Jul 26, 2020

Axios Sneak Peek

By Jonathan Swan
Jonathan Swan

Welcome to Sneak Peek, our weekly look ahead from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, plus our best scoops.

  • I'm Alayna Treene, an Axios White House reporter, filling in for Jonathan Swan tonight.
  • Situational awareness: Today marks 100 days until the Nov. 3 presidential election.
  • Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here.

Tonight's newsletter is 1,877 words, a 7-minute read.

1 big thing: Trump goes all in on vaccines and therapeutics

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Top Trump advisers and GOP leadership have told the president in recent weeks that he needs to switch gears on the coronavirus and go all in on messaging about progress on vaccines and therapeutics.

  • The big picture: The goal is to try to shift the focus of the election conversation to who would be better at reviving the economy. Administration officials say this is a key reason Trump restarted his briefings this week and that this rhetoric will only accelerate in the weeks to come.

Why it matters: White House and Trump campaign officials have been in panic mode over recent polls showing Trump trailing Joe Biden in swing states just 100 days away from the election.

  • They see this new strategy of leaning hard into the progress on therapeutics and vaccine R&D as the fastest way to restore confidence in Trump and avoid having the election be a referendum on his handling of the pandemic.

The plan: When scientists and health care researchers make big strides on vaccine and therapeutic development, the White House wants Trump at the podium, delivering the good news himself.

  • He'll also largely continue to deliver these messages alone.
  • Two administration officials said this is a deliberate choice. The White House wants Trump to speak directly to the American people and have them make no mistake that this is coming from him — not Dr. Deborah Birx or Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The message: Trump will assert that, under his leadership, the coronavirus task force has helped make major advancements in the ability to treat COVID-19.

  • On therapeutics: "If you get ill from COVID, you have a significantly lower chance of getting seriously ill or dying since we have remdesivir, convalescent plasma and steroids to treat the virus — which we didn’t have in the early stages of the outbreak," a White House official said.
  • On vaccines: "We are making significant progress on a vaccine and working simultaneously on a distribution plan so that when we reach it we can get it to hundreds of millions of people immediately," the official told Axios.

What we're hearing: "I think it's pretty clear to everyone that getting a vaccine, getting therapeutics that work is the golden key to unlocking the economy and stopping the crisis," a source close to the Trump campaign told Axios.

  • "The polling has been clear on this stuff. People want Trump to take it seriously."

Reality check: It's nearly impossible that a vast majority of the public will have access to a vaccine by 2021, let alone before the election. And that assumes a vaccine proves to work, Axios' Bob Herman writes.

  • Therapeutics are still in development, and many have shown promising leads. But the timeframe for getting these to market before Nov. 3 is a very ambitious goal, and none — including remdesivir — have come close to presenting a cure to the virus.

Go deeper.

2. Senate Republicans grow weary with White House over stimulus bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Frustration among many Senate Republicans, not to mention Democrats, toward the White House has hit a fever pitch, with many lawmakers — including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — admitting they could break for the August recess without a stimulus bill.

The latest: The Senate left for the weekend Thursday evening without even circulating a draft bill that McConnell says will be used as a starting point for negotiations — and many blame the White House.

Multiple GOP Hill aides involved in the stimulus negotiations tell me they feel Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have undermined the legislative process.

  • "They came in at the back end with a ton of unrealistic requests, like zeroing out funding for testing and forcing the FBI building into the package," one congressional aide said. (The president initially wanted a line in the bill to build a new FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. )

There was also early skepticism among GOP lawmakers about their role in the talks, according to conversations with seven Republican Hill staffers involved in the crafting of the bill.

  • Mnuchin, the White House's key negotiator during the passage of the CARES Act, was criticized by members for his willingness to cut deals with Democrats and "give away the store," as one lawmaker put it.

Meadows has taken a bigger role in stimulus talks this time around and is viewed as Mnuchin's foil, two administration officials told Axios. But it's taken him a while to get the president on the same page as GOP senators.

The other side: "Meadows and Mnuchin have been working closely with Senate GOP leadership. They spent the afternoon on the Hill yesterday working on priorities the White House and Senate R’s can unite around. They’ll be back on the Hill today. They’re also in constant contact with McConnell and [House GOP Leader Kevin] McCarthy," a White House official told Axios.

The bottom line: Republican leaders privately admit that if negotiations are a failure, the White House and Republicans will take the political hit since they're running the show.

3. Where stimulus talks stand

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, left, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Capitol Hill. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

The consensus within the White House over the weekend is that they should turn their attention toward passing a smaller, bifurcated stimulus bill, focused on their main priorities.

Meadows and Mnuchin were discouraged after their meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday, GOP congressional aides involved in the negotiations told Axios.

  • The two now think a more targeted bill has a greater shot at passing before key benefits from the CARES act, namely the unemployment benefits, expire at the end of this week.

Meadows told Axios: "I think [President Trump] made a pragmatic decision to say let's focus on unemployment insurance, schools and liability protection as the most important aspect of the larger package and deal with anything else later."

