Mar 26, 2020

"Congratulations America!" The Senate passes a coronavirus bill.

"Congratulations America!" The Senate passes a coronavirus bill.

Plus, how will this impact the election?

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

The Senate passes a bill, how this impacts the election and a story about coronavirus testing.

Jean Beaufort | Public Domain images.

Note to my readers.

I know this week was heavy on coronavirus and the stimulus bill that’s playing out. It’s tough when the newsletter follows the contours of the same story day in and day out, and I understand if there is some reader fatigue. Just know that I am doing my best not to tell you the same thing twice and to make sure you’re not missing any other important news. I want Tangle to be a home base where you can get every perspective you need to know about with links to venture out and read more about a topic if you’d like. I also know this news can be overwhelming. Next week, I’m planning to dive into China’s response and some of the other news happening behind the scenes. For now, the historic legislation moving through Congress needs to be covered. REMINDER: Tangle is a Monday through Thursday newsletter, with the occasional special Friday edition. I need a break tomorrow, as do you, so — barring some really huge news — there won’t be another newsletter until Monday. Enjoy your weekend and stay healthy.


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What D.C. is talking about.

Last night, the Senate officially passed The CARES Act, a $2 trillion bill now being described more as a “disaster relief” bill than a stimulus or financial package. In reality, it’s all of it rolled into one. It’s twice the size of America’s biggest economic stimulus package ever (Obama’s 2009 Recovery Act) and 25 times the size of the record-breaking disaster bill Congress passed after the 2017 hurricanes. The bill provides $150 billion to hospitals and other health centers to prepare for the storm of coronavirus cases, and it offers $850 billion in loan programs. In the final hours, the bill was nearly derailed when four Republican senators objected to a $600 extra weekly payment for anyone receiving uninsurance benefits from their state. The senators argued the money would result in workers making more while being out of work than they did while working, and thus incentivize layoffs or unemployment. Then Sen. Bernie Sanders threatened to block the bill if those four Republicans didn’t withdraw their opposition. Ultimately, the 883-page bill passed 96-0 (four senators were absent due to coronavirus isolation). Perhaps the most talked about is the $1,200 checks to Americans. Here is how the WSJ described that program:

The legislation will provide one-time checks of $1,200 to Americans with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples. Individuals and couples are eligible for an additional $500 per child. The government rebates will be pared by $5 for each $100 of income over those thresholds, completely phasing out for individuals whose incomes exceed $99,000, $146,500 for head of households with one child, and $198,000 for joint filers who don’t have children.

This morning, the U.S. reported 3.3 million new unemployment claims, quadrupling the record from 1982.

What the right is saying.

Senators Tim Scott (R-SC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) nearly sent things haywire late yesterday when they released a letter opposing language about unemployment benefits in the bill. A core provision of the bill, agreed to by bi-partisan negotiators, added $600 per week to unemployment insurance for up to four months. The blanket dollar amount was put into place because state unemployment benefits vary drastically and legislators said they didn’t have the time to make it fair across the board. The GOP senators argued this provision would incentivize layoffs. “Let’s just make sure we make people whole. Let’s not increase their salary, because you can’t afford to do that,” Graham told reporters. Some members of the Senate Finance Committee were enraged by the opposition, saying the bill does the opposite: it incentivizes employers to cover payroll and keep people on staff by offering loans to businesses that will be forgiven if they’re spent on payroll, rent, interest on mortgage obligations or utilities. Rep. Justin Amash and some right-leaning conservative voices began turning on the bill this week. “For $2 trillion, we could double the figures below and give every family of four $7,000 per month for three months,” Amash said on Twitter. “This would be far more helpful to the people than the Senate bill. It would aid everyone, prevent favoritism, and ensure the economy has the flexibility it needs.” Plenty of Americans were also looking north to Canada, where citizens effected by coronavirus were just promised $1,400 a month for up to four months to help pay their bills.

What the left is saying.

