Posted on

Trump campaign mum after aide confirms he’ll debate Biden 3 times

“We want those three and one earlier than the rest,” Tim Murtaugh, Trump’s communications director, told POLITICO.

Murtaugh did not clarify Perrine’s remarks on Tuesday. But he alluded to a recent CNN column by former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart urging Biden not to debate Trump.

“President Trump is looking forward to debating Joe Biden, who is the only one who is being publicly advised to skip debates,” Murtaugh said. “Voters in 16 states will already be casting their early votes before the first debate takes place on September 29th as the schedule stands now. We don’t think it’s too much to ask that Americans get a look at the two candidates side-by-side before voters start voting.”

Trump allies have seized on the Lockhart recommendation and other recent opinion pieces to raise questions about whether Biden would reverse course and sit out the debates. In June, Biden’s campaign in June committed in writing to the three presidential debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

“The Trump campaign and their allies have constructed an entirely fictional storyline to distract from Donald Trump’s failure to protect American lives during a once-in-a-generation pandemic, and now they’re evidently confused about which lie they’re supposed to be telling,” Biden spokesman T.J. Ducklo said.

“Unlike Donald Trump, Joe Biden has accepted the commission’s invitation for three debates, and looks forward to holding Donald Trump accountable for the worst failure of presidential leadership in modern history.”

The commission did not respond to a question seeking clarification on whether Trump had formally agreed to the three scheduled debates.

The column by Lockhart, a CNN political analyst with no role in the Biden campaign, and a New York Times opinion piece Monday by the journalist Elizabeth Drew calling for the debates to be scrapped, have provided grist for the issue to take off in conservative circles.

Trump-allied Republicans argue the media is trying to give cover to Biden to pull out of the events. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the Lockhart piece “Basement strategy, part 2,” a reference to Biden’s low-profile campaign, which he has been conducting even as he is leading Trump by considerable margins in the polls. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel retweeted excerpts from a Wall Street Journal editorial headlined “Will Joe Biden Duck the Debates?” and argued in a Fox Business interview on Tuesday that the Biden campaign is “afraid to put him on a debate stage.”

In addition to adding a debate, Trump campaign officials had previously sought to put conditions on his appearance, reportedly questioning the nonpartisan debate commission and taking issue with its choice of past moderators. On Monday, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien told Fox News that the campaign would continue to apply pressure on Biden to add the earlier debate.

Posted on

Endangered Republican senators are driving force for virus deal

WASHINGTON — A small but singularly influential group is a driving force for an agreement on a stalled coronavirus relief bill: Endangered Senate GOP incumbents who need to win this fall if Republicans are going to retain control of the majority.

Confronted with a poisonous political environment, vulnerable Senate Republicans are rushing to endorse generous jobless benefits, child care grants, and more than $100 billion to help schools reopen. Several of them are refusing to allow the Senate to adjourn until Washington delivers a deal to their desperate constituents.

Sen. Martha McSally, who has fallen behind in polls in Arizona, is breaking with conservatives to endorse a temporary extension of a $600 per week supplemental benefits. Republicans up for reelection such as John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are demanding results before returning home to campaign. And Sen. Susan Collins is in overdrive, backing help for cash-starved states and local governments — and Maine’s shipbuilding industry.

The opinions of senators up for reelection are of more consequence to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell than those held by conservatives like Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who are broadcasting their opposition to the emerging legislation as costly and ineffective. As other Republicans gripe that they’re going to have to swallow a deal brokered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the vulnerable Republicans are craving just such a bipartisan result.

“Maybe eight Republicans who are up in tough states have a bigger interest in getting this COVID-19 bill done,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I think that’s accurate.”

Republican strategists, grappling with a political environment for their party that has worsened over the summer, said it’s imperative for GOP lawmakers to be able to head back to their states and districts with a deal in hand to show voters they are taking the pandemic and the economic fallout seriously.

“GOP Senate candidates need a deal, a good deal … so they can get home and campaign on helping small businesses get up and moving again,” said Scott Reed, the chief political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Republican operative Corry Bliss said it was crucial for incumbents facing tough re-election fights to “have wins” to highlight through the fall.

“This is the most important issue facing the country right now,” Bliss said. “There’s no better message for Congress to deliver heading into the election than a big bipartisan victory to help families and small businesses get through this difficult time.”

Republicans control the Senate by a 53-47 margin, meaning Democrats must gain at least three seats to capture Senate control. But Republicans are defending 25 of the 38 seats in play, and are on the defensive even in traditionally red states due to Trump’s deteriorating standings in polls.

Meanwhile, in blue and purple states like Iowa, Colorado, and Maine, GOP incumbents are lining up to break with party orthodoxy on issues like child care, unemployment benefits, and aid to cash-starved state and local governments.

In Colorado, Sen. Cory Gardner recently pushed for more virus relief after an appearance with Ivanka Trump at a child care facility in the Denver suburbs. “It needs to get done now,” he told reporters.

His opponent, Democrat John Hickenlooper, has been hammering Gardner over the GOP’s decision to “pause” the coronavirus negotiations for most of the summer. On Tuesday, his campaign held a virtual press conference to press for more relief. “We’ve seen Sen. Gardner stay silent while Mitch McConnell and President Trump refuse to help millions of Americans,” Hickenlooper said.

In South Carolina, Graham’s opponent has called out what he has characterized as the Republican’s flippant attitude toward real-world concerns over lost wages and unemployment. Jaime Harrison has said Graham is “leading the charge” to cut additional unemployment relief, referring to Graham’s April comment that Congress would extend the current benefits past July “over our dead bodies.”

Graham is now offering a jobless benefit proposal that is more generous than other GOP proposals.

Cornyn helped start a bandwagon of senators who are demanding the Senate stay at work in Washington until a coronavirus bill is passed. Voters expect a deal — including renewed unemployment benefits that have helped millions of people avert a descent into poverty — and returning home to campaign without one in hand could be a political disaster. With progress coming slowly in the talks, GOP leaders said the Senate will be extending its session into next week and possibly longer.

Back home, Cornyn is facing the first serious reelection challenge of his 18 years in the Senate as Trump’s sagging approval and Texas’ rapidly changing suburbs has the GOP nervous about their grip on America’s biggest red state. His opponent, Democrat M.J. Hegar, has circulated interviews of Cornyn earlier calling generous jobless benefits a mistake since they encourage people not to work and saying in June that the benefit would not be reinstated.

