Political Animal

Schumer and Pelosi Employ a Good Cop-Bad Cop Strategy

Once Majority Leader McConnell released his plan for a stimulus bill to boost the economy during the coronavirus crisis, Democrats rallied around three major changes that needed to be made to the bill.

  1. Transparency and oversight for the money designated to bail out major corporations affected by coronavirus.
  2. The addition of a “Marshall Plan” for hospitals and health care facilities.
  3. The inclusion of ramped-up unemployment insurance.

While Minority Leader Schumer was negotiating with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin about these changes, McConnell brought his own bill up for a procedural vote in the Senate twice, knowing that it would fail. That allowed him and his colleagues to rant about Democrats and blame them for not recognizing the urgency of the situation.

As I noted previously, that is when Speaker Pelosi stepped up to the plate with an alternative bill for the House to consider. Congressional Republicans proceeded to have a bit of a temper tantrum, with McConnell saying that “we were doing just fine until that intervention.” Of course, McConnell wasn’t doing just fine if the goal was to actually pass a bill.

It was about that time that we started hearing reports about progress being made in negotiations on the Senate side. Late Monday night, both Schumer and Mnuchin indicated that they were closing in on a deal. By Tuesday morning, McConnell and Pelosi were included in the negotiations and Schumer took to the floor of the Senate to indicate that Republicans had agreed to all three changes Democrats were requesting.

What appears to have happened is that McConnell got out-strategized by Schumer and Pelosi. The majority leader seemed to think that he could either shame Senate Democrats into voting for his bill or blame them if it failed. But while Schumer was playing “good cop” in ongoing negotiations with Mnuchin, Pelosi donned the “bad cop” role by sending the message that Republicans should “deal with my partner or here’s what you’ll face in the House.” It worked brilliantly.

Along with oversight for the bailout funds and support for hospitals that have been included in the bill, the plan for unemployment insurance will provide significant relief for American workers. The first thing to note is that independent contractors and gig workers will now qualify for UI. Secondly, for four months, payment will include the normal UI benefit plus $600—up to 100 percent of previous income. Finally, workers don’t need to be laid off to qualify for UI. Companies can simply consider them furloughed, which means that not only can they be hired back, but they can keep their benefits intact. All of that is in addition to the one-time “checks for everyone” that will mean $1,200 per individual adult plus $500 per child.

In addition to that relief, Democrats secured a provision in the bill that prohibits businesses controlled by Trump, Pence, members of Congress and heads of executive departments from getting loans or investments from the funds included in the bill. That prohibition also applies to their spouses, children and in-laws.

Negotiations on this bill continued late into Tuesday night and were finalized shortly after midnight. The Senate is expected to take up the measure almost immediately and Pelosi has said that a strong bipartisan vote in that chamber would make it possible to pass the bill by unanimous consent in the House.

Young Americans, Here’s a Selfish Reason to Stay Home

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe, few images have been as maddening as those of masses of young people partying on beaches in blatant defiance of public health officials’ pleas to “social distance.” “This is so unintelligent and reckless,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “I can’t even begin to express it.”

Needless to say, by ignoring directives to stay home, young adults endanger the health of their parents and grandparents, who are at higher risk of serious illness. And far from invincible themselves, younger people now account for as much as 40 percent of patients hospitalized for COVID-19.

But if their own health and safety aren’t reason enough for young Americans to stay put, they should consider their economic self-interest as well. Young people will be bear the brunt of the coronavirus recession. The longer the crisis continues, the more painful the economic fallout will be, as businesses stay shuttered and the economy risks plunging into a depression. Helping to “flatten the curve,” in other words, will not only save lives. It will help mitigate the economic shock of the crisis, and improve future economic prospects for the younger generation.

The restaurant, retail, and hotel industries are all reeling from the pandemic. Marriott, for instance, has furloughed tens of thousands of employees. So, too, have Hilton and Hyatt. Many small businesses are forced to close shop or lay off most of their workforce. Young workers are among the first to feel the pain.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers between the ages of 20 and 24 account for nearly one-third of restaurant waitstaff, one-fourth of all retail cashiers, and one-fifth of all retail salesclerks. Young workers also occupy a large share of other entry-level service jobs in entertainment and hospitality, such as hotel and motel desk clerks (one-third), ushers and ticket-takers (one-fifth) and baggage handlers (one-sixth).

That’s just in those industries. Young people make up a disproportionate share of the low-wage workforce hardest hit by the pandemic, period, according to new research from the Brookings Institution. Scholars Martha Ross, Nicole Bateman, and Alec Friedhoff find that workers ages 18 to 24 comprise nearly one in four low-wage workers, with the most common occupations being retail, food service, and lower-level administrative support. Many of these young workers can ill afford any loss of income: Among the 13 percent who lack a college degree, the median hourly wage is just $8.55. Worse yet, one in five of these workers is the sole earner in their family; 14 percent are also caring for children.

But it’s not just low-income young adults who will suffer from a prolonged economic crisis; an entire cohort of prospective college graduates—many with large student debt burdens—also suddenly find their plans in limbo. “Job fairs and internships have been called off, as have debating competitions, graduate school admission tests and conferences that are essential opportunities to network and get jobs,” writes The Hechinger Report. Students who graduated during the Great Recession a decade ago might consider themselves lucky by comparison to what this year’s graduates are facing.

Many young people were already in dire economic circumstances even before the current crisis. According to the Social Science Research Council, as many as 4.5 million young adults ages 16 to 24 were not in school nor working in 2017, the latest year for which data are available. No doubt this figure has already skyrocketed, putting an entire generation at risk of severe, long-term economic disadvantage.

Some recent polling suggests that many young Americans do, in fact, grasp the personal economic implications of the COVID-19 epidemic. They may actually internalize the economic consequences more than the health risks. A new survey by the youth-focused public opinion firm College Reaction finds that just 50 percent of college students are concerned about contracting COVID-19 themselves. But 91 percent are concerned about “the U.S. economy and the job market.”

That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. Young people need to understand the connection that their behavior has on the severity—and duration—of the pandemic, both for public health and for the economy. Young people already go out the most, so they can do the most to stop the spread of the virus. That means staying home and adhering to social distancing guidelines. If they do, they will not only help to flatten the curve of the epidemic. They will lessen the depth of the nation’s economic crisis. And the generation they will ultimately save is their own.

Trump Is Willing to Risk Hundreds of Thousands of Lives

The news coming out of the president’s Monday press conference on the coronavirus is truly alarming.

President Trump, under growing pressure to rescue an economy in free fall, said Monday that he may soon loosen federal guidelines for social distancing and encourage shuttered businesses to reopen—defying public health experts, who have warned that doing so risks accelerating the spread of the novel coronavirus or even allowing it to rebound.

“America will again and soon be open for business—very soon,” Trump said at the daily White House news conference. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”…

The consensus among experts—including infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci and other senior officials on Trump’s coronavirus task force—is that restaurants, bars, schools, offices and other gathering places should remain closed for many more weeks to mitigate the outbreak, the worst effects of which are yet to be felt in the United States.

But Trump has been chafing against that notion and impatient to get American life back to normal.

“If it were up to the doctors, they’d say let’s keep it shut down, let’s shut down the entire world . . . and let’s keep it shut for a couple of years,” Trump said Monday. “We can’t do that.”

Of course, Trump is incapable of telling the truth. No one is suggesting that we need to shut down for a couple of years. But he has to exaggerate to make a point.

During the press conference, John Karl asked the president whether he was worried that if he lifted restrictions too soon, the virus would start spreading. The correct response would be to remind Karl that the virus hasn’t been contained. It is still spreading. Instead, Trump suggested that he would lift restrictions based on what he is hearing about the mortality rate.

At the beginning, “nobody knew anything about this particular virus”, and Trump said he heard numbers that the mortality rate for the virus might be as high as 5%, compared with “.001 or 2 or 3” percent for the normal flu.