The reactions are mixed. Sen. Bernie Sanders fought back the GOP objections almost single-handedly in the media, but he got plenty of support on the Senate floor. “Some workers, some, may end up coming out ahead. I’m not going to stand here and say that I feel badly about that,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said. “Let’s give them that helping hand and not apologize for it for a minute.” The mantra from the left and right was “help is on the way,” but not everyone was convinced. Perhaps the most shared story on the left came from HuffPost’s Zach Carter, who eviscerated the bill top-to-bottom. Carter called it a “sentence of unprecedented economic inequality and corporate control over our politics.” “It mobilizes no new resources, organizes no production, improves no medical supply delivery and trains no new nurses,” Carter wrote. Instead, he said the bill simply offers trillions of dollars to a president Democrats were trying to impeach just a few months ago to hand out as he sees fit. He called the oversight on the billions of dollars “cosmetic” and noted that, in exchange, Democrats got one-time checks of $1,200 and four months of more generous unemployment benefits for the millions of people who will be laid off. “These are not bad provisions, but they pale in comparison to the handout offered to the rich,” Carter wrote.

My take.

Axios’s Dion Roubin put it bluntly (and powerfully): it’s not a stimulus bill. “It's not intended to stimulate growth and spending to offset a potential downturn. It's designed to prevent mass homelessness, starvation and a wave of business closures not seen since the height of the Great Depression.” Whether it does or not is something we’ll only find out in the coming months. There were 3.3 million jobless claims this week and the real number was probably higher than that, given the numerous stories of the unemployment claims website being down or the phone lines being jammed. Next week may be significantly worse, too, when you consider that Boston, Detroit, Chicago and parts of Florida only went into “lockdown” mode in the last few days.

As for the details of the bill, I’m withholding some judgment. This thing is nearly 900 pages long and so far the parts I’ve read have only been the ones elevated this morning by people reading through it as quickly as they can. $25 million to the Kennedy Center here or $13 million to Howard University there are the kinds of little nuggets that will keep popping up in the next day. Zach Carter’s piece in HuffPost was the most powerful washdown of the entire bill, and it left me feeling nauseous. He pulled back the veneer of oversight in the stimulus and dug in on the details of how the $500 billion could be turned into trillions using the mechanisms of the bill, while also acknowledging these unemployment benefits are going to help a lot of people. I appreciated the tone he struck and found his take pretty convincing. I need some more time to keep reading and need to see where the House lands on this, but — again — this game isn’t over yet. The House is still looking to pass this bill by unanimous consent and there is going to be a lot of pressure from the left on folks like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to oppose this bill and fight for bigger checks for working-class families. Whether or not they fold under that pressure or fold under the weight of a looming economic crisis is going to be a pretty interesting thing to watch.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Asking a question is easy. All you have to do is reply to this email and write in with what you want to know.

Q: I see Trump’s numbers are surging during this whole debacle — or at least don’t seem to be cratering. How do you think this impacts the election in November? From a political standpoint?

-  Jeff, Saginaw, MI

Tangle: The conventional wisdom here is all over the place. Typically, in moments of national crisis, you see a rallying of support around the president. That has just been the historical knee-jerk reaction of the American public, and it’s totally reasonable to view the last few weeks as that reaction to coronavirus. At the same time, we’ve also got some historical data showing that uptick in support is usually short-lived and can come down hard on the other end. For instance, take a look at George Bush’s approval ratings in the wake of 9/11, and then their eventual downturn.

The psyche of the American public is probably not like it was during 9/11, but there are also some parallels. Widespread fear. Lots of unknown. Blame being thrown at various federal agencies, foreign nations and so-called “experts.” It’s tough to see or predict where all of that will be in 8 months, and by then the coronavirus could be an afterthought or something that has made an indelible impression on our country.

So far, the response to Trump’s response has been mostly positive. Polls show a plurality of Americans support how he has handled the virus. I suspect that will change in the coming weeks when the early missteps of the administration become clear. I also suspect that, as more and more people die or get seriously sick (which I think is going to happen), there will be more and more people who turn sour on the federal response to this virus. That’s all speculation, but at this point — unless things simply stopped in their tracks — it’s tough for me to imagine a world where Trump comes out ahead on this.