At a closed-door GOP lunch last month, conservative Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., urged a freer-spending approach to the legislation that could help endangered colleagues keep their seats — and allow everyone else to hold onto their gavels.

It’s difficult to overstate the stakes. Republicans are in their sixth year holding the Senate, and that majority could be the only obstacle to all-Democratic control of Washington next year if Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, defeats Trump in November.

Democrats controlling the chamber could rubber-stamp Biden’s Cabinet and judicial picks, if he wins, including likely Supreme Court vacancies. Even a narrow Democratic majority could reverse the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts — and that’s before the party considers eliminating the legislative filibuster that has been the defining characteristic of the chamber for decades.

“This is the most important thing we need to be doing,” Cornyn said Tuesday.

Posted on

‘Never Trump’ Republicans team with progressives to convert the president’s religious base

“If there was ever a time when Republicans, especially people of faith can be moved, it’s probably now,” said Sarah Lenti, executive director at the Lincoln Project, which was co-founded by George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. “This is about doing the right thing for our country and that goes back to embracing Biblical principles, such as loving and caring for each other.”

Getting white evangelicals to peel away from Trump — much less to vote for Biden — is no easy feat. The political alliance between white evangelicals and Republican politicians dates back decades and has rarely shown signs of weakness during the president’s first term. Before this spring, the only time Trump’s most prominent conservative Christian supporters had publicly split with the president was over his push to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

But recently, segments of Trump’s Catholic and Protestant supporters have been distancing themselves from his response to the Covid-19 crisis. The Lincoln Project and VCG hope to capitalize on that waning confidence, which has extended to Trump’s ability to handle the worsening economic crisis, public health catastrophe and civil unrest.

They’re also hoping to pitch Biden as an attractive religious alternative to Trump. Biden, a Catholic, has portrayed himself as the unity candidate in an intensely fractured political landscape and rarely shies away from discussing his personal faith.

“For some people this will be a two-step process,” said Doug Pagitt, a progressive evangelical pastor who founded VCG. “The first part is letting go of the reflexive impulse they have to vote Republican, which is a hard thing to let go of. And then for some of those people, stepping all the way over to Biden is a big step.”

Pagitt launched VCG after the 2016 election to reach religious conservatives and other traditional faith voters, hoping to break the Republican strong-hold on the community. Now, Pagitt said, VCG and the Lincoln Project “want to make an offer” to lifelong Republican voters that encourages them to support Biden based on arguments that draw on their values and Christian identity.

“I respect the fact that many people feel they’ve been conservatives or Republicans their whole lives and to push them to vote for Biden, that’s like pushing them to abandon their identity. We don’t want to do that,” he said. “But for them to hear from the Lincoln Project, which is a bunch of Republicans saying they are going to vote for Joe Biden because of their faith, that can be powerful and convincing.”

Part of VCG’s plan is to forge personal connections with religious conservatives in crucial 2020 swing states. Soon they will launch a postcard campaign sending handwritten notes to religious voters asking them to lean deep into their faith for guidance this November. Though the postcards, which Pagitt described to POLITICO, will vary in style — one will include VCG’s sogan, “Faith, not fear. Hope, not hate. Love, not lies,” the other will feature the “love is patient, love is kind” passage from 1 Corinthians 13 — each will contain a personal note from another voter.

“It’s not a slick mailer, it’s a handwritten card saying, ‘Hey, I’m Doug from Minneapolis. I hope your faith is meaningful to you,’” Pagitt said.

The mailers are just one part of the duo’s targeted campaign. On Wednesday, the groups will host a virtual town hall with Pagitt, Lincoln Project co-founder and GOP strategist Rick Wilson, evangelical minister Rob Schenck, whose support for Biden marks the first time he’s supported a Democratic presidential contender since 1976, Society of Christian Ethics president David Gushee and journalist Amy Sullivan. They are also planning an onslaught of digital, radio and television ads aimed at “gettable” Republican voters, according to Lenti.

“If someone is a single-issue voter on abortion and they still think Republicans are better than Democrats on the issue, that’s probably not someone we’re going to get,” Pagitt said.

Ultimately, the two groups hope to move 4 to 5 percent of disaffected Republican voters in the six states they’re planning to target before Election Day. Since 2018, VCG has focused its efforts on identifying 50,000 persuadable voters in key swing states and working to convince them to vote against Trump.

According to Lenti, the Lincoln Project is also eyeing Texas and Iowa as two emerging battlegrounds that it could include in its efforts. Trump, who carried both states in 2016, has recently slipped in statewide polling against Biden, who began advertising in Texas in mid-July.

Recent polls on religious voters’ attitudes toward Trump show minor slippage in his support among white evangelicals, 81 percent of whom voted for him in 2016, and steady erosion to his appeal among white Catholics.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in June showed 72 percent of white evangelicals approved of Trump’s job as president, down five percentage points since January. Meanwhile, 75 percent said Biden would make a “poor” or “terrible” commander in chief. The same survey, however, found that 82 percent of white evangelicals plan to vote for Trump, meaning 10 percent of those who said they disapprove of Trump’s job performance still intend to cast their ballots for his reelection.

The Lincoln Project and VCG hope to change that in the three months remaining between now and Nov. 3, in addition to courting other key constituencies, such as veterans and seniors, whom polling suggests could be wary of handing Trump a second term.

“We basically want to flood the zone with information,” Lenti said. “Evangelicals and people of faith are just people, and so a lot of our ads are going to touch all people, not one particular constituency.”

Posted on

The Democratic Platform Fight Shows It’s Still Obama’s Party

Bernie Sanders supporters have pushed for progressive priorities in the platform, but the Barack Obama wing of the Democratic establishment is still in the driver’s seat.

One study found that, from 1980 to 2004, lawmakers voted in line with their respective platforms on average 82% of the time.

Few processes are given more importance, yet are as arcane and opaque, as the writing of the Democratic Party platform. Ostensibly the policy agenda of the next Democratic president (and the party as a whole), the platform is the result of hours of intense debate and negotiation between sometimes contentious factions of competing political interests. It is also, more often than not, written by the winners. 

This year, those winners aren’t only former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic establishment—but the Obama wing of that establishment.

President Barack Obama installed his labor secretary, Tom Perez, as the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair in February 2017. A close look at Perez’s nominees to the 2020 platform committees suggests the party will adhere to Obama’s incrementalist vision of politics, one that stands in stark contrast to the bold push for change advocated by runner-up Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his supporters. 

