Nov 20, 2017

Axios AM

Good Monday morning from Tuscaloosa, Ala., where we did an early family Thanksgiving with Anders, a Roll Tide freshman.

Situational awareness: Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, 93, agrees to resignation terms but drags his feet, per CNN.

1 big thing: "A long winter"

"Witnesses questioned by Mueller's team warn that investigators are asking about ... foreign contacts and meetings that have not yet become public, and to expect a series of new revelations," the WashPost's Ashley Parker and Carol Leonnig write atop column 1:

  • "One Republican operative ... described Mueller's team 'working through the staff like Pac-Man.'"
  • "[A]t least nine people in Trump's orbit had contact with Russians during the campaign or the transition."
  • White House lawyer Ty Cobb: "I've done my best ... to share my view that the perception of the inquiry — that it involved a decade or more of financial transactions and other alleged issues that were mistakenly reported — just wasn't true, and that the issues were narrower."
  • "Cobb added that those who have already been interviewed by Mueller's team have left feeling buoyed. ... [N]obody I know of was shaken or scared."
  • "The president ... has warmed to Cobb's optimistic message ... Cobb had initially said he hoped the focus on the White House would conclude by Thanksgiving, but adjusted the timeline slightly in an interview, ... saying he remains optimistic that it will wrap up by the end of the year, if not shortly thereafter. "

A White House official tells me: "The only people focused on or consumed by this are the press. The White House staff are working to carry out the President's agenda on behalf of the American people."

What we're hearing: I'm told that Mueller's team is rooting around inside Trump world more deeply than is publicly known. Outside West Wing advisers tell me that may create a showdown.

2. The real America

By happenstance (looking for "Face the Nation" in a new city), I caught a "CBS Sunday Morning" segment by correspondent Lee Cowan that was loaded with eye-opening changes aimed at reducing "lunch shaming" of poor, hungry kids:

  • This is smart: In Connersville, Ind. (Fayette County schools), "every school starts every day offering every child a free breakfast, regardless of family income. Students eat in the classroom, not in the cafeteria."
  • The high school offers a Second Chance Breakfast for teens who get hungry later in the morning.
  • And there's an after-school supper program: "Elementary school kids get a hot dinner, and a movie while they eat."
  • New Mexico passed the nation's first anti-lunch shaming law, the Hunger-Free Students' Bill of Rights.
  • Jennifer Ramo, of the New Mexico anti-poverty group Appleseed: "School lunch is no longer this 'Brady Bunch' convenience. It is a soup kitchen."
  • Worthy of your time.
3. Stat du jour: Opioid cost estimate raised 6x

"The White House says the true cost of the opioid drug epidemic in 2015 was $504 billion, or roughly half a trillion dollars," per AP's Darlene Superville:

  • "[T]he Council of Economic Advisers says the figure is more than six times larger than the most recent estimate. The council said a 2016 private study estimated that prescription opioid overdoes, abuse and dependence in the U.S. in 2013 cost $78.5 billion."
  • "The council said its estimate is significantly larger because the epidemic has worsened, with overdose deaths doubling in the past decade, and that some previous studies didn't reflect the number of fatalities blamed on opioids, a powerful but addictive category of painkillers."
  • "The council also said previous studies focused exclusively on prescription opioids, while its study also factors in illicit opioids, including heroin."
Bonus: Tweet du jour

Kim Kingsley, who had tweeted earlier in the day that she was back from "an inspiring week in Ghana with amazing African women leaders":

"Reverse culture shock: Just witnessed some of the worst poverty & come home to see we host pardoned turkeys in a hotel room @ The Willard!"

4. The left's nuclear problem

America's liberal leaders are torn between fighting climate change and resisting nuclear power, Axios' Amy Harder (just back from climate talks in Bonn) writes in her weekly "Harder Line" energy column:

  • Why it matters now: The nuclear power industry, which provides the U.S. nearly two-thirds of its carbon-free electricity, is reaching an inflection point. Several power plants are shutting down under economic duress, which is putting pressure on Congress and state legislatures to keep them open.
  • Many of America's largest environmental groups, which have influence over liberal politicians, are doubling down on their opposition to nuclear power. They argue plummeting prices of wind and solar make nuclear power unnecessary.
  • Double down.
5. Bite of the day

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney to CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union":

"If we can repeal part of Obamacare as part of a tax bill, and have a tax bill that is still a good tax bill that can pass, that's great. If it becomes an impediment to getting the best tax bill we can, then we're OK with taking it out."

6. Alabama's largest paper

7. New diversity for Rhodes

"The latest group of U.S. Rhodes scholars includes 10 African Americans — the most ever in a single Rhodes class — as well as a transgender man," AP's Gene Johnson reports:

  • "The Rhodes Trust ... announced the 32 [U.S.] men and women chosen for post-graduate studies at Oxford University in England."
  • "Among them: the first black woman to lead the Corps of Cadets at West Point; a wrestler at [MIT] who's helping develop a prosthetic knee for use in the developing world; and a Portland, Oregon, man who has studied gaps in his hometown's 'sanctuary city' policy protecting immigrants."
  • Read more about the winners.
  • See the list.
8. What we're watching: "Darkest Hour"

"Darkest Hour," an Oscar talker in L.A. and N.Y. theaters beginning Wednesday, rolling out nationwide through Dec. 22:

  • "A ... true story begins on the eve of World War II as, within days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill (Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman) must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation."
  • "As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a skeptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history."

Brian Truitt writes in USA Today's review that the film focuses on "a few harrowing weeks in May 1940 with Britain torn between fighting or surrendering to Hitler's marching Nazi machine," and has a "pervading sense of hope and decency in the face of seemingly unstoppable fascism."

  • "Churchill roars at his war cabinet, including Halifax and Chamberlain, about even considering a deal with 'that madman.'"
  • "When Churchill's frustrated with his colleagues, he heads to the London subway to hang with the citizens and get their temperature about capitulating to the Nazis."
  • Why it matters: "That's why [Gary Oldman is] the odds-on favorite for a best-actor Oscar win: Instead of just being bold and brassy, Oldman's Churchill is chock full of impressive nuance."

See the trailer.

9. A crazy sports stat

After New England beat Oakland 33-8 at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City yesterday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady became the only player in NFL history to record a 300-yard passing game in three different countries (U.S., U.K. and Mexico), per NFL Communications.

10. 1 Santa thing

At Macy's flagship store on 34th Street in New York, Santa visits are by appointment only, for the first time ever, AP reports:

  • You can can go online to sign up for a time slot from 30 minutes to five days in advance. No walk-ins are allowed.
  • Why it matters: Macy's says the new arrangement is intended to cut down on wait time.
  • Admission is free to Santaland Herald Square, and runs from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve.
  • Santaland is a 13,000-square-foot North Pole village, with live elves and a train display, plus the world-famous Santa, immortalized in the film "Miracle on 34th Street." The store opened in 1902.
  • Don't be too early or late for you time slot, and be sure to check in with an elf when arriving.