Why Trump knifed Sessions - Axios
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Why Trump knifed Sessions

Evan Vucci / AP

For weeks, President Trump has been privately expressing frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and has even told aides he regretted appointing him:

  • Trump views Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation as an act of weakness that made the situation exponentially worse for the White House.
  • POTUS has even mused that he could have named Sessions — a crucial early backer of his campaign — to be Secretary of Homeland Security instead.
  • Yesterday, Trump went public with his beef, telling the N.Y. Times: "Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else."

The declaration of no-confidence led to instant speculation in Republican circles that Sessions would resign: How can he go to work this morning?

  • Swan hears that Sessions may well stay: Top Republicans are giving us both "stay" and "go" predictions. Trump once publicly scolded Steve Bannon, who's back in good stead with the boss.
  • Sessions has told friends how much he loves the job, and how much fun he's having — locking up bad guys, supporting law enforcement, cracking down on sanctuary cities, etc.
  • DJT loves all that stuff, too. So on policy, they couldn't be more in lockstep. If it wasn't for Russia, they'd be as close as ever.
  • Sources also point out that if Sessions resigned, the acting head of the Justice Department would be Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, with whom Trump has no vibe. (In the interview, Trump said of Rosenstein: "Who is he? ... He's from Baltimore ... There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.")
  • This rift sure sounds permanent, though. And remember that Sessions offered to resign before, saying that he serves at the pleasure of the President and was willing to step aside if POTUS would feel better served. Trump declined.

What Trump is thinking: It's the president's view that Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation — which may have been unavoidable, given the pressures at the time — empowered Democratic critics.

Inexcusable, POTUS thinks. Trump would have felt safer with his man Sessions in charge, but now must endure the wholly unpredictable and uncontrollable probe by special counsel Bob Mueller.

Be smart: Trump's blast shows that no lawyer or aide has convinced him to rein in his remarks in Russia, and makes a public spectacle of the kind of internal West Wing war that in most administrations might be concealed or gossiped about, but never proven in real time.

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The industries at risk if Trump quits NAFTA

The United States has a great deal to lose if it drops out of NAFTA, as 26% of imports come from the two partner nations. Canada and Mexico are its second and third largest trading partners, respectively. Here's a look at the industries that will be hit hardest if President Trump sends a NAFTA withdrawal notice.

Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Where things stand: The future of NAFTA hangs in the balance, with Mexico and Canada shutting down the hard line American renegotiations and President Trump hinting he might pull out of the deal entirely. Still, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Wednesday the other two countries will stay in NAFTA even if the United States abandons it.

Key takeaways:

  • The auto and energy industries will be among those most affected, as vehicles, nuclear reactors and mineral fuel are three of the top goods imported from both Canada and Mexico.
  • The United States stands to lose lots of business. Canada and Mexico are the top two recipients of U.S. exports.
  • In 2016, the United States had a $12.5 billion trade surplus with Canada, but a $55.6 billion trade deficit with Mexico.
  • Peña Nieto said that, if Trump backs out, trade between the United States and Mexico will continue and be governed by the World Trade Organization's rules.
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It's been the second-hottest year since the 1800s

Photo: Elaine Thompson / AP

The first nine months of 2017 are the second-warmest in records that date back to the late 1800s, according to the latest monthly National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report Wednesday.

Why it matters: The data underscore how this year is part of a long-term warming trend that scientists say is largely due to human influences.

The gritty details: The January-September period was 0.87°C (1.57°F) above the 20th-century average.

  • "Nine of the 10 warmest January-September global land and ocean temperatures occurred during the 21st century (since 2005), with only one year from the 20th century (1998) among the top 10. Based on three simple scenarios, 2017 will likely end up among the top three warmest years on record," NOAA said.
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Spain might seize control of Catalonia's government

A woman wearing a Spanish flag on her shoulders looks at a giant flag of Catalonia in Barcelona. Photo: Santi Palacios / AP

Spain signaled today that it would move to seize control of Catalonia's regional government under a constitutionally allowed process by this weekend, per The Washington Post. The move comes after Catalonia's president essentially refused to respond to a Spanish government demand regarding the region's intentions for its independence.

