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Trump’s known unknowns

January 12, 2017, 2:05 PM UTC

Good morning, welcome to the debut edition of Trumponomics Daily, and thank you, first of all, for being a charter recipient. I hope you’ll be generous with your feedback and unsparing in your criticism, so I can benefit from both. My aim is to make this a dispassionate space for chronicling the impact that a radically remade dynamic in Washington means for business. There will be no shortage of material, considering the sprawling agenda that the Trump administration hopes to push. Trillions of dollars stand to turn on a wholesale rethinking of the government’s approach to taxes and trade, regulatory rollbacks for Wall Street, the energy industry and beyond, and perhaps before any of that, an overhaul of the healthcare system still adjusting to its last major surgery.

At the same time, the ethics questions shadowing the president-elect loom as a major distraction with the potential to kneecap his agenda. This newsletter will not be a daily digest of, say, stories relating to ongoing concerns about his business holdings or so far unsubstantiated speculation about his Russian ties. But both are dominating this morning’s headlines. Trump faced an assembled press corps Wednesday for the first time since July, trashing reports that intelligence officials briefed him and President Obama on allegations that Russian operatives compiled personal and financial material to blackmail him. And in the same news conference, he outlined plans to hand control of the Trump Organization to his sons while maintaining his stake — an arrangement ethics experts denounced, including the director of the Office of Government Ethics, who called it “wholly inadequate.” (Trump also sent pharma stocks tumbling by declaring the industry has been “getting away with murder” with drug pricing; said Republicans will be repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act “essentially simultaneously;” and announced he’d name a Supreme Court pick within two weeks.)

Any president’s political capital has a precariously brief half-life that must be constantly renewed. That is especially true for a newcomer taking office with a historically low approval rating — one who’s arguably more feared than loved among his own party on Capitol Hill. And fissures with the Hill GOP were already evident Wednesday. As Trump was preparing to take the stage at Trump Tower in New York, his nominee for Secretary of State, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was in a Senate hearing room, absorbing a withering line of questioning from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Trump’s former rival in the Republican presidential primaries later sounded noncommittal about whether he’d vote to move Tillerson’s nomination to the full Senate. Since Republicans only enjoy a one-vote margin in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, a defection by Rubio would stall the nod there. Senate Republican leaders could then bypass the panel, but it would amount to a major black eye for the incoming administration. Rubio has a finely-tuned political antenna and ambitions manifestly bigger than the Senate. Such an early stand against the president-elect would signal turbulence ahead for the matters that matter to business.

For your radar: Politico Pro has a story up (behind the paywall) about how Carl Icahn — tapped by Trump as an informal advisor on top appointments and deregulation — intends to use his new juice to press the case for enhancing shareholder rights. Icahn, along with Bill Ackman of Pershing Square, Paul Singer of Elliott Associates, Daniel Loeb of Third Point, and Barry Rosenstein of Jana Partners, quietly launched a lobbying group last spring to give activist investors more power. The initiative pits Icahn and company against leading business groups in Washington, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable — and puts the Trump administration in a potentially awkward position with key Republican allies. Watch this space. More news below.

Tory Newmyer

Must Reads

Big Pharma Lost $24.6 Billion in 20 Minutes During Donald Trump’s Press Conference

The nine biggest pharmaceutical companies lost $24.6 billion in 20 minutes after Trump criticized this industry in a press conference.

Here’s What We Learned from Trump Nominee Rex Tillerson’s Confirmation Hearing

Tillerson distances himself from Trump on climate change, trade deals, nuclear proliferation and relations with Mexico.

Tech CEOs Present $1 Trillion Savings Plan to Trump Administration

A group lead by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is proposing a host of cost-saving tech upgrades, including ones to quash fraudulent payments and improve decision-making with cognitive computing.

Number of the Day

96 million

Trump in his Wednesday press conference claimed that is how many Americans are looking for a job and can't find one. In fact, it's the number of people over 16 years-old who aren't in the labor force. Of that sum, only 5.4 million say they want a job.

Loose change

Toy Makers Gird for Tax-Code Change [WSJ]

This Top Lawyer Says Trump's Ethics Solution Makes Sense [Fortune]

Trump Won't Divest [Washington Examiner]

Peter Thiel, Trump’s Tech Pal, Explains Himself [NYT]

Trump Treasury Pick Mnuchin Is Much Richer Than Most People Thought [Fortune]