Pre-Election Jitters – The Wrap (11/2/20)

This week:

QUICK PROGRAMMING NOTE: The Wrap will be switching to Friday afternoons. This will begin this week, so you’ll see the next edition in a few short days.

Welcome to The Wrap! Each week, we’ll walk through some of the big news and policy headlines 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 9.2 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Over 230,000 people have reportedly died. On Friday, the U.S. almost reached 100,000 new reported cases—the highest in a single day and more than one new case reported per second.

Here’s one big story from last week:

In Philadelphia, police shoot and kill Walter Wallace, Jr.

Last week, police in Philadelphia responded to a call about a man with a knife. The man, Walter Wallace, Jr., who was black, was not answering the officers’ request to drop the weapon; Wallace’s mother was trying to speak to her son. When Wallace began moving toward them, the officers opened fire and killed Wallace.

There are some reported discrepancies in the specifics, but here’s what else we know:

  • Wallace was experiencing a severe mental health crisis.
  • His brother had called for an ambulance, but police were sent instead.
  • Police did not arrive on the scene with the means to deescalate the confrontation—no one trained in the mental health field was present; officers did not carry tasers.
  • The officers were wearing body cameras, but footage has not been made public. Others on the scene have shared phone footage of the shooting.

Just a few weeks earlier, PPD had announced a new program that could have changed who was sent to the scene, “a clinically trained behavioral health provider has been embedded in the 911 radio room, listening in with call-takers and dispatchers to recognize and accurately label the calls that involve someone in mental or emotional distress.”

The department also already has crisis intervention teams for these specific events. Still, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw explained a “disconnect” remains between her department and mental health resources.

Outrage over the shooting is understandable, given the circumstances. I can’t help but ask, Would they have shot Wallace if he were white? Would police have tried harder to apprehend him without fatal violence?

Philadelphia has seen widespread protests over the following days in response to yet another example of police violence against a person of color. Stores have been looted.

The police response has not been measured—in one incident, officers stopped a vehicle, smashed in its windows, dragged the driver and her teenage passenger out of the car, and beat them. The driver’s child, in the back seat, was then taken out of the car by police. Later, a photo of an officer holding this child was used out of context by the National Fraternal Order of Police, which tweeted the child was found “wandering around barefoot” to promote police action that night.

The National Guard has been deployed in the city; both candidates for president have takes on the events.

One solution for much of this would simply be to improve police use of deescalation tactics and behavioral health resources. Other cities do this with success, after all. However, these are responsive measures.

A more holistic approach for police encounters like this one require more preventative policies and programs. These don’t have to be strictly police-implemented ones, either. In a recent survey of incarcerated people, one of the two most common answers to the question, “What interventions would have made the most difference in your life?” was “access to affordable mental health counseling.”

Source: The Marshall Project.

Public policy approaches like this go beyond police-mental health incidents; that survey’s prompt also found about equal responses of “access to affordable housing.”

In other words, pro-wellness and anti-poverty strategies are likely the key to preventing future incidents like Walter Wallace, Jr.’s death and curtailing our incarcerated state. That’s a stark contrast to our overall current police response, in which officers are asked to tend to most community issues.

Related: Last week, Philadelphia’s City Council approved a ban on police traffic stops for minor violations. The move is a direct address of how people of color are more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. Local NPR station WHYY has more here.

Related: The police officer who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville actually sued her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who was present during the police intrusion into Taylor’s home.

Developments on the Campaign Trail

  • The Biden campaign had a brush with political violence in Texas, when a caravan of pro-Trump drivers surrounded a Biden bus on a highway to stop its journey. The President later lauded this at a rally; the FBI is investigating. NPR has coverage here.
  • Also looking forward—White House senior advisor/bogeyman Stephen Miller. In an interview with NBC, Miller laid out four specific anti-immigration strategies he would pursue if President Trump returns for a second term. As NBC lists them, these are “limiting asylum grants, punishing and outlawing so-called sanctuary cities, expanding the so-called travel ban with tougher screening for visa applicants and slapping new limits on work visas.”

Latest on Voting Access & Turnout

  • A march to the polls in North Carolina turned ugly when police pepper-sprayed marchers and attempted voters. Following a moment of silence for George Floyd, police asked the crowd to disperse and then immediately began spraying participants, including a few children.
  • The Supreme Court blocked challenges by state Republican parties in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, allowing mail-in ballots to be counted after Election Day. However, they did not sign off on the same thing for Wisconsin, and there’s a chance these cases will pop up again later this week, after Election Day. CNN has coverage here; the AP has coverage here.
  • There are also still some outstanding federal cases in several states on ballot counting, including Nevada and Minnesota.

As of Sunday, over 93 million people have voted—two thirds of total turnout in 2016. Hawaii and Texas became the first states to surpass their 2016 turnout. Notably, Texas reached 9.7 million ballots cast four days before Election Day.

SCOTUS Watch

Judge Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by the Senate to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. This gives SCOTUS a strong 6-3 majority, though Chief Justice Roberts has shown he’s willing to side with the court’s three liberal justices.

There are a gazillion takes on what this shift will mean for different parts of U.S. policy, but it’s mostly agreed that Barrett’s confirmation could impact laws regarding gun access, protections from discrimination, abortion, and health care.

