• A Spoiled System
• Unemployment Claims Once Again Exceed 6 Million
• COVID-19 Relief Bill v4.0 Hits Some Snags
• COVID-19 Doesn't Discriminate, Except When It Does
• Trump Tries a New Line of Attack Against Biden
• Time to Cancel the Democratic Convention?
• The 2024 Presidential Election Is Starting to Take Shape
Earlier this week, the office of Vice President and COVID-19 co-czar Mike Pence implemented a new policy: As long as CNN refuses to carry the White House's daily COVID-19 briefings in full, government health experts are not allowed to appear on the network. Thursday afternoon, after a fair bit of pushback from CNN and others, the policy was finally reversed.
There are two reasons that CNN does not generally carry the full briefing, instead generally covering only Donald Trump's question and answer portion. The first is that Trump's presentations are so riddled with misrepresentations and outright falsehoods that the outlet prefers to respond immediately with fact-checking and clarifications. The second is that once Pence and other folks take the stage, they often bloviate for up to two hours. Not exactly enthralling programming.
If the White House really wants CNN to cover the full briefings, then both of these problems are within their power to fix. Donald Trump, for his part, could stop lying and misrepresenting things. He's not going to do that, of course, but he could if he so chose. Pence & Co., for their part, could recognize that there isn't really two hours' worth of new and valuable information each day, and could edit themselves appropriately.
In any event, it's yet another illustration of the low regard this administration has for the First Amendment, specifically the part about freedom of the press. That Team Trump plays favorites, with the President sitting for interviews only with Fox News these days, while sneaking OANN reporters into the daily briefing through the back door, is a given. But for the administration to presume to dictate how CNN, or any other outlet, should cover the news? That's reprehensible. Making it more so is that the "punishment" was withholding experts in public health right in the midst of a pandemic. Quite clearly, the White House is not only willing to trample all over the Constitution, they're willing to put American lives at risk to do it. (Z)
And speaking of putting lives at risk, TPM and a few other outlets are following a story that, if it pans out, would be manyfold worse than even the behavior described in the previous item. The federal government has begun seizing and re-routing critical medical supplies as part of its "management" of the COVID-19 crisis. And there is mounting evidence that the White House is purposefully yanking supplies from politicians who do not kiss Donald Trump's ring, and is redirecting them to politicians who do.
The example noted by TPM is a shipment of 500 ventilators that was intercepted by the federal government, despite Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO) insisting they were badly needed by his citizenry. Eventually, 100 of the ventilators were sent along when Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) got involved. In a Denver Post editorial on the matter entitled "Trump is playing a disgusting political game with our lives," the editorial board writes: "President Donald Trump is treating life-saving medical equipment as emoluments he can dole out as favors to loyalists. It's the worst imaginable form of corruption— playing political games with lives."
If these claims are proven true, then the Post is absolutely right. The "spoils system," as they called it in the nineteenth century, has been around for two centuries. However, there is a world of difference between handing out a few postmasterships and ambassadorial postings to your friends and allies versus monopolizing life-saving medical equipment for the benefit of your sycophants.
The evidence in support of TPM's and the Post's claims is a little thin; more is needed before any definitive conclusions can be reached. With that said, Trump has made clear, over and over again, that he is only the president of some Americans (namely, the base). He's been deliberately punitive with blue states before, and there's no reason to believe he wouldn't do it again. Similarly, he's made clear, over and over again, that he sees everything in transactional terms. He won't do anything for you unless you do something for him first. See Ukrainepot Dome for one example among many. So while this story is, as yet, unproven, there is nothing about it that seems even slightly implausible. (Z)
Another week, another massive number of new unemployment claims. About 6.6 million of them, roughly equal to last week's total. That means that the running, three-week tally is now pushing 17 million. Given that many people have yet to get their applications processed, due to overwhelmed staffers and computer systems running 50-year-old COBOL code that was designed to work with 80-column punched cards, economists are now estimating that unemployment is likely to approach 15% once the first round of dust settles. That's getting close to numbers the country saw during the Great Depression, when unemployment was generally in the low 20s. Of course, it took a couple of years to get to that point back in the 1930s, as opposed to just a few weeks in 2020.
