Fix chat: What's the endgame for Republicans who still won't mandate masks?

Jul 16, 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.

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

Welcome back, Fix chatters! 

  • We're coming to you a day after President Trump shook up his campaign, replacing Brad Parscale as campaign manager. Aaron Blake writes that it's not that simple to fix what ails the campaign. 
  • And Jeff Sessions's political career has met a likely end, as Amber Phillips wrote. What should Republicans learn from that? 
  • Amber also looked at exactly what has to happen for the Senate majority to flip. 
  • The White House has shut out Anthony Fauci and some staffers have publicly attacked him in the last few days. We've been following that
  • Roger Stone is a free man, and even some Trump allies, like William Barr, think that's problematic

Eugene is out today, but the rest of us are ready to hear from you. What do you want to know? 

Would it be ok politically for either party to say, its ok to open up, just make masks mandatory?

Lots of governors are making masks mandatory right now, including Alabama's Kay Ivey (R) on Wednesday. And many of the GOP politicians who have been urging mask use have been making exactly this case: Wearing masks is the best way to make sure we can reopen.

I'm still dumfounded that this isn't a message the president is using.

What is the endgame with Kemp and DeSantis? This resistance to face masks does not make sense- If we started adopting their use, we would likely be able to open our schools and restart the economy. Being petulant prolongs this, kills more people and worsens the economic outlook. It also has to harm their chances at reelection (especially since they had fairly close races in the first place). Why are they being so resistant?

I think the Republican opposition to mandating masks (which has shifted away from some opposition to wearing masks period) comes down to two things:

1. Trump, who has simply made this a culture war
2. A Republican skepticism of heavy-handed government, and mixing health experts' advice for masks into that. I think of what Ronny Jackson, the White House's former doctor who is on his way to representing Texas in Congress next year, who said this week: "I don't particularly want my government telling me that I have to wear a mask. So, I think that's a choice that I can make."

Does Jeff Sessions's defeat in Alabama help or hurt Doug Jones's chances of an upset win over Tommy Tuberville in November? Or does it even matter in Alabama, even if there is a Blue Tsunami nationwide?

I think it helps Republicans slightly that they have a candidate who is endorsed by Trump. Sessions is one of the most well-known Alabama politicians in modern times, but Alabama is also one of the most pro-Trump states in the nation. And Trump does not like Sessions.

Anyway. It's hard to see how Democratic Sen. Doug Jones wins reelection here. It's Alabama and he won in 2017 against one of the most fundamentally flawed Senate candidates in recent memory anywhere, Roy Moore. 

I think that the path for Senate Democrats to regain the majority takes into account them losing Alabama and then picking up 4-5 seats (4 if they win the White House) elsewhere.

Who does his primary result help more: the Republicans or the Democrats?

I tend to think that Sessions would have had an easier time in the general election, because he knew the state so well and Tuberville is a political newcomer. Jones is still and underdog, but I would wager that Tuberville was a more attractive opponent for him.

Since Tuesday night it seems like the Jones campaign is going to make this a referendum on if you root for Auburn or Alabama? I assume there will be more to this campaign than that.

It's honestly not a bad place to start! At the same time, he won the primary runoff pretty easily, which suggests he did okay with the Roll Tide vote.

You think we will see more pop culture people running for the GOP? It seems like a good strategy when all else fails.

I think we're already seeing that -- on all sides. (See Sex in the City's Cynthia Nixon running for governor of New York recently).

Or politicians become pop culture themselves (See AOC, for example).

Just have to say, the college version of myself in early aughts (both SATC and SEC football crazed) would love to know that someday I'd be talking about our chief rival's coach (Geaux Other Tigers) and Miranda in a political chat. What a time...

Can Roger Stone, in the future, be on trial again, and sent to prison for the charges against him?

He has been convicted, and the conviction stands, given the sentence was commuted rather than this being a pardon. And in either case, Stone couldn't have been tried for those crimes again.

Why can't states that have not had much mail-in ballots elections place boxes (like mail boxes on the corner) around so people can just put their ballots in and avoid the post office? I think there are some states that do that now. And it seems that would not take a huge amount of time accomplish

Mail-in ballots can be returned as you would send any other mail.

What you seem to be referring to is a ballot drop box that can be monitored by camera or other security mechanisms. Ballot drop boxes usually are only required for absentee ballots, but many states with mail-in voting do not distinguish between mail-in and absentee voting.

You can read more on all of this from the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.

Is anyone looking at the transition period after the November election? What would keep Trump from pardoning all his friends or even doing worse?

I've been thinking about this too. Of course we have seen many controversial pardons in these periods, but generally presidents will worry about them hurting their legacy. (Clinton has acknowledged his Marc Rich pardon is a black mark on his legacy.) Trump has far less compunction about these kinds of controversial things, which leads me to believe he'd take things to another level entirely.

Hi, Fix Team, Reporters covering the 2020 election have done a good job of talking to two groups of potential voters: those who voted from Trump in 2016 and plan to stay the course this time around, and those who voted for Trump last time but are backing Biden now. One group I haven't heard from is people who voted for Hillary or someone else in 2016 and are now converts to the Trump camp. Do such people exist? They would be very interesting to hear from. Should they exist, that is.

I'm sure there are Hillary-Trump supporters in 2020. It's a big nation. But one of the reasons you're not hearing those folks being talked to/about in the media is because they don't seem to be a big player in this election. Instead, white voters who supported Trump in 2016 are trending toward Biden, especially young college-educated white voters and suburban families and some older voters in swing states like Florida.

Is it a) to re-elect DJT or b) remain as Senate Majority Leader?

b, every time. a is a function of b. 

Republicans can hold onto the Senate if Trump loses, but not if Trump loses by a significant margin. Even worse for McConnell/Senate Republicans is that some of their most competitive Senate races they need to keep the majority are also presidential battlegrounds, like North Carolina and Iowa and Georgia. 

Can Trump fire him? I hope not!

He can. He apparently won't, though, judging by how the White House has backed off on this whole thing.

I thought it was also interesting how Fauci responded in an interview Wednesday with the Atlantic: "I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do." That sounds like a pretty confident man.

I suppose he can be removed from his position, but he can't (legally) be fired.

This is a fair point, but there are shades of gray. Trump can't directly fire him, but HHS Secretary Azar could try to. Fauci could appeal it and ask for what grounds it would be on.

In other words, it would be a mess, which is probably part of the reason they're backing off.

The bigger question, it seems to me, is how much the administration continues to sideline him. I've long said freezing him out was the more likely result, and that appears to have happened.

Back about a thousand years ago, when Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the Democratic primary race, there were promises that he would be spending some serious cash on electing the Democratic nominee and supporting down ballot races. Just curious if you have heard of any movement on this front - any indications this is happening (or will)?

Bloomberg initially promised to form an independent expenditure campaign that would have used his presidential campaign staffers to work to elect Democrats in November.

But weeks later, Bloomberg used a campaign finance loophole to transfer much of his presidential campaign cash to the Democratic Party.

Is Iowa's junior senator really in trouble, with both polling and fundraising not looking so hot?

Just checked the latest fundraising in this race, which came out today. Republican Sen. Joni Ernst has more cash on hand than her Democratic opponent, Theresa Greenfield, but Greenfield slightly outraised her this quarter.

Still, there was that Des Moines Register poll in June showing Greenfield leading by 3 points.

I think Ernst is going to have a tight race, but I'm skeptical that Democrats will unseat her. I could be wrong, but I just don't think Iowa is trending as Democratic as Democrats think it is this election.

CORRECTION: This answer has been corrected to show that Greenfield outraised Ernst.

RBG must remain on the Supreme Court until (hopefully) Joe Biden is elected President. If she became incapacitated, could the Republicans remove her from the Court?

In short, not really. Politico looked at just this kind of question. There have been many Supreme Court justices who have been incapacitated, but they have lifetime tenures. The only way to remove one would be to impeach, but Democrats of course would never provide enough votes.

Is it true that the WaPo staff will be working outside the office for the rest of the year? Does that make your jobs more difficult, or are you getting used to the decidedly odd new normal?

It is true. We all kind of expected it, but we got the official word from our publisher this week that we will be out of our newsroom until at least January. Knowing it was coming doesn't make the official reality easy to get our heads around. I am especially sad when I think about being on my couch rather than in a buzzing newsroom on election night. With the caveat that of course we are lucky to have our jobs and be able to do them safely from home, I just have to say: UGH.  

We can perform our job functions totally fine from remote. The intangible things -- walking over to chat out an idea, having a meeting that spawns some creative way to approach something -- are what we lack from remote. We are used to it by this point, but I think often about the things we didn't come up with because we aren't collaborating IRL.  Then again, this is the news moment of our lifetimes, so we have that to motivate us. 

President Trump is making an issue of ballots by mail, consistently claiming there will be voter fraud that will help Democrats. Is there any evidence from the handful of states already using mail in ballots that voter fraud is a problem? Is it possible that the Russians could aid Trump by counterfeiting ballots?

Last month, Attorney General William P. Barr floated a theory that foreign governments could interfere in the election by counterfeiting mail-in ballots. Election officials quickly contradicted Barr.

And a Washington Post analysis of votes cast by mail in three vote-by-mail states in 2016 and 2018 found just 372 possible cases of voter fraud, or 0.0025 percent of all votes cast in those two elections.

Here is a hypothetical- Biden is elected in November in a landslide. What can be done in the lame duck session to help ensure that things don't worsen? In the '08 crisis, the Bush and Obama transition teams coordinated efforts- is it realistic to expect that to happen with a Trump-Biden transition?

I don't know the answer to that question -- what kind of coordination there might be likely to happen between a Trump and Biden administration.

But I think whatever goodwill and organization there might be could be seriously muddled by the potential to not have results about who won the White House for a few weeks, due to delays from mail voting and the fact so many states will be new to this. 

Besides Don Jr's twitter feed and the notes in his pocket, do you think Trump just borrowed Kayleigh's binder and just barreled through all the talking points while riffing on them as he saw fit? Thanks.

I had a slightly different reaction. It sounded to me like he was running through a lot of things he might otherwise have said at the canceled NH rally.

I saw an article where Trump's Campaign Donor is taking small steps to impede the Post Office before our Vote-by-Mail General Election. Can Congress do anything to stop him?

The Post's Michelle Ye Hee Lee wrote about the potential confluence of the Postal Service and politics and mail voting yesterday. 

The postal service union is worried about potential politicization, especially at this critical moment for the agency, with its new leader, who is a top Trump donor. Voting by mail advocates say Congress could give the Post Office more money to try to coordinate better with state and local officials and hire more help to manage the massive influx of ballots they'll help be delivering this fall. We'll see if that happens; Congress is currently fighting about money for schools and whether to expand unemployment insurance. 

Is there anything Congress can do to interfere with Trump's recent EPA decisions?

Congress can always do something if they have the political will and enough votes! They can override vetos. They won't, though.

One of the undersold stories of the Trump era is all the ways in which he's taken advantage of decades of Congress handing power to the executive branch. And once you hand it over, it's much more difficult to take it back.

A week or so ago, Chuck Todd wondered if Trump had had his Katrina moment in his inability to confront the coronavirus. That moment would be the point that the electorate decides that the incumbent is not worth keeping. Does this seem to be a fair assessment or could some miracle happen that would revitalize the Trump campaign?

I missed this when Todd said it so just rewatched. Katrina caused approximately 1,800 deaths, which is barely a fraction of what coronavirus has caused in America. I know that's not Todd's point, though, and yes, there's lots to suggest the last few months have really harmed Trump's chances in November. No one is ruling out the prospect of his campaign resurging, but he's dug himself a major hole, no question. 

Trump is in dire straits and continues to lean on Biden’s acuity as his way out. For those of us of a certain age, it’s reminiscent of 1980, when the knocks against Reagan were that he was (1) an extremist and (2) a madman who’d set off a nuclear war with the Soviets. Carter was in similar-to-now struggles, but the race didn’t reach full landslide dimensions until the face-to-face debate, when Reagan merely appeared reasonable and friendly. The bar was set so extremely low for him. Easy to see a similar play-out this fall.

As my colleague Dave Weigel has noted a few times during this campaign, it is a little surprising to see the Trump campaign continue to lower debate expectations for Biden. There seems to be a lot of risk with that strategy and little upside for Trump. If Biden performs even moderately better than expected, he could effectively end the race at the debates.

Oh come on now, even if something happened to RBG, you don't think Mitch would put forward a Supreme Court nominee in an election year, do you? That would contravene the sacred, inviolate rule he made up four years ago!

McConnell has very publicly said he'd do this, so it's not a secret.

Exactly why is the trump administration bypassing Covid 19 data from CDC to a private company. Will the reports be transparent and accessible to the public.

The data is not being sent to a private company but rather to a private government database managed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The data has already been removed from CDC's website and it appears that it will not be made public.

The Trump administration has said this is needed to streamline the coronavirus response and the allocation of supplies, even though the CDC has traditionally been charged with tracking public health data.

I keep hearing different things about how, or if, mail-in voting will work in Maryland. What's the real story?

I think they're trying to figure that out still. And voting experts tell me time is running out to find vendors to print ballots, envelopes, get people applications for absentee ballots and hire staff to do all this. Their primary earlier this spring resulted in a number of voters saying they just never got their absentee ballot

Is the Minnesota Fair happening or is it cancelled? Washington State Cancelled theirs!

Sigh. It's basically canceled. Can't tell you how many great memories I have off the nation's best state fair (and yes, I know this despite having only been to one other).

Is there ANY plausible math by which the Democrats not only take back the Senate in 2021, but also achieve a 60-vote filibuster-proof super-majority (counting Independents Bernie Sanders and Angus King)?


They'll be very happy to have picked up enough seats for a super slim majority, like one vote, or even 50-50 but with the vice president the tie breaker.

Is it really good to warn of a Biden Apocalypse in your advertising when you've already created a hellscape under your own administration?

I'll leave this editorial comment to the person who posted it, but it's worth noting that Trump has repeatedly promised he would bring violent scenes to a halt.

A sampling:

“The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored.” — July 2016 at the Republican National Convention

“This chaos and violence will end, and it will end very, very quickly.” — August 2016

“A Trump administration will end this long nightmare of violence.” — Multiple speeches in November and December 2016

“We are going to build a border wall, enforce our laws, and keep our people safe. The chaos, the violence and the crime will come to an end — beginning in January of 2017.” — October 2016

I realized recently that little has been seen or heard if Kellyanne other than some quotes. She has been an effective, of not exhausting, Trump spokesperson and spin doctor. Has she been sidelined and if so, any reason you know if?

She continues to appear on cable news and often speaks to reporters gathered outside the White House after those appearances. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has also done a fair amount of cable news interviews, and don't be surprised as the campaign ramps up if you see more interviews with Trump campaign staffers.

Did Jeff Sessions lose because of Trump? Because he ran against a popular football coach in a state where football is religion? Or a mixture of both?

I think it's hard to say in any race exactly why someone won or lost. Maybe Alabama voters were ready for someone new, given Sessions had represented them for 20 years.

That being said, Trump absolutely played a role. The state voted for Trump by nearly 30 points in 2016. You can't be on Trump's bad side and win a Senate seat there.

Have any of you seen it yet?

I haven't yet! It's on my to-do list one evening, now that you don't have to get up at dawn to see it anymore. 

Has anyone else?

Does either one retire from the SCOTUS soon, so Trump can appoint, and McConnell's Senate consent to, their replacement

It's getting very late! And the later it gets, the more it looks like a blatant attempt by a SCOTUS justice to politicize the court. That would particularly be the case given Trump's deficit in the polls. Either Alito or Thomas would be inviting this to be the first line in their obituary.

I'm skeptical, given judges tend to want their legacy to be viewed as apolitical. But you of course can't rule anything out.

I'm thinking about states where voters may be angry at governors (who aren't on the ballot) for various coronavirus-related stances -- say, Michiganders angry at Gov. Whitmer, or Georgians angry at Gov. Kemp. How much does a situation like that affect a Senate race?

Yeah you're right that governors have much more to do with (and thus much more heat to take) on their state's coronavirus response than senators do. 

I think people's perception of how the political leaders in their state are doing can motivate them to vote in a different race (in those two cases, for Senate). Whitmer in Michigan is generally getting higher marks than Kemp in Georgia is. 

But I think voters will be most motivated to vote (or to stay home) based on how they think Trump is doing. That's what's really going to shape some of these competitive Senate and House races. 

What's the latest on Tom Friedman's suggestion that Biden hold out on debating Trump until the president releases his tax returns? Any word whether the Biden camp might adopt this strategy - which many think has legs?

Biden has committed to the three scheduled debates with Trump.

The Friedman strategy seems to be based, in part, on the idea that the tax returns a) would reveal previously unknown things about Trump and b) would shift voters to supporting Biden. It is not clear either of these things are true though, and refusing to debate Trump arguably carries much more risk for Biden than it does for Trump, especially since Biden has said he "can hardly wait" to debate Trump.

It is also worth noting that even after a massive New York Times investigation of the Trump family's finances and tax returns that was published last year, President Trump's approval ratings were relatively steady for months.

Do you think Dr. Fauci is sufficiently popular enough to withstand whatever the Trump administration flings at him, and survive to tell about it - -or even to prevail over them?

Fauci remains broadly very popular with the entire American public. There is significant opposition to him in GOP circles. But I think the pull-back from the White House on this reflects the recognition that making this a choice between Fauci and Trump for swing voters is not a battle the White House (or the Trump campaign) wants.

Any chance the Sunflower State could flip?

Maaaaaaaybe if it's a really good election for Democrats and if Republicans nominate their most controversial/weakest candiate, Kris Kobach, who lost the governor's race for Republicans in 2018. 

Correct me on this, but this week you and a bunch of your professional colleagues would be in Milwaukee covering the convention right now?

You're correct. Tonight would be the night Biden was accepting the nomination formally. Now we'll be watching from screens in August, and Republicans will do a much scaled back affair on their original dates but not in their original location.
We'd also already know who Biden's running mate is -- which means he'd have had to finalize that decision as the George Floyd protests were playing out. 

Will we know who won the Presidency by Noon on Wednesday Nov. 4?

Highly unlikely, unless there is a landslide. 

While the Tulsa rally debacle had to be a big factor, I wonder if Brad having a pretty high public profile for a campaign manager played into his demise?

The Wall Street Journal reported that a May advertisement from the Lincoln Project may have worked to sour Trump on Parscale, but it appears a variety of factors led to the demotion.

Did you see Julián Castro's comments leaving it open to running for Governor of Texas in 2022 and do you think he takes the plunge?

I could totally see him running for governor the next election cycle, when that seat is up. I think Democrats are determined each election to try to make a run at winning statewide. They didn't quite do it with Beto O'Rourke in 2018, and I don't think they're going to do it against John Cornyn this time around in the Senate. But we'll see if each cycle they get a little bit closer to turning the state more blue. The demographics of Texas suggest it will happen eventually. 

It seems like there was no real blowback for Trumps Friday night commutation for Roger Stone What do you think this will embolden him to do next?

Setting aside what comes next, it's unavoidably true that the constant pushing of boundaries on stuff like this has led to a desensitization. I can attest that stories on stuff like Barr's botched effort to remove U.S. attorney Goeffrey Berman just don't move the needle (at least from a readership perspective) like they used to. That doesn't mean they aren't important. There just seems to be a recognition that this is part of a long-running pattern, and it's not terribly novel at this point.

That said, a Yahoo-YouGov poll this week showed significantly more people disapproved of the Stone commutation than approved of it. But a large portion of Americans had no opinion. Part of that, probably, has to do with the fact that this was dumped on a Friday night.

How does this Republican governor get away with dissing Trump while others don't?

Part of this is due to the dynamics in Hogan's state: Maryland has done better than many states at containing the pandemic and Hogan is a Republican governor in a traditionally Democratic-leaning state. He also won more votes in 2018 than any gubernatorial candidate in state history, so Hogan's political capital is higher than many other Republican governors.

Has this congressional oversight been effectively ended by this administration? It seems like future presidents can either outright stonewall or just run out the clock in the courts

I wouldn't say effectively ended, but I think Congress's constitutional ability to check the executive has been severely eroded under Trump -- moreso than other presidents, who all push the limits to some degree. And Trump has been helped out by congressional Republicans, who only rarely stand up to him, and usually only on matters of foreign policy. 

Politicians on both sides are loathe to give up power created by their predecessors, so I think it's entirely possible we'll see a weaker Congress going forward.

So now Trump and his daughter are selling and promoting beans from the White House. Is this a violation of any laws and if so, who might enforce the law?

It probably does violate ethic rules for administration employees. But I don't think anyone's getting prosecuted over this.

Well and truly flattened under that speeding bus?

I'm not sure I read the situation as them throwing Navarro under the bus. They say he wrote something that wasn't approved, but it echoed talking points the White House approved and Trump's own comments about how Fauci had made "mistakes."

It seems more likely to me that he was saying something the tracked with WH messaging that suddenly became a liability, so they just suggested he was speaking on his own.

How soon before Trump pardons either of them, or commutes their sentences? Any downside to Trump's candidacy?

Not sure he has to pardon Flynn, given that case looks likely to be thrown out thanks to the DOJ's reversal. The big question, particularly after the election, is about Manafort.

That's all for today. Thanks for joining us -- see you next week! 

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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: