Jun 16, 2019

Axios Sneak Peek

By Jonathan Swan
Jonathan Swan

Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly lookahead at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus our best scoops. (Smart Brevity word count: 1,755 words, ~6 minutes)

The 3rd episode of this season's "Axios on HBO" aired at 6pm ET/PT. You can catch up on HBO GO:

  • 2020 Democrat Pete Buttigieg sat down with Mike Allen at his South Bend headquarters; Joann Muller had an exclusive interview with GM CEO Mary Barra; and Ina Fried visited Lego HQ in Denmark.
1 big thing: Trump’s social conservatism trump card

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Social conservatives say they've gotten more from President Trump than any other president, and a lot of it will last, Axios' Sam Baker reports.

  • Even George W. Bush doesn't measure up, some advocates said, even though he — unlike Trump — was personally a member of the religious right.

The big picture: Activists and advocates are happy with Trump's policies. They are thrilled about his judicial confirmations. But what has really sent them over the moon, they say, is the way he talks about them and their issues — loudly, constantly and without reservation.

What they're saying: "If I could just pick one, I would pick Trump every time. I would pick Trump over any other president in terms of his energy and his commitment and his follow-through," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List.

Trump has overseen a hard push to the right on abortion, LGBTQ rights and religious accommodations. Some of that, you might expect from any Republican president — but Trump has repeatedly upped the ante, going further than even his supporters expected.

  • One big example: Moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to move to Jerusalem, which had been a talking point on the right for years.

Evangelical voters "are not only not disappointed that they backed Trump, they will likely back him and support him in even higher numbers in 2020," Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told Axios.

What Trump has done:

  • On abortion, Trump reinstated and expanded the so-called "Mexico City policy," which says international organizations that receive U.S. funding cannot "perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning."
  • He eased Obama-era rules designed to protect Planned Parenthood's funding.
  • His administration recently banned the use of fetal tissue in government-funded medical research.
  • On LGBTQ rights, Trump reversed the Obama administration's decision to let transgender troops serve in combat.
  • The White House is planning to roll back Obama-era rules that require adoption agencies receiving federal funding to serve same-sex parents.
  • The administration has changed a legal interpretation so that it would no longer be a violation of federal civil rights law for doctors to discriminate against transgender patients.
  • A similar reinterpretation also cleared away nondiscrimination rules for housing.

What's next: Some of Trump's executive actions will likely only last as long as his administration. In many cases, he has reversed Obama-era policy decisions — some of which reversed Bush-era policy decisions, and which the next Democratic president could simply reverse again.

  • But Trump's ability to reshape the courts will help him build a longer-lasting legacy in other areas — especially abortion.

Go deeper: Read Sam's full piece on the Axios stream.

2. Freshmen Dems still nervous about impeachment

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The vast majority of freshman House Democrats still won't support impeaching President Trump, with most preferring to wait until Congress has conducted more oversight investigations of the president, according to Axios' Alayna Treene's survey of all 64 of the new Democrats.

The bottom line: This was a followup to a survey Alayna did in January. At the time, most of the new House Dems were uninterested in discussing impeachment before special counsel Robert Mueller completed his investigation.

  • Flash forward six months and, while support for impeachment has ticked up, the results are largely unchanged — which is surprising given the increasingly vocal debate around impeachment inside the Democratic Party.

Between the lines: 23 of these freshmen Democrats won in districts that Trump won in 2016. To get re-elected they will need to stay on the good side of voters who are sympathetic to the president, which perhaps explains their cautiousness on impeachment.

By the numbers: Of the 64 freshmen House Democrats:

  • 42 say they want Congress to continue their oversight investigations before launching impeachment proceedings. In January, 48 said they thought Congress should wait for the release of the Mueller report before considering impeachment.
  • 13 say they support impeaching the president, up from only 6 in January.
  • 4 have not made clear, on-the-record statements. Previously, only 3 members fell in this category.
  • 5 caution against impeachment, down from 7 in January.

Those proportions fall roughly in line with the entire Democratic caucus, where just 66 of its 235 members publicly support launching an impeachment inquiry, according to an Axios analysis.

Yes, but: There are certain nuances in members' perspectives that don't come across in a straight tally. Among the "wait and see" House Dems:

  • 4 say they are getting closer to wanting to launch impeachment proceedings.
  • 5 are extra cautious and emphasize the seriousness of it.
  • 9 say they are deeply troubled by Mueller's report.
  • 11 say they are fully prepared to support impeachment down the road, especially if the Trump administration continues to stonewall their subpoenas and interview requests.

What to watch: The numbers are low, but they could grow in the coming months — especially as support for impeachment grows among Democratic voters and as the House committees accelerate the pace of their investigations and the Trump administration continues to stonewall those efforts.

Go deeper: Here's the spreadsheet showing Alayna's reporting on where every new House Democrat stands on impeaching Trump.

