The Trump bulldozer - Axios
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The Trump bulldozer

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

We can't stress this enough: Watch closely the specific, substantive moves of the Trump White House. Try to block out the white noise of outlandish statements and unforced errors, and the hyperventilating they provoke.

Otherwise, you miss the big — and in some cases, radical — changes coming our way. In fact, White House officials tell us they welcome what seem like needless distractions, because it allows them to jam through transformative, disruptive ideas and orders without focused public scrutiny of any particular item. (Remember the justified conflict-of-interest hysteria?)

Read the weekend papers, and flick through cable, and the unambiguous conclusion is that Trump's debut was pretty much a debacle. But was it?

If you examine what he did based on what he wants to do and ignore much of what he says for show, this was actually a remarkably productive start. By the White House's count, 13 presidential actions in first week tied to specific campaign promises.

No doubt, the fears of his critics are real and could easily be realized. We could see a trade war with Mexico, or retaliation for his ban on people coming from seven Muslim nations, or other leaders exploiting Trump's inward focus and impulses.

But from the point of view of the president's brain trust, he's getting his way, and, with each passing day, more Republicans and outside leaders seem to be falling in line, even as critics rage. This is more a bulldozer than a runaway train.

Political, business and even union leaders buckled...

  • The CEOs and labor leaders who met with Trump walked away mainly impressed with the new president's economic plan and willingness to play ball. Inside the room, Trump was in full deal mode. Several of the attendees — most of whom were not supporters of Trump — said they found his approach refreshing compared with President Obama's more rigid, frustrating style.
  • These visitors all have a vested interest in having their dealings with the White House being as normal as they can, so everyone seemed to accept the new reality. Like members of Congress, the business leaders all fear the tweet or taunt that could hurt their professional interests. So they succumb.
... taking the global stage...
  • For all the talk of Putin love, the diplomatic highlight of this week was the White House visit by British Prime Minister Theresa May, a fellow beneficiary of the global populist wave. Their press conference and working luncheon went off without a gaffe, and now Trump plans to visit the U.K. later this year. He talked via phone with Putin, but did the same with more traditional allies. They all need the United States, so like CEOs or union bosses they have huge incentive to behave like all is normal.
...securing the base...
  • He locked down some of his most fervent backers by exceeding their expectations with policies and promises. Case in point: He won strong, loyal support of Christian conservatives by sending Vice President Pence to the March for Life rally, restricting U.S. funds for abortion-related services overseas and telling the Christian Broadcasting Network that Syrian Christian refugees should get preference in coming to America. Hard to imagine these voters turning on Trump anytime soon.
...Republicans fell silent — and in line.
  • All those who ridiculed the Muslim ban during the campaign — from Speaker Paul Ryan on down — stayed largely silent as it took effect and left some refugees literally stranded at airports.
  • Ryan and others refuse to comment when Trump says things that makes them uneasy, brushing it off as Trump being Trump. This pattern has broken what was once a very credible wall of critique and opposition.
  • A senior Republican member told us that Trump holds real power over congressional Republicans (especially the House) — the likes of which he's never seen. Nobody wants to be the first to cross him. Hence, the nothing-to-see-here-folks silence.
So far, Trump is owning the policy debate:
  • There is broad agreement now to fund his wall (even if U.S. taxpayers foot the bill), repeal Obamacare and replace it with something that protects coverage for the sick and poor, and pursue the tax reform and infrastructure plans Trump has promised.
  • He banned Syrian refugees and suspended those from specific Muslim countries, just as promised during the campaign, and started his crackdown on illegal immigration.
  • He withdrew from a major overseas trade deal and made plain NAFTA is headed for serious renegotiation. And he ordered a housecleaning of federal regulations, and paved the way for two big pipeline projects to resume.

As the next week begins, never forget how effortlessly people in power can normalize, rationalize and bargain away their core beliefs in pursuit of the bottom line. It's one of the most captivating story-lines of the Trump era.

Featured

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.
Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.