Oct 3, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🎰 Good Thursday morning from Vegas. Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,175 words ... 4.5 minutes.

1 big thing: Impeachment engulfs government
President Trump speaks during a meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the Oval Office yesterday. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

The House's formal impeachment inquiry is just 10 days old, but has swiftly transcended D.C. inertia and swept in huge swaths of America's government:

  • Vice President Pence's role suddenly became a major issue; President Trump seethed about the investigators during an appearance with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö; and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked about the Ukraine call while appearing in Rome with his Italian counterpart.
  • That was all yesterday. For good measure, a Trump tweet included the word "BULLSHIT" — all caps.
  • Other parts of government that are ensnared: An intelligence community whistleblower lit the fire; Attorney General William Barr has been a central figure from the get-go; impeachment is an issue for senators and others on the 2020 trail in a way that the Mueller investigation never was; and most other Capitol Hill business has been drowned out.

Why it matters: We thought nothing could break through Washington gridlock, nothing could stick to Trump, and nothing could command sustained attention in this media environment.

  • Those "certainties" could turn out to be wrong, wrong and wrong.

Two things we learned yesterday, from Axios' Zach Basu:

1) House Democratic leaders struck a tough, insistent tone, and committees are threatening the White House with subpoenas if it doesn't meet tight timelines.

  • House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said: "We’re not fooling around here."
  • Speaker Pelosi said on a call with the House Democratic Caucus, according to a readout from her office: "I think that our Chairman [Schiff] used a really good word for Barr and Pompeo and Giuliani, and they are, henchmen."

2) Trump, who always needs a foil, and his media chorus are trying to make Schiff the face of the inquiry, way more than Pelosi.

  • Trump, who has suggested arresting Schiff for treason, said: "We don't call him 'Shifty Schiff' for nothing. He's a shifty, dishonest guy."
A letter from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Photo: Wayne Partlow/AP

What's next: Congress hears its first impeachment witness today.

  • Kurt Volker, the special U.S. envoy to Ukraine until he resigned last week, was little known outside of foreign policy circles. Now a central figure in the early stage of the inquiry, he's scheduled to testify in private today. (AP)

💣 Just posted at The Atlantic ... George T. Conway III argues in an 11,400-word essay, "Unfit for Office," that Trump's "ingrained and extreme behavioral characteristics make it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires."

2. The trade deal that might survive impeachment

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The impeachment war has hastened Speaker Pelosi's determination to approve a trade deal with Mexico and Canada, making it the one thing most likely to get done this year, lawmakers and their aides tell Axios' Stef Kight and Alayna Treene.

  • Why it matters: Democratic lawmakers need something to bring home to their constituents ahead of 2020 — especially in vulnerable districts. And while Pelosi has said she is committed to passing several different proposals, the USMCA trade deal is the most realistic and urgent, Hill sources say.
  • If Pelosi fails, Republicans have more ammunition to scorch House Democrats for being impeachment obstructionists.

The state of play: Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), lawmakers in the USMCA working group and others are meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico on Tuesday to discuss the deal, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), a member of the working group, told Axios.

  • "Sometimes a good crisis creates more opportunity," Gomez said of the impeachment inquiry.

What's next: Democratic aides also said they were optimistic about passing legislation to address high drug prices along with USMCA. House Democrats will almost certainly pass a drug pricing bill.

3. Manufacturing's trade war threat

Inside Fuyao Glass, a Chinese-owned factory in Moraine, Ohio. Photo: Andrew Spear/Washington Post/Getty Images

As the Trump administration ramps up the trade war with China, a number of foreign companies are reconsidering their place in the U.S., writes Axios' Erica Pandey.

  • While some are concerned about doing business in an "America First" environment, others appear to be delaying big-ticket projects — with scores of jobs hanging in the balance.

Why it matters: Almost a fifth of all manufacturing jobs in the U.S. are created by foreign companies that put their factories in American towns to get closer to the U.S. market, according to Brookings, and around a quarter of U.S. exports come from factories owned by foreign countries, reports the Washington Post.

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Margaret Talev/Axios

Spotted at Tuesday's Nats-Brewers NL wild-card game at Nationals Park in Washington ...

5. Third Way poll: What could government do to improve your life?
Word cloud: Third Way

In a quarterly poll of Democratic primary voters for Third Way, the center-left think tank, David Binder Research found:

  • "[V]oters want candidates to focus on kitchen-table concerns like health care and the economy, as well as cleaning up Washington."

See full results.

6. Kamala Harris: "Emphatic but elusive"
Courtesy TIME

From a Kamala Harris interview with Molly Ball in the forthcoming TIME:

  • On President Trump: "This guy has completely trampled on the rule of law, avoided consequence and accountability under law. For all the sh-t people give me for being a prosecutor, listen. I believe there should be accountability and consequence."
  • On questioning Attorney General William Barr: "It has become clear to me that these are the kinds of questions you have to ask members of this administration. What kind of unethical requests has this president made of you?"
7. Beto, Mayor Pete mix it up on guns
Photo: Rob Groulx for Axios

No other 2020 Democrat at a gun-policy forum yesterday endorsed Beto O'Rourke's proposal to implement a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports from Vegas.

O'Rourke explicitly called out Pete Buttigieg — both on stage and in a brief press conference — for their disagreement on this issue:

  • Buttigieg said when asked about the buybacks debate among 2020 Democrats: "We have a way, sometimes, as a party ... of getting caught. Just when we've amassed the discipline and the force to get something done right away, a shiny object makes it harder for us to focus."
  • O'Rourke's retort: "Those who are worried about the polls, or want to triangulate or talk to consultants or listen to focus groups — and I’m thinking about Mayor Pete on this one, who I think probably wants to get to the right place, but is afraid of doing the right thing right now."
Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/MSNBC

Above, Gabby Giffords asks Joe Biden a question from the audience.

8. "Everything Is Private Equity Now"
Courtesy Bloomberg Businessweek

"Spurred by cheap loans and investors desperate to boost returns, buyout firms roam every corner of the corporate world," according to the forthcoming Bloomberg Businessweek:

[H]aving once operated on the comfortable margins of Wall Street, private equity is now facing tougher questions from politicians, regulators, and activists. One of PE’s superpowers is that it's hard for outsiders to see and understand the industry.

Keep reading.

9. First look: Twitter celebrates women journalists
Courtesy Twitter

Twitter has started a video series called #HerStory that highlights the work and lives of women journalists.

  • It's launching its Washington, D.C., series, which includes sit down interviews with USA Today's Susan Page, American Urban Radio Networks' April Ryan, PBS' Yamiche Alcindor, and the Washington Post's Ashley Parker and Seung Min Kim.
10. 1 film thing

A change to U.S. copyright law in the late 70s allows authors to reclaim rights to their work from studios after a few decades, so the passage of time may now "unsettle who owns the ability to make sequels and reboots of iconic films from the mid- to late-'80s," per The Hollywood Reporter.

  • Some of the classic franchises that could change hands: "Terminator," Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "Beetlejuice," "Die Hard," "Predator," and "Nightmare on Elm Street."

Why it matters: "Studios might be hesitant to greenlight anything under a legal cloud."

Mike Allen