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February 19, 2017

Tonight, Jonathan Swan debuts a new weekly newsletter, Axios Sneak Peek -- our lookahead for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus the best moments from the Sunday shows. For launch, Jonathan has a cool scoop on a surprising behind-the-scenes debate inside the GOP.

1 big thing: 2020 begins

White House officials are shooting down a N.Y. Post story, spreading on Twitter this morning, saying Chris Christie has told his staff he's taking a White House job.

Mike DuHaime, a Christie adviser, told us: "Absolutely not true." A Trump aide said: "100% wrong. The Christie chatter is as always generated by Christieland."

But in checking out that report, we learned that Trump's White House lunch with the governor this week included conversation about a possible drug task force, aimed at a big scourge in Trump country.

"There is some preliminary talk of [Christie] participating in [and perhaps chairing] an independent outside 'opioids task force' along with many others while he remains governor," the aide said.

The Christie flurry comes with Trump spending the holiday weekend at Mar-a-Lago, refreshed after his first campaign rally of 2020.

A Trump adviser tells us the president is experiencing acute "cabin fever" in the White House -- hemmed in by headaches, unable to easily pop out to a restaurant the way he could in New York. So yesterday's campaign rally in Florida was partly about Trump management -- a victory lap after a turbulent month, and a chance to bask in the adulation of 9,000 supporters who won't pester or question him.

"Revived by rally, Trump turns back to governing," AP writes. "Trump hits reset with friendlier audience," says the WashPost front page. The N.Y. Times gave Trump his "reset" on Friday, after a Boeing rally in South Carolina.

Trump had said on Air Force One that he planned a message of unity -- but that didn't come till the very end: "[W]e have the chance now, working together, to deliver change for the ages."

But mostly, it was waves of triumphant, scolding riffs. Trump hadn't even gotten past his intro when he went after "fake news ... [t]he dishonest media, which has published one false story after another, with no sources, even though they pretend they have them -- they make them up in many cases."

"And by the way, do you think that ... one network will show this crowd? Not one. Not one," Trump said, inciting boos. "They won't show the crowd."

Later, he repeated the same charge. CNN and MSNBC both showed the crowd during their live coverage.

Get used to it. Trump's media assaults used to be more of an aside or applause line. Now, it's a specific strategy, with the White House increasingly using press bias as the answer to almost any challenge.

On "Fox News Sunday," a flustered Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, said that Chris Wallace was "going bananas" with his aggressive questioning on Russia, enemy of the state, etc.

Priebus, taping "Face the Nation" with CBS' John Dickerson yesterday, retreated to "bogus stories" so often that Dickerson said: "So in every answer, you've turned it back to the media. So I guess the question is: Is the strategy now to answer any question by just turning it back on the media and using a fight with the media as a way to try to control the storyline?"


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA's historic moonshot pad is back in business. A SpaceX Falcon rocket blasted off Sunday morning from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A. It's carrying a load of supplies for the International Space Station. SpaceX is leasing the pad from NASA for 20 years.

2. Huge deal

This story is an ominous turn for the White House, presaging at a best -- a long distraction ... "Senators want materials saved for Russia probe," by AP's Deb Riechmann and Eileen Sullivan: "The Senate intelligence committee has sent formal requests to more than a dozen organizations, agencies and individuals, asking them to preserve all materials related to a probe the panel is conducting on Russian interference in the 2016 election."

  • "The committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and its vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., sent letters out on Friday — the same day committee members received a classified briefing from FBI Director James Comey."
  • "Schumer ... said Thursday on the Senate floor: 'There is real concern that some in the administration may try to cover up its ties to Russia by deleting emails, texts and other records ... These records are likely to be the subject of executive branch as well as congressional investigations and must be preserved."

3. Trump watches "Tucker"

At yesterday's rally, Trump said: "We've got to keep our country safe. (CHEERS) You look at what's happening in Germany. You look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible."

Sweden!? Well, it turns out nothing big happened Friday night in Sweden.

Business Insider figured out what DID happen: "Fox News host Tucker Carlson ran an interview on Friday night's broadcast of 'Tucker Carlson Tonight' with documentarian and media personality Ami Horowitz, who presented a clip from a new film documenting alleged violence committed by refugees in Sweden."

"The segment went on extensively about a supposed crime surge in Sweden and its links to immigrant populations. Crime rates in Sweden have stayed relatively stable, with some fluctuations, over the last decade, according to the 2016 Swedish Crime Survey." See both clips.

4. Coming attractions

"Memos signed by DHS secretary describe sweeping new guidelines for deporting illegal immigrants," WashPost lead story by Dave Nakamura: "plans for the agency to hire thousands of additional enforcement agents, expand the pool of immigrants who are prioritized for removal, speed up deportation hearings and enlist local law enforcement to help make arrests."

See the 2 memos.

"Popular Domestic Programs Face Ax Under First Trump Budget," per N.Y. Times: "The White House budget office has drafted a hit list of programs that President Trump could eliminate to trim domestic spending, including longstanding conservative targets like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities."

5. Top-eds

John Podesta in Washington Post, "Trump's hall of mirrors": "Trump is deploying a strategy, used by autocrats, designed to completely disorient public perception. He's not just trying to spin the bad news of the day; all politicians do that. He seeks nothing less than to undermine the public's belief that any news can be trusted, that any news is true, that there is any fixed reality."

