- 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)
Trump Encourages Florida Mail-In Voting But Sues in Nevada
- President Trump claimed Tuesday that voting by mail in Florida is safe and encouraged Floridians to do so, a significant reversal from his numerous false claims about the security of voting by mail.
- However, that same day, his campaign sued leaders in Nevada over a mail-in voting expansion law.
- Critics pointed out that it is not the first time Trump has gone after Democrat-led states for expanding mail-in voting when Republican-led states have done the same. Others claimed that Trump only praised Florida because he voted by mail in the state during the March primary.
- Experts have said that there is no difference between mail-in voting safety in states led by Democrats or Republicans, and while Florida does have strong safeguards, many other states have the same protections.
Trump Encourages Florida Mail-In Voting
After months of falsely claiming that mail-in voting will result in fraud, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that voting by mail is safe in Florida— where he voted by mail in the March primary— and encouraged Floridians to do the same.
“Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True,” the president tweeted. “Florida’s Voting system has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats attempts at change), so in Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail! #MAGA”
However, that same day, Trump’s campaign sued Nevada for expanding its mail-in ballot rules.
When asked by reporters later in the day why he believed voting by mail was safe in Florida but not other states, Trump said that the system is better because it was set up by Republican governors.
“So Florida has got a great Republican governor, and it had a great Republican governor. Ron DeSantis, Rick Scott, two great governors. And over a long period of time, they’ve been able to get the absentee ballots done extremely professionally. Florida is different from other states,” he said.
However, experts have pointed out that there is no evidence that Republicans run better mail-in ballot systems than Democrats. While it is true that Florida does have particularly strong safeguards for mail-in voting, so do plenty of other states with Democratic governors.
In fact, of the five states that held statewide vote-by-mail elections before the pandemic, four are lead by Democratic governors and only one is lead by a Republican.
While Trump telling people to vote by mail after numerous attempts to undermine the system represents a significant reversal, the move is not surprising. In recent weeks, Trump has specifically and repeatedly gone after states led by Democrats for expanding vote-by-mail rules during the pandemic even as states led by Republicans have done the same.
On Monday, Trump called a new Nevada law that sends ever registered voter a mail-in ballot “an illegal late-night coup” that would make it “impossible for Republicans to win the state.”
Hours after Trump made his erroneous remarks about Florida, it was reported that his campaign was suing Nevada leaders over the new law. According to reports, the lawsuit said the new rule will make “voter fraud and other ineligible voting inevitable.”
Among other things, the suit claims that the legislation is unconstitutional because it will allow ballots that do not have clear postmark dates to be accepted up to three days after the general election, which it says “effectively extends the congressionally established Election Day.”
Mail-In Voting & Michigan
For months, Trump has been accused of doing everything in his power to undermine the nationwide expansion of vote by mail systems.
In addition to consistently spreading misinformation about mail-in voting, critics have also alleged that Trump has been gutting the U.S. Postal Service to intentionally slow down mail delivery— a move that could drastically sway the results of the election, and has particularly alarming implications for results in key swing states.
Every battleground state, with the exception of North Carolina, has laws that prevent mail-in ballots from being counted if they arrive after Election Day. A slow postal service could result in tens if not hundreds of thousands of ballots being invalidated.
For states like Michigan, where Trump won by just over 10,000 votes in 2016, that could prove pivotal. Even before the postal delays, 4,683 ballots were rejected during the state’s March presidential primary election because they arrived late.
With the new delays, election officials worry those numbers will be even higher, and it is possible they are already seeing the effects. On Tuesday, Michigan voters cast ballots in the state’s congressional and local primary races—which are held months after the presidential primary.
In that election, officials reported that a record number of people voted absentee, with voters returning more than 1.6 million ballots. Notably, that is still almost half a million short of the over two million people that had requested absentee ballots.
According to reports, it is unclear if that is due to people just not filling out the ballots, or if it was caused by the mail delays. While speaking to reporters Tuesday, Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she expects that even more ballots will be thrown out later this week when officials receive late ballots from the Postal Service.
Regardless, the surge in absentee voting has already lead to delayed results. To prepare for the general election, Benson says that legislation at both the state and federal level needs to be passed. The Michigan State Legislature, she argued, must pass a law allowing clerks to count absentee ballots before Election Day and allowing ballots postmarked on election day to be counted.
As for the federal government, Benson said it needs to fully fund the USPS again and provide money for things like high-speed tabulators for absentee ballots.
“In November, we’ll have potentially three million ballots sent through the mail,” she added. “And we’ve essentially reached the limits of our system.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Politico) (The New York Times)
Census Bureau Cuts All Counting Efforts Short By One Month
- The Census Bureau announced that it will end all counting efforts on Sept. 30, a move numerous experts and census workers have said will drastically skew the census data and make it basically unusable.
