Mar 23, 2020

Congress fails to pass coronavirus bill.

Congress fails to pass coronavirus bill.

Plus, did Obama bungle the Swine Flu response?

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Today’s read: 9 minutes.

Poll results, Congress’s big problem and a question about how Obama handled Swine Flu.

Chuck Schumer is facing backlash for helping stop the coronavirus relief bill in its tracks. Glenn Fawcett | WikiCommons

Poll results.

Thank you all so much for filling out Friday’s poll. For those of you who left feedback, I will be going through it over the course of this week and responding to everyone who left their email addresses.There were some really fascinating takeaways from the poll responses. Here are a few:

  • 86.6% of Tangle readers who responded to the poll said they disapproved of the way President Trump was handling the coronavirus response. However, many of you who wrote in noted that you felt like he had fumbled the ball significantly in the beginning but was doing a bit better as of late — which tracks with national polling of his handling of COVID-19.
  • 25.3% of Tangle readers who responded to the poll said they believed President Trump would win re-election in 2020.
  • 20.7% of Tangle readers who responded to the poll said they had been or they knew someone who had been infected with the coronavirus.
  • 74.2% of Tangle readers who responded to the poll said they knew someone who had lost their job or faced reducing working hours because of the coronavirus.
  • 86.2% of Tangle readers who responded to the poll rated their concern about the coronavirus as a “4” or a “5” on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest level of concern.
  • 99.2% of Tangle readers who responded to the poll said they had been practicing social distancing in the last week to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

What D.C. is talking about

Last night, the “phase three” rescue bill designed to address the coronavirus panic failed in the Senate after it did not clear a procedural vote on Sunday night. The $1.8 trillion bill would have given direct payments of $1,200 to most American adults, $500 to children, and $350 billion towards small businesses to slow down layoffs. It would have also launched a $500 billion program for businesses and states run by the Treasury Department and billions more would have gone to hospitals and the unemployment insurance system. The bill failed during a “cloture vote,” which is when senators vote to end the debate about a bill and move toward an actual vote to pass it. It needed 60 of 100 senators to vote “aye” to pass the bill and instead received a split 47-47 vote, with Democrats all voting against it. Five Republican senators were unable to vote due to being in quarantine, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who tested positive for the virus yesterday. Sen. Bernie Sanders did not cast a vote as he was in Vermont hosting a “virtual rally.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Democrats were drafting their own legislation in the lower chamber that they planned to introduce and that it was significantly different than what Republicans were proposing. If the House and Senate pass their own bills and then move to negotiate, the process could take weeks. The failed vote is the latest sign Congress is struggling to overcome partisan divides and work together on legislation. The Senate will reconvene at noon today for more procedural votes in an effort to move the bill forward.

What the left is saying.

Democrats liked certain aspects of the bill, but said it was another example of Republicans trying to bail out corporate America and leave regular Americans hanging. The $500 billion in loans and guarantees would be given out to companies with little or no oversight, all at the discretion of Trump’s Treasury Department led by Steve Mnuchin.  “They’re throwing caution to the wind for average workers and people on Main Street and going balls to the wall for people on Wall Street," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said of Republicans. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer noted that McConnell knew the vote would fail but he went forward with it anyway. “The Majority Leader was well aware of how this vote would go before it happened, but he chose to move forward with it anyway—even though negotiations are continuing, so who’s playing games?” he said. He also added that he was hopeful they could sort out the remaining disagreements in the next 24 hours. Two senators who define themselves as being worker-friendly absolutely railed the bill: Sherrod Brown and Elizbeth Warren both said it was a corporate bailout with a blank check for Wall Street. “Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans had an opportunity to draft a bipartisan relief package that would help the people suffering the most - workers and their families,” Brown said. “Instead, they’re doing what they did in 2008 and 2009: giving Wall Street a blank check with taxpayer money.” Several Democratic senators are also pushing for the rescue package to include gig economy workers, which make up millions of U.S. jobs like Uber drivers and delivery services.

What the right is saying.

America’s economy is collapsing and Democrats are playing petty partisan politics. The Senate has missed every self-imposed deadline its set for this bill, and yet Republicans came forward with something that incorporated most of the major asks from the left during this crisis. But they’re still trying to shove stuff in. Now the delay could last days or weeks when we have no time to waste to get Americans relief. Not only that, but Democrats shamelessly stopped the bill during a cloture vote. Negotiations were ongoing, and Democrats could have easily allowed the bill to move forward overnight, kept negotiating and voted it down Monday if they didn’t get what they wanted. “We had a high level of bipartisanship in 5 different working groups over the last 48 hours, where members who were participating were reaching agreement,” Mitch McConnell said. “Then all of a sudden the Democratic Leader and the Speaker of the House shows up and we're back to square one.” Others were even more direct. Rep. Dan Crenshaw said “what Senate Democrats have done is truly awful. This bill was negotiated in good faith. Been monitoring its progress all week. It can save our economy. And they killed it. Out of spite and bitterness.” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said it was “incredibly frustrating” and that the Senate had five working groups that agreed on all five areas of the bill, and the vote was only to keep negotiations moving. “This is something that we don’t need at this moment, and we’re speaking about a package, which is huge — which is the biggest package ever put out by the federal government — to help the American people.” After a late-night tweet from Trump suggesting a new path forward may be taken when the White House’s 15-day period ends, some conservatives began clamoring for America to “open back up for business,” suggesting no amount of government stimulus could rescue the economy with America shut down.