Donald Trump desperately, desperately wants to restart the economy, something that is made clear by his wildly over-optimistic pronouncements at his daily press sessions. The main reason—and, quite possibly, the only reason—is that he wants things to be humming along again when it's time to cast ballots in November. And he knows, full well, that every week the economy is shut down, many tens of thousands of "temporary" layoffs become permanent. If a restaurant or small store is drowning in debt and loses its lease, a (small) loan from the Small Business Administration in a month or two isn't going to bring it back to life, so the people who worked there will never get their jobs back.
At this point, however, he's delusional if he thinks the 3-4% unemployment we saw as recently as a month ago is coming back anytime this year. It's true that there is a certain amount of pent-up demand that will be released when things start to get back to normal. But that is going to be canceled out, and then some, by at least three factors that go in the other direction: (1) The collapse of businesses that are unable to weather the shutdown; (2) Reticence by business owners to do too much re-hiring too fast; and (3) Businesses whose customer bases (and thus whose income) rebound slowly, too slowly to fully restaff anytime in the near future.
A couple of times already, we've made that last point—that people are currently skittish, and are going to remain skittish for a very long time. Even if this was a trustworthy and reliable White House, the announcement that "all is well" would not be enough for many people. And when you've got a White House where 60% of the public doesn't trust it, then the "all is well" pronouncement is going to have even less of an effect, particularly if governors like Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), Mike DeWine (R-OH), and Gavin Newsom (D-CA) say: "Uh, I think not."
On Thursday, we got our first hard data in support of that point. Seton Hall published a poll in which they asked respondents what it will take to persuade them to attend live sporting events again. A staggering 72% said they would not go until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed (and another 12% said they would only go if they could be certain social distancing would be practiced). The most optimistic estimates are that a vaccine is 18 months away, and then it will take another lengthy period of time to produce and administer the vast number of doses needed.
Obviously, sports are just one segment of the economy. But if that large a chunk of the public is loath to return to arenas and stadiums until they can be ironclad certain of their safety, what else will they be loath to do? Visit restaurants? Shop in shopping malls? Go to Disneyland? Travel on an airplane? Attend a convention? Certainly, some (if not all) of those things will be off many people's lists. Which leads us, once again, to the conclusion that if Trump is counting on an economic bounceback in order to get reelected, he's off his rocker. (Z)
Just about everyone agrees that the (nearly) $350 billion set aside to help small businesses is not enough. However, they disagree on whether or not there are other urgent areas of need. Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Republicans believe that this is the only critical matter before them right now. On the other hand, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and other Democrats think that money is also desperately needed for hospitals and other healthcare providers, and also for state and local governments. Further, they would like to see a sizable chunk of the new small-business money set aside for underserved communities (note that is "underserved" and not "undeserved").
And so, it's yet another game of chicken in Washington. Who will blink first, and how quickly will they do it? Who knows? Right now, everyone is doing the standard posturing and finger-wagging at their colleagues across the aisle. Complicating things, and raising the stakes a fair bit, is that there's no guarantee of COVID-19 relief bill v5.0. So, Democrats may really dig their heels in now to get some of their priorities funded. Oh, and once they do agree on a bill (if they do), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) has already made clear that he will once again object to any attempt at passing a funding bill by unanimous consent or voice vote. This will force a quorum's worth of representatives to return to Washington when the time comes, and so will add at least a day or two or three to the process. So far House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy hasn't read Massie the riot act, but he could. He could give the gentleman from Kentucky a call and say: "You have the right to call for a quorum. I have the right to remove you from all committees, take away all your staff, and move your office to a broom closet in the basement. If you choose to exercise your right, I will choose to exercise mine." (Z)
There is much that is awful when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. And one of those things, which has already begun to emerge in the data, is that it's hitting black people harder than any other ethnic group. In localities as disparate as New Orleans and Chicago, COVID-19 is killing black folks at more than twice the rate of non-black folks.
