Oct 13, 2019

White House looks to steady ship after week from hell

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The White House is trying to dig itself out of a self-inflicted crisis on Capitol Hill after a hellish week.

Driving the news: President Trump has signaled 3 moves that, while modest in substance, throw scraps of reassurance to anxious Republicans.

  1. A tactical truce with China that pauses the trade war, calms the markets, forestalls planned tariff hikes, and clears the way for Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural products.
  2. A tweet that he is likely to support sanctions against Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria, which has led to the slaughter of America's Kurdish allies and the escape of ISIS prisoners. (Trump is trying to clean up after he cleared the way for Turkey's invasion last Sunday night.)
  3. A deployment of an additional 1,800 U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia to discourage Iranian aggression.

Behind the scenes: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and senior diplomat Jim Jeffrey have been working behind the scenes with Trump to encourage him to put pressure on Erdogan, per sources with direct knowledge.

  • And Trump is coming to the view that he probably has no choice but to support Congress' impending Turkey sanctions, per these sources. An overwhelming majority of Congress — likely enough to override a presidential veto — appears poised to move on these sanctions.
  • Erdoğan has few friends these days on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers from both parties have been waiting for an opportunity to punish him for his deal with Russia to buy the S-400 missile system. Trump made these sanctions a near certainty from the moment he blindsided allies by announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria — thus abandoning the Kurds.
  • The White House guaranteed this turmoil on the Hill by blindsiding crucial partners, including the Israelis, key Republican senators and the Christian right.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed hard for the additional troop deployment to Saudi to deter Iran. He did so over the objections of other national security officials, according to a senior administration official.

The big picture: Republican senators are increasingly spooked after being blindsided by weighty presidential decisions, a shift in public opinion toward impeachment, the absence of direction from the White House on impeachment, the fear of what other unknown scandals are still out there, and the daily controversies that all seem to involve the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

  • Trump has "had a terrible 30–40 days," a source close to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. The China truce "stabilized the markets and consumer psychology," the source added. "As far as I'm concerned, this is as serious as a heart attack."

Between the lines: Five White House officials tell me they were relieved by the stabilizing moves, but several expressed skepticism the trend can hold through the week. "This is the pattern of the past 3 years," said a senior White House official. "[Trump] pushes things as far as they can go, to breaking point, and then pulls back. It happens again and again."

  • Another senior official expressed hope that everyone in the White House wakes up to the dangers Trump faces on Capitol Hill.
  • This official acknowledged a split in the White House: One group is naively oblivious to a risk that the bottom could fall out of Trump's support in the Senate. Another group is convinced it can't take Senate Republican support for granted, even though most senators still fear Trump because the Republican base has totally bonded to him.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,410,228 — Total deaths: 345,105 — Total recoveries — 2,169,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to fewer than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

By the numbers: Over 5.4 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.1 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 13.7 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,800 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.