Jan 16, 2018

The recidivism presidency

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

After a triumphant end to 2017, White House sources tell Axios that they see a dangerous pattern forming for this year: a backslide into bad habits of the chaotic early days of the Trump presidency.

Be smart: The White House should be making the best use of their ultimate salesman and tool — Donald Trump and the power of the presidency — to sell its tax cuts, low unemployment and surging market. Instead, Trump has Fox on the tube, and Twitter by his trigger finger.

  • White House officials had a solid game plan for January: do a long tax-cut victory lap, avoid a government shutdown and swing a DACA deal. Instead, Trump became preoccupied with a gossipy book and the treachery of Steve Bannon, made repeated bizarre public statements about his mental health, misrepresented crucial national security legislation, and sent immigration talks down a “shithole.”
  • Tax reform focused everyone. With its passage, there's now a bit of a vacuum that has been filled with fighting these wild fires.
  • Trump has been newly consumed by the kind of grievances that make some Rs cringe and regret their silence. 
  • "What is the White House about right now?” asked a source close to Trump. “I don't know.”
  • Chief of Staff John Kelly still has his orderly system firmly in place — there has been no let-up. But the Kelly bubble and schedule restrictions leave the President with more Fox time, and time for tangents.
  • Worth noting: Trump had agreed to give Kelly carte blanche authority as chief of staff. But Trump seems to be rebelling against that system, and some aides are worried it could keep deteriorating.

What’s next: White House officials recognize they need to tout the tax cuts as a big accomplishment. We're likely going to see POTUS out around the country, selling it in the near future.

  • A senior administration official said: "I think 'backsliding' is exaggerated. We know what Donald Trump brought to Washington, D.C. — what the American public elected him for — was disruption. So it’s always going to be a rollercoaster."
  • More from the official: "As far as the hysteria ... He loves that you guys go crazy, so he’s going to keep doing it. There’s a part of media in this town that doesn’t say, 'You got taxes done, you fixed the regulatory environment" — something average Americans get.

These three recent events have alarmed some senior administration officials:

  1. Trump's "shithole" (Or was it "shithouse"?) comment that was promptly leaked to the media. You had House Speaker Paul Ryan denouncing it; one Republican in the room (Sen. Lindsey Graham) effectively confirming it; and others, like Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, saying Trump never said what he was reported to have said.
  2. Trump's over-the-top response to Michael Wolff's book. When most people had moved on, Trump was still ranting about the book, publicly and privately. He continued to tweet about Wolff, which only served to further highlight the material in his book and drive more sales. He remains livid about it. 
  3. Trump's loose tweet — which he was pressured to walk back — in which he misrepresented and publicly trashed crucial national security legislation (FISA) just before the House was due to vote on the bill. 

Why this matters: Kelly has worked wonders to impose process over what was an insanely chaotic and dysfunctional West Wing. He never promised to tame Trump's Twitter feed. But he had previously noted with satisfaction to aides that there'd been less of the wild, policy-affecting tweets that distinguished the early White House days.

  • Republicans inside the administration and on Capitol Hill are becoming increasingly alarmed by the prospects for the 2018 midterms. The White House political operation is still considered lightweight, and officials are still scratching around to fill the external-facing Office of Public Liaison.

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates: Italy becomes 2nd country to exceed 100,000 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 and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Spain and Italy extended lockdown deadlines on Monday, as Italy became the second country in the world to surpass 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 755,000 and the death toll topped 36,000 by Monday, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy reported more than 11,500 total deaths.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 11 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 745,308 — Total deaths: 35,307 — Total recoveries: 156,875.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in confirmed cases. Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 143,672 — Total deaths: 2,575 — Total recoveries: 4,865.
  3. Federal government latest: The White House will extend its social distancing guidelines until April 30 — Hospital ship the USNS Comfort arrives in Manhattan.
  4. Business latest: Macy's will furlough the majority of it's workers this week, as the chain's stores remain closed.
  5. World updates: Spain and Italy extend lockdown deadlines while Italy becomes second country to surpass 100,000 confirmed cases.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Living with the coronavirus
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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U.S. coronavirus updates: Majority of governors order residents to stay home

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

At least 29 state governors have ordered their residents to stay home to promote social distancing and limit community spread from the coronavirus pandemic as the U.S. copes with more than 144,000 positive cases — more than any other country in the world, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: COVID-19 killed over 2,500 people in the U.S. by Monday. That's far fewer than in Italy, where over 10,700 people have died — accounting for a third of the global death toll. The number of people who've recovered from the virus in the U.S. exceeded 4,800.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 38 mins ago - Health