Now, with the Sanders-Biden unity task forces having wrapped up and issued their recommendations, what happens from here is in their hands. One Wall Street advisory firm is already declaring a victory for corporate America, calling the 110-page document “a very successful effort by Biden and his team to control the narrative and policy direction, while making just enough concessions to the progressive wing to avoid an open rift in the party.” 

Yet it’s no guarantee even these half-measures will make it into the platform. That will depend on the men and women chosen by Perez to shape the final document.

Who’s at the head

Many loyal democratic voters may be pleased that Obama’s vision will shape the platform. He is, after all, the party’s most beloved political figure.

But Obama’s actual policy agenda was often at odds with the stated values and priorities of his own supporters. Obama championed the corporate-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), for example, and sources involved in the drafting process say it was his direct appeal to Sanders that helped ensure the absence of an anti-TPP plank—which Sanders agreed to for the sake of party unity.

As president, Obama expanded President George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” pushed for an “all of the above” energy policy that did little to prevent climate change, deported record numbers of people, and spent years trying to cut Medicare and Social Security, an ambition that Sanders himself was instrumental in thwarting. Moreover, according to longtime Democratic Party insider and Obama transition official Reed Hundt, it was Obama and his team’s aversion to robust government action in the early days of the 2008 recession—for fear of being labeled “socialist” by the GOP—that ultimately weakened the U.S. economic recovery and helped elect President Donald Trump.

“The former president, going back at least to his 2004 Senate race, hasn’t really occupied the left side of the ideological spectrum,” the Washington Post’s David Swerdlick wrote of Obama in 2019. “To the dismay of many on the Left, and to the continuing disbelief of many on the Right, Obama never dramatically departed from the approach of presidents who came before him.”

Per DNC rules, Tom Perez, as party chair, has the fortune to appoint the co-chairs of the Rules, Credentials and Platform committees. Perez’s selections for the two co-chairs of the Platform Committee don’t show signs of receptivity to Sanders’ agenda. Both are fellow former Obama officials. The one likely to wield the most power is Denis McDonough, Obama’s final chief of staff.

Having cut his teeth as a foreign policy adviser for former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle—now a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies and other corporate interests—McDonough sits safely in the narrow band of liberal orthodoxy in Washington, particularly on matters of national security. As Daschle’s aide, McDonough took the lead in drafting the war authorization Bush used to invade Iraq. He is a Russia hawk and believes law enforcement should be able to access a person’s encrypted messages, but had backed Obama’s 2008 campaign-era call to defy Washington’s warmongers and speak with U.S. adversaries like Iran and Cuba.

Perhaps most important is McDonough’s close relationship with Obama. The former president has described McDonough, who helped set up his Senate office upon his arrival in Washington and served as his top foreign policy adviser during his 2008 campaign, as “one of my closest friends.”

“Denis has played a key role in every major national security decision of my presidency,” Obama said in 2013. Other officials have described McDonough as something akin to an extension of the former president. He is “the keeper of the president’s flame,” according to Cheryl Mills, a staffer for President Bill Clinton. Obama trusted McDonough “more than anyone else in the White House,” according to Clinton ally and Obama transition head John Podesta, in 2013.

In August 2019, McDonough defended Obama against criticism from several Democratic candidates on his healthcare and immigration record, arguing that “attacking former President Obama’s record … doesn’t make any sense, politically or substantively.” Perez and McDonough are unlikely to get much pushback from the other Platform Committee co-chair, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, granddaughter of legendary activist César Chávez. Chávez Rodríguez served as Obama’s deputy director of public engagement, which in practice meant being dispatched to speak with disillusioned Latino and immigrant rights activists during the 2012 election (and beyond), defending Obama’s woeful record on immigration. 

“My grandfather helped me to understand that change isn’t immediate,” Chávez Rodríguez said in 2014, defending Obama’s glacial progress on immigration and refusal to take executive action on the matter. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It does take a lot of time and sacrifice. It takes consistent, sustained organizing and pressure.”

Chávez Rodríguez is also a former state director and senior adviser for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). She is now working for the Biden campaign.

In many ways, the appointment of McDonough and Chávez Rodríguez caps off a multi-year effort by Obama to limit Sanders’ influence over the party and ensure Obama’s direction for the party prevails. As one official told Harper’s editor Andrew Cockburn, Obama recruited Perez in 2017 to run for DNC chair to “stop the Sanders wing of the party from taking over.” Perez ran against then-Rep. Keith Ellison (now Minnesota attorney general), a Sanders ally who had received overwhelming party support, including from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other congressional Democratic leaders. Obama personally worked the phones to turn votes away from Ellison and toward Perez.

Ahead of the 2020 primaries, Obama privately threatened to step in and speak out if Sanders appeared poised to run away with the nomination. He also made several well-publicized—if obliquely critical—comments about Sanders’ candidacy and political vision; one even became a debate question suggesting Sanders should step aside because he was old and male. Obama helped convince Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind., to suspend his presidential campaign before Super Tuesday to consolidate the centrist vote against Sanders. Obama also reportedly pressured Sanders to suspend his campaign.

For a fuller picture of what Obama’s Democratic Party looks like, look beyond the chairs and at the four vice chairs and 25 voting members of the Platform Committee that Perez named January 25. 

Thirteen are former Obama administration and campaign officials. Another, former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, was singled out by Obama during his final interview in office as the future of the party. Twelve more are Clinton allies (including four that overlap the Obama crowd). Many have expressed open hostility to Sanders. Some are connected to or have received political funding from interests expressly opposed to Sanders’ agenda. Many have business and political fundraising interests that run counter to the Vermont Senator’s anti-corporate vision. Seven work or have worked for the corporate sector, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina executive Danielle Gray and ecommerce executive Meghan Stabler. 

The Pregame

In the United States, party platforms are non-binding and have, at times, even been ignored by the candidates themselves, leading many to wonder how much they really matter. And yet, as some have pointed out, platform changes often prefigure important ideological shifts within a party. One study found that, from 1980 to 2004, lawmakers voted in line with their respective platforms on average 82% of the time.

Intense battles over platform language in past decades suggest that, while the Democratic Party establishment may view its platform as symbolic (and convenient to ignore), the platform is far from insignificant—particularly given how it serves as a test of the nominee’s power within their party. Biden, for example, is currently resisting the demands of the party’s progressive and activist base, championed by Sanders.

