Oct 5, 2020

Axios AM

Good Monday morning. Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,476 words ... 5½ minutes.

🖥️ Erica Pandey will host an Axios virtual event tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. ET about ways businesses can change during crisis, with MassMutual CEO Roger Crandall, Clorox chief customer officer Troy Datcher and Doctor on Demand CEO Hill Ferguson. Register here

1 big thing: West Wing meltdown
President Trump takes ride outside Walter Reed, with Secret Service agents in the sealed Suburban. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

White House crises of competence and credibility grew during a botched weekend that left even White House aides dismayed and befuddled.

  • Many complained bitterly about the leadership of chief of staff Mark Meadows, Axios' Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene report.

After days of internal and external snafus as the virus spread through all levels of the White House, President Trump left his hospital suite just before 5:30 p.m. yesterday, and took an SUV ride outside the Walter Reed gates to wave at the supporters who have lined the road ever since he arrived Friday evening.

  • Trump wore a mask, but the stunt risked exposing the Secret Service agents in the Suburban.
  • Two senior White House staffers said they thought the P.R. stunt was selfish, and compounded a weekend of horrible decisions.
  • White House spokesman Judd Deere said: "Appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the President and all those supporting it, including PPE. The movement was cleared by the medical team as safe to do."

Frustration and anxiety built among White House staffers, who say they went days with no internal communication from Meadows about protocols and procedures — including whether they should show up to work — as COVID tore through the West Wing.

  • By contrast, the first lady’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, emailed her staff on Saturday advising them to work from home and reminding them of CDC guidance.
  • And the vice president’s chief, Marc Short, emailed his senior staff at 3 a.m. Friday with an update on the president’s situation and urged them to work from home. Short also had a conference call with his staff on Saturday to take questions and explain the protocol and situation.

A senior White House official said it was "ridiculous" that there had been no proper internal communication from the chief or operations officials since COVID started rapidly infecting their colleagues: "A bunch of us are talking about it and just gonna make the calls on our own."

  • The White House finally emailed staff with guidance at 8:18 last night — about 15 minutes after Axios contacted the press shop for a story about the lack of guidance. A senior official insisted the guidance email was "pre-scheduled."

Several staffers told Axios they were furious with Meadows for leaving much of the staff in the dark, at the same time the White House was sending mixed, incomplete and inaccurate messages to the public.

  • West Wing staff were privately circulating an unsparing indictment by Politico’s Tim Alberta, "How Mark Meadows Became the White House’s Unreliable Source."
Mark Meadows during yesterday's briefing. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

A senior White House official defended the chief: "Mark is extraordinarily accessible and caring for his staff. White House employees know well what to do in the event of exposure to a positive case, and best practices regarding mitigation. He has been working hard to assist the President, keep the public informed, and manage the most famous employment complex in the world."

The White House's public communication about the virus has been a debacle of deception and contradictory information.

  • The White House physician, Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley, admitted at yesterday's briefing that he had painted an overly rosy picture the day before:
I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, that his course of illness has had. I didn't want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction. And in doing so, you know, it came off that we're trying to hide something, which wasn't necessarily true.

Yesterday, another briefer, Dr. Brian Garibaldi, said: "[I]f he continues to look and feel as well as he does today, our hope is that we can plan for a discharge as early as tomorrow."

P.S. ... Tweets by Dr. James Phillips, George Washington's chief of disaster medicine, and a Walter Reed attending physician:

2. The virus is in control

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The coronavirus is an unaware little pathogen hurtling aimlessly through the air. We are much smarter than the coronavirus and should be able to control it — and in many parts of the world, we have.

  • But not in America. Here, the virus is in control, Axios health care editor Sam Baker writes.

The White House relied too heavily on testing, making it the only real intervention against the coronavirus.

  • Testing is a source of information: It tells you who has the virus. But it has gaps. Recently infected people may be able to spread the virus before they test positive for it.

Share this story.