  • But Pelosi has repeatedly said she is against any short-term extension bill, and most Republicans think the strategy is a losing one.

The White House's primary areas of focus, per a White House official:

  1. Back-to-work tax credits (which the official said is essentially a retention credit).
  2. Extending unemployment insurance to 70% of a person's average wage before the COVID-19 crisis.
  3. School funding: Schools will get $105 billion. That would include roughly $70 billion for K-12, but only half would be for all schools — the other half would only be for schools that are opening in person.
  4. Widespread liability insurance, including for restaurants, hotels, hospitals, universities and school districts.

The GOP bill, which McConnell plans to roll out on Monday, is expected to include all of them. But it will be a broader, $1 trillion package that contains other priorities as well, such as:

  • $25 billion for coronavirus testing.
  • Stimulus checks, which would be doled out under the same guidelines as in the CARES Act, meaning Americans who make $75K or less would receive the full benefit.
  • Extension of the Paycheck Protection Program. Small businesses with 300 or fewer employees that show a revenue loss of 50% would be able to apply for a second loan.

The White House, including Trump, has signed off on the bill with the hope they can negotiate it down to a "skinny" bill later on.

What’s next: Once the bill drops, negotiations with Democrats will begin in earnest.

4. Scoop: White House launches regional media push to COVID hot spots

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

To show President Trump's "renewed focus" on combating COVID-19, the White House is launching a heavy regional media campaign in states that are coronavirus hot spots to educate the public on the importance of following mitigation measures, White House officials tell Axios.

Driving the news: The White House will be blanketing designated marketing areas throughout the Southwest and Midwest with White House doctors and administration officials on air.

  • "We’re targeting more than 200 bookings in the next two weeks to communicate to emerging hot spots how to avoid spread and what the federal government is doing to help them," one official said.
5. Sneak Peek diary

Photo: Getty Images

Rep. John Lewis will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Monday and Tuesday.

  • On Wednesday, the civil rights icon's body will be taken to Atlanta, where he will lie in state at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once led.

The House will vote Monday on a bill drafted by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) to establish the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys.

  • The House will also vote Monday on a bill that would establish a National Museum of the American Latino within the Smithsonian Institution.
  • The House is also expected to consider the Water Resources and Development Act of 2020; the Child Care Is Essential Act, which would create a $50 billion child care stabilization fund; and the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act, which would provide tax relief and other funds to families, providers and employers.
  • The House will also take up the second package of FY2021 appropriations bills.
  • Tuesday: Attorney General Bill Barr will appear before the House Judiciary Committee.
  • The head of the U.S. Park Police and a National Guard whistleblower will testify before the House Natural Resources Committee about protesters being forcibly removed from a Lafayette Square demonstration last month.
  • Wednesday: The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google will testify before the House Judiciary Committee at an antitrust hearing.

The Senate will vote on Monday to confirm William Scott Hardy as a judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The Senate is also expected to vote on the following nominees:

  • David Cleveland Joseph as a judge for the Western District of Louisiana.
  • Dana Wade as assistant secretary of housing and urban development.
  • Marvin Kaplan and Lauren McGarity McFerran as members of the National Labor Relations Board, a five-year term. Both are reappointments.
  • Tuesday: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Judy Shelton and Christopher Waller to join the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

President Trump's schedule, per a White House official:

  • Monday: Trump will participate in a tour and coronavirus briefing at Bioprocess Innovation Laboratories in Morrisville, N.C.
  • Wednesday: Trump will speak at a fundraising lunch in Odessa, Texas. He will also take a tour of a Double Eagle Energy oil rig in Midland, Texas. Later he will deliver remarks on restoring energy dominance in the Permian Basin in Midland.
  • Friday: Trump will meet with the National Association of Police Organizations leadership.
6. 1 fun thing: A bashful president

Cover via Random House

Do you think Donald J. Trump might have handled the publicity for this event differently if he were president at the time? Jonathan Swan has an exclusive passage from John Dickerson's excellent new book, "The Hardest Job in the World":

  • After the Berlin Wall fell, George H.W. Bush's political opponents criticized him for not gloating. "I urge President Bush to express the sense of elation that all Americans feel as the East German people erase barriers that have imprisoned them for decades," said Democratic Senate majority leader George Mitchell.
  • The House majority leader made the same point. "Even as the walls of the modern Jericho come tumbling down, we have a president who at least for now is inadequate to the moment," said Dick Gephardt.
  • ...If it was a moment calling for an end zone dance, Bush, who had helped bring it about, would have had the right to spike the ball. "Never before in human history had a great power broken apart with more than twenty thousand nuclear weapons in its midst," writes the diplomatic historian Jeffrey A. Engel.
  • ...What Bush knew is that actions have consequences. By showing restraint, he mitigated the set of challenges he would face in the future. Bush wanted unification to be Germany's triumph so that it would also be its future obligation. That would hopefully diminish how much the United States would have to manage in the future.
Jonathan Swan