My take.

This is so difficult. The reality of the situation we’re in is that we’ve never seen anything like this — ever. Republicans and Democrats are trying to craft an economic rescue that dwarfs what happened in 2008 and it’s not even remotely close. And the calamity of what they’re trying to address necessitates it. Some experts are estimating that the unemployment rate could hit 30% between April and June. The Great Depression’s unemployment rate was below 25%. Close to 3 million Americans may have already filed for unemployment. GDP this quarter could end up being half of what it was last quarter. The scale and breadth of the economic strife we might face is unimaginable — and the size of the bill being passed is equally unprecedented.

So who is right and who is wrong? There’s plenty of blame to go around. Sen. Schumer was wrong to batten down the hatches and hold the line against the cloture vote. And if his plan is to bring in Pelosi to craft a new bill and drag this process on for another week or two Americans will never forgive him — and they shouldn’t. We needed this bill done last week, not tomorrow or next week or April. Last week. But for that failure, Republicans share more of the blame. Let’s remember that Democrats have been asking for a huge stimulus package for weeks, and the seriousness and size of the bills being considered by Republicans have only grown as the reality of this virus set in. There were weeks of pandemonium globally and on the left in America while Trump and his closest Republican allies downplayed how bad things would get. Much of this could have been crafted in February if we were all accepting the seriousness of the situation. But we weren’t.

The reasons Democrats blocked the bill were perfectly admirable. It would have put $500 billion in Steve Mnuchin’s hands to do as he pleases, while the president won’t even commit to not prioritizing a rescue of his own businesses. Republicans specifically crafted the bill so they wouldn’t have to disclose where the bailout money went for six months. If that doesn’t set off your “slimy politics” radar, I don’t know what will. Mnuchin is far more worried about the market rolling over than the millions of Americans who work on low wages. But however ugly the corporate bailouts were going to get, Democrats could have hammered Republicans for it another time. What they needed to do was keep the ball moving on a bill that would have helped millions of people across the spectrum. If Democrats can improve the bill and get something passed this week, it will be worth the fight. The markets were going to tank today regardless of the stimulus package and anyone saying otherwise is delusional. But if Schumer and Pelosi can’t get something done by the end of the week, it’ll ultimately be their responsibility that these direct payments to Americans and businesses to stem layoffs and hunger didn’t happen. That’s a losing cause politically, so they better have a plan to keep this thing moving. Quick.

Some other quick hits on this story:

  • Sen. Rand Paul went to the gym and continued interacting with members of the Senate while awaiting his coronavirus test results. Then tested positive. It’s tough to overstate how shamelessly stupid and irresponsible that is, and now Republicans are running into quarantine and unable to vote remotely because no system has been put into place. So don’t forget Paul’s role in this if things go south and the Senate can’t pass a stimulus package.
  • Bernie Sanders’ absence from the vote is an embarrassment for him and his team. The senator cursed out a CNN reporter last week for asking about the status of his campaign by saying “I’m dealing with a f—ing global crisis.” Well, deal with it then. Running “remote rallies” for a campaign that is dead instead of helping craft legislation in the Senate is a joke. And so is Sanders’ defense, which is that the bill was dead anyway and his vote didn’t matter. Every D.C. reporter following the bill’s progress disagreed — it had a shot to pass and Sanders wasn’t there. Unless he is sick or worried about being sick he should be in D.C. helping get this thing done. That’s what leaders do.
  • It didn’t get a lot of attention, but Trump actually acknowledged some of the weaknesses of this bill on Sunday. You can decide whether it’s genuine or not, but it was one of those moments that illustrates his own political instincts that so many Republicans still don’t have. “I don’t want to give a bailout to a company and then have somebody go out and use that money to buy back stock in the company and raise the price and then get a bonus,” Trump said. “So I may be Republican, but I don’t like that. I want them to use the money for the workers.”

The ‘greatest deliberative body in the world.’

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Reader questions are at the heart of what Tangle is about. If you want to ask something, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in.

Q: Often when I see left-leaning criticism of Trump's handling of this crisis, I see a right-leaning response that Obama took longer to take H1N1 seriously. Is this true? How are those situations different and comparable?

- Jim, Pittsfield, MA

Tangle: The criticism of Obama’s response to H1N1 is both warranted and overblown, depending on who is leveling it. As with most things, the answer is not black and white, but I can parse some of what’s been said with the simple data and hard facts.

