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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Senate Has a Deal
      •  House Moves Toward Vote by Proxy
      •  Trump Immigration Ban Is Mostly a Paper Tiger
      •  Kemp Gets Much Blowback
      •  NFL Draft Starts Tomorrow
      •  Trump Lags Biden in National Polls
      •  Biden Campaign Arguing Over Leadership of Online Campaign

Senate Has a Deal

As expected, on Tuesday the U.S. Senate put the finishing touches on COVID-19 relief bill v4.0 and passed it. It will now head to the House where, given that it has bipartisan support and the backing of the White House, it will be approved quickly. How quickly depends on the number of House members who have to return to Washington (more below).

The new legislation contains five major elements:

  • Small business funds: $310 billion
  • Hospitals: $75 billion
  • Small lenders/community banks: $60 billion
  • COVID-19 testing: $25 billion
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans: $10 billion

From where we sit, it looks like the Republicans came out ahead on this one, as the Democrats don't seem to have extracted much in terms of their legislative priorities. One could argue that the $100 billion for hospitals and COVID-19 testing is a Democratic "win," since they were the ones pushing for these things. However, if we have reached the point that testing for and treatment of a disease is a partisan issue right in the midst of a pandemic, that's quite the indictment of the political system, and the party for whom these things represent "concessions."

Meanwhile, here is a review of the four COVID-19 relief bills thus far:

Version Amount Passed
1.0 $2 billion never passed
2.0 $8.3 billion March 6
3.0 $2 trillion March 27
4.0 $484 billion pending House approval

At this pace, and given that the banks say the small business money appropriated by relief bill v4.0 will run out almost instantly, one would expect COVID-19 relief bill v5.0 to be adopted sometime around May 5. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is already pooh-poohing that, saying he is "concerned" about rising deficits. Anyone who thinks McConnell is actually concerned about deficits hasn't been paying attention for the last 3 years. His real concern is that he's extracted about as much as he can for his partisans, and that the next bill is going to be much more tilted in favor of the Democrats' wishes. That is even more evidence for the conclusion that the Republicans came out ahead in this round. (Z)

House Moves Toward Vote by Proxy

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was initially opposed to any sort of remote-voting options, but she has either seen the light, or has realized that she was way out of step with her caucus. In any event, she's now 100% on board with allowing members to vote by proxy, which would mean that members who are not present in Washington could ask colleagues who are present to vote on their behalf. The arrangement is expected to be temporary, lasting only as long as the COVID-19 pandemic, and may be implemented as early as the end of the week.

Pelosi would prefer that most Republicans get on board, so that there are no questions about the legitimacy of the arrangement. Thus far, however, there is much pushback from that side of the aisle. It is not immediately clear why this issue would break down along partisan lines; here are our four best guesses:

  1. They are called "conservatives" for a reason, Part I: The reason articulated by many of the anti-vote-by-proxy Republicans is that it's not the traditional way things are done. "What is it, 200-plus years we've been—Congress has been meeting?" said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). "And you meet in person, you debate, and you vote in person. So I think it's that fundamental." Maybe he really feels that way, though he's been quite willing to disregard the traditions of the House in other contexts (like, say, the conduct of an impeachment hearing).

  2. They are called "conservatives" for a reason, Part II: Anything that makes it easier for the House to reach a quorum and to conduct business and hold votes necessarily makes it easier to get things done. For some Republicans, perhaps many of them, gridlock is a feature, not a bug.

  3. Reflexive principle: Surely there are some Republicans who oppose whatever the Democrats want entirely because the Democrats want it. If the red team was in the majority right now, maybe the Democrats would be the ones speaking out against vote by proxy.

  4. Parliamentary shenanigans: There is a small number of parliamentary maneuvers that representatives in the minority might use to derail or delay legislation, such as the quorum call that Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) tried to use against COVID-19 relief bill v3.0. These shenanigans are tougher if it's easier to gather the entire Democratic caucus or the entire House.

In any event, it is clear that opposition to vote by proxy is not the "obvious" Republican position, since many members of that caucus have spoken out in favor of the (temporary) change, including Reps. Liz Cheney (WY) and Elise Stefanik (NY). Even Massie says he likes the idea, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has indicated cautious assent. Of course, the Democrats need exactly zero Republican votes to make it happen, so no matter what takes place on that side of the aisle, the change is only a matter of time. (Z)

Trump Immigration Ban Is Mostly a Paper Tiger

On Monday night, Donald Trump announced on Twitter his plans to ban immigration to the United States. On Tuesday, the White House unveiled the order. Not surprisingly, it is considerably less substantial than the original tweet implied.

