Politics Live with The Fix

Mar 26, 2020

Got a burning politics question, or just something you’re curious about? Each week, starting Thursday at noon, The Fix team chats with readers about the big stories in politics.

If you’re a longtime fan of the Ask Amber and Ask Aaron chats, we’re glad you’re back for the new and expanded chat. If you’re new, thanks for checking us out.

Read our previous discussions and sign up for our newsletter, The 5-Minute Fix, a must-read politics cheat sheet sent every weekday afternoon.

Coming at you live this week from the home office normally occupied by his dog (Aaron), an apartment he really wishes he furnished more thoughtfully before he was stuck here interminably (Eugene), the corner of the house least likely to disturb a napping toddler (Amber), and a couch next to his brand new — really, you have no idea how @#$%ing relieved he is to have it — router (JM): It’s the Fix team’s weekly live chat! 

Oh, did you want to know what we’re covering too? All things politics and coronavirus. Since we last spoke President Trump has started talking about “opening the economy,” Fox News followed suit, and we got a look at how the country thinks he’s handling the virus. Also three members of Congress were diagnosed with coronavirus, as the Senate rushed to approve the relief package. 

Note: We’re talking in this chat about our area of expertise, how the virus impacts politics and vice versa. If you have more general questions, here’s where you can find the best Washington Post resources on the virus and what’s being done about it. 

What do you want to know? Thanks for tuning in this week — Natalie (from my kitchen table, fielding my daughters’ lunch complaints along with your politics questions)

Do you think either major political party will even be able to hold their national convention? If not, how would they be most likely to select their Presidential slate (probably more of an issue for the Democrats)?

The Democratic National Convention is set for mid-July, so less than four months away. I think if there is really any continued risk in public gatherings at that point, it's very difficult to see them justifying putting a bunch of people in a packed arena. There's also the problem of preparation, which may be hampered as this drags on.

There's also the problem of if it gets delayed. Are they still going to be able to get the arena? So much preparation is made for these specific dates.

As an alternative, you'd think it wouldn't be too difficult to have delegates cast their ballots without gathering in the same place. That said, we all saw what happened in Iowa.

In light of the Tara Reade bombshell, how likely is it that Andrew Cuomo gets the nod?

I've seen more than a few people say this, and one political betting market now has him as a more likely nominee than Bernie Sanders.

It's worth noting, though, that Cuomo hasn't quite been a beloved figure inside the party in recent years and has inflamed the liberal wing at times. A crisis can sure change that, but to the extent they'd cast aside whoever gets the votes to actually obtain the nomination? I think that only happens if the presumptive nominee can't continue for some reason.

Hi - thanks for your great work, including these chats. A couple weeks ago, Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin directly worked together and negotiated a bill. It passed both chambers and President Trump signed it. Why didn’t Secretary Mnuchin use the same playbook with the current bill?


She was very much part of the discussions for this massive rescue package, too. She flew back from San Francisco to be in meetings with the top Senate Democratic and Republican leaders as well as the top House Republican.

But this legislation was largely crafted by Senate Republicans, then changed and added to by Senate Democrats--specifically Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) with Secretary Mnuchin. It was like the Pelosi-Mnuchin deal, but with Schumer in place. Politico reports some people in the negotiations started calling them "Chuck and Steve" (the two men's first names.)

Odds that Trump will be remembered more as the next Herbert Hoover (Great Depression) or Warren Harding (Teapot Dome)?

Well, it's honestly a bit early to say for sure. I imagine much of that will have to do with how he handles this long-term. Despite shortcomings, the hope from some critics and supporters is that he improves his response and leads the country in a way that will lead to a brighter resolution than either of those times in history.

What are the chances that when this nightmare is over, the US pandemic response team/office is restored, staffed, and funded again?

My guess is that that largely depends on who wins this year's election. The particular response to this moment, the speed and the details of it all will largely be shaped by the vision for American that most voters support.

