- On Sunday, House Speaker Pelosi said she was giving the White House until Tuesday to agree to a new stimulus deal if they want one passed before the election.
- Any agreement is highly unlikely, and even if one were struck, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has refused to bring even the White House’s offer of $1.8 trillion for a vote.
- Economists warn that without another stimulus package soon, the economy will backslide even more, and waiting any longer could do serious long-term damage.
- Millions of Americans are already hurting as most of the benefits from the CARES Act are long expired or set to expire soon.
- Experts are also concerned that the recent COVID-19 spikes across the U.S. could also hurt the economy.
Pelosi Sets Deadline
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) announced Sunday that if lawmakers and the Trump administration do not reach a deal on a stimulus package by Tuesday, there will not be another round of coronavirus relief before the election.
While that deadline came after a meeting between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, where the two did seem to make headway on some issues, there are still a lot of key areas that need to be hashed out.
Despite this new deadline, after months of deadlock, there is really nothing that has happened over the last few days that would indicate they are closer to a deal. If anything, the waters have become more muddied in recent weeks following a series of abrupt shifts on the part of President Donald Trump.
On Oct. 6, Trump suddenly announced on Twitter that he would stop all negotiations until after he won the election. Just a few hours later, following significant backlash, he called for Congress to pass smaller bills like approving new stimulus checks.
Two days later, Trump tweeted that the negotiations for a full package were “moving along,” and called on both sides to, “Go Big!
On the same day, Mnuchin announced that the White House would increase its coronavirus stimulus offer to $1.8 trillion, which was up from their previous $1.6 trillion offer, though still down from the $2.2 trillion Pelosi asked for.
But a few hours after that, Trump went on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and said that he, “would like to see a bigger stimulus package frankly than either the Democrats or Republicans are offering.”
Trump reiterated that call again while speaking on Fox News Thursday, while simultaneously blaming his own Treasury secretary for not offering enough money in the talks and suggesting, without any explanation, that China would pay for it.
However, Trump’s call for more appeared to go against the will of his own party. Within a matter of hours after Trump’s interview, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would not even bring the $1.8 trillion proposal for a vote.
The leader argued that the amount was much higher than what Republicans would agree to, and instead said he would advance a much smaller $500 billion package in the coming week. In other words, even if Pelosi and Mnuchin were to strike a deal, unless they drop it by about $1 trillion, it is almost certain that it would be blocked by Senate Republicans.
While the prospects of a pre-election deal remain increasingly slim, the need for another stimulus deal is becoming even more urgent by the day.
It has now been seven months since the last stimulus package, and any more delays will only do more damage to the economy and the American people. Economists have warned for months that without another stimulus injection, the modest economic recoveries the U.S. has made — in large part because of the CARES Act — will be undone in the short term.
In the long term, there will be lasting economic scars that could take months if not years to fully recover from.
The first stimulus package was not supposed to be a cure-all — it was supposed to be a short term fix. Now, many key parts of the coronavirus stimulus package passed in March, such as expanded unemployment benefits, aid to small businesses, and funding for state and local government, have either expired or run out — or are about to.
For example, while the extra $600 in federal unemployment benefits ended three months ago, there were other programs in the CARES Act that extended the amount of time that people could receive benefits.
Normally, people can only collect unemployment for 26 weeks, but the March bill extended that until Dec. 31. Without another stimulus package to extend that measure before the deadline, millions of people who still do not have jobs will simply stop receiving unemployment help.
That would be incredibly serious because already, millions of Americans are hurting, the economy is showing signs of slowing, and the impacts of not having any widespread, cohesive stimulus injection since March are clearly on display.
A recent Columbia University study found that early stimulus efforts, like the expanded unemployment benefits and the stimulus checks, kept 18 million people out of poverty, but when those resources dwindled and ended during the summer, poverty rates spiked drastically. Since May, 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty during the pandemic.
Similarly, according to another recent report from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Research Institute for Housing America, more than 6 million households missed their rent or mortgage payments last month alone.
Separately, economists are also concerned that the recent, dramatic spikes in coronavirus cases all across the country will also have a negative effect on the already faltering economy.
