Oct 22, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☕️ Good Monday morning ...

1 big thing: House Republicans' day after

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

With Speaker Paul Ryan retiring, House Republicans will return from what could be a brutal election — and have no guarantee about their next leader.

  • Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, a favorite of President Trump who's the current #2, is very likely to be either Speaker or minority leader, depending on the whether the House flips.
  • But there could be drama getting there. Any threat would be from the right — centered in the conservative Freedom Caucus, which would likely bargain for committee chairs and other spoils if Republicans hang on.

If Republicans hold the House, it'd be by a tiny margin. And there are plenty of Republican members who are "hell no" on McCarthy, a source close to House leadership tells Jonathan Swan:

  • Trump would probably help McCarthy whip the few "hell no" votes he'd need to get over the line.
  • "He's going to have to get involved," said a source close to the House GOP. "The margin is too thin, and every single would-be candidate for Speaker has probably 10 'hell nos.'"

Here's how the two scenarios could play out:

  • If Republicans hang on, the conference would likely be giddy after escaping death, and McCarthy will get credit. He's known as an operator who can get things done — exactly what the new, certainly slimmer majority will need.
  • If Democrats get the gavel, all McCarthy has to do for minority leader is win more than half the conference in a secret ballot that doesn't need to be ratified on the House floor. There's a school of thought that he could be challenged by someone who promises to be a political disrupter — a polemicist who can function largely as a cable-TV conservative. McCarthy would have to lay out why members should stick with him after a crushing loss. But members are unlikely to blame him, insiders say. And I'm told members would see McCarthy as "a path back" to the majority, on policy and politics.

Here's a field guide to the other players:

  • The likely swing vote if McCarthy were challenged would be House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who could bring along many of the most conservative members.
  • The current #3 behind McCarthy is House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who'll be out the week after the election with "Back in the Game," a book about his inspirational recovery from grave wounds suffered in the shooting at a congressional baseball practice last year.
  • Another rising leader who'd likely move up in the absence of McCarthy or Scalise would be Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Scalise’s chief deputy whip. McHenry is popular with conservatives, and did well filling in for Scalise.
  • AP's Lisa Mascaro (whose article, "Battle for power looms in GOP," prompted me to look into this issue), said conservative Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio "is waging a longshot bid to take the gavel. Trump appeared with Jordan at an Ohio rally in the summer and beamed when the crowd started chanting, 'Speaker of the House!'" The source close to House leadership told me Jordan "is strong with the base, and strong with the Fox News set." But in a secret ballot election, he may not even get the votes of the entire Freedom Caucus.

The backstory ... McCarthy planned ahead to insulate himself from a challenge, combining "the old, established politicking with the new," a Republican aide says:

  • McCarthy has been warning the White House and his conference all year about how treacherous these midterms are.
  • The Californian has been communicating with members as they campaigned across the country for months, and helped steer an "agenda of results" for them to run on.
  • He has raised $60 million this cycle, and hit dozens of districts. This week, he's in Florida and Georgia.
  • And with his eye on the right, McCarthy has been taking the lead on issues like full funding for Trump's wall, and pressuring social media companies for fair treatment of conservatives.
2. 💰 Republicans hold cash edge in home stretch

"Republicans entered the final month of the campaign with more money in the bank than the Democrats," the N.Y. Times' Ken Vogel and Rachel Shorey report:

  • "The most recent round of campaign finance disclosures, filed Saturday, showed that Republican national party committees, candidates in key House and Senate races and their top unlimited-money outside groups, or 'super PACs,' had $337 million on hand as of Sept. 30."
  • "Their Democratic counterparts had $285 million in the bank."

Why it matters: "It was a rare bright spot for Republicans in a fund-raising picture otherwise dominated by Democrats on the strength of their breakneck small-donor fund-raising by candidates in key congressional races."

  • "Republicans owe their cash-on-hand advantage to brisk major-donor fund-raising, and a slower pace of spending, by their party committees and super PACs."

Chaser: "Overall, Democrats have outraised Republicans $1.29 billion to $1.23 billion."

3. Saudis claim "rogue operation"

Screengrab via Fox News

"Saudi officials have failed to answer questions about where Khashoggi’s remains are and have offered inconsistent narratives for how he was killed, undermining the government’s assertion that Khashoggi died after a fistfight broke out," the WashPost reports.

  • "That explanation will face a fresh challenge [tomorrow] when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to reveal details of his government’s investigation into the killing of Khashoggi."
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, a former ambassador to Washington, told Fox News' Bret Baier: "This was an operation that was a rogue operation."
  • Why it matters: The foreign minister was "telegraphing the kingdom’s priority: shielding Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and de facto ruler, from growing speculation that Khashoggi’s killing could not have happened without his knowledge or consent."

P.S. "Earlier this year, Saudi officials ... offered Super Bowl tickets and chartered flights to the event to media stars such as Jake Tapper of CNN and Bret Baier of Fox News, according to Tapper and a Fox News spokeswoman. (Both said they turned the offers down.)" (WashPost)

4. Uber eyes liftoff

Uber "envisions taking to the skies with a fleet of food-delivery drones in as little as three years, an ambitious timeline for a ride-hailing company that would face numerous technical challenges and regulatory hurdles," reports the Wall Street Journal's Greg Bensinger and Andy Pasztor.

