Alex Brandon / AP

Don Jr.'s Russia scandal may have one little upside for the White House: Two sources close to the health care negotiations told me they're pleased it has distracted the "resistance" movement and moved much of the media spotlight away from McConnell & co.'s negotiations.

Top White House officials and McConnell World sources share a mantra: Every day that passes without a third Republican senator coming out against the health care bill is a victory. That's why the surprise vote delay for McCain's surgery recovery is so perilous: It gives the bill's opponents another week to hold protests, run TV ads, and remind squirmish purple-state Republicans that the ACA has twice as much support as the Republican's alternative (50% to 24%, according to today's ABC/WaPo poll).

"If at end of the weekend nobody else has jumped out of the box, that's a win," says a senior administration official, because it shows a weekend of overwhelmingly negative media coverage wasn't enough to sway senators. But they still have to get through the next big event — the new CBO score. (Although we're now told it may not happen this week.)

More important details:

  • Everything hinges on getting the bill to the floor by finding 50 Republicans who will vote for a "motion to proceed." If McConnell can't do that, it's over.
  • McConnell is privately telling senators, per our sources, that they if they vote against the motion to proceed they're effectively arguing that there's nothing wrong with the health care system and the Affordable Care Act markets are just fine. He's telling them they'll have virtually unlimited opportunities to amend the bill.
  • The White House is trying to preemptively discredit the CBO score of the bill, with officials Marc Short and Brian Blase writing in a WaPo Op-Ed: "Although the media and the political left will certainly seize on it, the CBO's estimates will be little more than fake news."
  • Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval remains a pivotal figure because the administration knows he has a huge sway over Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a moderate (and hugely vulnerable) Republican who still hasn't decided whether or not to support the bill.
  • Nobody I've spoken to thinks Sandoval – a big fan of the Medicaid expansion – will ever support the bill. So a victory for the White House would be just getting him to keep his disapproval muted.

Bottom line: All the Republicans close to the process are extremely jittery about this bill. "We'll see if McConnell can pull a rabbit out of his hat," one said. "But not every hat has a rabbit in it."

Go deeper

Axios-Ipsos poll: Fear of voting

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±3.0% margin of error for the total sample; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to worry about in-person voting — with nearly two in three seeing it as a large or moderate risk to their health — according to this week's installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: This could pose a significant disadvantage for Joe Biden and other Democratic candidates in November if the pattern holds — especially in states where high infection rates persist, or where there are significant hurdles to mail-in, absentee or early voting.

Trump: Coronavirus is “under control"

President Trump said in an interview with “Axios on HBO” that he thinks the coronavirus is as well-controlled in the U.S. as it can be, despite dramatic surges in new infections over the course of the summer and more than 150,000 American deaths.

  • “They are dying, that's true. And you have — it is what it is. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague,” he told Axios' Jonathan Swan.
Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 18,288,573 — Total deaths: 693,805 — Total recoveries — 10,916,907Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 4,713,562 — Total deaths: 155,469 — Total recoveries: 1,513,446 — Total tests: 57,543,852Map.
  3. Education — Fauci: Schools can reopen with safeguards, but those in virus hot spots should remain closed
  4. Politics: White House will require staff to undergo randomized coronavirus testing — Pelosi says Birx "enabled" Trump on misinformation.
  5. Sports: 13 members of St. Louis Cardinals test positive, prompting MLB to cancel Tigers series — Former FDA chief says MLB outbreaks should be warning sign for schools.
  6. 1 🎥 thing: "Tenet" may be the first major film to get a global pandemic release.