Political Animal

Trump Continues to Base Policy on What He Hears on Fox News

On Thursday night, Donald Trump finally invoked the Defense Production Act. He made the announcement on Twitter, of course.

According to a report from Kevin Breuninger, the president issued an order on Thursday night directing Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to “use any and all authority available under the Act to acquire, from any appropriate subsidiary or affiliate of 3M Company, the number of N-95 respirators that the Administrator determines to be appropriate.”

Here is the response from 3M’s CEO.

In commenting on this, Kevin Drum identified the problem with Trump’s selective use of this authority.

The White House didn’t explain this, and it’s a little unnerving to see Trump using the DPA in such a gleefully punitive way. It’s supposed to be a technocratic tool for coordinating production, not a way for a president to score political points on Twitter.

All of this raises the question of what 3M did that earned the ire of the president. As it turns out, this segment of Tucker Carlson’s show aired on Fox News not long before Trump fired off his tweet.

Carlson’s guest, Jared Moskowitz, works for Republican Governor Ron DeSantis as his director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. He railed about not being able to get face masks from 3M.

It is difficult to sort out the truth from the lies in that segment. Some of the issues Moskowitz is pointing to surfaced after we learned that the federal government, probably under the direction of Jared Kushner, has turned the supply chain for these critical supplies over to the private sector. Josh Marshall documented the issues that raises.

First is that there’s no clear mechanism to allocate these supplies on the basis of need based on a coherent national plan or framework. Secondly, it opens the door to massive profiteering. Even if companies aren’t technically gouging, that’s what bidding is. And you really can’t call this a legitimate private sector market if every state is having to bid with private companies to secure medical supplies during a historic national health emergency. The private sector rationale is also undermined if the US military has taken over a significant part of the fulfillment process.

The man who turned around the Bush administration’s botched response to Katrina, Lt. General Russel Honore, explained why that is a recipe for disaster.

Regardless of any complicity on the part of 3M, none of the issues Moskowitz complained about would be happening if this administration was taking charge of the supply chain rather than turning it over to the private sector. Those are the facts.

But beyond all of that, what we see is that once again the President of the United States took retributive action based on a segment he watched on Fox News. If you think his son-in-law, who has now been put in charge of managing this effort, will do any better, take a look at this.

What we have is a president who, during a national emergency, is directing policy based on what he hears on Fox News and from his “friends.” Of course, that’s what he’s always done. In the past, it was bad news. But it is now unconscionable.

Ideological Rigidity Is a Poor Fit for Our Times

Rick Scott is currently a U.S. Senator representing Florida, but he was the state’s governor from 2011 to 2019. He wasn’t serving in that position when the Great Recession hit, but he had to deal with some of the aftermath. One thing he did was make the state’s unemployment services harder to access. In theory, this saved the state money since they had to pay out less in benefits, although there are hidden costs to having a bunch of people running around short on cash. It also gave him better statistics to trumpet as he argued for his own reelection.

But now that hundreds of thousands of people are out of work and seeking benefits, Scott’s “reforms” are infuriating Floridians.

Already anxious about Trump’s chances in the nation’s biggest swing state, Republicans now are dealing with thousands of unemployed workers unable to navigate the Florida system to apply for help. And the blowback is directed straight at Trump’s top allies in the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott.

Privately, Republicans admit that the $77.9 million system that is now failing Florida workers is doing exactly what Scott designed it to do — lower the state’s reported number of jobless claims after the great recession.

“It’s a sh– sandwich, and it was designed that way by Scott,” said one DeSantis advisor. “It wasn’t about saving money. It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about.”

This is what happens when you elect people who don’t care about you. I’m sure New York State will wish that Andrew Cuomo had been a more people-first governor, too, but it’s easy to see that he still takes his job of protecting New Yorkers seriously despite his record of knocking heads with the progressive wing of his party. His popularity is surging because he’s visibly working his ass off to solve problems.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Friday giving New York State the right to seize ventilators and send them to hospitals in novel coronavirus hot spots.

The National Guard will be deployed to remove and redistribute ventilators and personal protection equipment from institutions determined not to have as great a need, Cuomo said at a news conference.

“I apologize to the hardship for those institutions,” Cuomo said. “I’m not going to let people die.”

Those institutions will either have the ventilators returned or be financially reimbursed, Cuomo said.

He’s listening to experts and spending his days trying to manage a problem of unprecedented seriousness and magnitude. He’s thinking about the whole country, too, and how we can pool and allocate our resources in an efficient and logical way.

The contrast to Florida’s Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis could not be starker, and that’s reflected in how the people are responding to their leadership. A month ago, Cuomo was on progressives’ shortlist of most infuriating Democrats in the country, but in recent days I’ve seen some calling for him to replace Joe Biden on the ticket. This is solely due to the way he’s impressed even ideological enemies with his approach to the pandemic.

