Nov 4, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

😎 Good Monday morning! Frank Bruni has a memorable column that ends with the magic of asking someone how they are — and being ready to really listen:

  • "I asked her, tentatively, about her health. And for more than 10 minutes, she opened up about her frequent physical ordeals, her surgeries and how she’d learned to cope by focusing on the good days and remembering that the bad ones were never permanent. I felt a connection to her. I was inspired."
  • Hope you have a meaningful conversation today.
1 big thing ... Inside Warren's plan: What it would really do

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's Medicare for All takes on every major health care industry — insurers, doctors, hospitals, drug companies — in her quest to expand coverage and lower costs for the middle class, Caitlin Owens writes.

  • Why it matters: We've never tried any cost containment measures that are remotely close to being as aggressive as Warren's.

Experts say you can only wring so much money out of the system before it starts to impact care — and Warren is wringing out a lot.

  • Private insurance would be eliminated.
  • Americans would no longer have to worry about reaching their deductibles or whether their doctors are in their insurance network.
  • They'd pay no premiums and have "virtually no" out-of-pocket costs, according to Warren. They'd have expansive health benefits, including long-term care, audio, visual and dental.

To pay for all of this, providers would see drastic payment reductions.

  • Drug prices would plummet.

The bottom line: The days of American health care as big business would likely be over. Patients may win financially, but there's no way of knowing at what cost to the quality of their care.

2. Trump's government by vacancy

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A quarter of the leadership positions on the Department of Homeland Security's website are "acting" or vacant, Stef Kight reports.

  • Why it matters: President Trump said Friday that senior DHS official Chad Wolf will be named acting secretary, to replace acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan. Wolf will be the fifth person in the job for this administration.
  • Throughout the agency, there are hiring difficulties, vacant positions and temporary officials.
  • And this has been true across Trump's government, with record turnover in top positions and many months of acting secretaries. Mick Mulvaney has been acting White House chief of staff for 10 months.

The biggest reasons: Politicization makes it harder for nominees to be confirmed by the Senate. And the difficulties dealing with the border crisis, along with the White House’s singular focus on immigration, makes the job look toxic.

  • "[T]he WH’s constant mismanagement of the interagency policy making process is also a factor," a former administration official said. "Agency leaders never feel like they have command."

Trump has said he prefers acting secretaries, who don't have to go through Senate scrutiny, because it gives him "more flexibility."

Share this story.

3. 🎬 Josh Harris, fallen evangelical mega-pastor: "I excommunicated myself"

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Josh Harris, once one of America's most famous evangelical pastors, admitted in his first interview since renouncing Christianity that he ruined lives and marriages, so he excommunicated himself from the faith that made him famous.

  • "If you're not living according to the teaching of the Bible, and you're living in unrepentant sin, then you have to be put out of the church," Harris told me for "Axios on HBO," near his home in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Harris, author of the million-selling "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," stunned his tight-knit world by going on Instagram in July and announcing that he was leaving his marriage and — nine days later — that he was no longer a Christian.

  • Many of his former followers "are angry — understandably," he told me.
  • "Someone said, 'I don't believe in God, but I miss Him.' I can relate to that."

Video: See an excerpt of our conversation.

  • Go deeper ... Josh Harris: Evangelical support for Trump is "incredibly damaging to the Gospel."
4. 🇮🇷 Pic du jour
Photo: Vahid Salemi/AP

This photo, of Iranian demonstrators chanting slogans as they set fire to an American flag, is from today — not 40 years ago.

  • Thousands of Iranians chanted "death to America" as Iran marked the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover and ensuing hostage crisis, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declaring the two countries "implacable foes," Reuters reports.
  • Go deeper.
5. Tim Cook to Axios: Apple will spend $2.5 billion to help neighbors
Tim Cook attends the global premiere of the Apple TV series "The Morning Show" in New York last week. Photo: Roy Rochlin/WireImage

Apple CEO Tim Cook, unveiling a $2.5 billion plan to help alleviate California's housing availability and affordability crisis, told me in an interview that Apple feels "a profound responsibility" to the region where it was born and thrived.

  • "It’s just unsustainable," Cook said. "This problem is so big that the public sector cannot do it alone."

