May 1, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🌹 Good Wednesday morning, and welcome to May.

  • Was this email forwarded to you? Get your own! Sign up here.
1 big thing: Biden is running like he won

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In the opening days of his 2020 campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden has gone all-in on the general election, positioning himself as the eventual Democratic nominee rather than scrapping with the 19 other wannabes. 

  • This isn't an accident. Biden strategists believe the former V.P. has the luxury of thinking long term rather than scrambling for liberal street credibility. 
  • Polls show a huge bump, including with African American women. (CNN: "Biden solidifies front-runner status with post-announcement bump.")

Biden's "people" tell me they're more convinced than ever that the one dominant, ultimately unifying issue is who can best be counted on to beat President Trump.

  • And they think that's the guy from Scranton.

The strategy is unfolding in real time:

  • Starting with his announcement video and continuing on the road, Biden has been explicitly hitting Trump, trying to make it Trump vs. Biden more than a year ahead of the national conventions.
  • Biden has been making the argument for his strength in swing states that'll matter in November 2020, not during primaries and caucuses.
  • Biden isn't getting sucked into the intra-left debate over "Medicare for All" and the Green New Deal.
  • The subtle suggestion that Biden would amount to a third Obama term offers voters hope for something between socialism and Hillary Clinton. 
  • Biden is appealing now to big donors he'll need in a general election. 

The big picture: Several 2020 Democratic campaign aides conceded to Axios' Alayna Treene that they wouldn't be able to pull off the same strategy as Biden.

  • Biden, and to some extent Sen. Bernie Sanders, can jump straight into focusing on the general election because Democrats already know what they're getting.

Be smart: Biden is applying a lens to the campaign that reflects national polls more than the left-leaning conversation on Democratic Twitter. 

Share this story.

2. Mueller, Barr at odds
Barr's summary. Photo: Jon Elswick/AP

Robert Mueller wrote a letter in late March complaining to Attorney General William Barr that his widely publicized summary of the special counsel's report "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance," the WashPost's Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report.

  • "The letter and a subsequent phone call between the two men reveal the degree to which the longtime colleagues and friends disagreed as they handled the legally and politically fraught task of investigating the president."

Why it matters: "Democrats in Congress are likely to scrutinize Mueller's complaints to Barr as they contemplate ... impeachment proceedings and mull how hard to press for Mueller himself to testify publicly."

  • P.S. ... "Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, referring to the obstruction questions, told CNN, 'Mueller should have made a decision and shouldn't be complaining or whining now that he didn't get described correctly.'"

What's next: Barr testifies on the Hill at 10 a.m. Read his opening statement.

3. Trump's world faces 16 criminal and civil probes

Post-Mueller, Garrett M. Graff of WIRED reports that Trump’s world "still appears to face 16 known criminal and civil probes, from as many as a dozen different federal, state, and local prosecutors."

  • Four cases are being pursued by federal authorities in New York. ... "New York state and local authorities are also building cases, both criminal and civil."
  • These include tax and immigration issues for Trump businesses, plus inauguration spending, the Trump Foundation and the NRA.
  • "That’s not counting the dozen cases that the special counsel’s office referred to other law enforcement agencies, cases mentioned in Mueller’s report but redacted so as to obscure any details about them."

Why it matters: "At this rate, Trump’s investigations may outlast his presidency."

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Fernando Llano/AP

An anti-government protester walks near a bus that was set on fire by opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro during clashes between rebel and loyalist soldiers in Caracas yesterday.

  • Opposition leader Juan Guaidó took to the streets with a small contingent of heavily armed troops in a risky call for the military to oust Maduro, per AP.

As in past attempts to oust Maduro, the opposition seemed outmaneuvered.

  • Guaidó stood on a highway overpass with just a small cadre of soldiers.

Vice President Pence tweeted at the rebels: "Estamos con ustedes! We are with you!"

Courtesy N.Y. Post

The headline for this item has been updated.

