Dec 7, 2018

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☕️ Happy Friday!

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1 big thing: Trump's trio of traps

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump faces three clear and imminent threats as he heads toward his 2020 reelection race — the economy slipping, Congress flipping and a Russia probe drip, drip, dripping.

  • And few inside the White House feel he is yet prepared or staffed for the hell about to hit them. 
  • Why it matters: The combination of hazards bearing down on the president is more intense than at any previous point in his presidency, current and former administration officials tell Jonathan Swan and me.

One sign of a new sense of urgency: West Wing officials widely believe that chief of staff John Kelly’s departure is imminent and that Nick Ayers, chief of staff to Vice President Pence, will replace him.

  • As we reported right after the midterms, Ayers' backers have been telling the president he has the sharp political instincts to remake the West Wing to better combat the hazards ahead.
  • Jared and Ivanka have boosted him. But he has a number of detractors who have been trying to convince the president he’d be a disaster.

The multi-front war confronting Trump's evolving team:

  1. The booming economy suddenly looks vulnerable. An unpredictable trade war with China is injecting huge amounts of volatility into an already volatile system. Sharp stock market plunges affect Trump’s psyche, sources close to Trump say. He often asks aides: “What’s the Dow doing today?” A former administration official told Axios that Trump always needs a  simple metric to use to brag about his performance. During the 2016 primaries it was the polls. When polls were no longer good for him, he replaced them with the booming stock market. Now that previously trusty measure of success is no longer boast-worthy. Trump still has impressive GDP and employment numbers to call on, but forecasters see trouble ahead. 
  2. Staffing remains a problem — just as Democrats are about to take control of the House, imposing massive new demands on the West Wing. The White House Counsel’s office lacks firepower to defend Trump against an investigatory onslaught. And nobody, besides Trump, is empowered to be in charge of this West Wing. Senior officials have long viewed Kelly as living on borrowed time; Trump has long been fed up with him. Trump is also unhappy with some key Cabinet officials, and is eager for a reshuffle in the new year.
  3. Robert Mueller appears to be concluding his investigation. We’ll soon learn much more of what he’s gathered from Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. Cohen is most troubling to sources close to Trump. He saw far more of Trump’s personal life and business affairs than Manafort or Michael Flynn ever did. Cohen appears to his friends to be determined to bring down Trump to redeem himself.

In a second major move, Trump is expected today to name Heather Nauert, top State Department spokesperson, to succeed Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as Bloomberg News and others first reported.

  • During her time at the State Department, Nauert has been part of 26 overseas trips (some with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and most with current Secretary Mike Pompeo) totaling more than 150,000 miles.
  • At her Senate confirmation hearings, Democrats can be expected to question her diplomatic experience and qualifications for the job. (She was best known for her career on Fox News before she joined the State Department.)
  • The role — reflecting Trump's instincts, the precedent set by Haley, and Pompeo's desires — will be focused on providing a public face for U.S. diplomacy.

Be smart: Between the outside threats and the coming personnel shuffle, the sense of uncertainty inside the West Wing is at an all-time high. 

2. Ocasio-Cortez already makes Dems more activist

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, star of House Dems' freshman class, is using her social-media mastery and her fearless organizing instinct to give a more activist face to the new Congress even before she's sworn in.

Very unusually for a first-year lawmaker, let alone a victor who hasn't even in office yet, Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly driven news since the midterms, including these tweets yesterday from lawmakers' freshman orientation at
Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics:

  • "When I said that our organizing doesn’t end with an election, I meant it."
  • "Our 'bipartisan' Congressional orientation is cohosted by a corporate lobbyist group. Other members have quietly expressed to me their concern that this wasn’t told to us in advance. Lobbyists are here. Goldman Sachs is here. Where‘s labor? Activists? Frontline community leaders?"

Ocasio-Cortez is on track to be the most famous House Democrat after Speaker-designate Pelosi.

  • Fun fact: Ocasio-Cortez has as many Twitter followers as the other incoming 60 Democratic freshman House members combined, according to data from Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas.

But scrutiny will come with that high profile ... The WashPost's "Fact Checker" gave her four Pinocchios this week under the headline, "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s $21 trillion mistake."

  • In a tweet, she had suggested applying "$21T in Pentagon accounting errors" to Medicare for All. She had cited the liberal magazine The Nation.
  • But The Post said that is "not one big pot of dormant money collecting dust somewhere. It’s the sum of all transactions — both inflows and outflows — for which the Defense Department did not have adequate documentation."

Be smart: Look for Pelosi to give a ton of space to her vocal, activist freshmen — as long as she doesn't think they're hurting overall caucus efforts, or doing anything that could make it harder to keep the majority.

3. The bravest maid
Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Victorina Morales, 46, a native of Costa Rica who is a housekeeper at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., spoke about her illegal status with the N.Y. Times' Miriam Jordan, saying "she understood she could be fired or deported as a result of coming forward."

  • “There are many people [who have worked at the club] without papers,” said Diaz, who "has made Donald J. Trump’s bed, cleaned his toilet and dusted his crystal golf trophies."
  • "We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money," she said. "We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation."

"Morales ... approached The New York Times through their New Jersey lawyer, Anibal Romero, who is representing them on immigration matters. ... Morales said that she ... has applied for protection under the asylum laws. She is also exploring a lawsuit claiming workplace abuse and discrimination."

  • Response from Amanda Miller of the Trump Organization: "We have tens of thousands of employees across our properties and have very strict hiring practices ... If an employee submitted false documentation in an attempt to circumvent the law, they will be terminated immediately."

