Jun 10, 2020

Federal police reform begins.

Federal police reform begins.

Plus, what happens if Trump refuses to leave office?

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Today’s read: 11 minutes.

The police reform bill in Congress and a question about what happens if Trump doesn’t leave office. Also, please take the Tangle poll!

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) helped draft the Democrats’ police reform legislation on Monday. Photo: Gage Skidmore


Every few weeks, I try to run a new Tangle poll — then I share some of the data with my readers. If you want me to be able to reply to your feedback, be sure to fill out the *optional* section to leave your email. And please only take the poll once!

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Publishing feedback.

A few people have written in over the last week to either applaud me for consistently publishing feedback from readers every day or to say that it’s been a little annoying to sift through at the top of the newsletter to get to the actual news. To respond to this, I will be moving reader feedback down in the newsletter.

Publishing criticisms of my writing is a really important part of Tangle. It’s part of what makes it unique and it’s a great way to balance the newsletter with what my readers, or people outside the covered perspectives, are thinking and feeling. I often find the thoughts or criticisms readers send in to be worthwhile and worth sharing. I also love incorporating that feedback to expand the breadth of the newsletter.

Going forward, I’ll keep publishing the feedback but probably place it in the middle of the newsletter (like today). Whenever there is an actual correction, I’ll be sure to keep that at the top. Thanks for all the feedback, and please keep it coming!

Quick hits.

  1. President Donald Trump tweeted out a conspiracy theory yesterday suggesting that the 75-year-old Buffalo protester who was shoved over by police, cracked his head open on the sidewalk and was rushed to the ICU was “appearing to scan police communications,” that he was an Antifa provocateur, and asked, “could be a set up?” Not a single Republican member of Congress would respond to questions about the tweet, and Axios reporter Jonathan Swan said members of Trump’s team were “at their wits’ end.” The theory started on an anonymous conservative blog and made its way to the fringe cable network OANN, then eventually to Trump.
  2. Joe Biden is pouring money into Facebook ads. The Democratic candidate dumped $4.9 million into Facebook ads over an 8-day span at the end of May, more than doubling the Trump campaign’s total. It’s a surprising role-reversal, as Trump’s team has largely credited their 2016 win to an expansive digital advertising campaign.
  3. Five states held primaries yesterday, and problems erupted in Georgia — where voters were left waiting in hours-long lines in Atlanta and other places. New voting machines across Atlanta failed to work and polling operators who were hastily trained had trouble operating the machines. Democrat Jon Ossoff took a commanding lead in the Democratic Senate primary and Republican Rich McCormick won the GOP nomination for a House seat.
  4. The Senate unanimously confirmed Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown Jr. as chief of staff for the Air Force yesterday. He’s the first African American chief of a military service branch in U.S. history and will sit on the elite Joint Chiefs of Staff. Brown shared a viral video with reflections on the moment. “I'm thinking about ... the equality expressed in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that I’ve sworn my adult life to support and defend. I’m thinking about a history of racial issues and my own experiences that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality.”
  5. COVID-19 cases are spiking again across the globe and in parts of the U.S. New reported cases hit nearly 30,000 in the U.S. alone on June 5th, a rate that resembles what we saw in mid and late April. Virus cases are now increasing in 21 states. More people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday in North Carolina than any other day during the pandemic. The case spike comes after weeks of gradual reopening across the U.S. and the world.

What D.C. is talking about.

On Monday I wrote about the “defund the police” movement and what it meant. As that debate accelerates cities and states are already moving to reform their policing practices. Yesterday, New York passed a bill to make long-secret disciplinary records of police officers public. Minneapolis city council voted to disband its police force earlier this week. The U.S. Conference of Mayors launched a police reform and racial justice working group yesterday.

But at the same time, Democrats and Republicans nationally — in Congress — are moving on reform. Activists say it’ll be local city and state changes that affect the most change, but on Monday, House Democrats unveiled the Justice In Policing Act of 2020. Then, yesterday, Senate Republicans announced they were drafting a legislative package of their own aimed at addressing the country’s police system. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tapped Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the only black Republican in the Senate, to lead the effort.

What the left is saying.

They want police accountability. Democrats in Congress have almost unanimously rejected calls to “defund the police” and few have embraced that language. Whether it’s because they view it as a political loser or view the policy proposals as too radical isn’t clear — but there is no movement in Congress to get on board.

