May 15, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Good Wednesday morning. Bulletin: "Washington ordered the departure of non-emergency government employees from Iraq, ... after repeated U.S. expressions of concern about threats from Iranian-backed forces." (Reuters)

🚧 D.C. readers: I hope you'll join me downtown tomorrow at 8 a.m. for breakfast conversations with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Whip James Clyburn ... plus a duet on infrastructure with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D). RSVP here.

1 big thing ... 2019 campaign: Trump vs. the world

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

President Trump is running a 2019 campaign against the world, picking fights on four continents and putting his pugilistic "America First" to a grand international test.

  • Why it matters: Trump has been buoyed for two years by a strong economy and relative global stability. Now, he may confront a hot war or a self-inflicted economic shock as he heads into the heat of his re-election campaign.

The hottest spots:

  • China: The trade war looks increasingly likely to disrupt American business and create volatility in the capital markets. And, as Axios reported yesterday, the two sides are so far apart that the tariff fight could extend into 2020.
  • Iran: The administration has begun serious war planning and the Pentagon has begun building up serious forces in the Persian Gulf, including an aircraft carrier strike group, and B-52 bombers and F-15 fighters flying deterrence sorties. America’s allies in Europe are warning that the administration's actions may incite war.
  • North Korea: Despite Trump's insistence that a deal remains in the works, Kim Jong-un's two missile tests were a clear effort to assert leverage.
  • Venezuela: Conditions are worsening despite U.S. intervention, and the failed uprising by opposition leader Juan Guaidó has left thuggish, anti-American President Nicolás Maduro in power.
  • Europe: The continent's leaders remain at odds with Trump across the board, most recently on his imposition of sanctions on countries that buy Iranian oil.

While relations are deteriorating with adversaries and allies alike, Trump is looking for cooperation in an unlikely place: Russia.

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled there yesterday in search of "common ground."
  • But Axios World editor David Lawler points out: Given that Washington and Moscow are at odds on just about all of the issues above, it doesn't look like there's much to be found.

Be smart: All this is unfolding with the U.S. political system under stress from deep divisions along racial, political and class lines.

2. Exclusive: Michael Wolff finishes "Fire and Fury" sequel, "Siege"
Henry Holt

Axios has learned that Michael Wolff — who enraged President Trump with his international bestseller "Fire and Fury," about pandemonium in the first-year White House — will be out June 4 with a sequel, "Siege: Trump Under Fire."

  • "Fire and Fury" sold more than 4 million copies in all formats worldwide, according to Henry Holt, which is publishing both books.
  • The book, "about a presidency that is under fire from almost every side," begins with Year 2 and ends with the delivery of the Mueller report.
  • The publisher says: "'Siege' reveals an administration that is perpetually beleaguered by investigations and a president who is increasingly volatile, erratic, and exposed."

Publishing sources say "Siege" is about what Wolff considers the insurmountable legal, personal and political challenges ahead of Trump — about everybody coming after him.

  • The publisher says Wolff interviewed 150 sources for the new book. We're told the two key groups of sources were former senior officials, and acquaintances outside the White House who talk to Trump at night.

Although "Fire and Fury" was criticized, I'm told that more than two-thirds of the book's essential sources talked to Wolff again.

  • Indeed, some of them sought him out, knowing he was working on what was being called "Fire and Fury II."
  • Wolff didn't seek an interview with Trump in an effort to avoid legal action that might delay the book. Trump threatened to sue to stop publication of "Fire and Fury," which he called a "phony book." That backfired and stoked sales.


3. Alabama legislature passes nation's most restrictive abortion law
Rep. Merika Coleman speaks during a rally against the bill, outside the Alabama State House yesterday. Photo: Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP

Alabama legislators have given final approval to a ban on nearly all abortions, and if the Republican governor signs the measure, the state will have the strictest abortion law in the country, AP's Kim Chandler reports from Montgomery:

  • The legislation would make performing an abortion a felony at any stage of pregnancy with almost no exceptions.
  • It would be punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider. The only exception would be when the woman's health is at serious risk.
  • Women seeking or undergoing abortions wouldn't be punished.

