Axios AM

An analog clock with only two symbols instead of twelve: the symbols read 'AM' and 'PM'.

May 30, 2017

Good Tuesday morning, and welcome back. Launching this afternoon: Axios PM, a super-quick email (in our elegant, efficient Smart Brevity format) to catch you up on what happened while you were doing actual work.

I look forward to the conversation — hope you'll hit this 1-click sign-up.

1 big thing: Trump's casting call

Scoop: Mike Dubke, President Trump's communications director, is leaving the White House — the start of a wave of changes as the West Wing struggles to cope with burgeoning scandals and a stalled agenda.

  • Dubke served for just three months before tendering his resignation May 18. He offered to stay through the overseas trip, and Trump accepted. Dubke has been trying to help restructure the press and comms operation, and is parting on good terms, a senior administration official said.
  • Insiders say Dubke came in with few patrons, and never gelled with the originals. His departure is a reminder of how hard it is for newcomers to thrive in Trumpland.
  • Dubke is still coming in to work, and his last day hasn't been set. His job is likely to remain open for a bit.

Bring in the killers ... Trump is considering much broader changes, including the possibility of bringing in David Urban, a prominent GOP lobbyist who was a senior adviser on the campaign, as chief of staff.

  • Friends say Urban, 53, who's credited with helping Trump win his crucial upset in Pennsylvania, brings seasoned political judgment and no personal agenda. He's a West Point graduate, has a master's in government administration from Penn, and a law degree from Temple. Urban was on Trump's plane and in his green rooms during frequent campaign stops in the Keystone State, and the two became cellphone buddies.
  • Trump met yesterday with two top officials from his campaign, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, about joining the crisis-communications war room he's setting up, perhaps as part of an outside-inside duet.

Jonathan Swan points out that all these moves are part of a hardening or toughening of the operation:

  • "These are not polished characters being brought in (though Urban at least has Hill connections.) They are killers. And Lewandowski in particular makes conventional folks in the White House very very nervous. ... Experience suggests he will not only indulge Trump's most combative instincts, but goad them."
  • "Trump loves the word 'killers.' ... From early childhood, [Harry Hurt III wrote in his Trump biography, 'Lost Tycoon'], Fred used to tell his boys 'you are a killer … you are a king … you are a killer … you are a king.'"

Immediate changes are planned for White House messaging, including:

  • Sean Spicer will stay as press secretary, but will do fewer on-camera briefings (although he's on-camera today at 2 p.m.)
  • More briefings will be on-record but off-camera.
  • Trump is likely to travel more — at least once a week, some top officials hope.
  • Trump may take a few questions from the press when he's on the road, and will take more questions when he's appearing at photo ops with foreign leaders.
  • An official explained why Trump will do more of the talking for the White House: "He says things exactly the way he wants them to be said."
  • Translation: When he says it, he can't second-guess his staff.

2. Russia latest

N.Y. Times lead story, "Inquiries Turn To Why Kushner Met A Putin Ally," by Matthew Rosenberg, Mark Mazzetti and Maggie Haberman:

  • "Federal and congressional investigators are now examining what exactly [Jared] Kushner and the Russian banker, Sergey N. Gorkov, wanted from each other. The banker is a close associate of Mr. Putin, but he has not been known to play a diplomatic role for the Russian leader. That has raised questions about why he was meeting with Mr. Kushner at a crucial moment in the presidential transition."
  • "Trying to set up secret communications with Mr. Putin in the weeks after the election would not be illegal. Still, it is highly unusual to try to establish channels with a foreign leader that did not rely on the government's own communications, which are secure and allow for a record of contacts to be created."
  • "But the Trump transition was unique in its unwillingness to use the government's communications lines and briefing material for its dealings with many foreign governments, partly because of concern that Obama administration officials might be monitoring the calls."

3. Bite of the day

Robert De Niro, at Brown's commencement yesterday in Providence, R.I.:

'"When you started school, the country was an inspiring, uplifting drama. ... You are graduating into a tragic, dumbass comedy."

4. Tax reform falters

Wall Street Journal lead story, "GOP Bid To Rewrite Tax Code Falters," by Richard Rubin:

  • "The clear winner, so far, is the status quo. ... The only big revenue-raising provision with anything close to Republican consensus is repealing the deduction for state and local taxes, and that idea faces objections from blue-state lawmakers in the party."
  • "[A] fruitless revenue quest may lead the GOP to second-tier options. ... One possibility is a temporary tax cut that would expire to comply with rules preventing long-run deficits."
  • "Another path is settling for a 25% corporate rate instead of the 20% backed by House Republicans or the 15% proposed by Mr. Trump."
  • Why it matters: "Republicans started 2017 with high tax-policy ambitions, seeing an opportunity to use unified control of government to achieve a long-running party goal. ... Now, the tax bill isn't written and must wait for the health bill and budget."

Trump tweeted Sunday: "The massive TAX CUTS/REFORM that I have submitted is moving along in the process very well, actually ahead of schedule. Big benefits to all!"

