Feb 19, 2019

Axios AM

😎 Good Tuesday morning, and welcome back.

🚨 Sen. Bernie Sanders announced for president this morning: "We began the political revolution in the 2016 campaign, and now it's time to move that revolution forward."

1 big thing: GOP grabs socialism as 2020 lifeline

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

For the first time since the midterms, Republicans find themselves playing offense as they push "socialism vs. freedom" as an opening 2020 message.

  • The Green New Deal introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become a powerful symbol of the issue that President Trump teed up in his State of the Union address when he said: "[W]e renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country."
  • The liberal proposals of Democrats' 2020 candidates, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren's "wealth tax," give Republicans more ammunition.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tells Fred Barnes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece about Ocasio-Cortez: "I can pretty safely say this is the first time in my political career that I thought the essence of America was being debated."

Why it matters: Giddy House Republicans hope they can ride this message into 2020 — just as Dems seized their winning 2018 midterm message as soon as House Rs voted in 2017 to weaken protections for pre-existing conditions.

Republicans have long demagogued by branding Democrats "socialists." Now, some Democrats are helping by self-identifying.

  • But Jonathan Swan points out that the term — rarely defined by those who throw it around — packed more of a punch when the memory of the Cold War was fresh.
  • Polling shows younger Americans are souring on capitalism, and don’t find the label "socialist" so scary.
  • And an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll last month found 70% of voters want the economic system reformed, with 58% saying it's skewed toward the wealthy.
  • So soaking the rich may turn out to be pretty darn popular.

Republicans taking an early victory lap on "socialism" may eventually find it hard to defend not raising taxes on billionaires. And the 2020 Democrats are wary of being branded "socialist":

  • Even Warren has said: "I am a capitalist."
  • And Sen. Kamala Harris said yesterday in New Hampshire: "I am not a democratic socialist."

Be smart ... Republicans are loving the moment but are rightly wary: They know it could change quickly — either because of something Trump says, or new facts that emerge from investigations by Mueller or House Democrats.

2. Scoop ... Howard Schultz: "I will not be a spoiler"

The former Starbucks CEO speaks Feb. 7 at Purdue, in Indiana. (Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

First on Axios ... Howard Schultz tries to turn electability back on Democrats in a letter to supporters today, pledging that he is committed to making sure an independent run for president would do "nothing to re-elect Donald Trump":

  • "As I’m sure you’ve seen," Schultz writes, "there have been some skeptical and even downright angry comments from party activists and inside-the-Beltway pundits in the press and on social media. Others have expressed genuine fears  that an independent candidate could help re-elect President Trump."
  • "I hear and respect this overriding concern, and have repeatedly promised that I will not be a spoiler. I am committed to ensuring that I will do nothing to re-elect Donald Trump. I mean it." 

"Will the eventual Democratic nominee be the party’s own version of a spoiler?" Schultz writes in the letter, which is being emailed to supporters and pushed through social media.

  • Translation: Will the nominee be so liberal that Trump can sweep in centrist votes?

☕ Schultz's tour continues at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club today, and in Santa Monica (moderated by Maria Shriver) on Thursday.

3. The next scandal? Priests with progeny
St. Peter's Basilica, in the Vatican (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"[T]he Vatican has confirmed, apparently for the first time, that its department overseeing the world’s priests has general guidelines for what to do when clerics break celibacy vows and father children," the N.Y. Times reports.

  • "It’s the next scandal ... There are kids everywhere," said Vincent Doyle, a psychotherapist in Ireland, who was 28 when he learned that the Catholic priest he had always known as his godfather was his biological father.
  • Why it matters: For some former clerics and liberals inside the church, stories like Doyle's raise the question of whether it is time to make celibacy "optional, as it is in other Christian churches."

"More than a decade after the Southern Baptist Convention rejected the idea of creating a database of ministers credibly accused of sexual abuse, leaders said [last] night the possibility is on the table." (AP)

4. 2020 vision: A memorable town hall answer
2020 Dems' holiday weekend (clockwise): Amy Klobuchar in Albia, Iowa (Scott Olson/Getty Images) ... Kamala Harris in Concord, N.H. (Elise Amendola/AP) ... Elizabeth Warren in Vegas (John Locher/AP) ... Cory Booker in Manchester, N.H. (Steven Senne/AP)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) drew applause last night for a blunt answer at a CNN town hall last night in Manchester, N.H.

A 2017 college graduate asked the presidential candidate if she'd support "free college for all," an idea pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders:

  • "I am not for free four-year college for all, no. ... [I]f I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would.  I'm just trying to find a mix of incentives and make sure kids that are in need — that's why I talked about expanding Pell Grants — can go to college."
  • When moderator Don Lemon reminded her that she was on a college campus, Klobuchar said: "I know that. But I've got to tell the truth. [Applause.] We have a mounting debt that the Trump administration keeps getting worse and worse.  I also don't want to leave that on the shoulders of all these kids."

⚡Elizabeth Warren today will release a universal child care plan, paid for using part of the revenue from her wealth tax: "For every single family under 200% of the poverty line .... access would be free." See the 7-page plan.

5. What the markets are watching

🇨🇳 Get smarter: We recommend Bill Bishop's Sinocism newsletter.

The sun rises behind the skyline of midtown Manhattan. (Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

Vice Premier Liu He, China's economy czar, is heading to Washington for talks Thursday and Friday aimed at ending a fight over Beijing's technology ambitions ahead of a deadline for a massive U.S. tariff hike, AP reports.

  • What's new: Business groups and economists saw the surprise announcement of further talks this week as a sign of progress. Both governments have expressed optimism but have given no details.
  • Why it matters: Without an agreement, a 10% tariff increase imposed in July on $200 billion of Chinese goods is due to rise to 25% on March 2.

Be smart: Bill Bishop writes in his Sinocism newsletter that the U.S. side, "perhaps with the exception of President Trump, is not happy with what the negotiators view as very limited concessions from China."

  • "While some sort of a framework deal and extension of the talks is likely by March 1 to avoid new and increased tariffs is still likely, I do think the Chinese and the markets may have gotten too confident that it is a done deal."

🇨🇳 Worthy of your time: Bill Bishop's Sinocism.

6. Apple shake-up aims to diversify beyond iPhone

Apple "is shaking up leadership and reordering priorities across its services, artificial intelligence, hardware and retail divisions as it works to reduce the company’s reliance on iPhone sales," The Wall Street Journal's Tripp Mickle reports (subscription):

  • "Leadership moves of the past few months include promoting artificial intelligence chief John Giannandrea to the executive team; replacing departing retail chief Angela Ahrendts with head of human resources Deirdre O’Brien; and pushing out top Siri voice-assistant executive Bill Stasior."
  • "Apple has also trimmed 200 staffers from its autonomous-vehicle project, and is redirecting much of the engineering resources in its services business, led by Eddy Cue, into efforts around Hollywood programming."

Why it matters: The shifts "reflect Apple’s efforts to transition from an iPhone-driven company into one where growth flows from services and potentially transformative technologies."

7. Big Oil embraces clean energy

What's new: Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s second-largest publicly traded oil company after ExxonMobil, has over the past year ramped up more clean-energy investments and commitments than any other big producer, Axios' Amy Harder writes in her "Harder Line" column.

  • Why it matters: The burning of fossil fuels sold by Shell and other producers is a big reason Earth’s temperature is rising, yet their products are also foundations of the global economy. Whether you love or hate them, the role these companies play is inherent to addressing climate change.
  • Drill down.
8. Graphic du jour
Courtesy The New York Times

The blue type in the N.Y. Times graphic above, by The Upshot's Kevin Quealy, represents times President Trump said Mexico will pay for the wall.

  • The red type denotes times that Trump qualified that by saying Mexico would pay "indirectly," "ultimately," "in the end" or through "reimbursement."
  • The blue part of the graphic covers the campaign. The split near the bottom, where red type takes over, is when his presidency begins.
  • Go deeper.

⚡ "16 states filed a federal lawsuit ... to block ... Trump’s plan to build a border wall without permission from Congress, arguing that the president’s decision to declare a national emergency is unconstitutional." (WashPost)

9. #1 on Amazon
Andrew McCabe talks to Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes." (CBS News)

President Trump is promoting yet another book, accusing former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe of "Treason!" ahead of today's publication of his book, "The Threat."

  • From McCabe's "Author's Note," obtained by Axios: "Today, the FBI is under attack by the president of the United States. The president assails the FBI because he resents or fears the Bureau's independence, its fairness, its professionalism, its competence, and above all its values."
10. 🎬 1 film thing

Oscars are Sunday ... "Roma" cost just $15 million to make, but Netflix has spent an estimated $25 million to $30 million on awards-season promotion, the N.Y. Times' Brooks Barnes reports:

  • "In truth, no film wins the top Oscar unless it’s paid for. All eight of this year’s nominees have been draped in for-your-consideration campaigns for months."
  • "Awards strategists estimate that Warner Bros. has spent around $20 million to promote 'A Star Is Born,' with that film’s director, Bradley Cooper, flying private to campaign stops in New York, Los Angeles and London."