Oct 11, 2020

Axios Sneak Peek

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

  • We are 23 days away from the election.

Tonight's newsletter is 1,405 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing... Scoop: Trump wants to hit campaign trail every day through election

President Trump addresses hundreds of supporters on the White House South Lawn on Saturday, eight days after he was hospitalized for COVID-19. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

President Trump has asked his campaign to put him on the road every single day from now until Nov. 3.

  • His team is in the process of scheduling events to make that happen, two sources familiar with the discussions tell me and Axios' Jonathan Swan.
  • But not everyone thinks this is a good idea. One adviser said, “He’s going to kill himself.”

Why it matters: Look at the polls. Trump is in need of a rebound, and he's betting he's got a better chance on the move than sitting around the West Wing.

What we're hearing: The campaign is more worried than ever that seniors — a crucial voting bloc — are abandoning Trump over his handling of the pandemic.

  • "He really f----d up with seniors when he said not to worry about the virus and not to let it control your life," one Trump adviser told Axios. "There are so many grandparents who’ve gone almost a year without being able to see grandchildren."

Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh tells Axios: “The president has personal experience with COVID and understands what people are going through."

What's next: Trump hits the trail for the first time since contracting COVID-19 tomorrow for an airport rally in Sanford, Florida, followed by stops in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Iowa on Wednesday.

2. Trump turns to Putin for arms deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Kremlin Press Service/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Trump is looking to Vladimir Putin to close the deal on a pre-election nuclear agreement, a timetable that's an October surprise even for senior Republicans and some in the White House, Axios' Dave Lawler and I report.

The big picture: Trump and Putin have discussed arms control in a string of phone calls over the last six months, and they've dispatched envoys to negotiate in Vienna. But talks appeared stalled until just a few days ago.

  • National security adviser Robert O’Brien and his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, met in Geneva on Oct. 2. 
  • The meeting created enough momentum that Trump’s arms control envoy, Marshall Billingslea, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ryabkov, made last-minute plans to travel to Helsinki — with Billingslea even cutting short a trip to Asia.
  • On Friday, a source familiar with the discussions said the Trump administration believed it now had an agreement in principle, blessed by Putin and Patrushev, that could be finalized within a week once negotiations resume in earnest.
  • But Ryabkov countered on Saturday that “there are still huge differences in approaches, including to the central elements of such an agreement.” Talk of an imminent deal is hardly “realistic,” he said.

Behind the scenes: The talks have been kept to a tight circle of people on the Hill and at the White House.

  • One administration official tells me it has been handled only at the highest levels in the National Security Council and State Department, but added that some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a national security working group on the Hill have received briefings.

The big picture: Election Day isn't the only deadline driving this process. New START, the last major bilateral treaty limiting the nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia, is due to expire on Feb. 5.

  • Putin wants to extend it for five years. So does Joe Biden.
3. Buzz grows around Cuomo for AG

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Democrats are so convinced that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo could be considered for Joe Biden's attorney general that aides at the National Governors Association, which Cuomo chairs, are looking into contingencies for replacing him, two sources familiar with the situation tell me.

What we're hearing: Some Democratic donors in Cuomo's orbit tell Hans Nichols that the governor is being pushed for the job and that Biden would consider him, based on their long friendship.

Why it matters: The AG would be among the most politically sensitive — and high-profile — jobs in a Biden administration.

  • The Justice Department will face pressure to investigate Trump-era officials — and perhaps Trump himself — for wrongdoing in office.
  • Biden's AG also would manage the federal response to police violence, social unrest and systemic racism, and the AG could seek to use federal powers to blunt state abortion restrictions.

What they're saying: Cuomo's team denies that the governor has any interest in serving in a potential Biden Cabinet.

  • "100% he's made zero outreach, has had zero conversations about this and has made his desire to stay in New York clear as day and be governor as long as people want him," Cuomo's senior adviser Richard Azzopardi tells Axios.