By the terms of the order, some immigration will be temporarily halted. However, temporary employees, including farm workers, landscapers and crab pickers—the single-largest source of immigration—will still be allowed into the country. So will essential employees (like healthcare workers), as well as the family members of U.S. citizens. Oh, and the order will only be in effect for 60 days to start (though it will be reviewed once that time period is up).

Like a Muslim ban that targets Somalia but not Saudi Arabia, the new ban is so full of loopholes and exceptions as to be almost meaningless. The conclusion, one affirmed by the White House's inability to articulate a clear rationale for the ban—Is it for health reasons? Is it for economic reasons?—is that this was just for show, in order to please the base. And, even from that vantage point, it seems to have failed. Fox News' Tucker Carlson, who is normally an enthusiastic member of Team Trump, slammed the order on Tuesday, declaring that it "failed" to protect American jobs. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, who is staunchly opposed to most immigration, said "Briefly delaying green cards for people, most of whom are already in the U.S. and working, and ignoring work visas doesn't help U.S. workers and doesn't ease pressure on hospitals."

Of course, the Muslim travel ban went through multiple versions. Maybe, given that even the Fox News crowd is unhappy, immigration ban v2.0 will be issued next week. Keep a close eye on Twitter for updates. (Z)

Kemp Gets Much Blowback

There are four Southern states whose governors have announced plans to begin partly reopening soon: Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) has become the poster child for this development. This despite the fact that his state is not the largest or most populous of the four (that would be Texas) nor is it the one whose grand re-opening will be the most aggressive (that would be Tennessee). Maybe it's because he has been the most vocal, or because his is the most purple of the four states, or because he's the Trumpiest of the four governors involved.

In any event, on Monday Kemp made some very bold announcements about his reopening plans. And on Tuesday, he got all sorts of blowback. Many of the state's mayors, particularly Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D), made clear they are not interested in playing along. Quite a few private business owners announced that their doors will remain closed for the foreseeable future, regardless of whether or not they are "allowed" to open. Even the South Carolinians—the same South Carolinians who have their own reopening plans—are looking down their noses at the Georgians. "I worry that our friends and neighbors in Georgia are going too fast too soon," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

The result of all this is that Kemp has created quite a pickle for himself. He could back down, but that would be a pretty embarrassing loss of face. He could move forward with his plans, but that might end up being the worst of both worlds. That is to say, there could be enough defiance to embarrass him and to keep the economy effectively shut down, but also enough compliance to cause an increase in COVID-19 diagnoses and deaths. Then he gets all the downsides and none of the upsides.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has once again maneuvered an ally into sticking their neck out on his behalf. If the reopening of Georgia goes at all well, the President will jump on Twitter to say he knew it all along, and that he's glad he encouraged it to happen. And if the reopening goes badly, then Trump will act as if he's never heard of Kemp or Georgia. The Governor, Michael Cohen, former AG Jeff Sessions, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon really ought to get together and form a club or something. (Z)

NFL Draft Starts Tomorrow

The NFL has the good fortune, such as it is, to be the only major American sports league that was not in season when the COVID-19 crisis hit. Since most types of offseason business (trades, contract negotiations, hirings and firings) can be done remotely, the league has been able to conduct business largely as usual. That will remain the case tomorrow, when the annual draft of college players will commence. In a normal year, the draft is a large and raucous event held in a big auditorium with thousands of fans, hundreds of executives, and dozens of players in attendance. This year, it will be conducted remotely, with each of the league's 32 teams having a "draft room" in a different location (normally their home city), and participating team executives observing social distancing. Multiple dozens of players will participate from home, with their reactions to being drafted transmitted by webcam.

In short, the Cleveland Browns are going to be able to screw up their draft picks in an entirely new and different way in 2020. No, wait. While that's certainly true, it's not the big news. The big news is that the NFL has managed to dodge this particular COVID-19 bullet, and to stick with its basic calendar and business model. For those who watch on Thursday, the differences between this draft and others will be noticeable, but not so much so as to make it an entirely different kettle of fish.