Healthcare is one point of contention. Biden is steadfastly opposed to Medicare for All, a flagship Sanders policy that has soared in national popularity as millions lose their jobs and insurance during the pandemic.

Another is climate change. Biden put forward a $1.7 trillion climate plan during the primary (to Sanders’ $16.3 trillion plan) and has haltingly moved closer to the platforms of green groups like the Sunrise Movement but remains resistant to key elements, including a ban on fracking and a reinstatement of the oil export ban, rescinded by Obama in 2015 after spending 40 years on the books.

The actual writing of the party platform is a multistage process that continues through the party convention. In 2016, according to those involved, much of the platform had been written well before the Drafting Subcommittee met to vote on the details in June in St. Louis. Even as the drafters held hearings around the country in advance of the two-day debate, staffers for the DNC were already writing the platform’s first draft.

“We were the Drafting [Sub]committee, but the draft got done by staff people who put together the rock, which we tried to chip away at,” says James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and one of the members of the 2016 Drafting Subcommittee (and a contributor to In These Times in the 1980s). Zogby’s involvement with the DNC goes back decades; he has been involved in platform fights since 1988.

In 2016, Drafting Subcommittee members like Zogby were picked as part of an agreement between the DNC and Sanders. The DNC selected four of the subcommittee members, Hillary Clinton six and Sanders five, all names he had personally chosen. The names were then approved by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The only Sanders selection who was vetoed was RoseAnn DeMoro, then-executive director of National Nurses United, a union that fervently backed Sanders. DeMoro had a history of needling Clinton but, officially, was rejected on the grounds that labor was already represented on the Platform Committee.

At the same time as the very public wrangling over the platform in St. Louis, those involved say, a number of changes to the draft were hammered out in backroom negotiations between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns. The two sides met and drew up a list of overlapping campaign promises, such as a plan to import prescription drugs from Canada (which made it into the platform).

Other changes got their hearing at the next stage, at the full Platform Committee’s July preconvention meeting in Orlando. The 187 voting members were divided up in proportion to the number of delegates each campaign won in the primary. Here, the Sanders wing succeeded in inserting planks calling to legalize marijuana, increase the minimum wage to $15, break up the big banks and expand Social Security. After the (sometimes raucous) debate in Orlando, the platform’s final stop was the convention itself—the last chance for any platform changes.

But the essence of the final platform was created outside this formal process, by the DNC staffers who wrote the first draft and through those private talks between Sanders and Clinton officials.

“The [first] draft … is ultimately the document you work from,” Zogby says. “Once the draft is there, it’s very difficult to make changes to that draft.”

The 2020 process will follow a similar, equally convoluted path. The unity task forces, created by the two candidates in the wake of Sanders’ campaign suspension, were just one stop in this route, meant to influence the eventual platform while doubling as an attempt to push Biden in a more progressive direction.

This approach has another upshot: preventing a rancorous battle over policy planks at the party convention.

“[Battling] could be embarrassing and they want to avoid that, so they put together these committees outside of the process to try and agree on a program, and they’ll all go in there and both sides will vote for it,” says George Albro, cofounder and downstate co-chair of the Sanders aligned New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN). “I think Bernie really wants to foster unity because, ironically, he’s more interested in defeating Trump than the establishment is.”

This push for unity wouldn’t be out of character for Sanders. According to In These Times’ sources, after anti-TPP planks brought by Sanders allies in 2016 were defeated at both St. Louis and Orlando, Sanders had enough delegates to force a vote on the issue in a much more public way at the party convention in Philadelphia. What stopped him was a phone call from Obama, who didn’t want a contentious floor fight at the event. 

The Unity Menu

It remains to be seen whether Sanders’ 2020 campaign for party unity, even more intense than in 2016, will win him more favorable treatment from the Democratic establishment. The Unity Task Forces he set up with Biden may have allowed him to set the stage, but even there, Sanders appointees were outnumbered on each task force, three to five.

Even the most promising fell short of expectations. The climate change task force, co-chaired by Green New Deal proponent Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), included Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy. Yet ultimately, it left out a fracking ban and made no mention of the Green New Deal.

The economy task force was compelling, too, co-chaired by Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union. It included Stephanie Kelton, an adviser on Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 campaigns and an expert on modern monetary theory, which rejects the current economic orthodoxy that discourages deficit spending. It recommended that Biden explore setting up government savings accounts for children, for instance, but stopped short of a federal jobs guarantee, a sticking point for the Biden team. The recommendations instead call for “jobs programs like those effectively used during the New Deal.”

Tellingly, foreign policy was entirely left out of the purview of the task forces.

With the task forces having made their recommendations, the Drafting Subcommittee is now tasked with hammering out a draft platform. This time around, Sanders did not officially get any nominations to the 15-person committee.

The lineup, announced by Perez in late June, pulled from Obama loyalists. Four held posts in Obama’s administration, three worked on his campaigns, one served as an elector for his 2008 run and two received his coveted endorsement after he left office. Three are Sanders allies—Heather Gautney, former Our Revolution executive director; Josh Orton, former Sanders Senate senior adviser; and Analilia Mejia, political director for the 2020 Sanders campaign. Orton and Mejia also worked for the 2008 Obama campaign.

Obama’s centrist, business-friendly politics are well-represented, too. Four of the members have corporate backgrounds, including Tom Vilsack, who passed through the revolving door from the Department of Agriculture to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, and Tony Allen, a former Biden speechwriter and former executive at Delaware credit card company MBNA, a top Biden funder that pushed his disastrous bankruptcy bill in 2005.

Perhaps the most important selection is the committee chair. Perez chose Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Though she has won progressive plaudits for undertaking bail reform and improving government transparency, the business-backed Bottoms has also been criticized for harsh treatment of homeless people in Atlanta and for not doing enough to stop gentrification. Married to a Home Depot executive, Bottoms also has a penchant for public-private partnerships. She has been one of Biden’s most loyal backers, endorsing him in 2019 a day after he took fire over his anti-busing past. 

“The chair has tremendous power,” says Jay Bellanca, upstate co-chair of NYPAN, who has been on the front lines of efforts to reform the party since 2016. “It determines who can recognize, bring things forward.”

While Sanders allies view 2016 Drafting Subcommittee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) as a fair adjudicator, the person who sits in the position can make a crucial difference—for better or worse. In 1988, Chair James Blanchard, governor of Michigan, was crucial to inserting a provision about respecting the territorial sovereignty of Lebanon, Zogby recalls.