The reasons for this, at least some of them, are easy enough to identify. In the United States, black people are more likely to have chronic health conditions and are less likely to have access to healthcare (two things that are most certainly related to each other). Economically, black folks are more likely to work jobs that put them at risk of exposure to COVID-19, and are less likely to be able to skip work for their safety, because they simply must have the paycheck, or they live in one of the states that has yet to issue a stay-at-home order, or they have jobs that cannot be done from home, or some combination of these things. It's also possible that there is some sort of underlying propensity for COVID-19 to have serious or fatal complications, though this won't be known to a certainty for a long time. There are definitely other respiratory conditions that afflict black Americans much more heavily than everyone else. For example, the lung-scarring disease sarcoidosis is sixteen times more likely to claim a black victim in the United States than a white one.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 preventative measures tend to be tougher for black folks to embrace. We've already noted that working at home or skipping work is often not an option. Beyond that, they are less likely to have a space available where they can isolate. Even the wearing of masks is much more fraught than it is for non-black Americans. Like most folks, it's not so easy for them to get surgical masks right now. And, as Aaron Thomas points out in an op-ed written for The Guardian (UK), a black person—and, in particular, a black man—who wears a bandanna or a homemade mask is at risk of being mistaken for an armed robber and being shot and killed.
There is an old saying that "a crisis reveals a nation's true character." In many ways, that is happening right now, and it's not a pretty sight. (Z)
Like everyone else, Donald Trump found out this week that he will definitely face Joe Biden in November. Quite clearly, the President was planning to milk this "Bernie is being screwed" thing for months in an effort to hurt Biden. Now, that's off the table. And so, the President is now trying a new line of attack. At Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing, he said:
You know what? I'll tell you, it does amaze me that President Obama hasn't supported Sleepy Joe. It just hasn't happened. When is it going to happen? When is it going to happen? Why isn't he? He knows something that you don't know, that I think I know, but you don't know. So it'll be interesting.
This is nonsense, of course. Barack Obama was honoring the tradition of staying neutral until the general election, not only because he believes in proper decorum (which he does), but also because he didn't want to dilute his influence by appearing to take sides.
Anyhow, everyone knows that the foundation of a Trump campaign is finding an enemy's Achilles heel, and hitting them with it (for example, Hillary Clinton's e-mail servers). And, reading between the lines here, it looks like Trump's coming up basically empty with Biden. If the President had actual dirt on the former veep, he'd unleash it, instead of relying on silly suppositions that don't pass the smell test. And Trump's previous lines of attack are now somewhat perilous. Burisma never really landed, and bringing it up now risks reminding people of impeachment. Similarly, the Donald can try to attack Biden for losing his train of thought, and may well do so, but that also highlights the President's own rambling.
And so, it looks like Trump is left with conspiracy theories, which served him well during his initial rise to power (e.g., Obama's birth certificate). The problem here, to be very blunt, is that Americans are considerably more willing to buy into conspiracy theories centered on a young, previously unknown black man with a foreign-sounding name than they are conspiracy theories centered on a white man in his seventies who has had a decades-long, high-profile career in politics and has a name that's about as European as it gets. (Z)
Joshua Spivak, writing for CNN, has a good op-ed up right now, arguing that the Democrats should just go ahead and cancel this year's convention. His argument is pretty simple: The positive good of holding the convention is limited, since people don't really watch these days anyhow, especially when the outcome is beyond all doubt. Meanwhile, the positive good of canceling is big: The Democrats avoid risking anyone's health, and would make an important statement about their concern for people's well-being as well as their respect for science and for expertise in general. Put another way, the party would get more good PR out of not having a convention than out of having one.