When looking around for criticism of Obama’s response, the most high-profile critiques have come from President Trump. Trump’s two big overarching claims: that 17,000 people died during the H1N1 Swine Flu due to a catastrophically bad response and that testing for H1N1 took too long to get off the ground.

On both criticisms, the data doesn’t back the president up. The death toll of H1N1 (aka Swine Flu) is easy to find. Trump claimed in a tweet 17,000 people died. He also claimed 14,000 people died. The reality was it killed about 12,500 Americans and infected some 60 million, according to the CDC. That’s about a 27% difference from Trump’s claim of 17,000 deaths — a difference worth classifying his claim as untrue.

The speed of the response is just as easy to check. 11 days after the first U.S. case, Trump declared a public health emergency. Obama made the declarations two days after the first U.S. case of H1N1. Trump and many right-leaning commentators have used the coronavirus outbreak to bash Obama and compare Trump’s response. Within four weeks of finding H1N1 in 2009, the CDC had health supplies to prevent and treat the flu in states across the U.S., and there were labs diagnosing H1N1 without CDC verification. Comparatively, coronavirus testing lagged behind. The CDC sent tests on February 5th to 100 different public health labs across the U.S. Many of them were faulty and testing could only continue at the CDC headquarters until functioning tests were re-sent. That meant huge delays in the testing and a much faster increase in the spread of the virus. Today, while spots like New York City have drastically expanded testing, many states are still awaiting kits they need to test sick patients. Anecdotally, I know people in New York City who have COVID-19 symptoms but can’t get a hold of their test (or submitted a test but are waiting days to get results).

There are some important caveats here, though. Just as Republicans are not playing honest ball by pretending Trump’s response was somehow more concerted or organized than Obama’s, Democrats shouldn’t get free reign to compare the responses, either. The coronavirus is nothing like the flu. And my understanding is we know far less about it than we did about H1N1, and vaccine production for H1N1 still didn’t go so smoothly. Obama was criticized heavily for how slow it took to get the vaccine out — you can expect the vaccine for coronavirus to take even longer.

Obama administration officials responded to H1N1 spread with alarm and caution. At the time, they were given a lot of grief for “causing a panic” or scaring Americans, but years later most pandemic specialists agree that level of concern saved lives. Comparatively, Trump was blasé and dismissive, telling people the virus would be gone and there would be zero cases in America soon even when the spread was increasing exponentially. A few years from now pandemic specialists may look at that response and say it caused thousands of unnecessary deaths.

The hand Trump has been dealt is far worse than Obama’s. That should be acknowledged in any conversation about this — we’ve never seen anything like coronavirus and it is likely to get a lot worse. But given that, and acknowledging that, it’s pretty ridiculous to take potshots at the Obama administration for H1N1. Obama avoided a catastrophe by doing what Trump didn’t: responding seriously and quickly to the warnings of health experts. They are vastly different scenarios, but Trump and the right don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

A story that matters.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, there are two major shortages happening across the United States: blood banks and food pantries. The American Red Cross has already canceled 600 blood drives and missed out on some 18,000 blood donations. For hospitals across the U.S., especially in areas where coronavirus is hitting hard, losing those donations is a huge problem. Food pantries, too, are struggling. When panic about the coronavirus spread, well-off folks across America splurged hundreds of dollars on quarantine groceries, often buying up non-perishables like canned soup or vegetables. Unfortunately, those are the exact foods that food banks and pantries rely on to feed the truly needy. There are two ways to help: one, if you are in an area that is still healthy or coronavirus-free, consider going to donate blood now while you can. Red Cross has blood drives open in places where it’s still safe; you can find them here. If you have the means, also consider donating to a food pantry near you to re-stock their supplies that are likely dwindling because of the panic. You can find food banks on Feeding America’s website here. To read more about these issues, you can read this CNN story here. Below is a photo of what the most-wanted items are at food banks, according to the San Antonio Food Bank.


  • 53%. The percentage of college students who say either they or their friends have gone to bars, parties restaurants or others social gatherings in the last week.
  • 43,000. The number of people in China who tested positive for coronavirus without immediate symptoms by the end of February, according to classified Chinese government data revealed in a recent news report.
  • 1 in 4. The number of Americans who are already under “stay-at-home orders,” even as governors in Michigan and Massachusetts continue to start stay-at-home policies.
  • 35,345. The number of confirmed cases in the United States, as of 11:38 a.m. EST.
  • 16,887. The number of those confirmed cases that are in New York City alone.
  • 5%. The percentage of confirmed global coronavirus cases that are now in New York City.
  • 40,000. The number of people in Italy who have already been charged with crimes for violating coronavirus lockdown orders.

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A textile mill in North Carolina says it is responding to the call of the nation and will make 10 million face masks per week. Their goal could save thousands of lives across the United States, especially amongst health care workers on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Medical workers across the United States are already facing shortages of essential protective equipment like masks, and stories of nurses and doctors sharing masks or tying bandanas around their faces have increased rapidly. Production in the mill is expected to begin today. Click.

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