Axios AM

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December 20, 2017

Good Wednesday morning. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joins the blockbuster year-end double-header under the Axios tree:

Today at 8 a.m in downtown D.C., I'll talk with Gary D. Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, about tax cuts, tech, China and next year's White House agenda. RSVP here.

Tomorrow at 8 a.m., I'll interview Leader McConnell back-to-back with Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. RSVP here.

1 big thing: ​Trump's triumph

Two weeks of insight: Between now and New Year's Day, Axios CEO Jim VandeHei and I will bring AM readers our year-end thoughts on the topics that matter most ...

President Trump takes a beating in the media, but he's ending 2017 on the high note of his presidency.

You might not like his words or actions. But measured in terms of what Republican voters want and expected, he's winning on consequential and lasting fronts:

  • The tax bill passed with almost unanimous Republican support, before the end of the year, and in keeping with mostly mainstream conservative orthodoxy. Trump won a bigger corporate tax break than either Bush ever got, and will sign the most consequential new tax law in 30 years. And he followed through on cutting taxes for most small businesses and most Americans. He did this without losing a single GOP senator — even his harshest critics.
  • He failed to repeal all of Obama's health-care law. But Trump axed the individual mandate with the tax bill, and has chipped away at other parts of the law's foundation. Again, you might hate the outcome. But it's a significant step to blowing up a program most Republicans demanded be destroyed.Axios health-care editor Sam Baker emails: "The smaller administrative steps Trump has taken — an executive order, cuts to enrollment outreach, ending a critical stream of funding for insurers — [are cumulatively] weakening the ACA's insurance exchanges and prompting some insurers to question whether those markets are worth the trouble."
  • Trump has tilted the court rightward in lasting ways. Justice Neil Gorsuch was a substantial, conservative addition to the Supreme Court. And it wasn't a one-off: The dozen new U.S. Circuit Court judges he has named is the most during a president's first year in office in more than a century.
  • Trump has followed through on eviscerating regulations, many of them imposed by Obama. He has revoked 67, and delayed or derailed more than 1,500 others.
  • No matter that much of it is not of his doing, the economy has grown consistently under his watch.
  • ISIS is in retreat. The N.Y. Times' Ross Douthat calls it "A War Trump Won."

Why it matters: The media often appraises presidencies and politics through liberal-tinted glasses. But the vast majority of the majority like, even love, these policies. (Worth noting: A majority of America opposes Trump and most of his policies.)

Be smart: We have been saying all year: Watch what he does, not what he says. Until recently, he hasn't done much. But these wins are substantial, with consequences for millions of people and many years to come.

  • Never underestimate the power of one party controlling all of government. Even with a slow start, constant distractions, ongoing investigations, the Trump GOP reengineered big chunks of our lives. Elections matter.

Be mindful: These short-term wins pack big long-term consequence. If people lose health coverage, or see only the rich benefiting from tax cuts, or deficits threatening growth and stability, the Trump GOP will own it all.

2. See you in 2048 (31 years from now)

For history ... 12:47 a.m.: "WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate passes 1st major rewrite of US tax code in 31 years, setting stage for final House vote on Wednesday."

  • Being there, per AP: "[T]he Senate narrowly passed the legislation on a party-line 51-48 vote. Protesters interrupted with chants of 'kill the bill, don't kill us' and Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly called for order. Upon passage, Republicans cheered, with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin among them."
  • Just before 2:30 p.m., the House had passed the bill 227-203. But three provisions "violated Senate rules, forcing the Senate to vote to strip them out. So the massive bill was hauled back across the Capitol for the House to vote again [today], and Republicans have a chance to celebrate again."
  • Senate: "Voting yes were 0 Democrats and 51 Republicans. Voting no were 46 Democrats, 0 Republicans and 2 independents."
  • House: "Voting yes were 0 Democrats and 227 Republicans. Voting no were 191 Democrats and 12 Republicans. ... There are 3 vacancies."
  • House Majority Whip Steve Scalise says House Appropriations Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) should retain his position even though he voted against the GOP tax overhaul.

Be smart ... "80 percent of the country will pay lower taxes next year. But the short-term gains come with a cost: The legislation also makes the country's debt problem even worse," the WashPost's Heather Long writes:

  • Why it happened: "The GOP decided to cut taxes without offsetting spending cuts, driving up the deficit."
  • Why it matters: That likely will force "policymakers in coming years to make difficult decisions about spending cuts, tax increases or both."
  • "The debate could touch on some of the most value-laden questions facing the nation — what type of financial security to provide the elderly, what safety net services should be offered to the poor, and how much the government should try to shrink economic inequality."

How it's playing ... N.Y. Times 2-column lead, "URGENCY IN G.O.P. PUSHING TAX BILL TO THE FINISH LINE: Victory for Trump, Donors and Party — Skepticism in Polls and Analyses" ... WashPost 2-column lead, "Despite hitch, tax overhaul is all but done."

3. Article of the day

"How China's Surveillance State Overwhelms Daily Life," by The Wall Street Journal's Josh Chin and Clément Bürge in Urumqi, China:

  • "China's efforts to snuff out a violent separatist movement by some members of the predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnic group have turned the autonomous region of Xinjiang ... into a laboratory for high-tech social controls that civil-liberties activists say the government wants to roll out across the country."
  • "It is nearly impossible to move about the region without feeling the unrelenting gaze of the government. Citizens and visitors alike must run a daily gantlet of police checkpoints, surveillance cameras and machines scanning their ID cards, faces, eyeballs and sometimes entire bodies."
  • Why it matters ... Zhu Shengwu, a Chinese human-rights lawyer who has worked on surveillance cases: "They constantly take lessons from the high-pressure rule they apply in Xinjiang and implement them in the east ... What happens in Xinjiang has bearing on the fate of all Chinese people."
  • Worthy of your time.

