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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Trump picks McMaster to replace Flynn

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Trump told reporters today that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will be taking over as national security advisor. He's replacing Michael Flynn who stepped down after controversy surrounding Russia ties. Trump called McMaster "a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience."

Who is McMaster? Tom Ricks of Foreign Policy, who says he's known McMaster since he was a major, wrote before the announcement that he's "smart, energetic, and tough" and has good combat experience. Ricks also identifies the key challenge facing McMaster: "To do the job right, McMaster needs to bring in his own people. And it remains unclear if he can get that." Ricks says most people he talked to who have worked for McMaster would follow him into the Trump White House.

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Snapchat sells Spectacles online

Snap Inc.

Snapchat spectacles now available for purchase online.

Spectacles are smartphone-connected glasses that take Snapchats — up-to 10-second videos or stills — with the click of a button. Previously, the glasses were only available for purchase at pop-up vending machines in New York and California, where lines were long and the allure was strong. Now, Snap Inc. is making their glasses available to all consumers for $130 USD.

Why it matters: In its S-1 filing with the New York Stock Exchange, Snapchat calls itself a "camera company" instead of a social media app or a messaging service. This is critical in understanding how Snapchat plans to monetize its reach and technology, which investors are monitoring closely ahead of its IPO. In its S-1 filing, Snapchat noted that Spectacles have not initially generated any revenue. While Snapchat makes the majority of its money from advertising now, opening up sales for its new camera now signals that Snap Inc. sees camera technology and sales as a lucrative business model in the future.

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Russia's UN ambassador dies in NYC

John Minchillo / AP

The Russian foreign ministry says Vitaly Churkin, its ambassador to the United Nations, has died in New York City. He was 64. Russia did not offer details on his death, but said in a statement:

A prominent Russian diplomat has passed away while at work. We'd like to express our sincere condolences to Vitaly Churkin's family — Russian Foreign Ministry
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Not invited to administration Obamacare meeting: Treasury

(Carolyn Kaster / AP)

Members of the Trump administration got together on Sunday to talk about President Trump's plan to repeal and replace Obamacare — but a photo tweeted by White House chief of staff Reince Priebus doesn't show any Treasury Department officials at the table, despite the likelihood that the plan will involve big tax changes.

At the table were many members of the president's health care and policy teams, including Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, yet-to-be confirmed Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services head Seema Verma, and White House aide Stephen Miller.

But no one from the Treasury Department was there, and a source who heard about the snub from a White House economic adviser said the department feels shut out of the process. A White House spokesperson responded that while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "wasn't in attendance at this particular meeting, he is absolutely involved in the discussion of how best to repeal and replace Obamacare."

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The growing fight to save local newsrooms

Non-profits and media distribution companies are stepping in to support local newsrooms as they navigate the chaotic news cycle of the new administration and the rapidly-changing digital news environment.

The non-profits

Poynter is dedicating a reporter to cover the transformation of local and regional journalism full-time, in addition to launching a weekly newsletter. The Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative made a $5 million investment to continue a program that helps local papers transform their newsrooms to support digital storytelling. Local News Lab relaunched its site to include updated guidebooks to help local newsrooms survive the transition into the digital age. MuckRock started a Slack channel in January to help journalists all over the country, including 50% local news reporters, better cover the Trump Administration.

The platforms

Facebook finally took its initiative to reach out to local journalists to the road, hosting around 70 print and broadcast reporters — mostly from Texas — for a Dallas forum about best practices and the future of news. The move is part of the Facebook Journalism Project. Google introduced a local news source tag in May that algorithmically favors local sources in users' feeds. The tag labels stories that are reported first-hand by local sources.
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10 Axios stories to get you caught up on last week

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Use the holiday to get caught up on last week.
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Yes, your commute is really that awful

Julie Jacobson / AP

Reuters flags the latest Global Traffic Scorecard from INRIX Inc, a traffic data company based in Washington state. It found that 5 of the 10 most congested cities globally are in the U.S., and that drivers waste an average of $1,200 a year in lost fuel and time sitting in traffic jams.

The five worst U.S. offenders: Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Atlanta and Miami.

The worst road: The Cross Bronx Expressway in New York City.

But at least you're not in Bogota or Moscow: Drivers in those two cities deal with the worst traffic in the world, when you break it down by the percentage of time spent in traffic jams compared to total drive time.

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Adios, Milo

After Breitbart provocateur Milo was announced Saturday (the day after his bro-out with Bill Maher) as a speaker at CPAC — the Conservative Political Action Conference, which opens Wednesday — the self-described "virtuous troll" got hit with fatal oppo on the Twitter feed of the Reagan Battalion:

Milo replies on Facebook: "A note for idiots (UPDATED): I do not support pedophilia. Period. ... If it somehow comes across (through my own sloppy phrasing or through deceptive editing) that I meant any of the ugly things alleged, let me set the record straight ... I am completely disgusted by the abuse of children. "

The board of the American Conservative Union, which stages CPAC, includes Kellyanne Conway, John Bolton, Grover Norquist, Becky Norton Dunlap, Ron Christie, José Cárdenas, etc.

Chances Milo speaks at CPAC, with hundreds of young attendees: next to zero.