Jul 22, 2021

Axios AM

Happy Thursday! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,190 words ... 4½ minutes. Edited by Zachary Basu.

💊 Today at 12:30 p.m. ET, Axios' Sam Baker and Caitlin Owens will host a virtual event on drug development. Guests include Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), and Carolina Blood and Cancer Care CEO Dr. Kashyap PatelJoin us.

1 big thing: New COVID fear could bring masks back
Data: CSSE at Johns Hopkins University. (Rhode Island and Iowa data from CDC, July 12-19.) Map: Axios Visuals

I'm told there's a sudden boomerang in worry about COVID among vaccinated lawmakers on Capitol Hill, with talk of canceled trips and dinners, and debate about restoring mask mandates.

  • All guests were "expected to wear a mask" at a reception Speaker Pelosi held yesterday in the Capitol's Rayburn Room for the new sergeant at arms, Maj. Gen. William Walker, according to the "Member Arrival Instructions."
  • After a few blessed months of relaxed COVID practices as the U.S. vaccination rate rose, more lawmakers are once again carrying masks — and trying to navigate when to wear them.

President Biden, answering a question from a school employee, said last night at a CNN town hall in Cincinnati:

  • "[T]he CDC is going to say that what we should do is everyone ... under the age of 12 should probably be wearing a mask in school. That's probably what's going to happen."

What's happening: Coronavirus cases are rising dramatically all over the U.S. as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads among the unvaccinated, Axios' Sam Baker writes.

  • Florida is now averaging just under 6,500 new cases per day — by far the most of any state.
  • New cases more than doubled over the past week in Mississippi — from about 320 per day to about 660. The state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country — just 34% of adults.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. seemed to have COVID-19 on the ropes. But now the Delta variant is sweeping the country.

  • 97% of people hospitalized for COVID are unvaccinated.

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2. First look: Anita Dunn's triad

Slide: The White House

White House senior adviser Anita Dunn will brief Capitol Hill today on "Reaching Americans Where They Are" as a way to sell President Biden’s economic plans, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.

Armed with polling data and a 23-slide deck, Dunn will show lawmakers in both chambers how to simplify Biden’s "Build Back Better" agenda with this "Message Framing":

  1. "More Jobs."
  2. "Tax Cuts."
  3. "Lower Costs for Working Families."

"Flooding Local TV Airwaves": "Local media continues to be one of the most trusted news sources, communicating the impact of national policy on the communities they serve," the deck says. "Since Jan. 20, the White House has secured 1,000+ local TV hits."

3. GOP suddenly pushes shots

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

With rising fears of a "fourth wave" — this time of the unvaccinated — more GOP lawmakers and conservative media figures are pushing the shot, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

  • Why it matters: Vaccine resistance is much higher among Republicans than Democrats, and some prominent conservatives have been skeptical or hostile about the jab.

Members of House GOP leadership and the GOP Doctors Caucus will hold a press conference this morning to "discuss the need for individuals to get vaccinated, uncover the origins of the pandemic, and keep schools and businesses open," a press release says.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday: "These shots need to get in everybody’s arm as rapidly as possible."

Fox News' Sean Hannity said on his prime-time show Monday: "It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccinations."

  • Fox News stars Steve Doocy and Harris Faulkner appear in a PSA directing viewers to a "Vaccine Finder" link on FoxNews.com.

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4. How ghost Olympics could crimp athletes

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Psychologists don't know for sure how a spectator-less Olympics will affect athletes' performance. But Olympians are already expressing concern about what it will be like to compete without hearing the cheers of their families and fans, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

  • "I like to feed off of the crowd," U.S. gymnastics star Simone Biles recently told AP. "I’m a little bit worried about how I’ll do."
  • Valerie Constien, a first-time Olympian in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase, told Axios that hearing coaches and teammates "talk about the energy from the crowd just sounds really amazing and inspirational, and I am disappointed that I won't ... experience that."

What's happening: NBC says it won't add fake crowd noise. But it's using Olympic Broadcasting Service feeds that will include what IOC President Thomas Bach called an "immersive sound system" to create atmosphere for the athletes, AP reports.

  • Crowd noise recorded from each event at previous Olympics will be fed into the arenas.

NBC will amplify sounds of competition — the splash of the pool, interplay between coaches and athletes — to take viewers there.

5. Hong Kong persists as financial center

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Given Hong Kong's assault on democracy, imprisonment of publishers, and human rights violations, "stable" might not be the first word that springs to mind. But the legendary financial services sector is surviving the turmoil, Axios Capital author Felix Salmon reports.

  • Hong Kong has been a gateway to mainland China for centuries. As China begins its crackdown on companies raising foreign capital and listing on foreign exchanges, that's only going to strengthen Hong Kong's hand as the go-to place where shares of Chinese companies can be traded in a fully convertible currency.
  • Western investment banks are hiring thousands of new employees in Hong Kong, many of them hailing from mainland China.

Keep reading.

6. Jobs to lift Mid-America
Expand chart
Reproduced from Heartland Forward. Map: Axios Visuals

Heartland Forward, an Arkansas-based think tank, today recommends states promote these "opportunity occupations" to help lift residents into the middle class, Worth Sparkman writes for Axios Northwest Arkansas:

  1. Registered nurses.
  2. Truck drivers.
  3. Maintenance and repair workers.
  4. Retail supervisors.
  5. Bookkeeping, accounting clerks.
  6. Construction laborers.
  7. Secretaries, administrative assistants.
  8. Customer service representatives.

Keep reading.

7. Worst part of living in the White House
Last night's town hall at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

After six months in the White House, President Biden was asked last night by CNN's Don Lemon about what it's like behind the scenes:

  • "As you can tell, I hope, I have very good manners. But I'm not very hung up on protocol," Biden said. "And the Secret Service is wonderful. ... [B]ecause things are so crazy out there, it is very hard to get comfortable ... You're saying: 'Don't come in for breakfast. We can get our own breakfast,' because I like to walk out in my robe."
  • As the audience laughed, Biden said: "No, no ... you think I'm joking? I'm not. You know what I mean?"

"By the way," Biden added, "the first time I walked downstairs, and they played 'Hail to the Chief,' I wondered: 'Where is he?'"

  • "That's a great tune! But I, you know — you feel a little self-conscious."
8. 🏈 College switch would create mini-NFL
Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian walks past Texas and Oklahoma mannequins during Big 12 Media Days last week in Arlington, Texas. Photo: LM Otero/AP

Texas and Oklahoma are talking to SEC officials about switching conferences, although no formal invitations have been extended, AP college football writer Ralph Russo reports.

  • Why it matters: Adding two members would give the powerhouse SEC 16 teams, the most in major college football. Losing two schools would be a devastating blow to the 10-member Big 12.

Texas said: "Speculation always swirls around collegiate athletics. We will not address rumors or speculation."

  • Oklahoma said: "The college athletics landscape is shifting constantly. ... We don't address every anonymous rumor."

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