May 14, 2020

Axios AM

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⛏️ Situational awareness: The U.S. "is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time," the N.Y. Times reports.

⏰ Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,191 words ... 4½ minutes.

1 big thing: The pandemic broke America

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Eight weeks into this nation's greatest crisis since World War II, we seem no closer to a national strategy to reopen the nation, rebuild the economy and defeat the coronavirus, Editor in Chief Nicholas Johnston writes.

  • Why it matters: America's cultural wars over everything have weakened our ability to respond to this pandemic. We may be our worst enemy.

The response is being hobbled by trends that have been growing for years — growing income inequality, the rise of misinformation, lack of trust in institutions, the rural/urban divide and hyper-partisanship.

  • We're not even seeing the same threat. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to be worried about getting seriously ill. Republicans — including the president — are more likely to think death counts are too high.

Without even a basic agreement on the danger of the pandemic and its toll, here's how we see the national response unfold:

  • The CDC, the crown jewel of the globe's public health infrastructure, has been sidelined, its recommendations questioned by the White House.
  • Trump declares the U.S. has "prevailed on testing" at a time when health experts say we still need far more daily tests.
  • States and local governments are facing billions in losses.
  • The virus is literally inside the White House.
  • The #1 book on Amazon was a book by an anti-vaxxer whose conspiracy-minded video about the pandemic spread widely across social media.

The bottom line: An existential threat — like war or natural disaster — usually brings people together. Somehow, we've let this one drive us apart.

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  • What did we get right about this? Wrong? You can reach Nicholas at
2. Virus triggers global food crisis
People line up for food in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburb north of Paris. Open-air markets closed, supermarket prices are skyrocketing and people are out of jobs. Photo: Francois Mori/AP

"Soaring Prices, Rotting Crops ... Processing and transportation breakdowns, panic buying threaten vulnerable nations;" reports The Wall Street Journal (subscription):

  • "You can have a food crisis with lots of food. That’s the situation we’re in,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, or FAO.

What's happening, per The Journal:

  • "Trade disruptions and lockdowns are making it harder to move produce from farms to markets, processing plants and ports."
  • "[P]eople around the world are running short of money."
3. FBI reported to seize chairman's phone
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

FBI agents — investigating Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) over a mass sell-off of stocks as the virus crisis rose and markets fell — seized a phone belonging to him after serving a search warrant last night, the L.A. Times reports

  • Why it matters: Burr was hit with a federal lawsuit in March over the sell-off, which preceded a market crash caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Burr dumped between $582,029 and $1.56 million, ProPublica reported that month. Burr has strenuously denied wrongdoing.

  • The Justice Department began an inquiry into Burr's stock transactions in late March in coordination with the SEC.
  • Burr's brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, dumped up to $280,000 in shares on the same day as the senator, according to documents published by ProPublica yesterday.

A Burr spokesperson declined to comment to Axios last night.

4. Trump v. Fauci
Courtesy TIME

President Trump called on governors to work to reopen schools, taking issue with Dr. Anthony Fauci's caution against moving too quickly, AP reports.

  • The president accused Fauci of wanting "to play all sides of the equation."

Fauci warned in Senate testimony: "We don't know everything about this virus and we really better be pretty careful, particularly when it comes to children."

  • Trump said: "I was surprised by his answer, actually, because, you know, it’s just — to me, it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools."
Via Twitter
5. List ignites right
Photo: Jon Elswick/AP

Two Republican senators released a declassified list from acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell naming Obama administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, who asked to "unmask" the identity of Michael Flynn when he was under surveillance, Zachary Basu writes.

  • There's no evidence to suggest that the senior officials on the list acted improperly in requesting to learn Flynn's identity, which would not have been shown in the intelligence report until the unmasking.
  • The Biden campaign said: "These documents ... confirm that all normal procedures were followed — any suggestion otherwise is a flat out lie."

📺 But Fox News' Sean Hannity last night opened his show by saying: "Buckle up! Wow! Huge, massive developments in the biggest abuse-of-power, corruption scandal in American history. "

❓ What is unmasking? During routine surveillance of foreign targets, names of Americans occasionally come up in conversations, AP explains. When an American's name is swept up, it's called “incidental collection.” In these cases, the name of the American is masked before the intelligence is distributed.

  • If U.S. officials with clearance want to know who it is, they can ask the agency that collected the data — FBI, CIA or NSC — to “unmask” the name.

Go deeper.

6. Mike Bloomberg pivots

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Less than a week after dropping out of the presidential race, Michael Bloomberg announced his next major initiative — an online network of mayors and public health experts to help communities deal with the coronavirus, Kim Hart writes.

  • Why it matters: Two months in, it's serving as a reset for Bloomberg after a rocky campaign. He's welcomed high-profile speakers — Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Speaker Pelosi — onto weekly calls with mayors to share lessons learned while dealing with crises in office.
  • Biden is today's guest!

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7. What matters 2020: Biden's bridges to tech

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Tech veterans are lining up to support Joe Biden, forming a largely moderate, Beltway-fluent contrast to President Trump's tech loyalists, Kyle Daly and Margaret Harding McGill report.

  • Why it matters: Biden is drawing support from the technocratic circles that made for an amicable relationship between the Obama White House and Silicon Valley, including some people who once worked for Obama or Biden and now hold powerful positions at major tech firms.

See the list.

8. "The Conspiracy Theorists Are Winning"
Cover of the June issue. Courtesy The Atlantic

The Atlantic today launches "Shadowland," a project on conspiracies and their role in shaping today's America:

  • "The rise of mainstream conspiracism is the result not just of bad information or bad politics or bad thinking, but of systems built to stoke paranoia and to profit from mistrust."

Editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg argues in an introductory essay: "America is losing its grip on enlightenment values and reality itself."

9. GOP flips California seat for first time in 22 years
Mike Garcia campaigns in January. Photo: Michael Blood/AP

Republican Mike Garcia claimed victory "in the race for an open congressional seat north of Los Angeles, the first time the GOP has flipped a California district from blue to red" since 1998, the L.A. Times' Mark Z. Barabak and Arit John report.

  • Why it matters: This is authentically a big deal. A Republican winning a Democratic seat in a Democratic state is rare.
  • "Garcia, 44, a defense industry executive and former Navy fighter pilot, held a double-digit lead over Democratic state Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who issued a statement conceding."

What happened, from AP's Michael Blood: Garcia appeared to benefit from enthusiasm among conservatives. The electorate that turned out in the unusual May special election skewed toward reliable, older Republican voters.

10. 1 smile to go

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Snapchat is working to get younger users to register to vote, executives tell Sara Fischer.

  • When a user turns 18, Snapchat pushes a notification with directions to register to vote.

Why it matters: The company was able to successfully register 450,000 people through its app during the 2018 midterms. New data show that 50% of those registered actually went out and casted ballots.

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