There's certainly rampant speculation that Trump will fire Fauci because he's upstaging as well as contradicting the president. But he can't actually fire him, can he? He could remove Fauci from the task force, but NIAID Director isn't an appointed position (only the Directors of NIH and NCI within NIH are appointed). Wouldn't Fauci be protected as a federal worker (understanding that this administration has tried it's best to cut back on those protections)?

Fauci did indeed joke on Sunday, "To my knowledge, I haven’t been fired," and reports indicate there's a real tension there. I would wager that Trump wouldn't attempt it unless Fauci truly tried to stop him from taking certain actions. It would be such a PR disaster that it has to be a situation in which Trump would feel he has no choice.

As for whether he legally can fire Fauci? I think that's kind of beside the point. He could certainly cut him out of the deliberations and decision-making process, which would essentially be the same thing.

Is any enterprising reporter investigating how much, if anything, the Trump organization is paying its laid-off hotel and resort employees, especially the ones in lower-paid jobs?

I would urge you to follow David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell who are always investigating all things Trump Hotel. They've reported on immigrants working on Trump properties being treated unfairly, his hotels earning big business from the Secret Service and Republican and world leaders, and much  more. Lately they've reported that 6 out of his 7 properties are losing money, potentially millions, on coronavirus closures. 

The Senate bill says Trump or White House advisers (see: Jared Kushner) or members of Congress can't apply for financial help in businesses they own.

Some reports say he already has a "short list" of contenders but finding out if they have good vibes with him will be difficult these days. Any thoughts on his search for a running mate?

Beyond knowing that he wants to choose a woman, we don't know much more than we did before the coronavirus dominated the news cycle.

Amber wrote a piece about which women could possibly be on the list that is worth checking out if you already haven't.

I'll take it if she doesn't want it! (btw: What is it?)

She's editing my story right now, so I asked her: "Jambalaya. Leftover but not bad if I do say so myself!"

I'm currently reheating my daughter's leftover eggs and peas for breakfast for my lunch.

update now that Amber's latest is up: Daughter was coaxed to take a bite in exchange for cheese. Now lunch is over, things are calm it's just me and the roomba sharing a workspace. 

Hi Everyone -- thanks for taking questions during these incredibly challenging times. In Trump's briefings, we've seen him engage in happy talk at best and outright lies at worst. While I couldn't disagree with him more on pretty much everything, Pence is clearly a more calming and authoritative presence. Also, isn't he technically in charge of the task force? Is there anyone in the Republican Party with the stature to sit down with Trump and try to convince him to let Pence be the face of the briefing, at least most of the time? Who might that be? Graham? McConnell? Cruz? Or is everyone (the medical folks mostly) pretty resigned to the idea of doing their best to get the right messages out in spite of him and he simply cannot be controlled?

While Pence is Trump's point person on the Coronavirus Task Force, Trump is still president and has authority over the ultimate decision making.

The administration has repeatedly contradicted its coronavirus messaging, but Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week that Trump listens to him "on substantive issues" and Trump has said he has a good working relationship with Fauci.

However, we continue to see a balancing act play out at the daily White House coronavirus briefings between the public health and economic considerations, in addition to Trump's concern about what an economic downturn could mean for his reelection bid.

I’ve been amazed how little the economy was impacted by Trump’s inconsistent trade war tactics. Is the virus just exposing the hidden recession pressures that have been building for three years?

That's way above my pay grade. But one thing I'm watching is this: Trump's allies really want to go hard at China over this, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been out-front on that effort. But Trump hasn't gone totally all-in on it. He's continued to try and mind his relationship with President Xi Jinping, whom he repeatedly praised early in the coronavirus outbreak.

To the extent this leads to a lasting feud between the two countries, that could really have drastic effects on whatever economic recovery follows, in large part because of what it could mean for the severity of the trade war. But Trump seems to be trying hard to avoid a total confrontation.