That’s not going to happen, but Joe Biden will be very happy to campaign anywhere in the country with Cuomo. Chances are, Trump won’t want to be seen within a country mile of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis.

Part of this is just that Cuomo isn’t ideologically rigid. If this pandemic reveals some error in his previous thinking, he doesn’t let that keep him from doing what needs to be done now. Republicans are afraid to contradict the president. They don’t believe in generous unemployment benefits. Their opposition to Obamacare (and Medicaid) hasn’t wavered even as millions have lost their jobs and their health insurance. They’ve spent their whole lives trying to tear down the things we built to deal with the Great Depression, and now that those kinds of things are really needed, they have trouble accepting that fact and acting accordingly.

I hope Joe Biden is watching Cuomo closely and seeing how people respond to him. He needs to be flexible, too, and not let prior positions become an obstacle to embracing what makes the most sense right now. If he becomes president, he’s going to inherit the same kind of mess that Franklin Roosevelt inherited, and policies that were politically impossible a month ago will be requirements by next January.

Living in the recent past is not the place to be. We can’t go back to the 1930s either, but we do need to understand what we can take from that era since otherwise, we could waste time reinventing the wheel.

The Antidote to Trump’s Orwellian Lies

As a writer, it can be difficult to come up with words to describe what it’s like to live through a crisis with someone like Trump in the Oval Office. Words like “Orwellian” seem totally inadequate when I want to rage at how crazy-making it feels to be constantly barraged with lies.

For example, on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence told Wolf Blitzer that the president has never belittled the threat of the coronavirus. What?! We all heard Trump belittle the threat over and over and over again—with our own ears. It is on tape for heaven’s sake.

How can someone go on national television and say something that is so blatantly refuted by the evidence? But the fact is that these folks do it all the time—which is where a word like “gaslighting” comes in because it is absolutely crazy-making.

The example that is most disturbing, however, is the fact that Trump is preparing to congratulate himself if this pandemic results in the death of 200,000 Americans. It’s coming. We all know it because he’s already teed it up.

To step away from the crazy for a moment, it is impossible to know how many Americans would have died if this country had a competent president. But on the issue of initial testing as a means of containment, we can already see the vast difference between what happened in South Korea and this country.

Trump belittled the threat, ignored multiple warnings, and avoided testing because the numbers would make him look bad. By the time the administration got serious about this pandemic, it was too late for containment and we were left with mitigation strategies like social distancing. While it is impossible to quantify the number of lives that were sacrificed due to that particular failure, it is clear that this president is responsible for the deaths of thousands on that issue alone.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve often thought of Representative Adam Schiff’s warning about “midnight in Washington” at the end of the Senate impeachment trial—especially when he said, “You can’t trust this president to do the right thing. Not for one minute. Not for one election. Not for the sake of our country. You just can’t. He will not change and you know it…Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less. And decency matters not at all.” With those words, Schiff demonstrated that he doesn’t underestimate Donald Trump’s depravity. The congressman cut through the bullshit and grounded us all in the reality we are facing.

That is why I find some reassurance from this announcement.

When America has recovered from the coronavirus crisis and people are back to work, Rep. Adam B. Schiff thinks Congress should consider a 9/11-style independent commission to examine why the nation was so unprepared for the pandemic.

Schiff, a California Democrat, told me in an interview Monday that his staff has already started working on a discussion draft modeled after the 9/11 Commission, and that he would be talking about the possibility with others in Congress…

“We will need to delay the work of the commission until the crisis has abated to ensure that it does not interfere with the agencies that are leading the response,” Schiff explained in an email. “But that should not prevent us from beginning to identify where we got it wrong and how we can be prepared for the next pandemic.”

The antidote to the constant stream of Orwellian propaganda coming from Trump and his enablers is a grounding in the truth provided by people who have demonstrated that they recognize the depths to which this president has already gone. I can think of no one who would perform that task better than Representative Adam Schiff.

The GOP Governors Using Coronavirus to Quash Abortion Rights

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every facet of American life. It poses an existential threat to the hospitality, restaurant, and retail industries. It has put millions of people out of work. And if a number of Republican officials across the country have their way, something else might go out of business too: access to surgical abortions in red states.

In recent weeks, state and local officials across the country have pushed to limit non-essential medical procedures in the wake of COVID-19. That’s been necessary to save space for patients infected by the virus, as hospitals prepare for a surge of new cases, and to ensure that life-saving equipment, already in short supply, can be used on those who need it most.

But in a handful of GOP-controlled states, there has been a targeted push to classify abortions as “non-essential,” thereby imposing new restrictions on the procedure. In some cases, those directives have come from executive orders, leaving abortion clinics to fear whether performing the operation will put them in legal jeopardy.

