Sep 24, 2019

Axios AM

🍂 Welcome to autumn. Today’s Smart Brevity count: 1,181 words ... 5 minutes.

1 big thing: Impeachment Day

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

More momentum built yesterday among Democrats for impeachment proceedings than on any other single day of the Trump presidency.

  • Why it matters: One summer phone call by President Trump is proving to be more of an impeachment catalyst for House Democrats than two years of drip-drip revelations from Robert Mueller's investigation. Today, the behind-the-scenes action could burst into view.
  • "The horse is out of the barn," tweeted Geoff Garin, a pollster for House Democrats. "Saddle up."

What's happening: Pelosi meets today with her six committee chairs leading different strands of the Trump investigation.

  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a 28-year House veteran and Pelosi ally, issued a statement yesterday calling Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president "a new chapter in Trump’s egregious conduct," "a reckless abuse of power" and "a turning point."
  • Last night, seven freshman Democrats — all with military and national security backgrounds — published a Washington Post op-ed saying it will be "an impeachable offense" if, as alleged about the Ukraine phone call, Trump "used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent, and ... sought to use U.S. taxpayer dollars as leverage."

Pelosi, who has tried to tamp down impeachment fever, talked privately yesterday with lawmakers and allies about where they are on impeachment in light of the Ukraine revelations, to gauge whether there is a broad shift within the caucus, sources tell Axios' Alayna Treene.

  • "The Speaker is a numbers girl," a Democratic leadership aide said. "The public sentiment has to be there."

Between the lines: You could see the dam breaking Sunday, when House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff took a newly aggressive stance on impeachment — comments he made, Axios reported, after consulting Pelosi.

  • One of the main drivers of Pelosi’s reluctance to embrace impeachment was to protect moderate freshmen in swing districts who won her the majority in 2018. But some of those vulnerable Dems joined last night's op-ed.

The backdrop: All of this is unfolding while Trump is in New York meeting with foreign leaders at the UN General Assembly.

  • The president has complained in the past when controversies distract from the narrative he wants when he is with other heads of state. 

Why Ukraine is different: Axios' Zach Basu points out that the Mueller investigation played out through press reports and occasional indictments across two years — softening the blow from the most damning revelations.

  • The Ukraine story has unfolded in less than a week.

What to watch: House Democrats meet today, and members will be swarmed by reporters. On Thursday, Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, will testify in open session before the House Intelligence Committee.

  • Maguire will be asked about an intel whistleblower's complaint that may have been triggered by the Ukraine conversation. His answers — or even non-answers — could be impeachment bait for Democrats.
  • Later this week, Trump is to meet at the UN with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was on the other end of the phone call.

🗞️ How it's playing ... WashPost lead story: "Trump ordered hold on military aid days before calling Ukrainian president" ... N.Y. Times lead story: "TRUMP IS ACCUSED OF FREEZING AID DAYS BEFORE CALL."

2. Scoop: Bernie's next move
Bernie Sanders receives an honor blanket Sunday from Cornel Pewewardy at the annual Comanche Nation Fair Powwow in Lawton, Okla. Photo: Gerardo Bello/AP

Sen. Bernie Sanders plans to unveil a wealth tax that's even more aggressive than Sen. Elizabeth Warren's "ultra-millionaire tax," sources tell me.

  • Why it matters: Sanders keeps trying to remind voters that he's the original when it comes to progressive policy in the 2020 field, but he's being eclipsed at every turn by the surging Warren.

Between the lines: Sanders has proposed massive spending ($16 trillion on climate alone), and so has to show a little revenue to add credibility to his proposals.

  • Go deeper: Bernie Sanders' plan to restructure your life.
3. Biden gets a lift as Dems target Trump on Ukraine
Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Stories about Joe Biden generated millions more interactions on social media than any other 2020 Democrat last week after the firestorm over President Trump’s alleged attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate him, writes Neal Rothschild via NewsWhip data exclusively provided to Axios.

Share this story.

4. Trail pics du jour: Mayor Pete's summer of swole
Photos obtained by Axios

At left is Mayor Pete Buttigieg in late spring. At right is Mayor Pete yesterday.

  • Why it matters: We're told the candidate now works out five to seven days a week, including running and lifting.
5. "The Growing Threat to Journalism Around the World"

"Around the globe, a relentless campaign is targeting journalists because of the fundamental role they play in ensuring a free and informed society," writes N.Y. Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger in an op-ed.

  • "To stop journalists from exposing uncomfortable truths and holding power to account, a growing number of governments have engaged in overt, sometimes violent, efforts to discredit their work and intimidate them into silence."

Why it matters: "By threatening to prosecute journalists for invented crimes against their country, President Trump gives repressive leaders implicit license to do the same."

6. "Tech" as a target
Graphic: Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas

Republican lobbyist Bruce Mehlman says in a memo to clients that what we're in isn't a broad "techlash," but instead the targeting of "a few specific dominant players ... and significant platforms (Uber/Lyft, Airbnb, Twitter)."

  • "Microsoft is not under the gun, for example, and the 'computer industry' enjoys the 2nd-most net positive image among Americans (Gallup 2019)," Mehlman writes.
  • "Expect an ongoing fight to define 'tech.' Given the preponderance of negative attention on platforms, traditional tech players that manufacture hardware or sell software/ services [will] increasingly seek distance from ad-financed social media companies."

Read the memo.

7. 🇬🇧 Breaking: Another bad day for Boris

Britain's Supreme Court ruled this morning that the ongoing suspension of Parliament by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government is unlawful.

  • Lady Hale, the court's president, said in her ruling that Johnson's advice to Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament was "unlawful, void and has no effect." The ruling enables Parliament to be recalled and could give the prime minister's opponents more time to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Why it matters: It's the latest in a series of blows for Johnson, who indicated earlier this week that he had no intention of resigning if he lost the case, per The Guardian.

8. 🎓 U.S. universities lose students from China

After a decade of booming enrollment by students from China, American universities are starting to see steep declines as political tensions between the two countries cut into a major source of tuition revenue, AP reports.

  • Several universities have reported drops of one-fifth or more this fall in the number of new students from China.
  • To adapt, some schools are stepping up recruiting in other parts of the world.

Why it's happening: University administrators say trade conflicts and U.S. concerns about the security risks posed by visiting Chinese students appear to be accelerating a trend that's also driven by growing international competition, visa complications and the development of China's own higher education system.

9. Stat du jour

"Since Trump’s inauguration, a Washington Post analysis shows, nearly 40 percent of the 241 Republicans who were in office in January 2017 are gone or leaving because of election losses [and] retirements." WashPost's Rachel Bade

10. 1 phone thing
Photo via AP

The Australian state of New South Wales is using new technology to catch drivers on phones, AP's Rod McGuirk reports from Canberra.

  • Each unit contains two cameras. One camera photographs a car's registration plate and a second high-set lens looks down through the windscreen and can see what drivers are doing with their hands.

A six-month trial of two fixed cameras checked 8.5 million vehicles and detected more than 100,000 drivers with their hands on phones, including one driver who was using a phone and iPad simultaneously.

  • Another driver had a passenger steer while they both held phones.

How it works: The units use artificial intelligence to exclude drivers who are not touching their phones. Photos that show suspected illegal behavior are referred for verification by human eyes before an infringement notice is sent.