Trump's two-front war
President Trump is ending the week with a flop — nowhere close to the border wall funding he wanted in the DACA-less spending bill that congressional leaders released last evening. But he's fulfilling one of his most aggressive campaign promises with his anti-China trade action.
The big picture: Trump's expected announcement today of tariffs on Chinese imports is a big deal, and analysts fear it could provoke a trade war — and it comes as Trump has been battling his own party here at home over the government spending bill.
- The gist: It’s the most substantive action Trump has taken to live up to his anti-China campaign message.
- Why it matters: Trump forced his team to go big. Corporate America is nervous, wondering what the Chinese are going to do to retaliate. This could start a tit-for-tat trade battle between the world's two largest economies, with unknowable economic consequences.
- Behind the scenes: This is the first time Trump's team has crafted policy through a proper interagency process to match his most aggressive rhetoric. Trump’s team — which has been bitterly divided on trade — agreed on this action more than they have any other so far.
- Both nationalists and globalists on Trump’s team agree China is a bad actor, and has got away with murder for decades under presidents of both parties. They agree China needs to be punished for stealing American intellectual property.
The disagreement has been over the size and scope of the tariffs. Trump’s team initially presented him with $30 billion per year in tariffs.
- But in an Oval Office meeting last week, Trump turned to economic adviser Kevin Hassett and said: “Kevin, you’ve gotta make the number bigger,” according to sources with direct knowledge. The administration is now looking at tariffs in the $50 billion ballpark, on hundreds of Chinese products.
GOP at war — with itself ... The "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" leak about Putin was the most sensational and newsworthy over the last 24 hours. But the leak that most infuriated and perplexed senior Capitol Hill officials: HuffPost found out in real time — and other outlets quickly confirmed — that the president wasn't happy with the government spending bill:
- The report said that Paul Ryan was headed to the White House "to sell the president on the GOP wins in the $1.3 trillion government funding bill and assure him that it’s a good deal for Republicans."
- Trump tweeted: "Had to waste money on Dem giveaways in order to take care of military pay increase and new equipment."
Behind-the-scenes: Trump vented about the spending bill — particularly its lack of border wall funding — to a fewer than a dozen top officials on a conference call, and his concerns became public almost immediately.
- It's also possible, of course, that the president made his own phone calls to lawmakers to vent after that conference call.
- Senior Republicans on the Hill said they were baffled about the purpose of the leak: It undercut their efforts, and the president ultimately agreed to sign the bill after Ryan hurried to the White House to persuade him.
The episode reflects Trump's distrust of his own party's congressional leaders:
- One of Trump's greatest fears in life is getting played for a sucker.
- His allies on the outside — including Fox News hosts like Lou Dobbs, and even his own son, Don Jr. — encourage his instincts that establishment Republicans in Washington are seeking to undermine him and his agenda.
- Trump's wariness reflects some of that. But a senior administration official pointed out that he was just venting, as he always does. It's frustrating, from this official's perspective, that those concerns reached the press in real time, and apparently from Trump administration officials.
A senior GOP Senate aide called me to vent: "Everyone is over the leaks from this White House. Why is it that every emotional moment he has, has to be leaked, has to be a tick-tock, every second has to be transmitted to you guys in the press?"
- The aide continued: "It is a disservice to the president when every single thing and every single thought gets leaked out ... I don't understand why people don't get that. It's not fair to the president, to his agenda, and to those who work hard every day to move the ball down the field."
- A senior GOP House aide added: "I guess you just operate under the assumption that everything is going to be leaked out in short order, and you just have to be aware of that when you go into meetings with the White House."
The worst flu season in eight years
This year's flu season caught many experts off guard with both its sustained prevalence and its virulence. At its peak, there was a higher level of flu-like illnesses reported than any other year during the past eight years. Watch in the visual as it hits its peak around Week 18.
Why it matters: Public health officials try to capture this data when developing the next year's vaccines. And, of course, they want to find better ways to prevent severe flu seasons. There's a "Strategic Plan" to develop a universal vaccine to protect against a wider range of influenza viruses, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells Axios.
The data: Based on the trajectory of reported influenza-like illness (ILI), most public health experts believed this season was following the track of the 2014–2015 season and would peak at the end of December or beginning of January. But the peak really didn't happen until early February, making it much worse than expected.
- As seen in the graphic above, reports of influenza-like illness — defined as having a fever of 100°F or higher with a cough and/or sore throat — continued to be prevalent longer than in most other seasons.
- For this year and last year, the flu season was considered to be active when 2.2% of all Americans who visited the doctor in a given week had flu symptoms.
- This year's flu season started earlier than last year, and the level of reported illness was higher. At its peak, during the week ending Feb. 3, 7.5% of all Americans who visited the doctor likely had the flu. The cases have started to trail off, but not enough for flu season to be considered over.
- Last year, the flu season peaked during the week ending Feb. 11, with 5.1% of all Americans visiting the doctor reporting flu symptoms. That season ended in mid-April.
What to watch: Until a universal flu vaccine is available, public health officials want to improve the current vaccines by eventually dropping the time-consuming egg-production method that's used now.
Current vaccination methods:
- Egg-based: The main and cheapest method of creating the seasonal vaccine remains the 70-year-old process of using eggs — which takes six to nine months from start to finish and has multiple steps where things can go wrong. Fauci calls it "an antiquated approach."
- Cell-based: This less-used method grows a more specific set of viruses in animal cells. It's faster than the egg-based method, but it's more expensive to make.
- Recombinant technology-based: This is the fastest but newest method of producing the vaccine, which doesn't require eggs at all.