Dec 19, 2017

Axios AM

You're invited to an Axios D.C. double-header: I'm hosting back-to-back year-end News Shapers events ...

Tomorrow at 8 a.m, I'll talk with Gary D. Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, about the turning points on tax cuts. He'll give us a sneak peek at next year's agenda, along with his take on the tech sector. RSVP here.

On Thursday at 8 a.m., Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will join me with the latest on Hill investigations into Russian election-meddling; and his Honest Ads Act for online campaign ads. RSVP here.

I look forward to having breakfast(s) with you.

1 big thing: ​Trump, frozen

Two weeks of insight ... Between now and New Year's Day, Axios CEO Jim VandeHei and I will bring AM readers our year-end thoughts on the topics that matter most ...

A wise man told us a year ago: "You know who never is going to change? A 70-year-old billionaire with his name on the building." How prescient!

In fact, it's striking how little President Trump — and perceptions of President Trump — have changed as 2017 comes to a close:

  • He started 2017 with about 40% of the country with him, and ends 2017 with about 40% of the country with him.
  • He started 2017 haunted by Russian interference in the election, and ends 2017 haunted by Russian interference in the election.
  • He started 2017 with elected Republicans skeptical but compliant, and ends 2017 with elected Republicans skeptical but compliant.
  • He started 2017 with virtually every elected Democrat disliking him, and ends 2017 with virtually every elected Democrat disliking him.
  • He started 2017 at war with the mainstream media, and ends 2017 at war with the mainstream media.
  • He started 2017 with accusations that he sexually harassed women, and ends 2017 with accusations that he sexually harassed women.
  • He started 2017 talking tough but doing little to China, and ends 2017 talking tough but doing little to China.
  • He started 2017 with a lot of top Republican talent not wanting to work for him, and ends 2017 with a lot of Republican top talent not wanting to work for him.
  • He started 2017 on Twitter, and most certainly will end 2017 on Twitter.

Be smart: This is the rerun presidency: Every day feels like the last day. So it's safe to assume that 2018 will feel a lot like — wait for it — 2017.

  • There are only two people who can change Trump: Trump himself, and Robert Mueller.
2. Today's his day

The House and Senate both vote today on final passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

  • It's the career-long dream of Speaker Ryan, who smiled as he leaves a House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol yesterday.
3. Another year of Mueller

"People with knowledge of the investigation said it could last at least another year — pointing to ongoing cooperation from witnesses such as former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well as a possible trial of two former Trump campaign officials," the WashPost reports:

  • "The special counsel's office has continued to request new documents related to the campaign, and members of Mueller's team have told others they expect to be working through much of 2018, at a minimum."
  • Oops! "White House lawyers have told the president he could be exonerated as early as the beginning of the year, after previously reassuring him that he would be cleared by Thanksgiving and Christmas."
  • Why it matters: "The dynamic threatens to intensify the already inflamed political atmosphere enveloping the investigation ... Even as White House lawyers have pledged to cooperate with Mueller, Trump and his allies have accused the Justice Department and FBI of bias and overreach."

1-minute video ... From the Axios video team, "1 big thing" about Mueller's game. YouTube

Bonus: Pic du jour

Federal officials said an Amtrak train was hurtling 50 mph over the speed limit — 80 mph in a 30 mph zone — when it careened off an overpass south of Seattle, spilling cars onto the highway below and killing at least three people, per AP.

  • A survivor tells the Seattle Times: "It sounded like being on the inside of an aluminum can being crushed."
4. Tech IPOs face unexpected headwinds

2017 was a year of change and sluggishness for tech IPOs, against a backdrop of record-high stock market prices, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports from San Francisco:

  • Why so complicated: The arrival of alternative mechanisms, rocky performances from some high-profile issuers (e.g., Snap, Blue Apron), the arrival of deep-pocketed SoftBank, and a renewed public market emphasis on profitability over growth.

Crystal ball:

  • Lyft is said to be prepping for a 2018 listing, while rival Uber isn't planning to IPO under at least early 2019.
  • Airbnb also has been dropping hints about a 2018 listing.

Go deeper.

5. Philippe Reines' Rx for Twitter

Philippe Reines — political consultant, longtime Clinton confidant, and loose-suited Donald Trump impersonator for debate prep — makes his Axios debut with "How to fix Twitter's verification problem":

  • "Twitter's approach to verified accounts deserves all the criticism it gets. Recent moves to halt new verifications — and even to remove previously granted blue check marks — will do little to reduce the hate speech, violent threats, and abuse that run rampant across the platform."
  • "Come 2018 and 2020, elected officials, candidates and even our strongest democratic institutions will face asymmetric warfare in which traceless attacks remain unstoppable."