“The mortality rate, to me that is a very big factor,” Trump said.

“We’re under 1% now,” Trump said. “It’s still terrible. The whole concept of death is terrible, but there’s a tremendous difference between something under 1% and 4 or 5 or even 3%.”

Once again, the president isn’t telling the truth. Here is what the World Health Organization said about the coronavirus mortality rate earlier this month.

Mortality for COVID-19 appears higher than for influenza, especially seasonal influenza. While the true mortality of COVID-19 will take some time to fully understand, the data we have so far indicate that the crude mortality ratio (the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases) is between 3-4%, the infection mortality rate (the number of reported deaths divided by the number of infections) will be lower. For seasonal influenza, mortality is usually well below 0.1%.

While it is difficult to discuss these issues when we are referring to people’s lives, the estimates from WHO of 3-4 percent were based on the number of reported cases rather than the number of infections. Experts have calculated an infection mortality rate of 1.4 percent in the city of Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have originated. But given that mortality rates vary, here is a summary of what we currently know.

The chance of someone with symptomatic Covid-19 dying varied by age, confirming other studies. For those aged 15 to 44, the fatality rate was 0.5%, though it might have been as low as 0.1% or as high as 1.3%. For people 45 to 64, the fatality rate was also 0.5%, with a possible low of 0.2% and a possible high of 1.1%. For those over 64, it was 2.7%, with a low and high estimate of 1.5% and 4.7%.

Nevertheless, on Monday night, Trump tweeted this from Ann Coulter.

It is probably safe to say that Trump loved that number, but didn’t bother reading the linked article. If he had, he would have learned that the author, while having worked on pandemics, is an engineer, not a health professional.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s go with his figures. The population of the United States is currently about 327 million. Estimates are that somewhere between 20-60 percent of the population will be infected with the coronavirus. If the mortality rate was 0.45 percent, that would mean the death of between 294,000 and 883,000 Americans. We are currently at about 600. Those are the lives this president is willing to sacrifice on the altar of the economy.

Here is how Governor Cuomo reacted to the president’s plan.

Those joining the president in choosing the economy over life include Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

Of course, Trump’s economic advisors and some business leaders are joining that chorus. But what about those who, on religious grounds, claim to be “pro-life?” The publication “First Things,” which touts itself as “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” published an article about this by R.R. Reno.

Undoubtedly “shelter in place” will slow the spread of disease, but at what cost to the body politic? Beware public health officials who advise burning the village in order to get rid of the pestilence.

And beware those who pronounce that we should save lives “at any cost.” That’s a dangerous falsehood, one that leads to barbarism and slavery. There are many things more important than physical survival—love, honor, beauty, and faith. Anyone who believes that our earthly existence is worth preserving “at any cost” will accept slavery. As St. Paul teaches, he is already a slave, spiritually speaking.

All of a sudden, when we are talking about the economy instead of women’s bodies, asking people to “shelter in place” is the road to slavery. Risking a minimum of 300,000 lives is small potatoes to Reno.

I am reminded of something David Simon said about the message he was sending with his series The Wire.

I didn’t start out as a cynic, but at every given moment where this country has had a choice – its governments, institutions, corporations, its social framework – to exalt the value of individuals over the value of the shared price, we have chosen raw unencumbered capitalism. Capitalism has become our god. You are not looking at a marxist up here, but you are looking at somebody who doesn’t believe that capitalism can work absent a social framework that accepts that it is relatively easy to marginalize more and more people in this economy. Capitalism has to be attended to. And that has to be a conscious calculation on the part of society, if that is going to succeed…A t some point, either more of us are going to find our conscience or we’re not.

It is clear that Donald Trump and his enablers are devoid of a conscience. In the coming weeks, as hundreds of thousands of lives are on the line, we’ll find out about the rest of us.

How Far Will the Republicans Go Before They Defy Trump?