“He said, ‘I’m from Michigan, don’t screw with this. Give me this language on Lebanon,’ ” Zogby says. “And we got it put in.” 

Last Call

The platform’s next gauntlet is the full Platform Committee Meeting. In addition to the 25 members selected by Perez, 162 delegates will be added, apportioned by the number of delegates each candidate receives in the primary contest. Whatever they agree on must then be ratified at the Democratic National Convention itself.

In 2016, Sanders’ allies were pleasantly surprised by their impact on the platform that came out of the committee, including the $15 minimum wage provision. All were products of an intense, sometimes testy process.

Hanging over this year’s negotiations, however, was the question of whether Sanders would have enough delegates to be apportioned the 46 members of the platform committee that are needed to have leverage. It’s likely that even if all of Sanders Platform Committee members agree, they won’t reach the threshold of 46 members needed to bring a minority report to a vote on the convention floor, a potentially embarrassing challenge that could force compromise from the majority in advance, in order to head it off. In 2016, Sanders cleared that threshold easily, giving teeth to his delegates’ demands in committee (and avoiding a fight at the convention).

Assuming Sanders is just short of the 46, his team would need support from Biden platform committee members to reach the threshold number.  Had Sanders actively stayed in the post Wisconsin primaries, even while supporting Biden, there would have been enough Sanders delegates elected to reach 46 platform committee members required for minority resolutions.

Because Sanders failed to do so, his movement will have little sway on the 2020 convention committees this year.

Sanders—focused on beating Trump (and no doubt stung by years of spurious accusations that he and his supporters cost Clinton the 2016 election)—seems committed to avoiding not just the rancor of the previous election, but the all-out chaos of the infamous 1972 Democratic Party convention. A much more conciliatory approach seems likely, working closely with Biden and attempting to nip any hint of party disunity in the bud.

Rather than lean on the threat of a contentious floor fight, then, Sanders vested his hopes in the Unity Task Forces. With the release of the draft platform in late July, this approach seems to have yielded dividends, with a number of their final recommendations making it into the finished product. The draft platform incorporates recommendations including expanding Medicare to cover vision, dental, and hearing loss, ending private prisons, and drastically moving up Biden’s climate targets.

Yet even here, the wins are muted. Much of the recommended language that found its way into the platform was already part of Biden’s platform, including his plans for undoing Trump’s immigration policies, letting Medicare negotiate drug prices, allowing the federal government to pay the cost of continuing lapsed health insurance under COBRA, and ending cash bail and mandatory minimums. While the draft now more directly states the party “support[s] ending the use of private prisons,” Biden had already pledged to make eliminating private prisons a requirement of his federal grant program for crime prevention. Same with the pledge to lower Medicare’s requirement age to 60.

In other areas, the Sanders camp appears to have been completely rolled. The task forces’ less ambitious recommendation to decriminalize marijuana went into the platform, and a plank to legalize it was defeated 105-60. Every one of the planks put forward by Palestinian-American delegates, including one merely calling for supporting an Israel that isn’t an exclusively Jewish state, was left out with most of them not even considered—though the final draft did include language defending the right of Americans to boycott Israel, a significant inclusion. Meanwhile, the already whittled-down language on New Deal-style jobs programs was entirely left out. 

But the most glaring, if unsurprising, absence surrounded Sanders’ flagship Medicare for All policy, which receives a scant single mention in the draft platform, with no endorsement. Party delegates also voted down planks to insert such an endorsement into the draft, as well as those calling for expanding Medicare to children and lowering the program’s eligibility age to 55. The platform’s next stop is the August party convention, where hundreds of Sanders delegates are defying the Vermont senator’s push for party unity, and have signed a pledge to vote against the platform if it continues to leave out Medicare for All, a tactic that will likely fail to change the party’s mind—but will make inconvenient headlines for Democrats. 

Should Biden ascend to the presidency, the next step for progressives will be ensuring he follows through on the platform’s many promises. This won’t just involve overcoming the predictable Republican obstruction, but putting enough pressure on Biden himself to outweigh the corporate and right-wing influence that have historically cowed him into submission. Ultimately, Obama only moved left on issues like immigration, marriage equality and the Keystone XL pipeline because of years of activist pressure. Conciliation and unity may be the order of the day, but there’s only so far they will go toward achieving progressive priorities.

Janea Wilson, Indigo Oliver and Camille Williams contributed fact-checking.

Branko Marcetic is a staff writer at Jacobin magazine and a 2019-2020 Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting fellow. He is the author of the new book Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden, available now from Verso.

if you like this, check out:

Copyright ©2020 by the INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, reader-funded publication, IN THESE TIMES does not oppose or endorse candidates for political office. (EIN: 94-2889692)

Posted on

California AG Charges Husband of LA Prosecutor for Pulling Gun on BLM Activists

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed charges against the husband of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey for pulling a gun on Black Lives Matter activists in March, according to a charging document published on Tuesday.

David Lacey was charged with three counts of assault with a firearm, a misdemeanor, according to the document (pdf), which was filed in the Superior Court of California on Monday.

Jackie Lacey’s office directed The Epoch Times to her campaign and David Lacey’s lawyer, neither of whom immediately responded to inquiries.

The incident unfolded in March at the Lacey’s home.

Melina Abdullah, who helped found Black Lives Matter LA, and other activists approached the house around 5:40 a.m. and knocked on the door. They were met by David Lacey, who Abdullah said “pulled a gun and pointed it at my chest.”

In video footage the activist shared, David Lacey appears to brandish a gun while saying, “Get off of my porch. I will shoot you.”

After a woman asks him to tell Jackie Lacey “that we’re here,” he added, “I don’t care who you are, get off my porch.”

He said he was going to call the police.

Jackie Lacey told reporters at a press conference following the incident that she and her husband called the police and weren’t sure what was happening.

“While I was upstairs, he ran downstairs. I could hear him talking to somebody. He came back up later and he said, ‘there are protesters outside the house, and I pulled my gun, and I asked them to leave.’”

Jackie Lacey said she does not believe it is “fair, or right,” for activists to show up at people’s homes, and the incident wasn’t the first time it happened.

Offers to meet with Black Lives Matter were rejected, the district attorney said, accusing activists of wanting to embarrass or intimidate her.

David Lacey was “profoundly sorry” and did not mean anyone any harm, his wife said.

“I, too, am sorry if anybody was harmed,” she said. “It’s never my intent to harm any protester. I just want to live in peace and do my job.”

