Mar 23, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🧼 Wishing you and yours safety and serenity as we begin another trying week.

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1 big thing: Who's hurting most

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you think your new reality is inconvenient and stressful, here's some perspective: Tens of millions of people are trying to stave off the coronavirus without reliable access to basic needs like shelter, food or health care.

  • Why it matters: The people who were already vulnerable in a strong economy are facing severe hardship as jobs evaporate overnight and safety net services are strained to the max.

Here's a look from Axios' Kim Hart at who's hurting the most:

People experiencing homelessness: You can't "socially distance" or shelter in place if you don't have shelter in the first place.

  • Transmissible diseases can spread quickly among those sleeping in close-quartered shelters and in outdoor encampments without hygiene facilities.
  • The homeless population is trending older, and thus more vulnerable.

Low-income workers: Hourly-wage workers in retail, food service, janitorial jobs, and even preschool teachers often live paycheck-to-paycheck — and their incredibly slim margins are about to be obliterated.

  • 53 million Americans44% of U.S. workers — are making a median of $10.22 an hour, or about $24,000 a year.
  • About half of low-wage workers are sole earners for their families, per Brookings Institution fellow Martha Ross.

Older residents in rural areas: Rural residents tend to be older and less likely to have paid sick leave or access to health care services.

Single parents: They're shouldering the burden of work (if they still have it) and childcare on their own.

Parents of children with special needs: Children with physical, emotional and intellectual disabilities often rely on therapy and services provided through public school systems, the majority of which have closed for weeks.

Poor families: Children are at the mercy of their circumstances and, without school to offer routine and reliable meals, can take on the anxiety they see in the adults around them.

The mentally ill and immunocompromised: This group of patients have a host of complicated pre-existing conditions that often go untreated due to lack of access to care or social stigma.

Inmates: Social distancing is hard to achieve in overcrowded jails without putting everyone on lockdown or solitary confinement, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • Visits by family, friends and attorneys to people in federal prisons have been halted and several states have paused visitation.
  • Hand sanitizer is often considered contraband because it can contain alcohol.

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2. Early signs of a coming Trump pivot

Yesterday's briefing. Photo: Eric Bardat/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump and some of his senior officials are losing patience with the doctors’ orders, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports.

  • Amid dire predictions for jobs and the economy, the White House is beginning to send signals to business that there's light at the end of the tunnel — that the squeeze from nationwide social distancing won't be endless.

Trump tweeted at 10 minutes to midnight: "WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD [which began a week ago, March 16], WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!"

  • Vice President Pence, who heads the White House's Coronavirus Task Force, had signaled the change in tone earlier when he said the CDC will issue guidance today allowing people exposed to the coronavirus to return to work sooner by wearing a mask for a certain length of time.

Why it matters: Taken together, Trump’s tweet and Pence's comment supply the strongest public signals we've seen that the administration is looking for ways to get people out in the world again to fire up the economy — perhaps much sooner than Dr. Fauci would like.

  • Trump is responding both to his own instincts and to messages that key outside allies have been sending for days.

Between the lines: Senior Trump officials, including the president himself, have only limited patience for keeping the economy shut down. They are watching stocks tumble and unemployment skyrocket.

  • What’s next: At the end of the 15-day period, there will likely be a serious clash between the public health experts — who will almost certainly favor a longer period of nationwide social distancing and quarantining — versus the president and his economic and political aides, who are anxious to restart the economy.

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3. Axios first person: What we're living through

Screenshot via CNN

Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin has a confession for his readers this morning: "I'm sorry my newsletter is depressing."

  • "I wanted to write something bright and hopeful about our current situation this morning to counter all the doom and gloom I've written over the past two weeks," Dion writes from New York.
  • "But there is nothing bright and hopeful to say."

Here's Dion's first-person take:

The state of play: Congress' failure last night to pass a major stimulus program illustrates once again how dysfunctional our government has become and how at risk the world is for catastrophe.

Threat level: Lawmakers had a setback yesterday in their speedy passage of a rescue proposal that is now worth nearly $2 trillion. The Senate adjourned until noon today. (Snapshot of the bill's contents.)

  • St. Louis Fed president James Bullard warned in a Bloomberg interview yesterday that U.S. unemployment could rise to 30% and GDP (overall, not growth) could decline by 50% in the second quarter.
  • "Millions of people are going to lose their jobs," Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari said on "60 Minutes."