- Around 4 out of 10 households have not responded to the census, and now the bureau has just under two months to count tens of millions of people.
- Experts have said the decision will specifically hurt communities of color, immigrants, and lower-income households.
- The move comes after President Trump passed an order directing the census bureau to calculate the congressional seats each state gets without including undocumented immigrants in the population count.
- Many argue both actions were done intentionally by the Trump administration to benefit Republicans because excluding historically undercounted groups, and specifically undocumented immigrants, will give them more seats.
Census Bureau Announcement
The Census Bureau released a statement late Monday announcing that it will end all counting efforts on Sept. 30, a full month early.
The move sparked widespread concern from many experts and politicians who argue the decision will undermine the national population count, which is the sole determinant for how congressional seats are allocated and trillions of dollars in federal aid is given to states for infrastructure, schools, health care, and more for the next decade.
Not only is the 2020 census the largest and most complicated count in American history, it also comes during a pandemic. The way the census works is that the bureau first asks people to respond themselves through mail, phone, or online— a process called “self-response.”
After that, the agency goes door-to-door to households that did not respond. Now, the bureau is cutting the in-person counting process short at a time when it has already been delayed by the pandemic.
Because of those delays, earlier this year, the bureau extended door-to-door efforts to the end of October instead of the original date which was set in July. As a result, the in-person interviews started last month in certain parts of the U.S. and are set to be expanded to the rest of the country next week.
But while the counting deadline was pushed, the deadline for turning in the data that says how congressional seats will be reallocated was not. Federal law says that the Census Bureau has to send population totals to the president by Dec. 31 of every census year.
However, because the in-person counting itself was delayed, experts and current top Census Bureau officials have been saying for months now that the December deadline is impossible.
Tim Olson, the census official leading field operations for the count, outlined those concerns as early as May.
“We have passed the point where we could even meet the current legislative requirement of Dec. 31. We can’t do that anymore,” he said during a webcast.
The Census Bureau, for its part, did try to have that date pushed. Around the same time the agency delayed the counting deadline, they also asked Congress to push the December data deadline to April 2021.
The House approved that ask in their $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill passed in May, but the Senate’s proposal, which has not passed yet, does not include the extension.
When the idea was first floated, Trump himself publicly said he supported extending the deadline to April 2021. Now, it seems like that has changed because census workers have said the White House and the Commerce Department have been pushing the bureau to speed up the process.
In its Monday Statement, the Census Bureau specifically said that it was cutting the count short and making these changes to meet the Dec. 31 deadline outlined by the administration.
Now, the bureau will have just under two months to count all those unresponsive households to meet a deadline many say is already unrealistic. That is incredibly significant because the already delayed and now shortened door-to-door outreach is starting at a time with the lowest self-response rate in history.
According to reports, around 4 out of every 10 households in the U.S. have still not been counted. Many experts are worried that tons of people will be undercounted, and that absolutely essential data will be skewed.
“The chances of having a census accurate enough to use is unclear — very, very much unclear,” Kenneth Prewitt, the bureau director from 1998 to 2001 told Congress members during a hearing last week.
Prewitt spoke along with three other former census directors, who warned Congress that the lack of adequate time to follow up in person with households that have not responded and to go to communities that are traditionally hard to contact will result in many people not being counted. As a result, the federal aid for those communities will be lowered and the political representation will be lessened.
That is a serious problem period, but especially because of the pandemic.
“Rushing census operations, as the administration is attempting to do, ensures the bureau won’t count millions of people — especially those hit hardest by the pandemic,” Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post. “It will leave the country with inaccurate numbers that deprive communities of resources, political power and the federal assistance necessary to recover from the pandemic for the next 10 years.”
These facts are also even more concerning because the communities that are more likely to be counted during the in-person interviews are also those that have been hardest by the pandemic.
Historically, people of color, immigrants, low-income households, people experiencing homelessness, college students, and elderly people in assisted living facilities are less likely to fill out a census form on their own.
Trump’s Immigration Orders
But that’s not even the only issue that the Census Bureau’s announcement poses for some of those communities. In the statement, the agency also said it “continues its work on meeting the requirements” of two orders from President Donald Trump.
The first is an executive order from last July that told administrative agencies to collect data on undocumented immigrants to give counts that states could then use to draw congressional districts did not include those groups. Trump signed the rule after the Supreme Court ruled that the Commerce Department could not put a question on the census asking people if they were U.S. citizens.
The second order is a presidential memorandum from two weeks ago telling the bureau to calculate the number of congressional seats each state gets without including undocumented immigrants in the population count. The memo is already the subject of numerous lawsuits and is widely viewed by legal scholars as unconstitutional.