Ideas for improving the platform:

  • "Revise the Verification option. Make it easier for more people to apply and be approved, by removing the public figure requirement and allowing anonymous user names."
  • "Create 'Identified' status. This could build on 'Verified' status by requiring a real name."

Get the 280-character version.

6. Richard Haass on Trump's doctrine

CFR President Richard Haass — author of "A World In Disarray," out in paperback Jan. 2, writes for Axios on the National Security Strategy that President Trump released yesterday:

  • "The NSS emphasizes not just protecting the homeland but closing it off, and shows little interest in combating climate change or transforming other societies. It takes a surprisingly tough line on Russia and China, labeling them 'revisionist powers' opposed to U.S. values and interests."

"[T]he greatest problem with the document is its frequent disconnects with the policies implemented by Trump's administration." The NSS ...

  • "Talks tough on China, but the administration walked away from the TPP, the best tool to counter Chinese regional influence, and still wants China's help with North Korea."
  • "Highlights Russian interference in other countries' domestic affairs, a charge Trump continues to deny when it comes to his election.
  • "Supports multilateral diplomacy, but the administration has left the Paris accord, boycotted a new compact on migration, and gutted the State Department."

Go deeper ... National Security Strategy summary ... 68-page PDF.

7. Bite of the day

N.Y. Times Quote of the Day ... Sen. John N. Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, after video of him grilling a nominee for the federal bench last week spread online:

  • "Just because you've seen 'My Cousin Vinny' doesn't qualify you to be a federal judge."
  • "The nominee, Matthew Petersen, was unable to answer many of the senator's questions and withdrew his nomination."

Sam Stein writes on The Daily Beast: "Political humiliations like these don't often happen in public view, let alone at the hands of a member of the same political party of the nominating administration."

  • "Sen. John Kennedy was trying to send a larger message here. And it wasn't meant for Petersen but for the man chiefly responsible for his now-withdrawn nomination: White House Counsel Don McGahn."
  • Why it matters: "McGahn has exerted an outsized influence over the nation's judiciary. He has put loyal allies in key positions at the Department of Justice and he has taken the leading role in pushing nominees for the bench."
8. Article du jour

From the N.Y. Times' John Branch, author of "Snow Fall" ... "Deliverance From 27,000 Feet: Two mountain climbers died near the top of Mount Everest in 2016. Their bodies lay frozen there for a year. Then a journey began to bring them home."

  • At 27,300 feet above sea level, "A plume of snow clouded the ridge toward the summit of Mount Everest, so close above."
  • "When the Sherpas arrived — masks on their faces, oxygen tanks on their backs — the only movement on the steep face came from the dead man's frayed jacket pockets. They were inside out and flapping in the whipping wind."
  • Take a climb.
9. An epic year: 17 of 30

Rafael Reyes embraces his wife, Xarelis Negron, and his son Xariel as they stand in the remains of their home in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Morovis, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 7, after Hurricane Maria.

Announced yesterday ... "Puerto Rico is launching an official review of the death count from Hurricane Maria, ... [after] investigations from ... news outlets ... called into question the official death toll of 64."

  • "Last month, CNN surveyed half of the funeral homes in Puerto Rico and found that funeral home directors and staff believe that at least 499 deaths in the first month after the storm were attributable to Hurricane Maria."
  • "The New York Times and others subsequently compiled statistics from the island's Demographic Registry showing that the death toll may be more than 1,000."
10. 🎵 1 fun thing: Get Bach to work

Listening to Mozart is said to raise your IQ. Does playing his music make you a better employee? AP's David McHugh answers from Frankfurt:

  • "Definitely so, say many global companies and their workers, above all in Germany and Asia, where accountants, engineers, sales reps and computer specialists bring violins, cellos, oboes and trombones and gather in their spare time to rehearse and perform lengthy, complex pieces of classical music."
  • "A conspicuous number of big German corporate names — along with a handful in Japan and Korea — have their own company-linked symphony orchestra."
  • Why it matters: "The orchestras serve as public relations tools, playing charity concerts and livening up corporate events. ... [And] a symphony orchestra is an excellent model for the creative teamwork companies need to compete."