Friday Talking Points -- One-Third Of U.S. Economy Disappears

[ Posted Friday, July 31st, 2020 – 17:57 UTC ]

Let's all keep our eyes on the ball, shall we? The ball, in this case, being the fact that we just suffered the worst economic quarter ever. The gross domestic product dropped by 32.9 percent, or just shy (0.4 points) of one-third. This loss is three times bigger than the worst quarter ever previously measured. New unemployment claims were up again for the second week in a row, perhaps foreshadowing a "double-dip" recession, or even an actual depression.

So, of course, President Donald Trump decided to "win the news cycle" by floating the suggestion that he might just postpone the election:

The U.S. Commerce Department announced Thursday that despite trillions in emergency government spending, the economy shrunk a record 32.9 percent on a year-to-year basis between April and June. The devastating number is three times worse than any previous quarter, putting the U.S. economy on course to shrink more in 2020 than in 1932, at the depth of the [Great] Depression. The global economy was already facing its most severe recession since World War II. Within an hour of the news, President Trump called to delay the Nov. 3 U.S. election, citing, without evidence, the risk of massive voter fraud. Trump's suggestion was quickly rejected by most of his fellow Republicans.

That "within an hour" was generous, even. Others noted that Trump tweeted only sixteen minutes after the disastrous economic news was released. But again, let's not take his bait, at least for now.

Not only has the economy tanked by apocalyptic proportions, but several lifelines for those currently unemployed have now run out:

Already cutoff dates are coming and going. The federal ban on rental evictions expired Friday (though White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow promised it would be extended). The extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits under the Cares Act expire this coming Friday; the last checks have already gone out. And most small businesses that received loans under the Paycheck Protection Program have exhausted that money.

That was written earlier in the week, as "this coming Friday" is actually today. The $600 weekly benefit has now officially ended.

The coronavirus pandemic and the economic collapse have now focused the public on the absolute incompetence of the Republican Party writ large -- because it's not just limited to Donald Trump's vast shortcomings.

Nancy Pelosi's House passed a relief bill which would have avoided hitting all these deadlines, and she did so in the middle of May. Two and a half months ago, Democrats had already put their solution to the problem on the table. Mitch McConnell, at the time, said he wanted to "take a pause" rather than, you know, do his job. This pause ended two weeks ago, when McConnell emerged from his turtle shell to suddenly try to hammer together something his own Senate Republicans could vote on. This bill would never have passed the Democratic House (which McConnell was fully aware of), but he still wasted over a week finalizing it. He then refused to put it on the Senate floor for a vote, because he knew full well he didn't even have enough GOP votes to pass it.

Since McConnell put out his bill (one that President Trump called "semi-irrelevant"), McConnell has gone back to completely abdicating his duty once again. He washed his hands of the whole matter and let the White House minions duke it out with Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

No wonder Mitch McConnell is in severe danger of losing his majority in the chamber.

The White House is desperate for a bill, but not desperate enough quite yet. We'll see what they do after a 24-hour news cycle that will headline the fact that the 600 bucks just ended for tens of millions of American families who have been receiving it.

So far, the White House has reportedly caved on the amount (they're now offering much shorter-term $600 weekly payments, as opposed to the $200 the Senate had proposed) as well as throwing in the towel on the concept of providing businesses with years of blanket immunity from lawsuits (a key Senate demand).

Nancy Pelosi has the upper hand here, obviously, because any attempt to paint her as the obstructionist dragging her feet is just flat-out laughable. Quick reminder: the Senate did absolutely nothing for two and a half months. All of this could have been negotiated and dickered over during that time period, but it didn't happen because Republicans were refusing to even admit that any bill was necessary. While the American economy shrank by one-third. So it's pretty easy to see who is going to win this blame game, especially since it is so patently obvious which side is fighting for the people and which side is playing Scrooge. Or perhaps Scrooge McDuck.

Which everyone is taking note of. After admitting that the Democratic plan "isn't perfect," a Washington Post columnist summed up the situation nicely:

But at least it's a plan; at least Democrats took a vote, while Republicans are stumbling around looking for their pants; and at least Democrats have accounted for economic reality, rather than parrot ideological "common sense" with all the accuracy of an anti-vaccination poster on Facebook.

So let's recap the past several weeks: Against the warnings of experts, states mostly led by Republicans begin to reopen. As COVID-19 cases start to surge, Republicans resisted reversing course, likely prompting another round of closings and possibly prolonging the associated depression. Now Americans who will face more time out of work thanks to those mistakes are also facing more time without government relief because that same party can't get its act together. It would be almost funny, if it weren't so sad.

