Aug 16, 2018

Axios AM

☕️ Good Thursday morning.

🎈Situational awareness: "The joyous celebration of releasing balloons into the air has long bothered environmentalists, who say the pieces that fall back to earth can be deadly to seabirds and turtles that eat them," AP reports. "So as companies vow to banish plastic straws, there are signs balloons will be among the products to get more scrutiny."

1 big thing ... Exclusive trailer! "Steve Bannon: The Comeback"
Steve Bannon film, "Trump @ War"

A man in a white Trump T-shirt bleeds from his forehead. A red "Make America Great Again" cap burns. Nancy Pelosi declares: "This is Armageddon." Robert De Niro gets a standing ovation for saying "[Expletive] Trump!" at the Tony Awards.

  • There are three clips of CNN's Don Lemon.

Steve Bannon — with twin missions of turning out Republicans this fall, and re-establishing his own relevance — on Sept. 9 will debut a film, "Trump @ War," portraying the president's supporters as under siege from a pervasive "they."

  • Why it matters: The film is part of Bannon's drive to galvanize Republicans to embrace the midterms as Trump's "first re-elect," while he rolls out a new grassroots group, Citizens of the American Republic (COAR).
  • See the trailer.

Bannon, in a giving Axios an exclusive preview of the trailer, told me: "How jacked do we think Trump will be when he sees this?"

  • Bannon added: "If you’re a deplorable, you’ll literally standing on your chair with your pitchfork saying: 'I’ve got to get people out to vote.'"
  • Bannon said the film — from his longtime production company, Victory Films — will last about 75 minutes, and will include interviews with onetime Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski; Dr. Seb Gorka, an alumnus of Trump’s White House; Fox News' Pete Hegseth; and about 18 others.

The release date, Sept. 9, is the second anniversary of Hillary Clinton’s remark, seized on ferociously by the Trump campaign, that "you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables."

  • Bannon — President Trump’s former campaign chief executive, and White House chief strategist — said the premiere will be the culmination of an all-day "Deplorables Conference" in New York featuring pro-Trump speakers.

Axios' Jonathan Swan reads between the frames:

  • Everything is a war to Steve. Bannon’s caricatured framing of the election — as one pitting hooded Antifa members and Dems screaming about impeachment and burning MAGA hats, against the hero Donald Trump — will almost certainly appeal to Donald Trump.
  • But I’ll be shocked if the president can get past his animus towards Bannon and endorse or promote his latest effort. 
  • Whenever I mention Bannon’s name to a White House official or Republican leadership sources, they still roll their eyes.
  • And when it comes to midterm politics, they like to mention, derisively, his scorched earth campaign on behalf of an accused pedophile, Roy Moore. I’ll be surprised if Bannon becomes a magnet for serious donor money for the fall. But this is a country full of quixotic billionaires, so who the heck knows. 
  • Trump still hates "Sloppy Steve" and thinks he tries to steal his limelight. So Bannon was smart to recruit some of Trump’s favorite diehards.

Bannon said his new group is aimed at stoking the "populist-nationalist movement" that put Trump into office, and includes booking, messaging and rapid-response operations that regularly brief friendly cable-news pundits.

  • "The war room is up and running," Bannon bragged, saying Citizens of the American Republican will focus on the triumvirate of ideas, communication and action.
  • "When I got involved [with the Trump presidential campaign] in August 2016, Trump was down 12, 14, 16 points. Democrats thought I was a clown. They never took him seriously. We caught them napping. We can do it again."

The effort to hold the House for Republicans "is more winnable" than Trump's campaign was three months before Election Day, Bannon contends.

  • "I think we can hold this to a net loss [for Republicans] of under 15 seats." (Democrats need to flip 23 seats to take House; top Republicans fear losses of 40 or more seats.)
  • "All the whining I hear among establishment Republicans, all the whining I hear in the official corridors of the Republican Party, has got to stop."

See the trailer.

2. Trump moves on critic

"President Trump revoked the security clearance of John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director under President Barack Obama, ... in a striking act of retaliation against an outspoken critic. The president threatened to do the same to other former national security officials who have antagonized him," the N.Y. Times' Julie Davis and Mike Shear report:

  • "Citing what he called Mr. Brennan’s 'erratic' behavior and 'increasingly frenzied commentary,' Mr. Trump dispatched Sarah Huckabee Sanders ... to read a statement saying that Mr. Brennan had abused his access to the United States’ secrets 'to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations.'"

From Trump's statement: "As part of this review, I am evaluating action with respect to the following individuals: James Clapper, James Comey [who says he doesn't have a security clearance], Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr."

The conversation ... NBC's Andrea Mitchell: "[T]his president is denying his own CIA ... access to the wise counsel of Brennan, now, and presumably the others who are on this list ... It is akin to the Nixon enemies list."

  • "I can't figure this out except that it is a very, very tough warning against Bob Mueller. I think that's what this is all about."

Just posted ... Brennan responds in a N.Y. Times op-ed this morning, "President Trump’s Claims of No Collusion Are Hogwash":

  • "The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of 'Trump Incorporated' attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets."
  • "Mr. Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him."
3. "Public discussion is a political duty"

The Boston Globe invited newspapers across the country to stand up for the press with editorials today, and nearly 350 news organizations have pledged to participate, Marjorie Pritchard, op-ed editor at the Globe, told AP.

  • "In St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch called journalists 'the truest of patriots.' ... The Fayetteville, N.C., Observer said it hoped Trump would stop, ''but we’re not holding our breath.'"
  • The Globe: "[I]t is not just that the president is stoking domestic division for political and personal gain, he’s asking his audiences to follow him into Fantasia. ... George Orwell put it more gracefully in his novel '1984.'"
  • The N.Y. Times, "A Free Press Needs You": "If you haven’t already, please subscribe to your local papers. Praise them when you think they’ve done a good job and criticize them when you think they could do better. We’re all in this together."

