Axios AM

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June 12, 2017

Good Monday morning. For our Southern California readers ... On Wednesday, we're holding our debut editorial event in L.A. — on the next frontier: the human brain — at 8:30 a.m. at a studio in Culver City. Axios Science Editor Alison Snyder will lead one-on-one conversations with experts on artificial intelligence, brain-machine interfaces, biopharmaceuticals and virtual reality.

We're serving "brain food" for breakfast — foods that improve memory and other mental functions, including acai bowls and avocado toast bases with brain food toppings (smoked salmon, turmeric, blueberries, dark chocolate). RSVP here.

1 big thing: "A president on an island, all alone"

The spotlight has been on President Trump's legal jeopardy. But inside the small circle of top Republicans who advise this White House, there's increasing concern that future political problems are stacking up.

One of the oldest (and most trusted) hands in America told a large group of CEOs in New York City on Friday: "Simply put, Trump has lost control of his presidency. He still has all the power of the office, but for someone who spent a portion of his life in real estate litigation, he shows once again he has not learned the first rule of legal combat: It is often better to say nothing and do nothing."

That voice isn't a partisan, but our kitchen cabinet of Republicans is growing notably more bearish, even though slam-dunk evidence of "high crimes and misdemeanors" hasn't emerged.

"Another week, and no progress on the GOP agenda," said a GOP sage. "Infrastructure Week turned into Comey Week. No one really knows Trump and came to D.C. with him. He is a president on an island, all alone. ... [T]he ability to get anything done is in double jeopardy."

  • What Republicans fear: a downward spiral in which the Russia distractions make it harder to pass Trump's agenda, new talent won't come into the West Wing, top-shelf potential challengers are reluctant to run as Republicans in 2018, the House flips, and article of impeachment become a real risk.
  • Watch the Georgia special election results a week from Tuesday. It's officially the most expensive House race in history, and Democrats look like they could pick up a Republican seat.
  • Trump knows that he thrives with an opponent, so he personalized the investigation by making it Trump v. Comey, personally calling out his fired FBI director and offering to take him on under oath. In the short run, that plays well with the base, which wants a fighter. But it makes it harder to wall off the Oval Office by firing or disowning associates.

Be smart:

Comey's failure to deliver a smoking gun has

bought Trump some time

. But so far, he's shown no indication that he has a plan — or the will — to use that time to change the course of events.

2. ​Trump's safety-net problem

Jonathan Swan had a smart item in Sneak Peek, his Sunday-night lookahead newsletter, showing how Republicans see clear signs of slow but steady erosion of Trump's most fervent support among voters.

  • Key point on White House strategy: "Trump will probably never be at 51% approval — the 'strongly disapprove' number against him ... makes that virtually impossible. The strategy, therefore, has to involve keeping the diehard ginned up and driving up Trump's 'strongly approve' numbers." (Read the whole post here.)

Truth bomb: Beyond his base voters, Trump has an even bigger potential problem looming with his base in Congress. While Republican lawmakers won't say it publicly, it's widely known if they could pick between President Pence and President Trump, the Vice President would win 90% of the vote among the GOP.

  • Why this matters: Bill Clinton benefited from a large number of true fans and believers among elected Democrats when he survived impeachment. Trump has few authentic fans or loyalists in Congress. So if things take a turn for the worse, GOP flight could come fast and furious — since the end result would be President Pence.

N.Y. Times Quote of the Day ... Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to John Dickerson on "Face the Nation," re Trump and the Russia investigation: "You may be the first president in history to go down because you can't stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that, if you just were quiet, would clear you."

3. Uber's next CEO?

"Who will take over for Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

if he takes a leave of absence?" —

Recode's Johana Bhuiyan

: "The company has no COO, CFO, CMO or SVP of engineering and all of those vacancies are without accounting for the possible terminations that several sources suspect will happen."

  • "In addition, ... attrition among the rank-and-file staff has spiked."
  • "Rachel Holt, the general manager of U.S. and Canada, could take over ... Holt has been at the company since 2011, working her way up the ladder from general manager of Washington D.C."
  • "[O]ne source said the board could decide to install a committee to manage the company rather than a single executive.
  • "Then there are the possible board members who might be able to temporarily take the reigns such as Arianna Huffington, Garrett Camp or Bill Gurley."

