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Unemployment Claims Rise Again as Lawmakers Debate Extending Benefits

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  • At least 1.4 million people filed for unemployment last week, marking the first time claims have increased since March. The move comes as the extra $600 in unemployment benefits are set to expire next week.
  • On Wednesday, Senate Republicans announced they had agreed to a tentative $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus deal with the White House, which, among other things, included an expansion of loans to small businesses, funding for COVID testing and vaccines, aid to schools, and more.
  • The bill was supposed to be rolled out Thursday morning, but again got held up by the ongoing negotiations that have been stalled for weeks because of divisions within the Republican party.

Unemployment Numbers Spike

The government reported Thursday that 1.4 million people filed for unemployment last week, marking the first time unemployment claims have increased since March.

Separately, another 980,000 new claims were filed by freelancers, part-time workers, and others who do not qualify for state unemployment benefits but can receive aid under the emergency federal program.

Notably, the government did report that the number of continuing claims— claims filed by people who are already receiving unemployment and filed again— did drop from 17.4 million for the week ending July 4 to 16.1 million for the week ending July 11.

However, that data is reported on a week lag, and thus does not account for any of the closures or restrictions that have been put in place over the last two weeks. It also does not represent the fact that the U.S. has now reported more coronavirus cases in the last two weeks alone than in all of June.

While this week’s numbers are still much lower than the numbers reported in March before they started steadily declining, the fact that this is the first uptick since then is significant because it shows a broader trend.

“What you’re seeing is that, as the economy slows, the pace of claims picks back up — which really puts at risk the monthly jobs report over the next few months,” Joseph Brusuelas the chief economist at RSM, a multi-national network of accounting firms told the Washington Post. “The July numbers are going to be tenuous, but it’s August that I’m worried about.”

The timing of the spike is also highly relevant because it comes as the additional $600 in federal unemployment benefits are set to expire in just over a week.

In addition to the 20 to 30 million people who will lose those benefits if and when they expire, many economists have also warned that it would have a very serious effect on the already faltering economy.

“There is one clear takeaway from this morning’s unemployment insurance report –not extending the weekly $600 benefit supplement would be unconscionable,” Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation told USA Today. “Families will be evicted from their homes, poverty will soar, children will go hungry, businesses will shutter and the economy will tank.”

Meanwhile, Back in Congress

As that deadline looms, Senate Republicans and the White House are still in the middle of hashing out the details of another coronavirus stimulus package.

For weeks now, that process has been stalled by internal divisions within the Republican Party. While some of the Republicans are divided on specific issues, including unemployment, others simply do not want another stimulus bill at all.

With those negotiations getting down to the wire, Senate GOP leaders announced Wednesday that they had reached a tentative $1 trillion deal with White House officials. According to a draft summary, which was obtained by The New York Times, there are several areas the Republicans have agreed.

Among other things, the summary included $26 billion for vaccine development and deployment, $25 billion for coronavirus testing, a total of $105 billion for education— $30 billion of which would be set aside for schools that reopen, and a second round of loans to small businesses with more loan forgiveness.

Notably, the document did say that there would be another round of stimulus checks, but it did not say how much they would be or who they would go to.

Also of note is what was not in the summary. The plan explicitly states Republicans will not give any money to state and local governments to help with budget holes and layoffs, though it does note that aid will likely be added back in during negotiations with the Democrats, who want hundreds of billions to go to states and cities. 

The summary also does not include a payroll tax cut— something that was pushed by President Donald Trump for both this stimulus package and last— and something that was rejected by Democrats and Republicans both times.

Divisions Linger 

It does appear to show there has been at least some compromising between the Senate GOP and the White House. In addition to the tax cuts not being included, the increased testing and the money to schools that are not reopening are also things the Trump administration had opposed.

However, despite all that, there are still things the party is struggling to hammer out. According to reports, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was hoping to roll out that package Thursday morning, but was instead met with yet another round negotiations between Senate GOP leaders and the White House.

As in the earlier negotiations, one of the major sticking points reportedly still up for debate was unemployment benefits. While the Republicans agree that they want to cut the jobless payments from the current $600, they disagree on how much they should cut.

According to reports, Senate Republicans had previously floated the idea of decreasing the benefits to $200 per week. Then CNBC reported Wednesday that they were now considering extending the benefits through the end of the year at just $100 a week.

However, on Thursday morning, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the extension will be based on 70% wage replacement, which means that the benefits would amount to about 70% of a typical worker’s income while they were employed.

According to Ernie Tedeschi, an economist in the Treasury Department under the Obama administration who spoke to the Post, a 70% wage replaced would put the extended benefits at about $175 per week.