I see a few comments in my Twitter feeds and random posts from my conservative friends with the message "Great job! Thank you for taking care of our country!" and the COVID-19 news/virus is "typical Democrat over-hyping." Are there a LOT of people who really feel this way???

There has been polling showing that Republicans overwhelmingly approve of the way the president is performing. That has generally been the case since he entered the Oval Office, so I'd be surprised to see if that has changed.

There's other polling showing that only about a quarter of Americans are Republicans, in terms of whether "a lot" of people feel that way.

What I find most interesting is recent polling suggesting that the growth in Trump's approval rating is mostly coming from Democrats and Independents -- which makes some sense considering that those were the areas where the president had the most room for growth.

My wife and I live in Florida. Our daughter wants us to come up to stay with her. My take is that "flattening the curve" is trying to make sure that medical facilities (hospital beds, respirators, ICU, etc.) are available for those who need them. In order to make my decision, I need to know which state has more of these available per patient. I don't know where to find this. (However, I understand that if that information is published, people will rush to that location and change the ratio. Is this just a catch 22?)

The CDC has some good data on hospital beds per 1,000 people in each state, and so does the Kaiser Family Foundation. You might want to get more localized data though, because it varies greatly between urban and rural. This might help as well.

Why is it still being reported that the US started the 15 day period in the middle of March? Some parts of the country did that while tens of thousands were still congregating together on Florida and Texas beaches.

Because that's when Trump told Americans that the CDC recommends they avoid groups over 10, setting the time period for at least 15 days, with an option to renew those guidelines. At the time, he said these may last until June or August, with Dr. Anthony Fauci clarifying that's on the high end of public-health estimates of what it's going to take to defeat this virus. Other countries reacted sooner because the virus hit their shore sooner. Yet the Trump administration has largely lagged on virus response, compared to places in Asia like South Korea or Singapore or Hong Kong that have had more success. Yesterday the World Health Organization warned the U.S. could be the next epicenter of the virus.

Are you seeing any evidence that officials at the federal and/or state levels are preparing for the possible need to conduct the November elections largely by absentee ballot? My fear is that if social distancing is still needed then that in-person voting will be discouraged, the states won’t be set up to handle huge numbers of absentee ballots, and the election results will be challenged.

The Senate-passed coronavirus stimulus bill includes $400 million to help states protect voting from possible disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The House is expected to pass the bill tomorrow and President Trump is expected to sign it.

Some lawmakers have suggested this is not nearly enough to cover the costs needed to prepare for the November elections amid the pandemic, so it is possible there could be additional election funds in future coronavirus stimulus bills.

Already, there has been a surge in some absentee ballot requests and this may continue to rise. But much of this could change if the U.S. is able to curb the outbreak in the coming months.

a short while ago, one of the Fixers (sorry can't remember who) said that the Dem governors who ran for the nomination couldn't break through due to how our media works now, that Senators have the national stature and media attention so they are favored. But with this crisis, the governors now have center stage. I know the next Presidential contest is a few years away, but do you think this situation is creating a new set of viable candidates from among the governors? I am starting to think we may have governor nominees for the next while after 2020.

It's definitely an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with governors. We're seeing much more of Cuomo today, for example, than we are of Biden. This could be the biggest challenge many of them face. That said, will this be what people remember during the 2024 and 2028 primaries? That's a long way off.

For the unemployed, it's a drop in the bucket. But the biggest question--is it taxable? If so, it's more like $1000 for many people.

From our great new explainer on these checks, where you can calculate how much you'll get:

"Are the checks taxable?: No, they are not taxable. The only catch is that technically a person’s 2020 income is what qualifies them for the payment. Since no one knows their total 2020 income yet, the government is using tax returns from 2019 and 2018 to figure out who qualifies for a check. It is possible that someone may have to pay back some of the money if his or her income this year turns out to be significantly more than it was in 2019 or 2018. That’s expected to be a relatively small share of people, and the money would not have to be paid back until April 15, 2021."