"Trump is attempting to build a hall of mirrors where even our most basic sensory perceptions are shrouded in confusion. He is emulating the successful strategy of Vladimir Putin."

A good question from Maureen Dowd, "Trapped in Trump's Brain": "Why didn't Trump himself tell Pence when the White House counsel told him?"

Frank Bruni, "Donald Trump Will Numb You": "[H]is means of survival: the warp speed and whirl of it all. He forces you to process and react to so many different outrages at such a dizzying velocity that no one of them has the staying power that it ought to or gets the scrutiny it deserves."

6. A month of Trump

Today is Day 31 of the Trump presidency. AP recaps the wild month, by the numbers:

  • 24: Executive orders and memoranda signed. That includes orders to withdraw the United States from Trans-Pacific trade deal, impose a federal hiring freeze and reduce regulations related to the health care law enacted under former President Barack Obama.
  • 1: Executive orders blocked. An order to ban travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations was blocked by federal judges. Trump is expected to issue a new order next week.
  • 4: Bills signed into law. They include a bill to halt regulation blocking coal mining debris from being dumped in nearby streams.
  • 6: The average number of tweets per day from personal account @realDonaldTrump.
  • 25.1 million: Twitter followers for @realDonaldTrump.
  • 15.5 million: Twitter followers for official account @POTUS.
  • 4: Visits from foreign leaders. (Britain, Japan, Canada, Israel.)
  • 1: Cancelled visit from foreign leader. (Mexico.)
  • 1: Supreme Court nomination. Judge Neil Gorsuch.
  • 2: Failed personnel choices. Andrew Puzder withdrew as the nominee for labor secretary; Michael Flynn was ousted as national security adviser.
  • 14: Cabinet-level nominations approved, out of 24 total.
  • 39: Percent of respondents who approve of Trump's job performance in Pew Research Center poll conducted Feb. 7-12.
  • 3: Weekend trips to Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

7. Disrupting Hollywood

"Amazon goes to the Oscars: Digital disrupters are closing in," by Financial Times global media editor Matthew Garrahan: "Silicon Valley is not just straying into traditional Hollywood territory. It is launching a full-on incursion as the digital disruptive forces that have revolutionised the music industry now threaten the mighty movie business."

  • The players: "Netflix will spend approximately $1bn on producing and acquiring original movies over the next three years, while Amazon is releasing around 15 a year, with budgets ranging from $5m to $40m. Google is commissioning original series for its YouTube Red subscription service, while Apple is having ongoing discussions with Hollywood executives about original film and TV productions."
  • The strategy: "Instead of handing over their money to the studios, as some naive international players have done before them, the streaming services have set themselves up as competitors. They are buying scripts, developing material and outbidding the studios and their subsidiaries for the most hotly anticipated independent films at festivals such as Sundance and Toronto."
  • A twist: "Some Netflix films have been released in cinemas in order to qualify for Academy Award consideration."
  • Studio survival plan: "[S]tudios and their subsidiaries hoping to buy finished films need to start developing and producing more of their own material if they are to stay relevant."

8. Andrew Ross Sorkin on "Billions"

Andrew Ross Sorkin (who turns 4-0 today) -- the N.Y. Times columnist and CNBC "Squawk Box" co-anchor, who in his spare time is co-creator and executive producer of "Billions" -- gives us his take on Season 2, which debuts tonight at 10 on Showtime:

"In the age of Trump, the culture of money and power -- and trying to understand the cross-currents that motivate these men (and some women) to seemingly always drive for 'more' -- has become central to our national conversation. And those themes have always been central to the show."

CNN's Brian Lowry review: "'Billions' was co-created by ... Sorkin, who wanted to provide a deep dive into the world of hedge funds and New York finance. On that level, the show continues to deliver, even if its inherent conflict -- about big money, and the ability of government to curb that influence -- takes on a different hue amid so many reminders that those forces are in alignment at least as often as they find themselves at odds."

Trailer for "Billions" Season 2 (2:25): "Nothing is more personal than business."

9. The sports page: NBA All-Star night

The 66th NBA All-Star Game is tonight at 8 on TNT, from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans -- but is All-Star weekend getting too long? Matt Moore, NBA writer for CBS Sports, gave a thumbs-down to last night's State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, which showcases individual stars:

"Two guys go in the skills contest? COMMERCIAL BREAK. A guy goes through a 3-point rack? COMMERCIAL BREAK. Over and over. The musical guests and segments are necessary, but in part because of the drawn-out, forced nature of the event, and partly because of the crowd, which is priced out and made up mostly of corporate sponsors, the crowd was dead.

"There was no life to the event, no energy. That's part of a trend over the last few years. It needs to feel like the room is buzzing, and with players lazing through the skills competition, missing dunks, and lounging in chairs courtside, it feels like anything but that. ... Saturday felt forced."'s "Best viral moments from All-StarSaturday Night."

10. 1 fun thing: Cynical cookies

Coming soon in U.S.: MISfortune cookies ("It bites back!"), from Germany's Pechkeks: "The black cookies are filled with a bit of dark humor, similar to ... Cards Against Humanity ... [T]he carbon-dyed cookies have been a hit in Europe and Australia since 2013." Samples:

  • "Life is a symphony – and you're playing the kazoo."
  • "At least I believe in you. Me, a piece of paper."
  • "Things will get better. Sometimes. Maybe."