The Business of Elections

An influential group of top American business leaders has something to be thankful for this week now that their wish for a presidential transition has been granted. 

Although corporate leaders are often loathe to enter into political disputes, the presidential instability could be bad for business. So yesterday more than 160 top American executives asked the Trump administration to immediately acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect and begin the transition to a new administration. 

Just hours later, the General Services Administration finally ascertained Biden’s win, allowing the transition to move forward. 

Signatories to the letter included the chief executives of Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Mastercard, Visa, MetLife, Accenture, the Carlyle Group, Condé Nast, McGraw-Hill, KKR, WeWork and American International Group, among others. 

The pressure even came from one of Trump’s biggest corporate backers. Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman said in a statement to Axios that “the outcome is very certain today and the country should move on.” 

Other entitIes that have publicly acknowledged the president-elect and/or urged the Trump administration to begin the transition include Dell, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, JPMorgan Chase, Dow, Unilever and Walmart

And some are taking further steps to court the incoming administration. GM said in a letter to environmental groups that it was reversing course and will no longer back the Trump administration’s effort to bar California from setting its own emissions rules in an ongoing court fight. And Facebook executives are planning to encourage users to take a coronavirus vaccine and incentivize people to share content related to the Paris climate agreement— which Joe Biden has promised to rejoin— in the hopes of winning favor in Washington. 

The More Things Change…

Well, that took like a nanosecond. 

White House reporters covering President-elect Joe Biden’s transition and anticipating following his every move once he reaches 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have begun grumbling about a less than volcanic flow of information from Team Biden in Wilmington. Ok, so it’s just one (albeit influential) reporter doing the grumbling. 

But still – mark our words. It won’t take long for others in the White House press corps to take up Politico reporter Ryan Lizza’s mantle. He’s arguing that as Team Trump exits the scene having busted norms all through their four years in town, “it’s equally— maybe more— important to aggressively document what Trump-established norms the new party in power will quietly hope to preserve,’’ including a focus on press access and relations.

And we agree. Each presidential administration claims to change things drastically from their predecessor, and they usually do when it comes to policy. 

But in the area of flowing information to the public via the media that cover presidents like a rug, every one not only adopts but typically takes further the information-squelching press-wrangling habits of those that went before. It will be telling to watch how Biden walks this particular trajectory. 

Meanwhile, over at the Trump White House, things are getting pretty snarky in the perennial pool report wars. This very DC-insider topic rears up with a vengeance every few years, the product of shrinking news budgets colliding with those same controlling tendencies possessed by every single White House we’ve seen.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center Named One of 2020’s Best Inventions

As the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States in early 2020, GPG worked with Johns Hopkins University and Medicine to build an online tool (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/) to provide real-time COVID-19 tracking, data analysis and expert resources from across the institution

Initially built around the COVID-19 Global Map developed in January 2020 by Dr. Lauren Gardner at the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, today the site includes sophisticated data visualizations, learning modules, live events and state- and county-level COVID-19 data. A cross-agency team at GPG—including creative, analytics, strategic communications and digital—manages site and content execution on a daily basis. 

Site data is available to anyone who wants it via GitHub, and since launch, the site has been used by news outlets, local and state health officials, educators and people across the U.S. and the world to stay up to date on the pandemic. In November 2020, the Coronavirus Resource Center was named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2020.

Busy Thanksgiving Augurs Grim Christmas

As the coronavirus surges in 45 states, 81% of voters plan to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. And even that’s political. 

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they will celebrate the holiday, 90% to 75%. (11/17, YouGov)

More than a third of Americans (38%) say they will gather in groups of ten or more people for Thanksgiving dinner this year. One-third (33%) say they will not require their dinner guests to wear masks and one-quarter (25%) say they do not plan to practice social distancing. (11/14, Ohio State)

Half of college students returning home for the holidays (49%) say they plan to socially distance from their families but not quarantine. 22% say they will fully quarantine for two weeks, while 24% will not take any precautionary measures. (11/11, Axios/Generation Lab)

Almost three-quarters of Americans (74%) express concern that COVID-19 cases in their area will increase due to people traveling for Thanksgiving. 46% say they are “very concerned.” (11/13, YouGov).

Two Weeks Notice

With only 13 legislative days remaining this year, Congress will be racing against the clock to accomplish its top priorities. Here’s where some of them stand:

Government Funding – The current short-term measure funding the U.S. government expires on Dec 11. Appropriations Committee Chairmen Richard Shelby and Nita Lowey are expected to agree this week on the overall numbers, at which point the appropriators can pull together the legislative text that would keep the government from a shut-down. It won’t be easy as the House spending bills reflect Democrat priorities and the Senate bills reflect Republican priorities. But the outlook is optimistic given both party leaders want to wrap up the bill rather than punting it to next year.