5. Top-eds

  • "Brzezinski understood what Trump puts at risk," by David Ignatius in the WashPost: Zbigniew "Brzezinski's worries about Trump grew out of his belief in the interdependent world that the United States had made. Having seen Western values and freedoms crushed in Poland, he was protective of them. Having seen allies regain dignity and prosperity under an American umbrella, he wanted to maintain it."
  • "Jared Kushner And the Knotty Politics of Clan," by David Brooks in the N.Y Times: "Working in government is about teamwork, majority-building and addition — adding more and more people to your coalition. It is about working within legal frameworks and bureaucratic institutions. It's about having a short memory and not taking things personally."
  • "Why are small banks disappearing?" by Rob Nichols, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, in the L.A. Times: "Since Dodd-Frank was passed, just four new banks have formed nationwide."
  • "Merkel, Trump and the end of the west: The German leader's speech was a blunder and risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy," by the Financial Times' Gideon Rachman: "Merkel has also behaved irresponsibly — making a statement that threatens to widen a dangerous rift in the Atlantic alliance into a permanent breach."

6. The complex web of self-driving car relationships

Uber and Alphabet may be locked in a bitter legal battle over self-driving cars, but the two companies are intertwined financially and once were quite friendly with one another.

As we see in this masterpiece by Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva, Dan Primack and Lazaro Gamio, the companies are part of a very complex web of ride-hail relationships ― in terms of investments, personnel and strategic partnerships ― where rivalries and alliances are often one in the same.

7. "House of Cards" Season 5 just dropped

Hollywood Reporter review by Daniel Fienberg:

  • "Netflix's flagship drama is back, and Frank Underwood is more corrupt and less subtle than ever before."
  • "If CNN/Fox News/MSNBC haven't sated your appetite for stories of voter fraud, media distortion, a fragmented electorate, an initialed terrorist group out of the Middle East [ICO] and the potential for Russian interference in our democratic process, House of Cards has you covered."
  • "This season focuses on many of Frank's sins coming back to haunt him."
  • See Season 5, with chapter-by-chapter titles.

8. He had a ball

Frank Deford — "Literary Storyteller of Sport," who wrote a shelf of books, and whose long profiles were a mainstay of Sports Illustrated in its heyday — dies in Key West at 78.

It was just 25 days after he delivered the last of his weekly "Sweetness and Light" commentaries for NPR's "Morning Edition":

  • AP sports columnist Jim Litke: "He dressed up every event he attended."
  • "He also dressed up in a more literal way, always sharply attired and cutting a debonair figure at 6-foot-4."
  • N.Y. Times obit for Benjamin Franklin Deford III: "At Sports Illustrated, he became a leader in a form of literary sports journalism."
  • On NPR, "he spoke to an audience less obsessed with box scores, statistics and injury updates and more interested in the cultural impact of sports and the people behind the games."
  • NPR's Colin Dwyer: "[T]he Hall of Fame sportswriter was public radio's scholar of sports for some 37 years ... He leaves behind an astonishing 1,656 commentaries for NPR."
  • Classic Deford quote: "I believe that professional wrestling is clean and everything else in the world is fixed."
  • SI's "Best of Frank Deford."

9. 1 sad thing

Tiger Woods' statement after being charged with DUI near his home in Jupiter, Fla., yesterday: "I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved. What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications. I didn't realize the mix of medications had affected me so strongly."

"I will do everything in my power to ensure this never happens again."

The price? "The fallen golfing star currently earns $45.5 million a year ... in sponsorship money ... but ... could lose lucrative endorsements."

As soon as today, police may "release highly embarrassing dashcam footage of his 3 a.m. arrest, ... during which officers claimed the star ... was 'arrogant'."

"Let that pathetic mugshot of Tiger Woods be a reminder," by Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel: "This isn't how golf usually works. Heroes age well. They play on, competitive into their 40s. The senior tour soon arrives to maintain their relevance. Major stars still knock out ceremonial tee shots or play celebrity pro-ams into their 70s. It's the most graceful twilight in sports, which makes Tiger's shooting star so difficult to accept."

10. 1 ferocious thing

"Benches cleared during Monday's Giants–Nationals game [in San Francisco] after [S.F. pitcher] Hunter Strickland nailed [Nats star] Bryce Harper [in his right hip with a 98 mph fastball]. ... Harper proceeded to charge the mound. After throwing his helmet in Strickland's direction and pointing at him, it was on. The players exchanged punches as both benches raced to the mound, turning the incident into an all-out brawl."

  • The result: Both ejected. ... "Strickland had to be physically removed from the field by at least three of his Giants teammates." ... Nats win, 3-0.
  • The backstory: This was the first matchup between the two since "Harper homered off Strickland twice during the 2014 National League Divisional Series ... After Harper hit one of those home runs, he stared him down as he ran the bases and yelled at him from the dugout.''
  • Watch the clip.