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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Roy Moore refuses to concede

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore looks at election returns. Photo: Brynn Anderson / AP

Republican candidate Roy Moore said late Tuesday night that the election for Alabama's U.S. Senate seat wasn't over.

"God is always in control. Part of the problem with this campaign is we've been painted in an unfavorable and unfaithful light. We've been put in a hole, if you will...what we've got to do is wait on God, and let this process play out...The votes are still coming in and we're looking at that." However, Alabama's Secretary of State told CNN the people of Alabama had spoken, and Doug Jones was the winner.

Go deeper: How Alabama elected Doug Jones.

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Winners & losers from the Alabama special election

Photo: John Bazemore / AP

A Democrat will serve as an Alabama Senator for the first time in two decades after Republican Roy Moore's campaign collapsed following allegations of child sexual abuse.

Why it matters: This is a big, unexpected win for Democrats, and follows another key victory in the Virginia governor's race. It's bad news for the Steve Bannon brand of conservatism and President Trump, who went all in for Moore in the closing weeks.

​Winners:

  • Doug Jones, who had never run for public office before, and won as a Democrat in a red state.
  • Democrats​ now have another important notch on their belt, and will close the gap in the Senate to 51-49.
  • #MeToo: Many voters believed Moore's accusers, and the accusations brought down his campaign.
  • Mainstream Republicans: Moore's baggage would have presented plenty of problems for the GOP down the road, even if they are losing a vote in the Senate.

Losers:

  • Roy Moore: He did the unthinkable, and lost to a Democrat in a statewide Alabama race.
  • Steve Bannon: He was the one promoting Moore from the beginning, over fierce objections within his own party.
  • The Republican Party: The RNC and the president backed an accused sexual predator, and lost. They're also now down a Senate seat.
  • President Trump: He decided to throw his full-throated support behind Moore, and in so doing made his second incorrect bet on the Alabama race. Not to mention, he was the one who appointed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General — considering it a safe seat.
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Trump, Biden, Clinton react to Doug Jones' victory over Roy Moore

Democrat Doug Jones pulled out a victory over Republican Roy Moore on Tuesday night, after a race that was turned on its head by allegations of child sexual abuse against Moore. Moore was the second Alabama Republican endorsed by President Trump to lose, after he Moore defeated Trump-backed Luther Strange in the primary. Trump congratulated Jones on "a hard fought victory."


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Both Trump-endorsed candidates lose in Alabama

Trump told voters to elect Roy Moore. Photo: AP

President Trump has now twice endorsed the losing candidate in Alabama. He backed Luther Strange in the Republican primary, and threw his weight behind Roy Moore for the general election. Moore was defeated by Democrat Doug Jones tonight.

The big picture: Trump won Alabama by almost 20 points in the 2016 election, but Alabama voters rejected his favored candidates in the Senate race. The same thing happened on Nov. 8 in Virginia, when voters elected Democrat Ralph Northam over Trump-backed Republican Ed Gillespie by a 9-point margin.

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FBI agents on Russia probe called Trump an "idiot"

Photo: AP

Two FBI agents who were assigned to investigate alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin exchanged text messages in which they referred to President Trump as an "idiot," Politico reports, citing copies of the messages provided to Congress by the Justice Dept.

The backdrop: Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired one of the agents, Peter Strzok, from the investigation in late July, "immediately" after he learned of the text exchange, the Justice Dept. told Congress. Lisa Page, the other agent in question, had already left Mueller's team by that point.

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In tax plan negotiations, corporate rate currently sits at 21%

Rubio. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The corporate tax rate currently stands at 21%, according to three sources familiar, as lawmakers work to finalize the tax bill they hope to vote on by next week.

  • Why it matters: Both the House and Senate passed bills that would cut the top corporate rate to 20%, but hours after the Senate bill passed, President Trump said he would accept a 22% rate.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted on Tuesday, likely referring to reports that the individual rate is being lowered to 37%: "20.94% Corp. rate to pay for tax cut for working family making $40k was anti-growth but 21% to cut tax for couples making $1million is fine?" Rubio had wanted to raise the corporate tax to pay for a more generous child tax credit, but was shut down.
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Charming Charlie becomes 20th major retailer to file for bankruptcy this year

Charming Charlie, the Houston-based jewelry and accessories retailer, announced Tuesday that it reached an agreement with lenders and equity sponsors to clear the way for its filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

What went wrong: Charming Charlie's bread-and-butter, affordable jewlery, is an ideal product for online sellers, given that it can be warehoused and shipped cheaply. What's more, even as business migrated online, Charming Charlie overextended itself, opening 79 stores between 2013 and 2015.

Why it matters: It's the twentieth major retailer to have filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017.

Charming Charlie burst onto the retail scene in 2004, with stores uniquely organized by color, and offering products at prices between high-end jewlery stores and discount shops like Claire's, which is aimed at the teenage market.

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Tillerson says he'd meet with North Korea without preconditions

Photo: Susan Walsh / AP

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday that the U.S. was dropping the precondition that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons before sitting down together, according to CNN.

"We are ready to have the first meeting with precondition...Let's just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want. Talk about whether it's going to be a square table or a round table, if that's what you are excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face, and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map of what we might be willing to work towards."

Why it matters: Tillerson said demanding North Korea denuclearize is "unworkable," and that Trump agrees it isn't plausible. Tillerson did demand, however, that North Korea "ensure a period of quiet during talks," per CNN.

  • The White House released a statement in regards to Sec. Tillerson's comments, saying: "The President's views on North Korea have not changed. North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea's actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea."
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Washington Post reporters barred from Moore's election night party

Photo: Brynn Anderson / AP

The Moore campaign has revoked press credentials from reporters for the Washington Post and asked them to leave an election party tonight in Alabama. The campaign also reportedly notified the Post on Monday that its reporters' credentials were denied. It was the Post that broke the story of the first sexual misconduct allegations against Moore.

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Trump's lawyer says Mueller is done interviewing White House staff

Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

Ty Cobb, President Trump's White House lawyer, says "all the White House interviews are over” in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, NBC reports.

  • The big picture: Trump's team has repeatedly tried to take the president out of the spotlight of Mueller's investigation and stated that the probe will wrap up this year.
  • The backdrop: Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's private lawyers, told Axios' Mike Allen that he believes a second special counsel is needed, to investigate potential conflicts of interest in the FBI and Department of Justice.