Over the last few weeks, new daily COVID-19 infections have risen to their highest level since July, meaning the U.S. is now reporting numbers that are on par with the highest caseloads it has recorded through the entire pandemic.
The case numbers are also rising at alarmingly rapid rates. According to reports, just since last month, daily new cases have risen more than 60%, and two-week averages show that cases are increasing in all but seven states.
Despite the fact that health experts and officials have long warned that a fall and winter surge could undo any economic gains without proper preparation, President Trump has all but ignored these calls.
While speaking on Fox News Business Thursday morning, the president downplayed the new massive spikes and outright said he did not support the strict restrictions local officials have imposed in the past to try and limit the spread of the virus.
“We’re not doing any more lockdowns,” he said. “We’re doing fine.”
During a rally in Wisconsin on Saturday, Trump also hit on that point again, insisting that the U.S. is “rounding the corner” despite all evidence to the contrary.
“We’re doing great, we’re doing really well,” he added. “I wish you’d have a Republican governor because frankly, you got to open your state up. You got to open it up.”
Trump’s encouragement for Wisconsin to reopen even more came just one day after the state reported its highest number of new daily cases ever. Wisconsin is also reporting the fourth-highest per capita cases in the country and is home to four of the top seven coronavirus hot spots.
See what others are saying: (The Hill) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Attorney General Barr Says There Is No Evidence of Widespread Election Fraud
- Attorney General Barr said for the first time that he and the Department of Justice had not seen widespread election fraud at a scale that could have changed the outcome of the election.
- The remarks make Barr the highest-ranking member of the Trump administration to directly contradict the president’s repeated and unproven insistence that there was nationwide voter fraud in the election.
- Trump’s legal team responded in a statement disputing Barr’s findings and asserting, without proof, that they had “ample” evidence of fraud. Meanwhile, Trump continued to push the false and unverified claims on Twitter.
Barr Disputes Trump’s Claims
In an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr said that he has “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” contradicting the claims that President Donald Trump and his supporters have been spreading without evidence for nearly a month now.
“Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct. … And those have been run down; they are being run down,” Barr said. “Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on.”
Barr also directly disputed some of the unproven and actively debunked assertions spread by Trump and his allies, including a particularly insidious conspiracy theory that Trump’s recently-disavowed attorney, Sidney Powell, has been promoting regarding voting machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems.
Powell has repeatedly claimed that the Dominion machines flipped votes from Trump to former Vice President Joe Biden as part of a global communist scheme using software developed by former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, who has been dead for over six years.
In addition to failing to provide any semblance of proof for her assertions, there are also a number of issues that entirely undermine this story.
Almost all of the claims about Dominion machines flipping votes and having ties to foreign actors or left-wing groups have been entirely debunked. Additionally, in order for this far-reaching conspiracy to have any legs, Republican governors who have been major supporters and allies of Trump — such as Brian Kemp in Georgia and Doug Ducey in Arizona — would have had to play a key role in helping ensure their states went to Biden.
Even then, the majority of key swing state counties that used Dominion machines actually voted for Trump. Now, the top law enforcement official in the country has also added his voice to refute these falsehoods.
In his interview, the Attorney General explicitly told the AP that both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have investigated the claim.
“And so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that,” he said.
Barr’s remarks represent a near-complete reversal from his pre-election stance. In addition to echoing many of the false claims touted by Trump about how mail-in ballots were not secure and vulnerable to fraud, he was also accused of using the DOJ to implement policies to undermine public confidence in election systems.
Barr is now the highest-ranking administration official to break ranks with Trump and dispute his claims about widespread fraud. The last high-ranking official to contradict Trump on the subject here was Christopher Krebs, the former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, who Trump promptly fired.
While experts say Barr likely will not lose his job, the fact that the country’s top election security official and its top law enforcement official — both of whom were appointed by Trump — have now undermined the president’s claims is highly significant.
However, following Barr’s interview, Trump and his team still continued to push the same narrative that widespread voter fraud had occurred.
In a statement to the media, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and legal adviser Jenna Ellis claimed, without evidence, that they had “ample” proof that there was nationwide fraud significant enough to sway the election.
“With the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud,” they wrote.