While Spivak does not explore this much, doing so would also back Donald Trump and his party into a bit of a corner. If they go forward with their convention, then the contrast with the Democrats will be striking, and not in the Republicans' favor. On the other hand, if the Republicans cancel after the Democrats do, it will make the President look like he's a follower rather than a leader, and will net them far less positive PR than the blue team would likely get. Of course, Trump & Co. could get the drop on the Democrats by canceling first, but that doesn't seem like the President's style, now does it? (Z)
Many readers roll their eyes when attention turns to the next presidential election cycle before this one is even over. Frankly, we roll our eyes, too. That doesn't mean it's not happening, though. Yesterday, we had an item about how Nikki Haley is positioning herself for both 2020 and 2024. Undoubtedly, some of Mike Pence's maneuvering (see above) is in service of similar purposes: saving his slot on the Republican ticket, and setting himself up for his own run in 2024.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 is also having a pretty profound impact on the Democrats' national bench. Although the last two presidents were a reality TV star and a U.S. Senator, four of the five before that were state governors. And now, quite a few Democratic governors are impressing with their leadership during the current crisis. Some of those, most obviously Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), are making a case for the #2 spot on this year's Democratic ticket. Others, like Andrew Cuomo, Gavin Newsom, and Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) are setting themselves up for a 2024 run (if Joe Biden is defeated this year, or if he retires after one term), or else a 2028 run. For reference, those gentlemen will be 66, 56, and 73 in 4 years, which is clearly young enough these days. Whitmer, a mere stripling, will be 54 on inauguration day 2025.
Needless to say, there are many lifetimes between now and the next two presidential elections. Still, Democrats who were worried that their party's bench was going to be somewhat bare after this year (since many candidates are not likely to return for another go-round) can sleep easier now. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr09 Biden May Have an Easier Job of Unifying the Party than Did Clinton in 2016
Apr09 Biden Is Leading Trump by 8 Points Nationally
Apr09 The Election Wars Have Begun
Apr09 Federal Judge Expands Voting Rights of Ex-Felons in Florida
Apr09 Nikki Haley: If People Die, Blame Your Governor
Apr09 Democrats Are Going after Ernst in Earnest
Apr09 Locking the Barn Door after the Prize Racehorse Has Escaped
Apr09 McGrath Has Outraised McConnell
Apr09 New Jersey Moves Its Primary to July
Apr09 Some Unexpected Effects from the Pandemic
Apr08 Wisconsin Primary Is a Fiasco
Apr08 Congress Prepares to Get Out the Checkbook Again
Apr08 Navarro Plot Thickens
Apr08 COVID-19 Death Totals Are Undoubtedly Low
Apr08 White House Does Some Spring Housecleaning
Apr08 Let the Investigations Begin
Apr08 Things Are Getting Interesting in Georgia
Apr07 Wisconsin Soap Opera Takes Many Twists and Turns
Apr07 Trump, Biden Chat on Phone
Apr07 White House's Dirty Laundry Gets Aired in Public
Apr07 Small Business Loan Program Stumbles Out of the Gate
Apr07 House COVID-19 Inquiry Is Definitely Happening
Apr07 Trump Sinks in Florida
Apr07 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part VI: The Raid on Harpers Ferry (1859)
Apr06 Republicans Will Try to Block Vote-by-Mail Nationwide...
Apr06 ...And Are Already Trying in Wisconsin
Apr06 Texas' Law Could Disenfranchise Millions
Apr06 States Raid Election Security Funds to Pay Costs Related to COVID-19
Apr06 Trump Pursues Pet Projects in the Middle of a Pandemic
Apr06 Gretchen Whitmer Is Gaining Traction as a Possible Veep Candidate
Apr06 Forty Percent of Trump Voters Unhappy with His Response to the Coronavirus Crisis
Apr06 The "Trump Bump" Is History
Apr06 A 2013 Decision by Rick Scott May Hurt Trump in Florida
Apr06 Georgia Beaches Have Become a Flashpoint
Apr06 Some of Sanders' Top Allies Want Him to Drop Out
Apr05 Sunday Mailbag
Apr04 While You Weren't Looking, Part I
Apr04 While You Weren't Looking, Part II
Apr04 Wisconsin Governor Changes His Mind
Apr04 Saturday Q&A
Apr03 Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Apr03 Unemployment Figures Are Ghastly
Apr03 Democrats Officially Reschedule Convention
Apr03 Vote-by-mail List Grows
Apr03 National Vote-by-mail Is Going to Be Tough
Apr03 Can Trump Postpone the Election?, Part II
Apr03 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part V: California Statehood (1850)
Apr02 Biden: Difficult to Imagine Having Democratic Convention as Scheduled
Apr02 Sanders Wants Wisconsin to Postpone Its Primary