P.S. Morales said she "washed and ironed Mr. Trump’s white boxers, golf shirts and khaki trousers, as well as his sheets and towels. Everything belonging to Mr. Trump, his wife, Melania, and their son, Barron, was washed with special detergent in a smaller, separate washing machine, she said."

  • She said Trump paid her compliments, with occasional $50 or $100 tips.
  • "He is extremely meticulous about everything. If he arrives suddenly, everyone runs around like crazy."
4. The week that brought America together

President George H.W. Bush's last gift to the country he loved, served, shape and exemplified was to bring us together for a week of reminiscing about a time long gone, both psychically and chronologically.

Navy ceremonial guard Kenneth Knox stands over the president's flag-draped casket in his Texas funeral train as members of the public line the route:

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In the next two pics, students from Salyers Elementary School in Spring, Texas, wave as the train traveled from a suburban Houston rail yard to Bush's final resting place at his presidential library in College Station, Texas:

Michael Wyke
Michael Wyke

Firefighters salute from their truck:

Michael Wyke/AP

Two more shots along the way ...

David J. Phillip/AP
David J. Phillip/AP

P.S. A pair of pics of George and Barbara Bush on the same locomotive in 2005:

Pat Sullivan/AP (both)
5. Tech unicorns rush to IPO ahead of downturn

"For years, Uber and Lyft put off going public. Now, they are speeding up," the N.Y. Times' Erin Griffith and Mike Isaac report:

  • "Faced with a volatile stock market and the prospect of an economic downturn next year, the ride-hailing services have moved more urgently toward an initial public offering."
  • "Lyft originally aimed to list its shares toward the middle of 2019, but it began moving more quickly after the recent stock market sell-off and because of a desire to go public before Uber."
  • Uber "had once said it was looking to the fall of 2019 to go public, but has pushed that timing up because of concerns that a recession might be coming ... Uber could now go public as soon as next April."

Barrett Daniels, a partner at Deloitte who advises on IPOs:

  • "Companies that were talking about 2020 have been told that the window may not be open as long as previously thought."
6. House Dems get #40

"Republican Rep. David Valadao conceded to Democrat TJ Cox in the race for California's 21st District on Thursday, giving the Democratic Party a net gain of 40 seats in the US House of Representatives."

The last disputed House race is in North Carolina, where — as you read in the lead of Axios PM — there's a wild investigation of absentee-ballot tampering and other vote fraud:

  • "Dan McCready, the Democrat running for Congress in the disputed 9th District, [yesterday] renounced his concession," per the Charlotte Observer.
  • "The controversy has raised the possibility that the N.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement will call a new election."
7. Stat du jour

" U.S. Border Patrol arrests on the Mexican border jumped 78 percent in November from a year earlier to the highest level in Donald Trump's presidency, with families and children accounting for a majority for a third straight month," AP reports:

  • Why it matters: "The numbers are the latest sign that people who cross the border illegally are increasingly families and children traveling alone, a trend that began several years ago but has accelerated since summer."

"The Border Patrol made 25,172 arrests of people who came as families in November, nearly four times the same period last year, parent agency Customs and Border Protection said."

  • "There were 5,283 arrests of unaccompanied children, up 33 percent from a year earlier."
8. Catch up quick on Mueller

"Mueller’s investigation ... has been remarkably focused and consistent straight through — zeroing in on five distinct investigative avenues," Garrett M. Graff writes in WIRED:

  1. "[M]oney laundering and Russian-linked business deals."
  2. The "Russian government’s cyberattack on the DNC, other entities, and state-level voting systems."
  3. Russia's "related online information influence operations, by the Internet Research Agency."
  4. "[T]he sketchy contacts by Trump campaign and transition officials with Russia."
  5. The "question of whether Trump himself, or others, actively tried to obstruct justice by impeding the investigation of the above."

"A sixth investigative avenue was opened this spring by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, where Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money to Stormy Daniels and others — which he says occurred at Trump’s instruction."

9. "Everyday ballet": How people move in normal life

Ethan Hawke, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Roberts (Portraits by Philip Montgomery/The New
York Times)

The N.Y. Times Magazine's "Great Performers" issue honors the 10 best film performances of the year, as chosen by critics A.O. Scott and Wesley Morris.

  • Online, the Great Performers show off their dance moves, taking part in "everyday ballet" in short films choreographed and directed by Tony-award winner Justin Peck, the resident choreographer of New York City Ballet.
  • "The scenarios put everyday characters in familiar situations: packed into a subway car, stuck in a doctor's office, caught in downpour. But once they start moving, the actors turn our common experiences into welcome moments of enchantment."

Worthy of your time.

  • Watch all the films directed and choreographed by Justin Peck.
  • Read A.O. Scott and Wesley Morris on this year’s best actors.
  • Experience a life-size hologram of Lakeith Stanfield in augmented reality.
10. 1 fun thing

The Wall Street Journal dives into Uber Pool, a cheaper service where you can be one of several pickups on the way to your destination ...

"'Ride from Hell': Carpooling in the Age of Uber Can Be … Awkward — Clashes over music and temperature are common among users of shared ride services; Exasperated drivers try to referee," A-Hed by Kiana Cornish:

  • "A miffed passenger No. 2 decided to play a Justin Bieber tune on her phone and sing along. This prompted passenger No. 1 to play music from her phone as well, even louder. Her choice: Selena Quintanilla. The ride turned into the equivalent of a drunken night at a karaoke bar."
  • Uber and Lyft, under pressure to lower fares, "responded with Uber Pool and Lyftline in August 2014. ... [T]he pooling options allow several unconnected riders to share the costs. But the algorithm hasn’t solved for cads."
  • "You can’t rate an obnoxious fellow rider, or even learn who they are, beyond a first name that disappears when the ride is over."
Mike Allen