This week: What Biden can do on his first day in office, plus right-to-work laws.
Welcome to The Wrap! Each Friday, we’ll walk through some of the big news and policy headlines from the past week to catch you up on what it means.
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Now to the thing.
As of Friday morning, we’ve seen 10.6 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Over 242,000 people have reportedly died.
The latest surge in COVID cases appears to be the worst yet. On Thursday, the U.S. reported over 160,000 new cases. That’s over twice as high as the peak during the surge of cases this past summer. This has been the worst week in case numbers for most states, which is leading some to consider reimposing stay-at-home orders.
Until a vaccine is readily available (more on that later), we all need to do our part in mitigating the virus. Please be safe, and please wear a mask.
Lets’ turn to the big stories from this week: the 2020 Election’s results and the ensuing turmoil in the White House.
Joe Biden will be president.
After a tumultuous campaign season, former Vice President Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States. Now comes the hard part.
Biden campaigned on an ambitious platform and legislative agenda, though much of this will hinge on whether or not his party will secure the Senate. That outcome could also affect who he selects for his cabinet; a Republican majority in the chamber could very well block more progressive appointees.
This hasn’t stopped progressive groups from maintaining pressure on Biden to do just that. The Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement jointly shared a list of who they believe should be in Biden’s administration. The New York Times called it a “wish list” (paywall), whereas the two groups said it’s more of a “blueprint.” If Biden’s cabinet reflects this list in any way, we can expect him to keep at least a few of his promises to make significant changes in U.S. domestic policy. (E.g., better worker protections, stricter environmental regulations.)
There is one big appointment that Biden can make without congressional approval: his chief of staff. The president-elect announced his longtime aide Ron Klain will serve in this position. The news has been generally met with approval from moderate and progressive Democrats since Klain has a great deal of experience in Washington and was instrumental in the Obama admin’s handling of the Ebola outbreak.
Team Biden gears up for “Day One,” but the transition is already a headache.
Throughout the campaign, Biden pointed out several things he would do “on day one” of his term. With the Senate majority still up in the air, several outlets and experts have been focusing on what Biden could do without Congress to meet some of his Day One goals. Here are a few:
- On the environment and climate change: enact stricter emission regulations, invest millions of federal dollars in clean energy research and development, require private companies to disclose “climate risks,” rejoin the Paris climate agreement, and undo President Trump’s rollback of Obama-era environmental protections.
- Impose a national mask mandate.
- Impose stricter White House ethics guidelines.
- Cancel student debt.
- Reinstate deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), or the “Dream Act.”
- Boost refugee admissions.
- Impose stricter antimonopoly regulations.
Before doing any of this, we have a transition period of over two months during which Biden’s team will get the scoop on everything in play at the White House now. This is always an important period—it tees up the incoming administration so they can hit the ground running once they take over—but it’s especially important this year thanks to the coronavirus.
As mentioned at the top, we’re in the worst part of the pandemic yet. However, the Trump administration has refused to begin the transition process—Trump has actually explicitly ordered his admin not to work with Biden. This stonewalling could have dire consequences. By delaying the incoming administration from getting up to speed, it could be more difficult for them to smoothly take over foreign affairs, better address the current economic downturn, and properly confront the coronavirus.
Related: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) has more on what Biden can do through executive action (paywall).
Related: A recent survey found seven in 10 Republicans do not believe the 2020 elections were free and fair.
Each day lost could be the difference in whether or not states and local communities endure the public health crisis and recession without federal aid. So why is the Trump administration refusing to begin this transition?
Trump continues to operate in his own separate world.
President Trump still hasn’t conceded, and his campaign continues to file legal challenges to alter the vote counts in several states. He simply refuses to accept the events from last week, during which initial vote count had President Trump leading in some key states, only for mail-in ballots to shift the advantage Biden’s way.
To give his boss’ baseless claims more legitimacy, Attorney General Bill Bar put out a memo saying Department of Justice investigators were allowed to look into voter fraud allegations—something unheard of in previous administrations. But at the same time, international observers said this election was free of widespread voter fraud. The U.S.’ own Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said this was “the most secure in American history.”
It’s not just the DOJ giving Trump cover: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he expects a smooth transition …to a second Trump term.
Despite a trickle of Republican lawmakers that have acknowledged Biden’s win, the vast majority are either silent or openly agreeing with President Trump’s claims, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. (He’s since softened this without saying Biden won.)
This is all woefully undemocratic. If you recall, Trump did say several times over the past few months that he might not agree with the election results if he lost. This isn’t surprising, but that doesn’t change the fact that these actions imperil the legitimacy of our government’s structure and system of checks and balances. A person in power who does not respect the people’s voice is not operating with their best interests in mind.
Related: Besides challenging the results, what has Trump been up to since Election Day? Practically nothing: “It seems clear Trump has checked out” (paywall). Meanwhile, his administration has fired Defense Secretary Mike Esper and the scientist who oversees federal climate change research and regulations (paywall).
The Supreme Court heard arguments for Texas v. California on Tuesday, which could determine whether or not the Affordable Care Act remains viable.
The case centered on the ACA’s individual mandate, which is essentially a tax penalty for those who do not have health insurance. The GOP’s case included an argument that, since the mandate’s penalty is set to $0, it is not a functioning tax and is therefore unconstitutional. They also took it further and said this would invalidate the entire ACA.