Latest on yesterday's board meeting (which included Travis),

from Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva

: At a six-hour-plus meeting yesterday, Uber's board has voted to approve all the recommendations made by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Uber didn't detail the changes, but plans to present them to employees on Tuesday. Executive departures could come as soon as today.

4. Mushrooming investigations

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on Senate Intelligence, to Brianna Keilar on CNN's "State of the Union," re Comey's testimony that he felt pressured by Obama attorney general Loretta Lynch:

"I would have a queasy feeling, too, ... to be candid with you. I think we need to know more about that. And there's only way to know about it, and that's to have the Judiciary Committee take a look at that."

Driving tomorrow ... Wall Street Journal front-pager, "Sessions's Testimony to Keep Russia Probe in Focus," by Laura Meckler and Jeffrey Sparshott: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify Tuesday before the same Senate committee that heard from former FBI Director James Comey last week ... It is unclear whether the intelligence committee hearing will be held in public."

"When a liberal power lawyer

represents the Trump family, things can get ugly," WashPost front-pager by Marc Fisher: "When [Jamie] Gorelick [deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton] signed up Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump ... as clients, she knew her friends might raise their collective eyebrows. She didn't know that some of them would call her a turncoat."

  • "For generations, the premier D.C. lawyer-fixers were ... [m]en such as Clark Clifford, A.B. Culvahouse Jr., Edward Bennett Williams, Howard Baker, Lloyd Cutler and Robert Strauss, ... amassing thoroughly bipartisan client rosters. ... Gore lick [is] one of the first women to join that elite club."
  • "Hilary Rosen ... tweeted, 'Hey Jamie Gorelick, you've just poured that "Complicit" perfume on yourself."

5. Between the lines

Sound smart ... With President Trump planning to fly to Miami on Friday to announce a Cuba policy that at least partly reverses President Obama's openings for commerce and travel after a half-century standoff, we asked officials inside and outside the White House to help us read between the lines:

  • The base loves a little Obama-appeasement rhetoric, and Trump plans to give it to 'em.
  • This was a campaign promise that won Trump some vital South Florida endorsements at a crucial time.
  • This is a chance for Trump to project personal and national strength.
  • It's a reminder the president can do consequential, historic things without Congress. But if you're Obama, it's also a reminder that such changes can be fleeting.
  • Big win for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who tutored Trump on the issue (including in debates), and kept prodding for this announcement. Look for Rubio at Trump's event.

L.A. Times lead story, "Trump plans a reversal on ties with Cuba," by Tracy Wilkinson: "The move will be controversial. It could dull a boom in tourism by Americans to Cuba and hurt a burgeoning cottage industry of private enterprise on the socialist-ruled island. And it could allow Russia and China to more easily step in to fill the void."

  • "Some Trump supporters argue however that President Raul Castro has failed to improve human rights or expand political freedoms and does not deserve better relations with the U.S."

6. Welcome Wagon

"Melania Trump, son Barron move into the White House," by AP's Darlene Superville:

  • "After nearly five months of living apart, President Donald Trump's wife, Melania, announced Sunday that she and the couple's young son have finally moved into the presidential mansion."
  • "Mother and son broke with tradition by living at Trump Tower in New York since the inauguration so that Barron, now 11, could finish the school year uninterrupted."
  • The first lady tweeted: "Looking forward to the memories we'll make in our new home! #Movingday."
  • "Barron will enter the sixth grade at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, in the fall."

7. An idea for Preet

Preet Bharara, fired by Trump as U.S. attorney in Manhattan, came out swinging in his first televised interview since he left office, telling George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" that "there's absolutely evidence to begin a case" for obstruction of justice against the president.

Bharara has built a big Twitter following (255,000) quickly, and clearly is motivated: He has worked with Comey and Mueller, and was at Thursday's hearing.