5. Creeping anti-Semitism

The N.Y. Times, in an editorial sparked by an "appalling" cartoon that ran last week in the paper's international edition, warns of numbness to the creep of anti-Semitism — "to the insidious way this ancient, enduring prejudice is once again working itself into public view and common conversation."

  • "This is also a period of rising criticism of Israel, much of it directed at the rightward drift of its own government."
  • "A particularly frightening, and also historically resonant, aspect of the rise of anti-Semitism in recent years is that it has come from both the right and left sides of the political spectrum."

Go deeper ... The Anti-Defamation League yesterday released an annual report showing "alarming trends" in anti-Semitic incidents:

  • "The U.S. Jewish community experienced near-historic levels of anti-Semitism in 2018, including a doubling of anti-Semitic assaults," to 39.
6. Hurdles for home robots
In happier times just nine months ago, Anki CEO Boris Sofman held Vector, the company's home robot. Photo: Ted Shaffrey/AP

So far, we just don't want robots in our homes, Axios emerging tech reporter Kaveh Waddell writes:

  • Smart speakers like Amazon Echo are the closest thing to must-have home hardware — and they're a far cry from a real robot.
  • The biggest market for bots at home is still for vacuums like Roomba, which have been around for nearly two decades.

Driving the news ... As of last fall, robotics startup Anki seemed to be winning where other companies had fallen short: Making a go of a consumer robot that was more fun but less powerful than a smartphone, writes Axios' Ina Fried.

  • But the maker of the toylike robots Cozmo and Vector suffered the same fate, announcing this week it was shutting down and laying off its entire staff despite having raised more than $200 million in funding.

Why it matters: "AI without a body has caught on really well," Yan Fossat, head of the research lab at Toronto-based Klick Health, told the AP. "Physical robots ... are not really catching up."

  • They cost too much for the marginal service they offer.
7. Facebook's new look
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg opens the Facebook F8 Conference in San Jose yesterday. Photo: Amy Osborne/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook rolled out a big redesign, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg tries to "address criticism of the social-media giant’s influence by nudging users toward ... more private communication tools," The Wall Street Journal's Jeff Horwitz writes (subscription).

  • "One casualty of the changes: the iconic blue Facebook banner that has appeared atop screens since the social network’s 2004 debut."

Why it matters: "Zuckerberg said in an interview that the changes unveiled Tuesday mark the most significant alteration to Facebook’s core platform in five years and are part of a larger effort to offer less-public ways of communicating."

  • "The redesigned mobile app is live for U.S. users now, while the desktop version is coming later this year." (AP)

Go deeper: Axios PM (sign up here) showed you Facebook's new look.

8. Fear on campus
Photo: Jason E. Miczek/AP

"Two people died and four students were hurt in a shooting in a building on the UNC Charlotte campus," the Charlotte Observer writes:

  • Authorities received a call that a suspect armed with a pistol had shot several students.
  • Campus police officers quickly entered the building where shots were reported, and took a suspect into custody, campus police chief Jeff Baker said.
  • Of the response by campus police, Baker said: "We train to go to the sound."
9. Young Arabs divided on America, friend or foe

Two-thirds of young Arabs say religion plays too big a role in the Middle East, according to the 11th annual Arab Youth Survey, which included 3,300 18- to 24-year-olds in 15 states and territories in the Middle East and North Africa.

  • 79% say the region needs to reform its religious institutions.

59% say the U.S. is an adversary while only 41% call it an ally, according to the survey, conducted by the research consultancy PSB.

  • When asked whether the U.S. or Russia is a stronger ally of their country, young Arabs are as likely to select Russia (37%) as the U.S. (38%).

Why it matters: 65% of the Arab population is under age 30.

10. 1 game thing
Photo: Lego

Lego announced Braille Bricks, which will be molded with the same number of studs used for individual letters and numbers in the Braille alphabet:

  • To allow "sighted teachers, students and family members to interact on equal terms, each brick will also feature a printed letter or character."
  • "This ... brings a whole new and playful approach to get blind and visually impaired children interested in learning Braille."

Go deeper.

Mike Allen

📱Thanks for reading Axios AM. Invite your friends, relatives, co-workers to sign up here.