“If they lowered it to $200 a week, 30 million workers would wake up with a pay cut from a third to a half overnight,” he said. “While $200 is marginally better than full expiration, the U.S. would still take a major economic hit from this summer and this fall as a result from it.”

While that would be on top of state unemployment, those benefits vary drastically and often fall short. According to CNN, state benefits on their own generally replace only 40% of wages.

Upcoming Battle With Democrats

As Republicans continue struggling to come to a consensus, the clock is ticking. 

With several key elements of the plan bound to a tight time table, Trump administration officials have emphasized the need to act by the end of next week.

“Let me just remind people: the time-sensitive issue we’re talking about is next Friday on unemployment and schools,” Mnuchin told reporters Thursday morning. “Some of this stuff, if it takes us a couple of weeks to work with the Democrats and agree on all the pieces we can.” 

However, according to reports, McConnell has said that that timeline as unrealistic because, right now, Republicans have not even agreed on a bill within their own party. Once they do, they still face a battle with the Democrats, who have pushed for extending the $600 through the end of the year— a provision that was included in the $3 trillion stimulus bill passed by the House in May.

Even beyond the unemployment debate, many Republicans are worried that they will not be able to get Democrats on board with their proposals at all. 

While speaking to reporters Wednesday, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said that even if Republicans do overcome their internal divisions, they would be unable to bridge the “pretty big gap” with Democrats, who support the $3 trillion bill, which prioritizes multiple things Republicans oppose.

In order to meet some of the pressing deadlines, both Senate Republicans and Trump administration officials have said that they intend to propose a series of bills, rather than just one comprehensive package. Democrats, however, have rejected that plan.

“This is a package. We cannot piecemeal this,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a press conference Thursday morning. “What we have seen so far falls very short of the challenge that we face in order to defeat the virus and to open our schools and to open our economy.” 

“We’re not going to take care of one portion of suffering people and leave everyone else hanging,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) added at the same briefing Thursday. “This is a comprehensive proposal that addresses the many problems of COVID, and we have to address it as a totality. ” 

“One of the reasons we’re up against this cliff is because Republicans have dithered,” Schumer added, saying that he and Pelosi had urged Republicans to come to the table three weeks ago, but they never responded.

“Now the Senate Republicans have finally woken up to the calamity in our country, they have been so divided, so disorganized and so unprepared that they have to struggle to draft even a partisan proposal within their own conference, they can’t come together. Even after all this time, it appears the Republican legislative response to COVID is ununified, unserious, and unsatisfactory.” 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Politico) (The Washington Post)

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Iran and Russia Obtained Voter Data for Election Meddling, U.S. Officials Say

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  • Top officials obtained the first concrete evidence of foreign interference in the 2020 election cycle, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday.
  • Ratcliffe said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information for the purpose of meddling in the election.
  • Officials also said that Iran was specifically responsible for a slew of email spoofs sent to voters, including emails sent to Democratic voters in four states on Tuesday threatening them to vote for Trump “or else.”
  • Many condemned Radcliffe for claiming that Iran sent the emails to hurt President Trump and downplaying Russia’s role in election interference.
  • Other’s also accused him of selectively declassifying intelligence to benefit Trump’s campaign. 

U.S. Officials Announce Election Interference

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday that Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information that could be used to disrupt the election, marking the first time top officials have provided concrete evidence of international interference in this election cycle.

“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately by Russia,” Ratcliffe said in a last-minute press briefing. “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”

Ratcliffe also specifically claimed that Iran was behind a string of spoofed emails, including threatening messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four states earlier this week. Those emails, which were sent from a domain associated with the far-right group the Proud Boys, claimed to have “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” The messages also told recipients if they did not vote for President Donald Trump the group would “come after” them. 

The Proud Boys denied any involvement, and Radcliffe’s announcement appears to support that. Notably, both Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who also spoke at the press conference, did not indicate that either foreign country had hacked into election infrastructure or voter registration systems. They also did not say that any election results or voter registration information had been changed.

In fact, intelligence officials who spoke to reporters said that the data they claimed both Iran and Russia and Iran had obtained was largely public, such as the names, party affiliations, and some basic contact info of registered voters.

That information, Ratcliffe said, was also used by Iran to email a video “that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.” He added that both emails were “designed to intimidate voters, insight social unrest, and damage President Trump.” 

“Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016,” he continued.

Ratcliffe Criticism

Shortly after Ratcliffe’s announcement, Google appeared to back up some of his claims about Iran. In a statement, the company confirmed that it had detected around 25,000 emails that targeted users as part of what it described as an Iran-linked disinformation campaign. Google added that about 10%, or 2,500 emails, had slipped through their spam filters.

But many people still had serious issues with Ratcliffe’s characterizations of the situation and dredged up past criticisms of him.

Many Democrats and former intelligence officials have accused Ratcliffe — who is supposed to be apolitical in his role of DNI — of being a Trump loyalist who has used his position to promote the president’s political agenda.

Those allegations are specifically concerning when it comes to foreign interference in the election because Ratcliffe has both actively spread information that the intelligence community had deemed to be false regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. and has promoted debunked conspiracies about the following investigation.

Beyond that, the DNI has also explicitly been accused of selectively declassifying intelligence pertaining to election interference to help the Trump campaign. In fact, earlier this month, many former top officials condemned him for doing just that when he released intelligence about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign that was not only unverified but also, according to intelligence experts, may have been Russian disinformation.

As a result, many condemned Ratcliffe’s announcement Wednesday as yet another example of him publicizing information to benefit Trump, specifically pointing to his claims that Iran sent the emails to “damage” the president.

Unpacking Ratcliffe’s Claims

It is true that since August, intelligence officials have said that Iran opposes Trump’s re-election. Still, Ratcliffe provided no evidence for the claim that Iran was trying to explicitly hurt Trump. On the contrary, many others have said the current evidence indicates that the country is simply trying to create general chaos and distrust.

Many pointed to the fact that the emails reported Tuesday explicitly threatened Democratic voters, and while some did argue that it was an attempt to make the Proud Boys and Trump look bad, at the end of the day, it was still an attempt to dissuade Democrat voters from either voting blue or going to the polls entirely.

Bennett Ragan, the campaign manager for a Democratic State House candidate in Florida, who claimed he received both of the threatening emails, told The Washington Post that he believed the messages were sent to intimidate Democratic voters in one of the most contested swing states.

“When you have people who have a voter roll and then send off emails, they will make a big splash,” he said. “They will scare people. That is without a doubt the intent.” 

Similarly, others also pointed to the video that Ratcliffe said Iran sent voters with disinformation about voting overseas. According to The Post, which reviewed the video, it consisted of “Trump making disparaging comments about mail-in voting, followed by a logo with the name of the Proud Boys,” then going on to document what is supposed to “appear as a hack of voting data in an effort to produce a fraudulent ballot.” 

Regarding the video, critics of Radcliffe argued that it was not intended to make Trump look bad because it was an attempt to spread disinformation about fraud in mail-in balloting by drawing from false statements the president himself made to undermine confidence in voting systems.

This general idea about undermining confidence is also another reason used to dispute Ratcliffe’s claim that this was meant to hurt Trump. The president has spent months trying to undermine the election results. Critics argued that, as a result, these alleged attempts by foreign actors are just them playing off the distrust and discord the president has already created.

That idea was also echoed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) who said that based on a classified briefing he received, he “had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure.”

“I’m surprised that DNI Ratcliffe said that at his press conference,” he added.

The official Twitter account for the House Homeland Security Committee also hit on a similar point, directly contradicting Ratcliffe, and calling his credibility into question.

“These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump,” the committee tweeted. “Ratcliffe has TOO OFTEN politicized the Intelligence Community to carry water for the President.” 

“You can’t emphasize one threat over another to suit the President’s ego,” it added.

To that point, many other people also accused Ratcliffe of playing down Russia’s role in election interference. In his announcement, Ratcliffe mostly focused on Iran and claimed that while Russia had the same information, they were not using it the same way. However, multiple U.S. officials who spoke anonymously to The Post “stressed that Russia still remained the major threat to the 2020 election.”

As for Iran and Russia, both have directly disputed the claims that they are interfering in the U.S. election. In a statement to the media, and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the country strongly rejects “American officials’ repetitive, baseless and false claims.”

A spokesperson for Kremlin also denied Russia’s role in influencing the election in a similar statement. 

“The accusations are poured out every day, they are all absolutely groundless, they are not based on anything, rather it is a tribute to the internal political processes associated with the upcoming election,” they said.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court Nomination Despite Democratic Boycott

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  • Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee bypassed rules Thursday, voting to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.
  • The vote was 12-0 because Democrats boycotted the session in protest, leaving posters in their seats of people they say will be negatively impacted if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and helps strike down the Affordable Care Act in a case the court will hear November 10.
  • The nomination now will move to the full Senate, with a final vote to confirm Barrett happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after Trump nominated her and just eight days before the election.

