Trump's other Russian dilemma - Axios
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Trump's other Russian dilemma

Evan Vucci / AP

The White House is racing to stop Congress from sending a Russia sanctions bill to the President's desk that would tie his hands in his negotiations with Putin, and potentially create the biggest political humiliation of his presidency.

In meetings in secure rooms, administration officials are quietly making the case to Republican members that the sanctions bill they rushed through the Senate on a 97-2 vote needs waivers to give Trump the flexibility to negotiate with Putin.

Administration officials believe the longer the bill gets delayed, the better their chances of convincing members that the bill is bad for diplomacy and bad for American companies — especially in the energy sector — who would be punished for doing international business with Russian companies.

Marc Short, whose White House legislative affairs team is working to amend the bill, says, "We support the sanctions on Iran and Russia; however, this bill is so poorly written that neither Republican nor Democratic administrations would be comfortable with the current draft because it greatly hampers the executive branch's diplomatic efforts."

  • Behind-the-scenes: Paul Ryan and House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce want the bill passed fast, and in its tough current form. Both men are Russia hawks, and unlikely to insert waivers into the legislation just to make the White House happy. They will, however, take seriously the concerns of a range of U.S. companies, from Exxon to Boeing, who believe the current bill disadvantages American businesses.
  • GOP leadership isn't entirely on the same page. White House officials are still hopeful because they've found House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and John Cornyn in the Senate more open to their requests than other leaders, including Ryan.
  • The nightmare scenario for the White House: Trump is forced to either sign the bill, which would make it impossible to establish a broader cooperative relationship with Putin, or veto the bill and risk a two-thirds majority in Congress overriding his wishes.

Administration officials are acutely aware of the political pickle this puts them in. "He can't veto Russia sanctions," one told me. "Are you f---ing kidding me? Your first veto of the administration is to protect Russia?"

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Top quotes from Bloomberg Global Business Forum

From left: Mike Bloomberg, Bill Clinton, Tim Cook, and Justin Trudeau. Photos: Bloomberg Global Business Forum and AP

Top world leaders and CEOs from the most influential global corporations gathered at the Plaza Hotel in NYC Wednesday for the first-ever Bloomberg Global Business Forum, intentionally hosted the same week as the UN General Assembly, to address some of the most pressing issues impacting cross-border societies today.

Mike Bloomberg kicked off the event, explaining how "Too often governments and businesses don't talk to each other. This forum aims to fix that, and it's especially important when isolationism is rearing its head... including here in the U.S."

  • Former President Bill Clinton: "I want you to look to the future, but I believe underneath all these debates that are going on today lingers one simple question... whether you believe social strength, economic reform and political reform flow from division or multiplication."
  • French President Emmanuel Macron's main priority for France and Europe: To be the leader of climate change, new finance, artificial intelligence and transformation of the new industrial world.
  • Founder and CEO of Alibaba, Jack Ma: "[I]n the past 30 years we made people like machines. In the next 30 years we'll make the machines like people." But people shouldn't worry, because although machines will be faster and stronger than humans, "human beings have the heart, soul, beliefs, and value."
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook: "I think [deciding what to do with Dreamers] is the biggest issue of our time because this goes to our values of being American... If I were a leader of a country... I'd want every smart person coming into my country...[because] smart people create jobs... I'd have a very aggressive plan not to just let a few people in. I would be recruiting."
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: "[T]rade leads to growth... and we made a deal with citizens that we would pursue pro-growth policies and that everyone would benefit... So we've seen growth, but it hasn't necessarily reached everyone... and that's where we fall into the politics of fear and envy... so now we need to make a turn into a new progressive trade agenda."
  • World Bank President Dr. Jim Kim: Announced a new initiative, along with Mike Bloomberg and Patricia Espinosa, titled "Invest for climate," which will be a continuation of the Paris Agreement. His bottom line: "There needs to be much more cooperation between the multilateral system, corporations, and governments" in combatting climate change.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on whether he considers Russia an ally: He thinks leaders should "increase the number of your adversaries and increase the number of allies."
  • Bill Gates: "I had an early career in the digital revolution, and that's still the fastest moving thing... but today my focus is more on the latest health breakthroughs... [that's what] I'm most excited about."
  • CEO of Softbank, Masayoshi Son (while sitting next to Gates): "For three days I became richer than Bill Gates. Twelve months later, I became almost broke."
  • CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi: "Every aspect of our lives is changing, but the single best thing I feel good about is gender inclusion... 20 or 30 years ago when I first started working, there weren't many women."

