Jul 26, 2017

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen
1 big thing: What Sessions is telling allies

Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn't plan to take the hint. President Trump continues hitting him in all body parts — apparently hoping he'll resign, which could pave the way for firing special counsel Bob Mueller.

Sessions allies tell us he won't quit, and will have to be fired: This is his life's work and dream job. (Yesterday, he took on sanctuary cities.) And in Trumptown, you can be down now, but back in favor after you endure a little humiliation. Ask Steve Bannon.

Hard to see Sessions coming back from this, though. Trump said yesterday in a Wall Street Journal interview: "I'm very disappointed in Jeff Sessions."

At a Rose Garden press conference, Trump added: "I am disappointed in the Attorney General. He should not have recused himself [from the Russia probe] almost immediately after he took office. And if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have, quite simply, picked somebody else. So I think that's a bad thing not for the President, but for the presidency. I think it's unfair to the presidency. And that's the way I feel."

The WashPost reports on A1: "In a recent conversation, Sessions's chief of staff, Jody Hunt, told White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that the attorney general had no intention of stepping down."

Be smart: In this showdown, there's the potential for grave collateral damage to Trump. Many establishment/pragmatic Republicans — including lawmakers, and administration officials and aides — "got there" on Trump not because they're wild about the man, but out of respect for the office (and self-interest, of course).

But one Hill alumnus told me that with his torture of Sessions, Trump seems to be demanding personal loyalty: "He's saying, 'I don't want the loyal Republican. I want the loyal Trumpite.'" That could trigger a disconnect that, in yet another echo of Nixon, would undermine the president's Washington support.

N.Y. Times Quote of the Day ... Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and a supporter of stricter immigration policies like those championed by Sessions: "If an early supporter like this is thrown under the bus, then who is safe? You can imagine what the other Cabinet secretaries are thinking."

P.S. From the WSJ interview: "Trump ... said his administration's long-expected curbs on steel imports were still being discussed internally, though it may be some time before he acts on the issue."

2. Estimate du jour

N.Y. Times' David E. Sanger: "American intelligence agencies have shortened their estimate — to one year — of how long it is likely to take North Korea to put the finishing touches on a missile that can reach the continental United States, according to several administration officials briefed on the new assessment."

"Until a few weeks ago, the official estimate was that it would take roughly four years, give or take 12 months."

3. Hot mic

"At the end of a Senate subcommittee hearing [yesterday] morning, someone sitting near Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) didn't switch off a microphone," the WashPost's Philip Bump writes.

"Collins was recorded discussing the federal budget and President Trump's lack of familiarity with the details of governing with ... Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the ranking Democrat on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies subcommittee."

Collins: "I swear, [the White House Office of Management and Budget] just went through and whenever there was 'grant,' they just X it out. With no measurement, no thinking about it, no metrics, no nothing. It's just incredibly irresponsible."

"Yes," Reed replies. "I think he's crazy," referring to the president.

Collins: "I'm worried."

Reed: "I mean, I don't say that lightly, and as a kind of a, y'know, a goofy guy. ... Oof!"

Collins' office later told The Post that she's "worried about the elimination of transportation and housing programs in the President's budget request."

At one point, Reed refers to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as "Munchin."

Eavesdrop on the conversation.

4. The Senate's health-care circus is just starting

What's next after the Senate voted 51-50, including Vice President Pence's tie-breaker, to begin debate on health care ...

Axios' Sam Baker: "All signs point to a vote-a-rama [in the Senate] Thursday night, perhaps into Friday morning."

  • The hot new thing: "Skinny repeal." If neither the Senate plan nor straight repeal is gaining traction, the next option could be a bill that would repeal small parts of the Affordable Care Act — like the individual mandate and a tax or two.
  • The goal with getting skinny: To pass something that would trigger a conference committee with the House — an opportunity to write another bill!
  • Anything that keeps the process alive would be a good thing, a senior House GOP aide told Axios' Caitlin Owens.

A new episode of our video series, "Axios Sourced": the reality of politics ...

Jonathan Swan on the Mooch vs. Reince: "I just got a text message ... Anthony Scaramucci is a threat to [the chief of staff]. ... You know in a movie, how there's an inciting incident ... "

See the YouTube.

5. How not to fire someone

Michael Short, senior assistant White House press secretary, found out yesterday from Politico that he was going to be fired by the highly empowered incoming White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci.

It's the first of what may be many sackings, with Mooch telling reporters that he was prepared to "fire everybody" to stop leaks.

The White House was in shock — many staffers on edge, with an atmosphere of extreme fear and concern. Maggie Haberman tweeted: "Michael Short is the first show trial in the Scaramucci era."