  • And check out Jon Karl's ABC News interview today with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
3. Quote du jour

President Trump to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos:

"I wasn't gonna fire [Robert Mueller]. You know why? Because I watched Richard Nixon go around firing everybody, and that didn't work out too well."

4. Exclusive: Mayor Pete says he won't reverse Trump's Jerusalem move

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

In an interview on "Axios on HBO," Mike Allen asked the surging 2020 Democrat and mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, whether as president he would move the U.S. embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv.

Driving the news: Buttigieg said he wouldn't move the embassy back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. "I think what's done is done," he said, "I don't know that we'd gain much by moving it to Tel Aviv."

Why it matters: Many prominent Democrats excoriated President Trump for moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They said he would inflame the region and ruin the chances for peace. It's telling that a prominent 2020 Democrat, when pressed on the issue, wouldn't reverse Trump's decision.

Watch the clip.

5. Budget crisis on Capitol Hill

The Washington Post's Erica Werner and Seung Min Kim perfectly capture the dangerous uncertainty of the next few months in Washington:

  • "Senate Republicans and the Trump administration are struggling to reach an agreement on a path forward on critical budget and spending issues, threatening not only another government shutdown and deep spending cuts but a federal default that could hit the economy hard.

Why it matters: "Trump and Congress face a trio of difficult budget issues. Congress must pass, and Trump must sign, funding legislation by Oct. 1 to avoid a new shutdown. They need to raise the federal debt limit around the same time, according to the latest estimates.

  • "If Congress does not act...Treasury would be unable to pay all of its bills on time, which could lead to a default on the government's obligations, a spike in interest rates, a surge in unemployment and a stock market crash. Fitch Ratings warned earlier this year that a shutdown coupled with a battle over the debt limit might damage the country's Triple-A credit rating.

Behind the scenes: "Tensions between key Senate Republicans and White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney have been on display for months, and GOP lawmakers and aides partially blame that frayed relationship for the halting pace of talks.

  • "Senate Republicans and the administration thus far have not agreed on how to proceed on any of the issues, making it all but impossible for them to enter into substantive negotiations with Democrats...

"We're negotiating with ourselves right now," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). "The president, the administration, has some views, maybe, that are a little different sometimes than the Senate Republicans have. So we're trying to see if we can be together as best we can."

Worthy of your time.

6. Trump confidant urges "retaliatory military strike" against Iran

An exchange that will echo into the coming weeks as the Trump administration deliberates on how to respond to Iran's attacks on commercial shipping.

From today's interview on CBS' "Face the Nation," between host Margaret Brennan and Republican Sen. Tom Cotton:

  • Margaret Brennan: You have long been defined as a hawk on Iran. You see these recent attacks, these are commercial vessels not military installations. What kind of response is warranted?
  • Senator Cotton: Well Iran for 40 years has engaged in these kinds of attacks going back to the 1980s. In fact, Ronald Reagan had to reflag a lot of vessels going through the Persian Gulf and ultimately take military action against Iran in 1988. These unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike.
  • Margaret Brennan: Are you—you're comparing the tanker war in the 80s to now and saying that that's the kind of military response you want to see?
  • Senator Cotton: We can make a military response in a time and in a manner of our choosing. But yes, unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Between the lines: Cotton is one of President Trump's closest confidants on Capitol Hill. And his opinion on responding aggressively to Iran will likely find a enthusiastic ear from Trump's hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton.

  • Earlier on "Face the Nation," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Margaret: "the United States is considering a full range of options" to respond to Iran's commercial shipping attacks.
7. Sneak Peek diary

The House will consider two massive packages of government spending bills, per a senior Democratic aide.

  • One covers "Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Legislative Branch, Defense, State, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development..."
  • The other covers "Commerce, Justice, Science, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development..."

The Senate will confirm the Trump nominees in the order laid out below, with votes beginning Tuesday, per a Republican leadership aide. After confirming Guidry, the Senate will vote to proceed to the annual defense spending bill.

  • Sean Cairncross as CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
  • Matthew Kacsmaryk as judge for the Northern District of Texas.
  • Allen Cothrel Winsor as judge for the Northern District of Florida.
  • James David Cain, Jr. as judge for the Western District of Louisiana.
  • Greg Girard Guidry as judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

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

  • Monday: Trump will have lunch with Mike Pence.
  • Tuesday: Trump will travel to Orlando and Miami to officially launch his 2020 campaign.
  • Wednesday: Trump will present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Arthur Laffer.
  • Thursday: Trump will host the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for meetings at the White House. The president and first lady will also host the Congressional Picnic.
  • Friday: Trump will have lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
8. Happy Father's Day

Norman Swan and Jonathan Swan, circa 1986.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads, and especially to my old man back in Australia, who is by far the best journalist in our family.

I love you, dad.

Jonathan Swan