Instead, Democrats unveiled the Justice In Policing Act of 2020, which will try to create a database of “problematic” officers through a misconduct registry. It will also restrict qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that often shields officers from lawsuits. The Democrats’ bill would lower the bar for plaintiffs to sue officers for civil rights violations. Another part of the bill changes the law so victims of excessive force can sue if an officer “recklessly” deprives them of their rights — right now, victims have to prove an officers’ actions were “willful” in court.

The bill would also reform police training, make lynching a federal crime (no, it is not a federal crime yet), and ban chokeholds and the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases. House Democrats say they want to pass something by the end of June. The bill has 200 Democratic co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.

“Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets in Minneapolis: the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said. She called the bill “a bold, transformative vision of policing in America.”

Some Democrats have expressed optimism that there is common ground on many of these issues with their Republican counterparts. “I assume we will have Republican support,” Bass said. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said they had been in talks with Republicans in the Senate and “there are Republicans who are interested in doing something on this topic.”

What the right is saying.

There may be some common ground, but there are also some non-starters. Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany cited changes to immunity laws as one such non-starter. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted a message to police yesterday, saying “Democrats want to defund you, but Republicans will never turn our backs on you.” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who marched with Black Lives Matter protesters earlier this week, criticized Democrats for making “no effort” to contact or work with Republicans on the bill, saying it’s clear it was “a message piece, as opposed to a real piece of legislation.”

In the meantime, Congressional Republicans — led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) — have been at work on their own bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the bill will address the “obvious racial discrimination that we have seen on full display on our television screens over the last two weeks.”

According to a Wall Street Journal report today, Scott’s bill would collect more data from police departments about when force is used, increase the use of body cameras, and implement new de-escalation training. Several Republicans said they would support banning police chokeholds, which could be barred at the federal level. Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) said he would consider curbing “qualified immunity,” but also said “most in our conference don’t want to go for that.”

A bill in the House is also being crafted by Republicans, which has an additional focus on preventing problematic officers from jumping between police departments.

“It’s important for this nation to take a very powerful stand and position that says we’re listening, we’re hearing and we’re reacting,” Scott told reporters. “We’re responding in a positive, constructive manner that doesn’t create a binary choice between supporting law enforcement and supporting communities of color, and I think you can actually do both.”

My take.

It’s remarkable. All of it. The ground is literally moving beneath our feet. Just last year, Democrats were pushing a bill to strengthen police unions. As a pro-union party, Democrats crafted a bill to make it easier for police to join unions. It had broad support. Now, a year later, Democrats have shelved the bill due to increased scrutiny on the role police unions play in protecting officers from repercussions for misconduct. And they’re about to introduce a bill that restricts qualified immunity.

It wasn’t so long ago that Republicans were comparing the Black Lives Matter movement to terrorist organizations or white supremacists. Shoot, in 2018, Democrats and Republicans came together in the House to pass a “Blue Lives Matter” bill, officially called the “Protect and Serve Act of 2018,” that led to harsher penalties for people who committed violence against police than for police who hurt civilians. Could you imagine such a thing right now? It’d be political suicide. That was two years ago, and 162 Democrats voted for it — there were only 32 votes against it!

Congress hasn’t passed any measures addressing police conduct since the now-infamous 1994 crime bill. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) slipped provisions into that bill that allowed the Justice Department to begin pattern-or-practice reviews of police departments that had systemic misconduct. That’s it — in 26 years, that provision (which has been used quite a bit) is the only real thing Congress has done to address police misconduct.

If I could pick one thing for Republicans and Democrats to agree on, it’d be striking down or restricting the qualified immunity doctrine. I wrote pretty extensively about it last week, so I won’t go into it again here, but suffice it to say there is nothing that allows police misconduct to go unchecked more than that legal doctrine. I also want to give a shout out to Libertarians, who are often the butt of political jokes, but who have been — by far — the loudest and most consistent voices on ripping up the qualified immunity doctrine. They’ve been harping on it for decades, and I can only imagine their mixture of gratification and frustration as they watch everyone join the conversation now.

Ending no-knock warrants would be my second choice. Banning chokeholds, a national database, all of these would be great — but there are solutions happening now at the local and state levels to address these issues. Banning or restricting the use of no-knock warrants would be a major reform with some serious positive change.

Today, the most famous no-knock warrant example is Breonna Taylor — who was shot and killed by police after three plainclothes officers kicked down the door to her apartment and exchanged fire with her boyfriend. The police entered the apartment after the prime suspect has been arrested, and her boyfriend was a legal firearm owner. It should surprise exactly nobody that bad things happen when cops kick in the doors of citizens they’re trying to arrest and storm inside like a SWAT team.

