A White House COVID Clusterf**k: The Wrap (10/5/20)

This week: The coronavirus visits the White House, stimulus talks are back on, and the Trump admin further restricts refugee admissions.

Welcome to The Wrap! Each Monday, we’ll walk through some of the big news and policy headlines from last week so you know what to look for in the week ahead.

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Now to the thing.

As of Sunday night, we’ve seen over 7.4 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Over 209,000 people have reportedly died.

The President of the United States has COVID-19. We’re going to unpack what this means for Congress and the election. Plus, stimulus talks, immigration, and more. No debate recap since there was too little policy talk to review.

1. White House COVID outbreak reaches the Trumps and members of Congress

President Trump has had the virus since at least Thursday night. The timeline is very messy since the White House and Trump’s medical team have not been clear on details of this or Trump’s current health.

Most major outlets have a working timeline of what we know. (I personally like NPR’s and ABC’s.) The scope of the outbreak is not fully known, but we know the First Lady, several other aides, three senators, several White House reporters, and others have also tested positive. Axios has a running list here.

There’s heavy speculation that a White House Rose Garden ceremony to announce Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination was a “super-spreader event.” Reports (and pictures) show that guests and White House staff were very cavalier about social distancing; few were seen wearing masks and there were also gatherings indoors. The Washington Post has an analysis here (paywall).

The overall impact of this is foggy, but we know it will be significant politically:

  • Two of the senators that have tested positive are on the Senate Judiciary Committee—weeks before a fight in the chamber over filling a vacant SCOTUS seat. (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he’s keeping the current confirmation schedule.)
  • With Trump in the hospital, his campaign could very well lose more steam at a time that he needs it most in order to win. (His absence from the WH means little for stimulus talks though, as he’s been fairly hands off.)
  • Besides Trump, who is 74-years-old, two other members of the line of succession—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Pro Temp Chuck Grassley—are 80 and 87, respectively, meaning they’re at a higher risk of serious illness (this serious illness). They’re both at an even higher risk since we know others who work within their buildings have tested positive.
  • Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence, the next immediate person in the presidential line of succession, has tested negative for the virus and is carrying on with campaign events as if nothing is wrong. We should note that most Trump 2020 events have flouted social distancing guidelines, so it’s almost as if Pence is trying to catch the virus himself.
  • With Trump possibly infectious during the Presidential Debate last Tuesday, there’s a chance he infected opponent Joe Biden, who is 77-years-old.

Again, the WH has been at times mum or misleading about Trump’s status, fudging some of the details of the President’s treatment and how he is feeling. The strategy seems to be smoke and mirrors from here until Election Day. But Trump has the best health care in the world, so he’ll likely be fine.

However, this doesn’t excuse him or the White House. The way he has conducted himself since COVID-19 reached the U.S.—and within this last week—is an insult to the rest of the country. Looking past the obvious irony, it’s hard not to be angry. During a pandemic that has killed more Americans than the First World War and the Vietnam War combined, the White House couldn’t properly mitigate the virus within their own walls. They are not contact tracing or reaching out to non-WH staff to see the extent of this outbreak.

Trump and his aide’s carelessness put themselves in danger, and the lives of the people working within the White House who have no say in how the administration conducts itself.

That carelessness might delay or cost everyone much needed legislation to address the economic crisis we’re in.

That carelessness is also in stark contrast to what the rest of the country has had to go through these past several months.

People have lost their livelihoods, put off plans for next steps in their lives, digitally watched loved ones pass away since they couldn’t be there in person, and stalled services for the deceased because doing otherwise is irresponsible. We’ve been putting in the work to beat this thing, treading water so the right people can find ways to overcome it.

So while the overwhelming majority of Americans and people around the world have been struggling to get by, President Trump and his administration have shown through their politics that they find this acceptable. There’s virtually no consideration for others, and that’s a spit in the face to the people they’re supposed to serve.

2. GOP, Dems move closer to stimulus deal.

There were a few key developments in Washington this week regarding stimulus talks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin began negotiating again, with the Dems proposing a pared down $2.2 trillion relief package compared to the other side’s $1 trillion-ish. The Democrats passed their version of the stimulus bill in the House on Thursday.

Disagreements remain over restarting the unemployment benefits boost: Democrats want the extra $600 per week that was included in the CARES Act, while Mnuchin has floated $400 per week. There’s also been some movement on state and local funding, with Mnuchin offering as high as $250 billion. That is over half of what Democrats included in their latest relief bill (and a quarter of what Dems included in their initial package, the HEROES Act which was passed in May). The New York Times has a good breakdown of the sides here (paywall).

