Apr 24, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🎬 Good Friday morning. HBO is increasing the frequency of "Axios on HBO" to every other week. AP's David Bauder has a sneak peek at a new flight of newsy episodes that begins Monday at 11 p.m. ET/PT:

  • "It's about pitching forward, it's about what's next," said Matthew O’Neill, the Emmy-winning documentarian who produces and directs the show with Perri Peltz.
  • "It's about driving the conversation. There is an aspect to that I think the audience is really hungering for."

🦠 Axios managing editor Alison Snyder and Eileen Drage O'Reilly, an editor who specializes in epidemiology, are out with an Axios Special Report on pandemic science, "The race for fast-action vaccines." See the Special Report.

1 big thing: Inside Trump's obsession with Iranian gunboats

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

President Trump's declaration about directing the Navy to "shoot down and destroy" Iranian gunboats brings to a head his years of urging military leaders to get tougher on Iranian harassment at sea, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports.

  • Why it matters: Unlike in the days when James Mattis ran the Defense Department and often ignored what he viewed as intemperate orders from Trump, the president now faces no meaningful resistance from his national security team.

Between the lines: The risks of another confrontation with Iran have escalated as coronavirus overwhelms the world.

  • Trump often looks for shiny distractions during crises and has done so repeatedly in this case.
  • But regardless of his motivations for returning to this threat now, his desire to target Iranian gunboats is almost as familiar to aides as his enthusiasm for building the wall.

Behind the scenes: Trump lives in fear of Iran taking U.S. military personnel hostage. He wants, at all costs, to avoid scenes of American weakness and humiliation playing across the world's screens, current and former advisers say.

  • He connects Iran — and its actions at sea in particular — to this image.
  • Another factor: Trump views the subject of Iranian gunboats — as he does so many other things — through the prism of Barack Obama. He's told aides he'll never let U.S. sailors be filmed captured by Iran, on their knees.

Four sources who've been in private conversation with Trump when he's discussed blowing up Iranian gunboats say that when he returns to a subject this often and passionately, there comes a time when even the most skeptical aides lose power to deter him.

Don't forget: On several important occasions, Trump backed off from retaliating more aggressively against Tehran despite urgings by advisers.

The bottom line: Naval commanders have maximum flexibility with Trump as commander in chief. Trump has now made clear they won't be reprimanded if they decide to take him at his tweet.

2. Bill Gates' brutal reality check
NBC's Savannah Guthrie interviewed Bill Gates as part of an MSNBC special last night. Screenshot via MSNBC

Bill Gates, who saw this coming, has a brutal reality check on his GatesNotes blog — an antidote to happy talk about "reopening America."

  • Why it matters: Gates shows that activity will remain severely constrained — making you wonder how many businesses will be able to survive even after they "open up."

Listen to Gates' description of the "semi-normal" phase that most developed countries will move into in the next two months:

People can go out, but not as often, and not to crowded places. Picture restaurants that only seat people at every other table, and airplanes where every middle seat is empty. Schools are open, but you can’t fill a stadium with 70,000 people. People are working some and spending some of their earnings, but not as much as they were before the pandemic. ...
One example of gradual reopening is Microsoft China, which has roughly 6,200 employees. So far about half are now coming in to work. ...
They insist people with symptoms stay home. They require masks and provide hand sanitizer and do more intensive cleaning. Even at work, they apply distancing rules and only allow travel for exceptional reasons. China has been conservative about opening up and has so far avoided any significant rebound.

Gates warns: "Large sporting and entertainment events probably will not make the cut for a long time; the economic benefit of the live audience doesn’t measure up to the risk of spreading the infection."

  • Go deeper: The whole post, "The first modern pandemic," is worthy of your time, but don't miss the "Opening up" section.

💊 P.S. The pandemic has the world itching to know which experimental treatments actually work, but we're not necessarily getting any smarter from these incremental drips of incomplete information, Axios' Bob Herman writes.

