Mar 29, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🌷Happy Friday!

1 big thing: Trump the tormentor

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

After 24 hours of brutal coverage of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' defense of scrapping funding for the Special Olympics, President Trump stepped in to claim he was saving a program his own budget had threatened, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports.

  • "I heard about it this morning," Trump told reporters as he left the White House. "I have overridden my people. We're funding the Special Olympics."

It was a bad look for DeVos, but standard operating procedure for Trump.

  • It's a reminder of why his team can never feel safe: He loves to put aides in their place.
  • And it's why at home and abroad, no one is really sure that anyone besides Trump — even a Cabinet member — is speaking for the administration.

Administration officials past and present have told us that Trump savors news coverage that shows him acting unilaterally.

  • Even one source said especially — when it involved like overriding members of his own administration.
  • When Rex Tillerson ran the State Department, Trump used to enjoy telling people to ignore Tillerson and that he — the president — was the only one who mattered.
  • We see this play out on many fronts, from his impulsive use of pardons — often ignoring the usual process — to his zeal for executive orders.

He has shown throughout his presidency that he has no hesitation about countermanding his appointees:

  • Trump is plunging ahead with plans to undo "Obamacare," despite a Politico report that the move came over the opposition of HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General William Barr.
  • In Year 1, he embarrassed Tillerson for trying to negotiate with North Korea: "Save your energy, Rex, we'll do what has to be done."
  • Trump talks about "My generals," as if the nation's command structure were his personal retainers.
  • Then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned after clashing with Trump over withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria.
  • Trump has constantly and publicly tormented his Fed chair, Jay Powell.
  • Ditto Jeff Sessions when he was A.G.
  • Ditto the intelligence community.
2. Drug pricing debate is stuck in the past

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There’s a scientific and economic revolution happening in medicine, and the political debate over drug prices isn't keeping up, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

  • Why it matters: Medical innovation is hurtling toward a new era of highly specialized drugs — some tailor-made for each individual patient. They may be more effective than anything we’ve seen before, and also more expensive.
  • But the drug-pricing debate is focused on decades-old parts of the system.

Congress is squabbling over proposals to reduce prices by boosting competition — making it easier to start developing generics, or by changing patent protections. But science is rapidly moving away from that world:

  • Gene therapy, for example, is the new wave in cancer treatment. It helps patients’ own immune systems fight off cancer — which means each dose is custom-made for each patient. It’s a highly promising approach, but treatment can come with a price tag north of $1 million.
  • The old dichotomy of a brand-name pill followed by a generic version of that pill doesn’t really hold up for custom-made drugs.

Most of these new drugs belong to a class known as biologics. They’re more complex than the drugs we’re used to, and therefore have the potential to be more precise in the way they interact with your body.

  • Most of these new, complex drugs are administered at a doctor’s office, not picked up from a pharmacy.
3. How Trump stalled Mueller
President Donald Trump greets supporters last night at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

"[T]he decision not to subpoena the president is one of the lingering mysteries of Mueller’s 22-month investigation, which concluded last week when he filed a report numbering more than 300 pages," per the WashPost's lead story:

  • "Central to the Trump strategy ... was to cooperate fully with every request for documents and witnesses from Mueller, including Trump’s written answers to some questions."
  • The goal: "satisfy Mueller’s hunt for information to the extent that the special counsel would not have legal standing to subpoena the president’s oral testimony."

"Mueller’s team kept insisting it needed to interview the president — but never followed through with an actual demand."

  • "[I]n January, the special counsel’s office contacted Trump’s lawyers to ask some ­follow-up questions."
  • "Trump’s lawyers ... neither agreed to an interview nor answered the additional questions."
  • "Two months later, Mueller submitted his report."
4. Pics du jour
Photo: Don Arnold/WireImage

Above, a rare, 10-week-old Sumatran tiger cub plays in a jungle habitat at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia.

  • Sumatran tigers are the most critically endangered tiger subspecies and are under increasing pressure as their jungle habitat shrinks, per AP.