Every year, innocent people die when botched no-knock warrants are executed. In 2014, a toddler in Georgia ended up in a medically induced coma after a botched no-knock warrant. In the 1980s, there were about 1,500 no-knock SWAT team deployments in the U.S. In 2010 there were 45,000. Florida and Oregon have already banned them at the state level — I’d welcome a federal ban, too. I also love the idea of a federal law or database that restricts police officers from jumping departments when they’re suspended or fired for misconduct. Republicans haven’t yet made it clear how that legislation would work, but the idea itself would be an important piece of reform.


Yesterday, Mike O’Meara, the president of the police union New York Police Benevolent Association, spoke to the press. He said the union “roundly rejects” what happened in Minneapolis, calling it disgusting. But he also laid into the press and the country for leaving police officers out of the conversation and for the treatment they are receiving.

“Stop treating us like animals and thugs,” he said. “Start treating us with some respect. Our legislators abandoned us. The press is vilifying us. It’s disgusting.” O’Meara emphasized that there are 375 million police interactions a year, and they are “overwhelmingly positive.” In the meantime, he said, “nobody talks about the police officers that were killed in the last week in the United States of America, and there were a number of them.”

Reader feedback.

Several readers had some interesting context to add to yesterday’s newsletter. Sarah from Pittsburgh, PA, noted that some states cap their unemployment benefits at a dollar amount — not a percentage of income — so adjusting the replacement rates by a percentage point nationally may not be feasible.

Heather from Los Angeles, CA, wrote in to say that the fact some workers are making more from $600 a week federal unemployment benefits than they would from a full-time income isn’t a sign of a broken unemployment system — it’s a sign of a country full of workers’ wages that are unlivable. I wrote in a January issue of Tangle about the shocking number of Americans living on low wages.

Dylan from Baltimore, MD, also wrote in to argue that some states only provide unemployment benefits if you can prove you’re looking for work, so the $600 federal unemployment bonus shouldn’t work as an incentive to stay home in those states. That’s true, though some COVID-19 unemployment relief applies to anyone who lost their job or was furloughed because of the pandemic. There’s certainly an argument that unemployment benefits don’t keep people from seeking out work. There’s also some research that contends unemployment keeps people off of disability or other long-term benefits programs which they might enroll in and then never return to the labor force.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: reader questions are one of my favorite parts of Tangle. If you have something you want to see in the newsletter, simply reply to this email and write in. I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can.

Q: Many of my left-leaning friends fear that if Biden wins the election Trump will call Martial law and refuse to leave the White House. Which is also what my right-leaning friends thought when Obama was in office. Trump seems to be laying the groundwork for the election to be deemed fraudulent if he loses. If I remember correctly, isn’t the Secret Service obligated to the new President and will remove the last one?

What laws are in place to keep this from happening?

— Jennifer, Paducah, KY

Tangle: Much like your friends’ fear of Obama not leaving, I think the prospect of Trump trying to stay in office is quite a bit overstated. Obviously Trump has done far more than Obama ever did to skirt norms or taunt Americans as if he might stay forever. He’s also shown a disdain for anyone who wants to limit or restrict his power, and it’s not hard to see how liberals inundated with left-leaning news might fear that he won’t leave office. That a cadre of Trump’s supporters has repeatedly joked about extending his time in office through 2024 does little to quell these fears.

Some very serious people are also taking this prospect very seriously. Ink has been spilled about it in The Atlantic, Vox and Politico, among many others. It’s also not unheard of. “In the past decade, presidents in democracies such as Moldova, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gambia have refused to leave office, sometimes leading to bloodshed,” Barbara McQuade wrote in The Atlantic.

McQuade also detailed the history of similar things happening in America. A Texas governor locked himself in the basement of the state capitol building in 1874 when he lost his re-election bid. Georgia had the “Three Governors Crisis” in 1946 when a governor-elect died before taking office. Then, the outgoing governor, the son of the governor-elect and the lieutenant governor-elect all claimed they were the governor. Former President Franklin Roosevelt also sought out a third term, breaking from tradition, and was elected two more times. Then we ratified the Twenty-Second Amendment in 1951, limiting presidents to two terms, to stop that from ever happening again.

Now, the prospect of something like that happening here is basically zero. My godfather once told me that the most central American tenet is that we are “batting a thousand when it comes to the transfer of power.” The reason for that is all the instruments of power and layers of checks to make sure a president leaves office. But that doesn’t mean things won’t get crazy.

For one, when Trump’s term ends, he loses his authority over the secret service and the federal agents sworn to protect him. He would also lose his power to “declare Martial Law” or command the U.S. military. After winning, on inauguration day, Biden could simply order the secret service to remove Trump and he’d be gone. He could also be charged as a private citizen for trespassing on White House grounds.

However, all this doesn’t account for the scary and far more likely scenario: what happens in the space between the November election and the January inauguration? If Trump loses and begins to call the election “rigged,” could he rile up his base enough to bring violence to the streets? Or the White House? What happens if he calls it a “coup” or “deep state conspiracy” that he lost and enough of his supporters decide to fight — literally — for his second term?

This idea is explored in a new book by Lawrence Douglas, appropriately titled Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020. Douglas argues that this scenario is not just serious, but likely, and we need to be prepared for it. His concern essentially amounts to the fact that guardrails are in place, but they all rely on Republicans in Congress to hold Trump to account. If he loses by a small margin, Douglas argues that Republicans will need to acknowledge he lost and ensure he leaves office. Douglas believes we don’t have any reason to think they will (if the election is close).

I haven’t read Douglas’s book, but I have read summaries of his arguments and an interview he did with Vox. I’ll just say that I have a fundamental disagreement with him. I think that there are enough Republicans both in the House and Senate who are committed to American democracy that they would never let Trump extend his stay in office if he lost an election — even if it’s close.

For one, most Republican support of Trump is political expediency. Many Republicans privately loathe Trump, as any reporter in D.C. who talks to them off the record will tell you. The only reason they stand by him is political expediency. He wins, he passes laws they like,  and he allows McConnell to keep reshaping the courts to keep conservative values in place. For most Republicans, there is a calculated cost-benefit. But that changes if Trump loses — all of those Republicans have elections of their own to win and most have values they care deeply about, and I believe Trump trying to fight the results of an election would absolutely cross those boundaries.

Even now, many Republicans are openly questioning whether they’ll support Trump in 2020. And that’s with the widespread belief that he has a good shot to win again. If Trump’s numbers continue to sink in the polls, or Trump actually loses the election, you’ll see Republicans jump ship immediately. The cost-benefit calculation will have changed.

The final scenario people seem worried about is Trump trying to cancel an election because of COVID-19. This is an interesting idea and certainly concerning, but it seems less and less likely every day (he is, after all, about to start holding rallies again). It’d also be nearly impossible for Trump to cancel the election and come out as president. Again, there are too many levers in place to stop him from canceling the election. Even if he did, though, almost every constitutional outcome in that scenario ends with a Democratic president, which Politico explains here. New York state couldn’t even cancel a Democratic primary election (that was basically decided) without a huge blowback and a reversal by the courts, so I don’t see any way Trump cancels November’s election.

I also think there’s a reverse scenario not enough people talk about. What happens if Trump wins by a very slim margin with widespread reports of voter suppression? Or election interference? Frankly, I think it is just as likely that it’s Democrats and the left who end up trying to prevent Trump from taking office in 2020 after a technical election victory. Those two scenarios both seem possible (albeit unlikely) to me, for different reasons.

There is one scenario that truly does concern me. That’s an electoral college tie. This is a serious, underrated threat to a chaotic 2020 election, which would set off a series of insane and unthinkable constitutional levers, but I won’t get into that now. I am currently working on a special edition of Tangle that focuses specifically on this prospect, how it could  happen, and what might happen if it does — but it’s complex, so you’re going to have to wait a few weeks for that!

A story that matters.

American retail is doing even worse than expected. 20,000 to 25,000 stores across the country are expected to shutter this year, according to numbers produced by Coresight Research. As many as 60 percent of those closures will happen in malls, which were already struggling before the pandemic. That’s a huge increase from the 15,000 closures forecasted earlier this year and indicates the retail sector will be in far more trouble than it was before the pandemic led to months-long closures. Retail sales have plunged 16.4%, which is also far worse than economists expected. Even when the brick and mortar stores open, a lot of people are skeptical the customers will come back. Some say it could be the beginning of the end of in-person shopping. Click.


  • 40%. The percent of registered voters who consider themselves moderate.
  • 31%. The percent of registered voters who consider themselves liberal.
  • 29%. The percent of registered voters who consider themselves conservative.
  • -3.9%. Donald Trump’s net approval rating on April 1, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker.
  • -13.8%. Donald Trump’s net approval rating today, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker.
  • 8 in 10. The number of Americans who fear protests this week will cause a major outbreak of COVID-19.
  • 11%. The percentage of Americans who say they have a friend or family member that attended protests in the last week.

Have a nice day.

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