Of course, the equation changes for actual practices (scheduled to commence in mid-July) or games (preseason starts early August; regular season early September). It's not exactly possible to tackle someone from six feet away; if it were, Deion Sanders would certainly have figured out a way to do it. (That will be our last sports joke for the week). The equation gets even more complicated if the league decides it would like to have, you know, actual fans in the stands.

And that is where this becomes a political story. Donald Trump really, really, really wants the NFL to hold its season as scheduled. In part, this is because the league is an important driver of many state and local economies. But of even greater concern is the symbolic importance. Football is now America's pastime, even more so these days than baseball. They have a season that begins a couple of months before the presidential election and continues a few months after. They are particularly beloved and important in many of the red states that the President is counting upon in November. If everything moves forward as scheduled, then it will send a message to the voters Trump cares most about that the crisis is over and that life is returning to normal. If the season is delayed, or canceled, or games are played in empty stadiums, it sends the opposite message.

And now, the bad news for Trump (and for football fans). There isn't all that much time between now and the drop-dead date for the NFL to conduct a normal schedule. They can condense the practices and the preseason a bit, but players probably have to be on the field by August 10 or so in order for regular season games to be played on time. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is going to have to be strongly convinced that the risk has been eliminated (or significantly reduced), since NFL games involve so many people coming from so many different places. Further, and this particularly argues against having crowds in the stands anytime soon, the CDC warned on Tuesday that there may well be a COVID-19 resurgence in winter, one even worse than the current pandemic, since it figures to be paired with a particularly bad year for the flu.

And finally, while the NFL owners would certainly prefer to have a season, it's possible they actually won't take much of a financial hit if the season is canceled. The league gets most of its money from TV broadcasts, not ticket sales. And the TV contracts are written in such a way that the networks may have to pay, even if there is nothing to broadcast. Or, they may simply choose to pay because the contracts are set to be renegotiated next year, and no network wants to be frozen out of those conversations. Meanwhile, player contracts are written in such a way that they probably don't have to be paid if the games aren't played. Add it all up, and the owners could find themselves choosing between: (1) making a lot of money, spending little, and assuming zero risk of liability, and (2) making a lot more money, spending a lot more money, and assuming a large risk of liability. Under those circumstances, it would not be surprising for them to err on the side of #1. And if there's no football season (especially if colleges also cancel their seasons, which is even more likely), then that alone could absolutely cost Trump a couple of points (or more) in the football-loving states of the South and the Midwest. Those are a couple of points he knows full well he cannot afford to lose. (Z)

Trump Lags Biden in National Polls

Speaking of a couple of points (or more), national polls of voter preferences do not have a lot of great news for Donald Trump these days when it comes to his upcoming showdown against Joe Biden. Nine different pollsters have released Trump vs. Biden polls this month; here's how they have it (from newest to oldest):

Pollster Trump Biden Net
NBC News/WSJ 42% 49% Biden +7
Harvard-Harris 47% 53% Biden +6
Economist/YouGov 43% 48% Biden +5
Monmouth 44% 48% Biden +4
Fox News 42% 42% Tie
CNBC 39% 44% Biden +5
CNN 42% 53% Biden +11
Quinnipiac 41% 49% Biden +8
Average     Biden +5.8

As a reminder, here are the four head-to-head presidential contests where a candidate won the presidency despite losing the popular vote:

Year Winner Loser Pop. Vote Gap
1876 Rutherford B. Hayes Samuel J. Tilden 3.0%
1888 Benjamin Harrison Grover Cleveland 0.8%
2000 George W. Bush Al Gore 0.5%
2016 Donald Trump Hillary Clinton 2.1%

There's also the election of 1824, where eventual winner John Quincy Adams lagged leading vote-getter Andrew Jackson by 10.4%, but that's not comparable because the vote was split among four major candidates in that election. And in 1960, it is at least theoretically possible that John F. Kennedy trailed Richard Nixon in the popular vote by a few tenths of a percentage point; the wonky system used by Alabama that year means that there is no official popular vote total for that state.

