Feb 22, 2021

Axios AM

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  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,185 words ... 4½ minutes.
1 big thing ... Scoop: Trump to claim total control of GOP

Former President Trump is driven past supporters in West Palm Beach on Feb. 15. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In his first post-presidential appearance, Donald Trump plans to send the message next weekend that he is Republicans' "presumptive 2024 nominee" with a vise grip on the party's base, top Trump allies tell me.

  • A longtime adviser called Trump's speech a "show of force," and said the message will be: "I may not have Twitter or the Oval Office, but I'm still in charge." Payback is his chief obsession.

I've learned that Trump advisers will meet with him at Mar-a-Lago this week to plan his next political moves, and to set up the machinery for kingmaking in the 2022 midterms.

  • Trump is expected to stoke primary challenges for some of those who have crossed him, and shower money and endorsements on the Trumpiest candidates.
  • State-level officials, fresh off censuring Trump critics, stand ready to back him up.

Why it matters: Trump's speech Sunday at CPAC in Orlando is designed to show that he controls the party, whether or not he runs in 2024.

  • His advisers argue that his power within the GOP runs deeper and broader than ever, and that no force can temper him.
  • "Trump effectively is the Republican Party," Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told me. "The only chasm is between Beltway insiders and grassroots Republicans around the country. When you attack President Trump, you're attacking the Republican grassroots."

The big picture: The few Republicans who have spoken ill of Trump since the election — including House members who voted to impeach him, and senators who voted to convict — have found themselves censured, challenged and vilified by the parties in their home states.

The long game: Many Trump confidants think he'll pretend to run but ultimately pass. He knows the possibility — or threat — gives him leverage and attention.

  • Trump's leadership PAC, Save America, has $75 million on hand, and he has a database of tens of millions of names.

A Trump source said some Republicans have told him: "If you endorse me, I'll run."

  • But advisers say that's not how it'll work. This week's meeting will aim to tap the brakes.
  • Instead, Trump is going to set up a formal process for vetting potential endorsees, including a requirement that they raise money and put together an organization.

What we're watching: Trump plans to argue in the CPAC speech that many of his predictions about President Biden have already come true.

  • Look for Trump to lay into "the swamp" and Beltway insiders in a big way.
  • The Trump source said: "Much like 2016, we’re taking on Washington again."

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2. 🎬 NIH director slams maskless Republicans

"Axios on HBO"

The politicization of mask-wearing may have led to the deaths of "tens of thousands" of Americans, NIH director Francis Collins told Axios editor-in-chief Nicholas Johnston on "Axios on HBO."

  • "The evidence was pretty compelling by last March or April that uniform wearing of masks would reduce transmission of this disease," Collins said. "And yet ... mask wearing became a statement about your political party or an invasion of your personal freedom."

Watch a clip.

  • Watch another clip: Fauci's boss gives Trump team credit for "breathtaking" speed of Operation Warp Speed.
3. Great expectations for economy

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Expectations for U.S. growth — in the first quarter, for the year, and for '22 — are roaring higher as economists price in big government spending, vaccinations and rising prices, Dion Rabouin writes in Axios Markets.

  • Why it matters: These bullish expectations are unusual. They're historically high, even given the large contraction the country suffered in 2020. And they seem to disregard fears that the weak U.S. labor market, or rising prices, will get in the way.

Bank of America chief economist Michelle Meyer was the latest to raise her GDP targets, increasing it to 6% for 2021 and 4.5% for 2022.

  • Meyer's bullish prediction is even rosier than the latest from the exceptionally exuberant Goldman Sachs, which raised GDP expectations to 7% for this year.

The catch: The jobs recovery has come to a screeching halt. Over the past few months, an increasing number of businesses are citing reasons other than the pandemic for pullbacks in hiring and rising layoffs.

  • An increasing number of companies, especially small businesses, are again noting the difficulty of finding workers — despite an unemployment rate that both Fed chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen say is at a real rate of 10%, and a labor force participation rate at its lowest level since 1975.
4. AGs fight hate crimes — while facing hate

Karl Racine in his office last year. Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, a Haitian immigrant, is leading one of history's most diverse sets of attorneys general on a campaign against hate crimes — while they face hateful rhetoric and threats themselves, Axios race and justice reporter Russell Contreras writes.

  • Why it matters: The U.S. electorate is becoming more diverse, yet hate crimes jumped to record levels last year. And the problem may even be worse: Most police departments don't bother reporting hate crimes.

Racine is the first immigrant president of the National Association of Attorneys General, and one of the first Black presidents to lead the nonpartisan organization of 56 states and territories.

  • During public fights with President Trump, Racine was bombarded with racist and hateful messages. And he's not the only attorney general who has experienced this.

Keep reading.

5. Unthinkable toll

Graphic: MSNBC

The U.S. is on the brink of a once-unthinkable tally: 500,000 people lost to the coronavirus.

  • That's roughly the population of Kansas City, Mo., and Atlanta (the cities, not the metro areas).
  • The toll surpasses the number of people who died in 2019 of chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer's, flu and pneumonia — combined, AP reports.
6. Some vaccine trials lack diversity
Study covers 230 U.S. vaccine trials, 2011-2020, with 219,555 participants. Data: JAMA Network Open. Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

U.S. vaccine trials over the past decade haven't included enough seniors and Hispanic and Black adults, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly writes from a study in the journal JAMA Network Open.

  • Why it matters: By not capturing a representative sample of Americans, vaccine trials can't fully demonstrate safety and effectiveness for all people — and miss an opportunity to build trust.

COVID trials can serve as a model, says study co-author Steven Pergam:

  • "[T]he Moderna trial did slow down enrollment to make sure they had adequate enrollment of underrepresented minorities" — putting in time and money, and meeting with community groups.

🎥 Check out: Axios' Get Smart videos on vaccines.

7. 🎬 "Axios on HBO": How Fitbit can find COVID

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Fitbit, which started out trying to make us take a few extra steps, now can help detect COVID and even spot signs of depression, CEO James Park told Ina Fried on "Axios on HBO."

  • Park says a new algorithm uses Fitbit data, including heart rate fluctuations, to spot COVID a day or two before symptoms appear.

Watch a clip.

8. Garland finally gets a hearing

Security fencing surrounding the U.S. Capitol as the sun set yesterday. Photo: Al Drago/Reuters

Look for Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, to use his confirmation hearing today to emphasize the Justice Department’s civil-rights tools.

  • Why it matters: The hearing, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, begins 4 years, 11 months after President Obama nominated Garland for the Supreme Court, only to have the pick thwarted by Republicans.

I'm told Garland’s four priorities will be civil rights, independence, integrity and keeping Americans safe.

  • "Independence" reflects Biden’s instruction when he introduced Garland in Wilmington last month: "Your loyalty is not to me. It's to the law."

Read his opening statement.

9. New this morning: Headed heavenward

Hayley Arceneaux in front of a SpaceX rocket. Photo: Inspiration4

Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant and childhood cancer survivor, is the second crew member for an all-civilian mission to space expected to launch later this year, Axios Space author Miriam Kramer reports.

  • The mission — Inspiration4 — is partly a fundraiser for Memphis-based St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which treated Arceneaux when she was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 10.
10. Parting shots

Photo: Noah Berger/AP

After 139 years at 807 Franklin St. in San Francisco, a two-story Victorian house lurched six blocks — down the street, around the corner — to a new home on Fulton Street yesterday, the S.F. Chronicle reports (subscription).

  • The 600-ish onlookers were "like a golf gallery with 'oohs' and 'aahs' accompanying every moment of peril."

Top speed: 1 mph.

Photo: Noah Berger/AP

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