Mar 9, 2020

Coronavirus touches Congress.

Coronavirus touches Congress.

Plus, a question about Super Tuesday.

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Members of Congress contact coronavirus, a question about Super Tuesday and Twitter’s new “manipulated video” tool.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who self-quarantined after contacting someone with coronavirus at CPAC, speaking during the 2017 event. Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr.

Thank you.

For all the recommendations on what to do in New Orleans. I am fully stuffed with crawfish, daiquiris and fried seafood, and doing my best to bring some of the New Orleans vibes back to New York. Few cities are as laid back, easygoing and hospitable, and I’m looking forward to my next chance to get back down for a weekend break from NYC.

Market tanks.

This morning, the New York Stock Exchange shut down trading for 15 minutes after the S&P 500 dropped 7% at open. The swift plunge in the markets set off an automatic halt to trading to stabilize the market. Experts cited the price of oil taking a nosedive, along with fears of the coronavirus outbreak worsening, as the causes of the crash. Moody’s economist Mark Zandi said the U.S. economy was likely to lapse into a recession in 2020. Click.

What D.C. is talking about.

Coronavirus and Congress. Over the weekend, an attendee of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) tested positive for coronavirus. CPAC is an event where some of the most visible and important Republicans come together to talk about the future of the conservative movement. The attendee was able to recall several attendees they interacted with, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ). Both Cruz and Gosar announced on Sunday that they were “self-quarantining” for a full 14 days, as recommended by the CDC. Gosar said at least three members of his staff were also participating in the quarantine. Cruz said his interaction consisted of a handshake and a conversation, while Gosar said he shook hands “several times” with the attendee and was interacting with them “for an extended period of time.” Neither Gosar or Cruz said they were experiencing any symptoms. The attendee has only been identified as a 55-year-old from Englewood, New Jersey. The news came just 24 hours after the Associated Press reported that the White House overruled health officials who wanted to publicly recommend elderly and physically fragile Americans avoid flying on commercial airlines because of the risk of coronavirus exposure.

What the left is saying.

Is it still a “hoax?” For weeks, Republicans have been saying the left was using coronavirus fear to try and take down Trump. The president has blamed the media for overreacting. His (now former) Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said coverage of the virus was all about bringing down Trump. Conservatives have scoffed at claims that America’s response was being hindered by the president’s cuts to infectious disease response teams. Even Paul Gosar was criticizing the amount of money being spent on the coronavirus response just five days ago. Gosar and Cruz are two of the most loathed politicians on the left, both for their incendiary Twitter accounts and their dismissal of mainstream scientific consensus on things like climate change. Now, each is getting hammered for spending weeks downplaying the seriousness of a virus they were exposed to (and are responding to with serious medical precautions). Some on the left, including MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes and Rep. Ted Lieu, criticized Gosar for calling it the “Wuhan virus,” which they described as “racist” and “stupid.”

What the right is saying.

Gosar and Cruz are doing the right thing by setting an example for other Americans and taking the exact precautionary measures suggested by the CDC. Leave it to the left to use this serious moment as an opportunity to dunk on two Republicans who are experiencing serious health risks and are handling it the way they should. This morning, Trump doubled down on his stance that the media and the left were overhyping the coronavirus to try to hurt him. And Ryan Saavedra, The Daily Wire reporter, shared videos of Dr. Drew Pinsky saying, “Businesses are getting destroyed and people’s lives are being upended not by the virus, but by the panic. The panic must stop. And the press, they really somehow need to be held accountable because they are hurting people.” The claims of racism for calling it the “Wuhan virus” are also absurd, many on the right noted. As Ben Goldey demonstrated on Twitter, the World Health Organization, Politico, CNN, The Washington Post and Channel NewsAsia all referred to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan Virus” in their headlines at one point or another.

My take.

The CPAC coronavirus exposure is something straight out of a sci-fi movie. It’s pretty chilling to imagine what would happen if there were a coronavirus outbreak in the federal government, and there’s nothing funny about Cruz or Gosar being exposed to the virus — especially given how often politicians are meeting and greeting American citizens. As health experts have continuously warned, the most at-risk population during this outbreak is going to be older Americans. Well, the 116th Congress is one of the oldest in American history. The average age in the Senate is 62.9 years old. The average age of the Democratic House leadership was 72 years old in 2018. More than half of the Senators who were up for re-election in 2018 were over the age of 65. If coronavirus does hit Congress, there are going to be a lot of very important people who are in serious danger.

As for whether Gosar’s tweets were “racist,” I’m not really sure it’s a point worth debating. Yes, media outlets called this the “Wuhan Virus” early on. And yes, Republicans like Gosar tweeting out “Wuhan Virus” over and over again after being criticized is just a childish attempt to piss off people on the left. While I agree it’s not an important element to be debating here, I also think it’s worth considering what Asian Americans like Ted Lieu are saying: “The virus is not constrained by country or race. Be just as stupid to call it the Milan Virus.” He’s right. Calling it the Wuhan Virus can falsely imply it is more likely to spread amongst Chinese people or is only impacting people who have been to Wuhan. Neither is true, and it’s not hard to just call it COVID-19 or the coronavirus. You might as well take the minimal effort to not offend anyone and to more accurately describe the virus.

Since Thursday…

Here are some important tidbits of news you missed since the last Tangle hit your inbox on Thursday afternoon.

President Trump announced he was replacing Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). Meadows is one of Trump’s strongest allies in Congress. Mulvaney had taking over the position in an “acting” capacity after Gen. John Kelly left the role in December of 2019. Mulvaney was appointed as U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland. Click.

Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris endorsed Joe Biden over the weekend. The endorsements, from two of the most visible African Americans in Congress and two former candidates for president, is a huge win for Biden. Harris’s endorsement, in particular, is notable because of the contentious relationship she and Biden had on the campaign trail and given the rumors Harris is a leading candidate for Biden’s VP pick. Click.

Reverend Jesse Jackson endorsed Bernie Sanders over the weekend. The civil rights leader and former presidential candidate is one of the most prominent voices in the country, and his endorsement is a big win for Sanders. Jackson seemed to take a shot at Biden in his endorsement statement, saying African Americans are “most behind” socially and economically and “our needs are not moderate.”

Erik Prince, a defense contractor close to the Trump administration, has helped recruit former American and British spies to infiltrate Democratic congressional campaigns. He’s also helped get inside labor organizations and other groups “considered hostile to the Trump agenda,” The New York Times reports. Prince has been working with Project Veritas, a conservative group known for “sting operations” on liberals who I wrote about in Tangle after a brief back-and-forth with its founder on Twitter. Click.

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Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is all about reader questions. To ask something, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in.

Q: In the small window between South Carolina and Super Tuesday, there was obviously a lot of political math done. The optimal solution to that equation became: Joe Biden.  Was South Carolina, a state which Democrats haven't had a hope of winning for a long time, that important? What factors made that decision a reality, given what the public has seen in debates (reminder: the candidate is going to have to debate Trump), and given the strong pre-super Tuesday performances by the other strong moderate candidates in Mayor Pete (and even Amy Klobuchar)?

- Evan, Shanghai City, China

Tangle: Interestingly enough, I’m actually not so sure how much political math was being done between South Carolina and Super Tuesday. But, let me answer your question first by accepting the premise of it.

If we’re accepting the premise that a lot of political math was done between South Carolina and Super Tuesday, it would mostly be because South Carolina is a strong representation of the Democratic base. It has a large black voting bloc and some really diverse groups of voters (urban and rural) that give off compelling signals of how the rest of the country might be feeling. Simply put: Joe Biden crushed everywhere. What was so impactful about Biden’s win there was both how well he performed amongst black voters, but also amongst more rural white voters without college degrees. And, across the board, turnout amongst the voters Biden was courting (suburban women or black voters) was up while Sanders failed to ramp up turnout amongst the young voters, which has been a staple promise of his campaign.

Given that, and how poorly the other popular “moderates” like Buttigieg and Klobuchar did with black voters, the conclusion was obvious: nobody had a real shot to beat Bernie or beat Trump except for Biden. If you can’t excite black voters or suburban voters in South Carolina, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to do it nationally. So that’s the political math.

What’s interesting about the turn of events in the Democratic primary, though, is that there maybe wasn’t a turn of events at all. I certainly see how the narrative developed that Joe Biden was suddenly becoming the “optimal solution” and there was some political math being done by both the Democratic party and voters — but it may have been that things never really changed since the race started. As Nate Silver noted, Biden and Sanders were in first and second place in basically every national poll for the last year. Now, they are in first and second place in delegates at what is essentially the halfway mark of the primary. Even I wrote about the momentum changing and Sanders seemingly surging to the front, but all of that may have just been an illusion that was derived from early voting in states that weren’t so representative of the whole country.

Despite all those ups and downs, Silver has got a point. National polling has consistently been a good barometer for primary election races, and this primary is not unique in that. What was true in South Carolina and true on Super Tuesday has been true forever: Bernie had a very enthusiastic base and a huge groundswell of grassroots support. He also polled extremely well with Latino voters. Joe Biden has polled consistently well with suburban and rural Democrats, was the clear favorite amongst most black voters and was the most popular Democratic for most of this race. All of that held through the last year, through South Carolina and through Super Tuesday. This is why I question the premise of your question: was there political math being done after South Carolina, or was South Carolina simply a preview of Super Tuesday and a more effective representation of how Super Tuesday states would vote than Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada?

All that being said, I do think there was one clear calculation made after South Carolina: Democratic party leaders decided Biden was the person to beat Sanders to the nomination. Regardless of whether voters were inclined to go there on their own, the slew of endorsements and all the candidates you named dropping out was an obvious pivot for the party toward Biden, and one that was hugely effective on Super Tuesday. Again, that math was derived from Biden’s consistency in the polls, especially in swing states, and his success with voters despite some worrisome debate performances and despite how much support from the progressive left Sanders has coalesced.

Trump vs. Azar.

President Trump and the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services struck two very different tones on Monday morning.

A story that matters.

For the first time ever, Twitter applied its “manipulated media” tag to a video posted by Dan Scavino, the president’s Director of Social Media. Scavino posted a short clip on Twitter of Joe Biden saying “we can only re-elect Donald Trump” during a bumbling speech delivered in Kansas City, Missouri. But Scavino had selectively edited out the end of Biden’s sentence to make it appear as if he had tacitly endorsed Trump for president. Biden’s full sentence was “We can only re-elect Donald Trump if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here. It’s got to be a positive campaign.” Twitter and Facebook have been wrestling with how to handle political disinformation, and this video was the first example of Twitter using its new policies. Trump shared the video after Scavino tweeted it out and more than 6 million people have viewed it online. Conservatives argued the video was not “manipulated,” given that it was just a video of Biden talking, even if it was edited to make it appear he had completed his thought after saying “we can only re-elect Donald Trump.” Facebook left the video up without any warnings or notices. It’s the beginning of what is sure to be a long and arduous process where social media companies try to figure out how to guide users who are navigating their platforms and taking in political content. I’ve posted a screenshot of how the “manipulated video” tag looked on Twitter below. Click.


  • 62. The likely number of women set to run for the Senate in 2020, surpassing 2018’s record of 53.
  • 584. The likely number of women set to run for the House in 2020, surpassing 2018’s record of 437.
  • 217. The number of those candidates who are Republican women, compared to just 96 who ran in 2018.
  • 48%-39%. Trump’s head to head polling lead over Joe Biden in Wisconsin, according to a December 2019 poll from the Republican-founded Firehouse Strategies.
  • 45%-43%. Trump’s head to head polling lead over Joe Biden in Wisconsin, according to a March 2020 poll from the Republican-founded Firehouse Strategies.
  • 51%-27%. Joe Biden’s head-to-head lead over Bernie Sanders in Michigan, according to a Free Press Poll. Michigan is a crucial swing state set to vote in the Democratic primaries tomorrow.
  • 103. The number of hours, per week, someone making the $7.25 minimum wage must work to afford a one-bedroom rental home at the national average fair market rent, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition study.

Have a nice day.

Amidst the coronavirus outbreak in China, kids are still being kids. After Wuhan was locked down, teachers began using an app called DingTalk to set up homework for students who were studying remotely. The kids using the app realized that if it got enough one-star reviews it would be removed from the App Store, thus making it useless and unable to deliver them their assignments. Thousands of reviews began flooding in and DingTalk tanked from 4.9 stars to 1.4 stars overnight. Amidst all the craziness, that story gave me a laugh. Click.

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