So might he run for office? A New York expert emails us this dope:

  • He doesn't live in New York City, so running for mayor would be hard. ("De Blasio's numbers among Democrats are good and don't suggest an obvious opportunity, anyway.")
  • Governor Cuomo has improved his numbers with Democrats and looks strong heading into '18.
  • Preet will be mentioned a lot for president, but he has no base. And it's not like there's a shortage of anti-Trump Democratic candidates.
  • The challenge for him now is to stay relevant until something opens up in '20 under a Democratic president, or to run for governor in '22.
  • He's off to a good start, carving out a niche as the Democratic legal anti-Trump.
  • "Wild card idea: Dems take the House in '18 and he becomes the Sam Dash/John Doar [Watergate committee counsels] of the impeachment committee."

8. The talk of tech

"How Facebook's Telepathic Texting Is Supposed to Work: Facebook's plan to enable us to type 100 words a minute just by thinking is a long shot, and it reflects the company's new approach to R&D," by Wall Street Journal tech columnist Christopher Mims:

  • "Do neuroscientists and engineers outside Facebook express extreme doubt this will succeed? Yes. Facebook doesn't care and is investing millions in research that could produce a consumer gadget."
  • "When your face is stuck inside a VR headset or you're out walking around wearing a pair of augmented-reality glasses, you can't exactly reach for a keyboard or mouse ...The initiative would give Facebook a way to control those systems hands-free."
  • "Messaging is just the beginning. Facebook isn't working on a brain implant — though other Silicon Valley giants are. The answer could ultimately be as simple as a headband."
  • Why it matters: "[T]he company's larger goal is to make a handful of long-term bets on technologies that could define the next era of computing."

9. Trump's "realism ... prudent nonintervention"

First look at the cover of the new issue of Foreign Affairs ... Cover story by CFR President Richard Haass, "Where to Go From Here: Rebooting American Foreign Policy":

  • "The Trump administration's start has been especially rocky. But the administration has already executed a noticeable course shift on foreign policy and international affairs, exchanging some of its early outsider rhetoric and personnel for more conventional choices."
  • "If it can continue to elaborate and professionalize its new approach, it could achieve a number of successes. But for that to happen, the administration will have to act with considerably greater discipline and work to frame its policies toward regional and global issues as part of a coherent, strategic approach."
  • "The president's campaign slogan of 'America First' was and is unfortunate, because it appears to signal a narrower U.S. foreign policy."
  • "Over time, 'America First' will lead others to put themselves first, which in turn will make them less likely to take into account (much less give priority to) American interests and preferences."

"Trump's national security team could make a comeback," by WashPost columnist Josh Rogin: "Looking ahead, several key battles will reveal whether the national security professionals are winning the day, including decisions on whether to commit more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, how to approach the U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement and whether to staunchly oppose new congressional sanctions on Russia, which are coming soon."

10. 1 fun thing

Tony Awards crown Broadway's best, at Radio City Music Hall ... L.A. Times' Steven Zeitchik, in New York:

"[I]f the night celebrated the outsider ['Dear Evan Hansen,' the touching, heartfelt musical about young outsiders, wins the biggest theater popularity contest], it was the consummate showbiz insider who was its biggest star."The evening was a coronation for 'Hello, Dolly!' the Jerry Zaks-directed revival that brought Bette Midler back to the Broadway stage. ... Midler took lead actress in a musical, her first-ever Tony win. Midler [age 71] has waited a long time ... and she was ... determined to make the most of the moment."Midler [thanked] 'all the Tony voters, many of which I've actually dated' ... The acceptance speech went well beyond the allotted time, but Midler pressed on, saying 'shut that crap off,' to the orchestra music attempting to play her off. ..."[I]n a kind of bookend moment to the Pence fracas [over 'Hamilton'], Jill and Joe Biden's presence was ... met with a standing ovation ... Jill Biden had come to promote a veteran's charity, which she later talked about in introducing a number from the PTSD-themed musical 'Bandstand.' ..."Host Kevin Spacey took an unorthodox approach, ... trotting out impersonations — Bill Clinton, Johnny Carson and his own 'House of Cards' Frank Underwood character ... Spacey had the ad lib of the evening when, appearing as Underwood at the end of the telecast, he said he 'wanted to get the hell out of here before Bette Midler thanked anyone else.'"