Nov 14, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☕️ Good Wednesday morning. Voting for Senate leaders scheduled for 9:30 a.m., and House GOP leaders at 1 p.m., per AP.

For AMers in Columbus, Ohio: I'll be in town tomorrow morning, and I hope you'll join me at The King Arts Complex for a breakfast conversation about the future of work. 

  • To hear how jobs are changing, I'll interview: Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase CEO; Josh Silverman, Etsy CEO; Francis Davidson, Sonder co-founder and CEO; and Columbus’ own Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. RSVP here.
1 big thing: Trump's next chief (unless he's not)

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

When John Kelly publicly announced this summer that President Trump had asked him to stay on as White House chief of staff until 2020, the most common reactions in Trump's inner circle were bemusement and, in some cases, laughter — no one thought it was real. And they were right, Jonathan Swan reports:

  • Trump has long been casting about for a replacement and has, on several occasions, made what in any normal world would be taken as an official job offer to Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, 36.
  • But when Trump offers you a job, it's not always as it seems. He has discussed the job with Ayers sporadically for months. Sources close to Pence's chief tell me that in recent weeks, Ayers has privately expressed a "Who knows?" attitude: It could happen tomorrow, or in several months, or maybe never.

The case for Ayers, according to his boosters: He has sharp political instincts and business acumen — and that's what some believe Trump needs in his chief job heading into the 2020 presidential election.

  • Ayers' supporters say Pence's office is one of the few well-functioning and low-drama parts of the building.
  • Jared and Ivanka are major supporters — and maybe that's all Ayers needs to overcome his internal enemies.
  • But the opposition to Ayers is substantial inside the administration. His internal opponents attack him as too slick by half and ruthlessly ambitious.
  • Some have been circulating a Huffington Post piece, "Mike Pence's Man in the Swamp," that digs into how Ayers made a fortune in political consulting.

At the White House’s election night gathering, Trump huddled with Ayers over to the side of the room towards the end of the evening, according to a source who was there.

  • Some of Ayers' colleagues at the party assumed the two were discussing the chief job. And by the next day internal opposition to the idea revved up again.
  • Ayers declined to comment for this story.

The other official who was considered a main contender for the chief job, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, appears to be out of consideration.

  • A source close to Mulvaney texted Swan: "Regarding the banter about the chief of staff job... Before this goes any further you should know that he is no longer interested in the cos role. He would be far more interested in another cabinet position if anything."
  • Swan responded that the aide seemed to be acknowledging that Mulvaney was once interested in the job. (And indeed, Mulvaney had dinner with Trump several months ago to discuss it.) So what changed? And what cabinet positions would he be interested in?
  • The source close to Mulvaney replied: "Who wouldn't be interested, it was flattering to be even considered... Other roles? As someone who has run several large organizations important to this White House, that answer is TBD."

The bottom line: We still don't know when, or even if, Kelly is getting replaced. That's why Axios hasn't written a single story saying he's gone.

  • Swan says that at this point, he'd need both Kelly's and Trump's tongues notarized before writing a "Kelly is out" story.

Go deeper: Swan's dispatch on two other brewing changes.

2. U.S. faces worst national security crisis in decades, panel warns
National Defense Strategy Commission

U.S. national security is in greater peril "than at any time in decades," according to a new report from national security experts tasked by Congress with reviewing American national defense, Axios World editor Dave Lawler reports.

As U.S. superiority fades, the authors write, the likelihood of war rises:

  • “Rivals and adversaries are challenging the United States on many fronts and in many domains. America’s ability to defend its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests is increasingly in doubt. If the nation does not act promptly to remedy these circumstances, the consequences will be grave and lasting.”
  • “Authoritarian competitors — especially China and Russia — are seeking regional hegemony and the means to project power globally. ... Threats posed by Iran and North Korea have worsened as those countries have developed more advanced weapons and creatively employed asymmetric tactics.”
  • “In multiple regions, gray-zone aggression — intimidation and coercion in the space between war and peace — has become the tool of choice for many.
  • “Finally, due to political dysfunction and decisions made by both major political parties... America has significantly weakened its own defense.”

