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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Trump's Business in the Plague Year

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well under  way.  

Coronavirus presents unprecedented challenges to public policy and the electoral process.  One challenge is the president's role as a businessman.

 Peter Baker, Katie Rogers, David Enrich and Maggie Haberman at NYT:
Day after day, the salesman turned president has encouraged coronavirus patients to try hydroxychloroquine with all of the enthusiasm of a real estate developer. The passing reference he makes to the possible dangers is usually overwhelmed by the full-throated endorsement. “What do you have to lose?” he asked five times on Sunday.
,,,
If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president. Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine.
...

Some associates of Mr. Trump’s have financial interests in the issue. Sanofi’s largest shareholders include Fisher Asset Management, the investment company run by Ken Fisher, a major donor to Republicans, including Mr. Trump. A spokesman for Mr. Fisher declined to comment.

Another investor in both Sanofi and Mylan, another pharmaceutical firm, is Invesco, the fund previously run by Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary. Mr. Ross said in a statement Monday that he “was not aware that Invesco has any investments in companies producing” the drug, “nor do I have any involvement in the decision to explore this as a treatment.”
As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi.
Ashleigh Koss, a Sanofi spokeswoman, said the company no longer sells or distributes Plaquenil in the United States, although it does sell it internationally.
Several generic drugmakers are gearing up to produce hydroxychloroquine pills, including Amneal Pharmaceuticals, whose co-founder Chirag Patel is a member of Trump National Golf Course Bedminster in New Jersey and has golfed with Mr. Trump at least twice since he became president, according to a person who saw them.
Joshua Partlow, Jonathan O'Connell and David A. Fahrenthold at WP: 
The Trump Organization has laid off or furloughed about 1,500 employees at hotels in the United States and Canada as the coronavirus pandemic inflicts further pain on the president’s private business.

With most of President Trump’s hotels and clubs closed amid stay-at-home orders around the world, the Trump Organization has responded by slashing costs, much like other companies in the hospitality and tourism industries. The Trump Organization has laid off or furloughed employees at hotels in New York, the District of Columbia, Miami, Chicago, Las Vegas, Vancouver and Honolulu, according to public filings and people familiar with the properties, including union officials.
David Enrich, Ben Protess and Eric Lipton at NYT:
Representatives of Mr. Trump’s company have recently spoken with Deutsche Bank, the president’s largest creditor, about the possibility of postponing payments on at least some of its loans from the bank.
And in Florida, the Trump Organization sought guidance last week from Palm Beach County about whether it expected the company to continue making monthly payments on county land that it leases for a 27-hole golf club.
...
Yet the company, which has a portfolio of more than a dozen golf clubs and luxury hotels in the United States and overseas, has opted to keep some of its properties open absent government orders to close, in contrast with the widespread shutdowns by some larger hotel chains.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Defending the House Majority

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race. The update looks at political and demographic trends through the 2018 midterm.  Our next book will explain 2020.

Ally Mutnick ,at Politico:
House Democrats’ flagship super PAC is booking $51 million worth of TV ads this fall, a substantial investment aimed at protecting their newly won majority.
The early reservation by House Majority PAC is spread across 29 markets and offers a window into how Democrats view the size and shape of the House battlefield this fall, with massive funds slotted for Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas, according to plans shared first with POLITICO. HMP, which is closely allied with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), is the first of the major House party committees and outside groups to announce fall ad buys.
Yet this only represents a portion of the group’s total 2020 spending. The first wave focuses mostly on markets also hosting contested Senate and presidential races, where it is beneficial to lock in lower rates before the airwaves get crowded and pricey.

It’s more important than ever to keep the Democratic House majority,” Abby Curran Horrell, the PAC’s executive director, said in a statement. “The 2020 election will be unlike any before it, presenting unique challenges and circumstances that make it even more important for our organization to take early steps that enable us to protect and expand the House majority.”
 Arit John at Los Angeles Times:
The coronavirus outbreak has forced political candidates to rethink the way they campaign, but Democrats are returning to a familiar strategy: focus on healthcare.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending nearly $1 million to air an ad highlighting Republican defense contractor Mike Garcia’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act ahead of a May 12 runoff to fill the remainder of former Rep. Katie Hill’s first term.
The buy — which includes cable, Spanish-language TV and digital spending — is the largest ad investment the DCCC has made in California’s 25th Congressional District this cycle. The spot began airing Saturday and will run until May 12.
Garcia is facing Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith of Santa Clarita in the runoff in the district, which covers Simi Valley, Porter Ranch, Santa Clarita, Palmdale and part of Lancaster.

Smith and Garcia placed first and second in a March 3 special election to complete Hill’s term, but neither captured more than 50% of the vote, leading to the runoff. They were also the leaders in a primary held on the same day to represent the district starting in January 2021, and will compete a second time in the November general election.
The 30-second spot doesn’t reference COVID-19 by name, but alludes to the crisis: Images of a paramedic treating a patient in an ambulance flash on screen as a narrator stresses the need for a leader who “will put our health and safety first” now “more than ever.”
“But Mike Garcia would let insurance companies deny coverage for preexisting conditions and hike up costs for life-saving drugs,” says the ad’s narrator.
Hill beat former Republican Rep. Steve Knight in the 2018 midterm election by 9 percentage points, joining a wave of women who helped Democrats win back control of the lower chamber.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Plague Year

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well under  way.  

