Reality bites: Trump's wake-up call - Axios
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Reality bites: Trump's wake-up call

Robin Groulx / Axios

NEW YORK — On Twitter and in public, Donald Trump remains an uncompromising mix of bluster and bombast. Behind the scenes, he's confronting, and in some cases succumbing (slightly) to, the hard truths of governing and leading a world that hangs on his every word.

When we went to interview him in his office in Trump Tower on Tuesday, 72 hours before he takes office, we expected the emphatic showman who was on display through the campaign, and as recently as last week's press conference.

Instead we found the incoming president unusually subdued: lowering expectations, acknowledging some of the messy realities of governing, and walking back some of the more provocative statements he had made only days before. A top adviser told us the sober tone reflects a bumpy few days inside Trump Tower — and the realization that he's days away from truly running the nation.

Consider:

  • Trump said health care is his most urgent domestic topic, telling us he spoke with President Obama again on Monday about the topic. He back-tracked a bit from his promise of insurance for everybody, saying he wanted to find a mechanism — Medicaid block grants, perhaps — to help the poorest get insurance. "You know there are many people talking about many forms of health care where people with no money aren't covered. We can't have that," he said.
  • On Friday, he told The Wall Street Journal that border-adjustment, a vital part of the House Republicans' corporate tax-reform plan, was "too complicated." Now, it's suddenly back on the table. "It's certainly something that's going to be discussed," he said. "I would say, over the next month-and-a-half, two months, we'll be having more concrete discussions. Right now, we're really focused on health care more than anything else."
  • Trump earlier this week unsettled allies overseas by calling NATO obsolete and seeming to put Germany's Angela Merkel and Russia's Vladimir Putin on par as possible US allies. Trump told us ALL WORLD LEADERS are on par, with a fresh chance to prove themselves. "So, I give everybody an even start; that right now, as far as I'm concerned, everybody's got an even start," he said.
  • Trump's advisers tell us privately that many parts of the operation remain messy — in large part, they say, because New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie left them with virtually no preparation for a transition. Advisers told us horror stories of struggles to fill key roles — including getting handed files of candidates, most of whom were Democrats. This is only adding to the confusion and slowed policy-making discussions.

Trump seemed, dare we say, humbled by recent intelligence briefings on global threats. Dick Cheney's friends used to tell us he was a decidedly darker, changed man once he started reading the daily intel reports after 9/11. Trump seemed moved by what he's now seeing.

"I've had a lot of briefings that are very … I don't want to say 'scary,' because I'll solve the problems," he said. "But … we have some big enemies out there in this country and we have some very big enemies — very big and, in some cases, strong enemies."

He offered a reminder many critics hope he never forgets: "You also realize that you've got to get it right because a mistake would be very, very costly in so many different ways."

Robin Groulx / Axios

Worth noting: Trump said he likes his briefings short, ideally one-page if it's in writing. "I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don't need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you."

All this said, Trump was very much the Trump you know when it came to critics, the media, and self-reflection:

  • In the opening moment, asked why he hasn't been able to deliver on his promise to heal divisions in the U.S., Trump reiterated his promise "to be a president for all Americans," only to launch, unprovoked, into his fourth-consecutive day of attacks on Rep. John Lewis, the civil-rights icon. Think about that for a minute: He's less than 72 hours from taking office and he was still stewing about a member of the Democratic minority in the House.
  • Trump told us his confrontational style is misunderstood. "You know, I'm not really a divisive figure," he said, before pinning the blame for bad press and bad blood almost entirely on the media: "In the history of politics, there's nobody that has been treated worse by the press than I have."
  • Asked to name a decision he got wrong or a regret from the campaign, he didn't.
Funny moment: When asked about books on his desk, he showed us "Adams v Jefferson" by John Ferling. We asked if we should read it. "I wouldn't," he said.
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New Trumpcare amendment would require states to define essential health benefits

(Alex Brandon / AP)

A final amendment to the American Health Care Act was introduced Thursday night by the authors of the legislation, a last-minute attempt to win conservatives over by requiring states to define what services insurers must offer enrollees.

Here's what's in the amendment, which will be voted on in the Rules Committee tomorrow before the bill heads to the House floor for a final vote:

  • Beginning in 2018, states will determine essential health benefits. There are currently 10 federal ones under Obamacare, which apply to the individual and small group markets.
  • The repeal of the Medicare payroll tax on high earners would be delayed until 2023.
  • The original bill's Patient and State Stability Fund would get an extra $15 billion to be used for maternity coverage and newborn care, as well as mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment.
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Apple says flaws in latest WikiLeaks disclosure are all old

Mike Deerkoski / Flickr cc

Although much was made about a new batch of iPhone and MacBook flaws disclosed by WikiLeaks on Thursday, Apple says the issues appear to all be old, since-fixed vulnerabilities.

"We have preliminarily assessed the Wikileaks disclosures from this morning," Apple said in a statement to Axios. "Based on our initial analysis, the alleged iPhone vulnerability affected iPhone 3G only and was fixed in 2009 when iPhone 3GS was released. Additionally, our preliminary assessment shows the alleged Mac vulnerabilities were previously fixed in all Macs launched after 2013."
Apple added that it has "not negotiated with Wikileaks for any information."

We have given them instructions to submit any information they wish through our normal process under our standard terms. Thus far, we have not received any information from them that isn't in the public domain. We are tireless defenders of our users' security and privacy, but we do not condone theft or coordinate with those that threaten to harm our users.
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Trump orders tougher Visa screenings

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

President Trump is ordering tougher screenings for Visa applicants as part of his "extreme vetting" policy. Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent four cables to U.S. embassies and consular officials demanding scrutiny be tightened up, as originally reported by Reuters.

