Politics

Trump: Governors are begging for equipment that ‘I don’t think they will need’

March 30, 2020

As healthcare professionals—and state and local leaders—sounded the alarm over major shortages of equipment needed to provide life-saving care to COVID-19 patients, President Donald Trump on Mach 26 shrugged off their warnings because, as he put it, “a lot of equipment is being asked for that I don’t think they will need,” The Daily Beast reported.

With cases surging nationwide—turning the United States into the epicenter of the worldwide pandemic—officials dealing with the crisis on the ground estimated a shortfall in the millions of essentials; including test kits, gloves, respirators, gowns, ventilators, and hospital beds.

Calling into Fox News host (and unofficial presidential adviserSean Hannity on Thursday, Trump boasted about his administration’s response to the virus—although on his watch, he has failed to mitigate or moderate the spread.

Asked by Hannity about his general refusal to enforce the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of needed supplies, the president insisted it hadn’t been necessary because there’s been “tremendous spirit” from corporations that he says have stepped up. This prompted him to then take some pointed shots at Democratic governors who’ve criticized the federal response.

“Remember, we are a second line of attack,” he exclaimed. “The first line of attack is supposed to be the hospitals. and the local government and the states.”

The president first took aim at Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, calling him a “failed presidential candidate” who is “always complaining” and “should be doing more” for his state. He then proceeded to attack Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who he said was “not stepping up” and “has not been pleasant.”

Claiming he gets along well with most of the other governors, the president then suggested they are asking for unnecessary supplies from the federal government while also insisting that the states should take on the majority of the burden.

Hannity, who began his program by blasting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for desperately declaring his state’s need for 30,000 ventilators, went on to say the governor’s request annoyed him. Moments later, Trump suggested the state didn’t need nearly that much equipment.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they are going to be,” he asserted. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go to major hospitals, sometimes they have two ventilators. ”

The Daily Beast reported that the death toll from COVID-19 in New York City. alone has topped 365 on Friday. The city’s entire healthcare system, meanwhile, is on the brink as more and more patients flood the hospitals. At its current pace, FEMA estimated that the city’s intensive care units would be filled by March 27.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Absent clear federal guidance on COVID-19, the nation’s governors come to the rescue

March 27, 2020

The coronavirus crisis is a dark cloud, but even this modern plague has a silver lining: Americans at the state and local levels are finding ways to link arms and handle it themselves, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Indeed, absent a federal focus on the health of Americans, rather than on the vitality of the economy, the nation’s governors have taken up the cause. Among those who have assumed leadership during the U.S. emergency are two Republicans— Mike DeWine of Ohio and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts—and three Democrats—Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gavin Newsom of California, and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois.

Indeed, Cuomo is even being hyped as a shoo-in for the presidential nomination—replacing Joe Biden at a brokered Democratic Convention.

On March 22, for example, amid continuing mixed messages from the White House and Congress about the severity of the problem, a handful of governors took decisive action to effectively close bars and restaurants to slow the spread of the disease.

In the opinion of the Journal, “the most effective leader in the nation so far, in fact, may be … DeWine of Ohio”—chosen by the new outlet because, “He was among the first to ban large public gatherings and order schools closed. He declared that NCAA basketball tournament games scheduled for his state would have to be played without fans in the stands; within days, the NCAA followed by canceling the entire tournament.”

The Journal notes, “Initially, [Governor] DeWine appeared to be overreacting; today, he looks prescient.”

For his part, New York’s Governor Cuomo has relentlessly campaigned to receive funding and mandated manufacturing for the countless numbers of respirators, ventilators, and hospital beds that his state—the current U.S. epicenter of the virus—will need, if the healthcare community is not to be overwhelmed.

Citizens seem to have noticed. In a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Sunday, Americans were asked who they have confidence in to handle the coronavirus. About half said President Trump, 62% said the federal government and 72% said their local government. The largest share—75%—said they had confidence in their state government.

Meantime, other institutions also are helping fill the void. Churches are making their own decisions about telecasting services so their flocks don’t have to gather; mayors are setting policies on public gatherings; businesses are developing new workplace protocols.

Still, there are limits to this grassroots coping. Active as others might be, the coronavirus crisis also serves as a reminder that there remain vital tasks only the federal government can perform.

