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.

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House and Trump administration to delay insurer subsidy case

(Atef Safadi / EPA Pool via AP)

The House and the Trump administration will seek an additional 90 days to resolve a pending court case over the legality of Affordable Care Act insurer subsidies, the Washington Examiner and CNBC report.

While the subsidies may continue to flow to plans operating on exchanges, the failure to reach a decision doesn't give insurers the certainty they're looking for. Plans must decide whether to participate in federal exchanges by June 21. If they don't get a guarantee that they'll keep receiving the subsidies, plans will likely drastically raise premiums or pull out of exchanges.

The Examiner reports the House and the White House are working on a plan to ensure the subsidies continue going to insurers, who pass them on to low-income enrollees.

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Supreme Court strikes down North Carolina redistricting

Jon Elswick / AP

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina Republicans placed too many African-Americans in two congressional voting districts it re-mapped after the 2010 Census, according to the Associated Press.

Why it matters: The 5-3 ruling upholds a federal district court decision that argued North Carolina lawmakers packed more African American residents into the districts than was necessary, which was challenged by the state. But even with the new lines, Republicans continue to hold 10 of the state's 13 districts.

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Pittsburgh sours on Uber's driverless car experiment

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Nine months after Uber rolled out its self-driving car trials in Pittsburgh, the relationship is deteriorating, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Self-driving car companies are forming partnerships with cities that will allow them to test their vehicles on their streets. It's a high-risk, high-reward proposition for city leaders.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told The Washington Post this fall, "Is there going to be an accident in a robot car? Yes there is. But the greater goal is to make our streets safer in the long term. We have to start at some point and we can't wait for regulation to catch up with innovation."

The city's complaints: Uber began charging for rides that were expected to be free; it withdrew support from Pittsburgh's application for a major federal grant to overhaul transportation; and it hasn't hired local workers as it promised.

Uber's response: "Uber is proud to have put Pittsburgh on the self-driving map, an effort that included creating hundreds of tech jobs and investing hundreds of millions of dollars," Uber told the Times in a statement. "We hope to continue to have a positive presence in Pittsburgh by supporting the local economy and community."

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Another U.S. chemicals giant strikes global merger

Huntsman Corp. of Texas and Switzerland's Clariant have agreed to an all-stock merger that would create a specialty chemicals giant valued at around $20 billion (including debt). Clariant shareholders would hold around a 52% stake in the combined company, which is expected to generate $13.2 billion in annual sales and $2.3 billion of EBITDA.

Why it's a big deal: This tie-up is part of a trend of cross-border consolidation in the mega-chemicals space, following the pending deal between Praxair (Connecticut) and Linde (Germany) and PPG Industries (Pittsburgh) attempting to purchase Dutch rival Akzo Nobel. It's also notable for private equity buffs (yes, such people exist), as Huntsman was at the center of what arguably was the most contentious M&A failure failure of the financial crisis era.

Fun fact: "Huntsman... is best known for inventing the clam-shell styrofoam box for McDonald's Big Mac burgers." ― Reuters

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Report: Michael Flynn will plead 5th, decline subpoena

Saul Loeb / Pool Photo via AP

The Associated Press is reporting that Michael Flynn, the former general fired from his National Security Advisor role by President Trump for lying about his contacts with Russians, will decline a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

  • The sourcing: "[A] person with direct knowledge of the matter... spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private interactions between Flynn and the committee."
  • Why this was coming: "Legal experts have said Flynn was unlikely to turn over the personal documents without immunity because he would be waiving some of his constitutional protections by doing so. Flynn has previously sought immunity from "unfair prosecution" to cooperate with the committee."

Background on the subpoena, here.

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First-class travel, hotel suites: WHO spending under scrutiny

Raphael Satter / AP

The World Health Organization nearly spent more on travel for its 7,000 staffers in 2016 — $201 million — than its combined programs for AIDS, hepatitis, malaria, tuberculosis, mental health, and substance abuse, which total $213.5 million, per the AP.

