Oct 11, 2019

Axios AM

Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,198 words ... 4 minutes.

  • 🇪🇹 Breaking: OSLO (Reuters) — Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize today for his peacemaking efforts with Eritrea.
1 big thing: Trump's smoke-and-mirrors health care

President Trump is claiming health-care victories he hasn't achieved and making promises he's not prepared to live up to, writes Caitlin Owens, author of Axios' health care newsletter, Vitals.

  • Why it matters: Health care is an immensely personal subject that that voters consistently rank as one of the most important issues of 2020.

Trump's most demonstrably false claim is that, as he put it in May, "we will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions."

  • The Trump administration is currently urging the courts to strike down the Affordable Care Act, including its protections for pre-existing conditions.

Trump's claim that he has lowered drug prices for the first time in 51 years is murky at best. The timeframe is definitely wrong, as the WashPost reports, though the recent realities of drug pricing are more nuanced.

  • Prices for generics are falling, which brings down the average cost of drugs overall. Prices for commonly used drugs, including generics, fell in 2018, according to a White House report.
  • But that average masks steady increases in the price of drugs that treat rarer diseases, which don't have generic competition.

What's next: There's still a lot of time left before 2020, particularly for Trump to do something major on drug prices.

  • The administration's proposal to tie Medicare's payments for some drugs to the prices that other countries pay is still in play.
  • And both the White House and House Democrats have said they're hopeful that there's still a drug-pricing deal to be made.
2. Impeachment next week
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held a 14-hour media marathon in a food court yesterday, answering questions from 300 journalists. Photo: Efrem Lukatsky/AP

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is expected to testify next Wednesday before the House committees investigating President Trump and Ukraine, despite being blocked by the State Department from appearing at a closed-door deposition this week, four congressional sources tell Axios' Alayna Treene.

  • Why it matters: One source familiar with the rescheduling tells Axios that after the State Department pulled the plug on Sondland's testimony, Republicans close to Trump encouraged the president to let the ambassador come before the committees. Trump's allies believe Sondland's testimony will be helpful to their side.
  • "Republicans are looking for any silver lining they can get," the source said. "Sondland could be a silver lining ... He donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural. He's a Trump guy. Whereas [former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie] Yovanovitch is a career person."

The big picture: On Thursday, the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees sent out the following schedule to committee members and staffers outlining the officials who are expected to testify over the next week:

  • Today: Former U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
  • Monday: Trump's former Russia adviser Fiona Hill.
  • Tuesday: Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent.
  • Wednesday: U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
  • Thursday: Counselor of the State Department Ulrich Brechbuhl.

Our sources acknowledge that they can't say with 100% certainty that the Trump administration will allow these officials to testify.

  • "We're never sure until the morning of," one source said.
  • But they all said that as of now, the committees are preparing as if each of these individuals are appearing.
3. ⚖️ Impeachment state of play
Courtesy N.Y. Post

"At least four national security officials were so alarmed by the Trump administration’s attempts to pressure Ukraine for political purposes that they raised concerns with a White House lawyer both before and immediately after President Trump’s July 25 call," the WashPost's Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe report.

  • Why it matters: "The nature and timing of the previously undisclosed discussions with National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg indicate that officials were delivering warnings through official White House channels earlier than previously understood."

The whistleblower's lawyers "have asked Congress whether their client could submit testimony in writing instead of appearing in person," The Wall Street Journal reports.

  • "The request reflects concerns about whether the whistleblower could testify ... without revealing his identity, and fears that doing so would lead to it being publicly leaked, jeopardizing his personal safety."
4. Pic du jour
Photo: Bakr Alkasem/AFP via Getty Images

Pro-Turkish Syrian fighters gather today along the border with Syria as they prepare to take part in the Turkish-led assault.

5. Corporate America's parochial morals
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There's a double standard in corporate America, Axios' Erica Pandey writes:

  • CEOs-turned-activists are experimenting with taking bold stances on social and political issues at home.
  • But that activity stops at the border. It certainly doesn't reach as far as China.

Why it matters: The same companies that extol high-minded principles on U.S. soil will abide by censorship rules set by the Chinese Communist Party — and are even happy to travel to Riyadh to butter up the murderous Saudi royal family.

The bottom line, from N.Y. Times columnist Farhad Manjoo:

  • "It turns out the West’s entire political theory about China has been spectacularly wrong. ... China’s economic miracle hasn’t just failed to liberate Chinese people. It is also now routinely corrupting the rest of us."
6. Bezos: "Be stubborn on your vision but flexible on the details"
Illustration: Todd St. John/The New Yorker. Used by permission.

Jeff Bezos, the master of cutthroat capitalism, is ready to fight back as politicians try to rein in Amazon, Charles Duhigg — author of "The Power of Habit" and host of the new "How To!" podcast — writes for The New Yorker:

Silicon Valley is filled with product companies. ... Amazon is a process company. ... No other tech company does as many unrelated things, on such a scale, as Amazon.
Amazon is special not because of any asset or technology but because of its culture — its Leadership Principles and internal habits. Bezos refers to the company’s management style as Day One Thinking: a willingness to treat every morning as if it were the first day of business, to constantly re-examine even the most closely held beliefs. "Day Two is stasis," Bezos wrote, in a 2017 letter to shareholders. "Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day One."

Worthy of your time.

7. White House officials worry about Bolton book

White House officials are concerned about what former national security adviser John Bolton might reveal in his coming book about President Trump and his national security decision-making.

  • Bolton has decided to write a book about his time in the Trump administration, Axios' Jonathan Swan scooped yesterday.
  • Bolton will be represented by Javelin's Matt Latimer and Keith Urbahn.
8. First look: Dem memo on talking about impeachment
Graphic: GQR

From a memo by GQR's Jeremy Rosner and Brina Malachowski, about a nationwide survey sponsored by Stand Up America and Need to Impeach:

  • "Voters view the Ukraine events as providing much stronger reasons to support impeachment than the Mueller report and evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections."

Read the memo.

9. Trump confidant lobbies to free U.S. citizen from Russia
Paul Whelan listens to his lawyers while standing inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow in January. Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

Axios has obtained a lobbying disclosure form showing President Trump's former Pennsylvania campaign director, David Urban, will be working pro bono to free Paul Whelan, an American who has been detained in Russia since December 2018, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports.

  • Why it matters: Russian authorities have accused Whelan of espionage — which he denies.

Between the lines: In Urban, the Whelan family now has one of the best-connected advocates in Trumpworld.

  • Urban is a confidant of Trump's and has longstanding friendships with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Urban, Pompeo and Esper graduated from the same West Point class in 1986.
10. 1 flying thing
Photo: Boeing

Porsche and Boeing yesterday announced a partnership to explore the air taxi market with a flying sports car.

  • The companies are "developing a concept for a fully electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle," a news release says.

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