Between the lines: Biden is clearly fond of Cuomo, but he's also committed — and under pressure — to name a racially and gender-diverse Cabinet, including the marquee posts.

  • Names like former acting AG Sally Yates and Stacey Abrams are also likely on a list of AG candidates.

The big picture: Cuomo, who previously served as New York's AG, has a long history with Biden.

  • Through his late father Mario, Cuomo's known Biden since the 1980s. The two grew closer during the Hurricane Sandy reconstruction efforts and Cuomo's time serving in Bill Clinton's Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
  • People who know their relationship say Biden sees parts of himself in the 62-year-old.
  • "When one of them needs something, it’s automatic,” says a person familiar with their relationship. “It’s not a calculation.”
4. What to expect from the Amy Coney Barrett hearings

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Pool/Getty Images     

Democrats are heading into this week's confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett with one overarching goal: protect Joe Biden's election.

Why it matters: They have little chance of stopping Barrett's confirmation unless more Republican senators test positive for the coronavirus or there's a truly unexpected disclosure, which sources from both parties say is unlikely, my colleague Sam Baker and I report.

  • So Democrats are instead hoping to use the hearings as an opportunity to mobilize voters on key issues, like health care and voting rights.
  • But they also recognize they risk energizing Republicans if they go too far in their attacks, and they're hoping to minimize self-damage when pressing her on topics about abortion and her deeply conservative religious views.

The other side: Republicans plan to play it safe and confirm Barrett as quickly as possible.

  • They plan to redirect a lot of their time with Barrett to fanning the notion that if Biden is elected, Democrats will pursue Supreme Court packing to dilute a conservative lock.

Behind the scenes: Senate Judiciary Democrats have been regularly meeting over the past few weeks to strategize and divvy up their lines of attack.

  • They plan to press Barrett to recuse herself from cases directly involving the November election and will lean into fears about what a 6-3 conservative court that includes her could do to unravel protections for voting rights and for health insurance coverage of preexisting conditions.

Go deeper: Read Barrett's opening statement

5. Sneak Peek diary

Photo: DEA/M. Borchi via Getty Images

The House is on recess through the election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has postponed floor activity through Oct. 19.

  • Opening statements for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett begin on Monday.

President Trump's schedule:

  • Monday: Trump will speak at a rally in Sanford, Florida.
  • Tuesday: Trump will speak at a rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
  • Wednesday: Trump will speak at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa.

Vice President Joe Biden's schedule:

  • Monday: Biden will deliver remarks on economic recovery in Toledo, Ohio. Later he will attend a voter mobilization event in Cincinnati.
  • Thursday: Biden will participate in an ABC town hall in lieu of the second presidential debate, which was canceled on Friday.
6. 1 book thing: Inside Cuomo's must-see COVID briefings

Photo: Courtesy of the office of the governor

In the following passage from Cuomo's new book, "American Crisis"— out Tuesday — he details his morning routine ahead of those daily 11:30am pandemic briefings that became must-see TV for so many Americans:

"A lot happened before the 11:30 briefings every morning. The numbers came in around 3:00 a.m. Melissa [DeRosa, Secretary to Cuomo] would get on the phone with Gareth [Rhodes] and Dr. Jim Malatras between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. to talk about them and what needed to be included in that day’s presentation. ...
Melissa would text me the numbers so that I could look at them as soon as I woke up at 5:00. When I got to the office between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., there was a stack of paper — testing numbers, hospitalizations, hot spots. I would pepper the team with questions and then write the whole presentation by hand myself. It was important to me that everything I conveyed at the briefings was logically organized and in my own words. And I’d draw the visuals for each of the twenty or thirty slides for that day.
As time went on, the team wanted to use more modern visuals on the PowerPoint, with different colors and fonts. They thought ours looked straight out of the 1960s. But I didn’t want to make it look slick. I wasn’t trying to sell anything."

Read the full excerpt.