Mar 31, 2019

Axios AM

Mike Allen

🌸 Good Sunday morning. The week's most read article on tells the story of Jo Cameron, 71, whose rare genetic mutation keeps her from feeling pain or anxiety.

  • Scientists are studying the mutation, hoping to find novel treatments for pain.
1 big thing: Trump’s new post-Mueller wars
A man walks on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier before sunrise yesterday in Tijuana. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

President Trump is cutting against historical and political norms on a trifecta of big issues at the heart of U.S. domestic, economic and security policy:

  • He is pushing to kill "Obamacare" through the courts over the objection of his own attorney general and top GOP congressional leaders. 
  • The White House is publicly pushing the Fed to cut interest rates, something prior administrations never contemplated doing.
  • The president is again publicly threatening to close ports of entry on the U.S. southern border. "I'm not playing games," Trump said Friday in Florida.
  • The State Department said the U.S. will cut off aid to the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the Northern Triangle. Trump said: "No money goes there anymore. ... We stopped payment." The WashPost reports that the escalation involves hundreds of millions of dollars.

A Trump administration official familiar with the situation told Jonathan Swan that the president "is definitely serious about" closing the border and "has talked about it quite a few times and wanted to do it several times."

  • The source said Trump's idea would mean that day laborers could cross the border, but that it would otherwise be a "total no entry." 

But administration officials privately say it's unlikely Trump will follow through on his threat, and acknowledge that they're nowhere near prepared to execute on such a radical plan on the president's threatened timeline of this week.

  • The widespread view within the White House and at the Department of Homeland Security is that it's a terrible and unworkable idea.
  • Trump administration officials have been discussing the impracticalities, such as U.S. citizens coming and going across the border.
  • But Trump wants it. So "it's being looked into, what it could and would look like," the administration official said.

The backdrop: A swelling number of asylum seekers from Central America is straining the immigration system to the breaking point, AP reports.

  • Hundreds of officers who usually screen cargo and vehicles at ports of entry have been reassigned to help manage migrants.
  • An administration official told Swan: "This is the result of a broken immigration system that fails the nation and fails to effectively promote any of the goals it should — economic prosperity, public safety and national security, protecting vulnerable populations, and welcoming legal immigrants."
2. 🇸🇦 Bezos team claims Saudis hacked phone

Gavin de Becker, a celebrity security consultant who has had Jeff Bezos as a client of 22 years, makes a bombshell allegation about how Bezos' texts and pics leaked to the National Enquirer:

  • "Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information," De Becker writes in a first-person piece for the Daily Beast.
  • "[T]he Saudi government has been intent on harming Jeff Bezos since last October, when [the WashPost, which he owns,] began its relentless coverage of [journalist Jamal] Khashoggi’s murder."
3. Zuckerberg calls for new Internet rules
Zuckerberg testifies last year. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an op-ed published yesterday that entities outside of Facebook should set the standards for the "distribution of harmful content" online and hold platforms like his accountable.

  • Why it matters, from Axios' David McCabe and Gigi Sukin: Zuckerberg is trying to shape the terms of the multi-front debate over its collection of user data and massive influence over information.

Zuckerberg said legislation on online political advertising "should be updated to reflect the reality of the threats and set standards for the whole industry."

  • "Facebook already publishes transparency reports on how effectively we’re removing harmful content. I believe every major Internet service should do this quarterly," Zuckerberg wrote.

Zuckerberg's piece was published in today's Washington Post (print headline: "The Internet needs new rules"), Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (Germany), Sunday Independent (Ireland) and Le Journal du Dimanche (France).

  • Sharing the Post piece on her Facebook page, COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote: "We know we have more to do to keep people safe on our platforms."

Go deeper.

4. Pic du jour
Selcuk Acar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Thousands of buildings around the world, including the United Nations headquarters in New York, turned out their lights for Earth Hour last night.

