Nov 15, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,168 words ... 4½ minutes.

1 big thing: Impeachment drama must fight for audience

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New data about impeachment's opening hearing shows the difficulty Democrats face in capturing attention in a nation that has grown numb to the Trump era's constant political drama, Axios' Neal Rothschild and Sara Fischer write.

  • Wednesday's hearing generated middling viewer interest compared with blockbuster hearings of the past three years.
  • Why it matters: Democrats are banking on the hearings' spectacle to move independents and Republicans in favor of impeachment.

Day One's 13.8 million live TV viewers (not counting streaming and other online services) fell short of James Comey's testimony in June 2017 (19.5 million) ... the Christine Blasey Ford/Brett Kavanaugh hearing in September 2018 (20 million) ... or the Michael Cohen hearing in February (16 million).

  • On social media, Wednesday's opening day generated 7 million interactions (likes, shares, comments), per analytics company NewsWhip.
  • That's higher than the 6 million interactions for Comey coverage on the day he testified, but shy of 8 million for Robert Mueller's testimony — and way below the 18 million for the Kavanaugh/Ford hearing.

Between the lines: While these other events were confined to a single day of viewing, the impeachment hearings will play out over many days. That could either scatter viewership, or build interest over time.

A number of factors may be working to suppress viewer interest:

  • The outcome looks predetermined: The Democratic-led House is expected to impeach, and the Republican-led Senate is likely to acquit.
  • Much of the testimony is known ahead of time: Witnesses have been deposed during hours-long questioning, and the transcripts released.
  • Media echo chambers mean that few facts and narratives are agreed upon by the left and the right.
  • The witnesses weren't household names until the past month, making them unfamiliar — and less interesting — to many Americans.
  • Americans could be experiencing hearing fatigue after sitting through the day-long slog for other high-profile Trump-era testimonies.
  • The daytime airing keeps many potential viewers from tuning in.

P.S. Fox News was the most popular network for hearing coverage, with 2.9 million viewers — the network’s third most-watched day of the year.

  • MSNBC was second with 2.69 million, ABC had 2.01 million, CBS had 1.97 million, CNN had 1.84 million and NBC had 1.68 million. (Nielsen via AP)
2. Warren gains with black voters

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is narrowing Joe Biden's longtime lead with black Democrats in the crowded 2020 primary field, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports.

  • Why it matters: Since 1992, no Democrat has won the party's presidential nomination without a majority of the black vote.
  • Black voters are expected to cast one in four primary ballots in the 2020 election, per an NBC News analysis.

Last week, a group of more than 100 black female activists (Black Womxn) endorsed Warren, saying her policies, record, and understanding of structural inequality speak directly to black voters.

  • Biden's association with former President Obama contributes to the former vice president's high support among older black Democrats — but he hasn't convinced young black voters.

Axios tracked nine Quinnipiac surveys between March and the end of October, and found:

  • Warren has steadily gained support among black Democrats, along with her overall rise in the nominating contest. She had less than 0.5% support from black Democrats in March; by the end of October, that had risen to 20%.
  • Biden was at 43% last month, about where he started in March.
3. Exclusive: Apple to remove vaping apps
Demonstrators vape during a protest outside the White House last weekend. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Apple will remove all 181 vaping-related apps from its mobile App Store this morning, sources tell Axios' Ina Fried and me.

  • Why it matters: The move comes after at least 42 people have died from vaping-related lung illness, per the CDC. Most of those people had been using cartridges containing THC, though some exclusively used nicotine cartridges.

Apple said in a statement to Axios: "Recently, experts ranging from the CDC to the American Heart Association have attributed a variety of lung injuries and fatalities to e-cigarette and vaping products, going so far as to call the spread of these devices a public health crisis and a youth epidemic. We agree."

  • Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said: "Apple is setting a welcome example of corporate responsibility in protecting our kids."
4. On birthday, teen kills two classmates
Students are escorted out of Saugus High School. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

The shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita (30 miles from L.A.) — which left two students dead and three wounded — happened over 16 seconds, when a classmate pulled a gun from his backpack in the quad, per the L.A. Times.

  • The suspect turned 16 yesterday. He was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was taken to a hospital and was in grave condition.
5. Pelosi gives Trump fresh optimism on trade
Speaker Pelosi talks to reporters yesterday. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

After weeks of venting their frustration over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s negotiating tactics on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), current and former administration officials close to the trade talks tell Axios' Jonathan Swan they’re more optimistic than ever that Pelosi is close to agreeing to a deal. 

  • Why it matters: USMCA is President Trump’s top legislative priority and represents billions in trade between America’s closest neighbors. 

Pelosi’s use of the word "imminent" yesterday to describe USMCA buoyed officials who have been pushing Congress to approve it.

  • Pelosi’s comments were her "most definitive signal that the logjam is going to break soon," per a top trade lawyer. 

Administration officials got an extra boost from an encouraging readout of a Democratic caucus meeting.

  • Several members told their colleagues they won't get re-elected if the trade deal that Trump renegotiated with Mexico and Canada to replace NAFTA doesn't pass, according to three sources familiar with the meeting.

For months, the White House has put pressure on freshman Democrats who won in districts that Trump carried in 2016 and where he remains relatively popular. 

  • Vice President Pence "participated in 35 events in the U.S. and Canada calling for USMCA passage," per his office, and traveled to 15 districts held by Democrats to push the trade agreement.

Between the lines: The logjam on USMCA still hasn't broken and the legislative calendar is tight and clogged with impeachment. It's still going to be challenging to get USMCA passed before year's end.

6. Dems' new "quid pro quo": "Bribery"
Pastor Sean Jones of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Walla Walla, Wash., waits for President Trump at a rally last night in Bossier City, La. Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP

Speaker Pelosi brushed aside the Latin "quid pro quo" that Democrats have been using to describe President Trump’s actions toward Ukraine and said: "It’s perfectly wrong. It’s bribery," AP reports.

  • Why it matters: The parties are hardening their messages to voters, who are deeply entrenched in two camps.
7. "Triggered" triumph
Cover: Center Street

"Triggered," by Donald Trump Jr., will debut atop the N.Y. Times bestseller list, and Publisher's Weekly reported first-week sales (via BookScan) of 70,730, compared with 32,683 and 30,681 for the week's next-ranking nonfiction books.

  • Although the Times list showed that the Trump book's ranking included bulk sales, a source close to Don Jr. told me: "You could erase all the books sold thru the RNC to their donors and 'Triggered' would still have sold roughly double the amount of copies of its nearest competitor."

Here's a sneak peek at the N.Y. Times bestseller list for Nov. 24:

8. 1 fun thing

The cast of "The Big Bang Theory" plays Dungeons & Dragons in a February episode. Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS via Getty Images

Dungeons & Dragons, celebrating its 45th anniversary, "appears to have been resurrected as if by a 17th-level necromancer," writes the N.Y. Times' Ethan Gilsdorf.

  • The reasons for its comeback: a new set of rules designed around storytelling, a focus on representing the diversity of its players in gameplay, and an increasing acceptance of geek culture as a part of the mainstream.
Mike Allen

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