The Andrew Cuomo cover-up.

Plus, a Los Angeles Times reporter answers a reader question.
Isaac Saul Feb 18, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and you’re reading Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone forwarded you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 12 minutes.

Hello from Brooklyn, New York, where it is somehow snowing… again… with an expected 6-9 inches coming today. Speaking of New York: we’re tackling New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 response. Plus, Laura Nelson from The Los Angeles Times joins us to answer a reader question.

New York Gov. Andew Cuomo / Photo: Diana Robinson | Flickr

Correction.

Yesterday, when writing about the Texas power outages, I wrote that “as far away as Denver, Colorado, people are being asked to preserve their power to help support the grid in Texas,” before repeatedly referencing how Texas was on its own grid detached from the rest of the U.S. People in Colorado were being asked to preserve power, but that’s because outages were occurring across the U.S. — not just in Texas.

This is the 30th Tangle correction (the big 3-0!) in its 77-week existence and the first since February 10th when I referred to Rep. Adam Kinzinger as “Rep. David Kinzinger.” I track corrections in an effort to be transparent and plan to abruptly stop doing this as the number becomes more humbling.


Quick hits.

  1. The conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh died yesterday of lung cancer. Limbaugh, who received a Medal of Freedom from President Trump, is widely credited with shaping the modern-day Republican party and spawning a conservative media ecosystem to push back on the liberal-dominated press. He was also criticized regularly by liberals for his comments about women, minorities, and for “disregarding fact in advancing his political opinions.” (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  2. Nearly three million Texans are still without power as the state suffers from rolling blackouts (Reuters). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is under fire after being photographed boarding a plane to Cancun with his family yesterday in the midst of the crisis. (Fox News)
  3. Walmart, America’s largest private employer, announced it would raise wages for 425,000 U.S. workers to an average above $15 an hour. Its minimum wage will remain $11 an hour. Walmart employs 1.5 million hourly workers. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  4. Coronavirus cases continue to fall, with 44 states seeing a decline in cases over the last week. Derek Thompson explains why coronavirus cases are falling so fast: behavior, seasonality, partial immunity and vaccines. (The Atlantic)
  5. Iowa and New Hampshire are facing mounting pressure to be bumped down the presidential primary calendar. This week, Nevada introduced a bill to make itself the first state to vote in the 2024 presidential primaries. (Politico)

What D.C. is talking about.

Andrew Cuomo. The New York governor is under fire. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo was being heralded in the press as a sober, straightforward voice on the severity of the pandemic and what was going to be necessary to beat coronavirus. His approval ratings skyrocketed in New York and nationally, and he was frequently juxtaposed to the president as a more measured kind of leader around the virus. He was even floated as a 2024 presidential candidate, with some Democrats privately hoping he’d jump into the 2020 race.

But in recent weeks, Cuomo’s record on the pandemic has been unraveling. In late January, New York’s Democratic Attorney General Letitia James reported that nursing home deaths had been “undercounted” by as much as 50 percent, and shortly after, the state’s death toll went up by thousands. Then, last week, a former Cuomo aide named Melissa DeRosa conceded to state lawmakers that the administration “froze” the handling of an inquiry about the data.

DeRosa said the Justice Department had requested the data and that the Cuomo administration feared it would be “used against us.” On Monday, for the first time, Cuomo acknowledged a lack of transparency in his administration’s reporting of coronavirus deaths. He also conceded that his administration did not promptly answer questions from the media or public about the nursing home deaths, which now number over 13,000.

Then, yesterday, New York State Assembly Member Ron Kim released a statement accusing Cuomo of threatening to “destroy” Kim’s career after Kim criticized Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic. Kim claimed that after he accused Cuomo of obstructing justice last week, Cuomo called him to lob threats and insisted he release a new statement clarifying his remarks.

Cuomo’s role in the pandemic has become a flashpoint far outside New York as well. As global leaders and the president struggled to manage the coronavirus, other governors — like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Texas’s Greg Abbott, California’s Gavin Newsom and Ohio’s Mike DeWine — have all been compared and contrasted with each other for their responses.

Today, we’ll look at the reactions specifically to the latest news on Cuomo and explore the arguments over his administration’s response in New York.


Agreed.