Some experts have said that even if the order is not upheld, it could still impact undocumented representation because those communities will be worried that their answers will be used against them and will not respond.
“They clearly have an agenda for not counting undocumented immigrants in the apportionment count,” Gupta said. “I think the administration knows their order isn’t going to be constitutional. Maybe through fear of it, they’re trying to get to the same place.”
If that order goes through, it could drastically shift the outcome of the census. Studies have shown that not counting undocumented immigrants could help Republicans.
According to the University of Virginia Center for Politics, excluding undocumented immigrants from the census would mean California would lose two House seats, New Jersey would lose one seat, Texas would gain two seats instead of three.
Meanwhile, Alabama and Ohio would both gain a seat despite the fact that they are currently not expected to gain seats under a conventional count.
Trump Accused of Skewing Data Intentionally
Many have said that Trump’s order to exclude undocumented immigrants explains why the administration wants to speed up the census.
According to legal experts, if the order is to have any chance of succeeding, the census totals for redistricting need to be delivered to Trump while he is still in office.
“An end-of-year delivery of population figures could provide a different avenue for Mr. Trump to remove undocumented immigrants — by not counting them in the first place,” The New York Times explains. “And delaying the totals until next year, as had been planned, would open the possibility that the totals would go to a new president and Congress.”
Due to both the recent order and the decision to cut the count a month short, numerous people have accused Trump of intentionally taking actions to directly benefit Republicans.
“The 2020 Census will also guide the distribution of political power. With an inaccurate count, under Trump’s scheme, congressional districts, apportioned by Congress every 10 years, will become whiter and more Republican, despite population trends that run the exact opposite direction,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-Ca.) and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrahms wrote in an op-ed published The Post.
“The electoral college will be further weighted against the will of the people. District maps from the state house to the school board will be inaccurate, silencing entire communities from being seen and heard.”
Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, however, defended the move in Monday’s statement, and claimed that the bureau is “committed to a complete and accurate 2020 Census.”
“Building on our successful and innovative internet response option, the dedicated women and men of the Census Bureau, including our temporary workforce deploying in communities across the country in upcoming weeks, will work diligently to achieve an accurate count,” he added.
If your household has not filled out the census, you can visit My2020Census.gov to be counted today.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (Politico) (The Washington Post)
Fact-Checking Trump’s Claims About the U.S. Death Rate in That Viral Axios Interview
- In a now-viral interview that was recorded last week, President Donald Trump said the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is “under control, as much as you can control it.”
- Despite that, Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan pressed Trump on the country’s increasing death rate, a fact which Trump denied.
- At one point, Trump also seemed to insinuate that South Korea’s death count is much higher than the 301 deaths it has reported, but he provided no basis for that.
- Below is a list of coronavirus-related claims stated by Trump in the interview and a breakdown of how true or false those claims are.
Trump’s Axios Interview Goes Viral
In a clip that has now been viewed more than 30 million times alone on Twitter, President Donald Trump denied the United States’ climbing coronavirus death rate and made a number of other false statements.
That clip is part of a 38-minute Axios on HBO interview, which was recorded on July 28 and aired Monday evening. In that interview, Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan pressed Trump on a variety of topics including the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell and the recent death of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
However, Trump’s comments regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have undoubtedly captured the most attention.
The Rising U.S. Death Rate in States
In his interview with Swan, Trump said his administration has done an “incredible” job handling the coronavirus pandemic.
Immediately, Swan pushed back by pointing to last week’s death rate, which saw daily death totals climbing above 1,000. Nonetheless, Trump rejected those figures and asserted that the death toll was falling.
“It’s going down in Arizona,” Trump said. “It’s going down in Florida. It’s going down in Texas.”
“It’s going down in Florida?’ Swan asked, bewildered, after pointing out that, nationally, daily deaths tolls were rising at the time of the interview.
Regarding Florida, it’s possible that Trump was referring to a four-day dip in coronavirus deaths, but even so, four days is not a long enough period of time to accurately gauge whether or not deaths are beginning to decrease. That’s why many states have implemented reopening plans that only allow them to move into new phases after seeing a two week decline in cases.
On top of that, the day this interview was recorded, Florida experienced its highest death toll up to that point. That record was later topped each day for the next three days in a row.
Over the last few days, Florida’s daily death toll has significantly dropped; however, it remains to be seen if this is the beginning of a genuine decrease in daily deaths or if the numbers, on average, will continue to rise.
By comparison, Trump’s claim that cases in Arizona are decreasing does seem to be somewhat accurate, and it’s a point Swan even backs up in the interview. Still, that much does not seem to be the case for Texas yet.
