October 03, 2020

🎙️ Good Saturday morning. The "Axios Today" podcast will drop a "Thought Bubble" extra at noon ET today. Host Niala Boodhoo will connect Margaret Talev, Alayna Treene and me to trade reporting and insights on President Trump's health crisis. Subscribe here.

  • "Saturday Night Live" returns tonight, with Chris Rock hosting.

Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 993 words ... < 4 minutes.

1 big thing: The GOP's great depression

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It's the storyline of a Republican nightmare: A mask-disdaining President Trump gets the coronavirus on the eve of the election, against a political backdrop that looks dire for Republicans.

⚡ New this morning: Some top GOP operatives, privy to data from swing states, tell me that this week's chaotic presidential debate had a calamitous effect on Republican chances in tight Senate races.

  • "The bottom is falling out everywhere," said a longtime Republican insider.

This insider said the debate didn't faze hardcore Trumpers. But he said it turned off "open to Trump" swing voters, especially women in suburbs.

  • "Everyone knew Trump was capable of this kind of behavior," the insider said. "But these voters had never had 90 straight minutes of that behavior thrust in their faces."

An outside presidential adviser cautioned that Senate races "really turn on different voter impulses" than the presidential race.

  • This adviser thinks Sen. Thom Tillis will win in North Carolina.

Biden — mocked by Trump for masking up — campaigned in Michigan.

  • As word spread that Trump would fly to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where the president remained overnight, the Biden campaign said it was taking down its attack ads.
  • Biden said he will "continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family."

The virus has swept through the top of the Republican Party, with 31 days until Election Day:

  • The President.
  • The First Lady.
  • RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
  • Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, experiencing "mild flu-like symptoms."
  • Hope Hicks.
  • Kellyanne Conway, former counselor.
  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)
  • Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)
  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

Conway and two of the senators (Lee and Tillis) — along with Notre Dame President John Jenkins, who announced a positive test — attended last Saturday's Rose Garden event with Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

  • Few wore masks:
Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The White House released this statement at 11:46 p.m.:

2. GOP fears worst yet to come

Via Twitter

Republican officials tell us they worry that the number of infected people around President Trump will rise, and fear that enough senators could be sidelined to delay the Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

  • Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer began the pressure to slow the GOP's roll, tweeting: "We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for COVID [Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Thomas Tillis], and there may be more."
  • "I wish my colleagues well," Schumer continued. "It is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with a [confirmation] hearing, and there is absolutely no good reason to do so."

Another potential sinkhole for the White House: a trust crisis, internally and externally.

  • Many questions are unanswered about White House decision-making in the 24 hours between Hope Hicks experiencing symptoms and keeping apart from others on Air Force One Wednesday night, and Trump tweeting his positive test result just after midnight on Thursday.

In between, the White House held an in-person press briefing, and Trump flew to New Jersey for a donor event, putting countless aides, Secret Service agents and others at risk of exposure.

  • Comedian Joe Piscopo, who attended the fundraiser at Bedminster, told AP that Trump talked to guests seated at tables "yards and yards" away: "We were all social distancing and it was all outside."

In Axios PM, Jonathan Swan reported that some White House officials have complained privately about the reckless attitude internally toward social distancing and mask wearing.

  • And "the building" showed little internal candor about the positive tests, with some top aides learning from Twitter.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told ABC's George Stephanopoulos, during a special report as Marine One awaited takeoff last evening, that he had spent a few hours at the White House each day on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, in debate prep with Trump and Hicks.

  • "I have not been contacted, George, by the White House," Christie said in response to a question. "I found out about Hope's diagnosis through media reports. ... I went this morning to a center here in New Jersey and got a test."

The bottom line: This could become the new "what did they know and when did they know it" moment.

3. Worthy words on a sobering day

Via CBS News

"CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell, over the chopper noise as Marine One lifted off from the White House just before 6:30 p.m.:

I think we should take a moment now to think about the health of the president of the United States and his family, the health and security of our country.

4. A historic day, in pictures

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

President Trump waves as he leaves the White House to go to Walter Reed.

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany (dark blue) waits as Trump prepares to leave the White House.

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Marine One lifts off.

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The president arrives at Walter Reed with chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

NBC's Peter Alexander, outside the West Wing.

5. Recovery trajectory: "Deceleration"

Via Twitter

'The economy remains nearly 11 million jobs below its levels from February," the N.Y. Times' Jim Tankersley and Alan Rappeport report (subscription).

  • Why it matters: "Wall Street analysts and independent economists warned that [yesterday's] numbers, which fell below expectations, were a sign that the economy could face a slow and painful march back to pre-pandemic levels without more help from Washington."

CNBC headline: "Massively concerning' jobs report sends a signal that the economic recovery could be fading."

  • UBS economist Brian Rose told Axios' Courtenay Brown he expects at least 5 million Americans will lose jobs permanently because of the pandemic. Go deeper.

6. Data du jour: Where we've lost jobs

Graphic: AP

7. Time capsule: Only 1 story

8. 1 thought to go

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