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1 big thing: Trump unplugged

On Friday afternoon, after a signing ceremony on trade, President Trump sat down with the Financial Times in the Oval Office and gave a blunt, hard-edged interview that foreshadows some tense conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping at their Mar-a-Lago summit on Thursday and Friday:

[H]e made clear that he would deal with North Korea with or without China's help. Asked if he would consider a "grand bargain" — where China pressures Pyongyang in exchange for a guarantee that the US would later remove troops from the Korean peninsula — Mr Trump said: "Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you."

The White House views North Korea as the most imminent threat to the US after Barack Obama warned his successor about the progress Pyongyang had made developing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.

Bill Bishop (@niubi) — publisher of The Sinocism China Newsletter, and one of Washington's most astute China-watchers — offered to help Axios AM read between the lines of Trump's interview, and to get us smart ahead of this week's summit:

  • "The U.S. does need a different approach, and Trump is right to threaten unilateral actions if Beijing does not do what it can."
  • "Beijing does not control Pyongyang, ... but it does still has significant economic influence. ... China does not like North Korea but they value stability and the status quo above everything else. And we should remember that China is currently at much more risk from Kim's nuclear weapons than the U.S. is, and that is something Beijing worries about."
  • "There were people under Obama who pushing for a much harder line, from secondary sanctions to telling the Chinese that attempts at [North Korean] regime change would be considered, but as far as I know Obama was not willing to send that message clearly. It sounds like Trump is, and that should focus minds in Beijing."
  • The bottom line: "[T]he Chinese are going to be very resistant to anything that threatens the stability on the Korean Peninsula, the paradox of course being that [North Korea] is threatening that stability more now than it has in years."

Also worthy ... Josh Rogin column in WashPost, "The Kushner channel to China": "In mid-November, Kissinger met Kushner, national security adviser designate Michael Flynn and the president-elect at Trump Tower. Trump asked Kissinger to travel to Beijing and deliver a verbal message to Xi saying that everything was on the table in terms of bilateral cooperation. Kissinger met Xi in Beijing on Dec. 2, and Xi sent back a private reply conveying China's wish to set up an early meeting of the two presidents."

Breaking: Jared Kushner is in Iraq today with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

2. Trump in his own words

From an edited transcript of Trump's fascinating interview with the Financial Times' Lionel Barber, Gillian Tett and Demetri Sevastopulo:

Mr. President, you use a language which is more abrasive than many of your predecessors ...

I would say. I hope so.

Are you proud of that?

Well it hasn't worked for our predecessors.

What the world can't quite work out is whether this is the most brilliant softening-up exercise, or whether you want to fundamentally change the postwar liberal order.

This isn't an exercise. This is a very, very serious problem that we have in the world today. And we have more than one but this is no exercise. This is not just ... talk. The United States has talked long enough and you see where it gets us, it gets us nowhere.

Do you regret any of your tweets?

I don't regret anything, because there is nothing you can do about it. You know if you issue hundreds of tweets, and every once in a while you have a clinker, that's not so bad. Now my last tweet, you know the one that you are talking about perhaps, was the one about being in quotes wire tapped, meaning surveilled. Guess what, it is turning out to be true . . . I predicted Brexit.

3. Trump 101: Twitter backfires and blanks

When President-elect Trump was preparing to move to the White House, some of his aides and security experts conspired to impose more guardrails on his raw, prolific tweeting, Jonathan Swan and I write this morning in the Axios STREAM.

"They tried everything in the book," a top campaign official recalled. Some members of Trump's inner circle feared that what was an undeniable asset during the campaign — the power of authentic, direct communication — might become a mixed blessing as the leader of the free world.

How right they were. Trump has continued tweeting just as before, and the result has been a dilution of the impact — a bit of a "boy who cried wolf" effect. As an example, a former aide cited Trump's repeat last week of his "change libel laws?" crusade. The tweet got little attention.

Read what Swan is hearing from members of Congress about POTUS tweets.

4. Schmoozing the Senate

Using perks to try to work Washington, Trump golfed yesterday with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of his former primary opponents, at Trump National Golf Club in Virginia.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus joined the two for lunch in the clubhouse, where dozens of thrilled members greeted POTUS.

Arriving back at the White House in the motorcade, Paul exited one of the SUVs and told reporters on the lawn, per pooler James Osborne of the Houston Chronicle:

We had a great day with the president. Played some golf, and we talked and we talked about a little bit of health care. I continue to be very optimistic that we are getting closer and closer to an agreement on repealing Obamacare.