What's happening: Wall Street traders and money managers are scrambling for cash like nothing I've ever seen before, fire selling even safe assets like U.S. and German government bonds, and economists are throwing out and rewriting their economic projections on a near daily basis.

  • The National Association for Business Economics even scrapped its first quarter projection altogether, noting that "the effects of the pandemic are currently making a timely and accurate forecast impossible."

Small business owners seem more scared than the stock traders.

  • I spent the past week talking to restaurant and bar owners who are literally in tears because they are certain that the businesses they've spent their lives building are about to be torn apart.
  • As a result, we are in the midst of the worst wave of job losses in American history — and a majority of Americans have no savings and nearly half were making just enough to survive before.

The last word: From a Slack conversation I had with Axios Pro Rata editor Dan Primack on Wednesday.

  • Me: "You know this is gonna be way worse than everyone realizes, right? That's the thing I realized today. Way worse."
  • Dan: "oh yeah. worst of my lifetime. by a lot."

Sign up for Dion's daily newsletter, Axios Markets.

4. Pics du jour: Shutdown Sunday

Photo: Rodolfo Buhrer/Reuters

Above: In Curitiba, Brazil, Catholic priest Reginaldo Manzotti conducts a Mass, broadcast live on television, with photos of the faithful attached to the pews.

Below (two photos): At an empty Washington National Cathedral, the Very Rev. Dean Randy Hollerith holds a webcast Mass.

  • The Cathedral suspended in-person worship for at least two Sundays, which is the longest preplanned closure in its 108-year history — not counting a closure of several weeks after the 2011 earthquake. (Episcopal News Service)
Photos: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
5. 🇨🇳 Captivating interview

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

On last night's "Axios on HBO," Jonathan Swan had a rare — and at times intense — interview with China's ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai.

At one point, the ambassador defended last week's expulsion from Beijing of journalists from the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal:

  • Swan: "I read that column in the Wall Street Journal, and it didn't seem to me that there was anything that would violate a law in it."
  • Ambassador: "That article was very insulting on the entire Chinese nation."
  • Swan: "I'm sure people will disagree, Mr. Ambassador. ... The question is whether it's a good idea to expel reporters because of something you disagree with."
  • Ambassador: "Maybe the first question you have to ask, whether it's a good idea to write such an article at all."

🎬 Worthy of your time: Clip 1 ... Clip 2 ... Transcript ... Episode highlights.

6. Scoop: Uber wants drivers in stimulus

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Uber is asking the U.S. government to include independent contractors in its economic stimulus plans, according to a letter being sent this morning by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to President Trump, scoops Axios' Dan Primack.

  • Why it matters: Many of the proposals floated for a relief bill that Congress is assembling have included new protections and benefits for employees, but that category excludes millions of "gig economy" drivers and delivery people.

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7. Coronavirus and climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The coronavirus, upending our world as we know it, is also changing how we consume energy and address climate change, Axios' Amy Harder writes in her "Harder Line" column.

  • What's happening now: The outbreak is fueling collapsing oil prices and decreasing carbon emissions around the world, though the latter isn't likely to last.
  • What's coming up: Our new remote lifestyles could help companies realize some business trips aren't needed once this all ends, but climate change will also have trouble coming to the forefront politically in a post-pandemic world.

Keep reading.

8. College students are still going out
Data: College Reaction; Note: Margin of error of ±3.1 percentage points; Chart: Axios Visuals

More than half of college students say either they or their friends have gone to bars, parties, restaurants or other social gatherings in the last week, Axios' Neal Rothschild writes from data from a new College Reaction poll.

  • Why it matters: The findings underscore how messages from political leaders and health authorities about the critical importance of social distancing to slow the spread of the virus haven't taken hold with younger Americans.

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9. Olympics on the brink

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The International Olympic Committee acknowledged for the first time yesterday that it may have to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Games — an outcome that once felt impossible but now, amid mounting external pressure, feels inevitable, writes Axios Sports editor Kendall Baker.

  • Two countries are out: In separate statements last night, Canada and Australia both said they will not send Olympic or Paralympic athletes to the Games if they're held this summer.

The state of play: Since the first modern Olympics in 1896, the Games have been canceled three times because of world wars (1916, 1940, 1944) but never postponed.

10. 1 smile to go
Photo: Bill Greenslade via AP

This rainbow appeared off the virtually empty beach in Santa Monica, Calif.

Mike Allen

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