The Death Rate Nationally
Trump accused media outlets of incorrectly reporting coronavirus-related statistics, but he declined to offer an explanation as to how. Instead, he asserted that his administration should receive credit for testing more vigorously than other countries.
“Because we do more tests, we have more cases,” Trump said. “In other words, we test more, we have more.”
For Swan, however, that was not the point.
“If hospital rates were going down and death rates were going down, I’d say, ‘Terrific. You deserved to be praised for testing,’ Swan responded. “But they’re all going up. 60,000 Americans are in hospital. A thousand dying a day.”
“If you watch the news or read the papers, they usually talk about new cases, new cases, new cases,” Trump said.
“I’m talking about death,” Swan said.
“Well, you look,” Trump said. “Death is way down from where it was.”
While Trump is technically correct here, his statement—as Swan noted—is misleading. Beginning in April and continuing through the beginning of May, daily death totals in the U.S. spiked. At one point, the country was recording daily death tolls reaching 2,700 people.
As May continued, the death toll began to fall, so much so that the country was reporting less than 1,000 deaths a day by mid-June; however, that number started climbing again early last month, eventually climbing back over that 1,000 mark.
“We’re Lower Than the World.”
“And if you look at death, here,” Trump said while pointing to a graph. “United States is lowest in numerous categories. We’re lower than the world.”
“Lower than the world?” Swan asked, bewildered.
“We’re lower than Europe.” Trump continued.
“In what? In what?” Swan asked.
“Take a look,” Trump said, still pointing to the graph. “Right here. Here’s case death.”
“Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population,” Swan said in what has now become the most viral moment of the interview. “That’s where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.”
“You can’t do that,” Trump said.
Trump and Swan are citing two different stats here. Trump is referring to the percentage of people who die in the U.S. after having contracted the virus, known as the fatality rate. Swan is referring to the percentage of Americans who have died compared to the whole population, known as the mortality rate.
Both are relevant figures, but it is Trump’s denial of the second statistic’s importance that is concerning. According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. is the 10th-worst nation in terms of per capita coronavirus deaths: 47.50 per 100,000 people.
Among more information, mortality rate can be used to see what percentage of a country’s population has died compared to another country. Such a number is more accurate than simply following raw numbers, as most countries vary significantly in population from the U.S. It’s also less subject to variables than the fatality rate.
“It’s surely a relevant statistic to say if the U.S. has X population and X percentage of death of that population versus South Korea—” Swan said.
“No, you have to go by cases,” Trump responded.
“Well, look at South Korea, for example,” Swan said. “Fifty-one million population, 300 deaths. It’s like— it’s crazy.”
“You don’t know that,” Trump said. You don’t know that.”
“I do, it’s on their—You think they’re faking their statistics, South Korea?” Swan asked. “An advanced country?”
“I won’t get into that because I have a very good relationship with the country, but you don’t know that,” Trump said.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, South Korea has only officially recorded 301 deaths. It is possible that Trump said, “You don’t know that,” because there may be some variation in that statistic. Still, even if more or fewer people died than what is officially recorded, that figure is likely not substantially different from the recorded value.
Trump provided no additional context into the meaning of this claim, and there is no basis to suggest that South Korea has fabricated its death toll.
The Outbreak Is “Under Control”
Near the beginning of the interview, Trump says that the outbreak in the U.S. is “under control, as much as you can control it.”
As of Tuesday, the U.S. undoubtedly leads the world in cases: 4.7 million out of 18.3 million. Similarly, it leads the world in deaths: nearly 156,000 of nearly 695,000.
Notably, it is true that despite massive raw numbers, the U.S. does not have the highest percentage of cases or deaths compared to every country; however, the situation in the U.S. is significantly worse than almost every other country in the world. Even regardless of comparisons, the situation on its own is more than concerning.
Because of that, Swan immediately pushed back against the president, asking him if his administration has truly done everything in its power to fight the virus. From there, the president shifted blame to governors, though he did praise some.
As Swan also noted, Trump’s position as president carries weight, and despite being highly controversial throughout his term, many listen to his words and trust them.
“I’ve covered you for a long time,” Swan said. “I’ve gone to your rallies. I’ve talked to your people. They love you. They listen to you. They hang on your every word. They don’t listen to me or the media or Fauci. They think we’re fake news. They want to get their advice from you. And so when they hear you say, ‘Everything’s under control, don’t worry about wearing mask,’ I mean, decent people. Many of them are older people, Mr. President. It’s giving them a false sense of security.”
“Under the circumstances right now, I think it’s under control,” Trump said.
“How?” Swan asked. A thousand Americans are dying everyday.”
“They are dying, that’s true,” Trump said. “And it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can.”