There’s an obvious urgent need for another stimulus package, with (among other things) weekly national unemployment filings remaining historically high and the jobs recovery slowing considerably. Adding to this, the window for passing a bill might be closing as 1) members of Congress are eyeing their home states and districts since it’s campaign season, 2) the Senate is grappling with the COVID outbreak that began in the White House, and 3) Trump is putting the pressure on Republicans to get something on his desk soon. (Trump tweeted this from Walter Reed Medical Center.)

Talks will continue this week. Business Insider thinks a last-second deal is becoming more likely.

Related: There’s one other thing adding to the urgency here. CARES Act support for airline payrolls expired last week, which prompted United and American to begin furloughing a collective 32,000 employees. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the airlines to postpone the furloughs until a stimulus deal or a separate relief program is struck.

3. Trump further restricts refugee admissions.

Last week, the Trump admin announced another cut to how many refugees the U.S. would admit per year, down to 15,000. That’s a fraction of the refugee cap set by previous presidents. Overall, the annual average of refugee admissions under the Trump admin is well below that of every administration since 1980.

You can view a fullscreen and shareable version here.

The move is an obvious reflection of Trump’s xenophobic and anti-immigrant platform. That’s something he restated hard last week at a rally in Minnesota, during which he said the state would become “a refugee camp” under Joe Biden.

Rhetorically, such fear-mongering is sometimes obscured with talks of how refugees are a drain on a country’s economy (e.g., ‘they don’t pay taxes but use government services.’), which gives cover to those who don’t want to appear racist. But statistically, this isn’t a sound argument: Immigration has proven to be a boost to economies, rather than a threat to the job market.

This is a clear moral failing on our part and another example of how we’ve chosen to step away from international leadership. It’s especially disturbing when considering the number of refugees worldwide has continued to climb significantly. As one WaPo op-ed (paywall) put it, we cannot consider ourselves a “city upon a hill” if we continue to act this way.

Related: The Brookings Institute has a succinct argument in favor of high refugee admissions: It’s a win-win-win.

Policy Developments on the Campaign Trail

  • In a bid to fire up his base, Trump returned to his campaign roots in Minnesota with a racist tirade against immigrants. Here’s how leaders of the state’s large immigrant community responded. In other news on Trump and racism, an English outlet reported the Trump 2016 campaign actively strategized ways to deter Black voters from casting their ballots.
  • Joe Biden was also back to his “comfort zone” by embarking on an Amtrak train tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania to talk about his platform.

What else?

  • The State of California now has a task force to study reparations for slavery. This is a small first step in addressing centuries of structural racism, but it could be a point of reference for larger/federal action. CNN has coverage here.
  • In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott closed dozens of ballot drop-off locations for voter suppression “election security.” He has since been sued by two separate groups of voter rights and advocacy organizations. Unrelated, Texas’ AG was accused of bribery and abuse of office by several of his aides.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement put up billboards throughout Pennsylvania showing “at-large immigration violators who may pose a public safety threat” in protest of sanctuary city policies. That’s an expensive way to further politicize race and immigration.
  • Wildfires in western states haven’t gone away. California has now seen 4 million acres burned this season. That’s over double previous highs for the Golden State.
  • In a surprising twist, the Pope called out market capitalism in a Vatican encyclical on Sunday. Calling the current global economic system “perverse,” he also condemned the “absolute right to property” and trickle-down economics, as the AP reported here.

What Congress is up to: The Senate is out of session until October 19 since at least three of its members have tested positive with the coronavirus, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court is still on for October 12. Undoubtedly, this development will also have some impact on the stimulus negotiations.

What else to look for this week: Keep an eye out for more headlines on stimulus talks, as it looks like President Trump is adamant to have a deal on his desk shortly.

Campaign Comparisons: Health Care

Health care is easily one of the biggest campaign issues, with many of the proposals from the Democratic primaries and the current race revolving around the Affordable Care Act. It’s looking likely that, with the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the ACA could be effectively gutted following a SCOTUS case this November. Here’s how Trump and Biden compare on the ACA:

  • President Trump and his party have tried frequently over the last three and a half years to repeal the ACA or at least parts of it. Several times, Trump has said he would implement his own better health care plan once this happens. After years of dodging questions on the specifics of his plan, Trump came forward with an executive order that calls for guaranteeing health coverage to those with preexisting conditions and ending surprise billing. By itself, this action does virtually nothing.
  • On the other side, Biden has said he would build on the existing ACA, first by reimplementing the parts of the law that have been rolled back. He would also expand the eligibility of the health care tax credit, cap premiums, and maintain coverage for those with preexisting conditions.

Perhaps most importantly, the Democratic candidate wants to create a public option for health care, partially by expanding Medicare and Medicaid. Meanwhile, the President has cut funding to Medicare and supports work requirements for Medicaid benefits.

Medical news outlet Healthline has a great piece here on how the two candidates differ on health care policy.

___

That’s a wrap. If you missed it last week, read the 101PC’s latest piece that explores the pros and cons of a community revitalization practice: creative placemaking.

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