Dec 15, 2019

Axios AM

🇨🇳 Bulletin: The U.S. government secretly expelled two Chinese Embassy officials this fall after they drove on to a sensitive military base in Virginia, the N.Y. Times reports.

😎 Good Sunday morning. I'm headed to my native Best Coast for the week.

1 big thing: America's interest in impeachment fades
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Data: NewsWhip. Chart: Axios Visuals

The level of readers' social media engagement on stories about impeachment has steeply declined since September, according to NewsWhip data provided to Axios' Neal Rothschild.

  • Why it matters: While plenty of attention is being paid to impeachment, it doesn't draw the same online emotion and enthusiasm that it did when House Democrats announced their probe.

Of the 10 biggest stories about impeachment since Sept. 16 — as measured by interactions, such as likes, comments, shares — none has come since Nov. 15.

  • Of the top 30 stories, only four have come since Nov. 15.

Public interest peaked when the case against Trump was building, with news cycles driven by revelations about Trump, Ukraine and the cast of characters.

  • After two weeks of public testimony in mid-November, the national conversation shifted from the accumulation of evidence to debate over whether that evidence was sufficient for impeachment and conviction.
  • That shift highlights a key dynamic: New facts drive debate. But in this era of extreme polarization, arguments fall into predictable patterns, with each side shutting the other out.

The top news articles about impeachment, by interactions, per NewsWhip data:

  1. "House Democrats Now Have Enough Votes To Impeach Donald Trump" (Politicus USA): 2.45 million interactions
  2. "Franklin Graham calls on nation to pray for Trump as impeachment effort gains speed" (WashTimes): 1.55 million
  3. "Adam Schiff is wasting the nation’s time with impeachment hearings (N.Y. Post editorial): 1.5 million
  4. "Pelosi announces impeachment inquiry, says Trump's courting of foreign political help is a 'betrayal of national security'" (WashPost): 1.07 million
  5. "Nancy Pelosi announces formal impeachment inquiry of Trump" (NBC News) — 744,000

The bottom line: While interest builds when the news cycle heats up and more stories are written, average interactions have been on a sustained decline.

2. ⚖️ A House flipper! Next week's 30 toughest votes
Check the poster as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speaks Wednesday during House Judiciary's impeachment markup. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

🥊 Breaking: Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) — a moderate freshman from a Trump district who has said he'll oppose articles of impeachment — is expected to flip parties and become a Republican, a White House official tells Jonathan Swan.

  • Van Drew has spoken with President Trump's advisers "about announcing his switch at an event at the White House either immediately before or just after the House votes on two articles of impeachment," the N.Y. Times reports.
  • Retweeting the news that he had met with Van Drew and urged him to switch, Trump said: "Wow, that would be big. Always heard Jeff is very smart!"

Van Drew is one of 31 House Dems from districts Trump carried in 2016 — the toughest votes when impeachment comes to the floor this week.

  • Fewer than half of the 31 have said how they'll vote, per the WashPost, but only four to 10 defections are expected.

Trump and allies are mobilizing a big squeeze. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a list of the office phone numbers and Twitter handles of all 31 yesterday, with the intro:

Enough! These Democrats in Trump districts said they were with @realDonaldTrump. They lied! - Now now its time to hear from OUR MOVEMENT. Here’s a complete thread of their handles & phone #s. Call non-stop, tweet at them, tell them this will NOT STAND & you’ll remember in Nov! RT
3. 📈 Bullish notes end skittish year
Boris in November. Photo: Frank Augstein/AP

Two of the biggest hurdles constraining the world economy — uncertainty about Brexit and the China trade war — were alleviated last week, Bloomberg's Enda Curran writes.

  • Why it matters: "[T]he outlook for global growth will enter 2020 on a firmer footing after the U.S. and China struck a partial trade deal and outlook for Brexit cleared somewhat."

Ben Emons, managing director for global macro strategy at Medley Global Advisors in New York, told Bloomberg: "The China trade deal and U.K. election result have taken out a major tail risk overhanging markets and companies."

  • "Business confidence should see a large boost that could see a restart of global investment, inventory rebuild and a resurgence of global trade volume."

🌏 P.S. The N.Y. Times lead story is an obit for globalism by Peter Goodman in London, "Brexit’s Advance Opens a New Trade Era ... Shift in Trade Around Globe: To Go It Alone — U.K. and U.S. Lead a Nationalist Push":

  • "The decisive Conservative victory in Britain leaves no doubt that in today’s global equation, national interests are supreme and globalization is suspect."
  • "[A] new era is underway in which national interests take primacy over collective concerns, with trading arrangements negotiated among individual countries."
✝️ Bonus: Astonishing stat

Only 10% of donations to the Peter’s Pence collection by Catholic churches goes to charitable works, the Wall Street Journal's Francis X. Rocca reports from Vatican City (subscription):

  • "Every year, Catholics around the world donate tens of millions of dollars to the pope. Bishops exhort the faithful to support the weak and suffering through the pope’s main charitable appeal, called Peter’s Pence."
  • "What the church doesn’t advertise is that most of that collection, worth more than ... $55 million ... annually, goes toward plugging the hole in the Vatican’s own administrative budget."
4. Pics du jour
Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

"Fans leave politics aside at 120th Army-Navy game": President Trump got resounding cheers as he entered Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, and clapped and waved as he took to the field for the national anthem. (Philly Inquirer)

  • Navy won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, 31-7, snapping a three-game losing streak against the Black Knights.
  • Navy leads the series 61-52-7.

Cap tip: Kendall "Sports, Man" Baker

Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images
5. Possible "white power" hand signs at Army-Navy game probed
The Army-Navy game, as seen from Air Force One. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Service-academy officials are trying to determine motives of students at the Army-Navy game who flashed hand signs on ESPN that are associated with "white power," the Wall Street Journal's Ben Kesling reports (subscription).

  • "The hand sign appeared to be displayed [in the student section] both by West Point cadets and Annapolis midshipmen."

"The hand sign ... looks like the 'okay' sign ... The sign has also been used in what's known as the 'circle game,'" the Journal reports.

  • "The sign took on a different significance ... around 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League, when it began to be used to signify white power."
  • "The ambiguity of the symbol was part of the reason it was used as an extremist meme, the ADL says."
6. 🎥 1 screen thing
Photos: Jack Davison for The New York Times

Today's N.Y. Times Magazine, the "Great Performers" issue, has six covers.

  • Clockwise from upper left: Jennifer Lopez, Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong'o, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.
  • The magazine's "10 Best Actors of the Year" list is rounded out by Antonio Banderas, Robert De Niro, Julianne Moore and Elisabeth Moss.

Critics Wesley Morris and A.O. Scott consider the best and most rousing movie performances of 2019:

Call it a motif of meta-ness: Most of these actors ... have been chosen for their portrayals of other performing artists, people who live on the stage or screen or some other space where authenticity and artifice collide.
This isn’t new. Movie actors have been impersonating actual and fictional thespians and thrushes at least since "The Jazz Singer," and the musical or theatrical biopic may be the most reliable route to an Academy Award. ...
But the performers we chose did more than embody the stars of the past. They created new ones.

See the portfolio.

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