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Graham-Cassidy could delay tax reform rollout

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks at the Capitol last week. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

Administration officials have been debating whether to delay the tax rollout until the first week of October to clear space for the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. Sources with direct knowledge tell me no final decisions have been made as of Wednesday afternoon, but Trump has been impatient for tax reform to begin so he may not tolerate any more delays.

Why it matters: Sources involved say the plan is still to roll out tax reform next week, but some officials are wringing their hands about the health care bill — the Senate could vote as early as Wednesday — ruining tax reform's launch week by sucking all of the attention away from tax.

Why it's happening: Trump wants tax reform on schedule, but the Senate is running out of days to use reconciliation to change elements of the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, there is concern of potential leaks from the upcoming House Ways and Means Committee retreat, and the "Big Six" that's negotiating the plan has yet to decide what to put in the document that will guide tax reform.

  • An administration official told me the White House invited Big Six communications and coalitions teams to the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday afternoon to discuss what a rollout of tax reform would look like.
  • The group is still operating under the assumption that the rollout will happen next week as originally planned.
The "Big Six": House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn.
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Mueller's probe shifts to Trump's presidency

Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in 2013. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has sent the White House a request for documents pertaining to some of President Trump's most controversial moves in office, per a report from The New York Times. The news suggests that at least part of the Russia probe is focused directly on Trump's time as president.

What Mueller wants: Trump's meeting with high-ranking Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after Comey's firing; the events leading to the firing of Michael Flynn; and the White House's response to questions from NYT about Donald Trump Jr.'s Trump Tower meeting with Russian officials.

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Artificial intelligence pioneer calls for the breakup of Big Tech

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Yoshua Bengio, the artificial intelligence pioneer, says the centralization of wealth, power and capability in Big Tech is "dangerous for democracy" and that the companies should be broken up.

Why it matters: Bengio is a professor at the University of Montreal and a member of the three-man "Canadian Mafia" that pioneered machine learning, the leading method used in AI. His remarks are notable because of his influence in the AI community and because he or his peers all either directly lead or consult for Big Tech's AI programs. Says Bengio: "Concentration of wealth leads to concentration of power. That's one reason why monopoly is dangerous. It's dangerous for democracy."

The AI pioneers: Bengio consults for IBM and his colleagues Geoffrey Hinton consults for Google and Yann LeCun for Facebook. Ruslan Salakhutdinov, a protege of Hinton's, runs Apple's AI research effort.

Benigo said the concentration of resources, talent and knowledge among giant tech companies is only increasing and governments must act. "We need to create a more level playing field for people and companies," Bengio told Axios at an AI conference in Toronto last week.

In recent years, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have amassed a towering lead in AI research. But now, they are subject to growing scrutiny because of their outsized influence on society, politics and the economy. I asked Bengio if the companies should be broken up. He harrumphed and responded that anti-trust laws should be enforced. "Governments have become so meek in front of companies," he said.

"AI is a technology that naturally lends itself to a winner take all," Bengio said. "The country and company that dominates the technology will gain more power with time. More data and a larger customer base gives you an advantage that is hard to dislodge. Scientists want to go to the best places. The company with the best research labs will attract the best talent. It becomes a concentration of wealth and power."

When some of the young people gathered around him looked a bit dejected, Bengio responded, "Don't despair — fight."

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After summer of historic lows, Trump's popularity improves

Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

After several months of reaching record-lows in approval, new polls are showing President Trump's ratings beginning to climb upwards, according to Politico.

  • POLITICO/Morning Consult: 39% last month vs. 43% this week
  • Gallup: 35% last month vs. 38% last week
  • RealClearPolitics average: 37.4% August 14 vs. 39.9% September 20

How it happened: Politico reports Trump's responses to hurricanes Irma and Harvey helped his approval, after his ratings taking a over Charlottesville. Also, while his decision to end DACA was unpopular, he gained momentum from his negotiation with Sen. Schumer and Rep. Pelosi. But, his "popularity still remains historically low for a first-year president."

Other findings: Trump's upward trend over the past month is bigger with independents (+5%) than Republicans or Democrats (both +2%).

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Howard Schultz: Companies need to balance profit and conscience

AP

Howard Schultz, who rose from the projects in Brooklyn to create Starbucks, is making it a personal mission to find jobs for some of the least-advantaged and, in his view, most deserving in the United States: veterans and their families, refugees, and, with a job fair today, young people who are neither going to school nor working.

