Jan 13, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Monday morning. It's 21 days to the Iowa caucuses ... 29 days to the New Hampshire primary ... 193 days to the Tokyo Olympics ... 295 days to Election Day.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,197 words ... 4½ minutes.
1 big thing: Amid chaos, real action on climate

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump pushes the biggest changes to environmental law in 50 years. The world’s biggest investor is going big on global warming. House Democrats are going it alone on climate policy.

  • And all that happened just last week.

It was easy to miss, amid hostilities with Iran, Australia burning, and other crises, Axios' Amy Harder writes in her weekly "Harder Line" energy column.

  • But big changes are happening on the energy and climate change front that suggest more polarization and acrimony that could last long after the presidential election.

1) Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced a sweeping legislative framework on Wednesday, laying out policies that the lawmakers say could achieve net-zero U.S. greenhouse gas emissions within the next three decades.

  • Why it matters: It adds policy substance to what has otherwise been mostly rhetoric coming from House Democrats.

Some Republicans, are offering narrow bills focused on innovation.

  • Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) recently introduced legislation to provide subsidies for all types of clean-energy technologies.

2) Trump announced proposals Thursday to drastically narrow the scope of a law governing environmental reviews of America’s infrastructure, as a way to hasten the construction of everything from bridges to pipelines.

  • Why it matters: The proposals are likely the biggest changes to the law — the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — in its 50-year history, and could implicitly exclude climate change from consideration.

3) BlackRock, the world’s largest asset investor, joined Climate Action 100+, an investor network pushing companies to be more transparent and aggressive in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

  • This group now represents $41 trillion in assets.

4) The Trump administration on Friday imposed more sanctions on Iran, deepening a policy whose centerpiece is sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

  • Oil markets are responding with a shrug. Prices are reliably low despite unrest in the Middle East.
  • Thanks, American oil!

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2. Iranian fury rises: "Death to the dictator!"
A crowd flees police near Azadi, or Freedom, Square in Tehran yesterday. Image from video: Center for Human Rights in Iran via AP

Iranian security forces fired both live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Islamic Republic's initial denial that it shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, AP reports.

  • Why it matters: Iranians — who revolted in November over gas prices, in the worst unrest in 40 years — are returning to the streets to protest the shootdown, and the initial lies from senior officials.

Videos sent to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran and later verified by AP show a crowd of demonstrators near Azadi, or Freedom, Square fleeing as a tear gas canister landed among them.

  • People cough and sputter while trying to escape the fumes, with one woman calling out in Farsi: "They fired tear gas at people! Azadi Square. Death to the dictator!"

Tehran's police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, later denied his officers opened fire though the semiofficial Fars news agency said police "shot tear gas in some areas."

3. FBI spied on Chinese students and scientists
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Cover: Riverhead

In 1967, at the height of the Cold War, the FBI began collecting information on thousands of Chinese scientists and students in cities across the U.S., according to "The Scientist and the Spy," a forthcoming book by former Shanghai correspondent Mara Hvistendahl.

  • Why it matters, from Axios China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: Recent FBI indictments and investigations have raised fears among Chinese-Americans that another period of racially tinged suspicion is upon them.

In the book, out Feb. 4, Hvistendahl traces the history of China's theft of trade secrets, using the case of a Chinese scientist imprisoned in 2016 for stealing corn seed from Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer.

  • A letter sent to FBI agents in 1967 "ordered agents to cull names of ethnically Chinese researchers including, implicitly, U.S. citizens from the membership records of scientific organizations," Hvistendahl writes.

The result: A "rolodex of an estimated four thousand ethnically Chinese scientists under surveillance."

  • Chinese science students were also targeted. In New York City, 200 students were surveilled; in San Francisco, up to 75.
  • "In their haste to follow orders, some offices followed shaky leads," writes Hvistendahl.

Our thought bubble: The spate of investigations and indictments is a response to a real problem.

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4. War on telework

"After a big push toward telework in the Obama administration, President Trump’s government is scaling it back at multiple agencies," the WashPost's Lisa Rein reports.

  • Why it matters: The administration theory is that "a fanny in the seat prevents ... slacking off."

Telecommuting has been dialed back at Agriculture, Education, Interior and the EPA, as well as parts of Commerce, HHS and the Social Security Administration.

5. "Trump's sword and shield"
Illustration by Zohar Lazar for The New Yorker. Used by permission.

Attorney General Bill Barr is "the most feared, criticized, and effective member of Trump’s Cabinet," advancing a lifeline mission to protect executive power, David Rohde writes in The New Yorker.

Barr has strong opinions on issues ranging from legal arcana to the proper mustard to apply to a sandwich.
He designed his own home, a sprawling house in McLean, Virginia, and is not above boasting about it. During a trip to Scotland with a friend, he quizzed the owner of a local inn about whether the paint on the wall was "Card Room Green or Green Smoke, by Farrow & Ball." The innkeeper had no idea what he was talking about.

In high school, Barr was known as "Billy."

6. James Carville endorses

James Carville, the last Democratic strategist to unseat an incumbent Republican president, today endorsed Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) for president, per the campaign.

  • "The best way to beat Donald Trump is to show you’re not him," Carville said. "Senator Bennet has less in common with Donald Trump than any human being in the United States when it comes to worldview, priorities, and demeanor."

Carville will campaign for Bennet in New Hampshire ahead of the primary.

7. Two popes: Benedict prods Francis on celibacy
In 2017, Pope Francis (left) and Pope Benedict meet at the Vatican on the occasion of the elevation of five new cardinals. Photo: L'Osservatore Romano via AP

Former Pope Benedict, 92, in a book written with a conservative cardinal, defends priestly celibacy in an apparent strategic appeal to Pope Francis, 83, to keep the centuries-old rules, Reuters' Philip Pullella writes from Vatican City.

  • "Benedict wrote the book, 'From the Depths of Our Hearts,' with Cardinal Robert Sarah, 74, a Guinean prelate who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments."

Why it matters: Pope Francis is considering a recommendation that would allow the ordination of married men as priests in the remote Amazon.

  • The pope's Apostolic Exhortation on this and other issues — including the role of women — is expected in the next few months, Reuters said.
8. Colbert's new sidelight

Stephen Colbert will be executive producer of "Tooning Out The News," a series for CBS All Access where animated characters mock news of the day, and interview real world guests and newsmakers, Deadline reports:

  • "The host of CBS' 'The Late Show' and Chris Licht, showrunner of the late-night talkshow, have once again teamed up with RJ Fried and Tim Luecke, who co-created Showtime’s 'Our Cartoon President' with the comedian."
9. Obama alumni plan 2021 "first 100 days"

The Center for American Progress tomorrow will convene prominent Obama administration alumni to create a foreign-policy "master plan" for what they hope will be an incoming Democratic president in 2021.

  • CAP says the conference will feature Ambassador Samantha Power, Ambassador Susan Rice, Denis McDonough, Michèle Flournoy, Avril Haines, Jake Sullivan and more.
10. 1 🏈 thing: NFL's final 4
Green Bay Packers' Davante Adams celebrates a touchdown catch at Lambeau Field last night. Photo: Mike Roemer/AP

The Kansas City Chiefs dug out of a 24-0 hole to beat the Houston Texans, 51-31 — becoming the first team in NFL playoff history to win by at least 20 points after trailing by at least 20, AP reports.

What's next: After a thriller divisional weekend, the Chiefs host the Tennessee Titans at 3 p.m. ET Sunday for the AFC spot in the Super Bowl.

  • The San Francisco 49ers host the Green Bay Packers at 6:30 p.m. ET for the NFC title.
Mike Allen

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