Sep 24, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☕️ Good Monday morning ...

If you're in D.C. ... Please join me at 8 a.m. tomorrow for breakfast and an Axios News Shapers conversation about vaping and other hot issues with FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. A high-school student will join us to give a reality check. RSVP here

1 big thing: The GOP plan to fight "foggy memories"
Thursday's showdown will be here, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Brett Kavanaugh's allies plan to aggressively contest what they call the "foggy memories" of his accusers — an approach that's likely to lead to nasty confrontations at Thursday's showdown hearing on his confirmation to the Supreme Court.

  • The plan is to fight back right away, and to emphasize denials and hazy recollections.
  • The mission: Portray the debate as cheap-shot politics orchestrated by liberals and abetted by the media.

Republicans see two silver bullets, one for each case:

  • In the high school allegation by Christine Blasey Ford, three others said to be at the party have no recollection of it.
  • In a second case, The New Yorker last night quoted Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez as saying Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her when they were freshmen. The New York Times reported that it had "interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge."

As part of this strategy, Kavanaugh plans to aggressively contest the Yale allegation, sources tell Jonathan Swan.

  • Kavanaugh had initially planned to leave his pushback to written statements until he could state his case in the Senate Judiciary Committee's open hearing, which is set for 10 a.m. Thursday, with testimony from both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.
  • A sign of this more proactive approach: Kavanaugh's decision to give the Judiciary Committee his calendars from the summer of 1982. The N.Y. Times' Peter Baker reports that they "do not show a party consistent with the description of his accuser."

Swan's whip count: Kavanaugh's future rests partly with Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. But the senator who most worries Kavanaugh strategists is Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is retiring and has ripped Trump (and been ripped by Trump).

  • "Flake is flaky," said a source involved in the vote-counting.

See the letter Christine Blasey Ford sent Sen. Dianne Feinstein, released yesterday by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

2. The new accusation

The second allegation against Kavanaugh was reported by The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer, who teamed up on an exposé that forced the resignation in May of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

  • "The claim dates to the 1983-84 academic school year," Farrow and Mayer write, "when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale."
  • "Deborah Ramirez ... attended Yale with Kavanaugh, where she studied sociology and psychology. Later, she spent years working for an organization that supports victims of domestic violence."
  • "She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty."
  • "After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away."
  • "Ramirez is now calling for the F.B.I. to investigate."

A Kavanaugh statement called the allegation “a smear, plain and simple.”

  • The N.Y. Times reports: "Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself."

The Judiciary Committee said: "The committee’s majority staff learned the allegations made by Deborah Ramirez about Judge Kavanaugh from this evening’s New Yorker report."

  • "Neither she nor her legal representative have contacted the chairman’s office. The article reports that Democratic staff were aware of  these allegations, but they never informed Republican staff."
3. "Russia won"

Huge weekend for Jane Mayer, who writes in the new issue of The New Yorker about what she calls an "incendiary" forensic analysis of online activity in the 2016 election:

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, will be out Oct. 3 with a new book, "Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President — What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know” (Oxford University Press).

  • Mayer writes that when she asked Jamieson "point-blank if she thought that Trump would be President without the aid of Russians, she didn’t equivocate. 'No,' she said, her face unsmiling. Clearly cognizant of the gravity of her statement, she clarified, 'If everything else is a constant? No, I do not.'"

Why it matters: "The book ... may well reignite the question of Trump’s electoral legitimacy. The President’s supporters will likely characterize the study as an act of partisan warfare."

  • "Jamieson told me that one of her greatest concerns is that voters were unaware of the foreign effort to manipulate them on social media. Had the public known, she believes, there likely would have been a significant backlash."
4. Pics du jour
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

People navigate floodwaters caused by Hurricane Florence near the Waccamaw River in Conway, South Carolina. Floodwaters are expected to continue to rise in Conway over the next two days.

