Apr 11, 2019

Axios AM

Police in London say they've arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy on a court warrant dating back to 2012 after Ecuador withdrew asylum.

🇮🇳 In the world's largest democratic exercise, polls opened today in India, beginning a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people.

🇦🇺Australia's prime minister called a May 18 election to be fought on climate, refugees.

🎃 European leaders granted the U.K. a six-month Brexit extension until Oct. 31.

1 big thing: A bigger, longer, rougher 2020 race

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats' 2020 race is already one for the history books: There’s a tighter pack, more diversity, more authentically viable candidates, more early money, and more creative, meaty ideas than anyone expected.

  • Why it matters: This is a big, durable field of candidates with staying power — promising a long, diffuse scramble to define liberalism.
  • It is unfolding in a reality distortion field, with early money and social media attention rewarding a race to the left.

The field has more lanes than were expected as the year began, so more candidates are likely to last until the snow flies:

  • Bernie Sanders' formidable fundraising means he starts stronger than expected.
  • Joe Biden starts weaker than expected, perhaps prolonging other candidates' runs. 
  • Pete Buttigieg started as a curiosity but now is a true force. He gave a speech about gay Americans last weekend that has been compared to Barack Obama's address on race, for having the potential to "live on past its moment," as MSNBC's Brian Williams put it.
  • Beto O'Rourke's sunniness promised to make him the field's crowd-pleaser, but he now could be diluted by Mayor Pete in competing as the fresh, new thing. 
  • Elizabeth Warren has announced a spate of clever, ambitious policy ideas that will keep her in the mix and conversation. 
  • Kamala Harris launched with a big bounce, and California's early spot in the primary calendar gives her a superpower you should not undervalue. 

A top veteran of Democratic politics tells me: "The race has gone to full steam preposterously early." Well, it’s only getting faster and more crowded. 

  • Be smart ... The Trump plan is simple: Scream "socialist!" until Election Day and make it a stark choice — and not a referendum on his behavior.
  • He’s betting the powerful swing to the Sanders left will play into his hands. 
2. Stephen Miller rising
Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller goaded President Trump in his threats to close the border, warned him not to look weak, and urged the purge at Homeland Security, the WashPost's Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa report:

  • Meanwhile, Jared Kushner "met privately with the Mexican ambassador to discuss a more collaborative approach."
  • And Kushner has been quietly working for months on a "more palatable and unifying legislative package" on immigration, per AP.

Why it matters, per the Post: "The contrast highlights the good cop-bad cop roles on immigration that Kushner, 38, and Miller, 33, now inhabit."

  • Miller is "ascendant as he pushes a frustrated president to champion draconian border policies and rhetoric."

Chaser ... President Trump, asked on the South Lawn yesterday if he'd thought about making Stephen Miller his secretary of Homeland Security, since Miller "is already, basically, running your Homeland Security apparatus":

  • "[F]rankly, there’s only one person that’s running it. You know who that is? It’s me."
3. Trump wants to close OPM

What's new ... "The White House is moving to do what no president has accomplished since World War II: eliminate a major federal agency," the WashPost's Lisa Rein and Damian Paletta report.

  • The 5,565-employee Office of Personnel Management, the federal government's H.R. department (with a $2.1 billion annual budget), would be pulled apart and its functions divided among other departments.
  • "An executive order directing parts of the transition by the fall is in the final stages of review, ... with an announcement by President Trump likely by summer."

Why it matters: The breakup would be "a jolt of bureaucratic defibrillation to a slow-to-change workforce that the president and his top aides have targeted."

4. Tweet du jour
Pablo Martínez‏

(hat tip: Ina Fried)

5. Headline of the day
Photo: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/Maunakea Observatories via AP

In Axios PM, we told you about humanity's first glimpse of the cosmic place of no return: a black hole. (Sign up for PM.)

  • The cover of Metro, a free paper that has the highest circulation in the U.K.: "WHAT BREXIT LOOKS LIKE FROM SPACE."

P.S. ... The Google Doodle wits were quick:

Screenshot via Google
6. The problem with putting a price on the end of the world
Illustration: Pablo Delcan (Courtesy The New York Times)

"[C]limate activists have recently begun to change their political strategy," David Leonhardt writes in this weekend's N.Y. Times Magazine:

  • "The cherished idea of economists, carbon pricing, is losing favor."
  • "Rather than broadcast the necessary sacrifices, as taxes and cap-and-trade schemes do, the alternatives [like clean-energy mandates and subsidies] try to play them down and instead emphasize the benefits of less pollution."

Why it matters: "When voters think about clean energy rather than climate change, some of the usual partisan patterns break down. Even many Republican voters support clean energy."

7. How Alexa gets smarter

Amazon employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers, by listening to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices, Bloomberg reports:

  • "The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands."
  • "[T]he recordings ... don’t provide a user's full name and address but are associated with an account number, as well as the user's first name and the device's serial number."

Why it matters: "[L]ike many software tools built to learn from experience, humans are doing some of the teaching."

8. First look: Senator favors U.S. military help in Venezuela

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) will say today that the U.S. "must consider the use of military assets to bring aid to the people of Venezuela," Jonathan Swan reports.

  • "Maduro and his thugs have left us no choice," Scott says in remarks prepared for a conversation at the American Enterprise Institute.

Why it matters: It's significant that a U.S. senator is urging use of U.S. military assets to push aid into Venezuela, and is setting the predicate for military action in the strongest language we've seen from a senator.

More from the speech:

  • "[S]anctions alone aren't stopping the Maduro regime."
  • "[T]he United States needs to start considering the use of military assets to bring aid to the millions of starving and sick Venezuelans. And I call on all of our allies and those supporting Guaidó to help us in this effort."
  • "If embargoes and blockades can help, we should consider them. And if military force on the part of the United States and our allies in the region is necessary to rid us of the scourge of Maduro and his thugs, then we cannot rule it out."
  • "If the Venezuelan people, through their elected National Assembly and their own laws and Constitution, request assistance to restore constitutional government and democracy, we should be ready to answer that call."
9. L.A. mourns en masse
A makeshift memorial in the parking lot of Hussle's Marathon Clothing store in L.A. Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

Happening today: With a 25-mile procession of Nipsey Hussle's casket through the streets of L.A., the slain rapper and entrepreneur will receive the type of epic street gathering often seen for sports victories, car chases, and the deaths of politicians. (AP)

10. 🐕 🐈 1 pet thing

Dog owners were much happier than cat owners in the respected General Social Survey for 2018, the WashPost's Christopher Ingram reports:

  • "Dog owners are about twice as likely as cat owners to say they’re very happy, with people owning both falling somewhere in between."
  • "Dog people ... are slightly happier than those without any pets. Those in the cat camp ... are significantly less happy than the pet-less."
  • Why it matters ... "These differences are quite large: The happiness divide between dog and cat owners is bigger than the one between people who identify as middle and upper class."

There's a catch: "[C]orrelation doesn’t equal causation, and there are probably a number of other differences between dog and cat owners that account for some of the differences."

  • "The General Social Survey data show that dog owners, for instance, are more likely to be married and own their own homes than cat owners, both factors known to affect happiness and life satisfaction."

P.S. ... The survey found 6 in 10 households have at least one pet.

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