One interesting commentary we've heard is that all the newfound enthusiasm on the Republican side for "being fiscally responsible" and "not adding to the deficit" is really an admission that they're about to lose big time in the 2020 election. With a new President Biden next year, the Republicans were always going to revert to form anyway (trying to deny Biden everything by sanctimoniously saying "we can't afford it," in other words). So why not start this effort now? But perhaps that's too cynical. Or optimistic -- take your choice.

What this all means is that when a bill is agreed to by the White House, it will pass the House because Nancy Pelosi will have gotten the lion's share of what she wanted. It will then pass the Senate with mostly Democratic votes, along with a handful of Republicans who are now terrified at their chances of being re-elected. We wrote about this earlier in the week in more detail. The only question is how long the White House minions keep the Kabuki show going before all of that happens. And already, they're showing serious cracks.

In a related story, the House has now passed 10 out of the 12 appropriations bills that are necessary to keep the government open past the end of September. Pelosi -- even in the midst of the current negotiations -- is putting McConnell to shame once again. The House Democrats are doing their job on the budget bills, so when October first looms guess whose fault it will be if things haven't been hammered out? The same Mitch McConnell who is guilty of wasting so much time now.

The other big political news of the week was the mourning of John Lewis. Three ex-presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama) gave eulogies. Neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence attended. Here's how Trump initially reacted:

It took 14 hours for Trump to tweet condolences after Lewis died on July 17 at the age of 80 from pancreatic cancer. In the interim, he posted dozens of tweets, including attacks on his opponent Joe Biden, his former national security adviser John Bolton and his niece Mary Trump. Then he golfed with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). By the time Trump put out a two-sentence tweet, with 23 words, all four living former presidents, plus Vice President Pence and dozens of lawmakers, had released statements of their own.

"Saddened to hear the news of civil rights hero John Lewis passing. Melania and I send our prayers to he [sic] and his family," Trump wrote.

Compare the president's terse tweet about Lewis, the last surviving member of the Big Six who organized the 1963 March on Washington, to his quick reaction this weekend after former Who Wants to be a Millionaire host Regis Philbin died at 88.

"One of the greats in the history of television, Regis Philbin has passed on to even greater airwaves," Trump wrote. "He was a fantastic person, and my friend. He kept telling me to run for President. Holds the record for 'most live television', and he did it well. Regis, we love you. And to Joy, his wonderful wife who he loved so much, my warmest condolences!!!"

Moving right along... there's a new Trump tell-all book out, and it's got a real doozy of a story in it:

Mar-a-Lago was bustling on the second night of President Donald Trump's Southern White House summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Feb. 11, 2017.... Dawn Basham, one of Trump's favorite lounge singers, was the evening's entertainment....

As Abe listened, Trump requested four songs and told Basham what a great job she was doing. Then the president asked Basham to twirl around for the men.... Almost precisely at mid-twirl, things began to change. A flurry of activity began at the president's table. Something had happened. Something with North Korea. Basham tried to make her exit. "Mr. President, I shouldn't know this," someone heard the performer say. Trump shrugged. "It's just nukes," the president said. "Sing us a song."

Because of course he did. It was also revealed this week that on Trump's recent phone call with his buddy Vladimir Putin, Trump didn't even bring up the bounties paid to the Taliban to kill American soldiers. Because of course he didn't.

It was also revealed this week that the Trump administration is going after journalists using tools that were supposed to be used to fight terrorists. No, really:

The Department of Homeland Security has compiled "intelligence reports" about the work of American journalists covering protests in Portland, Ore., in what current and former officials called an alarming use of a government system meant to share information about suspected terrorists and violent actors.

Over the past week, the department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis has disseminated three Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies and others, summarizing tweets written by two journalists -- a reporter for the New York Times and the editor in chief of the blog Lawfare -- and noting they had published leaked, unclassified documents about D.H.S. operations in Portland. The intelligence reports, obtained by The Washington Post, include written descriptions and images of the tweets and the number of times they had been liked or retweeted by others.

In pandemic news, Louie Gohmert -- one of those House Republicans that has been belittling face masks and pressuring his own staff not to wear them -- tested positive for COVID-19. He then astonishingly called together his staff and appeared in person to deliver the news to them -- showing a frightening disregard for their safety. Also, Herman Cain has now died from the coronavirus. He entered the hospital with severe symptoms a month ago, shortly after attending Trump's Tulsa rally (with no mask on).

Trump's poll numbers continue to tank, especially on his handling of the pandemic. He's now down to 32 percent approval on the subject, while 68 percent disapprove of his handling of the crisis.

