Mar 10, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Breaking: The U.S. began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the military said today, taking a step forward on the peace deal with the Taliban.

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,100 words ... 4½ minutes.

🎤 D.C. readers: You're invited ... Today at 8 a.m., please join White House editor Margaret Talev and me in downtown D.C. (14th and L) for an Axios News Shapers event on cybersecurity.

1 big thing: Dominoes point to recession

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Coronavirus is already the most serious threat to the U.S. economy since the financial crisis, and the dominoes are aligned for a severe recession that could erase much of the 11-year recovery, Axios' Dion Rabouin and Dan Primack write.

  • Why it matters: We have an economic haystack awaiting a match.

One big difference between 2020 and 2008 is breadth:

  • The financial crisis began with financial services companies and insurers, which meant bailouts and structural fixes could be aimed at Wall Street. But this crisis is hitting the entire economy with a single blow, from the Fortune 500 to mom-and-pop businesses.

The U.S. economy has been something of a ticking time bomb for some time.

  • Growth has declined over the last two years despite higher government spending and a $23.4 trillion national debt.
  • The labor market has boomed, but many of the jobs added have been hourly service-industry positions that offer limited health insurance.
  • 44% of all U.S. workers earn barely enough to live on, a Brookings Institution study found in January.
Fox Business simulcast on Fox News yesterday leading into the market close.

President Trump said late yesterday that he would work with Senate Republicans on a "very substantial" payroll tax cut and relief for hourly workers.

  • But such measures — if they can be enacted — could still be insufficient to fend off a recession.

Consumer spending has held up the economy for the last year, even as the U.S.-China trade war gutted the manufacturing industry and businesses broadly cut back on investments.

  • Many companies chose to hoard their tax-cut savings in cash, or use it to buy back their own stock.
  • At the same time, corporate America is more heavily indebted than ever before, due to years of record-low interest rates and increased borrowing.

Threat level: Government also increasingly looks broken. The dysfunction in Washington is dimming hopes for major fiscal stimulus that economists say would be needed to offset the outbreak's negative impact.

2. Partisan split extends to virus
Data: SurveyMonkey online survey. (Margin of error ±2 points.) Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

SurveyMonkey finds potentially pernicious partisan gaps on COVID-19 perceptions: 

  • Nearly two-thirds of Republicans see news reports as exaggerated, double the proportion of Democrats saying so.
  • Go deeper.

📊 Similar finding in a Quinnipiac University poll out yesterday: Democrats and Republicans have polarized views on both the danger the coronavirus poses and how the Trump administration is handling the outbreak, Axios' Ursula Perano writes.

  • 43% of respondents approve of President Trump's response to the coronavirus, while 49% disapprove. (83% of Democrats disapprove; 87% of Republicans approve.)
  • 68% of Democrats said that they are "very or somewhat concerned" about the virus, compared to just 35% of Republicans.
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3. Scammers peddle fake cures

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Federal regulators are cracking down on scams advertising unproven coronavirus treatments, but those frauds are likely to continue, Axios' Bob Herman and Marisa Fernandez write.

The FDA and FTC issued warning letters yesterday for seven fraudulent products.

  • Major retailers and some online marketplaces have already removed more than three dozen listings — for products including teas, essential oils, tincture and colloidal silver — that falsely claimed to help treat or prevent coronavirus infection.

Flashback: Scammers have run this con many times before.

  • Zika: Wristbands, patches and stickers falsely claimed they could repel the mosquito-borne virus.
  • Ebola: Before there was a vaccine, the FDA warned against online pitches that marketed snake venom, vitamin C, Nano Silver and herbs as cures.
  • SARS: Promotions for air purifiers, cleaning supplies and even prevention kits were pulled off several websites in 2003.

Reality check: No drugs have been approved to treat this strain of coronavirus.

4. Today is Super Tuesday II

Mail-in primary ballots for Washington state await counting in King County, which has had the country's highest number of coronavirus deaths. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Today's "Super Tuesday 2.0" primaries in six states are a real-time test of how coronavirus could alter presidential voting — especially in Washington, the state with the largest number of U.S. deaths to date, Axios' Alexi McCammond writes.

  • Washington is a vote-by-mail state. Voters have been asked to use water — not their own saliva — to seal their ballot envelope.

The big picture: Michigan and Washington — the two states with the largest number of delegates in today's contests represent two important tests of whether Bernie Sanders can regain momentum with Democrats as Joe Biden leads the race toward the nomination.

  • Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho and North Dakota also vote today.
  • As the virus spreads, many states and U.S. territories have yet to hold Democratic primaries, with contests running through June.

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5. Facebook board nears gender parity

Facebook has added two new members to its board: Nancy Killefer, a former government official and longtime McKinsey executive, and Tracey T. Travis, the chief financial executive of The Estee Lauder Companies.

  • Why it matters, from Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva: The additions double the number of women Facebook directors and make the board 40% female.
  • Despite significant progress, women still hold just 20% of board seats globally in publicly traded companies.

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6. 🦠 Quick coronavirus catch-up
Dr. Roxana Sauer demonstrates a drive-through nasal swab at a clinic in Gross-Gerau, Germany. Photo: Alex Grimm/Getty Images

🇮🇹 All of Italy is on lockdown, affecting 60 million people: The government ordered everyone to stay put except for work and emergencies, banned public gatherings and suspended sporting events, including soccer matches. (Reuters)

🇨🇳 Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Wuhan, the center of the global outbreak, as parts of his country return to normalcy.

  • Why it matters: That's a sign of the diminishing threat the illness presents in China as it spreads west. (AP)

🇺🇸 Retiring Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the incoming White House chief of staff, is the latest conservative lawmaker to self-quarantine after coming into contact with someone at CPAC who tested positive.

🎸 Pearl Jam is indefinitely postponing 17 U.S. and Canada performances on its Gigaton world tour, beginning March 18 in Toronto.

7. Business pushes U.S. for virus relief

Self-isolation on Capitol Hill. Photo: Padmananda Rama/AP

"Business lobbies are pushing a range of proposals such as extending unemployment insurance, broadening business entertainment tax breaks and offering tax credits to employers of quarantined workers, according to representatives interviewed by Bloomberg News."

  • "The White House is hosting a parade of industry executives this week. On Monday, the National Retail Federation, the International Franchise Association, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association, among others, met with White House officials."

"Democratic leaders in Congress have said they want to see paid sick leave and warned that any package should give priority to workers’ needs over corporate interests. They have also called for enhanced unemployment insurance."

8. The government's advice

Vice President Pence tweeted these four info cards:

9. Astronomy's continuing harassment problem

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Astronomy is still dealing with its own #MeToo reckoning, Axios' Miriam Kramer and Alison Snyder write.

  • In one study, 74% of female physics majors reported experiencing sexual harassment.
  • And 40% of women of color in astronomy and planetary science reported feeling unsafe in their workplace.

Why it matters: Harassment, bias and discrimination lead to the underrepresentation of women — and particularly women of color, women with disabilities and LGBTQ+ women — in the sciences.

10. 🐦 Women who set Twitter afire
Ariana Grande at the Grammys in January. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Ariana Grande was the most tweeted about woman in the past year, topping Hillary Clinton and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, writes Axios' Marisa Fernandez, via data reported by Twitter.

  • In the past three years, of 125 million tweets about feminism and equality, 3 million specifically mentioned "intersectionality," where race, gender and ethnicity meet.

Most-tweeted-about women globally:

  1. Ariana Grande
  2. Beyoncé
  3. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
  4. Halsey
  5. Hillary Clinton

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Mike Allen

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