Why it matters: Schultz and his partners are attempting to pull a much-overlooked segment of U.S. society into the work force at a time that public hostility is driven in large part by low and stagnant salaries, and deep pockets of joblessness in inner cities and rust belts.

We caught up with Schultz at the Convention Center in downtown Washington, DC, where Starbucks and about a dozen other companies were conducting interviews with some 1,800 job-seekers aged 16 to 24 years old, seeking to hire as many as possible on the spot, and others over the coming months.

The background: The official national unemployment rate is just 4.4%, but we all know that statistic camouflages a world of misery: Among it is an 11.7% jobless rate for people 16 to 24 — those trying to just get started — and worse for black youths (14.6%) and Latinos (11.9%). Between the lines are young people who have dropped out of school, are jobless, have a criminal record, or are a parent.

Schultz's organization is attempting to attack the whole crippling system. Downstairs from where we spoke, there was a place for job applicants to leave their child while they were interviewed; a place to type up a quick resume; a place to put on a tie and jacket; and one for makeup. For those hired on the spot, there was advice for finding a place to stay, for public transportation, and child care. Companies, Schultz said, need to find "a balance between profit and conscience."

A need for "truthfulness": Regardless of what I asked in our quick, 15-minute chat, Schultz kept returning to what he said the country sorely needs — civility and respect toward one another. "There is a need for more truth and more transparency, not only because of Donald Trump becoming president," he said. "We've needed that for some time. There is a great need for servant leadership and truthfulness."

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Fed to begin reversing its huge stimulus program

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testifies before Congress. Photo: Pablo Martinez / AP

The Federal Reserve will begin selling off the government debt and mortgage bonds it amassed to help drive down interest rates and stabilize the housing market in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a move that signals the central bank's growing confidence in the U.S. economy.

Steady as she goes: The Fed will shrink the value of its portfolio of bonds by just $10 billion per month, a fraction of its $4.5 trillion stockpile. The modest nature of the move reflects the Fed's recognition that despite historically low unemployment rates, wage growth has been tame and inflation remains below the bank's 2% annual target.

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Obama: ACA is the reason "people are alive today"

Barack Obama delivers his speech during the 4th Congress of Indonesian Diaspora Network in Jakarta, Indonesia this July. Achmad Ibrahim / AP

While speaking at an event sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today, former President Barack Obama said "people are alive today because of" the Affordable Care Act, "and when I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress…it is aggravating."

Obama ripped into the Graham-Cassidy bill, which proposes block grant funding to be distributed among the states. Obama said it would "raise costs, reduce coverage and roll back protections for older Americans, and people with pre-existing conditions." Based on current projections from consulting firm Avalere Health, health care cuts could top $4 trillion under this bill.

Other key quotes:

  • "Nationalist thought, xenophobic sentiment ... a politics that threatens to turn good people away from the kind of collective action that has always driven human progress."
  • On climate change: It's the "threat that may define the contours of this century more than any other."
  • On the future of the internet: "I don't think we can count on conventional media to spread the word [of progress]. This is where the power of the internet has not been harnessed the way it needs to be, particularly when you think of young people and young audiences.
Watch Obama speak:

Obama is speaking across town from Trump's UN appearance.

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Trump tells leaders his friends are going to Africa "to get rich"

President Trump addressed African leaders at a UN luncheon, and discussed the "tremendous potential" of Africa, particularly economically. He also said he was disturbed by violence in South Sudan and the Congo, and planned to send UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to Africa.

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Amazon reportedly talking to pharmacy benefit managers

Amazon may be trying to start building pharmacy contracts. Photo: Richard Drew / AP

Amazon may be talking with some middle-market pharmacy benefit managers "in an effort to get into various contract arrangements," according to analysts at investment bank Leerink Partners who spoke with pharmacy executives. Amazon may pursue a mail-order pharmacy that initially targets uninsured customers or people who have high deductibles and pay cash for most of their prescription drugs.

Reality check: The country is still a long way from Amazon handling people's prescriptions, if that time even comes. But conservations with prescription drug middlemen make it appear "that this is the direction Amazon is moving in," Leerink said in a report. Pharmacy executives who spoke with Leerink said it would take at least 18 to 24 months for Amazon to get proper drug licenses in 50 states. Amazon didn't immediately respond.