Black Lives Matter LA didn’t respond to a request for comment. In a social media statement, the group shared a story about David Lacey being charged, using the hashtag “#JackieLaceyMustGo.”

The Los Angeles Police Department presented the case to Becerra’s office in April to avoid Lacey’s office having to prosecute the district attorney’s husband.

Lacey, the county’s first black district attorney, is facing a challenge from former San Francisco district attorney George Gascón. Lacey saw Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Laura Friedman, a state assemblywoman, withdraw their endorsements in June.

Posted on

Senate could be in session until deal reached on coronavirus bill

Some Republican senators have indicated they’re willing to forgo their usual August recess and remain in session until a deal is reached on the next coronavirus relief bill. White House officials and congressional Democrats are currently locked in a stalemate over what should be included in the next bill and have met almost daily to negotiate.

“I think we ought to stay until we get a deal,” Republican Senator Rick Scott, of Florida, told reporters Tuesday before the GOP conference lunch. Utah Senator Mitt Romney said, “People who are doing the negotiating need to be working around the clock to get it done.”

After the luncheon, Senator John Cornyn said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had told Republicans to be prepared to stay in session until White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have reached a deal with Democrats.

“Meadows and Mnuchin said that the Democrats still do not appear to be serious about reaching a negotiated outcome, and so we’re prepared to be in session until we get one,” Cornyn said.

Republicans have complained that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have refused to consider passing a smaller bill that would offer temporary solutions, like the short-term extension of a popular unemployment benefit that expired at the end of July. Democrats, who proposed their own $3 trillion bill in May to address the fallout from the pandemic, say that Republicans should have come to the negotiating table earlier.

Pelosi and Schumer also suspect that McConnell would not be willing to enter a second round of negotiations if his priorities are addressed in a smaller bill. Schumer has complained that McConnell has not been attending the meetings with Mnuchin and Meadows.

Pelosi, Schumer, Mnuchin and Meadows are meeting again on Tuesday afternoon. The treasury secretary told reporters beforehand that if Democrats were “serious” about negotiating, “we can do a deal quite quickly.” He added that the administration is willing to take executive action, although it is unclear what these measures would look like.

McConnell appeared to show some flexibility on Tuesday, saying he might support an extension of the $600 per week federal benefits on top of state unemployment insurance.

“It’s something I’m prepared to support. Even if I have some problems with certain parts of it,” McConnell said.

But many Republicans oppose the $600 per week because they think the payment, which along with existing unemployment benefits can exceed what many can make by working, could incentivize out-of-work Americans to remain unemployed. The Senate last week attempted to pass an extension of the benefit at $200 per week, but it was blocked by Democrats.

Because any bill will require 60 votes to pass, McConnell will need support from Democrats, meaning that the final legislation will probably have to include Democratic priorities. Some Republican incumbents who face tight reelection races in November may also feel pressure to support any bill, even if it does not fully square with their ideas of good governance.

“It’s not going to produce a kumbaya moment like we had back in March where everybody votes ‘aye.’ But the American people need help,” McConnell told reporters, referring to earlier coronavirus relief packages that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Posted on

While Joe Biden Dodges Interviews, His Wife Confirms on Fox: ‘He’ll Be There’ For Debates

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, put rumors to rest Tuesday afternoon in an interview with Fox New’s host Dana Perino with The Daily Briefing as to whether or not her husband will debate President Donald Trump.

“Yes, he’ll be there,” she said. Jill Biden also told Perino he plans to participate in all three scheduled debates. In fact, a recent New York Times editorial suggested that the presidential debates be scrapped completely and rumors began circulating that Biden’s camp was going to do just that.

The interview, however, focused on subjects that ranged from the Biden‘s love story to Jill’s favorite workout class.

She considers her husband neither right nor left but a “moderate,” she told Perino.

Dr. Jill Biden also touched on questions regarding her husband’s mental health, which is a subject of much speculation. She denied that there were any issues and was not pressed on the matter. She also spoke about her friendship with former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Biden said she is confused why Trump questions her husband’s health since they are around the same age — while choosing to avoid talking about her husband’s constant gaffes and memory lapses.

The interview didn’t touch hot issues like their son Hunter Biden’s ties to China and Ukraine or other issues that have recently surfaced about her husband’s role in the FBI’s investigation into Trump and Russia.

She, however, assure voters that the former Vice President will show up to all three debates — unless the push for him to skip the debates wins over.

Posted on

A new Senate bill would ban corporations from using facial recognition without people’s explicit consent

Alex Wong/Getty Images

  • A new bill in the Senate would curtail the use of facial recognition by private companies, requiring them to obtain people’s consent before scanning them with facial recognition tech.
  • It would also ban companies from selling people’s biometric identifiers, like face ID or fingerprint.
  • If passed, the bill would wipe out much of the business of controversial facial recognition companies like Clearview AI. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A new bill introduced in the Senate Tuesday would heavily curtail the use of facial recognition technology by individuals and private companies, and would ban them from selling biometric data, including pictures of people identified by facial recognition.

The National Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2020, cosponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), would make it illegal for corporations to use facial recognition to identify people unless they obtain those people’s consent and are carrying out facial recognition for a “valid business purpose.”

“Do we really want to live under constant surveillance by unaccountable corporations? I don’t. We cannot allow Orwellian facial recognition technology to continue to violate the privacy and civil liberties of the American people,” Sanders said in a statement to Business Insider.

If passed, the bill would leave little room for controversial facial recognition companies like Clearview AI to operate outside of government contracts. Clearview AI aggregates pictures of people from social media sites to build a searchable facial recognition database, which lets its clients identify people by uploading a photo of them — a practice that has drawn fierce backlash from privacy advocates.

“We can’t let companies scoop up or profit from people’s faces and fingerprints without their consent,” Merkley said in a statement. “We have to fight against a ‘big brother’ surveillance state that eradicates our privacy and our control of our own information, be it a threat from the government or from private companies.”

The bill’s introduction comes after a Reuters investigation revealed that Rite Aid had been using facial recognition cameras in hundreds of US stores without notifying customers. Rite Aid discontinued the practice following Reuters’ reporting last month.

A similar law has been passed in Illinois that bans the use of private facial recognition without permission. Facebook already had to pay $550 million to Illinois residents who filed a class action lawsuit related to the law, and similar lawsuits have been filed against Clearview AI, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google in the state.

Meanwhile, a bill introduced in the House last month seeks to ban the use of facial recognition by law enforcement agencies.