The most important voice in guiding state and local leaders in their decisions has come from Washington, D.C., the Journal says—but it is not the president. It belongs to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Only the federal government can devise a plan to ensure that all Americans who need a test for the coronavirus can get one—a task that Dr. Fauci acknowledges it has failed at so far,” the Journal says.

Research contact: @WSJ

Stimulus bill prohibits Trump family, lawmakers from benefiting from loan programs

March 26, 2020

The $2 trillion stimulus bill that the White House and Senate leaders were expected to sign off on this Wednesday prohibits either Congressional lawmakers or President Donald Trump’s family business from benefiting from loans or investments through its corporate liquidity program, The Hill reports.

“We wrote a provision, not just the president, but any major figure in government, Cabinet, Senate, congressmen — if they have majority, they have majority control, they can’t get grants or loans and that makes sense,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said in a CNN interview. “Those of us who write the law shouldn’t benefit from the law.”

Trump acknowledged on March 21 that the coronavirus pandemic is hurting his family business, The Hill said. Since the start of the U.S. outbreak, dozens of state and local governments have ordered nonessential businesses—such as hotels and resorts —to close.

“I wouldn’t say you’re thriving when you decide to close down your hotels and your businesses,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about reports that Trump Organization properties are being adversely affected by COVID-19.

“But is it hurting me? Yeah, it’s hurting me, and it’s hurting Hilton, and it’s hurting all of the great hotel chains all over the world,” he added.

At a Saturday morning White House press briefing, Trump was asked if he would accept stimulus money from the stimulus package meant to counter some of the damage the pandemic has done to the economy.

“I don’t know,” Trump said. “I just don’t know what the government assistance would be for what I have. I have hotels. Everybody knew I had hotels when I got elected. They knew I was a successful person when I got elected, so it’s one of those things.”

However, before the 2016 election, Trump had promised that his children, Don Jr. and Eric, would run the Trump Organization and that he would keep his distance from the company. However, that has not happened.

The provision to ban lawmakers from benefiting from Treasury Department programs in the stimulus bill was among 19 items highlighted by Schumer in his letter to colleagues describing the contents of the bill.

“Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has secured a provision in the agreement that will prohibit businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of Executive Departments from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs,” his office said in an email to reporters. “The children, spouses and in-laws of the aforementioned principals are also included in this prohibition.”

Research contact: @thehill

Trump to invoke Defense Production Act for first time during pandemic

March 25, 2020

On March 24, the Trump Administration was set to use the Defense Production Act for the first time since the coronavirus hit the United States in late January.

With millions respirators, ventilators, hospital beds, and masks all urgently needed by the healthcare sector, the president will use the act—which gives him authority to expedite and expand the supply of resources by ordering the U.S. industrial base to manufacture needed goods—only to procure about 60,000 coronavirus test kits, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Administrator Peter Gaynor of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday on CNN that the administration had decided to use the Defense Production Act because “there are some test kits we need to get our hands on.”

Gaynor said the federal government was also inserting “DPA language” into its mass contract for 500 million masks.

The president last week issued an executive order invoking the law, but for days resisted calls to use it, saying he is concerned about nationalizing American businesses, the Journal said. Governors have called on him to invoke both the production and the distribution elements of the law, saying states are having to compete against each other for supplies.

“We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business,” President Trump said at a press briefing on Sunday. “The concept of nationalizing our businesses is not a good concept.” He said sufficient numbers of companies were volunteering to manufacture masks and other protective gear, so invoking the Defense Production Act wasn’t yet necessary, though he said “we may have to use it someplace along the chain.”

“We’re going to use it, we’re going to use it when we need it, and we’re going to use it today,” Gaynor said on CNN.

Administration officials have been having tense internal discussions about whether to use the law for weeks, according to people familiar with the matter.

Research contact @WSJ

Democrats block Senate coronavirus bill, calling it a bailout for corporations and Trump’s family

March 24, 2020

Who will benefit from the bills that the U.S. Congress is churning out to deal with COVID-19? Will it be everyday Americans and the healthcare heroes who are struggling to stem the pandemic; or big business—including what Senator Elizabeth Warren has characterized as a “slush fund for Donald Trump and his family”—and Wall Street?

According to a report by The Huffington Post, Democrats are raising serious concerns about the Senate’s massive emergency legislation aimed at propping up the economy and giving relief to workers hit hard by the growing coronavirus pandemic—saying it’s tilted too far in favor of Wall Street and big corporations.