While Trump himself did not directly address Barr’s comments, he continued to post tweets claiming that there had been nationwide fraud and that the election was rigged.
However, with Barr’s new stance, other people, including key Republican officials, have begun to express their feelings that Trump and his cronies have gone too far.
In a now-viral video, Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and one of the top election officials in Georgia, delivered an emotionally charged statement at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
There, he noted several instances of Trump’s supporters directly inciting violence because of the misinformation Trump himself was spreading, like the fact that Trump lawyer Joe diGenova said earlier this week that Krebs “should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.”
Sterling also pointed to the fact that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has also recently had caravans of Trump supporters in front of his house, some of which have gone on their property. On top of that, his wife has received sexually explicit threats on her personal phone.
Sterling said that for him, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the fact that a 20-something contractor who worked for Dominion in Georgia was facing death threats after a video thread that circulated that claimed to show him altering votes during the recount.
The video led to his identity being released, people calling for him to be “hung for treason” in a Twitter thread, and his family being harassed by Trump supporters.
“It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” Sterling said. “This is elections, this is the backbone of democracy, and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this. It’s too much.”
“Mr. President. It looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. We’re investigating. There’s always a possibility, I get it, and you have the rights to go through the courts,” he continued. “What you don’t have the ability to do — and you need to step up and say this — is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.”
“Be the bigger man here and stop. Step in, tell your supporters: Don’t be violent, don’t intimidate. All that’s wrong. It’s unAmerican.”
However, it seems as though Trump will not be heeding that call any time soon. Shortly after Sterling’s remarks started to gain traction on Twitter, Trump did the exact opposite, retweeting the video and using it to continue to spread disinformation.
“Rigged Election. Show signatures and envelopes,” he wrote. “Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia. What is Secretary of State and @BrianKempGA afraid of. They know what we’ll find!!!”
There has been no evidence of voter fraud in Georgia, and it is illegal in the state for the signatures on envelopes to be displayed once the ballots have been opened and counted.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Trump Threatens To Veto Yearly Defense Spending Bill if Congress Doesn’t Throw Out Protections for Social Media Companies
- On Tuesday, President Trump threatened to veto the $740 billion annual defense spending bill if Congress does not repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
- Section 230, which became law in 1996, gives social media companies the ability to moderate posts on their platforms without liability. It also shields them from lawsuits for what people post on those platforms.
- Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that the section should be revised but for different reasons.
- It is unlikely that Congress will completely repeal the law and bend to Trump’s threat.
- If Trump does veto the defense bill, that could potentially be overridden by Congress. If it’s not, the process for proposing and passing the bill would begin anew in January and would possibly not be passed until President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Trump Threatens to Veto Defense Spending
President Donald Trump stepped up his attack on big tech companies Tuesday night in a novel way: by threatening to veto the country’s annual defense spending bill, which Congress is scrambling to pass before it goes on break for the holidays.
In a pair of tweets, Trump railed against Section 230, which gives social media companies the ability to moderate posts on their platforms without liability.
“Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand,” he said after calling the statute a threat to national security and election integrity.
“Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!”
Section 230 allows companies like Twitter, without repercussion, to remove tweets that include false information and to mark other tweets if they are misleading — something it’s been actively doing against Trump’s tweets since May. In recent weeks, Twitter has flagged a flurry of Trump’s tweets pertaining to unfounded conspiracy theories about election fraud.
This isn’t the first time Trump has criticized Section 230. After he was first flagged in May, he signed an executive order instructing federal regulators to look into how to roll back parts of the section. With that, he argued Section 230 allows social media companies to engage in “anti-conservative bias.”
Trump’s attempt to repeal Section 230 hinges on what provision is contained in the final version of the NDAA, which totals roughly $740 billion this year. It’s an annual bill that shapes Pentagon policy by directing how funds are appropriated. That includes pay raises, troop levels, new weapons, and even how to compete with other world powers like China and Russia. Notably, this year’s defense bill includes a 3% pay raise for U.S. troops.
Congress has been working to finalize the bill this week. That’s because the House will break on Dec. 11 and the Senate on Dec. 18 for the holidays. With such a short time span before the new Congress comes in on Jan, 3, there is a rush to pass the bill. If this Congress doesn’t, the whole process will have to start over from scratch in January.
For the last 59 years, the NDAA has passed through Congress on a bipartisan basis.
Earlier this year, Trump had once already threatened to veto the NDAA if Congress voted to rename Army posts named after Confederate generals.
Will Section 230 Be Repealed or Amended?
Trump’s threats are not likely to fully repeal Section 230.
“It’s a fucking joke,” a senior House staffer told Politico. “This is a complex debate that has no business as an eleventh-hour airdrop.”
Several Republican members of Congress have also openly criticized Trump for the ultimatum and its timing.
Still, that doesn’t mean a reform to the section entirely out of the question.
In September, the Justice Department submitted legislation to Congress that would erode protections granted by Section 230. Like Trump, it also argued that tech companies have engaged in an “anti-conservative bias.” In fact, such an argument has become increasingly common among Republicans.
In October, the Federal Communications Commission said it would re-examine and clarify the meaning of Section 230, a move that could potentially change the protections the statute currently gives tech companies. Because of that, the agency was criticized by some as being a puppet of the Trump administration.
It’s not just Republicans who’ve criticized Section 230. Democrats also have problems with it, particularly because they say it still allows for harmful content to be spread online. For example, they’ve argued that platforms like Facebook haven’t done enough to crack down on election disinformation and hate speech.
According to The Washington Post, Republicans in recent days have suggested a trade that would involve bipartisan reforms to Section 230 in exchange for renaming the military bases named after Confederates. Reportedly, Democrats have largely dismissed that idea.
In fact, many Democrats have said they want to wait to discuss reforms to Section 230 until the next Congress begins.
What Happens If Trump Vetoes the NDAA?
If Congress doesn’t issue a total repeal of Section 230 (as expected), there could be several outcomes.
Trump could back down from his threat to sign the veto. Some analysts even expect him to back down, though others have been more skeptical about that claim. In its nearly six decades, the NDAA has never been vetoed by a president.
Congress could also override Trump’s veto. As it stands right now, each chamber has passed their own versions of the bill with enough bipartisan support to do just that. Still, it’s unclear if those margins will hold up once a final bill is negotiated between the chambers.
For reference, Congress hasn’t been able to override any of Trump’s eight vetoes during his time in office. On top of that, many Republicans would likely question whether to side with Trump or the Pentagon.
Finally, Trump could successfully veto the NDAA. If that happens, as noted earlier, the next Congress would then have to start the process over and likely wait until President-elect Joe Biden is in office to pass it.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
Senators Unveil $908 Billion Stimulus Proposal
- After months of stalled negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators put forward a new stimulus package proposal.
- The plan, which the senators said was intended to be a framework for legislation both parties could agree to, includes an additional $300 a week in expanded unemployment benefits and $25 billion for housing assistance, among other actions.
- Those two provisions are essential for continuing assistance to Americans struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, as both federal unemployment benefits and the federal eviction moratorium are set to expire at the end of the month.
- If Congress does not act, upwards of 12 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits by Dec. 26 and an estimated 19 million will risk losing their homes during the height of the pandemic in the coming months.
New Stimulus Plan
A bipartisan group of senators announced a new $908 billion stimulus proposal Wednesday, marking both the first time talks have restarted since the election and arguably the most concrete step towards a coronavirus relief bill that Congress has taken in months.
With negotiations on the much-needed stimulus package stalled this summer and again ahead of the election, the roughly half a dozen senators behind the new plan have been working for weeks to break the stalemate with a deal that seeks to find a middle ground on key issues.
In their announcement, the Republican and Democratic lawmakers framed the proposal as a template for the kind of legislation that both sides could pass before the new year.
Among other things, the working plan includes: $160 billion for state and local governments, $288 billion for loans to small businesses, $180 billion for unemployment insurance — which reportedly would come out to an additional $300 a week in expanded benefits — and $25 billion in housing assistance.
Those last two provisions are arguably the most important for the American people because there is a huge cliff at the end of the month when key unemployment benefits and major federal eviction protections are both set to run out. If Congress does not act, millions of Americans could lose absolutely essential lifelines at a time when many are already struggling financially.
