Axios Sneak Peek

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August 04, 2019

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

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  • Smart Brevity count: 1,141 words (~4 minutes)

Situational awareness: President Trump spoke to reporters about the weekend massacres in brief remarks Sunday afternoon on the tarmac at Morristown Airport. “We have to get it stopped. It’s been going on for years. Years and years, and we have to get it stopped.” Trump said he’d make a statement tomorrow.

1 big thing: Trump's DIY Baltimore emergency

Illustration of twitter logo wrapped in caution tape
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

It isn't clear if there was a plan for last week. Some consequential things went down: The U.S. sanctioned Iran's top diplomat, revved up the trade war with China, and signed off on a spending bill that will spike the national debt.

But all that got largely lost by the wayside as the president went to war with a Baltimore icon. Nobody knew it was coming, nobody knew how to handle it, and a week later, senior White House officials have their fingers crossed that the president won't turn their week upside-down once again with another tweet about a "Fox and Friends" segment.

As the week has unfurled, people inside and outside the White House described to me how a few pokes of a keyboard by the leader of the free world sent some of Washington's most powerful political players scrambling for cover.

Driving the news: Inside the White House, the conversation about Baltimore last week moved into a brief discussion of policy solutions.

  • In at least one conversation with senior aides and another discussion with an outside ally, Trump entertained the idea of declaring a state of emergency in Baltimore — an extraordinary action that would potentially open up new federal powers and funding, according to four sources familiar with the conversations.
  • The idea, one of these sources said, would be to say that the living conditions in Baltimore were unacceptable and that people were suffering because their Democratic representatives let them down. So Trump would take action to fix things.
  • Trump also discussed declaring a state of emergency in other cities controlled by Democrats, including San Francisco and Detroit, a White House official told me.

Between the lines: The emergency idea appears to have been a brief conversation and no more than that. And by Thursday, White House officials had concluded it was too difficult, logistically, for the president to visit Baltimore next week — another idea they had tossed around. So we're back where we started, a week and a day after Trump's inflammatory tweets.

The bottom line: Baltimore Week illuminates how things often work inside the Trump White House: The president watches TV, he tweets, and the machinery of government scrambles into action to deal with an emergency of the president's own creation. Then everyone moves on.

Go deeper: Read the inside story of the week spurred by Trump’s Baltimore tweet.

2. The White House responds to two massacres in 24 hours

Mick Mulvaney on ABC's This Week
Photo: ABC News "This Week," Aug. 4.

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney joined Jonathan Karl on ABC's "This Week" to respond to the weekend massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

  • "We need to figure out what we can do to make sure this doesn't happen again," Mulvaney said to Karl.

Karl followed with the burning question: "We have seen Virginia Beach, Thousand Oaks, California, Tree of Life Synagogue, Parkland, and of course the massacre in in Las Vegas. What is [President Trump] doing to stop these — these killings, these mass shootings?"

Between the lines: Mulvaney signaled that President Trump will not make gun control a priority as he considers how to stop mass shootings in America.

  • "What can you do? You have to try and fix the society, right? You have to figure out why people now take it upon themselves to take guns into large groups of people," Mulvaney told Karl.
  • "It's happened for many decades now. We have to figure out a way to heal the nation. I've talked to several folks this morning about what they thought we should be focusing on this week in the White House and certainly we'll be talking to the FBI, certainly we'll be talking to the Department of Justice.
  • "We also need to start talking about social media. In your introduction you mentioned that the shooter had his manifesto on social media. We've given a wide audience to these people. We've made them celebrities. We've allowed them to spew their hate without any restrictions whatsoever. Not saying we're going to regulate social media, I'm just saying we have to have a broad-based discussion about the causes here.
  • "Are we going to talk about the role guns? Certainly we are. But to think that this is just a gun issue that many people make it out to be is not right. We've had guns in this country for hundreds of years. We haven't had this until recently, and we need to figure out why."

The bottom line, per Mulvaney: "The people responsible here are the people who pull the trigger. We need to figure out how to create less of those kinds of people as a society and not trying to figure out who gets blamed going into the next election."

3. Terrorism in America

Front page of the New York Post.

New York Times columnist Azi Paybarah tweeted: "The @nypost is an important voice among Rs & conservatives. Today, they created a potential conversation starter. They call the #ElPaso shooter a 'terrorist' — applying a term often used to attack Muslims and people of color. And they identify his (warped) motive."

And Breitbart reporter Brandon Darby, who does dangerous work covering Mexican cartels at the southern border, tweeted this after Saturday's massacre of 20 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas: "So many people say 'just ignore the white nationalists' or 'they're not serious, they're just meming,' or they don't mind having them in their coalition. Race-based hatred is as dangerous as hell. Ignoring or downplaying them leads to very bad things."

  • Darby added in a later tweet: "White Nationalist Terrorism. Call it what it is."

The Washington Post reports: "What may have motivated the attacker remained a focus of investigators, who have examined a manifesto posted online that included screeds against immigrants. Authorities believe the Texas shooting suspect posted the document, officials said, but continue to gather evidence."

  • "The manifesto was another unsettlingly familiar part of the tragedy. It listed angry — and, at times, jumbled — motivations for the attack, including rants about a 'Hispanic invasion.'"
  • "Federal authorities are 'seriously considering' bringing hate crime charges in the case."

4. What's next: A secretary hits Kansas State

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Add this nugget to your Mike Pompeo tea-leaf reader: The secretary of state, who Mitch McConnell hopes will resign to run for the open Kansas Senate seat in 2020, plans to return to Kansas in early September to give a speech at Kansas State University, according to two sources familiar with the secretary's schedule.

Between the lines: Pompeo's recent activity suggests a 2020 Senate run is far from "ruled out," as the secretary declared it was in February. (In July, Pompeo updated his position, telling a Kansas City radio station that he will "always leave open the possibility that something will change.")

Go deeper: The Wall Street Journal's Lindsay Wise has a well-reported piece on the fevered speculation about Pompeo's political future.

5. Sneak Peek diary

The House and Senate have broken for summer recess.

The White House did not provide President Trump's schedule.

6. 1 Brexit thing: Letter from America

Front page of The Sunday Times of London.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton helmed a letter from 45 Republican senators to new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that was hyped on the front page of today's Sunday Times of London. Their message to Boris: We'll back a bilateral trade deal with Britain regardless of the terms under which you leave the European Union.

Key details:

  • "[I]f Britain leaves the EU with no deal, we will work with our administration, your government, and our friends in the EU to minimize disruptions in critical matters such as international air travel, financial transactions, and the shipment of medicine, food, and other vital supplies."
  • "[I]rrespective of how Brexit occurs, we recommit to the NATO security alliance and the 'Five Eyes' intelligence partnership."
  • "We also will advocate for a new bilateral trade agreement, as early as your Brexit terms would allow, that reflects the centuries of open commerce between our nations."

Go deeper: The Sunday Times story