Privacy advocates — many of whom have been pushing for an outright ban of facial recognition technology — heralded the Senate bill as a step in the right direction.

“Right now in most states in the US, it would be totally legal for a big box store to set up surveillance cameras, scan the faces of everyone entering the store and compare them to a public mugshot database,” Fight for the Future Deputy Director Evan Greer told Business Insider. “If this legislation passes, that sort of creepy corporate surveillance would be impossible.”

Posted on

Washington state’s primaries reflect the perilous position of the national GOP

Washington state’s August 4 primaries aren’t flashy. In fact, they’ve gotten virtually no coverage in the national press. Yet a close look at three of the most interesting races — in the state’s Third, Eighth, and 10th congressional districts — reveal some important trends for the state of the election nationwide.

In the Third District, a Republican incumbent is in what one local outlet calls “the fight of her political life” — one of many signs that Republicans are on the defensive in the battle for Congress.

In the Eighth District, a vulnerable Democratic incumbent is crushing her Republican opposition in the fundraising race — part of a broader money problem Republicans are having in 2020 congressional races.

And in an open race for the safe Democratic 10th, the top tier of candidates features two more establishment-minded Democrats facing off against a progressive backed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — more evidence that the internal rifts facing the ascendant party will likely be with us for some time.

In short, Washington can help us understand just how well-positioned Democrats currently are in the 2020 national elections. It can also help us see why the party’s internal splits seem poised to become even more relevant after 2020.

Washington’s Third: A sign of trouble for Republicans

Washington’s Third Congressional District leans Republican, a few points more than the national average, according to Cook’s Partisan Voter Index.

Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler took the district as part of the Republican wave in 2010 and has held it ever since. She managed to hold on to it in 2018’s Democratic wave, defeating Carolyn Long, a professor of political science at Washington State University-Vancouver, by a 53-47 margin.

Tuesday’s primary looks like it’ll set up a November rematch. Long is the overwhelming favorite to face Herrera Butler after the state’s “top two” primary (in Washington, House candidates don’t compete in separate partisan primaries; instead, all candidates run in an open contest and the top two vote-getters compete against each other in the fall). This time around, Democrats seem to like their chances.

“With an influx of people moving to the suburban areas, along with automatic voter registration, there are over 45,000 more voters in the district, primarily in the suburban areas,” says Abby Olmstead, Long’s campaign manager. “We know these voters are far more likely to support Carolyn’s message.”

In January, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced “Red to Blue” fundraising support for Long — just one of 12 candidates nationwide to receive this kind of support in the first round. The Cascadia Advocate, a progressive outlet based in Washington, wrote in June that “Herrera Beutler is in the fight of her political life.” And in late July, Cook Political Report changed its assessment of the race in Long’s favor, shifting it from Likely Republican to the more competitive Lean Republican.

The most important explanation for Long’s rising fortunes is astonishingly simple, and isn’t primarily about local conditions. In general, House elections tend to track national conditions — that’s why you have “wave” elections like 2010 and 2018 in the first place. The collapse in the GOP’s national standing, and President Trump’s support in particular, is hurting Republicans.

“President Trump’s abysmal polling since the pandemic began is seriously jeopardizing down-ballot GOP fortunes,” Cook’s Dave Wasserman writes in his explanation of WA-03’s rating change. “Republicans began the cycle hoping to pick up 18 seats to win the majority back. Now they’re just trying to avoid a repeat of 2008, when they not only lost the presidency but … lost even more House seats after losing 30 seats and control two years earlier.”

In normal times, Herrera Beutler should be a solid favorite in this rematch. But the national climate, combined with the Democratic decision to unite around a credible candidate, means she could be in trouble — a sign of the desperate times for the national GOP.

Washington’s Eighth helps us understand the GOP’s woes

Washington’s Eighth is a very competitive district: In 2018, Democrat Kim Schrier flipped it, defeating Republican Dino Rossi by a 52-48 margin; this year, there are seven potential rivals competing to take it from her.

What’s most striking about the race is how financially advantaged Schrier is relative to her opponents. As of July 15, the incumbent had raised $3.2 million for her reelection bid. Her best-funded opponent, Republican former Army Ranger Jesse Jensen, had $192,207 — about 6 percent of Schrier’s total.

This is, once again, a national problem: While the Trump campaign is swimming in cash, the party’s House candidates are badly underfunded. In late July, the Washington Post reported that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was so worried that he had personally requested funding support from the Republican National Committee and the Trump team — requests that went unanswered. The Post explains the reason for his concern:

House Republicans originally believed they could win back a large number of the 31 Democratic seats in districts Trump carried in 2016, but now the NRCC’s top Democratic targets are sitting on million-dollar accounts, making them difficult to unseat. In fact, the DCCC’s 42 most-vulnerable front-line members have an average 5-to-1 cash advantage over their GOP opponents. Additionally, 30 Democratic challengers outraised their Republican foes in the second quarter of 2020, putting the party in a prime position to grow their ranks in the House.

The story is similar in the Senate. The Hill’s Max Greenwood reports that, in the second quarter of 2020, Democratic Senate candidates outraised Republicans in 13 out of the 15 most competitive races nationwide. In Maine, for example, Republican incumbent Susan Collins raised $3.6 million — while her challenger, state House Speaker Sara Gideon, raised $9.4 million.

Whichever challenger emerges after Tuesday’s primary, be it Jensen or one of his even more underfunded rivals, will have some ability to make up the gap — it’s much easier to raise money when there are only two candidates in the race. But there’s no guarantee that will solve the party’s fundraising woes in the district.

Washington’s 10th District: the ongoing battle for the Democratic Party

The Democratic-leaning 10th Congressional District is up for grabs for fairly unique reasons. Denny Heck, the representative who now holds the seat, is retiring to run for lieutenant governor. That position is open because the current lieutenant governor, Cyrus Habib, announced in March that he planned to resign and become a Catholic priest.

The race to replace Heck is extremely competitive, with 19 candidates in the race. There’s not much reliable polling, but it’s likely that two Democrats will end up facing off in the fall. According to the Seattle Times, there’s a group of Democrats leading the fundraising efforts in the district — and under Washington’s nonpartisan top-two primary system, the top two vote-getters regardless of party compete in November’s general election.

The three leading candidates in the district, per the Times, are three Democratic women: former state Rep. Kristine Reeves, former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, and state Rep. Beth Doglio. Reeves and Strickland have both been endorsed by prominent Washington state Democrats; Doglio’s most high-profile endorsements are Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and progressive Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-7). Their politics break down mostly on the lines you’d expect; Reeves and Strickland support a public option for health care, while Doglio is a Medicare-for-All supporter.