3. Just the facts: What we know about Trump's condition
The White House said this photo shows President Trump talking by phone from Walter Reed yesterday with Vice President Pence, SecState Pompeo and Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley, with Mark Meadows in the room. Photo: Tia Dufour/The White House

Dr. Sean Conley, the president's physician, said President Trump was given the steroid dexamethasone after his blood oxygen level had twice dropped suddenly in recent days, but he "has continued to improve," AP reports:

  • Conley said Trump had a "high fever" and a blood oxygen level below 94% on Friday and during "another episode" on Saturday.
  • Conley was evasive when asked whether Trump's blood oxygen level had dropped below 90%: "We don't have any recordings here on that." A normal reading is between 95% and 100%. A drop below 90% is concerning.
  • Trump's doctors said Sunday that Trump received oxygen at the White House on Friday.

Along with a steroid, Trump has been treated with two experimental drugs:

  • On Friday, Trump was given a single dose of a drug that Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. is testing to supply antibodies to help his immune system fight the virus.
  • Trump also has taken two doses of a five-day course of remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug for moderately and severely ill patients.
4. Picture of the day
Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

20,000 empty chairs, to represent 200,000+ lives lost to COVID, stood yesterday on The Ellipse during a national day of remembrance hosted by Dionne Warwick.

5. In pandemic winter, dinner comes with a side of propane

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans' plans to socialize outside in colder weather are prompting an expensive and environmentally questionable rush on outdoor heaters, Axios' Amy Harder writes in her "Harder Line" column.

  • Why it matters: Heating outdoor patios is a big new cost for businesses. The energy source is almost always fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

Nearly 50% of full-service restaurants say they’re taking actions to extend outdoor dining seasons, including patio heaters, according to a survey by the National Restaurant Association.

  • Other businesses, like ski lodges, are also buying more outdoor heaters.

Keep reading.

6. A guide for living through extreme uncertainty

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As we plan for continuing chaos, we can assert some control by identifying and clarifying the goals we want to achieve, Bryan Walsh writes in Axios Future.

  • Just as the captain of an airliner wouldn't put his craft on autopilot in the middle of a storm, this is not the moment to continue your old life in the blind hope that you'll simply reach your destination.
  • The biggest mistake you can make in a time of uncertainty is to be locked into a course of action. For instance, while you may decide sending your children to in-person classes is the right choice now, you should be ready to reassess that decision should case numbers begin to rise in your community.

The bottom line: Hope for the best, plan for the worst — all of the worsts — and as much as possible, stay focused on what's most important to you.

🔮 Sign up for Bryan Walsh's twice-weekly Axios Future.

7. New worries about coming tsunami of unemployment
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of people considered long-term unemployed has made a worrying bounce in recent months, Dion Rabouin writes in Axios Markets.

What's happening: When the first waves of layoffs hit in March and April, most of the newly unemployed believed their job losses would be temporary, and reported they were not looking for work.

  • Without a mass surge of hiring significantly above the levels seen in September, the "tsunami" of unemployment that economists warned Dion about in early August is poised to hit in the next couple months.

💰 Sign up for Dion Rabouin's daily Axios Markets.

8. Blue money wave in Senate races
Expand chart
Data: Advertising Analytics. Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Democrats are trouncing Republicans on the airwaves in the battle for the Senate, outspending them in nine of the 10 most competitive Senate races, Axios' Hans Nichols and Sara Fischer report.

  • Why it matters: Even before President Trump's COVID diagnosis, Republicans were increasingly concerned that Democrats' money advantage could flip control of the Senate.
Expand chart
Data: Advertising Analytics. Chart: Axios Visuals

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9. Lincoln Project's right hook
Via Twitter

The Lincoln Project gets an eight-page spread in The New Yorker, with Paige Williams reporting a paid staff 0f 35, and an email list expected to reach 1 million by Election Day:

[T]he Project’s founders pride themselves on fighting Trump with the truth: every ad is fact-checked, and vetted by a lawyer. ...
The Project was on track to take in some seventy million dollars by Election Day — not as much as many established PACs, but far more than the founders anticipated. ...
The Project’s ads continued to filter through the public consciousness: the hosts of a Ringer podcast had recently interrupted their discussion of athletes to describe the average Lincoln Project spot as a "John Oliver sketch in political-action-committee form."

Keep reading.

10. 1 moment of zen
Photo: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

A goose seems to tower over the Empire State Building as the sun rises yesterday in Union City, N.J.

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