Why it matters: Tensions between Spain and Catalonia have been running high for months, culminating in a seconds-long Catalonian declaration of independence earlier this month after a contested referendum. Catalonia's president immediately suspended the declaration, hoping to begin negotiations with the Spanish government — but this newest move would be an unprecedented step in a nation where memories of Francisco Franco's dictatorship remain fresh.

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The U.S. export surge

Note: "Other oils" includes natural gas liquids other than propane, as well as other petroleum products such as lubricants and unfinished oils; Data: Energy Information Administration; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

The Energy Information Administration issued a report yesterday that shows exports of crude oil and refined petroleum products reached record levels in the first half of 2017.

Why it matters: The data signals how the U.S. has become a major player in global petroleum markets. The expansion of crude oil exports is especially noteworthy — the lifting of the crude export ban in late 2015 combined with the shale oil surge has enabled a major rise in U.S. crude shipments.

The gritty details: Crude oil exports, which grew by 300,000 barrels per day to 900,000 bpd in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2016, have really taken off in recent weeks, fueled in part by the size of the discount of WTI compared with Brent crude.

Other EIA data released yesterday shows exports of 1.8 million barrels per day in the week ending Oct. 13, which is up from the 1.3 million the prior week. It's not quite the nearly 2 million in late September when refinery outages from Hurricane Harvey was pushing excess supply of discounted crude into the arms of willing global buyers.

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Family members of fallen military speak out on Trump

Myeshia Johnson cries at the casket of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, killed in an ambush in Niger, when his remains arrived in Miami on Tuesday. Photo: WPLG via AP.

Relatives of nine of the 43 military members who have died during Trump's presidency (21%) tell AP that they haven't heard from him.

Why it matters: Trump told Fox News Radio's "Brian Kilmeade Show' on Tuesday: "[T]o the best of my knowledge, I think I've called every family of somebody that's died ... I have called, I believe everybody but certainly I'll use the word 'virtually' everybody ... I've called virtually everybody."

  • "Despite Trump's boast that he reaches out personally to all families of the fallen, interviews with families members did not support his claim. Some never heard from him at all, and a few who did came away more upset."
  • AP "reached out to the families of all 43 people who have died in military service since Trump became president and made contact with about half the families. Of those who would address the question, relatives of nine said they had heard from Trump by phone or mail. Relatives of nine others said they haven't."
  • "Chris Baldridge of Zebulon, North Carolina, told The Washington Post that Trump promised him $25,000 of his own money when they spoke in the summer about the loss of his son, Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, killed in Afghanistan, but the check never came. The White House said [yesterday] that 'the check has been sent.'"
  • "After Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter [23] died in a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan in August ... Mark Hunter, his father, said a military casualty officer informed the family that Trump would call and the family was let down when he didn't."
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McCain's latest surprise: Regulate Facebook

Sen. John McCain questions Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) knows his time in the public eye is short, so his big statements in recent weeks are especially resonant. Today, McCain will join with two Democrats — Sens. Mark Warner (Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) — to give bipartisan imprimatur to the first of the "Facebook bills," responding to last year's election interference.

Axios has a sneak peek at provisions of the Honest Ads Act, which would increase disclosure requirements for online political ads like the ones Russians surreptitiously bought, putting the rules on par with those for radio and TV ads.

Why it matters: This is the first in a wave of legislative and regulatory proposals we can expect in response to the disclosures that Russian agents used tech platforms to meddle in the 2016 election.

The preview of the act:

  • "Amending the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002's definition of electioneering communication to include paid Internet and digital advertisements. Currently only broadcast television, radio, cable and satellite communications are included."
  • "Requiring digital platforms to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications it sells above specific thresholds."
  • "The file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contract information of the purchaser."
  • "Requiring online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate."

Be smart: The tech giants won't resist all legislation — they know that's not tenable in this environment. So they'll work to shape the proposals to give Congress a win, with a minimal hit to the bottom line.