What's next: The passage by a wide margin in the state Senate shifts the spotlight to Gov. Kay Ivey, long identified as anti-abortion.

  • Ivey has not said whether she'll sign the bill, although the sponsor expects it will be signed into law.

Why it matters: In Alabama and other conservative states, anti-abortion politicians emboldened by the addition of conservative justices to the Supreme Court hope to ignite legal fights that overturn Roe v. Wade.

4. American baby bust
Expand chart
Data: CDC. Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. fertility rate has reached a record low, and the total number of births in 2018 was the lowest it has been in more than 30 years, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • Why it matters: The long-term economic implications of a shrinking future workforce could be dire, as Axios has reported.
  • But it's important to remember that these trends are also a result of progress: a falling number of teenage pregnancies, the education and empowerment of women, more accessible birth control and lower child mortality rates.

New CDC figures show that while birth rates fell for younger women in 2018, they rose slightly for women in their late 30s and early 40s.

  • Women waiting longer to start their families has been a growing, global trend.
  • As women wait longer to have kids, they tend to have fewer of them.

Between the lines: The U.S.'s high levels of immigration have helped buoy the population. It's a key reason the U.S. is in a better position than other nations with falling fertility rates, such as Japan, Hungary or Spain.

5. 2020 vision
Screenshot via MSNBC

In addition to the 19 above, Democrats' 2020 field includes Andrew Yang, Marianne Williamson and Mike Gravel.

6. Health care's imminent existential crises

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The U.S. is facing a series of potentially devastating health care threats — some within the next decade, and some that are already part of everyday life, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

  • Why it matters: As Washington debates staggering hospital bills and drug costs, society faces more difficult problems fueled by the aging population, health-care economics and the rise of drug-resistant infections.

The threats:

  • Affordability issues: Premiums, deductibles and the underlying cost of care will all only continue to go up.
  • Access issues: A flood of rural hospital closures is leaving many communities with no easy access to emergency care.
  • Health threats: The opioid epidemic continues to ravage the country, with no real end in sight.
  • Drug-resistant infections continue to rise, without any real government incentives for drug companies to develop new antibiotics.

Go deeper.

7. First U.S. ban on facial surveillance

San Francisco yesterday became the first U.S. city to ban use of facial-recognition software by police and other city departments.

  • Privacy advocates applaud the move, but others said it could hinder law enforcement. (S.F. Chronicle)

What's next, per N.Y. Times: "Similar bans are under consideration in Oakland and in Somerville, Mass."

  • "On Capitol Hill, a bill introduced last month would ban users of commercial face recognition technology from collecting and sharing data for identifying or tracking consumers without their consent."
8. WeWork moves into buildings
Courtesy Bloomberg Businessweek

"WeWork is creating an investment fund that aims to raise billions of dollars to buy stakes in buildings where it will be a major tenant," Bloomberg Businessweek's Ellen Huet reports:

  • The fund plans to raise $2.8 billion.
  • Why it matters: "WeWork has long said it mostly stuck to leasing space because it believed in being 'asset-light.' Now it’s wagering that buildings become more valuable with WeWorks in them."
  • "[T]he company’s business model — taking out long-term leases and renting out short-term parcels — ... looks glaringly vulnerable to an economic downturn."
9. Another reason to exercise

New guidelines for preventing dementia say that if you want to save your brain, focus on keeping the rest of your body well with exercise and healthy habits rather than popping vitamin pills, reports the AP.

  • Research suggests that a third of cases are preventable.
  • That includes getting enough exercise; treating other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol; having an active social life, and avoiding or curbing harmful habits such as smoking, overeating and drinking too much alcohol.
10. 1 fun thing

Next year's Oscars are likely to remain hostless, per Variety:

  • ABC Entertainment head Karey Burke: "I believe we will not mess with that format to the best of our ability."
  • If a host returns, it may be Jimmy Kimmel, who recently signed a three-year extension of his deal with ABC.
Mike Allen