  • "The San Francisco company is seeking an operations executive who can help make delivery drones functional as soon as next year and commercially operational in multiple markets by 2021."
  • It's "crafting a narrative around its ambitions beyond ride-hailing, as it eyes a 2019 IPO that bankers say could value the company at $120 billion."
Bonus: Pic du jour
Candidates for Florida governor — Republican Ron DeSantis (left) and Democrat Andrew Gillum — meet after last night's debate. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

"Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum had never met before [last] night's Florida governor debate [on CNN, moderated by Jake Tapper]. It was not the beginning of a beautiful friendship," the Tampa Bay Times' Steve Contorno and Emily Mahoney write:

  • "DeSantis had barely finished thanking his wife, Casey, in his opening remarks before he called Gillum a 'failed mayor' of Tallahassee who wants to raise taxes."
  • "That was a mouthful," a surprised Gillum said.
  • "Gillum then painted DeSantis as an obstructionist former Congressman that worships 'at the feet of (President) Donald Trump.'"
5. Caravan swells
John Moore/Getty Images

A migrant caravan walks into the interior of Mexico after crossing the Guatemalan border yesterday.

  • "The migrant caravan, which started out more than a week ago with less than 200 participants, has drawn additional people along the way and it swelled to an estimated 5,000 Sunday after many migrants found ways to cross from Guatemala into southern Mexico as police blocked the official crossing point," AP reports.
  • Caravan II: "[A]uthorities in Guatemala said another group of about 1,000 migrants had entered that country from Honduras."
6. Data du jour: We're fatter than ever
Expand chart
Data: Obesity, NCHS National Health Interview Survey. Gym memberships, IHRSA Global Report. Stress, APA Stress in America Survey; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Between Soul Cycle, Fitbit, Whole30 diets and social media health gurus, the health and wellness industry is booming — but Americans are more likely to be obese today than ever before, reports Axios' Stef Kight.

The problem: Despite promises made by gyms and fitness programs, physical activity does little to help people lose weight, says Dr. Ashkan Afshin from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. And Americans' diets are still terrible.

7. Washington's test of progressive climate policy

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Reporting from Olympia, Washington, Amy Harder writes in "Harder Line," her weekly energy column, that the political landscape is ripe in the progressive state to approve a carbon price after a decade of failed attempts.

Why it matters: If voters approve a ballot initiative this November imposing a fee on carbon dioxide emissions, it would reinvigorate liberal leaders despondent over Trump’s anti-climate change policies. If the measure fails, it’ll reinforce a prevailing notion that carbon prices are politically unpopular.

  • Flashback: Two years ago, Washington voters rejected a similar ballot initiative that had more support among conservatives. A lot has changed since 2016, so there are signs that this year’s proposal has a higher chance of passing, despite deep uncertainties about the policy and a more aggressive opposition than last time.
8. "A lot of people gave up on me"

"Claire McCaskill’s Toughest Fight ... In one of the closest races of the midterms, the Missouri senator strategizes to save her seat from a Trump Republican," writes The New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann.

  • "She acknowledged the seductive simplicity of Trump’s message. 'There used to be a way to work your way up from the mailroom. Now there’s no more mailroom,' she said."
  • "In McCaskill’s resolute disengagement from the dramas in Washington, she offers herself as a champion of the kinds of people who aren’t looking to be inspired, who want the politicians they vote for to give them some hope and dignity and understanding."
  • What she thinks Dems should push for 2020: "We’re interested in protecting the little guy. Empowering people who don’t have the power to get things. That’s the essence of it."
9. What's next on opioids

The White House will roll out the next phase of its response to the opioid crisis this week, roughly a year after President Trump’s high-profile declaration that the epidemic constitutes a public-health emergency, reports Axios' Jonathan Swan and health care editor Sam Baker.

What's happening: On Wednesday, Trump will sign Congress' recently passed opioids legislation, which, among other things, eases limits on Medicaid funding for addiction treatment and expands access to medication-assisted treatments similar to methadone, according to senior counselor Kellyanne Conway.

But overdose deaths are still climbing — as they were well before Trump took office — though Conway said the administration is encouraged by the declining rate of growth in overdose deaths.

  • "This crisis could well get worse before it gets better. We’re trying to bend the curve in the right direction," Conway said.

P.S. ... From the Truth Initiative: Today, "the second phase of The Truth About Opioids campaign will be launched to show what misusing prescription drugs can really look like."

  • "We filmed three full days of 26-year-old Rebekkah’s real treatment experience with opioid addiction...and put it on a multimedia installation in New York City to capture the emotional reactions of passerby’s viewing the installation."
10. 1 dig thing

"Elon Musk says his first Boring Company tunnel is almost done, and it’ll open to the public on Dec. 10," reports FORTUNE.

  • "The tunnel beneath the L.A. suburb of Hawthorne acts as a proof of concept for the Boring Company’s proposed loop system. It originates at a property owned by SpaceX, one of Musk’s other ventures, and runs about two miles under city streets."
  • It is "outfitted with electromagnetic pods that carry passengers at speeds up to 150 miles per hour."
Mike Allen