There is quite a bit of bipartisan backlash against Cuomo. While his supporters and allies have mostly stayed quiet in the last week, there’s a growing consensus on both sides that these revelations require immediate action — and lawmakers on the right and left have suggested he should face some sort of punishment.


What the left is saying.

Many on the left are becoming increasingly critical of Cuomo, and wondering if it’s time for the state to rescind some of his power.

Arwa Mahdawi wrote in The Guardian that Cuomo is a “mini-Trump.”

“Andrew Cuomo was practically deified by liberals in the early days of the pandemic because, let’s face it, anyone looked amazing compared to the train-wreck that was ‘try-injecting-bleach’ Donald Trump,” she wrote. “While Trump was in a state of dithering and denial, Cuomo took charge and was reassuringly direct: people across the US tuned into his daily press briefings. There was speculation Cuomo could be the next president. Of course, being good on camera doesn’t mean you’re doing a good job on the ground.

“It has always been obvious to anyone paying attention that Cuomo is a mini-Trump,” she wrote. “He has the same appetite for authoritarianism as the former president: during the pandemic he has drawn scrutiny for cancelling special elections, issuing executive orders and consolidating power. Like Trump he has nothing but disdain for his detractors, particularly if they happen to be more qualified than he is. The New York Times recently reported that nine top New York health officials have resigned during the pandemic, with many of them telling the Times that Cuomo had asked them to match their health guidance to his decisions. But who needs experts, eh? Not the all-knowing Cuomo. ‘When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts,’ Cuomo said of pandemic policies in a recent news conference. ‘Because I don’t.’”

In Jacobin, David Sirota and Andrew Perez wrote that Cuomo was a “media created monster,” and compared his rise to the now-disgraced anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

“In Cuomo’s case, the Democratic governor’s aides were caught on tape effectively admitting that they ‘froze’ and did not release the details of thousands of nursing home deaths from COVID-19 because they feared consequences from federal law enforcement officials,” they wrote. “No doubt, Donald Trump’s Justice Department was as highly politicized as Cuomo advisers feared — but that is hardly a legitimate justification for hiding details of thousands of deaths. And the framing of it as some innocent, unplanned, deer-in-the-headlights slipup is absurd, considering the context.

“Cuomo’s administration hid the nursing home casualty data after his administration slipped provisions into the state budget that helped the governor’s largest health care industry donors obtain legal immunity for nursing home executives,” they added.


What the right is saying.

The right has been excoriating Cuomo, saying the left and the mainstream media are finally catching up to what they’ve been saying all along.

This is why nobody believes anything the media says, Richard Lowry claimed in the National Review.

“Andrew Cuomo, the Emmy Award–winning governor that a swooning press held up as the enlightened standard for an effective pandemic response, didn’t just make a disastrous mistake in his handling of nursing homes. He didn’t just miscount nursing-home fatalities. He may have covered up nursing-home fatalities,” Lowry wrote.

“It turns out that everything the press has accused Florida’s Ron DeSantis of — a botched response and dishonest numbers — is true of Cuomo,” he added. “All it took to realize that the heroic Cuomo narrative didn’t add up was to look, almost from the very beginning, at any of the COVID trackers that showed New York had one of the worst records in the country in terms of total deaths and deaths per capita. Amazingly enough, the myth of Cuomo continued unabated even when the governor rescinded his nursing-home policy last May and it was already obvious it had been a profound policy error.”

In City Journal, Joel Zinberg re-told the saga, highlighting every time reporters and watchdog groups had been rebuffed while trying to get information, and pointing to the pervasive discrepancies between what was said publicly and what private reports showed.

“The dam finally broke when the New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a report on January 28 that found the DOH had underreported in-facility deaths by as much as 19 percent, and that when nursing home residents who died at hospitals were added in, the DOH had undercounted the total number of nursing-facility deaths by 50 percent,” he wrote. “Finally, the most damaging disclosure was a leaked recording from February 10, in which a top Cuomo aide admitted to Democratic lawmakers that the administration hid the true numbers of nursing-home deaths for political reasons. The administration had worried that federal investigators would use these numbers against the governor.

