Feb 17, 2020

Axios AM

Happy Washington's Birthday (the U.S. government designation) — or Presidents Day if you prefer (no apostrophe, per the "AP Stylebook")

  • The new Democratic majorities in the Virginia House and Senate have voted to end Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday in January honoring the Confederate generals, and instead are making Election Day an official holiday. (AP)

⚖️ Situational awareness: "[F]ederal prosecutors in New York contacted witnesses and sought to collect additional documents in an investigation related to Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani," the WashPost reports.

1 big thing: The cost of bashing Bloomberg

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Here's the growing dilemma for 2020 Democrats vying for a one-on-one showdown with frontrunner Bernie Sanders: Do they have the guts — and the money — to first stop Mike Bloomberg?

Margaret Talev and Jim VandeHei write that those rivals are already struggling to catch up with Sanders in national support and campaign dollars. Turning their focus toward Bloomberg only complicates that task.

  • There's another risk, at least for the moderates: Weakening the one who may be best poised to stop Sanders, a democratic socialist, if they fail themselves.

The biggest test so far will come at Wednesday night's Democratic debate in Las Vegas, three days ahead of the Nevada caucuses.

  • Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren will be on the stage — and Bloomberg, who hasn't been eligible for earlier debates, is poised for a last-minute qualification.
  • So far, Bloomberg has been focusing his hundreds of millions in advertising on President Trump — not his primary rivals.

Bloomberg's climb in the polls and saturation of the airwaves have inspired an acceleration of opposition research and investigative reporting into his decades as a businessman and New York mayor.

  • Biden told Chuck Todd on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that "billions of dollars, can take you a long, long way" but that "you all are going to start focusing on him like you have on me, which — I'm not complaining."
  • Klobuchar said on the same show that Bloomberg "just can't hide behind the airwaves."
  • Warren, whose standing has slid as Sanders consolidates progressives' support, sees Bloomberg as a badly needed chance to regain her footing with her credentials as a protector of consumers against big banks and Wall Street.

The big picture: By not competing in the four early states, Bloomberg has gone basically unchallenged, allowing him to define himself.

  • This has made him a top-tier candidate and the only one with the certain cash to run to the end.

The bottom line: Each day the rivals wait, Bloomberg grows stronger. Each day he grows stronger, his case for being the electable one strengthens.

2. Facts matter: Economic growth, by presidential term
Expand chart
Source: "Presidents and the US Economy," American Economic Review. Trump figures (through 2019) courtesy Alan Blinder. Chart: Axios Visuals

Average economic growth under President Trump has outpaced the growth under President Obama, but not all of his recent predecessors, Axios' Courtenay Brown and Danielle Alberti report.

  • Why it matters: Trump inherited a steady economy that’s since entered the longest stretch of growth in history. Interest rates remain low. Growth picked up in the wake of the 2017 tax cuts, but now the pace has moderated.

Reality check: “Our economy is the best it has ever been,” Trump said earlier this month in his State of the Union speech.

  • But some aspects of the Trump economy, like wage growth and business investment, pale in comparison to other periods.

By the numbers: Last year the economy grew at 2.3%, after year-over-year accelerations in 2017 and 2018 — marking the slowest annual growth rate since Trump took office. Growth under Trump has yet to hit his oft-promised 3% mark annually.

3. Pics du jour: Trump's limo takes a lap at Daytona 500
Photos, clockwise from upper left: AP (2), Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images, AP

President Trump’s command — “Gentlemen, start your engines” — coincided with a flyover by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. (Daytona Beach News-Journal)

🗞️ Flashback ... Courtesy of C-SPAN's Howard Mortman, here's the story that sportswriter Liz Clarke and I wrote for the WashPost front page when President George W. Bush's 20-vehicle motorcade rolled onto Daytona's track in 2004:

Photo: @HowardMortman/Twitter
4. Required visit with therapist haunts detainee
"On his way to the United States from Honduras when he was 17, Kevin and his sister crossed the Rio Grande — seen between Reynosa, Mexico, and Hidalgo, Tex. — on an inflatable raft." Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement required Kevin Euceda, a teenage asylum-seeker from Honduras, to see a therapist. Kevin "thought his words would be confidential. Now, the traumatized migrant may be deported," the WashPost's Hannah Dreier reports:

  • "A therapist at a government shelter for immigrant children who had assured Kevin that their sessions would be confidential."
  • "Instead, the words Kevin spoke had traveled from the shelter to one federal agency and then another, followed him through three detention centers, been cited in multiple ICE filings arguing for his detention and deportation."

Why it matters: "This kind of information sharing was part of a Trump administration strategy that is technically legal but which professional therapy associations say is a profound violation of patient confidentiality," the WashPost continues.

  • "To bolster its policy of stepped up enforcement, the administration is requiring that notes taken during mandatory therapy sessions with immigrant children be passed onto ICE, which can then use those reports against minors in court."
  • "Intimate confessions, early traumas, half-remembered nightmares — all have been turned into prosecutorial weapons, often without the consent of the therapists involved, and always without the consent of the minors."

Kevin has been held more than 900 days.

5. New data: How Uber, Lyft made traffic worse
A new solution: Uber Copter takes off from Manhattan to JFK. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

"Multiple studies show that Uber and Lyft have pulled people away from buses, subways and walking, and that the apps add to the overall amount of driving in the U.S.," The Wall Street Journal's Eliot Brown writes in "The Ride-Hail Utopia Got Stuck in Traffic" (subscription).

  • "Officials in San Francisco, Chicago and New York have cited congestion as the main rationale for new fees they recently enacted on Lyft and Uber rides in each of the cities."
  • Why it matters: "Companies seeking rapid growth by reinventing the way we do things are delivering solutions that sometimes create their own problems."

By the numbers, from WSJ:

  • "About 40%: The share of time ride-hailing cars in California and New York City cruise without passengers."
  • "2.5 miles an hour: Average downtown San Francisco traffic speed slowdown due to ride-hailing apps between 2010 and 2016."
  • "309%: The rise in ride-hailing trips starting or ending in downtown Chicago between 2015 and 2018."
6. 🤯 Signs of the apocalypse

That was a classic Sports Illustrated rubric for headlines that made you think the world was going to hell in a hand basket, as my Grandma Powers would say.

I ran across three good ones this weekend:

  • "You Can Pay People to Style Your Houseplants. A career for our times." (N.Y. Times)
  • "Shopping under the influence ... Chardonnay in the shoe department: Retailers are increasingly serving alcohol to woo shoppers, vying to create an experience they can’t get online." (WashPost)
  • "Hollywood Critics' Groups Squabble Over Who Is a Hollywood Critic." (Hollywood Reporter)

📬 Thanks for checking in on the holiday. Please tell a friend about AM/PM.