Feb 27, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🌞 Happy Thursday! Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,171 words ... 4½ minutes.

1 big thing: What the coronavirus means for Trump

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A poor response to the coronavirus could be politically devastating for President Trump, but the administration is still scrambling as the risk of a pandemic mounts, Axios' Alayna Treene and Sam Baker write.

  • Reality check: There’s only so much a president can do to stop a virus. And for now, the coronavirus is still very much under control within the U.S.

Trump's coronavirus press conference last evening was all over the map:

  • Trump said he was surprised at how deadly the annual flu virus is, but accurately emphasized public health officials’ advice to treat the coronavirus like the flu.
  • He downplayed the likelihood of a widespread U.S. outbreak, even though public health officials, including the CDC, have said such an outbreak is pretty likely.
  • A new U.S. case — one that may have been transmitted locally (not abroad, or from someone who had been abroad), a key indicator of a potential pandemic — was confirmed while Trump spoke.

Trump surprised some in the administration when he announced that Vice President Mike Pence would coordinate the administration’s response, especially given Pence is heavily involved in Trump's re-election campaign.

  • What we're hearing: Sources familiar with the decision tell Axios that the call to put Pence in charge was made just yesterday.

Between the lines: Trump wants the panic over the virus to end as soon as possible to return normalcy to the markets.

  • That helps explain why his statements were so upbeat compared to what public health officials have been saying.

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2. 🇨🇳 Behind the scenes
President Trump holds a dinnertime coronavirus presser. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

President Trump has warned HHS Secretary Alex Azar, along with other officials, not to criticize China's response to the virus.

  • "They have enough problems without you going out and saying they’re not doing enough," Trump said to Azar recently, a source familiar with their conversation tells Axios' Jonathan Swan.
3. U.S. hospitals prep for virus
Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters

Many U.S. hospitals have been stocking extra supplies and refreshing disaster preparation plans over the past month in the event the coronavirus became more prominent domestically, Axios health care business reporter Bob Herman writes.

  • The CDC warned this week that this infectious disease could spread more in the U.S., and hospitals have anticipated such scenarios.

The American Hospital Association told its members last week that they "should be prepared for the possible arrival of patients with COVID-19," directing them to use a CDC checklist for coronavirus patients and to monitor protective equipment needs.

  • The University of California San Francisco health system, which has already treated patients who had the coronavirus, said it has 40 airborne infection isolation rooms and can "adapt additional rooms" if needed.

The bottom line: Hospitals handled Ebola and Zika in recent years, and have already weathered a busy flu season.

  • Occupancy statistics show hospitals have enough beds to treat coronavirus patients, although preparedness varies by hospital and is more likely to be regimented in urban facilities.
4. Virus psychology could feed recession

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Economists are rethinking projections about the broader economic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak after a surge of diagnoses and deaths outside Asia, and heightened warnings from U.S. officials, Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin writes.

  • "The spillover to confidence is a much bigger issue than temporary interruptions to activity that can be made up later," Julia Coronado, president and founder of Macropolicy Perspectives, tells Axios.
  • "It's a psychological thing and that feedback loop is an essential element of every recession."

The coronavirus quickly went from an also-ran concern to the most talked-about issue at the National Association for Business Economics policy conference in Washington.

  • Most Asian economies are expected to either slow down significantly, halt or shrink outright in the first quarter, according to Reuters consensus polls.

Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida told the conference and asserted in prepared remarks that the central bank was evaluating the outbreak and did not want to overreact.

  • But he also said that decisions about monetary policy now will be made on a "meeting-by-meeting basis," a notable change from the Fed's previous stance that it plans to remain on the sidelines for 2020.

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5. Stat du jour: 4 in 10 U.S. adults are obese
Photo: M. Spencer Green/AP

A CDC survey puts the obesity rate for U.S. adults at 42%.

  • In the 2017-18 survey of more than 5,000 adults, the severe obesity rate was more than 9%, AP reports.

Why it matters: The findings suggest that more Americans will get diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

  • A half-century ago, about 1 in 100 American adults were severely obese. Now it's 10 times more common.
6. 2020 Attention Tracker: Bernie again reaches new heights
Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

For the second straight week, Bernie Sanders has hit the high watermark for online attention in the Democratic primary, generating 24 million interactions (likes, comments, shares) on social media last week, according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios' Neal Rothschild.

  • The sentiment of the top stories about Sanders has been more positive than his top Democratic rivals — particularly Michael Bloomberg, whose recent online attention has been overwhelmingly negative.

Worth noting: Sanders' numbers don't come close to those of President Trump, who generated 64 million interactions last week — which wasn't particularly newsy by Trump standards.

7. Dems fear Sanders could cost House
Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters in North Charleston yesterday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At the Capitol, Democratic lawmakers openly expressed anxiety that self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders could cost them House control if he's the nominee, and questions abounded over what party leaders should do, AP reports.

  • Why it matters: Of the 42 House seats Democrats gained in 2018 when they captured the majority, 29 are from districts that President Trump either won in 2016 or lost by a narrow five percentage points or less. Most of them are moderates.

It's the same story with party officials out in the country ... "[D]ozens of interviews with Democratic establishment leaders this week show that they are ... willing to risk intraparty damage to stop his nomination at the national convention in July if they get the chance," the N.Y. Times reports.

  • Since Sanders' Nevada victory Saturday, the Times interviewed 93 superdelegates — party officials who could have a say if one candidate doesn't have a mathematical lock on the nomination.
  • They voiced "overwhelming opposition to handing the Vermont senator the nomination if he arrived with the most delegates but fell short of a majority."

Speaker Pelosi told a closed-door caucus meeting, per an aide:

  • "I would hope that everyone would say, no matter who the nominee is for president, we wholeheartedly embrace that person. ... We cannot show any division. This has to be about unity, unity, unity."
8. Milwaukee brewery shooting could renew gun debate

Photo: Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Reuters

"A Molson Coors Beverage Co. employee has shot five co-workers to death before taking his own life at the company’s beer-brewing complex in Milwaukee, the latest episode in a rising tide of gun violence already reverberating in the U.S. presidential race," Reuters reports.

  • The plant, with 1,400 workers, is in the largest city in the key swing state of Wisconsin.
9. Amazon Go goes bigger

Amazon Go Grocery store in Seattle. Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP

With the opening of its first large-format cashier-less grocery store in Seattle this week, Amazon is on its way to further expanding its physical footprint across the U.S., Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

  • Why it matters: Amazon wants to win a bigger share of the whopping $700 billion per year American grocery industry — currently led by Walmart.

The bottom line: Walmart's ubiquitousness in American life is thanks to the relationship it has built with its shoppers through groceries — and now Amazon may begin to shake that dominance.

10. 🎭 1 fun thing
Photo: Jenny Anderson/DKC/O&M via AP

A Broadway play was performed in Madison Square Garden for the first time yesterday, with an electric performance of "To Kill a Mockingbird" for 18,000 students, AP's Mark Kennedy reports.

  • The play's usual Broadway home is the 1,435-seat Shubert Theatre, where it's routinely sold out.
  • But the middle and high school students from all five boroughs got to see it for free, courtesy of the Scott Rudin-led production and James L. Dolan, executive chairman and CEO of The Madison Square Garden Company.
Mike Allen

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