May 26, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen


🏀 Good Tuesday morning, and welcome back. Situational awareness: Patrick Ewing, NBA legend and current Georgetown men’s basketball coach, is home after being hospitalized with the coronavirus. (WashPost)

💻 Please join us tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. ET for a live Axios Virtual Event on small business, with Courtenay Brown and Dan Primack. Register here.

1 big thing: The polarized pandemic election

A Trump supporter protests Pennsylvania's stay-at-home order, during a May 15 rally outside the Capitol in Harrisburg. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

President Trump is going all-in on pushing for a rapid, robust return to normal life, creating a visual, visceral contrast with Joe Biden and other Democrats who are more reticent to rip the masks off.

Business friends have been urging Trump from the beginning to keep the lockdowns short. He's listening more and more:

  • Trump wants a packed auditorium for his convention in August, and yesterday threatened to move ("reluctantly") the years-in-the-making event from Charlotte if North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) doesn't quickly guarantee that a full house will be allowed.
  • Fearing erosion in his evangelical base, the president declared ahead of Memorial Day weekend that states must designate houses of worship as "essential" services. He threatened to "override the governors," which he can't.

The backdrop: So far, the pandemic has mostly been a mostly a blue-state problem, and red states are revolting.

  • The N.Y. Times calculates that counties won by Trump in 2016 — with 45% of the population — have recorded just 27% of virus infections and 21% of the deaths.
  • And Bloomberg reported: "In states Trump won in 2016, 23 people have lost a job for every 1 person infected. In states Democrat Hillary Clinton won, 13 people have lost a job for every person infected."

Reality check: Polling also shows that even in red states, most people remain cautious about reopening, and that the boisterous protests of stay-at-home orders aren't representative.

  • Our Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index consistently shows Americans aren’t rushing to go back to "normal," and are largely wearing masks and practicing social distancing across party lines and regions, Axios White House editor Margaret Talev tells me.
  • But when it comes to questions about reopening the economy, Republicans and rural voters aren’t worried as much as Democrats and residents of cities and suburbs.

The big picture: As part of this great divide, masks are becoming a political signifier, which is absurd.

  • North Dakota Doug Burgum (R) choked up last week as he implored his constituents not to turn masks into a red vs. blue issue.
  • "I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this ... divide — either it's ideological or political or something — around mask versus no mask," Burgum said. "This is a, I would say, senseless dividing line."
  • David Axelrod tweeted: "This is leadership."

What to watch: As Axios' Jonathan Swan reported in Sneak Peek on Sunday, Trump plans more mask-free events as he resumes more frequent travel.

  • Tomorrow, the president will be in Florida for the nation's biggest feel-good moment in months — a NASA launch that's the first attempt by a private company to send astronauts into orbit.
  • And sources close to Trump told Swan they hope to have a boisterous, live crowd at his convention.

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2. Tech's long, hot summer of antitrust

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Google, Facebook and other tech giants face a summer of regulatory grilling as long-running investigations into potential anticompetitive practices likely come to a head, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

  • Probes by federal and state authorities into Big Tech's power are turning a year old, and observers expect action in the form of lawsuits and reports — even as the companies have become a lifeline during the pandemic lockdown.

1. The Justice Department vs. Google: Attorney General Bill Barr has signaled his agency is full steam ahead on its investigation into Google, with the Wall Street Journal reporting the DOJ is preparing to bring a case as soon as summer.

2. House Judiciary vs. Big Tech: The antitrust subcommittee's year-long investigation into competition in digital markets — focused on Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — is expected to wrap up in June.

3. State attorneys general vs. Google and Facebook: State antitrust enforcers announced multi-state coalition investigations into Google and Facebook last year.

4. FTC vs. Facebook: Last July the social media giant revealed that the FTC was conducting an antitrust probe. Reports indicate the agency is reviewing whether Facebook's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp were anticompetitive.

3. Economy may be "past the trough in terms of peak damage"

A waiter delivers food to a customer during dinner last week at Galatoire's Restaurant in New Orleans. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

"Truck loads are growing again. Air travel and hotel bookings are up slightly. Mortgage applications are rising. And more people are applying to open new businesses," the Wall Street Journal writes in its lead print story (subscription).

  • Why it matters: "These are among some early signs the U.S. economy is, ever so slowly, creeping back to life."
  • "If this is the only wave [of coronavirus], it looks like we’ve bottomed out and the normalization process has begun," said Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. chief economist at S&P Global Ratings.

"Spending on hotels, restaurants, airlines and other industries hurt by social distancing remains low, but appears to be picking up," the Journal reports.

