Oct 15, 2017

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Sunday morning. Situational awareness: "California Senate Leader Kevin de León will announce an audacious bid to challenge fellow Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Sunday," the L.A. Times reports.

1 big thing: A truce of necessity

We've learned that after months of frosty distance, President Trump picked up the phone yesterday and called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — ahead of a week when they absolutely have to work together on a budget, or risk losing tax reform.

  • Why it matters: Well-wired Republicans privately think chances for tax cuts are still pretty bleak. If Trump and McConnell are able to patch things up even temporarily, Republicans have a better chance at avoiding an embarrassing legislative shutout that could imperil their majorities.
  • The stakes: They need to get a budget done in the Senate this week. No budget, no tax reform. It's that simple.
  • Jonathan Swan hears that the two had a productive conversation on the agenda, and bonded over their joint effort to nominate and confirm conservative judges across the country.
  • Trump was upbeat and brought up a Kim Strassell column in The Wall Street Journal, "Scalias all the way down," giving the president credit for "remaking the federal judiciary."

I'm told the two speak behind the scenes more frequently than is leaked, with judges and tax reform as regular topics:

  • They also are said to trade intel such as whip counts.
  • That makes Trump's public and private slaps at McConnell seem even more bizarre, although it fits with the reality that much of what this president says is for show.
  • The two will have lunch at the White House tomorrow.

Be smart: This is a truce that both sides need — not a thaw, or a change in how they view each other. You can count on Trump to attack McConnell on Twitter again soon, and keep courting "Chuck and Nancy."

2. The only story that matters

N.Y. Times columnist Nick Kristof writes that during his five-day visit to North Korea, he was struck by "the Confucian emphasis on dignity that makes officials particularly resent Trump's personal attacks on Kim."

Kristof also detected a "bizarre confidence that North Korea can not only survive a nuclear war with the U.S. but also emerge as victor":

  • "Ordinary North Koreans were unfamiliar with the name of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died days after being returned to the United States in a vegetative state after his detention in Pyongyang for stealing a poster. But they knew all about President Trump's threats to destroy their country."
  • "I left North Korea fearing that we are far too complacent about the risk of a cataclysmic war that could kill millions."
  • "I have a sinking feeling in my gut, just as I had on the eve of the Iraq war, that our president may be careening blindly toward war. In that case, the job of journalists is to go out and report, however imperfectly, and try to ring alarm bells in the night."
  • Worthy of your time.
3. Opioid crackdown derailed

New this morning ... "Amid a targeted lobbying effort, Congress weakened the DEA's ability to go after drug distributors, even as opioid-related deaths continue to rise, a Washington Post and '60 Minutes' investigation finds," by WashPost's Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein:

  • "In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation's streets."
  • "A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation's major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills."
  • "By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War."
  • Why it matters: "Overdose deaths continue to rise. There is no end in sight."
  • Read on.
4. Pic du jour

Athletes start in yesterday's swim race at the Ironman World Championship Triathlon in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

5. Wildfires now up to 100 miles wide

"Wind-whipped flames blew up [again yesterday], prompting epic firefights to save two of California's signature tourist towns ... Calistoga and Sonoma," the S.F. Chronicle reports:

  • "The firefight is one of the most intensive mobilizations in California history, with more than 10,000 firefighters on the lines, including 4,000 U.S. Forest Service crew members and 12 elite hot shot crews."
  • "They are working around the clock on 17 out-of-control fires statewide, including 15 in Northern California, that have blackened 222,000 acres, or about 330 square miles."
  • 223 people still unaccounted for in Sonoma County; 74 in Napa.
  • 39 dead.
6. Data du jour

"Trump is on pace to sign more executive orders than any president in the last 50 years," per CNN:

Trump's executive order on health care Thursday, dismantling parts of the Affordable Care Act, "was the 49th executive order that Trump has signed ... The last president to sign that many executive orders through October 13 of his first year in office? Lyndon Johnson."

7. Column of the week: "We Used to Build Things"

David Brooks, pointing to the California wildfires as a reminder of the founding of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, has a worrying column showing that we're falling short of our predecessors on a grand scale:

  • "When you look back at that era, you are struck by how many civic institutions were founded to address the nation's problems. Not only the Forest Service, but also the Food and Drug Administration [1906], the municipal reform movement, the suffrage movement [19th Amendment took effect 1920], the Federal Reserve System [1913], the Boy Scouts [1910], the 4-H clubs [national in 1914, with creation of the Cooperative Extension Service], the settlement house movement, the compulsory schooling movement."
  • Why it matters: "[W]hen you look back on most periods of American history you see a rash of new organizations being created. ... When you look around today, you see a lot of history-making new companies being created, but you don't see too many big civic organizations."
  • "The federal government can't build anything new, even something as obvious as a national service program. The churches have let us down, too. ... The affluent have also been less entrepreneurial."
  • "But I wonder if there is also a malaise, a loss of faith in the future and a loss of expertise in institution building, a sense of general fragmentation and isolation."
  • "The good news is that one could have said the same thing in 1890, when politics was steeped in corruption and the economy wracked by crisis. But by 1910 the landscape was transformed. There were new organizations, new movements, a new mentality and a new burst of optimism."
  • Worthy of your time.

Be smart: At this moment, there's a couple-times-in-a-century opening for a leader who can ignite that burst. They'll probably be young(ish), and we should be listening.

8. Discovering a new life

The day after landing in Canada, Joshua Boyle and his son, Jonah, 4, who has spent his whole life in captivity, play in the garden of Boyle's parents' house in Smiths Falls, Ontario.

  • Boyle and his wife, Caitlan Coleman, were held hostage for five years by a Taliban-linked network and forced to raise three children while in captivity.
  • Boyle said he and his wife heard at least half a dozen reasons why they had been snatched from a village in Afghanistan and held against their will by the Haqqani network, AP reports.
9. "Era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity"

"Harvey Weinstein — a once-dominant force in the Academy Awards who rewrote the rules of Oscar campaigning — has been expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences," the L.A. Times' Josh Rottenberg writes.

  • From the statement: "We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over. What's at issue here is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society."

Maureen Dowd, in "Hollywood's Oldest Horror Story," quotes "a prominent male Hollywood producer": "Literally everyone in Hollywood is taking marshmallows to roast at his burning corpse."

10. 1 fun thing: Steam Team

"New characters give 'Thomas & Friends' a jolt of girl power," by AP Retail Writer Joseph Pisani:

  • "Mattel will add two female main characters to the 'Thomas & Friends' TV series next year. Nia and Rebecca will appear in each episode and help fix the gender imbalance at the shed where Thomas and the other main characters live. Three of the seven engines at Tidmouth Sheds will be female, up from just one.
  • "Nia, an engine from Kenya, will make her debut next summer in the movie 'Big World! Big Adventures!' and then join the TV series in the fall. Experts at the U.N. advised producers with Nia's name (it means 'purpose' in Swahili) and helped select the African pattern that runs across Nia's body."
  • Other changes coming to the 30-year-old show: "Thomas visits real countries for the first time; the animation will move at a faster pace; there's a new theme song; the characters will crack more jokes; and the narrator will be gone, replaced by the voice of Thomas."
  • See a video.
Mike Allen