“Yet Cuomo’s policy failures are not confined to nursing homes,” he added. “His capricious policies on business and restaurant closures, unmoored from public-health data, have destroyed small businesses statewide and wiped out New York City restaurants. The December restaurant reclosure was made at the same time that New York officials released data indicating that during the September–November period in which restaurants were open, restaurants and bars accounted for only 1.43 percent of Covid-19 cases. Transmission in homes and at social events account for nearly 74 percent of cases. And the New York Times noted that the metrics Cuomo had said would guide his decisions on business reopening were worse when he announced New York City restaurants could reopen for indoor dining on February 14 than when he closed them in December. Even New York Democrats are now calling for curbing Cuomo’s emergency powers.”


My take.

It’s disqualifying for any office. Plain and simple.

Any Democrat trying to excuse what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has done — or who can’t criticize him without bringing up Donald Trump — is just showing themselves to be a partisan hack. This has nothing to do with Trump, and everything to do with Cuomo’s leadership and his failures as a governor.

Yes, Cuomo gave sober, straightforward and frightening press conferences early on in the pandemic. He was honest about the threat COVID-19 posed, and about the fact that it would be a long road out. That is, perhaps the single thing he did right from the beginning of the pandemic — and it turns out even those sober words were buttressed on both sides by lies.

This guy published a book about how great his response was before we were even out of the woods. He titled it “American Leadership: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Can you imagine the hubris it takes to do something like that? He won awards and basked in national glory while he was in the middle of a cover-up, hiding from the state and the country the fact that his poor decisions had killed thousands of elderly New Yorkers. “Freezing” numbers that are being requested by federal investigators and journalists is not a thing. That’s called “refusing to hand them over” and it’s what government bodies do when they are hiding something.

But it isn’t just that the Cuomo administration sent walking coronavirus time bombs into nursing homes and then blamed Trump for it, it’s not just that he covered it up, it’s not just that his former staffers say they are “deathly afraid of him,” it’s not just that he insisted New Yorkers stay home for Thanksgiving while he invited his 89-year-old mother over, nor is it just that he openly panned health experts’ advice because he’s so arrogant he thinks he knows better.

It’s not just that his reckless policies destroyed New York’s restaurants, or that the state pinballed back and forth on school reopenings or even that Cuomo can’t manage to get along with fellow Democrat and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, which leaves the rest of us stuck in the middle of their petty bickering. It isn’t even that New York has the second-most deaths per capita of any state from COVID-19, or that today we are still in worse shape than every single state except South Carolina.

It’s that when all of this was going down, as Sirota and Perez rightly point out in Jacobin, Cuomo was expending energy trying to insert liability shields into the state budget for his donors in the healthcare industry. He was removing incentives for hospital and nursing home executives to protect New Yorkers in what was an obvious effort to keep his donors happy and his campaign’s pockets lined. He was, in other words, thinking about himself while tens of thousands of New Yorkers died. And the guy fighting to stop him?

Ron Kim.

Yes, the same legislator Cuomo allegedly threatened to “destroy” earlier this week for criticizing his pandemic response. Fortunately for us, Kim and other New York state legislators actually succeeded in rolling back some of the immunity, a policy the Associated Press had described as going “unusually far” to protect the healthcare industry.

And yes, there is plenty of ire to go around for the New York press corps that ignored Kim, or for the national press corps like CNN that brought Cuomo on to be interviewed by his own brother while thousands of New Yorkers died on his watch and the two of them chummed it up about how great a governor he was.

I distinctly remember the first time I sat through an Andrew Cuomo press conference, and I had a similar feeling many Americans did: it was honest and comforting. I even said so on Twitter, writing that I “hate to add to the lovefest,'' but watching Cuomo made me want to act more responsibly, which felt like a good thing. Looking back on that tweet now makes me cringe.

Cuomo failed New York in one of the biggest tests of his career, and he was rewarded for that failure with book deals and wall-to-wall press coverage about how great he was. Now, with those failures seeing the light of day alongside the laundry list of his other shortcomings, my only hope is that New Yorkers don’t forget.


Blindspot report.

As part of a partnership with Ground News, an app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting, I feature 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 media echo chambers.

The right missed a story about how fossil fuel pollution causes one in five premature deaths globally.

The left missed a story about Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) asking President Biden to reverse his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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


Your questions, answered.

Q: Over the weekend I learned that my nearly 90-year old grandmother in Central California cannot get a COVID vaccine because there are literally no appointments left. They are all spoken for. Meanwhile, my family in Texas reports that everyone over 65 has been getting vaccinated for weeks and my parents are getting their first dose next week. Why is my state struggling so much? Is it about vaccine supply (my husband said something about a law that restricts states from bidding for vaccines directly from the manufacturer)? Is it the fact that California is being pickier about who gets the vaccine in what order?  Why can't we be as successful as Israel, let alone Texas? The single-dose plan sounds like a good idea. Is there any chance of that happening to boost the rollout?