Many legal experts chafed at this second point, arguing instead that the individual mandate was severable from the rest of the health care law. In other words, eliminating the individual mandate shouldn’t erase the entire ACA.
While the outlook preceding this case was rather grim, it has since improved—Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh both signaled they’re likely to agree with the mandate is severable. Given that the court’s three liberal justices feel the same way, it looks as though the ACA will survive this latest attempt by the GOP to blow it up. Still, we won’t know for sure until the spring, when SCOTUS shares its decision on the case.
Meanwhile, Justice Samuel Alito made some rather inflammatory remarks during a virtual convention on Thursday, comparing “attacks” on religious liberty (which are really responses to immoral intolerance masked as religious beliefs) to the U.S.’ restrictions on Japan and Germany after World War II. He also criticized the merits of Obergefell v. Hodges—the SCOTUS case that nationally legalized same-sex marriage.
- Pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German company BioNTech announced their version of a coronavirus vaccine was 90% effective during trials. However, the two-dose vaccine still needs to go through additional tests before being mass produced and widely available.
- Meanwhile, the White House is experiencing another (or the same?) COVID outbreak. Since Election Day, several more people have tested positive, including Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Housing Secretary Ben Carson, and Trump campaign advisor Corey Lewandowski. The likely cause of this recent string of cases: a watch party held on Election Night in the White House, which hosted at least 150 people.
- Missouri Senator Josh Hawley (R) introduced a bill that would ban ballot harvesting and allow every state to count early and mail-in ballots when they arrive instead of waiting on Election Day (“pre-canvassing”). If you recall, states like Pennsylvania and Georgia were barred from counting ballots before Election Day in part due to legal challenges by the Trump campaign and state GOP parties. In other words, the lack of pre-canvassing in these states is why it has taken so long for some states to announce their final election results. This bill would prevent this in the future.
- Two other big developments from this election: Colorado voters approved the creation of a statewide paid family leave program; Arizona voters decided to increase taxes on higher earners to bolster the state’s education funds.
News from abroad:
- The European Union filed an antitrust suit against Amazon on Tuesday. The suit claims the company has used its widespread access to user data to gain an unfair advantage in the market.
- The EU also agreed to purchase hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.
- In preparation for elections in 2022, Hungary’s illiberal leader Viktor Orban made some changes to the requirements political parties and candidates need to meet in order to be listed on ballots and receive public campaign funds. The moves will likely make it much more difficult for opposition parties to chip away at Orban’s parties power. Reuters has coverage here.
- Armenia and Azerbaijan, with help from Russia, signed a peace deal ending a conflict that focused on contested land and killed 30,000 people. The deal involves the deployment of Russian troops to keep the peace within the territory; the deal itself has been met with some resistance. The AP has more here.
- The Chinese government passed a law on Wednesday that allows Hong Kong to “expel locally elected lawmakers, without having to go through the courts.” Remember, Hong Kong residents and pro-democracy leaders have been repelling China’s moves to fully assimilate the city for several years. This law makes it much easier for the Chinese government in Beijing to remove pro-democracy leaders from office in Hong Kong. Following the law’s passage, several pro-democracy leaders were indeed removed; several others resigned in protest. Several countries, including the U.S., have condemned this move by China.
- Bloomberg CityLab writers Feargus O’Sullivan and Laura Bliss describe the “15-minute city,” an urban planning strategy that would decentralize cities and make sure residents have everything they’d need to thrive within walking or biking distance. Basically, pedestrianizing parts of big urban areas would allow you to have parks, entertainment venues, your place of employment, your grocer, and your home all close enough together that you wouldn’t need to drive. It’s not a new concept, but it’s something we’ve gotten away from, especially in the U.S.
- A new study found that media outlets are less likely to report on homicide victims if they are Black, and they’re also less likely to expand on the victims’ lives. Per The Marshall Project, this reflects how media (and cultural) expectations and understandings of minority neighborhood violence differs greatly of white ones; our coverage of minority victims is much less sympathetic than that of white ones.
One Last Thought: Right-to-Work Laws
Union membership and support has declined dramatically since their heyday decades ago. There are an assortment of reasons for this decline, but I wanted to focus briefly on one: right-to-work laws.
In states that have enacted these, workers are not required to join labor unions. While this means an employee does not have to pay union dues, it also means they can benefit from union bargaining with employers. (Unions are required to represent all workers, after all.)
While these don’t sound inherently bad, they can have some harmful effects on labor. For instance, with fewer members and less revenue from dues, unions have a harder time in maintaining bargaining power with employers. That can translate to wage stagnation and a failure to improve working conditions. The balance of power between workers and employers shifts dramatically to favor the latter when these laws are in place.
The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 significantly curtailed union power, in part because it allowed states to adopt these laws. Many labor groups and experts point out right-to-work laws’ racist roots—segregating workers was one of the main reasons presented in favor of these laws during one an early right-to-work campaign.
Currently, 27 states have right-to-work laws. Some research suggests right-to-work states have seen larger increase in employment and wages over the years, but there’s also an abundance of evidence that directly contradicts this or shows economic gains are actually mixed and cannot be attributed solely to right-to-work laws.
That’s a wrap. Check out 101PC’s latest piece on ranked-choice voting.
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