Anyhow, that gives us four, or possibly five, head-to-head presidential elections where the president-elect lost the popular vote. The largest percentage it's ever happened with is that 3.0% in 1876, and that one required much chicanery by Republicans in Congress. The largest percentage where it was just the Electoral College doing what it does was the 2.1% in 2016. So, if Trump loses the popular vote in 2020 by the 5.8% the polls are currently predicting, then holding the White House will require math that is both difficult and historically unprecedented. (Z)

Biden Campaign Arguing Over Leadership of Online Campaign

Although Biden 2020 is doing pretty well in polls right now and had a solid quarter of fundraising (almost $50 million), it's currently struggling with some key nuts-and-bolts decisions. Perhaps the most consequential, given that 2020 figures to be primarily an e-campaign, is who should run the digital arm of Biden 2020.

There are two options currently on the table: (1) hire Hawkfish, the house that Michael Bloomberg built for his campaign, or (2) keep the work in-house. The arguments for Hawkfish are that they are already up and running, they are good with computers and digital production, and they are populated with hotshot talent. The arguments against them (and thus for an in-house approach) are that they are an off-the-rack solution that might not adapt well to the Biden campaign's needs, they aren't all that experienced when it comes to running an effective political campaign (see Bloomberg's anemic vote totals), and they are associated with a rich plutocrat who has spent much of his life as not-a-Democrat. Put another way, hiring Hawkfish is exactly the sort of thing that Bernie Sanders voters will latch onto as a symbol of an inauthentic campaign.

The dynamics of this particular dispute are not necessarily what you might expect. Advocating for the young hotshots from Silicon Valley are...the older members of the Biden campaign. Advocating for an in-house, less flashy approach are...the younger members of the Biden campaign. Since Donald Trump has such a head start in terms of his digital operation, Biden 2020 is going to have to figure it out soon. They may have no choice but to go with Hawkfish (or, as a possible compromise, Blue State Digital, which has hired a chunk of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's former staffers). On the other hand, newly anointed campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon, who is 43, is said to favor the in-house approach. So, there's just no telling what the final decision will be, only that it will be made quickly. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr21 Trump Says He Will Suspend Immigration
Apr21 Four States Get Ready to Reopen
Apr21 Incompetent or Corrupt?, Part I: Small Business Funding
Apr21 Incompetent or Corrupt?, Part II: Emergency Equipment Funding
Apr21 Oil Prices Fall Below Zero
Apr21 Trump Snubs Romney
Apr21 Democrats Are Raking It In
Apr21 Democrats Want Obama
Apr20 Biden Sweeps Wyoming Caucus
Apr20 Voters Dump Trump Bump
Apr20 Trump's New Election Strategy: Run on Dividing the Country
Apr20 Coronavirus Is Starting to Hit Red States
Apr20 Some Sanders' Supporters Are Undecided
Apr20 A Nationwide Mail-in Election Is Not Likely to Happen
Apr20 Michael Cohen Is Writing a Tell-All Book
Apr20 Can Political Parties Fall Victim to COVID-19?
Apr20 This Is What Good Old-fashioned Traditional Corruption Looks Like
Apr20 What Is Essential?
Apr20 Democrats Outraised Republicans in Key Senate Races
Apr19 Sunday Mailbag
Apr18 Saturday Q&A
Apr17 Trump Unveils Re-Opening Plan...
Apr17 ...and Governors Do Their Own Thing(s)
Apr17 Intelligence Community to Probe Chinese Origins of COVID-19
Apr17 Small Business Funding Runs Out
Apr17 Never Trump Republicans Rally
Apr17 What to Make of Tara Reade?
Apr17 Warren Is Angling for VP Slot
Apr16 Amash May Run
Apr16 Warren Endorses Biden
Apr16 Trump Faces Blowback on WHO Funding Cut
Apr16 Trump Threatens to Adjourn Congress
Apr16 Retail Sales Drop in March by the Greatest Amount Ever
Apr16 Democrats Are Motivated Like Never Before
Apr16 Poll: Biden Should Pick Experienced Running Mate
Apr16 Some States Are More Ready for Mail-in Voting than Others
Apr16 Delaying the Census Could Cause Big Problems
Apr16 Some Surprising Industries Have Been Hit Hard by COVID-19
Apr15 Trump's COVID-19 Strategy, Part I: Make Himself the Hero
Apr15 Trump's COVID-19 Strategy, Part II: Find a Scapegoat
Apr15 A Tale of Two Recovery Plans, Part I: The States vs. the White House
Apr15 A Tale of Two Recovery Plans, Part II: Red vs. Blue
Apr15 Obama Endorses Biden