Below, Jason Johnson (left) and homeowner Archie Sanders work to build a temporary levee to hold back floodwaters in Conway.

Sean Rayford/Getty Images
5. The trade war is on

"China and the United States imposed new tariff hikes on each other’s goods [today] and Beijing accused Washington of bullying, giving no sign of compromise in an intensifying battle over technology that is weighing on global economic growth," writes the AP.

  • "U.S. regulators went ahead with a planned 10 percent tax on a $200 billion list of 5,745 Chinese imports including bicycles and furniture."
  • "China’s customs agency said it responded at noon by beginning to collect taxes of 5 or 10 percent on a $60 billion list of 5,207 American goods, from honey to industrial chemical."

What's next: The Trump administration is planning to launch a major, "administration-wide," broadside against China, focused in part on cyberattacks, Jonathan Swan scooped in Sneak Peek.

  • "We're not just going to let Russia be the bogeyman," one White House official told me. "It's Russia and China."
6. Scolding du jour

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called President Trump Friday to say that the tweets attacking Christine Blasey Ford were not helpful and that they could cause new problems, per the WashPost's Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey.

7. A missed midterm issue
Expand chart
Reproduced from a Kaiser Family Foundation report. Margin of error was ±3 percentage points. Survey methodology. Chart: Axios Visuals

Interest in growing in the problem of surprise medical bills in the media and on Capitol Hill, with a bipartisan group of senators drafting legislation to crack down on the problem, writes Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman in a column for Axios.

  • Why it matters: Recent analyses, including polling and a report on employers' medical claims, show that surprise bills could have as much — or even more — traction with the public than other health issues being featured in the midterms. In an election where health care is top-of-mind, candidates may be missing an opportunity.

P.S., As the midterms approach, many Republicans are doubling down on largely unpopular ideas like repealing the Affordable Care Act and cutting Medicare, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports:

  • It likely reveals that the party has all but abandoned independent voters this year, and instead is focused on turning out its base.
8. 911 response times slow

"911 centers across the country are struggling to hire enough operators, slowing the time it takes to answer calls," USA Today's Paul Davidson writes:

  • "While the crunch has been an issue for years, it has intensified over the past year or two as the nation’s low 3.9 percent unemployment rate increasingly spawns labor shortages across the economy."
  • "That makes 911 dispatcher positions, which can be highly stressful, especially tough to fill."
  • "On rare occasions, the delays have led to injury and even death."
9. First look: Election money in Montana

Premiering on PBS on Oct. 1 (a week from today) ... "Dark Money" follows Montana journalist John S. Adams as he follows the increasingly murky trail of money influencing the state's elections.

  • Adams, former capital bureau chief for the Great Falls Tribune and creator of the Montana Free Press, says in a release about the film that when campaigns can receive unlimited sums from anonymous donors, "Then it’s not the people controlling the government—it’s the government controlled by a corporation controlling the people, which is like super-crazy Big Brother, but it’s happening."
  • The family of filmmaker Kimberly Reed has lived in Montana for four generations.

Per the release: "Dark Money has its national broadcast and streaming debut on the PBS documentary series POV and on Monday, October 1 at 10 p.m. ... POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series, now in its 31st season."

10. 1 fun thing
Courtesy N.Y. Post

Tiger's comeback ... "A 1-over-par 71 was good enough to capture the Tour Championship, the season-ending tournament on the PGA Tour schedule and one that gave Woods his first victory in more than five years," ESPN's Bob Harig writes.

  • "Woods has said many times that he has been touched by the outpouring of support he has received throughout the year from fans, many of whom had never seen him or had certainly not watched him perform at a high level."
  • "[P]utting the length of his career into perspective — Woods won his first PGA Tour title in 1996 — he was asked how he thought the world would react, given that he had likely broken the internet. 'Well, when I came out here, there was no internet,' Woods said, smiling."

"Woods is now the favorite to win next year's Masters."

Mike Allen