦾 Breaking: Sam Altman of OpenAI and the CEOs of Nvidia, Microsoft and Alphabet are among tech leaders joining a new federal advisory board at the Department of Homeland Security, the AI Safety and Security Board, The Wall Street Journal reports.

1 big thing — Scoop: Biden's walkers

Left: President Biden walks to Marine One solo on Jan. 5. Right: He walks to the helicopter with aides on April 18. Photos: Chip Somodevilla, Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden has introduced a change to his White House departure and return routine: Instead of walking across the South Lawn to and from Marine One by himself, he's now often surrounded by aides.

  • Why it matters: With aides usually walking between Biden and the press' camera position outside the White House, the visual effect is to draw less attention to the 81-year-old's halting and stiff gait, Axios' Hans Nichols and Alex Thompson report.

Some Biden advisers have told Axios they're concerned that videos of Biden walking and shuffling alone — especially across the grass — have highlighted his age.

  • Weeks ago, the president told aides that he'd prefer a less formal approach, a White House official told Axios. He suggested that they walk with him.

White House staffers and reporters alike noticed the sudden change in Biden's walk routine beginning in mid-April, after more than three years in which he'd typically walked solo.

  • Senior aides — including deputy chiefs of staff Bruce Reed and Annie Tomasini, and close adviser Mike Donilon — are among those who've walked with the president across the lawn to and from the helicopter.
  • Since the change, some advisers think the images of Biden's walks to and from the helicopter are better, and they expect him to continue to have aides join him.

🧮 By the numbers: In March, Biden's five walks to and from Marine One at the White House were by himself, or with family members.

  • Starting April 16, Biden was joined by staff or lawmakers nine out of 10 times he walked to and from Marine One.

🖼️ The big picture: Biden's team has focused on changing voters' perceptions about his age in recent months.

  • The White House has taken steps to prevent the president from tripping, as he did last summer on a stage at the Air Force Academy.
  • Biden increasingly has worn shoes with extra support, including a pair of black Hoka sneakers.

Between the lines: His doctor has disclosed that the president suffers from "mild sensory peripheral neuropathy of the feet," which has contributed to his stiff gait.

  • His doctor declared Biden "fit for duty," and released far more information about his health than Donald Trump's team has revealed about the 77-year-old ex-president.

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2. 🏛️ Court probes assassinations and coups

Michael Dreeben, counselor to Special Counsel Jack Smith, right, argues before the Supreme Court yesterday during the Donald Trump presidential immunity hearing.
Michael Dreeben, counselor to special counsel Jack Smith argues before the Supreme Court yesterday during yesterday's "absolute immunity" hearing. Sketch: Dana Verkouteren via AP

Could a president really have political opponents assassinated or carry out a coup in the U.S. without facing a criminal trial?

  • That "absolute immunity" claim was what Donald Trump's lawyer argued before the Supreme Court. The justices appeared unwilling to go that far — but still seemed poised to hand the ex-president a partial victory, Axios' Zachary Basu writes.

📜 Why it matters: The immense gravity of the case weighed heavily on the high court yesterday, with justices across the ideological spectrum expressing fears of the new order they could unleash.

  • The immediate question is whether Trump will face trial in his Jan. 6 criminal case before the 2024 election. But the conservative-led court's decision will shape history well beyond November.
  • "We're writing a rule for the ages," Justice Neil Gorsuch observed.

For now, Trump seems likely to win at least a delay from the high court. Several justices expressed skepticism of the charges brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

The NYT headline: "Split court hints at some immunity for ex-presidents." The Washington Post headline: "High court poised to reject Trump's immunity claims."
Half full, half empty: Lead headlines of today's New York Times and Washington Post take different angles.

🔎 Zoom in: Liberal justices tested the limits of Trump lawyer D. John Sauer's immunity argument with a series of provocative hypotheticals.

  • "If the president decides that his rival is a corrupt person and he orders the military to assassinate him, is that within his official acts for which he can get immunity?" Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked.
  • "How about if the president orders the military to stage a coup?" asked Justice Elena Kagan.

In both scenarios, Sauer responded that it depends on the circumstances — but that they could well be "official acts" protected by presidential immunity.

3. 🎓 USC ceremony shock

Protesters at USC are detained by LAPD officers who were trying to clear the campus during a demonstration against the war in Gaza.
Protesters at USC are detained by LAPD officers who were trying to clear the campus during a demonstration against the war in Gaza on Wednesday. Photo: Wally Skalij/L.A. Times via Getty Images

USC seniors — who started college at the height of the pandemic — missed high school graduations, took Zoom classes and struggled with social isolation.

  • Now their college commencement ceremony is canceled, too.

Why it matters: USC became the first major university to cancel a graduation ceremony over Pro-Palestinian protests yesterday, potentially opening the door for other schools to follow suit, Axios' April Rubin writes.

🥊 Quote of the Day: "They Entered College in Isolation and Leave Among Protests ... The Class That Missed Out on Fun," The Wall Street Journal calls the Class of '24.

4. 🎒 Mapped: America's best high schools

Share of public high schools among nation's best performing schools, by state
Data: U.S. News and World Report. Map: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

5. 🤖 AI stock boom

Data: YCharts. Chart: Axios Visuals

Both Microsoft and Google reported strong earnings yesterday in the middle of a fierce AI race that has jolted both companies — and offered investors the hope that there's still room for these giants to grow bigger, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes from the Bay Area.

  • Why it matters: Traders punished Meta a day earlier when it made clear its AI investments would take time to pay off. But Microsoft and Google both found more favor with the market.

The big picture: The huge "frontier models" that lead the AI race — like OpenAI's GPT-4, which Microsoft uses, and Google's Gemini — cost a fortune to train and operate.

  • But Microsoft and Google can balance their investments in AI development with revenue from hosting other firms' AI work.

🔢 By the numbers: Microsoft's Azure and other cloud services grew 31% last quarter, Microsoft said. AI accounted for 7 of those 31 percentage points of growth.

  • Google parent Alphabet chose this moment to issue its first-ever dividend to stockholders.

💰 Meanwhile: Elon Musk's startup xAI is raising $6 billion in a funding round that values the company at $18 billion, The Information reports ($).

6. 🛰️ AI space race

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A raft of startups, companies and governments are trying to develop new chips to unlock AI's power in space, Axios Science author Alison Snyder writes.

  • Why it matters: The harsh conditions of space have limited the use of AI on board satellites that play a critical role in the space economy.

AI could help fuel growth in the space industry, which some predict will be worth as much as $1.8 trillion by 2035 — on par with the semiconductor industry.

  • But right now the space industry is in "the Dark Ages," says former NASA administrator Dan Goldin.
  • "If we want to have a real space industry, not a foo-foo space industry, we've got to put AI up there," he says.

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7. 📚 Flint's 10-year crisis

Cover: Rowman & Littlefield

"We the Poisoned," a new book timed to the 10th anniversary of the Flint water crisis, reveals "the real story behind how the government poisoned a major American city — and how they are actively getting away with it."

  • Investigative journalist Jordan Chariton includes stunning details of a last-minute attempt by the city's water plant manager to avert what turned into a lead poisoning disaster.

Zoom in: The Michigan city switched the source of its water supply to save money on April 25, 2014 — unleashing one of America's largest public health crises.

  • "In a state that could decide who wins the White House — and a majority Black city Democrats depend on for turnout — Flint is one to watch in November," the book announcement says.

Javelin's Matt Latimer, who represents Chariton, said: "This book is a passion project for me. I grew up in Flint and watched my family live with the effects of this catastrophe."

8. 🏈 1 for the road: NFL's offense bonanza

Caleb Williams celebrates with fans after being selected first overall by the Chicago Bears in last night's NFL Draft in Detroit.
Quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates with fans after being selected first overall by the Chicago Bears last night. Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Quarterbacks were selected at a record pace — six of the first 12 picks — in the first round of last night's NFL Draft.

  • Why it matters: It's one of the most offense-heavy first rounds in the draft's history. No defensive player was selected until the 15th pick.

Caleb Williams, the Heisman Trophy-winning QB from USC, was picked first overall by the Chicago Bears.

  • The next two picks were also quarterbacks: LSU's Jayden Daniels was picked by the Washington Commanders, and UNC's Drake Maye went to New England.

Every pick so far.

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