In an emailed statement to Vox, Doglio described the WA-10 election as “one of best, and only, opportunities across our country to elect a progressive to an open blue seat.” Reeves, by contrast, said that “voters in districts like the 10th Congressional District are sick and tired of extreme political partisanship and cheap political point scoring.” Strickland sounded a similar note, touting her ability to “work together across the ideological spectrum to solve problems and make progress.”

Behind these three, there are two other notable candidates, both men in their 20s. One is a socialist trucker named Joshua Collins, running under the banner of the Essential Workers Party; the other is Phil Gardner, a Democrat who previously worked as Heck’s district director.

Open districts aren’t exactly the archetypal race in Congress — incumbents tend to try to stay in office as long as they can. But in this case, it’s revealing. The significant left presence in the race, combined with national progressives’ direct intervention to support Doglio, shows that the progressive challenge to the Democratic establishment did not end with Sanders’s primary.

Tuesday night will provide another data point on how successful — or not — that challenge might prove to be.

Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

Posted on

Donald Trump spinning virus failure as a win again by celebrating ‘encouraging’ progress

The President also renewed blatantly false claims that the United States had done a better job than many other countries that are now seeing flareups of the disease that pale in comparison with the disaster in the southern United States.

In a news conference packed with dubious superlatives and gushing praise for his government’s work in fulfilling routine procurement tasks, Trump sketched a completely different reality from the one unfolding across the nation.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of his briefing was not the massive misrepresentations but that the White House is so confined to its constantly tested Covid-19 bubble that it actually believes its own propaganda.

“We are beginning to see evidence of significant progress nationwide,” Trump said, five months into a pandemic that he initially denied, and then neglected.

“An encouraging sign. Very encouraging,” Trump said, after cherry picking data and praising governors of Florida, Arizona and Texas — who allowed the virus to sweep through their states — for doing a “tremendous job.” He went on: “The virus is receding. In hot spots across the south and west, we’ve seen slow improvements from their recent weekly peaks.”

“I think we are doing very well and I think … as well as any nation,” Trump said baselessly, given that the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but around 25% of global deaths from Covid-19.

In an interview with Axios that aired later Monday night, when confronted with the United State’s daily death toll, Trump said, “They are dying. That’s true. And you — it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague that beset us.”

Earlier, Pence also spoke optimistically about the outbreak in southern and western states that enthusiastically embraced Trump’s demands for an early opening and were consequently hit by a deadly wave of infections.

“We are beginning to see not only plateauing but are beginning to see cases declining and emergency rooms decline,” Pence said on a call with governors.

Plateauing, after so much death and at such a high level of new infections in southern states is welcome. But it’s hardly a cause for celebration, given that infection rates would not have been so severe with proper virus management.

Trump and Pence vs. the experts

The President and Pence, razor focused on the election in exactly three months, spoke in a way that implicitly disregarded and may well have been intended to counter the warning of Birx, the coronavirus task force coordinator who said on CNN Sunday the virus was in a “new phase” as it bears down on rural areas where health care is often rudimentary.
Trump earlier complained that Birx had been drawn into criticizing the administration because Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused her of being too positive.

But Birx’s remarks were reinforced Monday by the government’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, no stranger to presidential rebukes, who painted a picture of an out-of-control pandemic.

“When you have community spread, it’s much more difficult to get your arms around that,” Fauci said during a news briefing with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat.

“When you have community spread, it’s insidious. There are people who are spreading it who have no symptoms at all, and we know that definitely occurs. It’s difficult to identify it, and it’s difficult to do identification, isolation and contact tracing,” Fauci added.

Trump appeared to get the message that the spreading of the virus in heartland areas would be damaging for him politically. He repeatedly used the word “rural” during his news conferences to stress his government was in control.

But for yet another day, message coming from the administration’s top political hitters and the medical experts was plagued by contradictions, not least because Trump seeks to obscure the real story with his daily briefings.

“What jumps out to me is we are in a crisis situation in America and we are hearing a narrative that doesn’t recognize that,” said Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

There are some encouraging signs in the seemingly endless fight against Covid-19. States such as New York, which ignored Trump’s demands for early opening — part of a federal approach its Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday was the “worst government blunder in modern history” — are doing well.

New infections are falling in Arizona, Texas and Florida, even though they remain at levels that suggest the downward curve will be prolonged.

But at least 30 states suffered higher rates of new deaths this past week compared to the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

In 12 of those states, the increase in deaths was at least 50%: Washington, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Texas, Mississippi, Michigan, Ohio, Maine, Virginia, West Virginia and Alaska.

And test positivity rates — an indicator of how rampantly a virus is spreading — remain stubbornly high in more than 30 states.

Multiple victory laps

No signs Trump has a plan as experts say the pandemic enters new phase

Throughout the pandemic, the administration has been desperate to proclaim victory and great progress and to move on, while pocketing a political victory that is incompatible with the facts of the virus.

From the same podium in the White House Briefing Room in mid-April, Trump signaled to Americans that their brief fight against the virus was already over.

“Now that we have passed the peak in new cases, we are starting our life again,” Trump had said. “We are starting rejuvenation of our economy again,” he said, while declaring the US would experience far fewer deaths than predicted. At that point, the disease had killed 30,000 Americans. Less than four months later, 155,000 are dead.

One month later, in May, and after the death toll from Covid-19 reached 80,000, the President was back with another “mission accomplished” moment.

“We have met the moment and we have prevailed,” he declared, though he later tried to walk back the remark by saying he was referred to testing. In that event, it was a distinction without a difference since health experts say that now, even in early August, the US still lacks a national testing and tracing operation.

As on Monday, Trump’s victory lap at that moment was contradicted by a warning from Fauci that was proven right by events.

“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to: ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country,” Fauci wrote in a May email to The New York Times that proved to be exactly correct.

“This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal,” Fauci had added.

Pence has also been guilty of misrepresenting the facts from his position as the head of the White House’s coronavirus task force.

Just six weeks ago, the vice president penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he castigated the media for accurate reports about a building disaster in southern and western states.

“In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a “second wave” of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown,” Pence wrote.

“We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”

Such commentary by the people in charge of stabilizing America during the worst domestic crisis since World War II is one reason that their politically motivated forecasts of imminent victory may have the opposite of their intended effect.