The bill—said to offer at least $1 trillion to prop up an economy paralyzed by the virus—would represent the largest government response thus far to the crisis.

On Wednesday, March 18, lawmakers passed and President Donald Trump signed into law Democratic legislation that makes coronavirus testing free, expands unemployment insurance benefits and provides paid leave to some displaced workers.

Now, the HuffPost says, Democrats have leverage over the final shape of the bill because it will require 60 votes for passage and Republicans number 53 in the 100-seat Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) attempted to advance the bill on Sunday evening, emphasizing the need to move quickly to help those who have been laid off during the crisis. He said both sides had ample time to reach a deal on outstanding issues before a final vote on Monday.

But Democrats unanimously blocked the measure over its provisions allowing the Trump administration to lend hundreds of billions of dollars to major industries like hotels, casinos, cruise lines, and oil and gas.

“We’re fiddling here, fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets, fiddling with our health care,” a visibly frustrated McConnell said in a floor speech—followed by a press release—after the vote, accusing Democrats of partisan obstruction that threatened the economy.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), meanwhile, said his party opposed moving forward with the bill “because among other problems it includes huge bailouts without protections for people and workers and without accountability, and because it shortchanges our hospitals and health care workers who need our help.”

Schumer said he was hopeful changes could be made in ongoing discussions with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin but added that “we are not yet at that point.”

The high-stakes negotiations, which have been taking place all weekend, gained even more urgency on Sunday after Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) announced he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. He is the first member of the Senate to contract the virus. Four other Republican senators, some of whom were in close proximity to Paul on Capitol Hill earlier this week, also were self-isolating and did not vote Sunday.

“Wall Street’s going to do just fine. They’ve always rebounded real well … let’s take care of the people we’re asking to take care of us if we need them,” Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, said in a floor speech.

Democrats are also unhappy with the portion of the bill aimed at helping distressed industries with at least $450 billion in loans. The massive fund would be controlled by the Treasury Department and could include bailouts to hotels, casinos, cruise lines, and the oil and gas industry. It includes virtually no restrictions on how the money would be distributed, allowing properties owned directly by President Donald Trump to receive a bailout, for example, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations.

Another provision in the bill Democrats oppose would allow Mnuchin to delay publicly releasing the names of businesses that receive a bailout, as well as the amounts of those loans, for six months.

“We’re not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family, or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends,” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts.) told reporters. “We’re here to help workers, we’re here to help hospitals. And right now what the Republicans proposed does neither of those.” 

Research contact: @HuffPost

Battle for the Oval Office: Mike Bloomberg’s campaign to donate $18M to DNC

March 23, 2020

Michael Bloomberg has promised to transfer $18 million from his presidential campaign to the Democratic National Committee—boosting the party’s operations instead of forming his own super PAC, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The investment is aimed at strengthening the DNC’s battleground program, which comprises 12 states and is run in coordination with the state party committees According to NBC News, those states include Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Virginia.

Bloomberg also has offered to transfer the ownership of many of his field offices to state party committees, according to a Democratiic official, who said that the former New York City mayor’s contributions would help speed up their hiring for positions in organizing, data and operations.

The multimillion-dollar boost to the party’s field organizing program could serve as a major asset to the Democratic nominee, the Journal says. Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading the delegate count and has struggled to amass a large campaign war chest. Senator Bernie Sanders is still in the race, but Biden’s campaign is preparing to build out a larger staff for the general election while grappling with the new realities of campaigning during the coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump’s team has built a large campaign organization and is planning an extensive operation of field organizers and digital outreach to voters. Trump and the Republican National Committee had more than $225 million in the bank at the end of February.

Since he exited the race, Bloomberg’s advisers had been working on a way to absorb his campaign operations into an outside entity that would boost Biden. He said in the statement Friday they had ultimately decided to change course.

“While we considered creating our own independent entity to support the nominee and hold the President accountable, this race is too important to have many competing groups with good intentions but that are not coordinated and united in strategy and execution,” Bloomberg wrote in a memo to DNC Chairman Tom Perez that was made public Friday.

“The dynamics of the race have also fundamentally changed, and it is critically important that we all do everything we can to support our eventual nominee and scale the Democratic Party’s general-election efforts,” the former New York City mayor said.

Indeed, Bloomberg’s contribution to the DNC will be the largest transfer from a presidential campaign in recent history, the Journal notes.

