May 3, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🎤 Happy Friday! It's World Press Freedom Day. The UN's theme for the 26th annual event: "Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation."

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1 big thing: Liberal activists drive Democratic Party

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Grassroots activists are gaining growing power over Democratic debates, nominating contests and the 2020 convention — all of which used to be completely controlled by the national party, Axios' Alexi McCammond writes.

  • The rules to qualify for debates, which begin in Miami next month, include an emphasis on small donors, who helped Dems take back the House in 2018.
  • That has allowed a virtual unknown like Andrew Yang to be propelled by a small but loud group of 65,000 donors to qualify for the debate — before former HUD Secretary Julián Castro met the donations threshold.
  • It has also helped someone like Pete Buttigieg get a spot on the debate stage after a viral town hall moment led to a surge in donations. 

That's also a reason the debate stages will overflow with candidates.

  • "They came up with what seems to be reasonable thresholds to reach, but it turns out it's too easy to reach them," said Matt Bennett, a c0-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way.

As a sign of shifting leverage, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee will urge the DNC to change the debate format to include bottom-up questions.

  • According to a first look at the plans that was provided to Axios, audience members would be allowed to submit questions to the moderators, "so that regular people have more of a say in the questions asked."

Party rules changes, including a move to exclude superdelegates on the first convention ballot, are designed to reduce the sway of establishment insiders.

  • DNC chairman Tom Perez "wants to make sure that all voters have a voice in our party, and that is exactly why he has empowered the grassroots — because it makes our party stronger," said Adrienne Watson, the DNC's national press secretary.

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2. "All-out war" between House and Trump
At a House Judiciary hearing, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) accuses no-show Bill Barr of being a chicken. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Attorney General Bill Barr's refusal to testify pushed the House "closer to holding the nation’s top law enforcement official in contempt of Congress." (WashPost)

At her weekly press conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Barr "lied to Congress," and likened President Trump to Richard Nixon:

  • "Articles of Impeachment for President Nixon, Article 3, was that he ignored the subpoenas of Congress."
3. Stat du jour: Half of college students fear hunger

"A survey released this week by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice indicated that 45 percent of student respondents from over 100 institutions said they had been food insecure [limited or uncertain access to food] in the past 30 days," the N.Y. Times' Kaya Laterman reports.

4. U.S. to house more immigrants in tents
Photo: Eric Gay/AP

A Border Patrol agent stands near a stack of mattresses during a media tour of a new military-style tent to hold immigrants at the border in Texas.

  • Two new tent cities — in El Paso and in the Rio Grande Valley — will hold 1,000 parents and families, expanding the Border Patrol's capacity to process the surge of immigrants who have arrived in recent months. (AP)
5. Trump tries to make Russiagate work for him
President Donald Trump speaks during a National Day of Prayer service in the Rose Garden yesterday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump's re-election campaign is seizing on a front-page story in today's N.Y. Times:

  • The FBI sent a woman posing as a research assistant to a London bar in 2016, supposedly to discuss foreign policy with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
  • "The conversation ... took a strange turn when the woman ... asked [him] a direct question: Was the Trump campaign working with Russia?"

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said: "There is a word for this in the English language: Spying. ... [I]t is high time to investigate the investigators."

6. Tracking power
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce building, across Lafayette Park from the White House, was finished in 1925 on property that had belonged to Daniel Webster. Photo: Getty Images

Washington’s biggest lobbyist, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is getting "shut out" by chilly relations with both the White House and congressional Democrats, report The Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins and Alex Leary (subscription):

  • "Even with the decline in contributions, the chamber last year spent $95 million on lobbying, more than any other group. In 2014, it spent $124 million."

The story saves the best for last ... Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue, 80, "travels in a chauffeured SUV accompanied by two security guards."

  • "On weekends, he uses the chamber’s private jet service to reach his Florida vacation home, often with a guest."
  • "On overseas trips, his physician sometimes joins him. Personal or guest trips are either reimbursed or claimed as income, the chamber said."

"Donohue has long avoided talk of retirement, though senior chamber officials and members of the board have pressed him about it."

  • "Several times over the past year, chamber officials approached former House Speaker Paul Ryan about the job."
7. Silicon Valley's "sudden paranoia"

Toughened Treasury Department (CFIUS) reviews are "becoming a geopolitical minefield for venture capitalists and startups," Vox's Teddy Schleifer reports:

  • "Even foreign investors who have no China connections suddenly have to jump through hoops that they didn’t have to six months ago."

Why it matters: "Silicon Valley is awash in Chinese and Saudi cash."

  • "[I]f you trace the money that comes into startups through their venture capital firms ... one can see the makings of a great gold rush, financed by overseas investors eager to overstuff money into hungry young companies."
8. 🎧 Why Bill Clinton wants to podcast

Former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton are launching a podcast with the Clinton Foundation this summer, to be called: "Why Am I Telling You This?"

  • Bill Clinton says in a trailer: "Growing up in Arkansas just after World War II, in a family that didn't have a lot of money, most of our entertainment revolved around storytelling ... When I got into politics, I always thought that the main point of my work was to give people a chance to have better stories."

😂 This is funny: "The often-loquacious President ... and his aides believe the format fits him well because podcast listeners are often willing to listen for longer," CNN's Dan Merica writes.

9. 500-year-old portrait of genius
Photos: AP

At left is a portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci that is part of the Royal Collection, at Windsor Castle. The newly identified sketch will go on public display for the first time in "Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing," at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, in London from May 24 to Oct. 13, per AP.

  • The sketch was made by one of Leonardo's assistants shortly before his death on May 2, 1519 — 500 years ago this week.

At right is a da Vinci drawing of a fetus in the womb, also part of the Royal Collection.

10. 1 Whopper thing
Photo: Burger King

Burger King announced the launch of not-so-happy meals to highlight May as Mental Health Awareness Month:

  • The Real Meal moods include the Pissed Meal, Blue Meal, Salty Meal, YAAAS Meal and DGAF Meal.
  • The move is part of a partnership with Mental Health America.
Mike Allen

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