Bonus: Pic du jour

The Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ equality, last night projected the CDC's banned words — including transgender" and "fetus" — on the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

4. Lingo: "evangelical" loses cred

Tim Keller —founder and Pastor Emeritus of the Redeemer Presbyterian Churches of New York City, and one of the nation's most celebrated evangelical pastors — writes a tough piece for The New Yorker that shot up the "Most Popular" list ... "Can Evangelicalism Survive Donald Trump and Roy Moore?":

  • "People who once called themselves the "Moral Majority" are now seemingly willing to vote for anyone, however immoral, who supports their political positions."
  • "The disgust has come to include people within the movement itself. Earlier this month, Peter Wehner, an Op-Ed writer for the Times who served in the last three Republican Administrations, wrote a widely circulated piece entitled 'Why I Can No Longer Call Myself an Evangelical Republican.'"
  • "Many younger believers and Christians of color, who had previously identified with evangelicalism, have also declared their abandonment of the label. ... [N]ow, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with 'hypocrite.'"
  • "When I used the word to describe myself in the nineteen-seventies, it meant I was not a fundamentalist. If I use the name today, however, it means to hearers that I am."

5. Data du jour

6. The only vote that counts

A single vote may spell the end of Republican control in Virginia's House of Delegates:

  • "After flipping 15 Republican seats in the House of Delegates last month, Democrats appeared to pick up one more [yesterday] after winning a Newport News-area recount by a single vote," per the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  • "If the stunning result is confirmed [today] by a recount court, it would throw the House into an extraordinary 50-50 split that would require Republicans and Democrats to share legislative power."
  • "Democrat Shelly Simonds, a Newport News School Board member, entered [the] recount in the 94th House District trailing Republican Del. David E. Yancey by just 10 votes. When the ballots were retabulated, the unofficial results showed Simonds with 11,608 votes to 11,607 for Yancey."
  • "Republicans went into last month's election with a 66-34 [House] majority."

7. Tracking power

The new president of the Heritage Foundation, the nation's largest conservative think tank, is Kay Coles James, director of the Office of Personnel Management under George W. Bush and a senior member of President Trump's transition team:

  • She will take over Jan. 1 from founder Edwin Feulner, who has been serving as president since former Sen. Jim DeMint resigned in May.
  • Under President Reagan, James was a member of the National Commission on Children.
  • In her native Virginia, she was Secretary of Health and Human Resources under Gov. George Allen.
  • Context, from Axios' Alayna Treene: James has served on Heritage's board of trustees since 2005 and led the search committee for the new president.

8. Women replace Charlie

"PBS will broadcast a BBC news program featuring Washington correspondent Katty Kay for the second half of Charlie Rose's vacated [11 p.m.] time slot [beginning Jan. 2], pairing it with a Christiane Amanpour program that began airing last week," AP's David Bauder writes:

  • BBC's "Beyond 100 Days," featuring London-based Christian Fraser as co-anchor, began as a temporary show to report on the Trump administration, but has continued indefinitely — hence the unusual title.
  • "PBS has had to move quickly to find content for its 11 p.m. hour after ending Rose's show suddenly when he was accused of sexual misconduct. ... PBS faces the same challenge now at midnight after cutting Tavis Smiley loose on charges of inappropriate behavior."
  • "Amanpour's show is a rebroadcast of one that she does each weekday for CNN International, but it is not aired in the U.S."

P.S. "HBO [announced] its replacement for outgoing Sheila Nevins, the longtime head of documentary," per Hollywood Reporter: Longtime HBO execs "Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller will share the title of executive vp HBO documentary and family programming when Nevins officially departs in early 2018."

9. An epic year: 18 of 30

Reliving 2017 in 30 images ... At the Oscars on Feb. 26, host Jimmy Kimmel and presenter Warren Beatty sort out the results of Best Picture as the casts of "La La Land" (mistakenly announced) and "Moonlight" (the real winner) react on stage.

10. 1 fun thing: Christmas movie glut

"A spirited year-end battle at the box office commences [today] when Sony's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Fox's The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman as P. T. Barnum, open nationwide opposite the current ruling champ, Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Last Jedi," The Hollywood Reporter's Pamela McClintock writes:

  • "The crowded Christmas parade grows Friday with the addition of Universal's Pitch Perfect 3, Paramount's Downsizing and Alcon Entertainment's Father Figures."
  • Why it matters: "The Christmas corridor is one of the most lucrative moviegoing stretches of the year, particularly between Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is expected to win the holiday weekend race overall, with the Jumanji reboot/sequel tracking to take second place."
  • "A more serious-minded offering among the titles opening Friday is filmmaker Alexander Payne's Downsizing, starring Matt Damon, Hong Chau and Kristen Wiig. ... From a script by Payne and Jim Taylor, the story stars Damon as a Midwestern man who decides to be shrunk to five inches tall in order to live like a king."
  • "Also Friday, Fox opens awards hopeful The Post in nine theaters in select markets."