Why is the House is not voting on the relief bill until Friday?

I think they want to give members a day to understand what's in the bill. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would like committee chairmen and women who can make it to come to Washington to debate it on the House floor. But not everyone is coming -- they're going to try to pass it Friday morning by something called voice vote, which means if no one objects to there not being a quorum, then those who are there can vote on it. 

But, you have at least one Democrat and one Republican considering asking for a quorum, which would set off a procedural move to require all members of Congress who aren't sick or quarantined to come back to vote, which could be dangerous for them and their constituents, to say the least.

Do you think stores, restaurants and offices will reopen by Easter, as Trump wants? It's less than 3 weeks away, health professionals say it hasn't even peaked, and Trump is insisting that the country th can be up and running by then. 1. Is this realistic, and 2. If businesses do open, and more people get sick and die, will that kill Trump's reelection? Or is his reelection in trouble already?

How the coronavirus pandemic will impact Trump's reelection bid is still largely unknown: He has seen a modest polling bump from the outbreak, but those numbers could change depending on the length and severity of the U.S. outbreak.

While Trump can certainly encourage businesses to reopen, he has little authority to do that. The lockdowns have been ordered by state and local officials, including Republicans, and the 15-day guidelines Trump released last week were just that: guidelines.

Additionally, polling indicates most Americans agree with social distancing measures taken by various communities. It is unclear if Americans would want to return to their workplaces early, even if government officials permitted them.

Do those Republican Senators who were upset about their belief that unemployment compensation could be used to get more money realize that you cannot collect unemployment if you quit your job, only if you've been laid off? Graham looked especially inept talking about nurses (of all people) who would quit to collect unemployment because it paid more than their regular job.

Yeah their messaging was awkward, to say the least because they were concerned, as you say, about the high payments (an extra $600/week for up to four months, on top of what states offer for unemployment) incentivizing people not to work. That's more than minimum wage. Maybe they were worried about people who got laid off and then wanted to stay laid off for four months? 

The Gallup poll that showed 60% approval for Trump's handling of COVID-19 also showed 60% approval from Independents. Do you think this will be a factor come election day?

If it's still that high, surely. But two things:

1) Other polls don't show him that him -- more like in the low 50s.

2) There are a lot of difficult decisions about this that will be made in the coming weeks and months. It's not unusual to see a temporary rallying effect behind a president in times of crisis, but that doesn't always last.

Please ask Trump this today at his campaign rally/press conference. The Four Seasons is providing free rooms for front line health care personnel. Trump has thousands of empty rooms and apartments just sitting there, all around the world, including at Trump Tower. Will he take the lead and make his properties available for patients and medical personnel during this crisis?

Not a bad idea. I will say Trump, through his actions, has been reluctant to recognize the seriousness of this crisis. He of course downplayed the threat of the virus, calling it the flu, for weeks. His administration was late to help hospitals and health-care workers get the equipment they need, resulting in a months-long shortage. He has not acknowledged the shortage of tests the government has. And he has not marshaled the full power of the federal government and the military to help hard-hit states, most notably by not using the Defense Production Act to organize and purchase and distribute ventilators and equipment to hospitals. The act would do that by forcing car and clothing companies and other U.S. manufacturers to pivot to making health-care equipment.

Which "Acela Primary" states have postponed their April 28 elections? Will the rest?

Five of the 7 states on that date have already postponed, and New York and Pennsylvania may follow suit.

Those already bereft without March Madness see that nearly all colleges (except Liberty Un.) have cancelled the rest of spring semester on campus, which would include spring football practice. What happens if the NCAA has to cancel the fall football season? Huge financial loss for the schools.

Massive. Though if things are still bad enough come September to necessitate such a change, the schools will hardly be the only ones suffering mightily.

Biden is not doing well in the interviews he's granted from his basement. Will this affect his poll numbers?

That's hard to determine.

