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Tom Steyer at the People's State of the Union Town Hall in NYC. Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Activist and billionaire Tom Steyer is paying more attention to gubernatorial races, but he still feels strongly about Democrats taking back control of the House. "If we don’t flip the House it’s a failed year. Full stop," he told me over coffee while he was in Washington last weekend.

Why it matters: Steyer is becoming the Koch network of the left, investing at least $110 million in the 2018 midterms and implementing on-the-ground teams in battleground states across the country.

  • His Need to Impeach campaign puts him at odds with Democratic leadership, but he's got his finger on the pulse of what's going on at the grassroots level, thanks to his 2,000 volunteers and 1,000 staff members.

While Steyer mentioned multiple times that he thinks Trump and the GOP are contributing to "an atmosphere of lawlessness," he was clearly sick of the Democrats who think it's best to avoid talking about certain issues, like race.

  • "If we know 45% of people are voting [in midterms] that means 55% of people aren't voting," he said. "Why don't we tell the truth and see if those 55% who think the system is full of bologna ... might show up to the polls?"
  • Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for Florida governor who recently got an additional $2 million boost from Steyer, is what Steyer thinks Democrats should look like in 2018. "They don't need to vote for Republican Lite, they can vote for a real Republican. So we should be talking about race and ethnicity; we should be talking about gender. ... we should be talking about gun violence."

Steyer's closing argument to voters before the 2018 midterms, he says, is simple: "It’s right and wrong. It’s a vote for justice or injustice."

Go deeper

U.S. ambassador to Russia will return home briefly: State Department

John Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, during a briefing in Moscow in 2015. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

The State Department said Monday that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, will now be returning to the United States this week before returning to Moscow "in the coming weeks."

Why this matters: The statement, from a State Department spokesperson, comes just hours after Axios reported that Sullivan had indicated he intended to stand his ground and stay in Russia after the Kremlin “advised” him to return home to talk with his team.

Scoop: Leaked Ukraine memo reveals scope of Russia's aggression

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a military exposition in Sevastopol, Crimea, in Jan. 2020. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia has been holding last-minute military exercises near commercial shipping lanes in the Black Sea that threaten to strangle Ukraine's economy, according to an internal document from Ukraine's ministry of defense reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: With the eyes of the world on the massive buildup of troops in eastern Ukraine, the leaked memo shows Russian forces escalating their presence on all sides of the Ukrainian border.

Elon Musk: Autopilot feature wasn't enabled in fatal Texas crash

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Monday that "data logs recovered so far" show the car's Autopilot feature was not enabled — and it did not have access to "full self-driving mode" — in the deadly crash in Texas involving the company's electric vehicle.

Background: Local investigators said they believed the car was operating without anyone in the driver's seat. At the time of death, one man was in the passenger seat, while another was in the rear seat, KPRC 2 reports.