In that sense, I think it ultimately helps Biden. I say this while simultaneously acknowledging that he appears to be something like a marionette right now. The interviews he’s giving on television are bizarre and awkward. The live stream rallies he’s doing are riddled with technical errors and uncomfortable to watch. He’s lost an appetite for debates and continues to make inexplicable public comments that leave people wondering about his mental faculties. And yet… that’s all par for the course these days. As I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, Biden is starting out with wide margins of a lead in the polls in the counties that matter most across the U.S., something that probably won’t change for the worse in the coming months.

Then there’s also the recent election forecasts. Rachel Bitecofer, who I interviewed in Tangle and is rising in popularity, released one of just two updates forecasts she’ll give before the election (the other one comes in September). Bitecofer’s most cogent line in the new forecast was this: “Trump will be heading into the fall with the dubious distinction of being the most embattled, controversial, and scandal-plagued president to seek reelection in the history of the republic — and that was before this virus emerged to create a massive public health disaster and destroy his strongest claim for reelection: the economy.”

Bitecofer posits that if the old fundamentals of election forecasting are true (the same fundamentals she often criticizes), then the presidency for Trump should be firmly out of grasp now with a likely recession around the corner. “If the economic-fundamentals models retain even half of their old vitality, what we should see this fall is something on par with Obama’s 2008 Electoral College dominance of John McCain,” Bitecofer says. But still, she is “bearish” on such an outcome because things have fundamentally changed since 2008.

Nevertheless, Bitecofer sees the same thing I do: Democrats were well-positioned for a general election victory with Biden as the nominee a month ago. With this virus running rampant and an economic recession seemingly imminent, it’s tough to see how Trump’s odds have improved. A lot still depends on who Biden chooses as VP, whether he can stay alive long enough to run and how coronavirus impacts voter turnout. But I found Bitecofer’s analysis aligned almost perfectly with mine, which essentially boils down to the fact Biden is starting well-positioned and it’s hard to imagine how this pandemic hurts him. All of the moves from her July forecast favored Democrats: Arizona went from toss-up to lean Democratic, Nevada from lean Democratic to likely Democratic, Montana from safe Republican to likely Republican, Virginia from likely Democratic to safe Democratic, Texas from likely Republican to lean Republican and Georgia from lean Republican to a toss-up. You can read her latest forecast here.

A tweet that gave me pause.

A story that matters.

Even as more testing for coronavirus becomes available, the results of those tests are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. It is taking about a week for most people to get results back — and sometimes longer — due to a backlog at government and private labs trying to turn the tests around. This is a critical data point for containing the virus because other nations have shown one of the most effective ways to slow the spread is to understand who has the virus and make sure they are kept away from society. Sen. Rand Paul was perhaps the most high-profile example of what could go wrong: he had to wait six days for results from his test. During that time, he interacted with other senators, returned to work, went to the gym and put other people at risk. Then his results came back positive and set off a huge amount of concern for anyone who had been near him over the course of a week. It also means those people could have been carriers without ever knowing. The FDA says it just approved a test that can deliver results in 45 minutes, but we’re waiting to see how widely shared that test will be. Click.


  • 13%. The estimated unemployment rate by May, according to economists tracking the jobless claims.
  • 10%. The highest jobless rate recorded during the Great Recession of 2009.
  • 50,000. The number of surgical masks donated to health care workers by the adult entertainment streaming website Pornhub.
  • $890.6 million. The amount of money Americans spent on fresh beef in the week ending on March 15th, $376 million more than the same week in 2019.
  • 44%. The percentage of Americans who approve of how the media has covered the coronavirus, the only institution to score a negative rating.
  • 50%. The percentage of North Carolina voters who now say Sen. Richard Burr should resign after he was accused of participating in an insider trading scheme earlier this week.

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Have a nice day.

In a world where everything is running out of stock, there’s one shortage that might give you a smile: the city of New York is running out of dogs to adopt. That’s right, as workers have been forced home and businesses have been shuttered, New Yorkers are using their new homebody lifestyles to bring in dogs who were stuck in shelters across the city. The surge in dog adoptions has been 10-fold over the last week. And it’s not just New York City: “The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said its Los Angeles office saw a 70% increase in animals going into foster care,” Bloomberg reported. You can read the good news here.

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