Apr 19, 2018

Behind Trump's tweet on Pastor Brunson, who's on trial in Turkey

President Trump and President of Turkey Erdogan ahead of their meeting at the White House. Photo: Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In President Trump's meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House last May, Trump opened the meeting by saying that Vice President Mike Pence would like to say something, according to an administration official briefed on the meeting.

Pence took the opportunity to advocate for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a Christian leader in the U.S. who is being persecuted in Turkey.

Trump, who has made bringing Americans overseas back home a focus of his presidency and tweeted about Brunson Tuesday night, and Pence, a social conservative wired in to the issue of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, have both since raised the issue with Turkish officials.

State of play: The assumption within senior levels of the administration is that Erdogan is using Brunson as a bargaining chip to force the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish dissident living in Pennsylvania who Erdogan believes has been organizing a revolution against him.

What we're hearing: The U.S. is not willing to extradite Gulen in exchange for Brunson — it is not a deal they're willing to make, according to an administration official briefed on the situation.

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America's rundown roads add to farmers' struggles

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

American farmers are struggling to safely use the roads that cut through their fields; decades of neglect and lack of funding have made the routes dangerous.

The big picture: President Trump has long promised to invest billions in rural infrastructure, and his latest proposal would allocate $1 trillion for such projects. Rural America, where many of Trump's supporters live, would see a large chunk of that money.

South Korea and Italy see spikes in coronavirus cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting those are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the U.S. South Korea's confirmed cases jumped from 204 on Friday to 433 on Saturday, while Italy's case count rose from 3 to 62 as of Saturday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,362 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

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Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins

Bernie Sanders rallies in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Center-left think tank Third Way urgently called on the Democratic front-runners of the 2020 presidential election to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders on the South Carolina debate stage on Feb. 25, in a memo provided to Axios' Mike Allen on Saturday.

What they're saying: "At the Las Vegas debate ... you declined to really challenge Senator Sanders. If you repeat this strategy at the South Carolina debate this week, you could hand the nomination to Sanders, likely dooming the Democratic Party — and the nation — to Trump and sweeping down-ballot Republican victories in November."