The new rules don't apply to 38 countries who can be admitted using the visa waiver program, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and most of Europe.

Profiling and delays: This will include "mandatory social media check" if an applicant has been in a territory controlled by ISIS. Such checks are rarely done at present, former officials told Reuters. Consular officials and immigration experts told the NYT this will make it much more common to be denied a Visa to the U.S. and they fear this might lead to profiling based on nationality. It will likely also extend Visa review times.

Context: The cables were issued to complement the travel ban that was upended by a court in Hawaii, but some provisions were remedied to abide by the temporary restraining order. Namely, questions specifically aimed at applicants from the six countries listed in the ban were rescinded.
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Trump's ultimatum: If vote fails, Obamacare stays

AP

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has just laid down a gauntlet to House Republicans on behalf of President Trump: pass this bill, or Obamacare remains in place.

Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus want more concessions but, according to Mulvaney, Trump will not negotiate further.

The president demanded a vote tomorrow, and now it appears he will get it. He is all but daring Republicans to vote no.

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Twitter is weighing whether to build a paid version of TweetDeck

Richard Drew / AP

Twitter is considering whether to build premium software geared toward power users of its service.

The company already owns TweetDeck, a program geared toward those who juggle multiple Twitter accounts and spend a lot of time on the social media service. A paid version could offer extra features and bypass advertising.

Andrew Tavani, managing editor of Women in the World, first spotted a message from Twitter about the potential service.



Still pondering: It appears the idea is still in the early stages and Twitter hasn't decided if it'll build this. "We're conducting a survey to assess the interest in a new, more enhanced version of TweetDeck," a Twitter spokesperson told Axios, adding that Twitter is "exploring several ways to make TweetDeck even more valuable for professionals."

Why it matters: Twitter acquired TweetDeck in 2011 from developer Iain Dodsworth, but hasn't done much with it since as far as expanding features and capabilities. This could be a welcome option for users for whom Twitter is a critical part of doing their job.

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Here are the AHCA changes demanded by the Freedom Caucus

Alex Brandon / AP

The key changes to the Republican health care bill demanded by the conservative Freedom Caucus:

  • A repeal of ACA's Essential Health Benefits (like emergency or maternity treatment) guaranteed under Obamacare
  • An elimination of the "single risk pool," which prevents insurers from splitting the market into healthy and sick groups
  • An elimination of rating restrictions, which allow insurers to base premiums only on age, area, tobacco use and family vs individual plan
  • A repeal on lifetime or annual limits
  • A reversal of standard documentation mandates, which make it easier to compare insurance plans
  • A reversal on Medical Loss Ratio standards, which force large insurers spend at least 85% of premiums on claims

Why it matters: These changes would appease the Freedom Caucus, but could see moderates abandon the bill.

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Fox News: GOP expects 'smoking gun' proving Obama admin spied on Trump

Jack Gruber / AP

Republicans in Congress are expecting a "smoking gun" showing the Obama administration intentionally spied on Trump associates, and possibly Trump himself, Fox News reports:

The intelligence is said to leave no doubt the Obama administration, in its closing days, was using the cover of legitimate surveillance on foreign targets to spy on President-elect Trump, sources said.

A source told Fox that the surveillance left a "paper trail" indicating there was "no other plausible purpose... than to damage the incoming Trump administration." No, Trump Tower wasn't bugged, as POTUS claimed, but if the report is accurate his transition team was targeted for surveillance.

What's next: Fox says the House Intelligence Committee expects to receive the evidence this week. Trump said he felt "somewhat" vindicated by Devin Nunes' statements yesterday about "incidental" surveillance of Trump's communications. Expect him to be less restrained if this report proves accurate.




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Marketo apologizes after video promo for its conference panned as sexist

Marketo, which specializes in helping companies promote themselves, apologized Thursday after one of its own promotions fell flat.

The ad, promoting an upcoming Marketo conference, featured a ditzy female newscaster and the company's male CEO, Steve Lucas. Marketo told Axios the ad, which was roundly criticized on Twitter, has been pulled down.

We sincerely apologize for the offense we caused with what was intended to be a light-hearted promotion for Marketing Nation Summit. The video was created to promote the conference, playing off our theme of engagement. Marketo has always had a steadfast commitment to championing diversity and empowering female leaders in technology and beyond.
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Theranos offers shares to investors if they promise not to sue

Theranos

Theranos, the embattled blood-testing company, plans to offer additional shares to existing investors if they agree not to sue the company, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal citing anonymous sources. Theranos reportedly only has $200 million in cash left, but is already facing multiple lawsuits, including from former partner Walgreens and investor Partner Fund Management.

The deal: The shares would come from founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes' personal stake in the company, which would result in her losing her majority ownership. According to the Journal, early investors aren't included in the deal, and weren't even informed of it.

Murdoch exit: Theranos has reportedly agreed to buy back the stake Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of News Corp. and 21st Century Fox, purchased for $125 million in 2015.

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Valeant's ousted CEO made $72.5 million in 2016

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Michael Pearson, former CEO of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, cashed in $72.5 million worth of stock and severance pay in 2016 even as he and the drug company were under federal investigation for accounting fraud and a billing scheme tied to a specialty pharmacy it secretly owned.

Pearson took home $60.5 million in stock and the rest in severance pay and other benefits, Valeant disclosed Thursday to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also still used Valeant's corporate jet. Joseph Papa replaced Pearson last year, and Papa earned $62.7 million even though Valeant remains mired in trouble.

Valeant's stock has cratered since the middle of 2015, and it has become a pariah in the pharmaceutical industry. Pearson led Valeant since 2008, building the company up on the controversial practice of acquiring drugs and jacking up the prices.