P.S. Bite of the day ... Former Google Ventures CEO Bill Maris, who now runs a San Diego-area V.C. firm called Section 32, said yesterday during a Wall Street Journal tech conference: "It wouldn't surprise me if the sun is setting on the golden age of Silicon Valley."

  • Axios' Dan Primack writes that Maris added that he also wouldn't be surprised if federal regulators try breaking up tech giants like Google or Facebook, saying that such companies "are more powerful than AT&T ever was."
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Republican senators ask McConnell to open Senate 24/7

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Nine Republican senators have signed a letter to Mitch McConnell calling on him to "turn the Senate on full time, 24/7, to advance the president's agenda." The senators write that "perversion of Senate rules" by Democrats, "designed to imperil" Trump's agenda, necessitates the step.
This comes after McConnell told Senate Republicans that he planned to keep them working more Fridays and weekends. It shows the pent up frustration Republicans are feeling after a series of legislative setbacks.
It's an inconvenient reality, however, that several GOP senators, including Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst from Iowa, have been holding up EPA nominees to get their way on biofuels policy.

The letter

Dear Leader McConnell:

The 115th Congress is being disrupted by sustained, partisan obstruction. We believe our conference must be willing to change how the Senate operates both by tradition and by rule.

We appreciate your acknowledging our concerns and applaud your plan to work nights and weekends when necessary to overcome this gridlock. You have our full support to turn the Senate on full time, 24/7, to advance the president's agenda, including a meaningful health care solution, bold changes to our tax code, and funding the government by year's end.

As you know, one glaring example of this unprecedented obstruction is the minority party's perversion of Senate rules to undercut the confirmation process of the administration's nominees and judicial appointments. When new presidents are elected, they have always been given an opportunity to put their team in place in short order. Historically, this is not just a common courtesy, it is an expectation of Americans to have a seamless transition of power resulting in a functioning federal government.

It is abundantly clear that the tactics employed by the minority are designed to imperil the new administration and its agenda. Overcoming this obstruction will require a real commitment on our part. An aggressive work calendar, as you have proposed, which should include nights and weekends, will enable administration and judicial nominees to be confirmed more quickly.

You have our pledge to be available for voting day and night and we offer our time to preside over the Senate when necessary to keep us on track. Given the unprecedented obstruction by our colleagues across the aisle, we hope you will also take a renewed look at the rules governing executive branch nominations.

Our conference should always remember that we are fighting for hardworking Americans. In their daily lives, when there is work to be done – whether on assembly lines, in the fields of family farms, fishing in our bountiful waters, or standing in harm's way – everyday Americans do what it takes to get the job done. We owe them the same unrelenting effort in the job they gave us to do.

The senators: Daines, Ernst, Heller, Johnson, Kennedy, Perdue, Rounds, Strange, Wicker

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Don’t rush to judgment on Alexander-Murray

Alexander and Murray may have another chance in December. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Yes, the Senate's bipartisan Affordable Care Act bill ran into some political roadblocks yesterday. The White House said President Trump, who had taken several positions over the course of the day, is against it. House Speaker Paul Ryan is also against it. And conservatives are against it.

Why it doesn't matter: The story of the Alexander-Murray bill likely won't be over until December, when Congress has to take care of several must-pass bills, in negotiations where Democrats have a lot of leverage.

  • The December agenda already includes funding the government and raising the debt ceiling — must-pass items that can only pass with a lot of Democratic votes, just like Alexander-Murray.
  • If Alexander-Murray doesn't pass before then, it's pretty easy to see Democratic leaders insisting on some form of Affordable Care Act stabilization as part of the end-of-year package. And this bill, or something close to it, is likely the best Republicans are going to get.
  • As one senior GOP aide told to my colleague Caitlin Owens: "At some point McConnell and Ryan will need this."

The catch: The Alexander-Murray bill would guarantee funding for the ACA's cost-sharing subsidies, but it doesn't provide for retroactive payments. So if the bill did pass in December, insurers wouldn't get any help with the financial hit they'll take between now and then. And those losses alone could total $1 billion.

In the meantime, look for Alexander and Murray to roll out a new, bipartisan roster of cosponsors today, along with the official introduction of their bill.