Medical officials, however, argue that abortions are time-sensitive and thus an essential procedure. Skye Perryman, the general counsel for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said Monday that “using the COVID-19 pandemic to push political agendas is unconscionable, and it is harmful to the health of patients, and women.” In other words, anti-choice Republicans are taking advantage of a global pandemic to suppress women’s reproductive rights.

It’s a form of coronavirus opportunism—and it’s been working. Since these states’ directives were announced, women across the country have been blocked from getting abortions. Clinic operators had to cancel hundreds of appointments since bans took effect last week, according to clinic representatives. Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that many Texas patients seeking care had traveled to Oklahoma. But then, Oklahoma enacted its own mortarium. Now, those women don’t know where to turn, and the next closest state with safe access to an abortion could be hundreds of miles away.

Some people might have seen this coming. “It’s not surprising that the states that are now using the COVID crisis to stop people from getting abortion care are the very same states that have a history of passing laws to ban abortions or using sham rationale to shut down clinics,” said Jennifer Dalven, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

Still, advocacy groups are gearing up for an extended legal challenge. On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed lawsuits in Alabama, Ohio, Iowa, and Oklahoma, arguing that surgical abortion bans during a public health emergency are a violation of Roe v. Wade. The lawsuits demand an “emergency stay” on those orders, which would allow clinics to remain open and provide care to patients. A similar lawsuit was filed in Texas on March 26. In the meantime, however, millions of women are left to live in agonizing uncertainty.

In some states, legal challenges to these moves have led to early—if temporary—successes for advocates and clinics.

Litigation has worked in Ohio, where a March 17 health department order required the cancellation of non-essential surgical procedures. Following the order, the state’s deputy attorney general, Jonathan Fulkerson, sent letters to three abortion clinics instructing them to “immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions.” On Monday, District Court Judge Michael Barrett sided with groups who challenged the ban and issued a two-week temporary restraining order, said Jessie Hill, a cooperating attorney with the Ohio chapter of the ACLU. Following an appeal by the state, a federal judge on Thursday upheld Barrett’s ruling, allowing abortions to continue to be performed in the state.

But litigation hasn’t worked out everywhere. In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton instructed all medical facilities on March 23 to stop all “medically unnecessary surgeries or procedures” in response to the coronavirus outbreak and an executive order. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel granted a temporary restraining order Monday to consider the underlying legal issues. But then Yeakel’s order was struck down on Tuesday, when a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Texas Governor Greg Abbott to continue restricting abortion access through his COVID-19 executive order.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt also announced an executive order that suspends elective medical procedures through April 7—including abortions, except when one can be proved necessary to prevent health risks to the patient. Stitt’s order, issued on March 24, is being challenged in court.

Perhaps no state has more of a recent history of trying to tamper with abortion rights than Alabama. Last year, the governor signed into law one of the most far-reaching restrictions on abortion rights in the nation. It included a ban on abortion procedures after eight weeks of pregnancy, but the legislation was temporarily blocked by the courts before it could be implemented.

Now, Alabama is using the coronavirus outbreak to further its original goal. The governor ordered a temporary shutdown of non-essential medical procedures on March 27, including abortions. District Court Judge Myron Thompson, however, suspended the state’s ban with a temporary restraining order until April 13.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has tried to do the same thing. She signed an order on March 27 to halt all elective and non-emergency medical procedures—abortions included. Advocates and state officials reached an agreement on Wednesday, however, that women would be able to obtain “essential” abortions in the state, making the procedure available if a delay would pose a health risk to the patient. Otherwise, they have to wait until the ban is lifted on April 16. The ACLU subsequently withdrew its request for an emergency injunction.

Progressive activists in other red states are gearing up for similar bans. Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb issued an order on Monday to “cancel or postpone elective and non-urgent surgical or invasive procedures,” which was confirmed to include abortions. Governors in Kentucky and Mississippi have also said they believe abortion should be included on the list of banned “non-essential” medical procedures due to COVID-19.

Abortions are hard enough to get as it is. Conservative politicians in red states have sought for years to place undue burdens on women who seek them—and to challenge their legality in the judiciary. As different legal decisions are made in district or appellate courts throughout the nation, the issue may soon come before the Supreme Court.

Heather Shumaker, Senior Counsel for Reproductive Rights & Health at the National Women’s Law Center, said that COVID-19 just serves to compound the issues with abortion access, particularly as they impact lower-income individuals, as well as young people, people of color, and those in rural areas.

If anti-choice officials are successful, more and more women seeking abortions will be left unsure of their rights. Some will flat out be denied them.

“The really frustrating thing about these kinds of unconstitutional actions is that they can have such a chilling effect on patients seeking needed health care that they can’t delay,” said Hill, the Ohio attorney. “You can’t delay an abortion until the end of this pandemic.”