5. Article of the day

The N.Y. Times' Noam Scheiber gets four columns above the fold for "How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers' Buttons: The company has undertaken an extraordinary experiment in behavioral science to subtly entice an independent work force to maximize its growth":

  • "Some of the most addictive [video] games ever made, like the 1980s and '90s hit Tetris, rely on a feeling of progress toward a goal that is always just beyond the player's grasp. ... In its messages to drivers, [Uber] included a graphic of an engine gauge with a needle that came tantalizingly close to, but was still short of, a dollar sign."
  • "Uber acknowledged that it had experimented with female personas to increase engagement with drivers."
  • "Consider an algorithm called forward dispatch — Lyft has a similar one — that dispatches a new ride to a driver before the current one ends. Forward dispatch shortens waiting times for passengers ... As with ... binge-watching, many drivers appear to enjoy the forward-dispatch feature ... But it can ... work against their interests by increasing the number of drivers on the road and defusing fare surges."
  • "While the company has made no secret of its investment in self-driving cars, it could be a decade or more before they completely replace human drivers."
6. America's subprime auto problem

Wall Street analysts have worriedly watched rising subprime auto delinquencies — with some even suggesting similarities to the subprime real estate market of 2006, writes Chris Matthews, back at his New York base:

Such interpretations are very likely overblown, as the subprime auto market is far smaller than suprime real estate was in 2006. Meanwhile, that cars are so easily recoverable and resold makes these loans less of a threat to the solvency of lenders.

  • A massive burden: Nonetheless, these loans illustrate the burden working class Americans must bear just so that they can continue to be productive members of society. These loans typically bear an interest rate of 14% over 67 months. Given the median used car costs roughly $19,000, assuming a 10% down payment, that means $369 monthly payment — $112 of which is interest — a huge burden for a minimum wage laborer.
7. Allegations against Bill O'Reilly and Roger Ailes

The N.Y. Times reported over the weekend that $13 million has been paid to women accusing Bill O'Reilly of sexual harassment, and at least six women have leveled accusations against him.

Both O'Reilly and Roger Ailes have denied the accusations. 21st Century Fox released a statement in response to the NYT story, saying the company "takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously."

Here, from Axios' Dave Lawler, is a list of the women who have come forward:

O'Reilly's accusers:

  • Andrea Mackris: Former producer. Accused O'Reilly of making inappropriate phone calls. O'Reilly paid her a $9 million settlement, according to the NYT.
  • Wendy Walsh: Former regular O'Reilly guest. Claims he offered to help her get a position at Fox News but reneged after she declined to go to a hotel room with him.
  • Rebecca Gomez Diamond: Former Fox Business host. Accused O'Reilly of inappropriate phone calls. O'Reilly paid her a settlement, according to the NYT.
  • Juliet Huddy: Former regular O'Reilly guest. Accused him of inappropriate phone calls and trying to kiss her, and then damaging her career after she rejected his advances. Fox paid her a $1.6 million settlement, according to the NYT.
  • Andrea Tantaros: Former Fox News Host. Sued both O'Reilly and Ailes for alleged sexual harassment.
  • Laurie Dhue: Former Fox News host. Sued both O'Reilly and Ailes for alleged sexual harassment. Fox paid her over $1 million, according to the NYT.

Ailes' accusers:

  • Tantaros.
  • Dhue.
  • Gretchen Carlson: Former Fox News host. Sued Ailes for allegedly harming her career after she rebuffed his advances. Fox paid her $20 million.
  • Megyn Kelly: Former Fox News host. During an internal investigation, she said Ailes had made unwanted advances when she was a Fox News correspondent, according to NY Mag.
  • Rudi Bakhtiar: Former Fox News reporter. She claims Ailes made inappropriate comments to her and that she was fired after accusing another Fox News employee of sexual harassment.
8. A delicious profile

Tucker Carlson gets The New Yorker treatment ... "Tucker Carlson's Fight Words: On Fox News, an unlikely star thrives in the tumult of Trump-era politics," by Kelefa Sanneh:

Some cable shows rely on the drama of putting people in the same place, but Carlson's thrives on remote interviews, which allow his producers to "box" his face, keeping it onscreen so that viewers can watch him react. When Carlson is talking to someone he agrees with, he pulls back, adopting the role of an earnest student seeking edification from a wise professor. But the segments most people remember are the contentious ones.

Carlson grows incredulous and furrows his brow; he grows more incredulous and unfurrows it, letting his features melt into a disbelieving smile, which sometimes gives way to a high-pitched chuckle of outrage. One of his favorite tactics is to insist that his guest answer a question that is essentially unanswerable, as when he pressed Bill Nye to tell him what percentage of climate change was caused by human activity, then berated him for evading the question.

9. 100 years ago this Thursday ...

... on April 6, 1917, the United States entered "The Great War" (later World War I, or the First World War).

100 years ago last night, per the N.Y. Times: "At 8:35 o'clock ... the United States virtually made its entrance into the war. At that hour President Wilson appeared before a joint session of the Senate and House and invited it to consider the fact that Germany had been making war upon us and to take action in recognition of that fact in accordance with his recommendations, which included universal military service, the raising of an army of 500,000 men, and co-operation with the Allies in all ways that will help most effectively to defeat Germany."

Four days later, Congress agreed.

10. 1 fun thing

Trump's awkward exit from an Oval Office signing ceremony on Friday, when he apparently forgot to sign the executive orders on trade he had just lauded, is reimagined by BuzzFeed's Jesse McLaren as the closing credits of HBO's "Veep."

This was in response to a request from BuzzFeed colleague Brandon Wall‏, who had tweeted: "Could someone please mash this up to be in the style of a @VeepHBO closing credits scene? PLEASE."

Wall tweeted his thanks: "Update: The internet moves fast."