Coronavirus presents unprecedented challenges to public policy and the electoral process.

A badly-timed tweet:

 Steve Eder, Henry Fountain, Michael H. Keller, Muyi Xiao and Alexandra Stevenson at NYT:
Since Chinese officials disclosed the outbreak of a mysterious pneumonialike illness to international health officials on New Year’s Eve, at least 430,000 people have arrived in the United States on direct flights from China, including nearly 40,000 in the two months after President Trump imposed restrictions on such travel, according to an analysis of data collected in both countries.
The bulk of the passengers, who were of multiple nationalities, arrived in January, at airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Newark and Detroit. Thousands of them flew directly from Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, as American public health officials were only beginning to assess the risks to the United States.
Flights continued this past week, the data show, with passengers traveling from Beijing to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, under rules that exempt Americans and some others from the clampdown that took effect on Feb. 2. In all, 279 flights from China have arrived in the United States since then, and screening procedures have been uneven, interviews show.

Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller at Washington Post:
The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief.

And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.
Trump’s baseless assertions in those weeks, including his claim that it would all just “miraculously” go away, sowed significant public confusion and contradicted the urgent messages of public health experts.
...
The most consequential failure involved a breakdown in efforts to develop a diagnostic test that could be mass produced and distributed across the United States, enabling agencies to map early outbreaks of the disease, and impose quarantine measure to contain them. At one point, a Food and Drug Administration official tore into lab officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telling them their lapses in protocol, including concerns that the lab did not meet the criteria for sterile conditions, were so serious that the FDA would “shut you down” if the CDC were a commercial, rather than government, entity.
Other failures cascaded through the system. The administration often seemed weeks behind the curve in reacting to the viral spread, closing doors that were already contaminated. Protracted arguments between the White House and public health agencies over funding, combined with a meager existing stockpile of emergency supplies, left vast stretches of the country’s health-care system without protective gear until the outbreak had become a pandemic. Infighting, turf wars and abrupt leadership changes hobbled the work of the coronavirus task force.
Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Briefing April 3, 2020
Our people have done an incredible job. Most people have said — now, and I said this yesterday — governors have said, “Thank you very much. Great job.” If they’re a Democrat governor — in some cases; not in all cases at all — if I said, “Here’s 1,000 ventilators. How many do you want?” “We want 1,000.” “Here’s 1,000. You got ’em. But you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to add another 5,000. Is that good?” They said, “Wow, that’s great.” And then, if Jim Acosta goes and says, “Are you happy with the President?” “No, he should have given us 10,000.” That’s what’s happening. You know why? Because that’s a standard political answer. And that’s a shame because we have done a job like nobody has ever done a job.

But we’ve just delivered a lot of masks. We’ve just delivered a lot of gowns and protective gear. But, you know, you’re talking about a massive — you’re talking about a massive number. But, as of this morning, people were very, very happy.
... 
Q    So, I just have a couple of questions about supplies — one specifically on New York and the question of ventilators.  Governor Cuomo is saying that New York may be days away from running out of ventilators.  Can you assure New York that, going into next week, that they’re going to have the ventilators that they’re going to need?
THE PRESIDENT:  No, they should’ve had more ventilators at the time.  They should have had more ventilators.  They were totally under serviced.  We are trying to do — we’re doing our best for New York.  You know, we have — we have states, we have a lot of states.  We have territories too.  But we have a lot of states that have to be taken care of, some much more so than others.
We’ve worked very well with the governor.  We happen to think that he’s well served with ventilators.  We’re going to find out, but we have other states to take care  of.
Aaron Rupar at Vox:
To back up: Kushner created quite a negative stir with comments he made during Thursday’s White House coronavirus task force press briefing characterizing the Strategic National Stockpile as “our stockpile” instead of “states’ stockpiles that they then use” — remarks at odds with language on the stockpile’s website that described it as a resource for “state, local, tribal, and territorial responders” to obtain “the right medicines and supplies ... during an emergency.”
But within hours of Kushner making those widely decried remarks, language on the stockpile’s website was changed to be in line with the view he espoused about it belonging to the feds but not necessarily the states

Saturday, April 4, 2020

IG

 In Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal The update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.  

Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Nicholas Fandos at The New York Times:
President Trump is firing the intelligence community inspector general whose insistence on telling lawmakers about a whistle-blower complaint about his dealings with Ukraine triggered impeachment proceedings last fall, the president told lawmakers in a letter late Friday.

The move came as Mr. Trump announced his intent to name a White House aide as the independent watchdog for $500 billion in corporate pandemic aid and notified Congress of other nominees to inspector general positions, including one that would effectively oust the newly named chairman of a panel to oversee how the government spends $2 trillion in coronavirus relief.

