Mar 8, 2020

Axios Sneak Peek

Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus our best scoops.

🍿 Tonight on "Axios on HBO": Jim VandeHei returns to a bar of his youth to mix it up with Don Jr. before a hopped-up audience of Trump supporters in Oshkosh, Wisconsin — a swing town in 2020's marquee battleground.

Tonight's newsletter is 2,194 words, an 8-minute read.

1 big thing: Don Jr. says he'll debate Hunter Biden and release his taxes

Jim VandeHei and Don Jr. in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Photo: "Axios on HBO"

In an interview for "Axios on HBO," Donald Trump Jr. told Jim VandeHei he wants to debate Hunter Biden over who has benefited more financially from their father's government service.

Driving the news: "We can go full transparency, we show everything, and we can talk about all of the places where I am supposedly grifting but Hunter Biden isn't," said the president's eldest son, who still runs the Trump Organization with his brother Eric.

  • After VandeHei pressed Don Jr. on his book deal and paid speeches during Trump's presidency, he replied, "If you looked at my tax returns, which maybe we could talk about in this debate."
  • So you'll release your tax returns, VandeHei asked.
  • "If we do it both, 100%," Don Junior said. "Let's talk about who profited off of whose public service. Happy to do it. Let's make it happen."
  • The other side: TJ Ducklo, national press secretary for the Biden campaign, said in response: "It is hard to believe anything a Trump says on tax returns when Donald Sr. has lied for years about releasing his."

Why it matters: After spending much of the past year aggressively attacking Joe Biden over his son's business dealings with a corrupt energy company in Ukraine while he was vice president, Republicans mostly stopped talking about Hunter when it looked like his father wouldn't make it through the primaries.

  • But now that Joe Biden has had a resurgence, Republicans are gearing up for investigations on Capitol Hill designed to undermine the vice president's chances in the fall.

What's next: Biden's allies have hit back, saying Democrats should fight fire with fire by subpoenaing Trump's children.

  • Former Obama aide Tommy Vietor tweeted: "The House Oversight Committee should start investigating the business dealings of Don Jr, Eric Trump, Ivanka and Jared. We should welcome a conversation about the children of corrupt politicians."

The bottom line: Don Jr. has now publicly embraced that conversation.

  • A source close to Don Jr. told Axios that his debate challenge was a direct response to "Biden allies, earlier in the week, threatening him and his siblings."
  • "From our point of view," the source added, "Don is already one of the most scrutinized people on planet Earth and is more than prepared to respond to Democrat attacks. The same can't be said about Hunter Biden."

Watch the clip

2. Exclusive — Ben Carson says minimum wage is too low

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Shannon Finney/Getty Images

In an interview for "Axios on HBO," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson told me that the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage would be "very difficult" to live on and that in his view it should be higher.

Driving the news: "I don't have any problem with raising the minimum wage," Carson said. "My personal opinion is that it should be indexed."

  • "You determine what the minimum wage should be, but when conditions change, it needs to change with it, needs to be indexed," he added. "Then you don't keep having these arguments every 10 or 15 years."

Why it matters: This is the first time, as HUD secretary, that Carson has publicly admitted that America has a problem with its minimum wage.

Details: Carson, one of the most important but undercovered figures in national politics, is the top federal government official charged with housing the poorest and most vulnerable people in America.

  • The Trump administration has proposed sweeping cuts to his department's budget at a time when homelessness is on the rise.
  • Carson wants the federal government to play a smaller role in housing the poor.
  • He says local governments need to stop expecting more money from the federal government and should instead cut regulations, build smaller, cheaper homes, and encourage churches and the private sector to help people experiencing homelessness.

Between the lines: In our interview, Carson conceded that the current minimum wage is too low after I cited a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition that found that a worker earning $7.25 must work "103 hours per week (more than 2.5 full-time jobs) to afford a one-bedroom rental home at the national average fair market rent."

The big picture: "Axios on HBO" joined Carson on his recent bus tour to California, where he met with local officials to discuss federal-state solutions for the state's homelessness and housing affordability crises.

