March 15, 2020

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

🍿 Tonight on "Axios on HBO" (6pm ET/PT): DNC chair Tom Perez talks about the coronavirus and the party's future. See a clip. ... House Majority Whip James Clyburn warns the U.S. "could very well go the way of Germany in the 1930s." See a clip.

  • Catch up later on HBO GO.

Tonight's newsletter is 1,517 words, a 6-minute read.

  • Situational awareness: The Federal Reserve Sunday cut interest rates to zero and launched a $700 billion quantitative easing program in response to the expected economic downturn and stock market slump caused by the coronavirus. Go deeper.

1 big thing: How Trump snapped out of hoax mode

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

It took a stock market crash — and a Fox News star's intervention — to finally snap President Trump's delusional and possibly disastrous fixation with treating the coronavirus like just another winter flu.

Why it matters: Because the government was so slow to distribute tests, Trump officials don't know how far the virus has spread in the U.S. 

Behind the scenes: The president and some of his team were in denial about the virus for weeks, portraying it as just an overhyped winter flu. Over the past week, per half a dozen Trump advisers, a series of alarm bells snapped them out of their complacency.

  • Trump has always treated the stock market as his personal ticker on his performance. On Thursday, the stock market had its biggest one-day fall since 1987's Black Monday crash.
  • On Friday, the White House Council of Economic Advisers sent a memo to administration officials surveying outside economic forecasts. Its finding, per a source with knowledge of the memo: The likelihood of a recession in the next 12 months had risen from a 29% to 37% chance. A second source confirmed the memo's broad outlines.
  • And a number of informal Trump advisers — including Fox News host Tucker Carlson — emphasized to the president that this was not the flu and urged him to act fast.

Trump's error-riddled Wednesday night address — which sent the markets spiraling — was the low point of a disastrous month for the administration. One senior White House official described it as "just awful."

  • The short, 10-minute scripted speech contained three policy statements that needed clarifying or correcting (including the president's erroneous claim that he would ban trade between the U.S. and Europe). 

The big picture: The calamitous speech obscured signs that the administration is hustling to get its act together.

  • The administration is finally clearing out the regulatory hurdles to testing.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cut a deal with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to provide the first wave of support for people affected by the coronavirus.
  • All of Trump's top public health advisers supported the European travel restrictions, according to a senior administration official who was in the room for the conversations. They will extend the travel ban to the U.K. and Ireland on Monday.
  • Top administration officials are finally following the CDC's guidance on limiting the virus' spread. Though Trump himself shook hands in public as recently as Friday, Vice President Pence told White House staff on Saturday afternoon to avoid physical contact with others.
  • Pence is holding daily press briefings. Two sources with direct knowledge said they will continue next week.
  • And the administration is working closely with the private sector and the states. Senior administration officials said governors and more industry leaders will visit the White House this week.

Between the lines: Trump laid a trap for himself by falsely claiming the U.S. footprint of the virus was small and shrinking.

  • So what happens, one adviser mused, if these numbers skyrocket simply because the administration finally gets its act together on testing?
  • The data will stand in jarring contrast to the president's outlandish claims.

The bottom line: The president initially set impossible expectations. When the numbers come in, he'll have to face reality.

2. Exclusive: Madeleine Westerhout to release Oval Office memoir

Cover: Center Street

Madeleine Westerhout, who spent 2½ years as President Trump's Oval Office gatekeeper, will release a frank memoir on Aug. 11 about one mistake that cost her one of the world's most fascinating jobs.

  • Westerhout, former Director of Oval Office Operations, plans a searing description of a "momentary lapse in judgment that occurred because of too much wine at a dinner."

Westerhout will recount an "off-the-record" dinner with reporters on the road — an age-old White House tradition. Hers had a disastrous fallout when word of what was discussed over drinks got back to the West Wing.

  • Center Street, the publisher, said she plans to hold "accountable the reporters who, according to the author, broke their agreement."
  • The title: "Off the Record."

Westerhout said: "With so many books out there that have attacked President Trump, I feel it is important to share what I see as the other side — the truth —about the man who is a kind and generous boss, a great leader for our country, and someone I grew to deeply admire."

3. Perez: I don't know "what faith" Trump supporters follow

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

In an interview with "Axios on HBO," DNC chair Tom Perez said he "doesn't know what faith" supporters of President Trump are worshipping when they go to church after going to Trump rallies.