Related: The Supreme Court is set to hear a case on November 10 that could doom the Affordable Care Act. 101PC’s latest piece tackles this case, what erasing the ACA would do to the health care system, and how Barrett’s confirmation affects previous expectations of this case’s outcome.

The Latest on an Economic Stimulus

With Amy Coney Barrett now confirmed for the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put the chamber in recess until after Election Day. That means no stimulus deal will be passed until they return and vote on one.

This doesn’t mean House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin can’t continue their own negotiations in the meantime. However, that hasn’t been going well, as a growing number of reports say that Mnuchin is not favorable (paywall) as the lead on this among GOP lawmakers.

Plus, he and Pelosi remain far apart on several key issues. On Thursday, Pelosi sent Mnuchin’s office a letter asking him to definitively stake out the White House’s stance on funding for state and local governments, schools, child care, tax credits, and the unemployment boost as well as new workplace safety policies.

If you recall, state and local funding, the UI boost, and workplace safety/liability protections have been the most contentious parts of these negotiations. This letter basically shows the two sides are still nowhere near a proper stimulus package—any positive talk from Pelosi or Mnuchin about the negotiations over the past few weeks is arguably trivial.

What else?

  • The latest Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates show the U.S. economy has partially rebounded from its second quarter slump. While this is good news, many experts are sounding the alarm, as much of this rebound was tied to effects of the previous economic stimulus package. With another package unlikely for the next few weeks (its scope will also likely be smaller than the last one), stubbornly high weekly unemployment filings, and surging COVID-19 cases, it now looks like we might be headed for a “double-dip recession.” Quaint.
  • A new report from The New York Times (they are ON it lately) found President Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to curtail a Department of Justice investigation into a Turkish bank under potentially scandalous conditions (paywall). Trump has been actively trying to befriend Erdogan since taking office; he also has business connection in Turkey. The DOJ was seeking to file charges before acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker blocked the move. The piece isn’t a short one, but it boils down to another example of Trump’s willingness to bend the rules to ask for something in return.
  • The CEOs for Facebook, Twitter, and Google testified before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday about how the platforms moderate content (paywall). However, it was less an event of substance and more an opportunity for GOP senators to score points by bashing the groups for “behaving as a Democratic super PAC,” as Ted Cruz (R-Texas) put it.
News from abroad:
  • France experienced its third terror attack in two months on Thursday, when a man attacked several people in a church in Nice with a knife, killing three. The recent attacks were carried out allegedly by Islamic extremists, which has is connected to an uptick in vandalism against mosques. French President Emmanuel Macron, condemning the actions, called for a “French Islam.” That prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to say Macron needs a “mental check” and called for a boycott of French goods. Now the two leaders (and their administrations) are in an escalating war of words and diplomatic tit-for-tat. NPR has an explainer of this spat here; the AP has a historical rundown of French-Turkish relations and tension here.
Climate news:
  • A wildfire in Southern California did not end in disaster, with local forces working carefully to contain it quickly and early.
  • It turns out GM and Ford have known about car emissions’ effects on climate as far back as the ’60s, three decades before either company began selling their first electric vehicles.

What to look for this week: Besides elections, this cycle does include several important measures on ballots across the U.S.—California’s Prop 22, regarding freelance status and the gig economy, is the most widely reported measure at this time. But there are countless others. For example, a significant minimum wage increase hangs in the balance in Florida. Passage would make the state’s minimum $15 per hour by 2026; following this, the wage would be indexed to inflation. There are also these criminal justice measures outlined by The Marshall Project.

Interesting Reads

You’ve heard it before. In two of the last fiver presidential elections, the man elected received fewer votes than his opponent— George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. Still, they made it to the White House because they won the most electoral votes. Why does our election work this way?

In a nutshell, the Framers of the Constitution settled on the Electoral College, a body that would select the president every four years, rather than a direct popular vote or having Congress select the executive. The College’s members would be determined by the states, ensuring each body has representation in picking the president.

A popular vote at the time was found lacking among the delegates because they didn’t believe common voters could make an informed choice in such an election. Additionally, a direct popular vote would mean northern states would have a stronger electoral advantage over southern ones as they had larger populations of free people (those not enslaved). In other words, part of why the Framers’ incorporated Electoral College model was in response to slavery in the South.

The Electoral College has gone through some changes over the years in response to election crises. Still, the circumstances under which we have national elections has changed dramatically since the EC was put in place—voters are generally better informed, the country is more connected, and our election tech is exponentially better, for starters.

The most direct way to change this would be a constitutional amendment. But with Congress more polarized and gridlocked than ever, some have taken a different tack: the National Popular Vote (NPV) interstate compact. Those who have joined the compact—15 states and D.C.—agree to pledge their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. This only goes into effect when the compact has enough electoral votes to pick a candidate, which is currently 270. Right now, the NPV totals 196.

It’s likely that this compact will receive renewed attention if a candidate wins this election without winning the popular vote. If you’re interested more in how we got stuck with the Electoral College, check out NPR’s show Throughline, which recently covered the history of our process. If you’re interested more in the NPV, read this piece from The Atlantic by Vikram David Amar, a constitutional scholar and supporter of the compact.

___

That’s a wrap. Check out 101PC’s latest piece on Texas v. California, the SCOTUS case regarding the Affordable Care Act. Plus, we now have a 2020 Presidential Election Voter Guide so you can see how Trump and Biden compare on the big policy issues.

We’ll see you on Friday.

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