  • "We’re past the trough in terms of peak damage," said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

💍 Mood ring ...

This CNBC alert is from last evening. By early this morning, the jump had grown to 500+ points.

  • And by 4:30 a.m., the Journal reported (subscription) ... "Optimism Over Reopening Pushes Global Stocks Higher: Early signs that global economic activity is slowly improving buoy sentiment."
4. Pics du jour: "No law when you're drinking the Claw"

Photo: @Lawler50 via Reuters

Above: Revelers celebrate Memorial Day weekend Saturday at Osage Beach, on the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.

  • Tyler Crancer, who attended a Saturday pool party called Zero Ducks Given, told BuzzFeed News: "Now that I think about it, probably not a great idea, but there no law when you're drinking the Claw," referring to White Claw, the alcoholic seltzer.

Below: Newport Beach, Calif., yesterday.

Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
5. "Axios on HBO": Top tech CEO considers move out of Silicon Valley

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Alex Karp, co-founder and CEO of the data-integration pioneer Palantir Technologies, told me in an interview for "Axios on HBO" that the "increasing intolerance and monoculture" of Silicon Valley has led him to consider moving his company, founded in Palo Alto in 2004, out of California.

  • "We haven't picked a place yet," Karp said. "If I had to guess, I would guess something like Colorado."

Karp was speaking from his barn in New Hampshire, which was a message in itself: He said he's progressive but is done with what he considers the rigidity of Silicon Valley politics.

  • "I've been distanced [from Silicon Valley] for the last 15 years. ... And now social distancing has become a way of life."

Some of Karp's own staff were unhappy with Palantir signing a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he said.

  • "I've had my favorite employees yell at me. ... I've had some of my favorite employees leave."
  • "I've asked myself: If I were younger, at college, would I be protesting me? And you know, it depends!"

After years of rumors, Palantir could finally go public within the year, Karp said.

  • Why it matters: Bloomberg reported earlier this year that Palantir documents showed the company expected $1 billion in 2020 revenue.

See a clip.

6. The sports comeback has begun

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"There is now real momentum behind the return of American sports. The leagues have decided that games must go on — and that means learning to live with risk," the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription).

  • Why it matters: While the pro leagues "are proceeding with caution, there has been more progress in the last 10 days than in the previous 10 weeks."
  • "What their plans have in common is an acceptance that some players may be infected — and a belief that leagues should focus on limiting potential outbreaks."

The NBA announced that it's in early discussions to resume its season in late July, with all games played at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Kendall Baker writes in his daily newsletter, Axios Sports. (Sign up here.)

7. Musicians performing on video game platforms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With concerts and music festivals canceled across the country, artists are flocking to virtual gaming platforms like Minecraft and Fortnite, Axios' Sara Fischer writes in her weekly Media Trends newsletter, out later today. (Sign up here.)

  • Why it matters: As artists continue to figure out how to get paid performing online and aim to connect with even bigger audiences there, expect more virtual concerts to pop up, even as the country reopens.

Minecraft, the video game that lets players create and join 3D worlds, will host a dance music festival with some of the biggest electronic artists next month, including Electric Blockaloo, Diplo, A-Trak, and Above & Beyond.

  • More than 12 million users watched rapper Travis Scott's concert on Fortnite last month.

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8. Reckoning for Russia's space program

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

SpaceX's first attempt at launching astronauts from American soil on Wednesday afternoon is a historic moment that will stress the decades-long relationship between the U.S. and Russia in space, Axios' Alison Snyder and Miriam Kramer report.

What's happening: The U.S. and Russia are locked in a state of mutual dependence. NASA needs Russian rockets, and Roscosmos, Russia's state-run space agency, needs American money.

  • If SpaceX — and Boeing, which has its own crewed spacecraft program and contract with NASA — can deliver astronauts to space, the U.S. plans to stop purchasing flights from Russia.

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9. Virus makes senior care even harder

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Most seniors will need at least some long-term care, but the coronavirus has added even more complications to the tough decisions about how to obtain it, Axios health care business reporter Bob Herman writes.

  • Senior housing operators have limited tours of rooms and communities to prospective residents and one family member, or they are only providing virtual tours.
  • The federal government is starting to ease some restrictions at nursing homes, but is saying they "should be among the last to reopen within the community."

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10. 1 smile to go

Elizabeth Bruenig, who has 11-month and 4-year-old daughters, tells me she really tweeted this at 3:33 a.m.:

Via Twitter
Mike Allen

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