Feb 16, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Breaking ... More than 1,100 former DOJ officials who served both Republican and Democratic administrations have signed onto a statement calling on Attorney General Bill Barr to resign over his intervention in the Roger Stone case.

  • 🇨🇳 The Trump administration is considering halting the sale to China of an aircraft engine produced in part by GE, the N.Y. Times reports. It's "part of a broader effort to limit the flow of technology" that could give Beijing an economic or security edge.
1 big thing: Donald Trump, the luckiest man
President Trump at a New Hampshire rally on Monday. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump is capitalizing on three years of political, economic and global trends that have exceeded forecasts. He has also benefited from a run of extraordinary good luck.

  • Why it matters: Trump’s top advisers privately marvel at how he flirts with disaster only to catch a big break, whether it's the Iranians botching their response to his military attack or Democrats embarrassing themselves in Iowa on impeachment eve.

Trump started the year by killing Iran's top military leader, Qasem Soleimani, in a move — resisted by previous presidents — that imperiled U.S. troops in the Middle East and could have provoked war with Iran.

  • Instead, Iranians shot down a civilian airliner and lied about it clumsily, undercutting the regime at home and on the world stage.
  • On Feb. 6, Trump said the U.S. had killed Qassim al-Rimi, the al-Qaeda leader in Yemen.
  • Trump signed the "Phase 1" trade deal with China, and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that replaces NAFTA.
  • The economic and employment recovery, which the Obama administration set in motion after the 2008 collapse, built enough steam to allow Trump to build on the gains and take credit.
  • Democrats are on the defensive after Trump's impeachment acquittal and Iowa debacle.
  • A democratic socialist — Sen. Bernie Sanders — is surging in the race, causing the establishment to flip out. The fracturing field could mean a long fight that would put the eventual nominee in an even deeper hole against the incumbent's machine.
  • Some economists think that post-coronavirus, a recovery wave will push an economic surge closer to the election.

The bottom line: Trump is enjoying the same lucky breaks in politics that he enjoyed in birth and business.

2. Bernie benefits from Joe slide
Expand chart
Data: RealClearPolitics. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Even though Bernie Sanders' recent polling has changed the least among top Democrats, he's the biggest winner from Joe Biden's fall since the moderate vote has splintered four ways, Neal Rothschild and Stef Kight write.

  • Biden's national polling has cratered from 29% on Jan. 27 to 19%, with most of the damage done after his fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
  • The large, moderate voting bloc that propelled Biden is now splitting: Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg climbed 7 and 4 points, respectively. Amy Klobuchar edged up less than a point.
  • Elizabeth Warren dipped 3 points.

Between the lines: Biden has lost his electability aura. He dropped from 29% to 17% in a Morning Consult poll this week that asked Democratic voters who has the best chance of beating Trump.

  • That shift put him in third place behind Sanders (29%) and Bloomberg (25%).

One key stat: Sanders has lower polling numbers than any of at least the past five primary frontrunners — Democrat or Republican — at this point in the cycle, according to RCP data.

3. Trail pic of the day
Photo: John Locher/AP

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, 80, fills out an early Nevada caucus preference card at the East Las Vegas library, ahead of next Saturday's caucuses.

  • Reid talked up Joe Biden: "Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the country. He's going to do well in Nevada, he's going to do extremely well in South Carolina. So, people should not be counting Joe Biden out of the race yet."
4. Shift to digital census raises fear of Iowa-like breakdown
The Census Bureau is behind its goal of recruiting 2.6 million applicants, a Government Accountability Office report said Wednesday. Graphic: GAO

The Government Accountability Office, the Census Bureau's inspector general and some lawmakers doubt whether the U.S. census, which begins its every-10-year count next month, is ready for prime time, AP's Mike Schneider writes.

The Census Bureau plans to try out a lot of new technology, some of it not fully tested:

  • There's a mobile app for census takers who visit the homes of residents who have not filled out the forms by May. Bureau officials are still working to find out why the app sometimes needs to be restarted or reinstalled for it to work properly, according to the GAO.

Cybersecurity is another worry:

  • The census is an attractive target for anyone seeking to sow chaos and undermine confidence in the U.S. government, as Russia did in 2016.
  • In a worst-case scenario, vital records could be deleted or polluted.

The Census Bureau says "all systems are go":

  • The agency says responses to the questionnaire will be kept confidential through encryption, and that it's working with the Department of Homeland Security and private-sector security experts to thwart cyberattacks.
  • The bureau is blocking foreign IP addresses, and stopping bots from filling out forms.

What's next: "Between March 12 and March 20, invitations to participate in the 2020 Census will start arriving in households across the country." (Census Bureau)

5. Zuckerberg: Election meddlers are masking themselves more
Photo: Sven Hoppe/dpa via Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at a fireside chat at the Munich Security Conference, said that since 2016, Facebook has "played a role in helping to defend the integrity of" more than 200 elections around the world.

  • Zuckerberg said the successful techniques have included "developing A.I. systems that can identify fake accounts, and networks of accounts."
  • "In the last couple of weeks, we took down one that was coming out of Russia [targeting] Ukraine, and one coming out of Iran that was targeting the U.S."

Zuckerberg said the majority of the more than 1 million fake accounts Facebook takes down each day aren't connected to state actors interfering with elections. They're spammers.

  • "One of the things that we are track that we have been quite worried about is that increasingly, election interference ... is ... also domestic. You have ... local actors also trying to employ some of the same tactics. ... We have also seen these actors get more sophisticated at trying to hide their tracks."

Zuckerberg said a big Facebook transformation in the last few years has been "from being more reactive about addressing content-type issues to being more proactive":

  • "I started the company in my dorm room. Back then, we could not have 35,000 people doing content and security review. The A.I., 16 years ago, did not exist ... to identify this type of harmful stuff."

"Hate speech is a particularly challenging one," he continued. "We have to be able to train A.I. systems to detect ... nuances. Is someone posting a video of a racist attack because they are condemning it ... or are they encouraging other people"

  • "Multiply ... that subtlety, linguistically, by 150 languages around the world where we operate."

See the video.

6. Ending on a high note
Photo via Reuters

Kilian Journet, arguably the finest endurance runner and probably the greatest adventure skier in the world, trains in Norway.

  • The 32-year-old Spaniard has run "up and down Everest, twice, within five days," Reuters' Mitch Phillips writes.
  • "Fastest known times" up and down Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Kilimanjaro and more were knocked off as part of his "Summits of My Life" project.
  • And he dominates ski mountaineering.

🎬 See a trailer for "Summits of My Life."

Mike Allen

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