- President Trump has ordered meatpacking and processing facilities to stay open.
- The meat industry has become a hotspot for coronavirus outbreaks, causing many facilities to temporarily shut down and prompting concerns about meat shortages.
- Meat industry leaders have repeatedly pushed the administration to allow them to stay open, arguing that they are critical infrastructure. On Sunday, Tyson Foods ran a full-page ad in several prominent newspapers that asserted the company’s operations are “as essential as health care.”
- However, union leaders and meat plant workers slammed Trump’s decision and said that worker protections need to be ensured.
Trump Signs Executive Order
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday compelling meatpacking and processing plants to stay open, despite growing coronavirus outbreaks in facilities.
Through the order, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) to classify the plants as critical infrastructure that must remain open.
The move comes as meat processing and packing facilities throughout the country have become hotspots for coronavirus outbreaks, sickening thousands and pushing industry giants to shutter operations.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said on Tuesday that at least 20 meatpacking and food processing workers have died of the coronavirus, and more than 6,500 have either tested positive, missed work to self-quarantine, or shown symptoms.
The UFCW also said that 22 plants have closed at some point over the last two months, many at the urging of unions or state and local officials.
Those closures have already cut into the national meat supply, prompting concerns about meat shortages. Some economists have predicted that consumers could see fewer options starting as early as next month if closures continue at the current rate.
“Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency,” the executive order states.
“Given the high volume of meat and poultry processed by many facilities, any unnecessary closures can quickly have a large effect on the food supply chain.”
Pressure From Meat Industry
The president’s order is expected to please major meat companies like Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and JBS USA, which have continually argued that they are essential operations, and resisted closing plants that saw large outbreaks despite pressure from authorities.
In at least two Missouri towns, coronavirus outbreaks in plants spread to the surrounding counties, causing rural communities that host processing facilities to report higher infection rates than major cities in the state.
In South Dakota, an outbreak at one single Smithfield Foods pork processing plant accounted for more than half the number of confirmed cases in the entire state.
But the industry has still put significant pressure on the Trump administration to keep plants open.
On Sunday, Tyson ran a full-page ad in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette declaring that “the food supply chain is breaking.”
“We have a responsibility to feed our country,” the ad stated. “It is as essential as health care. This is a challenge that should not be ignored. Our plants must remain operational so that we can supply food to our families in America.”
Unions and Workers Slam Decision
While the executive order seems to be exactly in line with the meat industry’s interests, union leaders were quick to criticize the decision.
In a statement, UFCW President Marc Perrone said the Trump administration must take steps to ensure worker safety, such as providing protective equipment through the federal stockpile, ensuring daily testing for workers and communities, enforcing physical distancing, and giving full paid sick leave.
“While we share the concern over the food supply, today’s executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country’s meatpacking workers first,” Perrone said. “Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers.”
Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, echoed Perrone’s call to put safety first in a tweet, while also condemning Trump’s decision.
“Using executive power to force people back on the job without proper protections is wrong and dangerous,” he wrote.
Other union leaders took even stronger stances against the president’s actions.
“We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Some workers at meatpacking plants have also said Trump’s executive order indicated that he wanted to sacrifice their health and safety to restart the economy.
“To me it’s just putting more people in danger,” Robert Hope, who worked at the Tyson plant for 25 years, told the Times. “He is not concerned about the people’s life and well-being.”
However, many experts have said that the new executive order is likely to further endanger worker safety while prioritizing legal protections for the companies.
While speaking to the media on Tuesday, Trump said he would shield meat companies from legal liability that may stem from workers claims that they are not being protected by their employers. The president said the liability risks processors faced from operating during the pandemic were “unfair” to the meat industry.
On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued interim guidelines for meatpacking and processing facilities outlining procedures for cleaning shared equipment and providing information for how companies can use barriers to ensure social distancing for workers, who usually work shoulder-to-shoulder.
The guidelines also called for the use of personal protective equipment and changing sick leave policies so workers are not penalized for taking days off because they have the coronavirus. The guidance, however, is voluntary, and it is unclear how many companies will follow.
Even then, Trump’s new executive order explicitly states that its enforcement “may differ from or be inconsistent with” the new guidance.
Right now, it is unclear how the executive order addresses worker protections, if at all. The resulting effect will likely be that more meatpacking and processing workers will join some of their peers who have already filed lawsuits alleging their employers did not do enough to protect them.
There are also legal questions as to whether the DPA allows the president to grant businesses blanket immunity from being liable for workers who get sick on the job.
As more states and cities begin to reopen, businesses have been pushing the White House and Congress to ensure that they will not be held liable if a worker or customer gets the coronavirus. According to reports, the issue is set to be discussed during the next round of congressional negotiations.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”