Apr 13, 2020

Axios AM

🍖 Situational awareness: Smithfield Foods is closing its pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., indefinitely after 293 employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

  • Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan said: "The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply."

You're invited: Axios will host a live virtual event on the future of fintech and consumer privacy on Wednesday (April 15!) at 12:30 p.m. ET. Live convos with Andrew Yang and Credit Karma CEO Kenneth Lin. Register here.

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 1,467 words ... 5½-minutes.
1 big thing: The next economic crisis will hit states and cities
Data: Census Bureau; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

America's economic crisis soon will expand to states, cities, and towns, Axios' Stef Kight and Dan Primack report.

  • Why it matters: Even states with surpluses are in trouble, and states that rely most on tourism and sales taxes are bracing for major hits.

The big picture: State and local tax revenue is falling, particularly in areas heavily reliant on sales taxes, while spending is up due to added unemployment and medical obligations.

The most critical cases may be Florida and Louisiana, both of which are in the top 10 for sales-tax dependency.

  • "There's no playbook," Louisiana State Treasurer John Schroder tells Axios.
  • Past state emergencies and budget crises have been regional "and then the rest of the country comes in to the rescue. That ain't going to be happening this time."

There also will be shortfalls in cities, counties, and towns — many of which haven't yet debated or approved fiscal 2021 budgets because of bylaws that didn't anticipate governance-via-Zoom. Bankruptcies are a very real possibility.

  • Brookings recently analyzed the immediate fiscal impact of COVID-19 on cities, including tax types and at-risk jobs, and found that four of the top five most vulnerable were in Ohio.

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2. What Dr. Fauci has coming

Dr. Fauci at Thursday's briefing. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

President Trump retweeted a tweet last night that concluded "Time to #FireFauci," which could unleash some conservatives' simmering suspicions about Dr. Anthony Fauci.

  • Fauci, who has advised six presidents and held high government office back to 1984, is heralded on the cover of the forthcoming issue of The New Yorker as "THE MOST TRUSTED MAN IN AMERICA."
  • Rising celebrity is always dangerous for a Trump adviser. On top of that, Fauci seemed to fuel criticism of the president yesterday when CNN's Jake Tapper asked about a weekend New York Times story documenting warnings about the virus that Trump had downplayed.
  • "[O]bviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing, and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives," Fauci replied. "Obviously, no one is going to deny that. ... But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then."
  • The Drudge Report bannered the exchange: "FAUCI DOWNLOADS ON TRUMP."

Why it matters: Trump has embarked on what he has repeatedly called the biggest decision of his life — when to urge governors to begin rolling back shutdown guidance, allowing businesses to reopen.

Administration sources tell Axios' Jonathan Swan they haven’t had the sense that Trump was ready to fire Fauci — at least that was the case before the tweet.

  • But there is enormous pent-up energy among some of Trump’s allies in conservative media to launch a full-blown campaign to pressure the president to remove Fauci.

The most prominent conservative media figures — especially Fox News opinion stars — have so far mostly treated Fauci with kid gloves.

  • And some administration officials have been shielding him from what would have been worse attacks from allies on the outside.
  • These allies — who Trump has been reading and chatting with on the phone — blame Fauci for talking Trump into the shutdown, and for basing advice on faulty modeling.

The bottom line: Trump’s tweet may be the green light some prominent conservatives have been seeking to unload on Fauci.

Via Twitter
3. Exclusive: Michelle Obama to push absentee voting amid coronavirus

Mrs. Obama speaks at the Obama Foundation Summit, in Chicago in October. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Michelle Obama will throw her support today behind expanding vote-by-mail options, advisers tell Axios, with her voting rights group embracing legislation before Congress amid coronavirus fears, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • Why it matters: It's the first time the celebrity-backed organization has endorsed federal legislation — and it comes as Democrats await the Obamas' return to the political stage to help Joe Biden.

The former first lady said in a statement: "There is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country; making the democracy we all cherish more accessible; and protecting our neighbors, friends and loved ones as they participate in this cornerstone of American life."

  • The legislation was introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) in the House and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in the Senate.
  • Both Obamas spoke out last week against the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision preventing the state's voting deadline from being extended.

Between the lines: "We all saw those lines" of Wisconsin voters putting their health at risk to vote, said adviser Valerie Jarrett, who is board chair of When We All Vote.

  • "It was just deeply, profoundly concerning," Jarrett said.
  • "Our goal is to just try to make sure we maximize the number of citizens who can participate in that most fundamental and important responsibility."
  • The group will encourage people to call or email members of Congress in support of expanded access to vote-by-mail.