— Cassi, Santa Ana, California

Today’s reader question is being answered by Laura Nelson, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

Laura Nelson: Hey Cassi, sorry to hear you’ve had a tough time getting an appointment for your grandmother. I know it’s frustrating. There were several big reasons why California’s vaccination program really stumbled in the early weeks. The good news is that most of them have since been resolved.

California has a very decentralized healthcare system, so 61 public health agencies in 58 counties had to get their own vaccine logistics operations up and running. And, as you said, the state was picky about who was being vaccinated at first – too picky, some experts and critics have said. (That complicated eligibility system has since been scrapped in favor of an age-based rollout.)

During the period that vaccines were only available to frontline workers in California, some healthcare workers were reluctant to take the vaccine. And problems with the state’s data collection system meant that health officials couldn’t make decisions about where to send doses, or where to relocate doses, in real time.

Meanwhile, Texas decided in December to break away from the federal vaccination guidelines and start giving shots to seniors. So your parents had several weeks’ head start to try to book an appointment compared to people in California.

Israel’s population is about the same size as Los Angeles County. The country has a universal healthcare system, and the government struck a deal with Pfizer for a stable pipeline of doses in exchange for patient data, conditions that you wouldn’t see here in the U.S.

As for the question of whether Texas or California is doing better: it depends on how you slice it. At the time I wrote this, Texas had used more of its vaccine doses (84%) than California (75%), and had a slightly higher share of residents who’ve received both doses – but a higher percentage of California residents have received at least one dose. Both states are pretty middle-of-the-road compared to the rest of the country.

Also: Our perceptions of how well a state is doing compared to another state can often rely on who we know in those places and how easily they’ve been able to access the vaccine. A lot of factors come into play there, including English fluency, computer literacy, level of trust in the healthcare system, access to transportation and whether they have the time to secure an appointment, get there, wait for the shot and be vaccinated.

The one-dose vaccine is on the way. Johnson & Johnson recently applied for an emergency use authorization from the FDA for their one-dose vaccine. If the vaccine is approved, which could happen in March, it could really help boost the country’s vaccination efforts. Supply is the biggest problem basically everywhere right now. In California, some vaccine sites — including the massive operation at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles — have had to temporarily shut down because of a shortage of doses.

I hope this answers your question — and that, by the time you read this, your grandmother has gotten her vaccine!

Laura Nelson is a reporter with the Los Angeles Times. You can read her work here or follow her on Twitter here.


A story that matters.

Politics can ruin just about everything, according to a new paper in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. "Political polarization is having far-reaching impacts on American life, harming consumer welfare and creating challenges for people ranging from elected officials and policymakers to corporate executives and marketers," the paper says. Political affiliations are obstructing friendships, limiting job choices and leaving people poorer, lonelier, and less healthy.

As I read this story I can’t help but think it’s a walking advertisement for this newsletter:

The researchers find that people's chosen political identities become self-reinforcing through associations with groups with shared beliefs. Our associations can even create a "group-specific shared reality" that makes it harder to relate to those with opposing views.

You can read more from J.D. Tuccille at Reason here.


Numbers.

31,751. That’s the number of votes Democrats won the House of Representatives by, according to Tangle reader Jonah Adams. Republicans won 213 of the 435 House seats, meaning they needed five more seats to flip the House red. The five districts Democrats won by the fewest votes were New Jersey-7 (5,311 votes), Illinois-14 (5,374 votes), Iowa-3 (6,208 votes), Texas-15 (6,588 votes), and Virginia-7 (8,270 votes). The total illustrates just how close the race to control the House really was.


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Have a nice day.

In the 1950s, there were more than 250 prison newspapers. Today, there are just a handful. But the Prison Journalism Project is trying to change that. The organization has created a curriculum for people in prison to study journalism, and then share their stories from the inside. Now, these prisoners are telling the world what it’s like for them — with 140 contributing writers across 28 states. The incarcerated reporters are treated like correspondents and represent 2.3 million people currently imprisoned in the United States. (A Plus)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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