But I would be careful about overestimating how poor television performances shape Biden's popularity in this moment. In no debate was he viewed as being the best candidate overall -- and yet here he is the presumptive nominee.

Part of the reason is that there are likely fewer people watching these basement videos than some might think. And among those who are, a poor video performance is not likely to lead some liberals to begin backing someone else -- especially in the general election.

Here in Iowa (in particular the U of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City) there is very little testing going on. I know several people who had some symptoms and were denied the test. It appears that important people, you know, basketball players and politicians, are having no trouble getting tested even though they have no symptoms. It seems clear that two things are going on: rich and well-born get tested, but otherwise testing is being limited to keep the real numbers of infected people held down. Watching the big refrigerator truck pulling up to the hospital on TV this morning was pretty astonishing. When does the truth come out?

You're not wrong that people with power and money, specifically both, have had much easier time getting tests, even flouting guidelines from the White House to let tets first go to health-care workers and seriously ill.

Our White House and congressional colleagues report on a number of politicians who got tests for themselves and their family despite not having any symptoms -- and the common denominator, besides being members of Congress? Proximity to Trump.

Of all the things President Trump has said during the Coronavirus pandemic, this seems to me the most reprehensible, because it plants the idea of killing oneself (as a way out) in the heads of people who might already be predisposed to harm themselves. In the interest of full disclosure: a relative shot himself to death during the 2008 crash after some business deals he was involved in went south. As a public service, would you please post this link to the Post's excellent article which contains information on contacting hotlines for help listed at the end. I don't want any other families to have to go through what ours did. Many thanks.

I'm sorry for your loss. I would encourage people to click that link and also to stay tuned to The Fix, where we're currently working on something about mental health in these times.

Sending my sympathies to you and your family. I just spoke with a mental health expert who mentioned the things government, employees and citizens can do to protect our mental health during this very difficult time.

I hope to publish that story later today if not early tomorrow.

The stock market going up 2000 points in one day shows that the money for stocks is there on the sidelines...ready to jump back in when conditions improve. Do you think this bodes well for the economy?

The stock market has reacted positively to congressional action on the coronavirus relief package in the past few days, but the long-term economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are still largely unknown.

A record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week and the stock market is still down significantly from its highs last month.

The New York Times has a good analysis out this morning analyzing the unemployment numbers and whether they signal a long- or short-term downturn.

Any further word on how he is doing?

She tweeted overnight: "He’s still in the hospital but one lung has improved & I hope he will be home soon."

Depending on how long the pandemic lasts, which Republicans do you think would be most vulnerable to Trump dragging them down to defeat in November?

I am very wary of predicting anything politically right now. We just do not have data on what a pandemic that is ravaging Americans' health, health-care and livelihoods will do to elections. (The 1918 flu pandemic was during a midterm and voting was down by a lot because people were afraid to go out.)

I wll say that in the Senate, several Republicans are vulnerable: Cory Gardner in Colorado, Martha McSally in Arizona, potentially Susan Collins in Maine and Thom Tillis in North Carolina or Joni Ernst in Iowa. Do voters want to stay with the leaders they know during this, or change it up? 

Dr Deborah Birx says that the US has tested more people for the coronavirus in 8 days than South Korea did in 8 weeks. She does a very good job of explaining complicated medical issues. Do you think she and Dr Fauci will get medals when this is over?

Both Trump and Birx have left out important context in their comparison of U.S. testing to South Korean testing: The U.S. is a much larger country. When accounting for population, South Korea's testing rate for the coronavirus is nearly six times the U.S. rate.

And Fauci was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008 by then-president George W. Bush.

Any further word into investigation of Senators Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler's conveniently timed dealings?

Burr has called for an ethics investigation, but Loeffler has not. Burr's situation appears more problematic, given he made the trades himself and Loeffler says it is handled independently of her and her husband.

But I thought it was very noteworthy that the SEC on Monday issued a warning about insider trading involving the coronavirus. The statement did not mention the senators, though.

