Feb 16, 2019

Axios AM

☕Happy holiday Saturday!

1 big thing ... 2020 divide: Anger vs. optimism

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The 2020 Democratic field splits into two rough camps: anger vs. optimism.

Axios' Alexi McCammond writes that Democrats ultimately have to choose between someone who's the mirror image of President Trump (an angry fighter) — or the opposite (an optimistic pragmatist).

  • One Democratic operative said you can even see the difference by turning down the sound on the candidates' announcement videos.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris is the clearest example of a candidate who so far has straddled the two camps.

The fighters are defined by their brand of liberal populism:

  • Think Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who argue that Americans are victimized not just by Trump, but by corporations, billionaires and a rigged system.
  • Exhibit A ... Warren tweeted yesterday: "I want to be absolutely clear: this ridiculous wall isn’t a national emergency, and Donald Trump isn’t king. We’ll fight this with everything we’ve got."

The optimists paint a hopeful, and relatively more moderate, view:

  • Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, as well as Julián Castro fall squarely in this category. So would Joe Biden, Sen. Sherrod Brown and Beto O'Rourke if they were to run.
  • Exhibit B ... Klobuchar tweeted yesterday: "Both sides of my family arrived in America with nothing but a suitcase, looking for a better life for their families. Their story isn’t so different from people working towards opportunity today. It's past time for comprehensive immigration reform."

What the polls show: Democratic voters value electability. 56% "prefer someone who would be a strong candidate against Trump even if they disagree with that candidate on most issues," according to a recent Monmouth University poll.

  • "People will be willing to set aside ideology because they want a winner," said Matt Bennett, co-founder of centrist think tank Third Way.
2. "If this gets out, it will cause a scandal"
U.S. Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley talks to Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2015. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

"Activists and some church leaders hoped the Vatican would take a tougher stance [on sexual abuse] under Pope Francis," The Wall Street Journal's Francis X. Rocca reports from Vatican City (subscription):

  • "Instead, the opposite has happened, deepening the gap between the Vatican and U.S. church leaders, who have pushed for a more stringent response."

"No clearer is the rift than in the relationship between Pope Francis and ... Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, ... the Vatican’s point man on sex abuse."

  • "An appeals panel set up by the pope had reduced the punishments of a number of Catholic priests found guilty of abusing minors."
  • "If this gets out, it will cause a scandal," Cardinal O’Malley told Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, in effect the pope’s prime minister."
  • "The Boston cardinal’s influence has declined to the point where ... the pope excluded him from the organizing committee [of an 'abuse summit' for bishops next week], which had been Cardinal O’Malley’s idea."

⚡Breaking ... Pope Francis has defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting sex while hearing Confession, and sex crimes against minors and adults. (AP)

3. Trump invoked emergency after months of frustration
President Trump arrives in the Rose Garden yesterday. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

"White House attorneys repeatedly warned him the risk of failure in court was high," the WashPost's Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey write:

  • "Trump did it anyway. Stepping to a microphone in the Rose Garden, the president told reporters he was invoking his powers to declare a national emergency, then acknowledged what his lawyers had been warning him: He will get sued and, at least initially, will probably lose."
  • "The remarkable moment ... marked the culmination of months of heated internal deliberations between the White House Counsel’s Office, the Justice Department, the Office of Management and Budget, lawmakers and the president over how to fund the wall."

How WhiteHouse.gov covered it: "President Donald J. Trump’s Border Security Victory."

How The N.Y. Times covered it:

Bonus: Pic du jour

Gusty winds broke a branch of the famous Lone Cypress tree in Pebble Beach, on the Monterey Peninsula's scenic 17-Mile Drive on California's northern coast.

  • The tree is believed to be more than 250 years old.
  • An arborist examined the Lone Cypress and confirmed it's "healthy and remains secure on its rocky perch." (AP)
4. Deepfakes go bigger

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Researchers have broadened the controversial technology called "deepfakes" — AI-generated media that experts fear could roil coming elections by convincingly depicting people saying or doing things they never did, Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports.

  • A new computer program, created at the San Francisco-based OpenAI lab, is the latest front in deepfakes, producing remarkably human-sounding prose that opens the prospect of fake news circulated at industrial scale.

How it works: The program "writes" by choosing the best next word based on both the human-written prompt and an enormous database of text it has read on the internet.

  • An important point: The AI writer can only make stuff up. It can't tell the difference between a fact and a lie, which is part of what makes it volatile.

Go deeper ... AI wrote this Axios story

5. 20 years ago this week
On Feb. 12, 1999, President Clinton returns to the Oval Office after learning that the Senate voted to acquit him. (David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

"The Senate today acquitted President Clinton on two articles of impeachment, falling short of even a majority vote on either of the charges against him: perjury and obstruction of justice," wrote the N.Y. Times' Alison Mitchell, now an assistant managing editor.

  • "In a hushed chamber, with senators standing one by one to pronounce Mr. Clinton 'guilty' or 'not guilty,' the Senate rejected the charge of perjury, 55 to 45, with 10 Republicans voting against conviction."
6. 1 final thing: Best last lines
In 1903, in his late '60s, Samuel Clemens poses with Anna Laura (Elizabeth) Hawkins Frazer, who inspired the Mark Twain character Becky Thatcher. (Library of Congress/Getty Images)

"Spoiler alert ... The last line of a novel can be transformative. These are the 23 most unforgettable final sentences in fiction," WashPost Book World critic Ron Charles writes:

  • "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain (1884): "I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before."
  • "Beloved," by Toni Morrison (1987): "Beloved."
  • "Gone With the Wind," by Margaret Mitchell (1936): "After all, tomorrow is another day."
  • "The Handmaid’s Tale," by Margaret Atwood (1985): "Are there any questions?"
  • "Nineteen Eighty-Four," by George Orwell (1949): “He loved Big Brother.”

Treat yourself.