Jul 11, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Happy Saturday! Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,175 words, 4½ minutes.

1 big thing: We're losing the virus war

Data: Covid Tracking Project, Census Bureau. Graphic: Danielle Alberti/Axios

By any standard, no matter how you look at it, the U.S. is losing its war against the coronavirus, Axios health care editor Sam Baker writes.

  • Why it matters: The pandemic isn't an abstraction, and it's not something that’s simmering in the background. It's an ongoing emergency ravaging nearly the entire country, with a loss of life equivalent to a Sept. 11 every three days — for four months and counting.

The big picture: Everyone wants to be able to safely reopen schools and see their friends and leave the house. To do those things safely, you have to get the virus under control. But much of America is talking and planning like victors at the precise moment we’re in the throes of defeat.

Seven times over the past two weeks, the U.S. has set new records for the most cases in a single day. Cases are increasing in 33 states. Several of those states are seeing such staggering increases that their hospitals may soon be overwhelmed.

  • No, those increases aren't just a reflection of better testing. And though testing has dramatically improved, it’s still not enough to meet demand.

It’s true — and it’s good — that the percentage of all coronavirus patients who die has been falling. And experts hope that will hold, as the pool of infected people is skewing younger.

  • Ashish Jha, director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard, said: “I don't know that I take much comfort in this, knowing that thousands of people are going to die in the coming days and weeks and it was all preventable."
  • The virus has already killed over 130,000 people in the U.S. — roughly the population of Charleston, S.C. And deaths are beginning to rise in places experiencing big outbreaks.

The bottom line: The peak of the U.S.’ coronavirus vigilance is in the past. But the peak of the virus’ actual spread is happening right now.

2. Trump springs Stone

Roger Stone after his commutation last night, outside his home in Fort Lauderdale. Photo: Joe Skipper/Reuters

⚡ Breaking ... Sen. Mitt Romney tweeted this morning ... "Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president."

President Trump's commutation of the prison sentence for Roger Stone — who had been sentenced to 40 months in prison for crimes including obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements to Congress — was a Friday night special, announced by the White House at 7:56 p.m.

White House editor Margaret Talev points out that the statement, issued by press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, reads as if it were dictated by Trump:

  • The prelude calls it an “unjust sentence," and its opening line is: "Roger Stone is a victim of the Russia Hoax" invented “to undermine the Trump Presidency."
  • The last line, with Trump's signature exclamation point: "Roger Stone is now a free man!"

Why it matters: Trump is using the statement as a diatribe against the institutions of Congress, the courts and the free press. Stone is really only the jumping-off point for an extraordinary 629-word self-defense by a sitting president that will occupy a unique space in history books.

  • Stone was one of seven people to be found guilty of crimes unearthed by Robert Mueller.

Go deeper: White House statement. ... Reaction.

How it's playing ...

The Washington Post
3. 📊 Polls show Trump battle in strongholds
President Trump arrives in Fort Lauderdale yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Public and private polling shows President Trump "not only trailing badly in swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin, but running closely with Mr. Biden in traditionally conservative bastions like Kansas and Montana," the N.Y. Times' Jonathan Martin reports.

  • Why it matters: Trump won each of those states by 20 points. If he's in dogfights there, his map is on fire.

Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director, replied: "That’s nonsense. In our data, President Trump is strong against Joe Biden in all the states we track and which will decide the election."

  • "Our plan has always been, and remains, to retain the states the President won in 2016 and add some more to his column. We will be playing on Biden’s field in states like New Hampshire, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Nevada."

Murtaugh said the campaign’s polling shows openings based on the defunding police issue, which is “why you see us on offense in states we didn’t win in 2016."

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Conrad Earnest via AP

Comet Neowise soars in early-morning sky Thursday near the Grand Vie overlook at the Colorado National Monument west of Grand Junction, Colo.

5. Astonishing fact
Dr. Anthony Fauci lowers his mask before testifying at a Senate hearing June 30. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Getty Images

The Financial Times reports in its weekend "Lunch with" (subscription) that Anthony Fauci says he last saw President Trump in person at the White House on June 2 — and hasn't briefed the president for at least two months.

  • Fauci said: "We are living in the perfect storm right now."
6. 🏈 Charge of "money grab" by college football
Clemson football players lead a "March for Change" protest past Tillman Hall on June 13. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In the past two days, 73 college football games were scrapped because of the virus, from marquee matchups like Oregon-Ohio State to storied rivalries like USC-Notre Dame, AP's John Marshall writes.

  • The Pac-12 joined the Big 10 in announcing they'll play only in-conference this fall.
  • Why it matters: A conference-only schedule lets schools cut down on travel and other expenses at a time when athletic departments are facing massive budget constraints.

All eyes are now on the ACC, SEC and Big 12 — the rest of the Power Five conferences— to see if more games will be shelved.

  • Hundreds of games have already been canceled, suspended or pushed to the spring semester at lower tiers of college football.

Between the lines: Most of the canceled football games in the Pac-12 and Big Ten are unglamorous matchups against small schools counting on big payouts to keep their athletic budgets afloat when they are already facing ugly bottom lines.

7. Scoop: Don Jr. plans convention-week Biden book
Cover via Don Jr.

Donald Trump Jr., in quarantine since girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle tested positive for the coronavirus, says he's used the time to finish a book that he'll self-publish the week of the Republican convention, at the end of August.

  • Don Jr., whose controversial blasts connect with President Trump's base, told me in a phone interview that "Liberal Privilege" will be his effort to paint a picture of Joe Biden and his record that the press ignores.
  • Trump partnered on the project several months ago with Sergio Gor, who has worked on several conservative bestsellers. Since then, Gor has become chief of staff for the Trump Victory Finance Committee.

Trump, 42, — whose first book, "Triggered" was a No. 1 N.Y. Times bestseller (with an asterisk) — said he plans to self-publish his new hardcover as "a shot across the bow" to traditional publishers.

  • He said he has the brand and social-media following — 5.2 million Twitter followers, 3.1 million on Instagram — to promote the book himself.

🎧 A twist: The audio book will be read by Guilfoyle, a lawyer and former Fox News personality who is national chair of the Trump Victory Finance Committee, and has 1.7 million Twitter followers and 647,000 on Instagram.

  • Trump said she helped with the book: "That’s how we came up with the idea for her to do the audio book. We would take turns reading the chapters out loud for flow. ... Love in a time of COVID."

Much of the book was written at his cabin in the Catskills, where he's been fly-fishing in breaks from his Biden research.

  • Don Jr. said he continues to test negative, and Guilfoyle said she's asymptomatic.
8. 1 smile to go
Via Twitter
Mike Allen

📱 Thanks for reading Axios AM. Please invite your friends to sign up here.