Below, the three cubs will likely grow up to become part of breeding programs in other zoos around the world.

Photo: Rick Stevens/Taronga Zoo Sydney via AP

And one more ...

Photo: Rick Stevens/Taronga Zoo Sydney via AP
5. Data point to downturn

While President Trump "points with pride to last year’s economic growth and promises even faster growth to come, there are signs that his most dependable talking point is eroding," the N.Y. Times' Jim Tankersley writes:

  • "Economic data suggests that slowdown is already underway in the first quarter."
  • "Manufacturing is losing some of its steam from last year’s rapid growth, and job creation is also moderating."
6. Rebooting high school

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In U.S. high schools, a quiet movement is underway to better prepare students for a hazy new future in which interpersonal skills will differentiate humans from machines, Axios emerging tech reporter Kaveh Waddell writes.

  • Breaking with traditional schooling, these new models emphasize capabilities over knowledge — with extra weight on interpersonal skills that appear likely to become ever more valuable.
  • Some experts liken the automation upheaval to economic changes that sparked an education revolution a century ago, making high school the norm.

Why it matters: Automation is predicted to take over routine office and manual tasks, while elevating the importance of skills like managing others.

  • High schoolers are often being taught skills that will soon be handed over to machines.

Education research has largely overlooked high school. But that's started to change:

  • A new teaching method at Summit Shasta, a charter school outside San Francisco, where students choose the skills they want to focus on, is pegged to their college and career aspirations.
  • Summit Shasta is one of 19 schools that received large grants from XQ, an affiliate of the Emerson Collective (which invests in Axios), with the goal of inventing new ways of teaching future-proof skills.

Go deeper: Summit Shasta: One school's experiment

7. 🐱 Phrase that pays
Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Speaker Nancy Pelosi at her weekly news conference, on Republican attacks on House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff for his handling of Russia allegations:

  • "So, what is the president afraid of? Is he afraid of the truth, that he would go after a member, a chairman of a committee, a respected chairman of a committee in the Congress? I think they’re just scaredy cats."

P.S. ... On Fox News, Sean Hannity's opening graphic last night called him "SCHIFTY SCHIFF."

8. Artsy asteroids
Photos: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona via AP

From the Hubble Space Telescope ... These 3D images, captured by the Osiris-Rex spacecraft as it flies alongside, show a large, 170-foot boulder that juts from asteroid Bennu's southern hemisphere, and the rocky slopes that surround it.

A real-life rocker helped create these images, AP's Marcia Dunn writes:

  • Queen's lead guitarist Brian May, who's also an astrophysicist, joined the science team in January.
9. New scrutiny for U.S. investors in China repression tech

"Two of America’s biggest public pension funds [California and New York teachers] own stakes in Hikvision, a Chinese company that supplies surveillance technology to detention camps in Xinjiang where Muslims are held," the Financial Times reports (subscription).

  • "Marco Rubio, a senior Republican member of the Senate foreign relations committee and an influential China hawk, is leading an effort to get members of Congress to sign a letter expressing concern about 'problematic' Chinese companies identified as connected to abuse."
10. 1 Broadway thing: The king becomes her
Jack Davison for The New York Times

At 82, Glenda Jackson commands Broadway as King Lear, the most powerful role in theater. 

In the N.Y. Times Magazine, Parul Sehgal profiles Jackson, a two-time Oscar winner, who spent the last two decades as a member of Parliament, as she returns to the stage:

She does not look diminished — she looks distilled, unwrapped, the long bare branches of her body mesmerizing. "Glenda is so lean, and I don’t just mean that physically," the actor Elizabeth Marvel, who plays Goneril, told me. "I mean that emotionally, intellectually. All the fat is burned off, and you just have this brilliant diamond core."
Jackson is not the first woman to play Lear, nor does gender enter your mind as you watch her. She herself has spoken of how differences between the sexes fade with age, but her authority has always transcended any notion of gender; it has always felt like law.
The first time she played Shakespeare, in 1965, one review was headlined "Ophelia, Prince of Stratford."

Worthy of your time.

Mike Allen