Between the lines: Ambassador Eric Edelman, a co-chair of the commission, tells former acting CIA director Michael Morell, on his "Intelligence Matters" podcast from CBS News, that many of these warnings have been issued before: “[W]e had to wrestle with ... the consequences of all those warnings having been ignored.”

  • Go deeper: Special report on the gravest threats the U.S. faces.
3. "Election night" enters Week 2
Expand chart
Data: AP. Chart: Axios Visuals

Eight days after election night, Democrats are still holding out hope they can flip several seats from the House, Senate and gubernatorial races with margins of tenths of a percentage point between the winners and the losers, Axios' Chris Canipe and Marisa Fernandez report.

  • Why it matters: Contrary to what President Trump said would be a measly House majority for the Democrats, they have 32 gained seats in the House, nine more than needed. And Republicans didn't pick up as many Senate seats as leaders had hoped.
  • CNN last night ran a prime-time special, "Election Night in America Continued." A featured headline: "GROWING EVIDENCE OF A BLUE WAVE IN THE MIDTERMS."

Nine House seats, two governorships and one Senate seat are still up for grabs.

  • Democrats are leading in the majority of uncalled House races, CNN says.
  • In Florida, the Senate and gubernatorial recounts have a deadline of tomorrow. If that's missed, the official result would revert to last Saturday's preliminary tally. Lawyers for Democrats will be in federal court today.
  • In Georgia’s governor race, unofficial results give Republican Brian Kemp a slim lead. But Democrat Stacey Abrams is holding out hope that she can force a runoff on Dec. 4, extending her bid to be America's first black woman governor.
4. 50 dead in California fires

Infrared satellite imagery of Malibu after the Woolsey fire made it all the way to the ocean:

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images
Gillian Flaccus/AP

Above: Linda Rawlings, a wildfire evacuee, sits outside a hotel in Corning, Calif., after finding out that her home in Magalia is gone.

Below: A message is left at The Neighborhood Church in Chico, Calif.

  • Numerous postings fill the message board as evacuees, family and friends search for people missing from the Northern California wildfire.
Gillian Flaccus/AP
5. Stat du jour
Courtesy N.Y. Post

"At $61,000 Per Amazon Job, New York Pays Twice What Virginia Does," per Bloomberg News:

  • "Virginia’s state and local governments agreed to shell out as much as $796 million in tax incentives and infrastructure improvements over the next 15 years in exchange for 25,000 well-paying tech jobs. That works out to just under $32,000 per job — about half of the $61,000 per job that Amazon said it will receive from New York to create the same number of jobs at the site in Long Island City in Queens."

P.S. ... "Amazon's furious expansion is inviting increasing political scrutiny," the WashPost's Jonathan O'Connell and Rachel Siegel report.

  • "Increasingly, Amazon will be challenged as being the big Goliath," said Thomas Cooke, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. "Attention will turn to Washington, D.C., and certainly Capitol Hill ... I can’t think of a better location to be in to fight those battles than to be in Washington."

How it's playing: L.A. Times front page, "Amazon snubs L.A., and some are relieved."

6. Legal experts think CNN will win lawsuit

Legal experts say CNN is likely to win the lawsuit it filed yesterday against the Trump administration for removing chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta's press credentials, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

  • Why it matters: If CNN comes out victorious, it will reinforce a legal precedent that says government officials, even as powerful as the president, can't remove a member of the press corps' credentials for arbitrary reasons.
  • If CNN loses, the precedent will be set that government officials can restrict access to journalists they dislike.

Legal experts are mostly in agreement that the law is on CNN's side.

  • Andrew Napolitano, Fox News senior judicial analyst, said: "I think CNN’s got a very good case. I think this will be resolved quickly."

CNN says it has grounds to sue the administration based on three legal principles that stem from the Bill of Rights and other U.S. laws that have been tested in the courts.:

  1. First Amendment violation: CNN cites an established legal precedent from a 1977 D.C. Circuit Court case, Sherrill v. H. Knight. That case says that, while the public doesn't have a right to White House access, the First Amendment prohibits denial of a press pass "arbitrarily or for less than compelling reasons.” CNN also cites a 1963 Supreme Court case, N.Y. Times v. Sullivan, which says the First Amendment protects speech even when the president doesn't like it.
  2. Fifth Amendment violation: CNN asserts that the White House's decision to revoke Acosta’s press credentials violates the Fifth Amendment right to due process.
  3. Violation of administrative procedure: CNN says that the final decision to yank the credentials by the Secret Service violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies issue regulations.

