🌞 Happy Tuesday, and welcome back.
- Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,176 words ... 4½ minutes.
⚡ Breaking: Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is considering a late run for president. (AP)
1 big thing ... Scoop: GOP argues "state of mind" on impeachment
Confronted with a mountain of damaging facts heading into tomorrow's opening of the public phase of impeachment, House Republicans plan to argue that "the President's state of mind" was exculpatory, according to a strategy memo obtained by Axios' Jonathan Swan and narrated by Zach Basu.
- "To appropriately understand the events in question — and most importantly, assess the President's state of mind during his interaction with [Ukrainian] President Zelensky — context is necessary," says the 18-page staff memo, circulated to committee members last night.
- "The evidence gathered does not establish an impeachable offense," the memo concludes.
Why it matters: By focusing their defense on intangibles like impeachability and President Trump's mindset, House Republicans don't depend on undercutting a narrative that has been bolstered by witness after witness.
- Republican senators, who would vote on whether to remove President Trump if the House impeached him, are also thinking this way.
- Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told the WashPost 10 days ago: "To me, it all turns on intent, motive. ... Did the president have a culpable state of mind?"
The memo points to "four key pieces of evidence" to try to undermine Democrats' arguments for why the president should be impeached:
- "The July 25 call summary — the best evidence of the conversation — shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure."
- "President Zelensky and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call."
- "The Ukrainian government was not aware of a hold on U.S. security assistance at the time of the July 25 call."
- "President Trump met with President Zelensky and U.S. security assistance flowed to Ukraine in September 2019 — both of which occurred without Ukraine investigating President Trump's political rivals."
Between the lines: The memo fails to consider counterarguments that Democratic members have been making for weeks.
- It cites witnesses like Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, to argue that Ukraine was not aware of the hold on military aid. It doesn't, however, address the core claims at the heart of several explosive depositions.
- Chief among them is the fact that top officials involved in Ukraine policy, including Taylor and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, were under the impression that there was a quid pro quo involving aid, and that they communicated that understanding to their Ukrainian counterparts.
What’s next: Look for Democrats to begin using the phrase "cheating our democracy."
Go deeper: Read the memo.
2. Now Big Tech is trying to calm us down
Several of the biggest social media platforms are beginning to test changes that cut down on scorekeeping, discourage harassment and aim to improve users' well-being, Axios' Sara Fischer writes.
- Why it matters: The unwinding of features such as public "like" counts could have a massive impact on the multi-billion dollar businesses of social media, including the millions of brands and creators that rely on the features.
Instagram will begin testing removal of public "like" counts for some U.S. accounts this week.
- Instagram's parent, Facebook, began rolling out a similar test to hide public "like" counts in Australia in September.
Social media companies for years tried to juice engagement with features like increased notification symbols, public-facing "like" counts, and brighter colors to attract users to more images.
- Some researchers now believe that those tactics have led to an overuse in social media, and may have had a negative overall impact on users' health.
Twitter is also deploying tests to motivate users to engage more positively and cut down on harassment and bullying.
Between the lines: These efforts aren't totally altruistic. The platforms' high-engagement environment is burning out some users.
3. CEOs' allergy to geopolitics
If CEOs are the new politicians, many of them don't seem to have thought carefully about foreign policy — particularly about working with autocratic regimes, Axios' Felix Salmon, Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva report.
- Why it matters: Corporate America continues to do business with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, responsible for murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and to court business in places like China and Turkey.
American CEOs are increasingly stepping up to take positions on domestic issues like gun control, transgender rights and climate change. But when it comes to abuses outside U.S. borders, they tend to fall silent — or say things they regret.
- Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi took a social media beating yesterday, after telling "Axios on HBO" that the Khashoggi murder was "a mistake." He said after the interview that he regretted the comment.
- What's next: Khosrowshahi will talk more about his remarks at an all-hands meeting this morning, according to a source familiar with the matter.
4. Pics du jour
Mercury, the smallest planet, passed between Earth and the Sun yesterday, in a "transit" that won't be repeated until 2032.
- Below, as seen from Lutherville-Timonium, Md. (black dot in lower center).
5. SCOTUS takes up DACA
More than two years after the Trump administration's attempt to end the DACA program that protects hundreds of thousands of young, unauthorized immigrants from deportation, the case will finally come before the Supreme Court today, reports Axios' Stef Kight.
- With a ruling expected in late June, the case will bring the heated immigration debate to the forefront just as the 2020 election ramps up.
6. Impeachment 101: How it could happen
The Constitution gives the House the power to impeach the president, while the Senate then votes on removal from office after a trial.
- The weeks ahead will have twists and turns, but here are the basics:
7. Data du jour
When President Trump took office in January 2017, there were 241 Republicans in the House. Since then, 101 have either been defeated/retired/otherwise left office or are retiring in 2020.— A tweet by David Wasserman of Cook Political Report, with a hat hip to Dante Chinni
8. First look: Juul's recovery plan
Juul Labs' new CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite, who joined the company in September, is moving quickly to try to reposition the company amid an onslaught of regulatory, research and business setbacks, a Juul official tells me.
- Today, the company will unveil its plan to cut nearly $1 billion next year, including cuts to marketing and government affairs.
- The plan's key elements: "Earning trust by reducing and preventing underage use, investing in scientific research ... and expanding our commitment to develop new technology to reduce youth usage."
What the company did earlier: "Limited product we sell in the U.S. to just Tobacco and Menthol ... Suspended all broadcast, print, and digital product advertising in the U.S. ... Ceased active support of Proposition C in San Francisco."
- Crosthwaite said: "As the vapor category undergoes a necessary reset, this reorganization will help JUUL Labs focus on reducing underage use, investing in scientific research, and creating new technologies while earning a license to operate in the U.S. and around the world."
9. Cover reveal: Jon Meacham's incredible range
Jon Meacham — co-author of an impeachment history last year, and lead author of "Songs of America," published last June — will be out Feb. 18 (Lent 2020!) with "The Hope of Glory: Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross."
- It's drawn from a series of homilies he delivered at Saint Thomas Episcopal, on Fifth Avenue.
10. 1 time thing: World's most expensive watch
A steel Patek Philippe watch called the Grandmaster Chime was sold by Christie's in Geneva for $31 million, a wristwatch record, Bloomberg reports.
- Why it matters: "Record auction prices for watches have been accelerating in recent years: in 2010 the highest was $5.7 million."
The Grandmaster Chime "beat the previous record, set by a Daytona Rolex that once belonged to Paul Newman. That piece fetched $17.8 million in 2017."