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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Nikki Haley's "personal conversation" with Trump

President Donald Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at Trump's National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told CNN today that she had a "personal conversation" with President Trump about how he handled the fallout from Charlottesville, per Politico.

"Well, I had a personal conversation with the president about Charlottesville, and I will leave it at that," Haley said on CNN. "But I will tell you that there is no hate in this country. I know the pain that hate can cause, and we need to isolate haters, and we need to make sure that they know there is no place for them."

On "Good Morning America," Haley brought up her conversation with Trump again, adding that her message was "taken very well." As for whether Trump believes he was in the wrong with his response? "The president clarified so that no one can question that he's opposed to bigotry and hate in this country," said Haley.

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Chelsea Clinton wants Barron Trump to have a "private" life

AP

Chelsea Clinton defended fellow first child, Barron Trump, on Twitter Monday after a Daily Caller reporter criticized the 11-year-old for his fashion choices.

The critique: "The youngest Trump doesn't have any responsibilities as the president's son, but the least he could do is dress the part when he steps out in public," entertainment reporter Ford Springer wrote in the Daily Caller.

Clinton's kickback: "It's high time the media & everyone leave Barron Trump alone & let him have the private childhood he deserves" she tweeted, linking to the story.

Why it matters: Clinton, who has otherwise been known to rail against Trump and his administration on social media, has come to Barron's defense on several occasions. Twice she's tweeted that Barron deserves the right and the privacy to be a kid.

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Former Uber exec will be H&R Block's next CEO

Photo courtesy of H&R

Jeff Jones, the former Target CMO who spent just six months at Uber as its president of ride-sharing, will be H&R Block's next CEO, starting in October, the company said today.

  • Despite the enthusiasm around Jones' hiring last year, his departure was less positive. He left amid a flurry of controversies bubbling at Uber, including allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination within the company, and shortly after it announced plans to hire a COO.
  • Jones on his departure: "It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business."

Jones is not the only Uber executive to leave the company in the last six months. Others include its head of finance, head of its AI labs, its head of product and growth, its PR chief, and several employees from its self-driving car teams — including Marakby's boss, former head of Google Maps Brian McClendon.

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Blue Apron faces shareholder lawsuits

Bree Fowler / AP

Blue Apron, the meal kits company that went public in June, has been hit with multiple shareholder lawsuits. They allege that the company misled investors about its business prior to going public, although only two suits have been formally filed, Axios is told. Now, these investors are angry and want their money back.

Tough crowd: Despite being a media darling while a private company, Blue Apron has had a tough time on the markets since going public — its stock price is now nearly half of what it was at the IPO. The company is also facing competition from Amazon, which recently debuted its own meal kits business, which investors claim Blue Apron knew and hid.

Amazon declined to comment on the lawsuits.

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Uber adds new options for driver flexibility

Eric Risberg / AP

Over the last few months, Uber has been on a campaign to repair its relationship with drivers via changes to its policies and service. This time, it's trying to make their driving more flexible thanks to new options in their mobile app, such as setting a trip arrival time if they need to be done by a certain time to pick up their kids from school, and notifications before long trips, for example.

  • In the last six months, it's become clear to the company that it needs to take a friendlier approach in many aspects of its business, including its relationship with drivers.
  • Driver turnover is a big problem for ride-hailing companies, and Uber has to compete for them with rival Lyft, which has cultivated a driver-friendly image.
  • Uber published a paper on time and income flexibility for drivers to support its new policies.
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Study: knowing more doesn't change disbeliefs about science

Associated Press

If someone is already pre-disposed to disbelieve scientific conclusions around issues like human evolution, climate change, stem cell research or the Big Bang theory because of their religious or political views, learning more about the subject actually increases their disbelief, a new study finds.

Why it matters: The research flies in the face of commonly held views that more science literacy and greater education around controversial scientific issues will diffuse polarization but supports a growing body of evidence about how our identity forms our views.

  • For stem cell research, the Big Bang theory and evolution, religious identity overrode science literacy.
  • Political beliefs surrounding climate change led to polarization.
  • They found little evidence (yet) of political or religious polarization for nanotechnology and genetically modified food.

What they found: Carnegie Mellon social scientists looked at Americans' beliefs around six potentially controversial issues: stem cell research, the Big Bang theory, nanotechnology, GMOs, climate change and evolution. The found people's beliefs about topics associated with their religious and political views become increasingly polarized with more education (measured by markers like the number of years in school, highest degrees earned, aptitude on general science facts or the number of science classes taken). Baruch Fischhoff from CMU said:

"These are troubling correlations. We can only speculate about the underlying causes. One possibility is that people with more education are more likely to know what they are supposed to say, on these polarized issues, in order to express their identity. Another possibility is that they have more confidence in their ability to argue their case."

One bright spot for science literacy advocates: If someone is already pre-disposed to trust the peer-reviewed science process and scientists, they're likely to believe what they say and find in all of these areas.

Go deeper: Arizona State University's Daniel Sarewitz got to the heart of it in the Guardian yesterday.

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U.S. sanctions Chinese, Russian entities that help North Korea

Susan Walsh / AP

The U.S. Treasury has unveiled sanctions targeting Chinese and Russian entities doing business with North Korea, which is intended to add pressure to the North to soften its nuclear program. North Korea's number one trading partner is China, and most of the sanctions target Chinese companies, per The Washington Post.

Why it matters: This comes the same week as the U.S. and South Korea are conducting military exercises that China, Russia, and North Korea have all been opposed to, given that it looks like the U.S. is escalating its threat to the North — making an already tense week that much more precarious.

The sanctions target 10 entities and 6 individuals that help those who are already sanctioned who support North Korea's missile program or assist the country with its energy needs. It also targets people who help North Korea's export of workers, per CNBC.

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Takeaways from former nat sec officials on Afghanistan

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The Cipher Brief got reactions to President Trump's speech on Afghanistan from top former national security officials — including former acting CIA director John McLaughlin, former Army vice chief of staff Gen. Jack Keane, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, and former acting CIA director Michael J. Morrell.

All are worth reading in full for their diversity of opinions, but here are three major takeaways across the interviews:

  • Trump sounded and acted presidential, which all four officials agreed was vital to delivering this speech effectively.
  • There was no outlined timetable for withdrawal — a departure from Obama-era policies that was seen as a positive and necessary step.
  • Trump's call to have India more involved in Afghanistan was the biggest news, but it could have a potentially destabilizing effect with the United States' relationship with Pakistan.
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Pence explains why Trump didn't announce troop numbers

AP

Vice President Mike Pence defended President Trump's speech on Afghanistan in a USA Today op-ed.

His overarching message: "Trump has determined that conditions — not arbitrary timetables — will guide our strategy. The previous administration alerted our enemies ahead of time by announcing troop numbers and timelines, something President Trump has wisely refused to do."

  • Trump's plan vs. Obama's: "We need only look at Iraq, and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria following the last administration's withdrawal of U.S. forces, to see where this path leads."
  • Focus on Pakistan: "America will not write a blank check for countries that fail to root out the same forces who try every day to kill our people. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much more to lose by supporting terrorists. The president has put them on notice."