What to watch: Michelle Obama has been testing creative ways to promote voting rights since in-person gatherings are cancelled.

  • She hosted an online voter registration "couch party" in March with DJ D-Nice. Jarrett said another is planned for April 20.
  • The nonpartisan group also will focus on educating eligible voters about voter registration and vote-by-mail, communications director Crystal Carson told Axios.

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4. Easter in America, 2020

Photos (clockwise from top left): Ross D. Franklin/AP, John Locher/AP, Seth Wenig/AP, Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Clockwise from top left:

  • Worshipers pray at their vehicles during a drive-in Easter service at Living Word Bible Church in Mesa, Ariz.
  • Pastor Paul Marc Goulet leads International Church of Las Vegas.
  • Archbishop Timothy Dolan delivers his homily over empty pews during Easter Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.
  • Boston Phillips, 11, during a drive-through Easter celebration at StoryHeights Church in Newton, Mass.
5. A world locked down and drowning in oil
Data: IHS Markit; Chart: Axios Visuals

The world is short on many things we need — masks, tests, toilet paper — yet we’re too long on one thing we suddenly don’t need much: oil, Axios' Amy Harder writes in her "Harder Line" column.

  • Why it matters: Even though most of us aren't paying attention, the havoc the pandemic is wreaking on the global oil industry by choking demand will ripple out into the broader economy, and eventually affect many of us.

By the numbers:

  • The decline in global oil consumption this month alone — 25 million barrels a day — will be seven times bigger than the biggest quarterly decline after the 2008 economic crash, according to data by consultancy IHS Markit.
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🛢️Breaking: "OPEC and allies led by Russia agreed ... to a record cut in output to prop up oil prices amid the coronavirus pandemic in an unprecedented deal with fellow oil nations, including the United States, that could curb global oil supply by 20%." — Reuters

6. đź’‰ Stat du jour

"Seventy coronavirus vaccines are in development globally, with three already being tested in human trials, the World Health Organization said." —Bloomberg

7. Biden: Restaurants may need new layouts

Joe Biden speaks during a virtual press briefing March 25. Photo: Biden for President via AP

Joe Biden unveils "My Plan to Safely Reopen America," a New York Times op-ed:

If I were president, I would convene top experts from the private sector, industry by industry, to come up with new ideas on how to operate more safely. Perhaps offices and factories will need to space out workers and pursue other solutions to lessen risk of spread of the virus on the job. Restaurants may need new layouts, with diners farther apart.

Keep reading (subscription).

8. "The blunt-talking adult in the room"
Courtesy Rolling Stone

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose daily briefings have become appointment viewing on cable news, tells Mark Binelli for the new Rolling Stone cover story:

  • "People need information. They need correct information. ... You’re literally afraid of going out of doors. You’re afraid of contact with other human beings, which is probably the most isolating experience you’ve ever had. A hug now becomes a dangerous act. ... Who’s managing this? Who’s in control when I’m out of control?"
  • "You can appear confident, but you’re not going to fool New Yorkers, right? They’re going to hear what you’re saying and watch what you’re doing."
  • "I would always rather be accused of having an unnecessary economic loss than an unnecessary death."

Keep reading.

9. 🎬 Bob Iger's curtain call

Bob Iger speaks at a 2018 ceremony honoring Minnie Mouse. Photo: Lionel Hahn via Reuters

N.Y. Times media columnist Ben Smith writes that Bob Iger, who in February announced his retirement as Disney CEO, has re-engaged during the coronavirus crisis as he shapes "a Disney with fewer employees, leading the new and uncertain business of how to gather people safely for entertainment":

  • "One central challenge is to establish best practices for the company and the industry on how to bring people back to the parks and rides ... using measures like taking visitors’ temperatures."
  • Iger has told associates "that he anticipates ending expensive old-school television practices like advertising upfronts and producing pilots for programs that may never air."
  • "Disney is also likely to reopen with less office space."

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10. 1 smile to go: Virtual wine tastings

Photo: Eric Risberg/AP

With tasting rooms shut down, California wineries are offering virtual experiences, often with a kit that has been delivered to the guest's home, AP's Eric Risberg writes from Sonoma.

  • Actor George Webber (above), dressed as "The Count" — Agoston Haraszthy, founder of Buena Vista, California’s oldest commercial winery, in 1857 — broadcasts several days a week inside the state's oldest wine cave.

Keep reading.

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