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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

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

Kids’ screen time up 50% during pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the coronavirus lockdowns started in March, kidstech firm SuperAwesome found that screen time was up 50%. Nearly a year later, that percentage hasn't budged, according to new figures from the firm.

Why it matters: For most parents, pre-pandemic expectations around screen time are no longer realistic. The concern now has shifted from the number of hours in front of screens to the quality of screen time.

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.