COVID-19 Relief More COVID relief in 2020 is uncertain. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still wants a $2+ trillion comprehensive bill, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is insisting on a narrower bill of about $500 billion. Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted he wants Congress to pass another bill and “make it big and focused.” But Republicans seem unwilling to stray too far from the $500 billion figure. And Democrats fear agreeing to a narrower bill would preclude them from getting more relief next year if the Senate remains in Republican hands.

Military Budget – Formal negotiations on legislation to set budgets and policies for the Pentagon could start this week with floor action on a conference agreement likely in early/mid-December. A change that would require renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders has bipartisan support in both chambers. But the Trump White House is threatening to veto the bill over that language.

Multiemployer Pension Plans – The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation is underfunded and facing insolvency in the next couple years.  Ongoing negotiations to protect the pensions of 1.4 million retirees covered under these plans could finally be resolved in the lame duck session–but it won’t be easy.

Vaccine Outlook: What’s Next

Promising Phase Three clinical trial data from two companies leading the vaccine race could be the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic—but hurdles to approval remain.

Next steps in the hastened timeline relate to the Food and Drug Administration authorizing emergency use to one or more vaccine candidates. The FDA set a minimum effectiveness bar at 50% efficacy for vaccine makers aiming to submit their candidates for emergency authorization.

Drug makers Pfizer and Moderna recently announced their coronavirus vaccines are more than 90% and 94% effective, respectively.

If the vaccines receive the FDA greenlight, the first doses could be distributed in December. Once available, health care workers, essential workers and those at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19 will receive the vaccine first. That could cover potentially 20 million people, likely around mid-December.

Still, the FDA could take weeks to review the clinical data and approve vaccine production facilities. FDA officials have voiced concerns that granting emergency authorization use would inhibit long-term assessment of safety and efficacy in ongoing trials, precluding the drug-makers from applying for full license in the future.

With many Americans still hesitant about a coronavirus vaccine, about a half-dozen (mostly Democrat-led) states and the District of Columbia have established committees to review coronavirus vaccine candidates offered for FDA approval.

Policymakers will decide how many doses of the coronavirus vaccine are sent to each state. However, states will be individually tasked with distributing the vaccine, with little guidance or funding from the federal government once it is made available.

Public appetite will play a part as well. According to recent polling, nearly half (48%) of Americans say they would trust a Moderna vaccine somewhat or a lot, while 27% of Americans say they would not trust it very much or at all.

Transition Delays Impact Public Health

Residual tensions over the 2020 Presidential Election are complicating efforts to address the pandemic.

President Trump has yet to concede the election, meaning that presumed President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team cannot access certain resources within the federal government such as vaccine distribution plans.

Despite Biden already announcing a coronavirus task force, the restriction of resources to Biden’s transition team has raised concerns among public health officials.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said President Trump’s refusal to cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team hurts public health as coronavirus cases surge across the country.

Officials from both sides of the aisle have also expressed the desire for a smooth transition:

  • Biden’s recently-announced Chief of Staff Ronald Klain said, “Joe Biden’s going to become president of the United States in the midst of an ongoing crisis. That has to be a seamless transition.”
  • Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) said that while “the president has every right to go into court” to contend election results, “we also need to begin that process” of handing over power.

Biden’s team has said it will continue with the transition with or without the help of President Trump. But continued obstacles from the Trump administration, such as refusing to provide access to messages from foreign leaders, may impact Biden’s ability to hit the ground running in coordinating a response to the global pandemic once he is inaugurated.

COVID Spike Augurs A Grim Thanksgiving

A wave of COVID-19 infections is ushering in a series of lockdowns and restrictions across the country a week before the Thanksgiving holiday, the Canadian equivalent of which triggered a mammoth COVID spike.

In a single week, over 1 million new cases were reported in the United States, bringing the nation’s total to over 11.3 million cases.

GPG examined how this most recent spike in COVID-19 cases compares to what the country experienced in June and July. The raw number of cases per day far exceeds any numbers we have seen to date. Each of the last 14 days in November account for the top 14 days in terms of new cases for all of 2020.

But another way to process the data is by looking at how cases are growing over comparative subsets of time. Over the past month and half, the number of new cases per day has increased 177%. While significant, this is slightly less than an equivalent block of time between June 15 and July 14 where we saw a 206% increase.