The Administration's response to coronavirus has been a national embarrassment. Or, well, it SHOULD be considered an embarrassment. Why is Trump polling so high for such a complete failure of leadership?

Aaron got at this yesterday in a Fix post, which I expanded on in my 5-Minute Fix newsletter. I'll copy and paste my answer here: 
As Blake points out, Americans often rally around a president during and immediately after a crisis.
Trump is on TV daily, sometimes for multiple hours, giving briefings to journalists about the virus.By contrast, Biden has been in his home like everyone else.
The virus is collapsing American life in a way akin to major war. But it's not a war. Maybe Americans don't blame Trump for this.
How does the stimulus, with its $1,200 check, change things for Trump?

for conducting this chat. I imagine it would be very hard for those of you whose job it is to gather and share information to be confined to your homes and still be expecting to synthesize a flood of information. Do you have opportunities to tele- connect with each other still?

We do! It is indeed tougher, but we have always been good about being in touch not just in person but on Slack, which made the transition a little easier. Thanks for chatting with us!

I want to add some extra praise here for the Fix team. I joked in my introduction but really, this team (like a lot of people who are still lucky enough to have their jobs) is facing serious hurdles to being productive. They are dealing with reduced or no childcare, concerns about friends who are ill or affected, and other minor to major inconveniences. Readers are really engaged right now so we know what we do is important and that is truly motivating. 

Perhaps a better parallel would be voters who turned out for FDR and Democrats down-ticket in 1932.

Well, yeah, past political science shows it's very hard for politicians in a strong economic downturn to get reelected. Economic analysts are saying this could extend to the second half of the year. Could it restart just as quickly as it stopped when social distancing restrictions and health concerns are lifted? I don't know. 

The media keeps reporting on the number of cases and deaths from the Corona Virus. The CDC reports that there were over 35,000 deaths related to the flu in America during the 2018-2019 flu season. But yet this is hardly reported by the MSM. If the death toll from the Corona virus is less than the flu, there will be many people who will believe that this was way over-hyped by the media. Just saying.....

The coronavirus is both more contagious and deadlier than the seasonal flu. It is estimated that the coronavirus is 10 times deadlier than the seasonal flu.

Additionally, comparing the seasonal flu to coronavirus is not a fair comparison. The flu can be slowed by vaccines meant to counter it while the coronavirus cannot, meaning the spread of the coronavirus is potentially much worse.

Lastly, we don't know the final numbers of the coronavirus pandemic, as it is still ongoing and is still spreading in many countries.

$100 million for the arts might be a small percentage of the $2 trillion bill, but would any senator really have held up the bill if the arts funding had not been included?

You're saying: Was the result (helping institutions like the Kennedy Center) not worth the political blowback (Pelosi wanted pet projects like the Kennedy Center!)

Maybe. I imagine both sides were going to find ways to attack each other for this legislation anyway.

to get himself more reasonable coverage in the midst of the COVID-19 debacle? He's released a couple of good ads, but it feels like he's getting lost in the shuffle.

He is struggling to break through. I don't have the answer and I imagine he doesn't either. The Post's Matt Viser and Annie Linskey walk through how he and his team are trying to figure out what to do. One issue: He didn't want to get in the way of delicate congressional negotiations for the relief package.

That's a wrap for today. Thank you all for joining us. Stay safe! 

In This Chat
Amber Phillips
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.
Eugene Scott
Eugene Scott writes about identity politics for The Fix. He was recently a fellow at the Georgetown University Institute of Politics. And prior to joining the Post, he was a breaking news reporter at CNN Politics.
JM Rieger
JM Rieger is the video editor for The Fix, covering national politics. He joined The Washington Post in 2018. Previously, Rieger worked as a video producer covering national politics for HuffPost. He began his career as a video editor covering Congress for Roll Call.
Natalie Jennings
Natalie Jennings is editor of The Fix. She has been at The Washington Post since 2010 and was previously a senior producer for Post Video.
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