Trump has apparently decided that the way to improve his re-election chances is to mentally go back to the gauzy 1950s. Here's his racist dog-whistle plea to (you just can't make this up) "The Suburban Housewives of America":

"I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood," he wrote on Twitter. He was referring to his desire to repeal a fair housing rule -- signed into law in 1968 and strengthened under the Obama administration -- that was created to make sure federal funds didn't support discriminatory housing practices. But he was also continuing an imagined dialogue with a very specific group of voters:

"The Suburban Housewives of America must read this article," he'd tweeted the week before, linking to an opinion column bashing the housing rule. "Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!"

. . .

Trump, the only president for whom "unbridled capitalism" could refer to either an economic philosophy or a grammar lesson gone terribly wrong, was telegraphing multiple things with these phrases. One: that Suburban Housewives of America are the demographic that his advisers have told him he needs to wrestle back from Joe Biden to win the election. (In a recent NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll, 66 percent of suburban women said they disapproved of the job Trump was doing overall.) Two: that he assumed this demographic would respond well to barely disguised racial fearmongering. Three: that his understanding of women voters is based on six reruns of Happy Days plus a vacuum cleaner ad from 1957.

In the "that's gotta hurt" category, we have two items: (1) Trump niece Mary Trump said she's going to do "everything in my power" to help elect Joe Biden. And: (2) the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute had to tell the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign team to stop using St. Ronnie's image to raise money for Trump. Ouch!

Joe Biden, meanwhile, has been continuing to campaign, as he rolled out his final policy plan for his "Build Back Better" campaign agenda:

The plan calls for dedicating $30 billion of previously proposed spending on a small business opportunity fund for black, brown and Native American entrepreneurs.

Biden is also proposing to triple the goal for federal contracting with small disadvantaged businesses, from 5 percent to at least 15 percent of all spending on materials and services by 2025.

And he is calling for President Trump and Congress to create an emergency housing support program, along with promoting a refundable tax credit of up to $15,000 to help families purchase their first homes.

By the end of next week, we should also know who Biden's running mate will be (unless he slips the schedule again). So there's that to look forward to (and rampantly speculate about in the meantime).

OK, have we dealt with everything else in the news? Then here goes....

We end with the least-important news item of the week, because it was so unserious. Trump did indeed get lots and lots of political journalists to chase his shiny object of floating the idea of -- for the first time ever in American history -- postponing the election. He, of course, has zero power to do so, which is why it was so unserious. Trump himself was even walking it back by the end of the day, which wasn't too surprising when you consider how his fellow Republicans reacted:

Marco Rubio -- "He can suggest whatever he wants. The law is what it is. We're going to have an election that's legitimate, it's going to be credible, it's going to be the same as we've always done it. I wish he hadn't said that. But it's not going to change. We're going to have an election in November. And people should have confidence in it."

Chuck Grassley -- "It doesn't matter what one individual in this country says," Grassley said. "We still are a country based on the rule of law. And we must follow the law until either the Constitution is changed or until the law is changed."

Mitch McConnell -- "Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions, and the Civil War have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we'll find a way to do that again this November 3."

Outside of Congress, other conservatives were just as scathing:

Many conservative thought leaders expressed alarm about Trump's suggestion to postpone the election. Steven Calabresi, a co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society that has helped the administration identify committed conservatives for judicial appointments, called Trump's tweet appalling and argued that it could be "grounds for the president's immediate impeachment" a second time. "Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats' assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic," wrote Calabresi, a Northwestern University law professor, in an op-ed for the New York Times.

"Trump's suggestion to delay the election is the most anti-democratic thing any president ever said," writes conservative columnist Henry Olsen.

The Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial board says delaying the election is "a dreadful idea."

The real irony in all of this was pointed out in a Politico article:

"Mark my words, I think [President Donald Trump] is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can't be held," former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in April.

Trump rejected Biden's warning days later at a news briefing conducted by the White House coronavirus task force.

"I never even thought of changing the date of the election," he said. "Why would I do that? November 3rd. It's a good number. No, I look forward to that election."

Trump's reelection team was similarly dismissive at the time of Biden's remarks.

"Those are the incoherent, conspiracy theory ramblings of a lost candidate who is out of touch with reality," Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's communications director, said in a statement.

Matt Wolking, the Trump campaign's deputy communications director, tweeted at the time: "Joe Biden's conspiracy theory is irresponsible and has no basis in reality."

That Murtaugh quote can be used verbatim to now describe President Donald Trump. You don't even need to change a single word.

From a different article on the same subject:

On Fox News that night, anchors and guests castigated and mocked Biden for the remarks, saying he was deranged and trying to instill fear in the electorate. "Someone might want to check up on Joe Biden during this lockdown -- he's saying some very strange things," said Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and former GOP presidential candidate, calling Biden's prediction "a bizarre conspiracy theory."

