Jan 29, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Breaking: China, with 5,974 cases of coronavirus, now has more infections than it did during the SARS outbreak of 2002-03; death toll still lower. (AP)

1 big thing: ❓ Question time! What senators will ask?
Republican senators during defense arguments yesterday. Sketch: Dana Verkouteren via AP

The Trump trial will enter a hot new phase today when senators grill House managers and White House lawyers with a series of pointed questions, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

  • Why it matters: The 16-hour Q&A session, which is expected to be split over two days, will solidify whether senators feel satisfied with the evidence they have, or if they will vote to bring in additional witnesses and documents.
  • This period has become even more significant in the past 24 hours, after the Bolton revelations made some Republicans more inclined to allow witnesses.

How it works: Each party will alternate submitting written questions to Chief Justice John Roberts, who will read them.

  • The questions must be signed by the senator or group of senators asking it, and they can be directed to either House managers or Trump's defense team.
  • Senators can't ask each other questions.
  • There's no official time limit restricting House managers' or the White House team's response.

What I'm hearing: This could be quite a show.

  • Senators have been antsy to participate, and they've been cooking up some doozies.
  • Both Democratic and Republican senators have been coordinating internally with members of their party to ensure they hit all of the most important topic areas and that there's no overlap.

What they'll ask:

  • Democrats say they're eager to ask questions that expose the Trump defense team's "gaps in direct knowledge and facts," as one senior aide described it, and underscore the need to hear from witnesses who could provide a firsthand account of Trump's diplomacy with Ukraine.
  • Many of the president's fiercest Republican allies are interested in asking questions about corruption in Ukraine, attempting to elicit answers that justify Trump's desire to investigate the Bidens.
  • They'll also ask some that are designed to poke holes in House Democrats' impeachment process.

Sneak peek, from Alayna's conversations at the Capitol:

  • Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who faces a competitive re-election fight in the fall: "I want to confirm that Rudy Giuliani was working personally for the president and not on the behalf of the United States of America."
  • Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.): "I've called constitutional law professors and trial attorneys to elicit from them what they think would be the best questions."
  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told reporters he'd like to ask about the whistleblower complaint, and whether there was inappropriate communication with lead House manager Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). He's also eager to ask about Hunter Biden.
  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) wants to ask about the White House memo of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: "Trump's attorneys fairly forcefully said, 'In an unprecedented act of transparency, he released the full transcript.' Did he? ... Are we sure we've got the whole thing?"
2. ⚖️ McConnell scrambles to hold back witness push
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) takes the Senate subway Monday. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

In a surprise, Mitch McConnell told Senate Republicans he currently lacks the votes needed to block witnesses from the Trump impeachment trial, but hopes they can get there by Friday, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

  • The big picture: Most Republicans have tried to avoid calling witnesses, and just a few days ago it looked like they'd succeed. But bombshell revelations from former national security adviser John Bolton's forthcoming book have swayed some GOP senators.

What we're hearing: During the meeting, GOP leaders emphasized that a vote for witnesses would drag out the proceedings and could impact the races of senators up for re-election.

  • 🐦 Josh Holmes, president of Cavalry LLC and a former McConnell chief of staff, tweets: "I'm still betting that if you see the whites of John Bolton’s eyes in the Senate, you’ll see the glassy gaze of Hunter Biden’s alongside of him. I don’t think they’re going to vote to launch this Hindenburg. At least not yet."

📊 Five recent polls show that a majority of Americans (55-72%) favor calling new witnesses.

  • But Holmes notes: "The crosstabs on most polling in favor of witnesses includes a heavy Trump base support for calling Hunter Biden."

💬 From my inbox ... Top Republican source: "This is the first time McConnell has not been captain of the ship ... uncharted waters ahead."

  • Source close to McConnell: "MM always seems to have another card to play that no one expects."
3. Why we panic about coronavirus, but not flu

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If you're freaking out about coronavirus but didn’t get a flu shot, you’ve got it backwards, Axios' Bob Herman writes.

  • Why it matters: A novel outbreak will always command more attention than a common illness, and the coronavirus is a serious health threat. But our newfound hyper-vigilance about infections might be more helpful if we could redirect some of it toward influenza — a significantly deadlier virus that strikes every year.

By the numbers: This new strain of coronavirus has killed 132 people so far, all of them in China. More than 6,000 total cases have been reported worldwide, although experts believe that total is underestimated.

  • By comparison, this year's flu season has killed 8,200 people, with at least 15 million cases — and that's just in the U.S.

Between the lines: James Lawler, an infectious disease physician at the University of Nebraska, said pandemic viruses like the coronavirus cause more anxiety because, unlike the flu, there are not any initial countermeasures like vaccines, antivirals, diagnostic testing and monitoring systems.

4. 🗳️ Hot on the 2020 trail
Joe Biden speaks yesterday in Muscatine, Iowa. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Elizabeth Warren builds long game ... 600 miles away from Des Moines at Warren’s Michigan headquarters in Detroit, the Boston Globe's Jess Bidgood reports, "Quentin Turner had an urgent message for the dozen or so volunteers":

  • "The Michigan primary is 46 days away ... and every day counts."

5 days to Iowa caucuses ... Amy Klobuchar took a last-minute, late afternoon flight to western Iowa yesterday after the Trump trial to make a campaign stop at a bar in Council Bluffs, AP's Margery Beck reports.

  • Klobuchar was met by a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people.
5. 🎬 Video: 5G, as seen from two Georgia cities

The fate of the national race to build 5G wireless service depends on how effectively the guts of the network — namely, hundreds of thousands of bulky antennas — are placed in cities, Axios' Kim Hart writes.

  • Why it matters: While global tensions mount over pressure to build 5G networks as fast as possible, U.S. cities are in their own fight with telecom carriers and federal regulators over how new 5G antennas will be scattered throughout downtowns and neighborhoods.

On the ground: Two Georgia towns, 10 miles apart in the suburbs of Atlanta, have drastically different reactions to the realities of deploying 5G networks:

  • Peachtree Corners, a city of 45,000, invested in early deployment of 5G in hopes it will bring new economic activity.
  • Brookhaven, a city of 57,000, is fed up with telecom companies' demands and is among the cities suing the FCC.

Video: Axios visited both. See what we found.

6. Trump peace plan already matters on ground
Trump and Netanyahu in the East Room yesterday. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

President Trump is nowhere near a deal on Middle East peace, but the long-awaited and hyper-detailed plan he released yesterday — shepherded by Jared Kushner — has immediate and dramatic implications for the reality on the ground, write Axios' Dave Lawler and Barak Ravid, an Axios contributor and senior diplomatic correspondent for Israel's Channel 13 News

  • The White House gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a green light to immediately annex about 30% of the West Bank, a step every previous U.S. administration vehemently opposed. Netanyahu plans to act on that opportunity as soon as Sunday.

Our thought bubble: If Israel does annex the Jordan Valley, it will entrench Israel’s control and fundamentally change the equation for any future negotiations.

  • Green-lighting annexations is an even more dramatic step from Trump than moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
  • It could also ultimately be the least reversible of those steps.

For Netanyahu, this could be the biggest moment in a political career that has been remarkable for its longevity but not for landmark accomplishments.

  • He stood alongside Trump during the announcement — just hours after surrendering immunity from three corruption indictments, and one month before an election that could bring his political career to an end.

Reality check: None of the officials Axios' Jonathan Swan has spoken to in the region are optimistic that peace can be accomplished while Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are in power.

Source: White House plan
7. 📺 Impeachment ratings

Fox News averaged 3.32 million in prime time last week, MSNBC had 1.96 million, ESPN had 1.22 million, TLC had 1.2 million and CNN had 1.18 million, per AP.

  • ABC's "World News Tonight" won the evening news ratings race, averaging 9.1 million viewers. NBC's "Nightly News" had 7.9 million viewers and the "CBS Evening News" had 5.9 million.

🌞 Breaking: "NBC News has considered the prospect of creating a fifth hour of 'Today' on weekdays." (Variety)

8. 🎥 1 film thing

Another effect of China's coronavirus outbreak, per The Hollywood Reporter: "Nearly every cinema in the country, totaling about 70,000 screens, has shut down."

  • Why it matters: That could drive down "2020 global box office revenue by $1 billion to $2 billion" — and have a cascading effect on other entertainment sectors with huge China investments, like theme parks, esports, and theater.

Closer to home ... 2011's "Contagion," centered on "a deadly China-born virus that goes global and leads to mass chaos," hit the top-10 on iTunes' movie chart this week. (THR)

Mike Allen

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