Jan 17, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

👀 Happy Friday. Situational awareness: Federal prosecutors are investigating whether former FBI director James Comey leaked classified information about a Russian intelligence document related to the Clinton email investigation, the N.Y. Times' Adam Goldman scoops.

  • "Law enforcement officials are scrutinizing at least two news articles about the F.B.I. and Mr. Comey, published in The New York Times and The Washington Post in 2017, that mentioned the Russian government document."
1 big thing: Democratic "moderates" are liberal as ever

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are considered the leading 2020 Democratic moderates, but even they have taken positions to the left of Barack Obama — illuminating the liberal drift of the entire party, Alexi McCammond writes.

  • Why it matters: In earlier cycles, both men would have been labeled liberals based on their platforms and biographies.
  • The fact that they're called centrists shows how much the Democratic Party has shifted in a polarized era — just as the Republican Party has been reinvented under President Trump.

The General Social Survey, a key measure of U.S. public opinion back to 1972, shows Democrats have moved left on health care, race and immigration, FiveThirtyEight reported.

  • Gallup found that Americans self-identifying as "liberal" rose from 17% in 1992 to 26% in 2018 — offsetting the decline of "moderate," while "conservative" stayed about the same.

Trump campaign advisers say Democrats' leftward pull works to the president's advantage in swing states.

  • Trump's campaign will affix the "socialist” label to Biden or Buttigieg if either emerge as the Democratic nominee, communications director Tim Murtaugh tells Axios' Jonathan Swan: "There is no centrist lane."
  • Trump's message would include criticisms that Biden or Buttigieg would abandon voters who are employed by or rely on the fossil-fuel industry; support taxpayer-funded abortions; expand government's role in health care; and give undocumented immigrants free health care.
  • Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist close to the Trump campaign, foreshadowed Trump surrogates' message: “The only thing moderate about Biden or Buttigieg is their branding.”

Democratic positions that are being called centrist would have been liberal dreams during the Clinton and Obama eras.

  • Health care: Democrats' appetite for government-run health insurance has steadily increased.
  • Climate change: Neither Obama nor Clinton supported anything as sweeping as the Green New Deal.
  • Budgets: Clinton wanted to balance the national budget, while Obama took a milder swing at deficit reduction.
  • College: Both Biden and Buttigieg support some form of free college.
  • LGBTQ rights.

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2. Third time in 152 years: The president is on trial
Chief Justice John Roberts bangs the gavel to adjourn the first session of the impeachment trial. Photo: Senate TV via Reuters

In a chamber where senators usually come and go, with just a few on the floor at a time, 99 senators stood when Chief Justice John Roberts arrived at 2 p.m. and took the oath to preside over President Trump's impeachment trial.

  • Then the whole Senate stood, right hands raised, as Roberts swore them in, Alayna Treene reports from the chamber.
  • Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was home for a family medical issue, but plans to returns as the full trial begins next week.

What's next: Opening arguments begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Journalists watch in the Senate Press Gallery. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
3. Key Republican wants witnesses
Chief Justice John Roberts swears in senators. Photo: Senate TV via AP

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican who's willing to buck party leaders and who has a tough re-election fight, said in a statement — which, in a very Collinsesque touch, has seven numbered points:

While I need to hear the case argued and the questions answered, I tend to believe having additional information would be helpful. It is likely that I would support a motion to call witnesses at that point in the trial just as I did [at President Clinton's trial] in 1999.  
Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) swears in Chief Justice John Roberts as presiding officer of the impeachment trial. Photo: Senate Television via AP

Two hours before the impeachment charges were officially read in the Senate chamber at noon, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan watchdog that works for Congress, ruled that the White House's Office of Management and Budget broke federal law in the Ukraine case:

Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law. OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act (ICA). The withholding was not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that OMB violated the ICA.

How it's playing:

The New York Times
4. Pics du jour
Photo: Senate TV via Reuters

Above, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks away from the clerk's desk after signing an oath book swearing to provide "impartial justice" during the trial.

  • Signing the oath book is a way of conveying the gravity of presidential and judicial impeachment trials, AP reports.
  • The book is stored at the National Archives between trials.

Below, Sen. Elizabeth Warren signs.