Well, Mike, now we know who is the presidential candidate "saying some very strange things," don't we? Might want to check up on Trump, as you suggested.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi certainly has been impressive all week long, as has Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. But we're going to hold off on giving them more than Honorable Mention awards until we see the final plan.

Easily the most impressive Democrat this week was Barack Obama, who gave the best eulogy for John Lewis of any of the speakers at his funeral. Here's one review of Obama's remarks:

Obama ripped into "our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators." That's the sort of violence Lewis repeatedly braved. And it's the sort that was waged to clear a path for Trump's grand appeal to illiberal religious nationalism and to create the TV imagery of state violence against domestic dissent that is supposed to galvanize just enough reactionary sentiment among White voters to enable another counter-majoritarian electoral college inside straight.

Obama also tore into the voter suppression tactics targeting Democratic and minority voters still in operation today -- many put in place by GOP legislatures and egged on by Trump since. And Obama pilloried efforts to undermine the postal service "in the run-up to an election that's going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don't get sick."

Trump is already undermining vote-by-mail just about every day -- having unabashedly revealed that this is really about ensuring fewer people exercise their right to vote against Republicans, that is, against him.

"John Lewis devoted his time on this earth fighting the very attacks on democracy and what's best in America that we're seeing circulate right now," Obama said. "That's why John crossed that bridge. That's why he spilled his blood."

And Obama called for strengthened voting rights going forward, including a revitalized Voting Rights Act and the removal of all manner of barriers to participation.

That reference to interfering with the post office is an important one, if you haven't heard of it yet. A Washington Post article aptly titled: "Three presidents embrace the struggle for rights. Trump suggests postponing the election." also pointed out that Obama minced no words comparing what Lewis and so many others went through back in the Civil Rights Era with what was going on today:

Bull Connor may be gone. But today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans. George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.

Obama also called for the filibuster to be scrapped, since it has outlived any usefulness it may once have had. He also noted its use against the civil rights bills back in the 1960s.

For his stirring words spoken in the same church Martin Luther King Jr. used to preach in -- but mostly just for reminding Americans once again what the word "presidential" truly means -- Barack Obama is easily the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.

[President Barack Obama is now a private citizen, so you'll have to look up his contact information for yourselves if you'd like to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

We're going to give a group award to all the behind-the-scenes delegates to the Democratic National Convention who are not just having a disagreement right now, but are doing so in a very disappointing way:

A Democratic Party meeting that leaders hoped would project unity weeks ahead of the national convention instead broke out into a behind-the-scenes feud over corporate money in politics. At a virtual gathering of a key committee for the National Democratic Convention, Bernie Sanders-allied members said Joe Biden appointees called them "children" and made other rude comments in a breakout room where they were talking privately.

The argument served as a reminder of the tensions that are still simmering below the surface between moderate and progressives as the party seeks a united front against President Donald Trump. It also shows the limited power of Biden and Sanders, whose teams worked closely to hash out a deal on another plan under consideration by the committee with the goal of showing harmony.

"It was not only disturbing, but disrespectful," said Nina Turner, Sanders' former campaign co-chair who served on the committee. "Disgusting, disturbing, unacceptable. And it's no way to restore the faith of the people who already suspect the Democratic Party is unfair."

The pro-Bernie delegates weren't blameless in this either, as one was quoted saying something too scatological for us to repeat here.

Seriously, guys and gals, right now is the exact wrong time to have a playground fight with rude and insulting language. Disagree on the party platform all you want -- nobody's going to read it anyway, after all -- but please let's keep it civil, shall we?

The whole lot of them are hereby awarded the Most Disappointing Democrats Of The Week award. Hmmph.


Friday Talking Points

Volume 584 (7/31/20)

Once again, our talking points are all over the map. You know what a whole bunch of Americas are desperately hoping for? One single week -- just one single week -- that doesn't contain multiple constitutional crises within it. Hopefully, that week could come as soon as late January of next year.


   Stopping to smell the roses

Once again, so downright clueless as to hardly be believable.

"First Lady Melania Trump this week announced she'd be redesigning the White House Rose Garden. Because obviously, that's what most of America has been pining for over the past few months. 'Why oh why can't we have a more beautiful Rose Garden?' the public has demanded, since with so much peace and prosperity and calm the public is interested in nothing else. I'm sorry... was that too snarky? I don't believe it was, actually. After her announcement the hashtag #MarieAntoinette was trending on social media. The best tweet of all was far more snarky than I could ever come up with: 'Marie Antoinette would TOTALLY nod her head to Melania Trump's tone-deaf aloofness if she still had a head.'"