What's next? The case has been assigned to Judge Timothy J. Kelly, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Trump last year.

Be smart: While many legal precedents have been set around these issues, this lawsuit is unique in targeting a sitting president and his staff.

7. CIA considered using "truth serum" post-9/11
Once-classified CIA report about "Project Medication" (Jon Elswick/AP)

"Shortly after 9/11, the CIA considered using a drug it thought might work like a truth serum and force terror suspects to give up information about potential attacks," AP's Deb Riechmann reports:

  • "After months of research, the agency decided that a drug called Versed, a sedative often prescribed to reduce anxiety, was 'possibly worth a try.' But in the end, the CIA decided not to ask government lawyers to approve its use."
  • "The existence of the drug research program — dubbed 'Project Medication' — is disclosed in a once-classified report that was provided to the American Civil Liberties Union under a judge's order."

Why it matters: "The 90-page CIA report ... is a window into the internal struggle that medical personnel working in the agency's detention and harsh interrogation program faced in reconciling their professional ethics with the chance to save lives by preventing future attacks."

8. End of Le Bromance

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The unlikely bond between President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron — once dubbed "Le Bromance" by the N.Y. Times — appears to have taken a turn for the worse following Trump's weekend visit to France, Axios' Zach Basu and Dave Lawler report.

Between the lines: Macron was elected on a promise to, essentially, "make France great again," says Erik Brattberg of the Carnegie Endowment — more specifically, to make the country matter on the world stage. For a time, it seemed the way to do that was to develop influence with Trump. Now, given Trump's hardheaded approach and immense unpopularity in Europe, Macron may calculate that his best bet is to stand against him.

9. Michelle Obama: "We've become a culture where the nasty sells"
Oprah Winfrey introduces Michelle Obama in Chicago yesterday. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Sneak peek ... NBC News' Jenna Bush Hager talks with Michelle Obama about her new book, "Becoming," on the "Today" show this morning:

  • Jenna Bush: "I got a text from my dad this morning that said, 'Send Michelle my love.' I was like, 'Don't you call her Mrs. Obama?' He's like, 'No, I call her ... Michelle.' ... And I thought, you know, it's so interesting how people are so interested in y'all's friendship. I mean that hug [in 2016, at the dedication of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture] was, like, the hug that went around the world. I do love that picture."
  • Michelle Obama: "That's your dad. ... [Y]ou know your dad. You know?"
  • Jenna Bush: "Why do you think people are so hungry for that, though?"
  • Michelle Obama: "Because I think the political discourse, the way it's shown in the media, is ... all the nasty parts of it. You know? Because I guess we've become a culture where the nasty sells. So people are just gonna keep feeding that. ... We're all Americans. We all care about our family and our kids, and we're tryin' to get ahead. ... [A]nd that's how I feel about your father. You know? He's a beautiful, funny, kind, sweet man. And I don't know that I agree with him on everything."
Mrs. Obama and Jenna Bush Hager (NBC News "TODAY")
10. 1 film thing
Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures has given Axios AM readers a first look at a new preview of "The Front Runner," the film about the sex scandal that ended Gary Hart's political career. (Opens nationwide Nov. 21; in N.Y., LA., D.C. now).

  • The clip includes the reenactment of the scene that changed politics and journalism forever, along with the actors discussing the film.

Here are the Miami Herald reporters confronting Hart (Hugh Jackman) at his townhouse in May 1987, after Donna Rice appeared to have spent the night there.

  • "Senator, I want to ask you some questions about the woman at your townhouse."
  • "Can you tell us how you know her?"
  • "You can't be serious. No one is staying at my home. There's no need for that."
  • "I am serious, sir."

See the clip.

  • Go deeper: The Gary Hart story: How it happened (Miami Herald).
Mike Allen