Photo: Senate TV via AP
5. Google parent becomes fourth U.S. company to pass $1 trillion
Google Assistant Ride at CES 2019. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Alphabet Inc., the parent of Google, topped $1 trillion in market value yesterday, "solidifying the dominance of technology and internet stocks," Bloomberg reports.

  • "Only two other U.S. names are past the threshold: Apple Inc., valued at about $1.38 trillion, and Microsoft Corp., at $1.27 trillion."
  • Amazon passed $1 trillion in 2018, but now is just under the 13-digit mark.

Why it matters: "These four companies are by far the largest on Wall Street, and their huge size gives them an outsized impact on overall market direction. Together, they represent more than 15% of the weight of the S&P 500."

  • "The fifth-largest U.S. stock by market cap, Facebook Inc., currently has a valuation of $632.9 billion."
  • "The biggest company outside the tech or internet sector is [Warren Buffett's] Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in sixth place, valued around $559 billion."

"Globally, the list is topped by Saudi Aramco, ... which went public last month and currently has a market cap of about $1.8 trillion."

6. Inside D.C.'s war on Huawei
Illustration: Alvaro Dominguez for WIRED. Used by permission.

The runaway conflict between Washington and Huawei (pronounced "wah-way"), the Chinese smartphone giant, could spell the end of a single, global internet, Garrett M. Graff writes in WIRED:

As Donald Trump arrived in the White House, the country's national security agencies were already pivoting away from the global war on terror and toward a new era in which geopolitics was increasingly a contest between the US and two other superpowers, one fading and one rising. ...
"Russia is a hurricane," as Rob Joyce, the White House cybersecurity coordinator at the time, is fond of saying. "China is climate change."

Keep reading.

7. Future of investing: Two pre-Davos moves

Citi today will announce a $150 million Citi Impact Fund to invest in private-sector companies with a positive impact on society.

  • The global bank says in a forthcoming release that it will invest its own capital in U.S. companies innovating in 1) workforce development ... 2) access to the financial system ... 3) physical and social infrastructure (housing, healthcare, transportation) ... 4) sustainability, including energy and water.
  • Citi said it will seek out businesses led or owned by women and minorities.

Microsoft pledged to become "carbon negative" by 2030 by removing more carbon from the environment than it emits "not just across our direct emissions, but across our supply chain," CEO Satya Nadella said.

  • Microsoft added that by 2050, the company "will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975."
8. "The target is the minds of the American people"
Illustration: Brian Stauffer for Rolling Stone. Used by permission.

Rolling Stone Washington bureau chief Andy Kroll writes that while the U.S. has made progress on election security since 2016, "many flaws remain":

Some counties and states still use outdated voting equipment and insecure election software: At the 2018 DEF-CON hacker conference, an 11-year-old hacked into a copycat version of Florida’s state election website and changed vote totals in less than 10 minutes. Only three states conduct mandatory, scientifically rigorous post-election audits to ensure the final vote count is accurate.

Full article posts soon.

9. 📚 What Bannon called Pelosi
Cover: Penguin Press

A sneak peek for Axios readers at a passage from "A Very Stable Genius," by the WashPost's Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig, out Tuesday:

The night of January 23 [2017], the first Monday of his presidency, Trump came face‑to‑face with House and Senate leaders from both parties at a White House reception ... At a long table in the State Dining Room, Steve Bannon ... could not stop looking at Nancy Pelosi. ...
Pelosi assumed Trump would open the conversation on a unifying note, such as by quoting the Founding Fathers or the Bible. Instead, the new president began with a lie: "You know, I won the popular vote." He claimed that there had been widespread fraud, with three to five million illegal votes for Clinton. Pelosi interjected. "Well, Mr. President, that’s not true," she said. "There’s no evidence to support what you just said, and if we’re going to work together, we have to stipulate to a certain set of facts."
Watching Pelosi challenge Trump, Bannon whispered to col­leagues, "She’s going to get us. Total assassin. She’s an assassin."
10. 1 ⚾ thing: MLB names first female coach

Alyssa Nakken (nack-in) became the first female coach in Major League Baseball history when she was named an assistant under new S.F. Giants manager Gabe Kapler, AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley reports.

  • Nakken is a former softball standout at first base for Sacramento State who joined the club in 2014 as an intern in baseball operations.

The context: The NBA has several female assistant coaches. The NFL's San Francisco 49ers, playing in this Sunday's NFC championship game, have Katie Sowers as an offensive assistant.

Mike Allen

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