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Trump says he "up-played" the coronavirus

President Trump responded to a question from an ABC town hall attendee Tuesday evening that he did not downplay the coronavirus, instead saying "in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action."

Reality check: The president told journalist Bob Woodward during an on-the-record interview that he intentionally understated the severity of COVID-19 in public statements to avoid inciting panic.


What they're saying: An audience member at the ABC event asked the president: "If you believe it's the president's responsibility to protect America, why would you downplay a pandemic that's known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities?"

"So that was called action," Trump said in response. "Not with the mouth, but an actual fact ... Because what I did, with China, I put a ban on, with Europe, I put a ban on. We would have lost thousands more people had I not put a ban on. We did a very, very good job when we put that ban on, whether you call it talent or luck, it was very important. So, we saved a lot of lives when we did that. 

  • Asked by host and ABC News Chief George Stephanopoulos if the number of Americans who have died from the virus causes him pause and whether his administration could have done something differently, Trump replied, "I think we could have had 2 million deaths if we didn’t close out the country."
  • The president repeated his claim that the virus will disappear. "It's probably going to go away now a lot faster because of the vaccines," he said. "It would go away without the vaccine, George, but it's going to go away a lot faster with it."

The big picture: Trump added that he restricted travel from China to slow the spread of the virus and claimed the policy was singularly his idea.

  • Woodward recently told NBC News that limiting travel from China was not Trump's idea, but was recommended at a January meeting by leading health experts in the administration, including Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Robert Redfield and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

TikTok gets more time (again)

The White House is again giving TikTok's Chinese parent company more time to satisfy its national security concerns, rather than initiating legal action, a source familiar with the situation tells Axios.

The state of play: China's ByteDance had until Friday to satisfy national security concerns raised by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), which is chaired by Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin. This was the company's third deadline, with CFIUS having provided two earlier extensions.

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Federal judge orders Trump administration to restore DACA

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to fully restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, giving undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a chance to petition for protection from deportation.

Why it matters: DACA was implemented under former President Obama, but President Trump has sought to undo the program since taking office. Friday’s ruling will require Department of Homeland Security officers to begin accepting applications starting Monday and guarantee that work permits are valid for two years.

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Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order

Counties around the San Francisco Bay Area will adopt California’s new regional stay-at-home order amid surges in cases and ICU hospitalizations, health officials said Friday.

The big picture: California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a three-week stay-at-home order on Thursday that would go into effect in regions with less than 15% ICU capacity. Despite the Bay Area’s current 25.3% ICU capacity, health officials from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and the city of Berkeley are moving ahead with a shelter-in-place mandate in the hopes of reducing risk.

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Podcast: Former FDA chief Rob Califf on the COVID-19 vaccine approval process

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reviewing two emergency use authorization requests for COVID-19 vaccines, with an outside advisory committee scheduled to meet next Thursday to review data from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

Axios Re:Cap digs in with former FDA commissioner Rob Calif about the EUA process, the science and who should make the final call.

The U.S. economic recovery needs rocket fuel

Data: BLS. Chart: Axios Visuals

Friday's deeply disappointing jobs report should light a fire under Congress, which has dithered despite signs the economy is struggling to kick back into gear.

Driving the news: President-elect Biden said Friday afternoon in Wilmington that he supports another round of $1,200 checks.

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CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.

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Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

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President of Soros foundation leaves amid speculation of potential Biden role

Patrick Gaspard, who served as ambassador to South Africa under President Barack Obama, is stepping down as president of George Soros' Open Society Foundations, fueling speculation that he'll join the Biden administration, potentially as Labor secretary.

What to know: Before his stint as ambassador, Gaspard was Obama's political director in the White House, drawing upon his experience in the labor movement to advance Obama's legislative agenda on health care and financial services reform.

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