Sep 16, 2020

A new deal in Congress?

A new deal in Congress?

Plus, why voters are sticking with Trump.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum. You can read Tangle for free, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to subscribe. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 12 minutes.

A new proposal for COVID-19 relief in Congress. Plus, why is half the country sticking with Trump?

Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) need to come to an agreement for Congress to pass a new coronavirus stimulus package. Photo by: Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Marshals

Reader feedback.

There were lots of responses to yesterday’s newsletter. Andrew from Atlanta, Georgia, wrote in to say he thought my metaphor in explaining why I struggle to support the president — that I wouldn’t go to a neurosurgeon who lied every other sentence or a gym trainer who had been accused of sexual assault — fell flat.

“Of course you wouldn't go to a neurosurgeon who lied to you — you can find a neurosurgeon with a 5-minute Google search, and most of them are qualified. This goes for all your examples, even finding someone to have a beer with. But the people your newsletter is about, everyone who isn't a Trump fan who are considering voting for Trump are doing so because they don't have 8 different candidates within an hour's drive to consider. To use your metaphor, they're deciding between a neurosurgeon who lied to them or embellished every other sentence and a neurosurgeon who isn't competent at surgery. A trainer who won't help them get in shape. On and on. I think you absolutely got it right that people who disagree with you are prioritizing the position over the person. But your statement above only serves to belittle those people and pretend their views are without nuance or merit.”

Pranav from New York also wrote in to push back on the framework I laid out for making a decision, but took it in a different direction. “The notion of 'left versus right,' or 'liberal versus conservative' or 'Democrat versus Republican' sits on top of a common understanding of what democracy is,” he said. “All these other labels and the differences between them are utterly meaningless without democracy as being the bedrock for our society. America’s success, in my humble opinion, has stemmed from the separation of institutions, a robust system of checks and balances, the protection of civil liberties and a vibrant culture where innovation and science drive politics, not the reverse. Today, I can safely (and regretfully) say that these are at risk under the current president.”

Quick hits.

  1. Yesterday, Breonna Taylor’s family announced a $12 million settlement with the city of Louisville, Kentucky, after officers killed Taylor during a no-knock raid in March. The agreement settled a wrongful-death lawsuit Taylor’s family brought against the city, but will not change the outcome of an investigation into the officers involved. It also includes nearly a dozen police reform measures in Louisville, including more oversight by top commanders.
  2. Federal prosecutors opened a criminal probe into John Bolton, the former national security advisor under Trump who recently wrote a memoir about his experience in the White House. The probe could spell far more legal trouble for Bolton than initially expected, and the judge assigned the case says Bolton may have intentionally violated a nondisclosure agreement he made with the White House.
  3. The Scientific American magazine endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time ever in its 175 years of publishing: Joe Biden. “The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science,” the magazine wrote. “The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September.”
  4. A nurse who worked at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Georgia filed a whistleblower complaint alleging “a high rate of hysterectomies and alleged medical neglect.” Dawn Wooten, the nurse who filed the complaint, said that some women may have needed a hysterectomy, but "everybody's uterus cannot be that bad."
  5. President Donald Trump sat for a town hall with ABC News yesterday and faced tough questions from voters about his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his plans for the future. The president faced especially rough waters while trying to explain the rollout of his long-promised health care plan, which he has repeatedly insisted is just weeks away.
  6. BONUS: Michael Caputo, the Trump ally and top spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), apologized to staff on Tuesday for his Facebook video where made wild accusations about “sedition” inside the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and insisted there would be an armed insurrection after the election. Caputo blamed the false allegations on poor physical health and his poor mental health after fielding death threats against his family.

What D.C. is talking about.

The Problem Solvers Caucus. Yesterday, the 50-member group of moderate Democrats and Republicans unveiled the details of its coronavirus relief proposal in an effort to move negotiations forward. In May, the House of Representatives (controlled by Democrats) passed a $3.4 trillion COVID-19 relief package. It was mostly ignored and mocked by Republicans for being far too expensive. Negotiations on a second COVID-19 relief bill picked up nearly four months later, in August, then quickly fell apart as lawmakers took their recess. When the Senate returned in early September, Republicans (who control the Senate) put forward a much smaller, $650 billion bill, which failed to reach a 60-vote threshold to pass in the 100-member Senate.

Now, Congress has only weeks to pass a second relief package. The Problem Solvers Caucus’s bill is a potential way out. It would send another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to millions of Americans. It includes rental assistance and an increase in food stamps for the neediest Americans, extends eviction moratoriums into January of 2021, and re-starts enhanced unemployment benefits at $450 a week for eight weeks, then up to $600 a week so long as that number does not exceed 100% of a person’s previous wage. These benefits would last from mid-October to January 2021. The total cost of these measures would be $436 billion.

The bill also adds another $240 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, the small-business lending program created to aid businesses struggling under social distancing guidelines. It gives $145 billion to schools, colleges and universities to help them transition to hybrid learning or use the money to make in-person learning safer. And it throws $500 billion in “state and local aid” for state and local governments to help close the gap in their budget shortfalls that are related to COVID-19.

Finally, the bill includes $400 million in election aid for poll workers, staffing, polling location PPE and communications to voters about how and where to vote. It also calls for $52 billion to the USPS, extends broadband internet in rural areas, offers more support for the agriculture sector and a modest extension of funding for the Census. The bill gives Republicans a major priority, too: it lays out worker and liability protections, which will help protect businesses from “frivolous lawsuits” they may face for asking workers to come back to the job.

Included in the bill is a mechanism that makes the total spending flexible, by either increasing it as much as $400 billion or decreasing it up to $200 billion, based on how public health and economic indicators change heading into 2021. The baseline cost is $1.5 trillion, or not quite half what the House Democrats passed in May, and a little more than double what the Senate Republicans called for in their most recent bill.


There’s a consensus on both sides that the government’s job isn’t done. Obviously, Republicans and Democrats in leadership roles in Congress feel they are far apart on what a bill should look like — but there’s total agreement that the American people and small businesses need another round of relief to get through the COVID-19 lockdowns.

What the left is saying.

Support for this bill is growing fast, but senior Democrats are still not embracing it. Moderate Democrats, especially those in swing states or districts Donald Trump won in 2016, have been screaming at the top of their lungs that Congress needs to act before the 2020 election. They say voters in their districts are desperate for help, and dumbfounded by the inability to pass a new stimulus bill.

Yesterday, The Washington Post Editorial board gave the new proposal a thumbs up.

“As for the actual content of the bill, it would provide significant money for all the economy’s most pressing needs,” the board wrote. “Economic conditions have improved significantly since the pandemic response forced a near-shutdown six months ago — indeed, more significantly than many expected. Yet the gains are precarious, with many families in hard-hit industries such as travel and food service facing long-term unemployment, eviction and food insecurity. Improvements to date are due largely to the strong bipartisan response Congress and the Trump administration mounted at the pandemic’s outset; further improvements depend on their ability to do something similar now. The Problem Solvers proposal could show the way.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised members of Congress won’t leave until they strike a deal. But senior Democrats have resisted the bill laid out by the Problem Solvers Caucus, saying it was a “retreat” from the party’s priorities.

“When it comes to bolstering the public health system, supporting state and local governments and assisting struggling families, the Problem Solvers’ proposal leaves too many needs unmet,” senior Democrats wrote in a statement. “With the general election just 49 days away and the Postal Service sabotaged by the Trump administration, their proposal also abandons our responsibility to protect the life of our democracy.”

Robert E. Rubin, who was the treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, and Jacob J. Lew, the treasury secretary under Barack Obama, published an op-ed together insisting Congress take action — and pushing them to reach the $2.2 trillion price tag that has been brought forward by Pelosi and Democratic leadership.