Why it matters: Many teachers and emergency workers can't afford to live in the Bay Area communities they serve. "Super-commutes" of 90 minutes or more, often from distant counties, have become a grim regional phenomenon.

  • The big picture: The tech giants are trying to be better neighbors. Facebook announced last month that it would invest $1 billion to help alleviate California's housing crisis. Google announced a $1 billion plan in June.

Cook told me Apple is making this move now in part because Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is the right partner.

6. McDonald's CEO booted after relationship
Steve Easterbrook demonstrates a touchscreen kiosk. Photo: Richard Drew/AP

McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook was pushed out after violating company policy by engaging in a consensual relationship with an employee, per AP.

  • "Given the values of the company, I agree with the board that it is time for me to move on," Easterbrook said in an email to employees.
7. Climate-change confessions of an energy reporter

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

"I cover energy and climate change, and yet even I do little to reduce my own environmental footprint," Amy Harder writes in her "Harder Line" column.

  • Readers ask me what I do to lower my own carbon footprint, suggesting that because I cover this topic I should stake out a higher moral ground.
  • Spoiler alert: I don’t! Like most people, I’m driven mostly by economic incentives.

Eating: I eat beef, at most, a couple times a week, usually when I’m at restaurants.

  • I often opt for vegetarian or other meat (chicken, primarily) because cheaper and healthier.
  • However, when I’m home on my family’s cattle ranch in Washington State, I eat beef almost daily. Burgers. Steak. Prime rib. Pot roast. Hot dogs. Meatloaf. Cube steak. You get the point.

Electricity: I really try to conserve — but to save money, not the planet.

Mobility: I don’t own a car, and I’m among the 18% of Americans who use public transport.

8. Republican Jewish Coalition fires first shot
Screenshot: RJC

The Republican Jewish Coalition today will launch its first attack ad of the 2020 campaign — an inflammatory spot titled "Shanda" (Yiddish for "shame"), Jonathan Swan scoops.

  • The ad accuses leading 2020 Democrats of being anti-Israel, citing their threats to withhold aid to Israel unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government changes its behavior.

Why it matters: The RJC, which is backed by billionaire GOP donor Sheldon Adelson, has spent millions over the past two presidential elections, leading the Republican Party's outreach to Jewish voters. In April, the RJC board authorized its largest ever campaign budget: $10 million.

  • "This isn't our parents' Democratic Party anymore," RJC executive director Matt Brooks said. "What's happening to the Democratic Party is a disgrace, a shanda, and a potential disaster for our community."

The RJC's 2020 goal is to identify every Jewish voter in the battleground states, contact them and then turn out as many as possible to vote for President Trump and Republicans.

See the RJC's first ad of the 2020 campaign.

9. First look ... Nikki Haley: "Trump and I understood each other"
Cover: St. Martin's Press

Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, will be out Nov. 12 with "With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace" (represented by Robert Barnett):

When I had an idea about a direction for U.S. foreign policy — with regard to Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, or elsewhere — I could pick up the phone and call the president. Our communication was nearly constant, and it was straightforward. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye. Sometimes I called to privately express my disagreement with a policy. But he always took the call and he always listened. ...
The result was that I had unusual latitude to operate as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. ... President Trump and I understood each other.

Book tour.

10. 🗞️ 1 fun thing: What we really read
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Last week started with the Baghdadi raid and ended with the first formal vote on impeachment, with Lt. Col. Vindman's testimony in between.

But the week's most read N.Y. Times article was restaurant critic Pete Wells' entertaining pan of the legendary Brooklyn steakhouse, "Peter Luger Used to Sizzle. Now It Sputters":

What gnaws at me every time I eat a Luger porterhouse is the realization that it’s just another steak, and far from the best New York has to offer. ...
Luger is not the city’s oldest, but it’s the one in which age, tradition, superb beef, blistering heat, an instinctive avoidance of anything fancy and an immensely attractive self-assurance came together to produce something that felt less like a restaurant than an affirmation of life, or at least life as it is lived in New York City. This sounds ridiculously grand. Years ago I thought it was true, though, and so did other people.

Go deeper ... "How a Food Critic Plots His Pans," by Pete Wells: "I try to avoid negative reviews — unless I think readers are at risk of wasting their money."

Mike Allen

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