  • It wasn't supposed to happen that way. Mooch wanted to send a signal, but not in such a brutal way.
  • It was a miscommunication that went on for hours. Politico's story posted at 9:15 a.m. A little after noon, having heard from no one inside, Short resigned before he could be fired.
  • After finally hearing from Mooch around 6 p.m., Short texted Axios' Jonathan Swan: "He's being supportive of me. Feels bad about the situation but the seed had been planted months prior." (Short had left the campaign in a way that led President Trump to believe he had been disloyal.)
  • Short was among the White House's Republican National Committee alumni. So the move undercut Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, leaving him with one fewer loyalists.
  • TIME's Zeke Miller tweeted: "Scaramucci sounding much more like a Chief of Staff than a Comms Director at the moment."

Also at the White House yesterday ... At a Regional Media Day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., live TV and radio broadcasts featured 80+ interviews with 24 administration officials touting Trump's first six months in office. The centerpiece: more than 15 hours of live radio broadcasts from the Salem Media Group, including hosts Hugh Hewitt and Joe Piscopo. Both broadcast from tents on the White House driveway. Local TV stations and affiliate groups also participated. (With AP)

6. The conversation: "This is not okay"

"This is not okay" is the headline of the WashPost's lead editorial, about Trump's attacks on his attorney general:

In a rule-of-law state, government's awesome powers to police, prosecute and imprison are wielded impartially, with restraint and according to clearly defined rules. These rules apply equally to rich and poor, powerful and weak, ruling party and opposition. In such states, individuals advance on the basis of their talent and initiative, not whom they know. Companies invest where they think the returns will be highest, not to please those in power. The result is that, over time, rule-of-law states prosper. Banana republics do not. ...

What's at stake is much more than the careers of a particular attorney general or special counsel. The United States has been a role model for the world, and a source of pride for Americans, because it has strived to implement the law fairly. When he attacks that process and seeks revenge on his opponents, Mr. Trump betrays bedrock American values. It's crucial that other political leaders say so.

7. If you read only 1 thing

Sperm count falling sharply in Western world Reuters: "Sperm counts in men from America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have dropped by more than 50 percent in less than 40 years ... [Researchers] said the rate of decline is not slowing. Both findings ... pointed to a potential decline in male health and fertility. ... 'This study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world.'"

  • Why it matters: "[R]esearchers said falling sperm counts have ... been linked to various factors such as exposure to certain chemicals and pesticides, smoking, stress and obesity."
8. Stat du jour

Lead of WashPost Sports section, "Study finds CTE in 99% of ex-NFL players' brains," by Rick Maese: "Researchers studying the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy found that 99% of the brains donated by families of former NFL players showed signs of the neurodegenerative disease."

"The study drew the immediate attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have been monitoring the issue. ... The NFL pledged $100 million for concussion-related research last September ... The study marks the largest CTE case series ever published."

P.S. Relaunch of NFL.com ... Axios' Sara Fischer says the goals are:

  • Use better measurement, analytics and search/discovery tools to connect with fans.
  • Make it easier to access live games and game highlights.
9. Why studios aren't strapping on headsets

"Why Hollywood Studios Are Slow to Embrace Virtual Reality ... 'The big elephant in the room is: How do you monetize this?'" — The Wrap's Matt Donnelly and Matt Pressberg, with Sharon Taxman:

"So far the audience is tiny. While Greenlight projects 100 million VR devices will be shipped to consumers by 2021, Facebook's Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive shipped less than 1 million units combined in 2016. Both product launches fell behind projections ...

"The vast majority of VR revenue so far comes from sales of equipment — rather than content for that gear that studios and gaming companies might create. That may change, but it will be a gradual one. ...

"VR content doesn't come cheap ... The technology is still young — and sometimes glitchy ... Theater owners are leery ... No star power ... Early experiments are cool, but where's the 'Avatar' of VR?"

10. 1 fun thing

"The Mooch did his homework" ... Trevor Noah's "The Daily Show" pairs gestures by Trump and Scaramucci in this viral clip, part of a longer edition of "Profiles in Tremendousness."

Late night best

Stephen Colbert, reeling off all the shows Charlie Rose hosts: "How does he have time to be here?"

Charlie to Stephen, on his plan to return to surfing: "I haven't asked my doctors yet. ... I learned at Virginia Beach ... back when I was ... maybe 18, 19 years old. ... Some people I know are doing it now, and they're adults. And they went to it after having a lifetime of interesting other sports. ...

"There's somebody in Hawaii who will give me a shot to spend a week really seeing how much I can pick up, and see if can bring it back. Or ... I go back to golf."

See the episode.

Mike Allen