Mar 25, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

👑 Bulletin: Prince Charles has tested positive for coronavirus. He is showing mild symptoms "but otherwise remains in good health." (BBC)

🚨 Breaking now: World markets surged this morning after the overnight news that Congress and the White House reached a deal to inject nearly $2 trillion into the economy.

  • With leaders promising the rescue package was imminent, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 11.4% yesterday — the index's biggest one-day gain since 1933.

Eric Ueland, the White House legislative affairs director, announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight, capping days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure, AP reports.

  • "Ladies and gentlemen, we are done. We have a deal," Ueland said.
  • It still needs to be finalized in detailed legislative language.

Why it matters: The unprecedented economic rescue package will give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are out.

  • One of the last sticking points was $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries. Airlines and hospitals will get significant help.
1 big thing: The fight for New York

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

New York's fight against coronavirus is the nation's fight, as the state — and the city in particular — face what Gov. Andrew Cuomo called "astronomical numbers" of cases, Axios managing editor Jennifer Kingson writes from Manhattan.

Why it matters: New York's success — or failure — in fighting the virus, safeguarding citizens and treating the afflicted will tell us a lot about what can succeed in the rest of the U.S.

  • It's a national travel hub, so it could be the catalyst for outbreaks elsewhere.
  • The White House advised anyone who left New York City "over the last few days" to self-quarantine for 14 days. (Video.)

Cuomo's daily press conferences have become a staple of midday cable news. He spoke passionately yesterday about the importance of devoting all resources to New York's rapidly escalating caseload.

  • The state has 25,000 cases, vs. 2,800 in California, 2,200 in Washington and 1,200 in Florida.
  • The apex of its epidemic isn't expected for 14 to 21 days.
  • The state had 53,000 hospital beds pre-crisis and now expects to need 140,000.

Between the lines: Population density, which a New York Times headline called a "Trait Defining New York Life," is a big reason the Big Apple has become the U.S. focal point.

Jennifer's thought bubble: As a born-and-bred New Yorker who watched from my office window as the second plane hit the Twin Towers on 9/11, I find eerie similarities between the empty streets I see this week — and the constant wail of emergency sirens — and the days after the terror attacks.

  • A key difference: Social distancing has us pulling away from one another, not coming together for comfort.

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2. Underestimating coronavirus

President Trump announced his Easter target during this Fox News "virtual town hall" in the Rose Garden. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

The spread and impact of the coronavirus may be unfathomable, but it's not unpredictable. Yet the U.S. has failed to respond accordingly, Axios health care reporter Caitlin Owens writes.

  • The delay in widespread testing allowed the virus to spread undetected.
  • Then we were caught flat-footed by the surge in demand for medical supplies in emerging hotspots.

What they're saying: A senior Health and Human Services official told Axios that if officials could do it all over again, they would have engaged the private sector to ramp up medical manufacturing in mid-January — about two months earlier than ended up happening.

  • "By waiting to fully appreciate and acknowledge this as a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, this was a colossal missed opportunity," the official said.

The bottom line: When Axios asked the HHS official how all of this keeps happening, the official said it’s at least partially due to disconnects — between Trump and his administration, between the government and the private sector, and between the U.S. and the rest of the world.

  • "At the end of the day, the virus has slipped through all those cracks that exist between all of these entities," the official said.

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3. Race for the cure

Researchers at Copenhagen University in Denmark work on a potential coronavirus vaccine. Photo: Thibault Savary/AFP/Getty Images

Scientists around the world have started dozens of clinical trials, on more than 100 drugs, in the hunt to find a product that could attack the new coronavirus, Axios health care business reporter Bob Herman reports.

  • There are more than 100 coronavirus drugs and vaccines in development worldwide, according to Umer Raffat, an analyst at Evercore ISI who has been tracking progress.
  • Coronavirus has become the pharmaceutical world’s top priority, but safety and efficacy haven’t been proven anywhere yet.

The bottom line: Expectations need to be tempered. A vaccine is likely a long way off, and failures are inevitable. But some experimental treatments, while they still require more research, are showing promise.

4. China takes page from Russia's disinformation playbook

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer/Getty Images and Stringer/Getty Images

The Chinese Communist Party has spent the past week publicly pushing conspiracy theories intended to cast doubt on the origins of the coronavirus, and thus deflect criticism over China's early mishandling of the epidemic, writes Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

  • Why it matters: The strategy is a clear departure from Beijing's previous disinformation tactics and signals its increasingly aggressive approach to managing its image internationally.

The big picture: Beijing is emulating Russia's disinformation playbook to do so.