  • Earth Hour, a call for global action on climate change, is spearheaded by the World Wildlife Fund, and hits at 8:30 p.m. local time in each city. (AP)
  • See more photos.
5. "This is a campaign ... for everyone in America"
O'Rourke kicks off in El Paso. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

"Beto O'Rourke stood blocks from a makeshift shelter under a Downtown El Paso international bridge for his presidential campaign kickoff rally ... and challenged President Donald Trump's immigration policies." (El Paso Times)

  • "We will not allow ourselves to be defined by our fears or our differences," O'Rourke said in his remarks, which included a Spanish interlude.
  • "Instead, we shall be known forever after by our ambitions, our aspirations."

Every single person Axios' Alexi McCammond talked to at the kickoff mentioned O'Rourke positivity and charisma first, though some want to hear more about his policy stances.

  • Sarah Buchanan-Sasson, 32, drove from Atlanta to El Paso: "He reminds us that people are good, and of the power of inspiration and the power of believing that things can change."
  • Martha Macias said: "He reminds me a lot of Kennedy."
El Paso rally (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
6. 🎓 College admission rates

"It is harder than ever to get into a top-tier college," the N.Y. Times reports:

  • "The rate at Harvard fell to 4.5 percent this year, down slightly from 4.6 percent last year. It also increased its share of Asian-American admits to 25.4 percent from 22.7 percent, at a time when it is waiting for a decision in a lawsuit accusing it of discriminating against Asian-American applicants."
  • "Yale’s admission rate sank to 5.91 percent from 6.31 percent last year, or 2,178 students out of a record-high pool of 36,843."
  • "The rate was 11 percent at the University of Southern California, the lowest ever, out of 66,000 freshman applications."

"Last year, Stanford ... announced that it would no longer release admissions data to the public, only to the federal government."

  • "Last year, its acceptance rate was 4.3 percent for the Class of 2022, below those of Harvard and Yale."
7. Women see their own experiences in NASA snafu
Anne McClain, on the International Space Station, had spacewalk scrapped over spacesuit sizing issue. (NASA via AP)

After NASA canceled the first all-female spacewalk for lack of medium-size spacesuits, working women on Earth shared their own stories about male-centered equipment, the WashPost's Jena McGregor reports:

"I work in an ambulance, where everything from the driver's seat to the latch on the cot is made for your average sized man," a Canadian woman tweeted.

8. A great restaurant quote

Celebrity restaurateur Danny Meyer to the N.Y. Times' Frank Bruni:

"James Beard famously told people that when he was stopped in airports and asked what his favorite restaurant was, he answered: 'It’s the same as yours ... It's the one that loves me the most.'"
9. 📺 What we're watching
HBO partnered with to produce a legal-tender Selina Meyer presidential stamp. Befitting her style, her face is printed upside down. (HBO)

"Veep" kicks off its seven-episode, seventh and final season tonight on HBO (10:30 p.m. ET/PT), with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the "desperately narcissistic" Selina Meyer, hitting the presidential campaign trail. Tonight's episode: "Iowa."

  • Rolling Stone calls it "one of TV’s all-time great comedies," but says "every character seems to have cruel intentions."

Disclosure: HBO recently renewed Season 2 of "Axios on HBO."

10. 1 fun thing

"Saturday Night Live" cold open:

  • "Robert Mueller" words his report soberly and carefully: "P.S. Can't wait to see what the Southern District of New York has in store for Trump."
  • "William Barr" summarizes giddily: "No collusion, no diggity and no doubt! ... Hel-lo, redactions! ... Y'all can turn off your HuffPo amber alerts."

"Trump" tweets giddily: "Free at last, free at last! ... The pardons are already in the mail. ... Russia, if you're watching, go to bed. Daddy won!"

  • "Trump" continues: "We're going to black out everything except the words 'no' and 'collusion. ... President Invincible! ... #10MoreYears."

"Rudy Giuliani" pops up at the end: "I guess I was a legal genius the whole time."

Mike Allen