“Congress has returned with only a few weeks before a long recess, yet lawmakers appear to feel little urgency to address the crises,” they wrote. “This is playing with fire. Without swift and substantial action, the hardship tens of millions of Americans face is likely to continue — and grow more acute. Serious negotiations are long overdue. Given the enormous needs, a package should be as large as can be agreed to, and preferably more than $2 trillion to address the most urgent problems.”

“The economic case is clear,” they added. “Private- and public-sector employment remains 11.5 million jobs below its February level, despite unemployment falling somewhat in August. State and local governments have laid off 1.1 million workers, three-fifths of them in K-12 or higher education. In August, 1 in 10 adults reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t get enough to eat, and the rate is significantly higher in families with children. The crisis is deepening long-standing disparities, with Black and Latino families hit the hardest.”

What the right is saying.

Warmer. Democrats’ initial proposal in the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act passed in May was laughed out of the room. It included $1 trillion to state and local governments, a price tag that is well above what economists were calling for. The $500 billion is about what Moody’s Analytics said would be necessary, and even that was on the upper end of estimates. Republicans in the Senate have rejected the idea of another round of stimulus checks, which has frustrated Trump and his supporters who believe those checks are a major political winner. Republicans in the Senate note that 9 million stimulus checks have still gone unclaimed.

As Rob Berger said in Forbes, a bipartisan group of economists have also rejected Pelosi’s call for a $600 unemployment enhancement benefit. Anything that would replace more than 100% of a workers’ wages has been roundly criticized on the right, and most have called for a number closer to $400. Remember: this benefit is on top of the state benefits already being offered.

“The big question is whether this new framework can bring the parties back to the table to reach a final deal,” Berger wrote. “While the framework marks a compromise between the Democrats and Republicans, it would require the Democrats to move further. The primary area of needed compromise is on Speaker Pelosi’s current demand for $915 billion in state and local funding. The compromise being proposed is consistent with what economic experts say state and local governments need. In addition, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has already indicated that the White House could accept a $1.5 trillion deal. As a result, all eyes are on Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer to see if the framework will bring further compromise.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board has opposed the deal, saying it would “do more economic harm than good” and noting that the absence of a deal is far worse for Democrats politically than it is for Donald Trump and Republicans.

“The jobless aid would slow the labor-market recovery by paying many Americans more not to work than taking one of the millions of jobs the Labor Department says are available,” the board wrote. “Mr. Trump wants a deal anyway so he can hand out money before the election. Like Mr. Mnuchin, he believes this would help the economy, but at most it would give a short-term lift to consumer spending. The economy is expected to grow by 30% in the third quarter in any case, and consumers have savings they put away during the lockdown months.”

The board added that swing-state Democrats are begging Pelosi to get to a deal so they have something to boast about to their constituents in the final weeks of campaigning.

“Which is all the more reason for Mr. Trump to stop begging and campaign from here to November against the Pelosi Democrats for refusing to compromise,” it wrote. “She’s putting a bailout for progressive politicians in blue states ahead of genuine Covid relief, and the voters ought to hear about it before they cast their ballots.”

My take.

This is it. This is how governing is supposed to work. This is how legislating is supposed to work. I genuinely think I may be in love with the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Look: Democrats can crow all the way to election day that they had a bill in May and Republicans sat on it for months. Americans are already experiencing a gap in benefits and help — from small businesses to the unemployed — and Democrats can rightly point to the fact they had a starting point for negotiations in the Heroes Act that Republicans ignored for most of May, June, July and half of August. All of that is true.

It’s also true that Democrats feel they’ve compromised repeatedly before this latest bill, and Nancy Pelosi — clearly the most powerful Democrat on the planet — wanted to hold fast on the $3.4 trillion bill. Now they’ve come down to $2.2 trillion and they don’t want to go any further. I get that. They’ve drawn a line in the sand.

But this is what it’s about. $2.2 trillion is an unthinkable amount of money and Republicans are right to rein it in. For years, Congress has been broken because most of Congress gets left out of the conversation. Rep. Justin Amash (MI-I) talks about this all the time, how the current function of Congress is small groups of leadership drafting bills and then bringing those bills to the floor for a vote and letting everyone scramble to do what is most politically convenient for them.

The Problem Solvers Caucus actually sat down and legislated. 50 members came together, drafted a bill, tried to moderate their positions, and then got more than 75% support from the 50-member caucus in order to agree to make it public. Democrats were demanding $600 in enhanced unemployment benefits. Republicans wanted $400. This bill gives $450 and transitions it to $600 over a period of time with levers to extend or shorten it based on economic recovery. That’s a compromise, and it’s still the most federal assistance ever given.

Democrats’ next biggest priority — and the biggest sticking point — was that they wanted state and local government funding that Republicans were refusing to budge on. Pelosi asked for more than $900 billion, which — frankly — was absurd. This proposal comes in at $500 billion, which is in the ballpark of what economic experts actually say is needed to prevent a number of states from going completely bankrupt. That’s a compromise. (And a very good one for Democrats).

A $1,200 stimulus check to every American is something both President Trump and Democratic leadership want. Of course, most Americans want this too. Seemingly, the only people who don’t want it are a small group of influential Republican senators. They’re simply outnumbered by Democrats, by House Republicans, by the Republican president, by the Republican White House negotiators and by the American public. It’s a no-brainer to include the checks — most of which will either be spent directly back into the economy or be used to pay rent or buy food by people who are really struggling.

Republicans get their liability protections for businesses and get to reload the PPP, which was perhaps the most popular part of the first COVID-19 relief package, and is desperately needed to help keep businesses afloat. State and local governments, as well as schools, get the help they need. We ramp up testing. We ensure a smoother election. Unemployed Americans get aid that moves depending on the course of the virus and the economic recovery, a common-sense mechanism that ensures we spend what we need to. The cost of the bill lands nearly smack dab in the middle of what Democrats and Republicans have called for.

Boom. This is what it’s all about. The leadership should take the deal and get Americans some relief, and the rest of us should start paying more attention to a caucus that is genuinely trying to get things done.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Why does half the country still want to vote for Donald Trump? What is the appeal? In your opinion is it an emotional appeal or are there voter issues that Donald Trump is tapping into?

— Max, Seattle, WA

Tangle: We touched on this a bit yesterday, but I don’t think you can give a black and white answer here (i.e. it’s not emotional appeal or voter issues). I very much think it’s the intersection of both — and there are lots of voter issues and emotional issues that appeal to millions of Americans. It’s why he got elected and why much of his base is sticking with him. It’s also why he’s got a perfectly good shot at re-election this year.

There are three very obvious and direct issues that drive Trump voters to support him: reducing immigration, cutting taxes and championing pro-life policies. I’ve written previously about Trump’s success in reducing legal immigration, and if you’re an American voter who wants fewer immigrants in the U.S., and more limits on employing immigrants outside the U.S., he’s been a major success as a president. Generally speaking, I think Trump’s stance on reducing immigration has the broadest appeal. The idea that it should be extremely difficult to get into the United States and become a legal citizen is something that resonates strongly with the Republican base. And Trump’s focus on reducing all immigration, even with his sometimes Draconian tactics, is one of the few things his administration has pursued with consistent tenacity and a lot of success.

Cutting taxes is more straightforward. If you own property, have wealth, have stock investments or are paid enough to lose a lot of money in payroll taxes on your checks, there’s a good chance your financial situation has significantly improved under Trump. I make a very modest salary as a journalist, and I invested my disposable income in five or six major stocks in 2017. They are up nearly 94% since then. I’ve nearly doubled my savings in three years. In 2018, Trump passed a new tax law that bumped take-home pay for 90% of Americans. I brought in an extra $2,000 over a year because of the change. These are huge, life-changing financial advancements millions of middle-class Americans like me are experiencing.

The abortion issue is more complicated. For most religious voters, I don’t think Trump is who they imagined would be their champion on this crucial issue. However, putting aside his own hypocrisy and flip-flopping (Trump was pro-choice before needing the religious vote), he has absolutely moved the ball for the pro-life movement. There’s a real chance his Supreme Court nominees overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion illegal again. At the very least conservative judges across the country are already making abortions harder to get. Trump became the first sitting president to attend the March for Life rally. He’s also issued executive orders to ban foreign aid for abortion services abroad. The March for Life rally organizers called him the “most pro-life president” in American history, while the left is only moving further left on abortion issues.

These three issues alone are enough to drive support from half the country, and that’s to say nothing of Trump’s promise to defend the 2nd amendment or his consistent criticism of some of the trade deals the United States has participated in that are loathed by many blue-collar workers in sectors like manufacturing and agriculture.

As for the emotions, I think that bit is simpler. Trump has positioned himself as a president defending something —America, a past time, the old way of life, etc. Many Americans on the left hear inherent racism in that defense, or see a president defending a deeply flawed version of the country from yesteryear, that only benefit part of the population. But for others, especially older Americans or voters in more rural areas, preservation is in fact what they’re interested in. And in that sense, Trump isn’t just defending something, he’s playing offense. He’s championing the way things were and a culture of loving America regardless of its flaws, embracing patriotism, and being proud of living in the best country on earth.

There are plenty of fair criticisms of this emotional pitch — from the fact Trump’s entire campaign was based on Making America Great Again to the contradiction of wanting something new, while simultaneously preserving something old — but it’s a very strong appeal for his supporters. Many millions of Americans (including many who do not support him) believe this is the greatest country on earth, it is a country worth fighting for, and the formula to be great already exists in our founding laws and history. So that appeal works, especially when it’s tied into a general loathing of Congress and the status quo government, positions that are popular amongst basically everyone.

Reminder: You can ask a question anytime, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in. I try to answer a reader question in every newsletter.

A story that matters.

The Trump administration just won a court battle that could lead to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. “A federal appeals court has effectively greenlighted the Trump administration’s plan to expel more than 300,000 undocumented immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Sudan from the U.S. by ending the ‘temporary protected status’ they have enjoyed for as long as two decades,” Politico reports. Judge Ryan Nelson, a Trump appointee, said the ruling is not meant to signify support for deporting the immigrants, though that outcome is now legally plausible. “There is no question that these individuals deserve our sympathy. And they may well warrant legislative protection... but that does not dictate the outcome of this case,” Nelson wrote.


  • 290%. The percentage of increase in online human resources schemes where criminals pose as potential employers.
  • 71%. The percentage of Americans who believe Americans have more in common with each other than many people think.
  • 74%. The percentage of Democrats who believe Americans have more in common with each other than many people think.
  • 78%. The percentage of Republicans who believe Americans have more in common with each other than many people think.
  • 53%. The percentage of Americans who have confidence in their state governor to successfully manage emerging health challenges.
  • 40%. The percentage of Americans who have confidence in the CDC to successfully manage emerging health challenges.
  • 35%. The percentage of Americans who have confidence in Donald Trump to successfully manage emerging health challenges.
  • 29%. The percentage of Gen Z students who are not confident in their teachers’ ability to teach lessons effectively while virtual.

For America.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but our country is in a pretty tough spot. Americans are divided, distanced, and determined to make people who disagree with them look dumb. Tangle isn’t just trying to improve the way people get their news — and inform folks who don’t have a few hours every day to follow politics — it’s also trying to help Americans understand the people they disagree with better. It’s trying to build empathy, common ground, and at the very least help get people out of their respective bubbles.

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Have a nice day.

Canada just reported no new deaths from the coronavirus for the first time since March on Friday. “As of Friday evening, over 6 million people had been tested for COVID-19 in Canada, 2.1% of which came back positive. Some 702 new cases were reported on Friday, but no new deaths, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported,” according to a CBS News report. The milestone was celebrated across the country.

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