Democrats Protest Amy Coney Barrett’s Nomination

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-0 Thursday to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.

Republicans skirted the panel’s rules to recommend her confirmation as Democrats boycotted the session in protest. The committee requires two members of the minority party to be present in order to conduct business, but Democrats remained firm in their opposition to selecting a new Supreme Court Justice before the election. 

Instead of attending the hearing, Democrats put large posters around their seats of individuals they talked about during last week’s hearing– people who they argued would be negatively affected if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and possibly helps it strike down the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

That’s significant because on November 10, the court is set to hear arguments in a case that challenges the constitutionality of Obamacare. 

However, their protest was largely symbolic since Democrats don’t have the votes to block Barrett in either the committee or the full Senate. 

Experts say they’re mostly trying to tarnish the legitimacy of her confirmation and show the party’s progressive base they had fought until the end.

What Comes Next?

As far as what comes next, the nomination now moves to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already indicated that he’s taking the rare step of keeping the chamber in session over the weekend in order to limit the opportunities for Democrats to delay the vote.

By Friday, procedural votes are expected, with a final vote to confirm Barret happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after President Trump nominated her.

If all goes to plan, Trump and his fellow Republicans will have raced to win this battle just eight days before the election, making Barrett the first justice in history to be confirmed so close to Election Day.

See what others are saying: (AP News) (CNBC) (The New York Times)

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Voters in 4 States Received Emails Threatening Them To “Vote for Trump or Else!”

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  • Democratic voters in Alaska, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania received threatening emails telling them to vote for Trump or else the Proud Boys would “come after” them. 
  • The email came from a domain associated with the Proud Boys, but the group denied that it had any involvement and said that the website in question was no longer in use because it had been dropped by Google Cloud services.
  • According to The Washington Post, when the hosting service dropped the domain, it left it unsecured, meaning anyone online could take control of it.
  • Multiple outlets that reviewed the emails also reported that the messages did not come from the email address listed, but rather from foreign internet servers.

Threatening Emails

Registered Democrats in four different states — including three hotly contested swing states — were sent threatening emails Tuesday from an address that appeared to be affiliated with the far-right group the Proud Boys. The message warned recipients that if they did not vote for President Donald Trump, the group would “come after” them.

According to a screenshot of the email obtained by CBS News, the subject line of the message reads “Vote for Trump or else!”

“We are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone… everything),” the body of the email said. The sender went on to claim they know the recipient of the email is a Democrat because they “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” 

Source: CBS News

“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” the email continued. “Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you.”

Outlets that obtained copies of the email also reported that it concluded with the home address of the recipients they were sent to. Currently, voters in Alaska, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania have reported receiving the threatening messages.

It remains unclear how many went out in total, but it does appear that most of them were sent to people in Florida and Alaska. In Alaska, local news outlets reported that the emails went out to over a dozen people. In Florida, a University of Florida spokesperson said that they knew of at least 183 Floridians who got the messages.

Officials in both states also announced that they have launched investigations, and the FBI was also looking into the matter.

Proud Boys Deny Involvement

While the sender’s address is listed info@officialproudboys.com, a domain associated with the Proud Boys, the group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio, immediately denied that they had any involvement.

“We don’t send emails. This is someone spoofing our emails and website,” he told reporters. “We have spoken to the FBI and are working with them. I hope whoever did this is arrested for voter intimidation and for maliciously impersonating our group.”

Tarrio also told The Washington Post that the group has been in the process of migrating from officialproudboys.com to another site. In fact, they said officialproudboys.com has not been used for weeks because that domain was recently dropped by a hosting company that uses Google Cloud services after concerns were raised about the group.

According to The Post, when the hosting service dropped the domain, it appeared to just be left unsecured, and thus “allowing anyone on the Internet to take control of it and use it to send out the menacing messages.”

Numerous outlets that reviewed the emails also said that they did not come from the email address that was displayed, but rather from foreign internet servers. According to CBS, the metadata from the emails they analyzed showed that the messages originated from IP addresses connected to servers in Estonian, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

While experts noted that the IP addresses do not necessarily mean that the senders were based in those countries because they could have routed the emails from almost anywhere, some cybersecurity experts have pointed to the possibility of foreign interference to sow chaos in the election.

“We’re 2 weeks from the last day to vote! This is also the perfect time for adversaries to create chaos by spreading bogus claims or overstating activity,” Chris Krebs, the director of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency tweeting, noting that his office was aware of the emails.

“Ballot secrecy is guaranteed by law in all states,” he continued. “These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CBS News) (The New York Times)

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