“With this transfer from the Bloomberg campaign, Mayor Bloomberg and his team are making good on their commitment to beating Donald Trump,” Perez said in a statement. “This will help us invest in more organizers across the country to elect the next president and help Democrats win up and down the ballot.

Research contact: @WSJ

Addressing the ‘Not Me’ mindset: The other essential pandemic office that Trump eliminated

March 20, 2020

Much attention has been paid to the Trump Administration’s shortsighted elimination of the White House Pandemic Response Team—a move that resulted in a failure to test rapidly and widely for the COVID-19 virus before it had reached epidemic proportions in the United States.

But the president and his advisers also are responsible for ousting the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), created by Executive Order in 2015 during Obama’s term of office, Slate reports—a group of professionals who could have advised the American population about how best to institute social distancing; and about how to get people to actually follow such instructions.

In its brief existence, the SBST tackled a broad range of issues, from fighting food insecurity to helping people save for retirement, through an evidence-based policy approach. For example, the group encouraged U.S. households to make their homes more energy-efficient by highlighting the immediate, concrete benefits of saving money on their power bills; rather than trying to appeal to the abstract, distant goal of slowing climate change.

Crucially, SBST programs did not try to tell Americans what to do by throwing a bunch of facts and statistics at them—a current coronavirus-fighting approach that has only worked with a subset of the population, Slate says.

Specifically, while epidemiologists are trying to model COVID-19’s true fatality rate (3.4%? 1%?), decision scientists already know that people are generally pretty bad at objectively assessing probabilities. Famous behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky argued that people “discard events of extremely low probability,” simplifying minuscule percentages to basically zero. In other words, regardless of COVID-19’s true case fatality rate, our human brains are tempted to shortcut it to “super unlikely, so probably not me.”

Of course, even a 1% fatality rate means a devastating number of lives lost around the world. Effectively communicating the lethality of COVID-19 is paramount to convincing people to take the threat seriously.

One strategy is to leverage the “identifiable victim effect,” in which people are more moved to help known individuals than unknown others. (You’ve experienced this yourself if the coronavirus didn’t feel real until Tom Hanks tested positive, Slate notes.)

People in their 20s appear to face just a 0.09% fatality rate, an even-more-near-zero number that, combined with that age group’s propensity for risk-taking and socializing, makes it hard to convince young adults to follow social distancing guidelines to save themselves.

Instead, argues Oxford neuroethicist and Yale psychology professor Molly Crockett, it may be more persuasive to highlight how our actions can avoid causing harm to others. For example, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx spoke of focusing on protecting older Americans and then specifically called for Millennials to do their part to stop the virus.

And, while it may be especially hard to convince older adults to give up social aspects of their lives that connect them to others, we can reframe “social distancing” as “distance socializing” to emphasize our intentions to continue socializing from afar.

The SBST was founded with the belief that behavioral science insights could improve Americans’ lives through evidence-based policy. Right now, those insights could save American lives, but there’s no longer a direct way to pass such information to the White House. Here’s hoping, Slate says, that our next administration will see the value of seeking counsel from scientists and reinstate them in advisory positions.

Research contact: @Slate

Biden sweeps Tuesday’s primaries as voters defy coronavirus fears

March 19, 2020

It may have been, literally, a death-defying act but—in defiance of the coronavirus threat—many Americans in three states made it out to the polls on March 17 to vote in the Democratic primary race.

Joe Biden won all three primaries held Tuesday on a day filled with anxious voting, building a lead in the Democratic presidential nomination race that appears increasingly difficult for Bernie Sanders to overcome, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The two-man race lurched forward against the major disruptions triggered by COVID-19, as the first balloting was held—in Florida, Illinois and Arizona—since the crisis engulfed the nation.

As of Wednesday morning, the former vice president had 52.8% of the delegates allocated so far and 57.6% of the number needed to win the nomination:

  • In Florida, a critical battleground state in the general election, the former vice president won nearly three times as many votes as the Vermont senator and carried all 67 counties.
  • With 99% of Illinois precincts reporting, Biden had garnered 59.1% of the vote versus 36.1% for Sanders.
  • In Arizona, with 88% of the vote in, the former vice president had won 43.6% against his rival’s 31.6%.

Ohio had been expected to hold a primary on Tuesday, but it joined a growing list of states that have delayed their contests until May or June in hopes the coronavirus situation will improve.