  • During the tour, Carson said repeatedly that government programs have fostered "dependency" out of a misguided concept of compassion.

Key exchange: I asked Carson whether he could support a family and himself on the federal minimum wage.

  • "It would be very difficult," he replied.
  • "How would you do it," I asked.
  • "Probably the way my mother did it," Carson said. "Work three jobs at a time."

Yes, but: Carson made clear he still heavily favors market solutions.

Go deeper: Watch the clip and read the full story in the Axios stream

3. Carson's solutions to California's homelessness crisis

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

In the same interview, Carson said police officers should be empowered to clear homeless people off the streets and put them in tent cities like the facilities the U.S. government has for migrants at the southern border.

Why it matters: Under current law, police aren't allowed to arrest homeless people simply for sleeping on the streets if they don't have alternative shelter arrangements. Carson wants to open up federal land and build tent cities quickly to facilitate police relocations of the homeless.

Between the lines: Some California cops have resisted calls to move homeless people against their will.

  • "They can have some of their real needs taken care of in terms of the wraparound services and get them to a better place," Carson said. "But there may be some people say, no, not going. Police have to be involved in that situation."

Carson also said "there are a lot of states" elsewhere that people who are homeless in California "could move to and immediately get a job and have a place to live. But they don't want to do that."

  • Carson named Iowa as an example of a state where Californians experiencing homelessness could move to in order to get a job.
  • "Recognize that there are homeless people who are living in their cars," he said. "People who actually have skills who simply were priced out of their apartments. Those individuals could easily move to another place."
4. Carson talks budget cuts, "nasty" Trump tweets, trans access to shelters

Other highlights from the interview:

1. The HUD budget: Carson said he doesn't actually want to eliminate some of the programs that his agency's latest budget calls for eliminating.

  • I asked Carson about a recent Twitter thread, #HumansofHUD, in which he shares inspiring stories of people lifted out of homelessness by programs his agency supports. He told the story of Jeanie, who grew up homeless but through HUD's HOME program received down payment assistance and first-time homeownership classes allowing her family to enjoy "their forever home."
  • Why, then, would Carson propose eliminating the HOME program and community development block grants? He said his real goal is modification. "The fact of the matter is, it's not going to be eliminated," Carson said. "It wasn't eliminated last year we proposed that; it wasn't eliminated the year before that."
  • So why propose it, I asked. "Because we need to get people recognizing that it cannot go on like it is," Carson replied. "It has to be fixed."
  • Carson declined to answer when I asked if he took any issue with the Trump administration's proposal to slash 15% from the HUD budget. He said he didn't want to give me an opportunity to say the Trump administration is divided over its budget.

2. Trump's tweets: When he was addressing local officials in California, Carson preached about the need to put politics aside and work together to solve the homelessness crisis.

  • I asked Carson how he squares that message with the fact that his boss, President Trump, uses the homelessness crisis as a political cudgel against Democrats — including his suggestion that Nancy Pelosi be thrown out of office for her "filthy" district.
  • Carson said he wouldn't mind if Trump stopped his "nasty" tweets, but that he thought Trump had toned it down recently. He also said he generally understands why Trump feels the need to hit back at his critics and get around the mainstream media.

3. Transgender homelessness: In a clip that didn't make it to air, I asked Carson why homelessness among the transgender population is growing at 43% — far higher than the rise in homelessness in the overall population.

  • Carson offered the theory that "a lot of them are youth and their families don't welcome them," while saying his personal view is that the Bible teaches "we should love everybody and leave the judging to God."
  • So what about a rule he has proposed allowing single-sex homeless shelters to turn away trans people? Where should transgender individuals experiencing homelessness go, I asked.
  • Carson said he'd encourage women's homeless shelters to build separate sections for transgender people, or "better still, have a rooming situation where everybody gets an individual room." He said he'd be OK with that so long as the women's shelters felt comfortable with that situation.

