Aug 3, 2019

Axios AM

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1 big thing: How the Trump White House works
President Trump talks to journalists before boarding Marine One yesterday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump's sudden decision to cashier his choice for director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas — five days after announcing the pick on Twitter — is a microcosm of how this White House works, Jonathan Swan writes:

  • First, months ago, Trump hears from conservative friends that Ratcliffe is a loyal guy — on Team Trump.
  • Then Trump is blown away by Ratcliffe’s TV performance as he hammered Robert Mueller during his House hearings.
  • Trump is eager to replace a man he doesn't like or trust — Dan Coats — and starts telling staff he wants Ratcliffe.
  • Nobody was ready to announce him last Sunday. But aides said that when Axios and then the N.Y. Times reported that Trump was seriously considering Ratcliffe, the president decided to move.
  • He went ahead and tweeted, a couple hours after Swan's story, that Ratcliffe was the pick.

A number of senior officials were skeptical about Ratcliffe. But as far as we can tell, nobody put up much of a fight to Trump before he announced Ratcliffe.

  • The White House appears to have done no vetting of Ratcliffe's résumé —
    assuming, perhaps, that if he'd been elected to Congress, he’d been vetted.

Between the lines: Per a source involved, it was only after Trump announced Ratcliffe that aides really scrambled to do a vulnerability assessment on their DNI candidate.

  • The media did it quicker, discovering that Ratcliffe "had exaggerated his role in terrorism and immigration enforcement cases when he served as a federal prosecutor in Texas." (WashPost)

Two people close to Ratcliffe told Swan that Ratcliffe made the decision to withdraw:

  • He didn't anticipate the intensity of the blowback against his potential nomination and his deceptive résumé.
  • A friend of Ratcliffe's said he decided not to put his family through the ordeal, given it was far from clear that at the end of it all, he’d have enough Republican votes to be confirmed.

The end ... Trump finished Ratcliffe off on Twitter, blaming the media instead of the congressman's inflation of his own biography:

Screenshot: Twitter
2. Impeachment summer
Expand chart
Reporting: Zach Basu/Axios. Graphic: Axios Visuals

Impeachment whip counts by Axios and other news organizations yesterday crossed the milestone of a majority — just over half — of House Democrats in favor: 118 of 235.

  • An average of a name a day has been added in July, in what we told you in Axios PM has been an impeachment slow drip.
  • Speaker Pelosi, trying to tamp down the momentum, issued a "Progress of House Investigations" statement yesterday with these headings: "Litigations ... Legislation ... Investigation."

What we're watching: August town halls back home in swing and freshman districts, with national progressive groups whipping up local fervor, will help decide whether impeachment pressure on House leaders continues to build.

  • The pro-impeachment group Need to Impeach is running television ads and fanning out to congressional districts to push lawmakers, AP reports.

What's next, from Axios' Zach Basu: Court battles over Mueller materials will stretch at least deep into fall.

  • So if Speaker Pelosi wants to slow the impeachment train down, she could insist those battles play out before an impeachment decision.
3. Big Afghanistan drawdown coming
Afghans assist a wounded man in a hospital this week after a roadside bomb tore through a bus, killing 32, on the highway between Herat and Kandahar. Photo: Hamed Sarfarazi/AP

Two headlines on America's 18-year war:

  • NBC, last evening: "Trump wants to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2020 election," current and former administration and military officials say.
  • AP this morning: July had the most civilian casualties in Afghanistan (1,500 killed or wounded) for any single month since 2017, the U.N. said.

Between the lines: Administration sources tell me a big drawdown is certain in the next year.

  • The question is whether the narrative will be that Trump made an exit deal with the Taliban, or that he tried to.
  • What the administration won't say is that the withdrawal will consist of conventional forces, and that special forces and contractors will remain.
4. Talk of S.F.: The "poop patrol"
Photo: Eric Risberg/AP

The photo above shows a public toilet on Sixth Street in San Francisco that's part of a growing program to help the homeless.

San Francisco started its "Pit Stop" program in July 2014 with public toilets in the Tenderloin, after children complained of dodging human waste on their way to school, AP's Janie Har reports:

  • Today, the staffed bathrooms have grown from 3 to 25, and the program has expanded to L.A.
  • In May, the San Francisco toilets recorded nearly 50,000 flushes, all logged by attendants.

Mayor London Breed last year formed a special 6-person "poop patrol" team where each cleaner earns more than $70,000 a year.

5. "A Future Without the Front Page"
Final front pages, a two-page spread in a special section in tomorrow's N.Y. Times. Courtesy The New York Times

Tomorrow's print New York Times includes a special section, "Dying Gasp of One Local Newspaper ... The Warroad Pioneer, a pillar of its small Minnesota town, ended its 121-year run with bloody marys, bold type and gloom about the void it would leave behind."

  • Anyone who's lived in a small town will appreciate this: "In Warroad, The Pioneer was full of soft-focus features on residents, reprinted news releases, photos of fishermen with their outsize catches, and news of awards won by children and Shriners."
  • And anyone who's worked at a local paper will appreciate this: Koren Zaiser, 48, the editor, "was on the phone desperately hunting for a student who could tell her the names of two unidentified high school baseball players in a photo." (Can I fax it to you?!)
  • Read the main story, by Richard Fausset.

And a happier note on community journalism ... from Wisconsin, where the weekly Brillion News took a chance on an eager journalistic rookie, one Jimmy VandeHei:

Screenshot: Twitter
6. 1 music thing
Guests pose in the YouTube Music Artist Lounge at Coachella in April. Photo: Roger Kisby/Getty Images

We usually read about YouTube as a business. But the cover story of tomorrow's WashPost Arts & Style section, by pop music critic Chris Richards, considers YouTube as a listening experience:

It’s a user-generated content platform, which means it’s brimming with bootlegs, outtakes, live performances, interviews and more. The sound quality is all over the place, and so is the music. ...
The rarest gems to materialize on-screen can’t be excavated in a used record store. I’ll always remember the thrill of landing on a swatch of camcorder footage featuring the California rapper Suga Free making casual magic in an undisclosed dining room circa 1995. It remains one of the most enthralling rap performances I’ve ever heard. ...
Other music-streaming services are mindful of our time. They want users to feel safe in the paralyzing immensity of what they have on offer, so they provide a deep menu of comfort-zone playlists designed to reinforce our tastes. ...
This has to be why teenage listeners keep pointing their ears toward YouTube’s sonic sprawl. When you’re young, the world feels impossibly big. If you’re not worried about how much time you have left to hear it, searching and floating can feel like the same thing.

Keeping reading.

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