Go deeper ... The N.Y. Times has excerpts from around the country, with a nifty "Filter by State" option.

4. Cover du jour
Alessandra Sanguinetti for TIME

The new TIME cover story is an interview with tennis icon Serena Williams, who talked to TIME's Sean Gregory at her home in Silicon Valley:

  • On her critics: "I'm a black woman. Women in general are not treated the same as men who've had the same amount of success. And then, being a black woman, doing something historically that's never been done, it's easy to feel like, 'We've always picked on people of this color. So I'm O.K. to continue to do it.'"
  • On being told by a male coach to stop breastfeeding for the sake of her game: "I've spent my whole life making everyone happy, just servicing it seems like everyone. And this is something I wanted to do."
5. First look: Justice cracks down on opioid manufacturing

A forthcoming release provided to Axios ... "The Department of Justice and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have proposed a reduction for controlled substances that may be manufactured in the U.S. next year":

  • "Consistent with President Trump’s 'Safe Prescribing Plan' that seeks to 'cut nationwide opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years,' the proposal decreases manufacturing quotas for the six most frequently misused opioids for 2019 by an average ten percent as compared to the 2018 amount."
  • "The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) marks the third straight year of proposed reductions, which help reduce the amount of drugs potentially diverted for trafficking and used to facilitate addiction."
  • "Ultimately, revised limits will encourage vigilance on the part of opioid manufacturers, help DEA respond to the changing drug threat environment, and protect the American people from potential addictive drugs while ensuring that the country has enough opioids for legitimate medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs."

Be smart from Axios health care editor Sam Baker: Prescription opioids are not the big driver of the addiction crisis any more. It’s mostly illegal stuff coming from China.

6. Elon Musk's "Dugout Loop"

WIRED's Jack Stewart reports
that Elon Musk's Boring Company plans to dig a new tunnel to the Dodgers stadium, through which fans would ride in pods on electric skates:

  • "The 3.6-mile tunnel would pick up near one of three LA Metro subway stations and run under Sunset Boulevard, ending in the stadium parking lot and making it far easier to take public transit to the game. Fans would pay about a dollar for the four-minute ride, called the Dugout Loop."
  • "This project is just a single tunnel, meaning the service can only run one way at a time."

How it works: Fans will pile into "8- to 16-passenger pods, which will whisk them through the tunnel. The skates will then be parked at the other end. After the game or concert, they run the other way."

  • "Bookings for seats will be limited to 1,400 people per event at first, about 2.5 percent of stadium capacity. (The company’s still figuring out if it’ll need about 100 skates, or if it can work in batches of 12 to 15, sending the empty pods back to fetch more people.)"
7. "Kellyanne and George: No, really, it’s a love story"
The Washington Post

Instant classic from the WashPost's Ben Terris:

  • Terris: You told me you found [tweets criticizing Trump by your husband George, of counsel in the litigation department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz] disrespectful.
  • Kellyanne: It is disrespectful, it’s a violation of basic decency, certainly, if not marital vows . . . as “a person familiar with their relationship.”
  • Terris: No, we’re on the record here. You can’t say after the fact “as someone familiar.”
  • Kellyanne: I told you everything about his tweets was off the record.
  • Terris: No, that’s not true. That never happened.
  • Kellyanne: Well, people do see it this way. People do see it that way, I don’t say I do, but people see it that way.
  • Terris: But I’m saying we never discussed everything about his tweets being off the record. There are certain things you said that I put off the record.
  • Kellyanne: Fine. I’ve never actually said what I think about it and I won’t say what I think about it, which tells you what I think about it.
8. The debate ... Tom Cotton: Reform prisons without going soft

"The House earlier this year passed a bill to improve conditions in federal prisons and encourage prisoners to participate in rehabilitation programs," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) writes in an Opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal:

  • "These are worthy goals. Once a criminal has paid his debt to society, everyone should hope he gets back on his feet and becomes a productive, law-abiding citizen."
  • "While the House bill has some flaws, the Senate can fix them on a bipartisan basis."
  • "But under no circumstances should Congress cut mandatory minimum sentences for serious crimes or give judges more discretion to reduce those sentences. That foolish approach is not criminal-justice reform — it’s a jailbreak that would endanger communities and undercut President Trump’s campaign promise to restore law and order."
9. GOP blasts Pearl Jam
Twitter via AP

"Republicans ... condemned a poster by Pearl Jam that shows the White House in flames and a bald eagle pecking at a skeleton they say is meant to depict President Donald Trump," AP reports:

  • "The National Republican Senate Committee compared it to the now-infamous photo of comedian Kathy Griffin holding a fake decapitated Trump head."
  • "The rock group’s Twitter account says the official poster from Monday’s concert in Missoula, Montana, is a collaboration between bassist Jeff Ament and Bobby Brown, an artist also known as Bobby Draws Skulls."
10. 1 food thing

Americans are spending like crazy at restaurants, Bloomberg's Reade Pickert and Scott Lanman write:

  • "Spending at U.S. restaurants surged over the past three months by the most on record, making it both a bright spot for the economy and a risk if appetites for eating out return to normal."
  • The Commerce Department said yesterday that sales at food-service and drinking establishments in July brought the three-month annualized gain to 25.3 percent, the fastest pace in figures going back to 1992.
  • "One possible explanation for the recent jump is that Americans are spending their extra cash from tax cuts on dining out. In addition, major restaurant companies have recently hiked menu prices to keep up with higher minimum wages and rent costs."

Thanks for reading. See you all day on