On Dec. 26, both the federal programs that provide benefits for freelancers and allow unemployed workers to collect an extra 13 weeks of benefits are set to expire, leaving the vast majority of the 20 million Americans who were collecting benefits as of October (the most recent data available) with few stopgaps.
According to a recent study from the progressive think tank The Century Foundation, 12 million of those workers will lose those benefits entirely when that deadline hits — and that is in addition to the roughly 4.4. million who will have already exhausted that aid before then.
Many people collecting unemployment insurance are still hurting. A report released Monday by the watchdog Government Accountability Office found the Department of Labor has been both under and overcounting the number of people collecting unemployment benefits and giving out less federal benefits than it should.
The report also stated that failure to extend these federal benefits will harm those people even more, and risk sending some households below the poverty line.
To that point, many struggling unemployed Americans who may have had trouble paying their rent are also at risk of losing their homes during the height of the pandemic when the federal eviction moratorium ends on Dec. 31.
The existing moratorium was imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September after the federal ban on evictions passed under the CARES Act expired at the end of July and Congress failed to renew it.
Technically, the CDC could act again to extend it without Congress, but that would still leave some major holes.
First and foremost, the federal ban does not apply to all American renters, and while many cities and states imposed their own eviction bans and provided other forms of renter relief, many of those protections have already expired or will soon.
In fact, a new study by The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) estimates that as many as 6.7 million renter households — or roughly 19 million people — risk being evicted in the coming months.
While an extension of the ban would definitely be a good thing, without any additional relief for renters, it would essentially kick the underlying issue down the road. The CDC moratorium just makes it so renters can’t be evicted if they do not pay rent while the policy is in place — but it does not mean they do not have to pay rent at all.
Once the ban is lifted, not only do renters have to start paying again, they also have to pay back all the rent they missed as well as any late fees they may have built up if their landlords decided not to waive them. If they do not pay their debts, they can be evicted.
In other words: many people will owe months and months of rent they cannot pay. Even if the CDC extends the moratorium so they will not have to pay in January, the CDC cannot legally allocate money for rent relief — at a federal level, that has to be done through Congress.
Cities and states could continue to help their efforts to help out with similar programs, but the NLIHC estimates that $100 billion in emergency rental assistance is needed to avoid an eviction crisis, and with local governments already running of money because of the pandemic, they likely will not be able to do much without more money from another stimulus
Future of Coronavirus Relief
However, the future of any stimulus bill before these deadlines hit still remains unclear. While the proposal announced today was drafted by senators from both parties, it is still uncertain if leadership will sign on.
For months the people at the very top have failed to compromise and refused to budge from their drastically different proposals.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) has pushed for a much more comprehensive $2.2 trillion package. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has insisted on a much smaller $500 billion bill that would not include money to state and local governments or another round of stimulus checks but would include sweeping liability protections for businesses so they could not be sued if an employee or customer got COVID because of their lack of safety precautions.
Those issues have been major points of contention between the two parties, and even when they agree on what should be included in the bill, they disagree on funding levels — with Democrats pushing for more and Republicans for less.
Notably, both Pelosi and McConnell have expressed optimism about coming to an agreement in recent days.
“I’m optimistic that we will have bipartisanship to put something together to go forward because I do believe that many of our colleagues understand what’s happening in their districts and want to make a difference,” Pelosi told reporters right before the Thanksgiving recess.
While speaking on the Senate floor just yesterday, McConnell also echoed those remarks, saying “there’s no reason” Congress could not approve a “major” stimulus bill. However, he also blamed Democrats for refusing to compromise, saying they should consider smaller provisions.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) responded by lobbing essentially the same accusations at McConnell, saying he had only advanced a Republican wish list rather than negotiating with Democrats, and arguing that “both sides must give.”
Clearly, there are still some major, lingering issues the parties need to resolve, but the clock is ticking. In addition to the key deadlines at the end of the month, Congress also must pass a spending bill to fund the government by Dec. 11 or risk a shutdown.
While currently separate from any proposed stimulus bill, some experts and congressional aides are pinning their hopes of COVID relief measures being rolled into the $1.4 trillion annual government budget.