Oct 7, 2020

COVID-19 relief implodes (again).

COVID-19 relief implodes (again).

Plus, will Biden win in a landslide?

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 — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free, subscribe for Friday editions and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 11 minutes.

Where we are on another coronavirus relief package. Plus, is Biden going to win in a blowout?

Steve Mnuchin (at the podium) stands with Donald Trump and Mike Pence. Mnuchin is leading negotiations on the next COVID-19 bill. Photo: White House.

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Quick hits.

  1. All members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most senior military members in the United States, are now self quarantining at home after the Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard tested positive for COVID-19. President Trump’s top immigration advisor Stephen Miller is also quarantining after he and his wife tested positive.
  2. The Vice Presidential debate is tonight, and it’s expected to be the most-watched vice presidential debate in American history. Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence will be 12.25 feet apart, separated by plexiglass, for the debate. You can watch at 9 p.m. EDT on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News or MSNBC, and on several YouTube streaming channels.
  3. Florida extended its voter registration to 7 p.m. last night after the registration portal crashed, setting off cries of voter suppression.
  4. The Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified handwritten notes from former CIA Director John Brennan that say Russian intelligence sources were claiming Hillary Clinton had concocted a scandal about Russia’s ties to Trump to damage him politically. Former national security officials say the intelligence sources were part of a Russian disinformation campaign and criticized Ratcliffe for releasing them.
  5. Facebook pulled off a massive scrape of QAnon conspiracy theories from its platform yesterday, removing all affiliated groups and pages. In August, Facebook took down 3,000 pages and groups but stopped short of a full ban. The latest measure is a response to the groups morphing into new pages.

What D.C. is talking about.

The next stimulus bill. Last night, President Trump surprised lawmakers and Wall Street when he blasted out these tweets announcing that he was ending negotiations on another COVID-19 bill until after the election.

“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump tweeted. The president added that he had asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to instead focus on confirming Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

At first, his tweets appeared to be the end of a months-long effort between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (representing the White House) to negotiate a second coronavirus relief package that would cost more than a trillion dollars.

The first bill, passed in March, was the CARES Act. It cost $2 trillion, sent $1,200 checks to Americans making less than $75,000 a year, added $600 a week to unemployment benefits, opened unemployment benefits to gig workers and offered student debt relief. It also created the Paycheck Protection Program, which gave out five million forgivable loans to businesses in exchange for them keeping staff on payroll. Finally, some $500 billion was given out to major corporations and big businesses, like airlines, and a tax credit was created for businesses of all sizes. Money was also put into hospitals, community health centers, the CDC, veteran’s health care and social safety programs like food stamps.

Democrats, who control the House of Representatives (the lower chamber of Congress) passed a second bill in May called the HEROES Act, a $3.4 trillion bill which was widely ridiculed by the right as a “wish list” of lefty priorities. Three months later, in early August, that bill was picked up for negotiations by the Republican-controlled Senate (the upper chamber of Congress). Republicans essentially drafted and presented their own $650 billion bill in response, but it couldn’t even pass the Senate (where Republicans are in the majority). Then the Problem Solvers Caucus passed their own $1.5 trillion bill, which briefly got momentum (and was cheered in this newsletter) before being ignored.

Since then, House Democrats have passed a new bill that brings the total price tag down again, this time to $2.2 trillion. Pelosi and Mnuchin have been negotiating while the rest of Congress essentially waits around to see what they come up with. Shortly after tweeting that he was ending the negotiations until after the election, the stock market tanked on the news. Pundits on the left and right expressed puzzlement over why Trump would end negotiations on a bill many Americans desperately need. Then the president appeared to backtrack, saying later in the night that Congress should approve additional assistance for airlines and small business programs and send another check to Americans, claiming he would sign any bills that addressed those issues.


There is widespread agreement that Congress’s job isn’t done. Otherwise, these negotiations wouldn’t be happening at all. The central question is the scale. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell publicly warned of dire economic consequences yesterday if Congress and the White House didn't approve more support. But Republicans never wanted anything that cost more than $2 trillion, and Democrats never wanted to go as low as $800 billion to $1.5 trillion.

What the right is saying.

They’re unified in their opposition to the Democrats’ bill, but some worry how Trump’s tweets will play for him in the election. The Wall Street Journal editorial board has stood strongly against Pelosi and Democrats’ “ransom” to not accept anything below $2 trillion, writing that “their political ransom demand is what blew up the deal.”

“You almost have to admire the audacity of her demands,” the board wrote about Pelosi. “Our sources say the White House’s final offer was in the range of $1.6 trillion, but Mrs. Pelosi wouldn't take it. Think about that. A Republican President was willing to spend an amount that was half the federal budget only a few years ago, and Mrs. Pelosi said no. Some spirit of compromise… The main current economic problem isn’t a lack of demand-side stimulus. It is the continuing restrictions on business and commerce in many states. The state economies suffering the most are those that have continued the strictest lockdowns. The August jobless rates in New York (12.5%), California (11.4%) and Pennsylvania (10.3%) were the highest in the country. Contrast that with Utah (4.1%), Texas (6.8%) and Georgia (5.6%). The solution is to reopen the economy while protecting the most vulnerable from Covid.”

In The New York Post, Betsy McCaughey conceded Trump’s tweets were “politically risky” but argued that the “ultimate blame belongs to Nancy Pelosi” for stuffing the bill with a left-wing wish list. “Her bill would rewrite election law for 2020, barring voter-ID requirements, forcing states to count absentee ballots that arrive as late as 10 days after Election Day and imposing same-day voter registration everywhere, though currently only 21 states allow it. These changes don’t belong in a stimulus bill. There is almost no disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over sending every American adult a $1,200 check. But that’s a small part of the total bill. Pelosi’s version would fritter away hundreds of billions of dollars closing state and city budget gaps, with nothing long term to show for it. We won’t be any more prepared for the next pandemic.”

In The Washington Examiner, Kaylee McGhee took a more centrist tone, arguing that “Pelosi is as much to blame for this fiasco as Trump” and “Republicans are probably right when they argue that she is intentionally refusing to compromise on this deal in order to hurt Trump’s reelection chances.” Still, though, McGhee said that Pelosi can now “lay the blame for this package’s failure squarely at Trump’s feet. And she will be right to do so — because there was no reason for this. Additional aid is a universally popular and necessary policy, and by abandoning it, Trump is jeopardizing his campaign's chances and, more importantly, the well-being of millions who need help.”

What the left is saying.

This is Trump, and he’ll pay the price politically. The left has wanted to go big on another wave of relief, citing the current economic indicators as proof that the first bill worked — as well as leaning into support for unemployed and gig workers who shouldn’t have to choose between their own safety and a paycheck.

In The Washington Post, Catherine Rampell wrote that Trump blew up the stimulus talks, and “with them perhaps his chance of reelection.”

“No matter that 27 million people are still filing for unemployment, or that 1 in 10 adults live in households where there was not enough to eat in the past seven days. Or that tens of thousands of airline employees face layoffs. Or that, just hours earlier, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell urged fiscal policymakers to go big or go home,” she wrote. “No matter that markets, Trump’s preferred metric of his economic performance, plummeted seconds after his petulant tweets. And no matter that Americans themselves overwhelmingly — by a margin of 3 to 1 — say Congress should prioritize coronavirus relief ahead of any Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Trump says, meh, his judicial nominee should come first.”

In The New Yorker, Jonathan Chait called it “the worst political blunder in history” to walk away “from the extended hand of an opposition party willing to pump trillions of dollars into the economy.”

“While Trump’s polling advantage on the economy is dwindling — his double-digit advantage has shrunk to a tie — it remains his greatest political asset,” Chait wrote. “It has seemed puzzling to some outsiders that Trump’s economic approval could stay aloft even in the face of mass unemployment. But the employment figures have not told the whole story. The previous economic stimulus bill stuffed so much money into the public’s pockets that household incomes actually rose even in the face of catastrophic joblessness. Stimulus checks and plussed-up jobless benefits have more than replaced the lost income from the recession. People think Trump is good for the economy because they have more money. If they had more money, they would like Trump’s economy more.”

My take.

It’d be nice if we could separate this from Trump’s reelection, but I’ll address that briefly: I’m just as baffled as everyone else. October 3rd was four days ago, and on that day Trump tweeted “OUR GREAT USA WANTS & NEEDS STIMULUS. WORK TOGETHER AND GET IT DONE. Thank you!”

That sounded a lot like a president who understood what is good for him — and good for the country — and I have no idea where that perspective went in the last couple of days. Some pointed to a Washington Post report that Mitch McConnell told Trump in a phone call Pelosi was “stringing him along” and the Senate would never pass a major package that was above $1.5 trillion. That could have been what set him off, but it's anyone’s guess. Trump’s mood and ideology are a moving target, and they continue to stump members of his own party who are trying to work with him to advance their agenda.

Elections, negotiations and intraparty squabbling aside, the focus here should be on us — the American public. The pace of the economic recovery is slowing. Layoffs that were temporary four months ago are becoming permanent now. Household income dropped when jobless benefits expired. Consumer spending is slowing down. 26 million Americans are living on unemployment benefits. Schools are struggling to reopen. The restaurant and entertainment industries are being absolutely clobbered. And our spurt of recovery was swift and robust because of the government response, not in spite of it.

Senate Republicans have complained that a bill of this size would be a “blue state bailout.” Nonsense. State budgets across the country are being decimated thanks to COVID-19, party control notwithstanding. And helping fill those budget gaps isn’t going to pay for a bunch of liberal bureaucratic jobs. The money will fund teachers, police, firefighters, schools, construction projects and loads of other employees and important state programs that are at risk of being laid off or cut.

There’s also the risk assessment here. As Jerome Powell accurately framed it, inflation is running lower than target and interest rates are nothing — meaning the government can borrow money with very little risk. Overshooting here, in other words, poses pretty much no danger right now. Undershooting, though, could cause slower growth or even set off deep recession. One option (pump money into the economy) has no near-term risk and the other (sit on it as is) poses a grave near-term risk. Even if you’re long-term concerned about our debt, which you should be, the long-term impacts of a serious recession now are just as, if not far more worrisome.

Nancy Pelosi should take the $1.6 trillion bill and push it with the president’s support. Why not? She’s worried it will help Trump politically? She thinks she’ll get a bigger deal post-election with a Biden presidency? She’s worried about the fact that she’s repeatedly cut down her own offer after promising not to? None of these questions address the problems that it's her job to address. Waiting until after a Biden administration is put in place would be four months from now, and could blow up disastrously for her, especially if Trump wins.

Also, the WSJ editorial board is right: we’re talking about a second stimulus package that’s half the size of what the entire federal budget was a few years ago. It’s an extraordinary offer from a Republican administration, and time is running out. Republicans in the Senate would likely cave and make it law if Trump backed it. As they should. A New York Times/Siena College poll found that voters overwhelmingly prefer a second $2 trillion stimulus package by a 72-23% margin. It’s astonishing to find a bill with that kind of support, and even more astonishing to see a president who is underwater politically rebuff it.

Your blindspot.

As part of a partnership with Ground News, an app and website that uses data to rate the political lean of stories and news outlets, I’ll be featuring parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what stories folks on the left and right miss each week because of their biased news diets.

The left missed a story about how CBS Australia ran a 60 Minutes special on Tara Reade, the woman who accused Joe Biden of sexual assault, but 60 Minutes in America did not.

The right missed a story about how some 14 million tons of microplastics are currently polluting our ocean floor, according to a new study in Australia.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.

Your questions, answered.

Q: In this newsletter and in the media more broadly, it seems like there are two narratives about the election: that Trump will pull out a close victory via some combination of winning non-college white voters and challenging ballots or that Biden will win weeks after election day when all the mail-in ballots are counted. But isn’t there a chance Biden wins in a landslide? I mean, some of these polls aren’t even close.

— Eric, Hartford, Connecticut

Tangle: The possibility of a Biden blowout is growing. Look: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think this election is going to be very close. I’m not entirely sure the polls have course-corrected from 2016, and I think people are underestimating Trump’s growing support amongst Hispanic men and even some younger Black voters. But there is a tectonic shift happening that could reshape the Republican party and the makeup of our government in 27 days.

The most important thing is that Trump is getting absolutely crushed with older voters. National and state polls show that Americans 65 and over are fleeing him in droves. In the WSJ poll from Sunday, Biden led Trump by 27 points among seniors (that’s a 62-35 margin). A CNN poll had it at 21 points, 60-39. In 2016, Trump won seniors by seven total points! That means, if the numbers landed the way they are in the WSJ poll, it’d be a 34-point swing.

The story is the same with female voters. Women vote at higher rates than men, women go to college more often than men, and this year women are running for office in historic numbers on the left and the right. Women also favor Biden to Trump by a 60 to 33 margin, or 27 points. I’m not really sure how to describe that, so here is an excerpt from Politico:

“But what we’re seeing now, in polling conducted by both parties, isn’t a wave. It isn’t even a tsunami. It’s something we don’t have a name for, because we’ve never seen anything like it.”

If these polls were to bear out, or even come close, the election would be over on election day. Biden would win Florida, Texas and maybe even a state like South Carolina or Montana. This is what the electoral college map could look like, with Texas being the biggest reach:

Even without Texas, though, Democrats would retain the House and take control of the Senate, probably with a two-seat margin. Again: It’s hard to overstate the way some of these demographics are shifting and the way they could reshape our government if they hold.

Everything is trending blue. The Cook Political Report, which rates House and Senate races, is making weekly forecast shifts and almost all of them are moving toward Democrats. FiveThirtyEight says out of 100 different simulations, Biden wins the election 83 times. Their average electoral college haul for Democrats is 339 (the map above is 397). Their odds of Biden winning in a landslide are 32 in 100, nearly the same as their odds of Trump winning a single state that Clinton won in 2016 (31 in 100).

Some have speculated that the WSJ and CNN polls that have come out since the debate are a temporary blow-up for Trump due to his performance — and they will fade. It’s not clear how those polls will change after his COVID-19 diagnosis or as the Supreme Court nomination plays out. But I do think it’s fair to say political reporters have probably overcorrected a bit after scars from 2016 and are underplaying the possibility of an election blow out.

A story that matters.

School closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic could be exacerbating another unexpected and important issue: childhood obesity. For the millions of kids learning remotely this year, there is no playground or kickball court or — in some cases — gym class to get exercise in. There are no school sports or extracurriculars after school hours. Structure at home is up in the air, and snacks can be easily ransacked from the cabinets. All this comes at a time when 19.3% of Americans age 2 to 19 are already obese, up from 5.5% in the mid-1970s. The Washington Post has a report on the growing concern, and how we can address it.


  • 43%. The percentage of voters who expect Kamala Harris to defeat Mike Pence in the debate tonight.
  • 37%. The percentage of voters who expect Mike Pence to defeat Kamala Harris in the debate tonight.
  • 31%. The percentage of likely Trump voters who say that Mike Pence is a big reason why they are voting for Trump.
  • 30%. The percentage of likely Biden voters who say that Kamala Harris is a big reason why they are voting for Biden.
  • 37%. The percentage of voters who think that if Donald Trump loses the election, he will accept the results and concede.
  • 71%. The percentage of voters who think that if Joe Biden loses the election, he will accept the results and concede.
  • 58%. Among registered voters who watched the first debate, the percentage that think Joe Biden did a better job than Donald Trump.
  • 27%. Among registered voters who watched the first debate, the percentage that think Donald Trump did a better job than Joe Biden.

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Have a nice day.

Emily Esfahani spent years talking to experts who research happiness. What she found may be obvious, but she believes it’s the key to living a positive life: happiness is not derived from day to day pleasures, but from fulfillment. And fulfillment is centered in purpose and meaning. Interestingly, Esfahani believes that the COVID-19 pandemic offers a unique opportunity for people to seek out that fulfillment and improve their mental health. I interviewed her about how to unlock the thing so many people are striving for. You can watch our conversation here.

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