Driving the news: "I think the challenge that I see among a lot of people that go to Donald Trump rallies, and then they will go to church on Sunday, and I'm not, I don't know what faith they are worshipping," Perez said in an interview recorded last week on a swing through Florida.

  • "Donald Trump has done more to hurt the least of us among us than just about any president I can think of."

The big picture: Perez made these comments after I asked him about a Catholic leader's criticism of statements Perez had made about Democrats and abortion rights.

  • In 2017, shortly after taking over leadership of the Democratic Party, Perez said that every Democrat, no matter where they live, must support a woman's right to choose. He said such support was "not negotiable."

The key exchange:

  • Question: "Cardinal Timothy Dolan is a leader of the Catholic Church in America. He wrote this after you made those comments: 'It saddens me and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.'"
  • Perez: "Well, actually the majority of Catholics voted for Democrats in 2016. ... You know, Matthew 25 is a pretty important teaching. And Matthew 25 says, you know, when you are hungry, I fed you. When you were naked, I provided you with clothing. When you were an immigrant, I welcomed you. I think one of the reasons why so many people are moving away from Donald Trump is that he's abandoned all of those values.

Fact check: The Catholic vote was closely split between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016. Exit polls indicated Trump won more of the Catholic vote, but subsequent analysis had Clinton slightly ahead.

Between the lines: I had first asked Perez how he reconciled his position that all Democrats must support abortion rights with the success of the Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. Edwards was the only Democrat to win statewide in the Deep South in the 2018 midterms.

  • Perez said he "profoundly" disagreed with Edwards' stance on abortion. Last year, Edwards signed one of the country's strictest abortion laws.
  • But when asked if Edwards should "hand in his Democrat card," Perez said no. He added that he will continue to speak up about abortion rights because "it's a really important issue."

Watch the clip

4. Dr. Fauci leaves open door for temporary "national lockdown"

"The nation's top infectious disease expert on Sunday did not rule out supporting a temporary national lockdown of the country's restaurants and bars in order to curb the spread of coronavirus, saying he'd like to see a 'dramatic' reduction in activity in order to fight the disease," per CNN.

Driving the news: "Asked by CNN's Brianna Keilar on 'State of the Union' if he'd like a 'national lockdown' where people are being told they need to stay home and out of restaurants and bars, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said he'd 'like to see a dramatic diminution of the personal interaction that we see' in those places."

  • "Whatever it takes to do that, that's what I'd like to see," Fauci said.
  • "[F]or a while, life is not going to be the way it used to be in the United States," he added. "We have to just accept that if we want to do what's best for the American public."

5. Sneak Peek diary

The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center has suspended all public tours until the end of March due to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Capitol — as well as House and Senate office buildings — is closed to the public through April 1 due to the coronavirus.

The House is on recess this week. However, some technical changes need to be made to the bipartisan coronavirus bill the House passed in the early hours of Saturday morning, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

  • House leadership expects those changes to pass by unanimous consent this week during a pro forma session, a Democratic leadership aide told Axios.
  • The bill, which was negotiated between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, has Trump's support.

The Senate will stay in Washington. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell canceled recess to continue work on legislation dealing with the coronavirus, Alayna writes.

  • On Monday, the Senate will move on House-passed legislation overhauling and reauthorizing policies under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
  • The measure, passed by the House with a broad, bipartisan majority on Wednesday, reauthorizes three controversial intelligence tools through Dec. 1, 2023.
  • The legislation also includes new privacy protections and changes to the FISA court system aimed at addressing misconduct over the surveillance warrants issued for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page — a key Republican sticking point.
  • McConnell has urged swift passage of the bipartisan bill, and several of Trump's most vocal allies have also backed the measure. However, Trump suggested in a Thursday tweet that he might veto the legislation even if it passes the Senate, creating uncertainty over the bill's fate.
  • Any action on the House-passed coronavirus legislation will wait until after the FISA legislation is passed, and it will take unanimous consent.

The White House did not offer a copy of President Trump's schedule this week, but Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday that he and Trump will brief the nation’s governors, as well as local officials in U.S. territories and in D.C., on Monday.

  • As we noted in item 1, Pence and the coronavirus task force are also expected to deliver a daily briefing on the latest developments of the administration's response to the virus.

🚨Tonight: The 11th presidential debate with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders will take place at 8pm ET at CNN studios in Washington, D.C., with no live audience due to coronavirus precautions.