3. March 11: "The Day Everything Changed"

America on March 11, 2020. Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports via Reuters

Garrett Graff, as part of a serial coronavirus oral history project for WIRED, isolates Wednesday, March 11, as the pivot that history will point to:

[T]he World Health Organization, which had only begun referring to the virus as Covid-19 a month earlier, declared the disease a global pandemic. ...
[T]he NCAA announced it would play its basketball tournament without fans; and then, in rapid-fire succession that evening, President Trump gave an Oval Office address, announcing a travel ban from Europe, the NBA suspended its season after player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus, and Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita, posted on Instagram that they too had been diagnosed while in Australia and were recuperating.

Keep reading.

4. Pic du jour
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi passes a bust of "Lincoln the Legislator" as she arrives at the Capitol yesterday.

  • The House voted 388-5 in favor of a $484 billion interim coronavirus relief bill that will add another $310 billion for the small business Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), plus billions in aid to hospitals and for testing. Go deeper.
5. Lysol fires back at Trump's medical musings

Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Trump said at yesterday’s briefing: "I'm not a doctor. But I’m like a person that has a good you-know-what."

His medical musings prompted pushback from medical professionals after he offhandedly suggested that ultraviolet light and disinfectant might be used to fight coronavirus:

So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it.  ... [S]upposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that too.  It sounds interesting. ...
I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors ... But ... it sounds interesting to me. 

Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Lysol, said in a statement dated today, "Improper use of Disinfectants":

  • "[U]nder no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body."
6. Virus upends Ramadan traditions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly 1.8 billion Muslims around the world start their monthlong fast for Ramadan today as the coronavirus continues to engulf the world and impede everyday life, Axios' Rashaan Ayesh writes.

  • Why it matters: Long-standing traditions, such as gatherings with family and friends for iftar, the meal for breaking fast, and evening prayers, are upended as people isolate for the sake of their health.

To put things in perspective, imagine a Christmas without family, presents, decorations or Santa Claus. Muslims who cherish the social and religious traditions during the holy month are facing a similar reality.

7. ⚡ 26 million file for unemployment in five weeks
Graphic: AP

How it's playing ...

The New York Times
8. 🍿 Memoir to watch
Cover: Regnery Publishing

Straight to President Trump's veins:

  • Matt Whitaker, who became acting attorney general after President Trump canned Jeff Sessions, will be out May 19 with a book titled: "Above the Law: The Inside Story of How the Justice Department Tried to Subvert President Trump."

Why Whitaker matters, from Jonathan Swan: It's not every day — or every decade — that a former head of a department accuses his old workplace of trying to sabotage the president.

  • The cover shows the faces of former FBI officials James Comey, Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok.
  • House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes — the O.G. of anti-Deep State crusaders — has written the foreword.
9. 🏈 What the NFL's virtual draft looked like
Photo: NFL via AP

Above: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, last year's Heisman winner, appears from his family home in The Plains, Ohio, after the Cincinnati Bengals picked him No. 1.

Below: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, drafted fifth overall by the Miami Dolphins, shows off the lining of his jacket in Alabaster, Ala.

Photo: NFL via AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hosted from the basement of his home in Bronxville, N.Y.:

Photo: NFL via AP
10. 1 smile to go: A song for our time
Photo via CNN

Alicia Keys appeared on CNN last night from her laundry room (acoustics!) to debut a song, "Good Job," that was written a few months ago but is now being offered as an anthem to grocers, street cleaners, package deliverers, police officers and nurses (lyrics via Brian Stelter's Reliable Sources newsletter):

Six in the morning
And soon as you walk through that door
Everyone needs you again
The world's out of order
It's not as sound
When you're not around
All day on your feet ...
You're the engine that makes all things go
Always in disguise, my hero
I see a light in the dark
Smile in my face when we all know it's hard
There is no way to ever pay you back
Bless your heart ...
Good job.
You're doing a good job, a good job
You're doing a good job
Don't get too down
The world needs you now
Know that you matter, matter, matter.

Video: Keys' song, with remarkable CNN images of the America that still leaves the house to work.

Mike Allen

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