The latest large victories for Biden are likely to place more pressure on Sanders to exit from the race so the party can focus on President Trump. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on March 15 found that Biden was favored nationally, 61% to 32%, among those who have already voted in the Democratic primary or planned to do so.

Speaking from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said his campaign is moving toward winning the nomination as he reached out to his rival’s supporters. He delivered his address via a live stream to avoid gathering supporters during the pandemic.

“We’ve moved closer to securing the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, and we’re doing it by building a broad coalition,” he said, according to the Journal.

In an effort to close ranks against President Donald Trump in the Demoratic Party, Biden said he and Sanders “may disagree on tactics, but we share a common vision” on issues such as health care, wealth inequality and climate change. He told young voters inspired by Sanders, “I hear you, I know what’s at stake.”

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee noted Tuesday night that the president had secured enough delegates through the GOP primaries to become the party’s “presumptive nominee” for president.

“Nobody motivates our base more than President Trump, as evidenced by the historic turnout we’ve seen in state after state this primary season,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “Fueled by both our longtime supporters and the thousands of new voters that continue to join our movement, we are united and enthusiasm is on our side.”

In a statement released late Tuesday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called for states with upcoming primaries and caucuses to use vote by mail and other alternatives to casting ballots in person, the Journal reported.

“What happened in Ohio last night has only bred more chaos and confusion,” he said, adding that states should focus on figuring out how to make voting easier and safer as opposed to postponing primaries “when timing around the virus remains unpredictable.”

Research contact: @WSJ

If truth be told, a new poll shows Trump’s advanced lying skills are failing him

March 18, 2020

Can Americans recognize a snake oil salesman when they see one? A poll conducted March 13-16 by NPR, PBS News Hour and Marist among 784 U.S. adults has found that far more Americans trust the news media than trust President Donald Trump to tell them the unvarnished  truth about the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a report by The Washington Post, the poll determined that only 37% of Americans have a good deal of trust in the information Trump tells them about coronavirus. By contrast, 60% have little to no trust in what he says.

Meanwhile, the poll also finds that 50% of respondents rely on information they get from the news media about the disease; versus 47%, who lack trust in such sources.

And as Americans continue to wait for the widespread COVID-19 testing that already is available in other countries, 44% of those polled say they approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis, while 49% disapprove of it. Drilling down, 85% of Republicans approve, but only 40% of Independents do.

However, the Post notes, 70% are concerned that coronavirus will spread to their communities—a massive swing from 44% last month, in spite Trump’s efforts to downplay it.

Such findings are supported by a recent Quinnipiac poll, which found that Americans hold Trump’s handling of coronavirus in low regard, while only smallish minorities ascribe to Trump qualities like honesty and leadership.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Poll: Nearly 61% of Democratic voters support Biden, while 32% prefer Sanders

March 17, 2020

“Sleepy Joe” has woken up and energized Democratic presidential primary voters nationwide. They now overwhelmingly back Joe Biden over Bernie Sanders—a dramatic reversal in their standings of just one month ago, the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows.

Among those who have already voted or plan to do so, 61% support the former vice president, while 32% would prefer the Vermont senator as their party’s nominee.

The standings in the poll—conducted between March 11 and March 13—are a major change from mid-February, when the survey showed Sanders backed by 27% of Democratic primary voters and Biden favored by just 15%.

At the time, Sanders stood alone as the party’s front-runner, while Biden was among four candidates essentially tied for second place. But the former vice president’s fortunes changed significantly following his win in South Carolina’s February 29 primary,and dominance in a string of field-narrowing primaries since then, the Journal says..

The share of Democratic primary voters who say they have definitely settled on a candidate has skyrocketed in the past month, from 37% to 80%, giving. Sanders little room for growth beyond his current base.

Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic, which has altered many aspects of the campaign, is making it harder for Sanders to break through with his message. It has also eliminated the large rallies that provide much of the fuel for his campaign, the news outlet notes.

“Bernie Sanders is on a cement trampoline—not a lot of bounce,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who worked on the survey with Jeff Horwitt, also a Democrat, and Republican Bill McInturff.

“The race is sort of locked into place,” said. McInturff. “This is very clear, definitive data about the status of this race and the things Bernie Sanders was unable to do to create a coalition.”

Looking to the general election, Biden led Trump in the new survey by 9 percentage points (52% to 43%) in a test match-up, while Mr. Sanders led by 4 points (49% to 45). Both margins were essentially unchanged from February.

Research contact: @WSJ