  • Usually, Chinese information operations aim to uphold a single immutable narrative that casts the Chinese Communist Party in a positive light.
  • Russian disinformation tactics typically aim to destabilize the information environment through spreading conspiracy theories, with the goal of creating chaos and discord in target societies.

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5. How the virus is changing Biden's playbook
Screenshot via MSNBC

Joe Biden built a TV studio at home, starts each day with three hours of medical and economic impact briefings, and checks in with congressional leaders.

  • He is overhauling his campaign — and standing up a shadow presidency of sorts — amid a national emergency that's eclipsed all other news, Axios' Alexi McCammond writes.

Anita Dunn, a senior advisor to Biden's campaign, tells Axios the campaign is focused on addressing the health and economic impacts of coronavirus but also sees the opportunity to draw clear contrasts with President Trump.

  • "At times of national crisis, Americans want their leaders to pull together and to put forward solutions," she said. "But that doesn’t mean that they don’t still see this as a choice."

The Biden campaign is also pumping out cost-effective videos on the virus.

  • One — featuring Biden's coronavirus task force coordinator Ron Klain, who was the Ebola response coordinator under President Obama — got over 4 million views in three days.
  • A March 22 video with 1.5 million views shows alternating clips of Trump and Biden responding to questions about the coronavirus, with a narrator who concludes: "This moment calls for a president. In November, you can elect one."

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6. Why Hong Kong and Singapore were ready

A teacher in Hong Kong shows students hand hygiene during the SARS outbreak in 2003. Photo: Tommy Cheng/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong and Singapore, which have both managed to keep coronavirus infections low, had preparation that the U.S. couldn't replicate: the experience of the SARS outbreak in 2003.

  • Axios' Bryan Walsh lived and worked in Hong Kong during that time — and he writes that the city's experience was every bit as terrifying and paralyzing as what is happening now across the world.

The big picture: During the worst period of the outbreak, Hong Kong experienced a shutdown nearly as total as those caused by COVID-19, with people shunning restaurants and public spaces, schools closed for weeks and the city's usually bustling airport all but stilled.

  • Hong Kong's unemployment hit an all-time high of 8.5%.
  • Singapore weathered the storm better, but still experienced a GDP drop of 0.47%.

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7. Sneak peek from Jonathan Karl's front-row seat
Left: The New York Post's Jonathan Karl interviewed Donald Trump in 1994, and Trump asked if he wanted to "get a picture." (Photo courtesy Jonathan Karl) Right: ABC's Jonathan Karl questions President Trump this week. (Photo courtesy Doug Mills/The New York Times)

ABC's Jonathan Karl writes in "Front Row at the Trump Show," out Tuesday, that during a meeting in 2017, President Trump interrupted a presentation by national security adviser H.R. McMaster on the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, and demanded a war plan.

  • "I will pass that order on to the Pentagon immediately, Mr. President," McMaster replied.
  • Karl writes that one of the options Trump "had in mind was a naval blockade of Venezuela, which didn't make sense for a lot of reasons, including the fact that Venezuela is not an island."

As McMaster marched into his office, chief of staff John Kelly hustled after him, Karl writes:

"What the hell are you doing?" Kelly asked.
"I am going to carry out an order from the commander in chief," McMaster answered.
Kelly told him to stand down and not to pass the president's order on to the Pentagon.

Why it matters: It's a juicy example of the approach Kelly, who tried to bring discipline to a chaotic West Wing, took to corralling Trump.

  • At a crowded sports bar in Manila during a presidential trip, Kelly told Karl that "the most important thing he did was tell the president no. 'No. Don’t tweet that. No. Don’t change your policy on that. No, no, no.'"

Between the lines: When Karl went to Kelly and asked if he could use a certain off-the-record exchange in the book, the retired general had a surprisingly blanket response, Karl writes in a footnote: "[H]e agreed to allow me to quote this and other previously off-the-record remarks he made while he was chief of staff."

Cover: Dutton
8. Tokyo 2021
The Olympic torch relay was to start tomorrow in Fukushima, Japan. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

The Tokyo Olympics — with 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries, and a reported cost of $28 billion — have been pushed from a July 24 start into 2021.

  • "People are having a problem calling off weddings, and calling off little tournaments, so imagine with all the billions of dollars that's gone into this," five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings told AP.

The games will still be called the 2020 Olympics — a symbolic gesture that the International Olympic Committee hopes will allow the games to "stand as a beacon of hope," AP's Eddie Pells writes.

  • Only world wars have forced the Olympics to be canceled; they were scrubbed in 1916, 1940 and 1944.

The new date will be tricky: Nearly all 33 sports on the Olympic program have key events, including world championships, on the docket next year.

Mike Allen

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