   Incoherent conspiracy theory ramblings (Part 1)

This is just too, too easy.

"Irony in the Trump White House is deader than a doornail. In this week's installment, China reacted to Donald Trump floating the idea of postponing our election by actually postponing Hong Kong's election. Pretty hard to take the high road on that one, but Kayleigh McEnany gave it the ol' college try. She denounced China for such an anti-democratic move without batting an eye. Earlier, of course, when Joe Biden had suggested that Trump might try to delay the election, his campaign communications director responded with scorn: 'Those are the incoherent, conspiracy theory ramblings of a lost candidate who is out of touch with reality.' No word yet on whether he's changing his tune now that Donald Trump is the one spouting such, quote, incoherent conspiracy theory ramblings, unquote."


   Incoherent conspiracy theory ramblings (Part 2)

Speaking of incoherent conspiracy theory ramblings....

"Donald Trump and his son Junior were both castigated by Twitter this week for posting a video of a deranged woman doctor rambling on about how there 'is already a cure' for the coronavirus [spoiler alert -- there isn't] and how masks are not medically useful for fighting the spread of the disease [spoiler alert -- they are]. This woman is a real wackadoodle, folks, who has stated her beliefs that gynecological problems and male impotence are caused by 'spirit husbands' and 'spirit wives' who have sex with people in their sleep. These demon incubi and succubae once walked the Earth in physical form, but drowned in Noah's flood. Oh, and that alien D.N.A. is being used in medicines and that government scientists are developing a vaccine to prevent religious faith. Now, one wackadoodle on YouTube wouldn't normally be a national news story, but when President Wackadoodle retweets her, it becomes one. Donald Trump is not just the 'reality TV president,' he's also the conspiracy-theorist-in-chief."


   Team Trump goes dark

Say what? Less than 100 days from an election?

"Days after it was reported that the Trump campaign has entirely pulled out of Michigan television markets, it was revealed that Team Trump had reportedly stopped spending any money on television ads anywhere in the country. That's right -- they've gone totally dark. They say it is because they are still getting used to the new campaign management (which was shaken up a few weeks back), but one wonders if they're actually on to something. After all, the more the public sees of Trump -- whether at rallies or giving his coronavirus briefings -- the more the public moves away from him and into the arms of Joe Biden. So maybe they're trying a new strategy: don't say anything about Trump at all, and maybe his poll numbers will go up? Hey, nothing else has worked, so perhaps this will do the trick. At this point, it couldn't hurt."


   Speaking of going dark...

Sadly, other Republicans have definitely picked up on Trump's barely-concealed racism in their own ads.

"Lindsey Graham hit a new low this week by releasing an ad against his opponent -- a Black man -- which takes a normal photo of him and darkens his skin and the background so much it's hard to even see the guy's face at all. Subtle, Lindsey... real subtle. His campaign called such accusations 'fake' and a 'non-story.' Jaime Harrison later emailed a message to his supporters pointing out that Graham 'is playing a part in a 400-year history of an Old South that had no room for people who looked like me. Our state is hurting right now, and we must keep our eye on the ball and fight for the people of the Palmetto State. Lindsey Graham might have darkened my face -- but it's Lindsey who the people of South Carolina can't recognize.' Which is an excellent way to put it."


   And how about some anti-Semitism?

Graham wasn't the only Republican senator caught blowing dog whistles this week, sadly.

"Jon Ossoff, who is Jewish, is running for David Perdue's Senate seat in Georgia. Purdue recently put out an attack ad featuring Ossoff and fellow Jew Chuck Schumer which declared that 'Democrats are trying to buy Georgia!' The photo of Ossoff had been manipulated to make his nose bigger and wider, just for good measure. This is the rankest of anti-Semitism, but apparently Perdue thinks that's what it'll take to hold onto his Senate seat. Surprising exactly no one, absolutely no other Republicans denounced the ad."


   Go Kris!

And finally, an amusing thing to hope for.

"Kansas will be holding its primary next Tuesday, and Democrats everywhere are watching with fascination to see if the state's voters nominate Kris Kobach for the Senate race there. Kobach winning the GOP nod would definitely put this Senate seat into contention, since Kobach recently lost a race for governor to a Democrat -- precisely because Kansas voters thought he was far too extreme to hold statewide office. If any other GOP candidate wins the primary, the Democrat won't have the slightest chance of victory in the general election, but if Kobach wins the nomination, we've got a solid shot at it. So I'd just like to personally say: 'Go, Kris!' and wish him the best of luck next Tuesday."

-- Chris Weigant


All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground