May 12, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🌻 Good Sunday morning from Nels and Cathie's bonus room in Oregon. I'm about to head to church and brunch with my mom.

  • Thank you for reading, and happiest Mother's Day to all moms.

Situational awareness: Leaked NRA expense documents show Wayne LaPierre billed the group’s ad agency $39,000 for one day of shopping at Zegna in Beverly Hills, and had the agency cover $13,800 in rent for a female summer intern. (Wall Street Journal)

  • NRA statement: The "entire board is fully aware of these issues. We have full confidence in Wayne LaPierre."

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1 big thing: Trump's tailwind
Marine One, with President Trump aboard, departs the South Lawn for Mar-a-Lago in March. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Every president since FDR who has avoided a recession in the lead-up to an election year was re-elected, Axios markets reporter Courtenay Brown writes:

  • Why it matters: More Americans are saying they approve of President Trump's handling of the economy, even though they disapprove overall.
  • 51% of people disapprove of Trump's job performance in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll out last week, but 51% approve of him on the economy.

With the election 18 months away, key metrics are surprising to the upside:

  • The economy grew 2.3% during Trump's first full-year in office, and hit 2.9% in 2018 — slightly less than the 3% the White House promised, but still the fastest annual pace since 2015.
  • Unemployment is at a 50-year low, and the stretch of job growth that began under Obama has continued for a record 103 months.
  • By the Federal Reserve's guidance, low interest rates will stay low for a while longer. Inflation is so tepid that traders are betting interest rates will be even lower in coming months.

What's next: While recession fears have subsided, there's no guarantee Trump's economy will stay strong. Among the big X-factors is his trade war with China.

  • Flashback: What had been an otherwise impressive stretch for economic growth during the first half of Jimmy Carter's presidency began to unravel in 1980 — the year Carter lost.

The other side: 2020 Democrats say the booming economy isn't touching all corners of the country.

  • Many candidates are pointing to income inequality, while others are tapping into the ways in which the capitalist system has failed.

The bottom line: "Many voters are willing to forgive the noise (political incorrectness, tweets, Mueller) as long as the signal (economy) stays strong," says lobbyist Bruce Mehlman, who explores this trend in his quarterly slide deck.

2. Trump’s Biden obsession
President Trump greets President Obama and Joe Biden after being sworn in. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Behind the scenes, aides to President Trump have long seen Joe Biden as his biggest potential threat in 2020. Now, the president is saying it out loud:

  • "Looks to me like it’s going to be SleepyCreepy Joe over Crazy Bernie. Everyone else is fading fast!" Trump tweeted Friday.
  • Trump also called Biden the frontrunner in an interview with Politico, mocking him for mistakenly referring to Theresa May as Margaret Thatcher: "Is that a good frontrunner? I don’t know. That was a beauty."

Trump’s advisers take Biden very seriously, Jonathan Swan reports:

  • Several have privately said they're surprised he's opened up such a strong early lead.
  • A few months ago, many of Trump’s advisers thought Biden would be formidable in a general election. But few thought he'd win a Democratic primary that looked likely to be dominated by left-wing activists.
  • Now they’re thinking: Sheesh! Maybe he can get through to the general.

Biden has been in Trump's head for months:

  • After a major firefighters union endorsed Biden, Trump attacked the union's leadership and retweeted "dozens of posts from purported firefighters and friends and relatives of firefighters" criticizing the endorsement. (WashPost)
  • Back on March 18, Trump tweeted: "Joe Biden got tongue tied over the weekend when he was unable to properly deliver a very simple line about his decision to run for President. Get used to it, another low I.Q. individual!"
3. Mayor Pete: "You only get to be one person"
Pete Buttigieg kisses his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, at Caesars Palace last night. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

At a Human Rights Campaign gala in Vegas last night, Pete Buttigieg told the story of his public coming out as a gay man in 2015:

When it comes to coming out, everyone's got their own story. Mine is one of taking a long, long time to come out even to myself. And once I did come out to myself, and start to tell friends, after being elected mayor of my hometown, it was easy to drag my feet on telling anyone else. After, all, I had a demanding job, not a lot of time for a personal life, and the city was a jealous bride. 
But what happened was I realized I wasn’t getting any younger. By the time I stepped away from the mayor's office to serve in Afghanistan, I was seized with the awareness that I could be killed in action at the age of 33, a grown man and an elected official, with no idea what it was like to be in love. 
Something happens to you when you write a letter and put it in an envelope marked "just in case" and put it where your family can find it. It forces you to realize that you only get one life, only get to be one person, and then I knew I had to be who I am. So by the time I came home, I knew what I had to do.
Bonus pics
Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

The photo above — at a ceremony in Promontory, Utah, celebrating 150 years since a golden spike completed the 1,800-mile Transcontinental Railroad —recreates the historic photo below, taken on May 10, 1869.

Photo: Andrew Russell/Union Pacific via AP
4. Beyond the bubbles
Anti-abortion sidewalk counselors call out to a woman entering the Jackson Women's Health Organization's clinic, the state's only abortion clinic. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Republican legislatures are on a course to virtually eliminate abortion access in large chunks of the Deep South and Midwest, AP's Russ Bynum reports:

  • If a new Mississippi law survives a court challenge, it will be nearly impossible for most pregnant women to get an abortion there.
  • Or, potentially, in neighboring Louisiana. Or Alabama. Or Georgia.
  • The Louisiana legislature is halfway toward passing a law — like the ones enacted in Mississippi and Georgia — that will ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they're pregnant.
  • Alabama is on the cusp of approving an even more restrictive bill.
  • Ohio and Kentucky have also passed heartbeat laws; Missouri's Republican-controlled legislature is considering one.

Why it matters: A more conservative Supreme Court may approve.

5. If you have time to curl up and read
Photo illustration by Mike McQuade. Source photograph: Theodor Jung/Library of Congress/FSA/OWI Collection. (Courtesy The New York Times)

I read this cover story on my phone as I flew into Portland yesterday, and it's the first time I can remember being so into something that I started scrolling faster.

  • No spoilers, but a key plot twist involves secret recordings made by an iPad on the kitchen island.

The great Wil S. Hylton in The New York Times Magazine: "My Cousin Was My Hero. Until the Day He Tried to Kill Me ... For years, I was drawn to his strength, his bravado, his violence. But then he forced me to come to terms with how that idea of masculinity poisoned his life — and mine." Hylton writes of his son:

He was 9 that day, and his family was shattering, and suddenly his father was gone. What I have come to understand is that my absence wasn’t sudden at all. I had been missing all his life. ...
He needs to know that when he becomes a man, he will be tempted to fail in the same ways. ... He will be told these things aren’t failures.
I need to tell him the difficult truth that I am still learning myself.

Treat yourself.

6. 1 mom thing: Barbara Bush's last letter to her kids
Barbara Bush and George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, greet the media in Kennebunkport in 1999. (Photo: John Bohn/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

"Things I am grateful for" was one of the final diary entries of Barbara Bush, as reported by USA Today's Susan Page in her current bestseller, "The Matriarch":

"Dearest Children," Barbara Bush typed into her laptop:

  • "I am most thankful for five men and one lady,” she began, referring to George H.W. Bush; their four sons, George W., Jeb, Neil and Marvin; and their daughter, Doro.
  • "My dad was the finest brightest man ... Although Neil and George got my dad’s hair (or growing lack of hair) ... Jeb and Marvin are true Bushes with height and hair."
  • "I am so grateful that our children and grand children all finished school and promptly went to work ... They did not feel entitled."

Barbara Bush then thanked a sewing group, the Saintly Stitchers, "who meet on Mondays at Saint Martins [Episcopal] Church. They treat me as a normal person although they do spoil me."

  • She concluded with "the 1925 Club, a group of Texas women of a certain age [born in 1925] who convened at the Bayou Club in Houston on the first Monday of the month for lunch and gossip."

Thank you for reading Axios on Mother's Day. Who's on your list?

Mike Allen

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