  • How it happened: Lax rules surrounding first-class travel and hotel bookings allowed WHO employees to ignore official travel policy. For example, the agency's Ebola head spent nearly $400,000 in West Africa during the crisis, often opting for helicopter travel.
  • Comparisons: Doctors Without Borders spent $43 million on travel for its 37,000 aid workers; UNICEF spent $140 million for its 13,000 staffers.
  • Worth noting: The agency's polio expenditures hit $450 million last year.
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Zuckerberg: I'm not using this trip to run for office

Jeff Chiu / AP

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a Facebook post Sunday:

"Some of you have asked if this challenge means I'm running for public office. I'm not. I'm doing it to get a broader perspective to make sure we're best serving our community of almost 2 billion people at Facebook and doing the best work to promote equal opportunity at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative."

His learned insight: Zuckerberg said he sees an opportunity for Facebook to connect users beyond people they already know, and is hoping to soon introduce a system that recommends "people you should know," like mentors and people outside of your social circle who can provide "a source of support and inspiration."

Read next: Inside Zuck's real political strategy

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Ford replaces CEO Mark Fields with autonomous driving exec

Carlos Osorio / AP

Ford will announce Monday morning that it is replacing CEO Mark Fields with Jim Hackett, who ran Steelcase furniture for 20 years before joining the car company, reports The New York Times. Hackett most recently headed Ford's autonomous vehicle subsidy, known as Ford Smart Mobility.

Under Fields, who served as CEO for three years, Ford shares dropped 40 percent. He also was criticized by investors and the board for failing to make Ford a competitive player in the development of high-tech vehicles for the future.

Between the lines: The shake-up shows that Ford is shifting its focus to accelerate its self-driving technology. As the NYT points out, Ford has lagged behind other large automakers like General Motors and tech companies like Google, both of which have already begun testing their own autonomous vehicles. Ford is promising it will have a fully operating driverless car on the road by 2021.

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Striking AT&T workers head back to bargaining table

CWA

Over the weekend, AT&T stores were closed in a number of cities — from San Francisco to Boston to D.C. — when 40,000 workers walked off the job on Friday after the company failed to reach an agreement with the Communications Workers of America union. (AT&T told Fortune the majority of stores stayed open.)

In Oregon, Sen. Jeff. Merkley joined the picket line with workers. In New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio signaled support on Twitter.

Why it matters: It's the first labor strike AT&T has faced since 2012. AT&T is the largest U.S. telecom company, and the only one with a major union presence in its wireless business — the fastest growing part of the company. As a result, AT&T is having to contend with the pressures of competing with nonunion rivals in the increasingly competitive wireless sector, a company spokesman told the NYT.

At issue: CWA says AT&T has cut 12,000 U.S. call center jobs while moving jobs overseas, and has shifted jobs from company-owned retail stories to third-party reseller chains. Workers are also frustrated about rising healthcare costs and changes to commission rates. AT&T, for its part, says it's offering fair wage and pension increases and healthcare benefits. "Our employees are returning to work, and we remain committed to reaching fair agreements in these contracts," a spokesperson said.

What's next: In an email to members Sunday evening, CWA rep Dennis Trainor said the union will be back at the bargaining table Monday: "We stood up not only for ourselves and for our families, but for all working Americans who are sick and tired of being taken advantage of by greedy corporations. This fight is even bigger than AT&T. Let's congratulate ourselves for a job well done and walk into work tomorrow very proud."

Updated to include AT&T statement.

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Tech adoption skyrockets among older adults

Over 40% of American adults ages 65+ own a smartphone, more than double the amount since 2013, according to the latest survey from Pew Research Center. At the same time, more than two-thirds of seniors use the internet — a 55% increase from 2000. And for the first time, half of seniors have broadband at home.

Reproduced from 'Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults' Pew Report

Why it matters: Despite these milestones, seniors still report feeling disconnected from the internet and digital culture. The study also found that roughly one-third of older internet users say they have little to no confidence in their ability to use electronic devices to perform online tasks, and roughly half of seniors say they usually need someone else to set up a new electronic device for them or show them how to use it. As more aspects of daily life become dependent on technology, particularly health care, senior adoption of new technologies will become increasingly important.

Other takeaways: The study also found that broadband access was dependent on household income and education levels. It's important to note that tech adoption among seniors is happening as the average population of seniors is on the rise in the U.S. Today, people ages 65+ account for 15% of the overall U.S. population and that number is expected to jump to 22% by 2050, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections.