Ready for a Remote Gavel In

The Democratic National Convention begins next week, with the Republican National Convention following just one week later. As the parties gear up to host the first virtual conventions in history, here’s what to watch for:

  • Where the candidates will accept their nominations. Former vice president Biden is expected to accept the nomination from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, after last week’s announcement that he would no longer travel to Milwaukee due to concerns over the coronavirus. The location for Biden’s speech has not been announced, but party officials indicated it will not be from his basement or house. The location for President Trump’s acceptance speech has also not been revealed, though the president has floated the idea of the White House.
  • How each party will engage voters. Both campaigns have mapped out themes for each night of convention programming. Democrats today announced a slate of everyday Americans from across the country who will speak alongside elected officials about the challenges they face amid the worsening pandemic and its economic fallout. Republicans are building the programming to focus on what a second term presidency would look like in “very granular detail.” Meanwhile, 336 total delegates will still travel to Charlotte, North Carolina for official party business, as health and safety protocols were announced.
  • Whether the campaigns will get a virtual convention bounce. The conventions have historically provided an opportunity for candidates to move into the fall with a bump in polling and momentum. The Biden campaign may be planning for a VP bounce leading into their convention, with a decision expected this week. The Trump campaign is expected to build on their massive digital operation to be successful.
  • More changes to come? The coronavirus pandemic has already forced numerous changes to the national conventions. Planners have continued to caution that details are still in flux and subject to change.

Natural Disasters Further Strain COVID-19 Response

Dealing with Hurricane Isaias and other natural disasters in the midst of a public health crisis gives us a glimpse into the future, when a warming world will cause worsening disasters and more heat-related health challenges.

As the New York Times reported, the combination of tropical storms, wildfires and other disasters, coming after months of prior disasters and the struggle to deal with the pandemic, has taken a growing toll on the nation’s disaster response system.

As climate change leads to warmer oceans, hurricanes are getting more frequent and intense. Hurricane Isaias was the ninth named tropical system in the Atlantic so far in 2020, making it two months ahead of the historic average of the ninth named system coming in October. Hurricane season is about two weeks ahead of record pace currently, while only one-third of the way through. Colorado State University researchers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict an “extremely active” 2020 season, with 24 named storms, including 12 total hurricanes, 5 of them major.

Between two and three million lost power during the Isaias, further straining emergency planning departments and forcing COVID-19 testing sites to close.

The twin disasters of climate change and the pandemic have something else troubling in common – both disasters have disproportionately hurt minorities, exposing inequalities that already exist.

Toolkit For Constitutional Rights

From Black Lives Matter protests to anti-mask demonstrations — often met by counterprotesters and police in riot gear — 2020 has tested Americans’ First and Fourth Amendment rights. COVID-19 has exacerbated political tensions, already running high in an election year.

Against this landscape, Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection released Protests & Public Safety: A Guide for Cities & Citizens. The aim of the toolkit is to help local jurisdictions protect public safety while respecting constitutional rights during rallies, protests and other public events — such as by restricting private militia and paramilitary activity, which is legal in every state.

The toolkit offers:

  • Detailed legal analysis for municipal and state attorneys
  • General legal guardrails and best practices for mayors’ offices, city mangers, police chiefs and other municipal officials 
  • Frequently asked questions for concerned citizens and activists.

Besides exploring the constitutional considerations around ensuring safety while protecting freedom of speech, the toolkit discusses the importance of planning ahead, the imperative to correct misinformation quickly and effective security procedures for people.

The full toolkit can be accessed here.

Clock Ticks on COVID Relief

Despite the release of new negative economic data, the fact that bonus unemployment checks have stopped for nearly 30 million Americans, and that suspension of eviction notices has elapsed, Congressional Democrats, Republicans and the White House have yet to find a path forward on new relief legislation

On Thursday, the Commerce Department released figures that during the second quarter U.S. GDP dropped by 32.9% on an annualized level, essentially wiping away five years of U.S. economic growth in a matter of months.  

Furthermore, U.S. jobless claims rose for the second week in a row to 1.4 million – the  19th straight week initial jobless claims exceeded 1 million.  

While the White House and congressional Democrats both indicated they had finally made some progress this past weekend, both sides went out of their way to say a deal was not imminent. In fact, early today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told House Democrats a deal did not seem likely this week.  

Significant differences on key points— such as liability protections, unemployment insurance, election funding and support for state and local governments— could easily drag out or scuttle negotiations completely.  

Complicating matters, President Trump tweeted support this weekend for a payroll tax cut – a proposal previously rejected by both parties and not contained in McConnell’s plan released early last week.

If the two sides cannot reach agreement on the overall size of the next package by the end of this week, it will raise serious questions about their ability to do so at all as economic pain mounts daily for millions of Americans.

Workforce Disrupted

For more than 30 million out-of-work Americans, Friday hit like a gut punch. That’s because the $600 weekly supplemental federal unemployment benefit passed by Congress as part of the CARES Act expired as Congressional leaders failed to act.

The news comes among other troubling signs for American workers.

According to the government’s Employment Cost Index released this past Friday, wages and benefits grew at the slowest pace in three years in the second quarter. That’s a signal employers may be holding back pay as well as cutting jobs as the impact from the coronavirus still weighs heavily on the economy.

According to CNBC, nearly 40 retailers had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy so far this year (as of July 23), exceeding the number of retail bankruptcies for all of 2019. This comes as Lord & Taylor, one of the nation’s oldest department stores, announced Sunday evening it had filed for bankruptcy.

Last week also saw the latest batch of job cuts as brands ranging from Nike and L Brands to LinkedIn and Walmart announced significant layoffs and furloughs across their businesses.

All of this put to the backdrop of a recent New York Times report that found in a survey of some 3,000 public companies, only a small percentage of CEOs and other senior executives experienced any significant cut to salaries as the pandemic has crushed profits and forced large layoffs.  

This sets the stage for Friday’s release of the July jobs report which comes at a critical moment of heightening political sensitivities during the coronavirus pandemic.

As Election Looms, Uncertainty Blooms

Recent polling indicates the closer we get to Election Day, the further we seem to be from resolving the crisis gripping America. Here’s the murky view ahead:

  • Case counts mount. More than a third of states set single-day case records in the last week. Four million COVID cases have been reported in the U.S. and over 150,000 people have died. Three quarters Americans say the country is on the wrong track— the most since the 2013 government shutdown. Fifty-nine percent of Americans think President Trump is handling the pandemic poorly and 60% believe the worst is yet to come. Forty-six percent do not trust the president’s statements on the virus at all.
  • A constitutional crisis? 76% of voters are eligible to vote by mail. But as of now, 9 states will require in-person voting despite concern over coronavirus. Experts estimate implementing mail-in voting across the U.S. will cost $6 billion— including $4 billion for protective gear for poll workers and IT costs. There are currently 163 pandemic-related election lawsuits across the U.S. A close presidential race, foreign interference and difficulties implementing a mail-in election are just some of the things that could bring unprecedented chaos to Election Day.

Dispatch from Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

For the past two weeks, your newsletter has been edited from a cabin on the outskirts of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, where the Pickler family enjoyed a remote summer vacation getaway for our socially distanced times. 

The Allegheny Mountain destination is just 250 miles from Washington, but a world away in terms of outlook on the pandemic. The locals seem very much in touch with President Trump’s way of thinking

The polling and outlook from D.C. is that Trump’s campaign may be on the ropes. But during 15 days of exploring southeastern West Virginia for hiking and biking, there was not a single Biden for President bumper sticker or yard sign to be seen. But plenty of large and enthusiastic displays touted the president’s re-election

Face covering inside local businesses was common, under an executive order Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed a month ago mandating indoor mask use as the state’s case rate spiked. But complaining about the requirement was widespread as well. 

Locals your editor encountered frequently expressed skepticism that the outbreak is as bad as media is reporting. The number of cases in the area remains low despite a percentage increase statewide – Greenbrier County has only seen three deaths and 87 confirmed cases in total.

Residents offered myriad theories about why a COVID hoax would be perpetrated. A popular idea seemed to be that it’s to force mail-in voting that will cause Trump to lose the election

Trump himself is using the pandemic to raise questions about the legitimacy of the election and still refuses to say he will accept results. 

And at least here in this bucolic locale, he appears he could have support in that stance.

The Hundred Day Race

As 18 states set records last week for the number of COVID cases recorded in a single day, Dr. Anthony Fauci is declaring no end in sight to the pandemic. 

But one timeline’s for sure: Election Day is less than 100 days away.  

So we took a look at how President Trump and Former Vice President Biden are faring in battleground states that face rising COVID cases and set single-day records in the last two weeks.

Biden leads Trump in Wisconsin, Florida and Arizona. Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas are virtual ties

This marks a significant shift in Biden’s favor compared to last month. Florida and Wisconsin moved from toss ups in the polls to states that now lean solidly Democrat, and Georgia moved from lean Republican to a toss-up

But as 2016 showed us, a lot can happen in 100 days to shift the election.