May 23, 2019

Axios AM

Happy Thursday! Axios AM brings you what matters, in Smart Brevity. (Today: 1,165 words ... < 5 minutes!)

⚡ Situational awareness: A violent tornado that "felt like an earthquake" hit overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri's capital, causing heavy damage and killing three. (CNN)

1 big thing: The new case for impeachment

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some House Democrats think they'd have better luck getting testimony and documents if they launch an impeachment inquiry against President Trump — which is why they're pushing Speaker Pelosi so hard, Axios managing editor David Nather writes.

Reality check: It's not like the Trump administration would suddenly drop its fight against Congress and dump a bunch of documents in Pelosi's arms. The big difference between impeachment proceedings and a regular investigation, legal experts say, is that Congress might have a stronger hand in the courts to get some of the information it wants.

  • "If you have an impeachment proceeding, Congress is at the zenith of its power," said Michael Conway, a former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate.

The two big differences:

1) Grand jury material: Courts would be more likely to rule that Congress' need to see Mueller grand jury material overrides the federal rule keeping it secret.

  • That's what happened during Watergate, Conway said, in a critical ruling by a federal judge that allowed the Judiciary Committee to see a grand jury report. (Conway wrote about that ruling and others here.)

2) Legislative purpose: It would be harder for the Trump administration to win a court fight by arguing that Congress doesn't have a "legitimate legislative purpose," the reason Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cited in his decision not to release Trump's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee.

  • No one questions the congressional power to impeach. So launching an impeachment inquiry "removes whatever doubt a court might otherwise have about the existence of a legitimate Article I purpose for demanding information of limited facial relevance to possible congressional legislation," Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe wrote in an email.

The bottom line: None of this affects the political decision of whether it's wise for House Dems to move ahead. Pelosi says it isn't, and so far most Democratic committee chairs are siding with her. But the pressure is building.

2. Far right eyes European Parliament

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An epic test for Europe’s far right begins today with four days of continent-wide parliamentary elections. They'll send a medley of nationalists to Brussels — and a message to mainstream parties all over, Axios World editor David Lawler writes.

  • All 28 European Union countries will elect representatives to the EU's 751-seat parliament between today and Sunday.

Why it matters: Emmanuel Macron, France’s fiercely pro-EU president, has portrayed it as a referendum on the European project.

  • His nationalist foes, many running on immigration, agree. But their ambition is to weaken the EU from the inside.

What to watch: Turnout is often low, but the consequences can be big.

  • Markus Schomer, chief economist at PineBridge Investments, tells Axios’ Dion Rabouin the 2014 vote was the "catalyst" for Brexit.
  • "My worry is something could happen in these elections that lights the fuse for another Brexit-like event a few years from now," Schomer said.

The big picture: Since 2014, Brussels has largely remained insulated from the political upheaval around the continent, says Erik Brattberg of the Carnegie Endowment. No longer.

3. Trump's China election

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Short of a highly improbable climbdown by China, President Trump is likely to maintain an aggressive public posture toward Beijing at least through 2020, Axios Future editor Steve LeVine writes.

Why it matters: Standing tall against China is one of the few issues with strong bipartisan popularity across the country, which will make Trump unlikely to let it go, especially given the strong economy.

  • For Chinese President Xi Jinping, too, there's greater political safety in not caving to Trump.
  • "Whether or not we get a deal on trade, the U.S.-China relationship is heading towards greater confrontation," says Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group.

What's happening: Health care is a key bipartisan campaign issue. But for Trump, China could be more important, exemplifying what he sees as his key attribute — strength against the foes he sees everywhere.

  • Trump's China stance is helping him to solidify support among blue-collar workers in Ohio, the N.Y. Times' Trip Gabriel reported.

Be smart: This dynamic — the deeply visceral support for a sharp-edged approach to China — could change the complexion of the election.

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Head start: A car sits alone in a parking lot at Jones Beach, Long Island.

  • Why it matters: This pic is actually for an environment story, but it reminded me that this weekend is Memorial Day.
5. Historic day, in 4 screens
Screenshot via CNN

Speaker Pelosi, leaving a closed-door meeting with House Democrats on impeachment yesterday morning: "[W]e believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up. In a cover-up." (Video)

  • President Trump to press in the Rose Garden after a three-minute meeting with Pelosi: "I don’t do cover-ups. You people know that probably better than anybody."
  • Pelosi, at a later avail: "I pray for the President of the United States. And I pray for the United States of America."
Screenshot via CNN
Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Above: Trump leaves after delivering a statement in the Rose Garden.

Below: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies before the House Financial Services Committee.

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
6. Ominous sign

The Pentagon today will present plans to the White House to send up to 10,000 more troops to the Middle East, in a move to beef up defenses against potential Iranian threats, AP's Lolita Baldor and Bob Burns report.

  • The move is not in response to a new threat from Iran, the officials said. The troops would be defensive forces, aimed at reinforcing security in the region.
  • Discussions include additional Patriot missile batteries, more ships and increased efforts to monitor Iran.
7. New No. 1 in late night
Sen. Kamala Harris talks to Stephen last night. Screenshot via CBS

What's new: "CBS' 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert' will claim the No. 1 ranking in late night among adults 18-49 for the 2018-19 season," which ended last night, per The Hollywood Reporter.

  • Why it matters: "It will mark the show's first season-long demographic win over NBC's 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' since Colbert took over as host in 2015 — and the first for 'The Late Show' since 1994-95, in the early years of David Letterman's tenure."
8. Celebrity chef faces assault charge

Mario Batali, 58, "who stepped away from his restaurant empire after several women accused him of sexual harassment and assault, is now facing criminal charges for allegedly kissing and groping a woman against her will in a Back Bay restaurant in 2017." (Boston Globe)

9. 🏆 Pelosi and a Trump

Speaker Pelosi and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump were honored last night at the Internet Association’s Sixth Annual Charity Gala:

  • Pelosi received the Lifetime Achievement Award, as "an unwavering champion for investments and opportunities in STEM education initiatives for America’s students, workers, and families."
  • Trump received the Internet Freedom Award, for working to close the skills gap "so that all Americans are prepared to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow."
10. 1 ⚽ thing
Erik Madigan Heck for TIME

Ahead of the FIFA Women's World Cup, which runs June 7 to July 7 in France, TIME's Sean Gregory interviews soccer star Alex Morgan, who leads the favored U.S. team.

Morgan is the sport’s most marketable American star since Mia Hamm and the linchpin of Team USA’s bid to clinch a second consecutive World Cup title this summer. ...
But the team’s success highlights glaring inequities. Despite the popularity of the women’s team, the men are positioned to make substantially more money.

Former U.S. captain Abby Wambach, on the fight for equal pay:

  • "A win for this team is a win for women everywhere. If other women in the business world, in parenting, see these women stepping up and betting on themselves, it gives them the power to want to do it for themselves. And that, my friend, is how the world actually changes."

Morgan, on going to the White House after the World Cup: "I don’t stand for a lot of things the current office stands for."

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