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Why Amazon's new headquarters won't guarantee economic boon

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Cities across the country are falling over themselves to score the winning ticket in the biggest local lottery — Amazon's second North American Headquarters. Today's the deadline for them to submit proposals. But luring Amazon's promised 50,000 jobs comes with costs that may outweigh the benefits for some cities.

Why cities care: Mayors see dollar signs in Amazon's pledge to bring 50,000 jobs that pay an average salary of $100,000 to the winning city. They know "HQ2" will instantly put even the most obscure city on the map as a tech hub that will attract more businesses and talent. But an influx of people brings higher costs, and probably only marginal increases in local taxes thanks to the tax breaks most cities are prepared to offer.

The cost of tax credits: As Axios' David McCabe reported last month, bids for Amazon's new HQ could reach upward of $10 billion in tax breaks and other incentives. That high price tag could undercut a locality's ability to fund good public schools, hospitals and infrastructure — the very qualities Amazon is looking for.

The cost of population growth: 50,000 high-paying jobs are attractive to any city council. But they sometimes don't factor in the associated costs of population growth.

  • In Seattle, home to Amazon's first headquarters, the population has grown by 20% in past 10 years, and median home prices went up 50%, Ethan Phelps-Goodman of the organization Seattle Tech 4 Housing told Marketplace.
  • Cities will have to prepare for that boom to make sure low- and middle-income people don't get priced out of the housing market.
Home-grown growth: Some experts say the Amazon sweepstakes will likely go to a community that's already doing pretty well, rather than helping to lift up a struggling town. That's because Amazon's criteria — more than a million people, proximity to higher education, strong public transportation — are the makings of places that are already succeeding in the modern economy.
  • To meet Amazon's criteria and to be able to afford to offer a big tax incentive, a city is likely to already be doing relatively well in today's economy, said John Lettieri, Co-Founder and Senior Director for Policy & Strategy at Economic Innovation Group.
  • "Economic development strategy can't be based on these once-in-a-lifetime location opportunities," he said. "Cities can understandably go crazy over something of this scale, but it's no substitute for the benefits of having home-grown growth. That's the foundation for stable growth in the longer term, not the lottery ticket."
Spearheading collaboration: Regardless of who wins, bidding will spur city leaders to talk about ways to get attract companies — both big and small.
  • Detroit, for example, pulled together close to 100 consultants who offered their time for free to develop the city's bid. "I've never seen a community come together like that," said Dan Gilbert, CEO of Quicken Loans who has been involved in reviving Detroit's business scene. "If we don't win this bid, we're going to die trying."
  • Gilbert said Detroit teamed up with Windsor, Canada, just across the border, which "gives Amazon a huge edge on immigration issues" and international talent recruitment. "You're not going to get that in another city."

Startup focus: Cities who don't win the bid could consider putting that money and incentives toward investing in startups that trigger more organic job growth. "So hopefully the losers will keep fighting and use this process to be winners," said Steve Case, CEO of Revolution, a venture capital firm.

  • "If you put a pile of cash in a city, we're all going to invest in technology," Gilbert said. "I think money follows, it doesn't lead."
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72% of Americans fear a major war in the next four years

A North Korean soldier looks south from the Demilitarized Zone. Photo: Lee Jin-man / AP

A new NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll finds that 72% of Americans are concerned that the U.S. will be fighting a major war in the next four years, with the majority of respondents saying North Korea poses the greatest threat. Meanwhile, 26% said they are not too worried or not at all worried.

  • The adversaries respondents are concerned about: North Korea (54%), ISIS (19%), Russia (14%), China (6%) and Iran (4%).
  • The threats causing concern: terrorist attacks (34%), nuclear attacks (32%) and cyberattacks (31%).

Worth noting: The share of Americans who perceive North Korea as a looming threat is up 13 percentage points since July. Of survey respondents, 94% see North Korea as unfriendly or as an enemy.

One more thing: A majority (53%) of respondents do not support the Iran deal, while 39% approve of the agreement. When asked to judge how President Trump is handling Iran, 55% said they disapprove or strongly disapprove.