Watch the clip

5. What's next: Washington preps coronavirus response

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Leaders in Washington are bracing for the brunt of the coronavirus to sweep the U.S., with officials at the White House and on Capitol Hill floating a series of ideas to help mitigate the negative effects pounding small businesses and the travel industry, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

  • The bill President Trump signed into law on Friday dedicates $8 billion in emergency funding to combat the virus — far more than the $2.5 billion the White House initially proposed.
  • But there's a general consensus that more steps will need to be taken as the virus continues to spread.

Driving the news: Not since the aftermath of 9/11 has there been such a fear of flying, and several airlines have cut thousands of flights over the next few months as a result.

  • The Washington Post reported Friday that the Trump administration is considered waiving taxes for the cruise, travel and airline industries to cushion the blow.

The big picture: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" this morning: "I think we're getting a better sense as the days go by. Unfortunately, that better sense is not encouraging because we're seeing community spread. And whenever you see community spread, you can do contact tracing."

  • "We're not going to have a vaccine that's deployable for at least a year to a year and a half," said Fauci.

The latest: There are now more than 400 cases of the virus in 33 states and the District of Columbia, and 21 reported U.S. deaths, with the majority — 18 — located in Washington state.

Go deeper. Coronavirus updates

6. Tuesday primaries lookahead

Sanders and Biden on the debate stage in Charleston, South Carolina, Feb. 25. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will go head-to-head again this Tuesday in a series of primaries poised to hand the former Vice President another triumph, Alayna writes.

Why it matters: After Biden's stellar performance on Super Tuesday and a blitz of huge endorsements (the latest from Sen. Kamala Harris), he's barreling ahead toward clinching the Democratic nomination.

  • The results in Tuesday's primaries in key states — Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington — are do-or-die for Sanders, who very quickly has resumed his status as the underdog.

FiveThirtyEight's 2020 primary tracker has Biden winning in every state except Washington.

  • Michigan in particular is a state that could break Bernie. As Politico's David Siders and Holly Otterbein write, "It was Michigan where Sanders engineered a primary day miracle four years ago, upsetting Hillary Clinton and imprinting his populist agenda on the industrial Midwest."
  • Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight's tracker forecasts Biden winning the most votes (51%) and delegates (69) in Michigan on Tuesday.
  • "Michigan, with its 125 delegates, is the most populous state to vote on Tuesday, and it is the first of the big Midwestern battlegrounds to cast ballots," the New York Times' Jonathan Martin and Astead Herndon write. "With Mr. Biden appearing strong in the South and Mr. Sanders winning in the West, the industrial Midwest could effectively determine the nomination."

The bottom line, via FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver: "Sanders has to come back quickly when the momentum is currently against him in a bunch of states that are not very good for him."

7. Sneak Peek diary

Photo: Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The House will vote on the “No Ban Act,” this week, which would repeal Trump’s travel ban and prevent the administration from imposing future travel bans, Alayna writes.

  • The House will also consider the Access to Counsel Act, which would mandate that those detained while attempting to enter the U.S. are guaranteed access to legal counsel.
  • The current FISA authorization expires March 15. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says “conversations are ongoing” and that he hopes to bring legislation to the floor this week.
  • Hoyer added that, following Senate passage of Sen. Tim Kaine’s bipartisan war powers resolution, it’s possible the House could also consider the resolution as early as this week.
  • On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security committee will hold a hearing on the coronavirus.

The Senate will vote Monday on a substituted amendment to Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin’s energy innovation bill.

  • Murkowski said the substitute includes 18 new amendments from Republicans and Democrats.

President Trump’s schedule, per a White House official:

  • Monday: Trump will participate in a roundtable and speak at a fundraising lunch in Longwood, Florida. 
  • Tuesday: Trump will present the Medal of Freedom to retired Gen. Jack Keane. 
  • Thursday: Trump will meet with the prime minister of Ireland and participate in the Shamrock Bowl presentation. However, he’s expected to skip the annual St. Patrick's Day lunch in the Capitol, “one of Washington's oldest time-honored bipartisan traditions,” Politico scoops.
  • Friday: Trump will attend a fundraiser in the Denver area for Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, per the AP.