Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A poor response to the coronavirus could be politically devastating for President Trump, and so far his administration has given the strong impression that it’s still scrambling as the risk of a pandemic mounts.

Why it matters: There’s only so much any president can do to stop a virus from spreading, and for now the coronavirus is still very much under control within the U.S. But if the disease get worse in the months ahead, and if the administration seems to be caught off guard, that spells trouble for public confidence in Trump.

Case in point: Last night’s coronavirus press conference was all over the map.

  • Trump was surprised at how deadly the annual flu virus is, but accurately emphasized public health officials’ advice to treat the coronavirus like the flu.
  • He downplayed the likelihood of a widespread U.S. outbreak, even though public health officials, including the CDC, have said such an outbreak is pretty likely.
  • A new U.S. case — one that may have been transmitted locally, a key indicator of a potential pandemic — was confirmed while Trump was downplaying the likelihood of an outbreak within the U.S. to the press last night.

“This is such a s--tshow. Thank goodness the markets are closed,” a former Health and Human Services official who’s close to the White House said during the briefing.

What we're hearing: Sources familiar with the decision tell Axios that the call to put Vice President Mike Pence in charge was made just yesterday.

  • It had loosely been a subject of discussion among staff, but it was unclear how many — if any — officials knew beforehand that Trump was going to announce it at the press conference, and several people were shocked, especially given that Pence is heavily involved in Trump's re-election campaign.
  • Not many people knew what Trump was going to say at the press conference when he announced it in a tweet Wednesday morning.

Trump is concerned about the stock market — which helps explain why his statements were so upbeat compared to what public health officials have been saying.

  • Trump has also warned Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, along with other officials, to lay off China's response to the virus.
  • “They have enough problems without you going out and saying they’re not doing enough,” Trump said to Azar recently, a source familiar with their conversation tells Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Our thought bubble: Trump wants the panic over the virus to end as soon as possible to return normalcy into the markets.

  • But an interconnected world is going to have some rapidly spreading viruses, and there’s nothing any president can do to stop that.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 32,949,407 — Total deaths: 995,658 — Total recoveries: 22,787,799Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 7,107,673 — Total deaths: 204,738 — Total recoveries: 2,750,459 — Total tests: 101,298,794Map.
  3. States: 3 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week — New York daily cases top 1,000 for first time since June.
  4. Health: The long-term pain of the mental health pandemicFewer than 10% of Americans have coronavirus antibodies.
  5. Business: Millions start new businesses in time of coronavirus.
  6. Education: Summer college enrollment offers a glimpse of COVID-19's effect.

NYT: Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The New York Times has obtained more than two decades' worth of tax-return data from Trump and the companies that make up his business, writing in an explosive report that the documents "tell a story fundamentally different from the one [the president] has sold to the American public."

Why it matters: The Times' bombshell report, published less than seven weeks before the presidential election, lays bare much of the financial information Trump has long sought to keep secret — including allegations that he paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, and has over $300 million in personal debt obligations coming due in the next four years.

How Trump, Biden plan to score at Tuesday's debate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump has been practicing with flashcards and prepping with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before Tuesday's presidential debate.

Behind the scenes: Top aides tell Axios he's been testing his attacks on the campaign trail for weeks, seeing what ignites his crowds or falls flat. One of the biggest themes Trump plans to drive home is his "tough guy" persona, which advisers see as an advantage with voters in key states.