History has taught us that there is more than one way to kill a few million people. Deliberate famine worked pretty well for Joe Stalin, for example. There’s even a term for this (“Holodomor”) which is a compound of the Ukrainian words holod “hunger” and mor “plague”.

Apparently, historians still debate whether Stalin’s Great Famine of 1932 and 1933 meets the technical definition of genocide. I guess it’s hard to parse between benign and malicious neglect. When does maladministration cross over into a maniacal desire to eradicate a whole people? Who is qualified to say?

We’re at risk now of suffering a “Trumpomor.” This is almost solely because the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate neglected to remove President Trump when they were given good cause. Since he is still in power, he’s in a position to cause a million or more excess deaths in this country and more than that on a global scale. He might do it for no better reason than so he can have people visit his resorts and golf courses before his whole real estate empire goes broke.

He might be less inclined to do this if the Republicans in Congress had forced him to divest from his business interests rather than tripping over each other to patronize them. So, as you can see, I’m building a decent case that congressional Republicans are giving us a Holodomor.

I wonder, however, if Trump is acting in such a reckless manner that the Republicans may be forced to remove him after all.

President Donald Trump has never been known for his patience or long attention span.

Now, as the coronavirus crisis threatens his presidency, and upends his campaign for reelection, Trump is rapidly losing patience with the medical professionals who have made the case day after day that the only way to prevent a catastrophic loss of life is to essentially shut down the country — to minimize transmission and “flatten the curve” so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with critical patients.

The president also has been furious that his efforts to halt the harrowing drop in the stock market have so far proven ineffective. He has been calling friends and economists at all hours and berated aides and reporters who try to persuade him to recognize the severity of the outbreak.

The man is berating people who try to persuade him to recognize the severity of the coronavirus outbreak. He is inclined to do whatever he can to get people back to work, back on the subways, back on airplanes, back in our public parks, and (above all) back in his hotels. This has the potential to cause two million excess American deaths. When people tell him this, he yells at and insults them.

Congress doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring this. There are members of Congress who are severely ill with COVID-19, and many others who are currently self-quarantining and unable to vote. They’re also responsible for their constituents’ health, and most of them are not outright insane. They know that the best policy is to follow expert scientific advice, and the best politics is to let others take responsibility for any negative economic consequences that result. Taking actions that will lead to a couple of million excess deaths isn’t going to be good for them on any level, especially because it won’t improve the economy.

There may come a point soon when Trump openly defies his health advisors and causes many of them to resign. That will be the point when members of Trump’s cabinet will have to decide whether or not to invoke the 25th Amendment. The prospect of having a couple million deaths on your conscience can change people’s ordinary calculation of what it means for a president to be unfit for office.

If the 25th Amendment ever is invoked, this is how it will look:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Mike Pence would become president, at least temporarily, and considering that he’s listening to health experts every day, that would be a good thing. But it would be up to Congress to decide if Pence remained in charge.

Thereafter, when the President [Trump] transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

A lot of people have been fantasizing about this result for a few years now, but we’re in a different world now.

The president has snapped at aides delivering news that contradicts his relentless belief the crisis will be resolved soon.

Upon his return from a trip to India last month, Trump lit into aides about Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who had provided a dire warning about the virus’ potential impact. He chided Vice President Mike Pence in a West Wing meeting for defending Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a one-time Democratic presidential contender, for his handling of the crisis. And he angrily upbraided medical providers who called on his administration to do more, saying they should be upset instead with their local leadership.

If Trump tries to end the containment policy, he will face resistance.

There is dissent within the Republican Party, however, including from some close allies of the president.
“It would be a major mistake to suggest any change of course when it comes to containment,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said in an interview. “I just spoke with Dr. [Anthony] Fauci — he believes that, if anything, we should be more aggressive and do more. . . . You can’t have a functioning economy if you have hospitals overflowing.”

There has to be some line beyond which the Republicans will not go in their blind obedience to Trump. This crisis seems perfectly designed to discover exactly where that line is.