The slew of late-night announcements, coming as the world’s attention is gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, raised the specter of a White House power play over the community of inspectors general, independent officials whose mission is to root out waste, fraud and abuse within the government.

Mr. Trump is ousting the intelligence community inspector general, Michael K. Atkinson, because he lost confidence in him, the president wrote in a letter to leaders of the two congressional intelligence committees. He gave no further explanation.

As for pandemic recovery, this story suggests the need for oversight. Ben Popken, Stephanie Ruhle and Michael Cappetta report at NBC:
The launch day of the highly touted $350 billion small-business loan program had a stuttering start Friday, from technical issues with bank websites to opaque lending rules that appear to qualify hedge funds to get aid, while some cash-strapped local businesses were shut out.
"I know there’s a lot of hard-working small businesses that couldn’t get their applications processed this week," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged in an interview on Fox Business on Friday afternoon. "They shouldn’t worry about it. There’s plenty of time, there’s plenty of money left."

“It’s been nothing short of a disaster. It’s been confusion at every turn,” said Grant Geiger, CEO of EIR Healthcare, which submitted a loan application Friday.
Geiger said he tried to apply via his company's primary lender, Wells Fargo, but was told the bank probably wouldn’t be ready to start accepting applications until Monday. The website he was directed to turned out to be little more than a shell.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Suits

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of legal conflicts The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Naomi Jagoda at The Hill:
One year after House Democrats requested President Trump's tax returns from the IRS, the chances of the public seeing the documents prior to the 2020 election are slim.
The administration rejected the request from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), prompting him to file a lawsuit. But the court case has moved slowly, with a Trump-appointed federal judge putting it on hold while a separate lawsuit moves through the legal system 
Other court cases over Democrats' efforts to obtain Trump's financial records are further along in the legal process, and oral arguments in those cases were originally scheduled to take place before the Supreme Court this week. But the Supreme Court postponed arguments due to the coronavirus, and no new date has been set.
...
The Ways and Means Committee's lawsuit isn't the only case about Trump's tax returns and financial records.
Trump, in his personal capacity, has sued the committee to prevent Neal from using a New York law to request his state tax returns. Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump-appointed judge in federal district court in D.C., has ordered the committee to notify the court and Trump if it requests the president's state tax returns, and to not receive any requested documents for 14 days. The committee has appealed the ruling.
This analysis looks at Trump's history of lawsuits, looking closely at some of the high-profile examples.
The most obvious lesson that can be learned from Trump’s legal history is that you can weaponize lawsuits for your own ends. The Deutsche Bank lawsuit from 2008 was clearly intended to negotiate a new loan repayment agreement, the TrumpNation lawsuit was most likely intended to intimidate the publisher and author into pulling their books, and the numerous lawsuits against Palm Beach County in the 90’s were to let him bypass existing restrictions and do whatever he wanted with his property.
To be fair, Trump is far from the only person who has used litigation in this way. In fact, this practice is so widespread that it’s been given a name— Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). According to California lawyer Aaron Morris, this term refers to a lawsuit where the plaintiff “does not care whether [they] win the lawsuit” and is only interested in getting the defendant to give up due to “fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion.”

Weaponized litigation has become a major problem that threatens the integrity of America’s legal system, but the good news is that many parts of the country offer anti-SLAPP legislation. This means that successfully identifying legal action taken against you as a SLAPP in these states can have the case thrown out and harshly punish the plaintiff for their abuse of the system.

This isn’t a perfect solution to the problem; many states still don’t have anti-SLAPP laws and there’s no legislation for it on the federal level. However, it can make it easier to conduct business and criticize public figures in anti-SLAPP states without worrying as much about unfair legal repercussions.

Republicans Say -- Out Loud -- That High Turnout Would Hurt Them

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well under way Coronavirus has prompted some states to expand voting by mail.

Interview: Donald Trump Calls In to Fox and Friends for an Interview - March 30, 2020
Well, not expand. It's just the common facts. I mean, they have a majority in the House, and therefore you need their vote, and they want to get certain things. I will tell you this. If you look at before and after, the things they had in there were crazy. They had things -- levels of voting that if you ever agreed to it you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again.
 Mark Niesse and Greg Bluestein at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
All 6.9 million active voters in Georgia are being mailed absentee ballot request forms this week by the secretary of state’s office. Voters who return the absentee ballot request forms will be able to participate in the primary without having to come into contact with other people on election day or during early voting.
“This will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia,” [state House Speaker David] Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, said during an interview with FetchYourNews, a North Georgia news site. “Every registered voter is going to get one of these. … This will certainly drive up turnout.”
Ralston later claimed that he was talking about fraud.  He did not explain why he thought fraud would hurt Republicans and not Democrats.   Actually, vote fraud is extremely rare, and the most prominent recent example involved GOP perpetrators.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Remarks to CMC Alumni, April 2

I.  ELECTORAL PROCESS

Some states have postponed primary elections.

So many people are wondering: could a president remain in power by unilaterally canceling or postponing a general election?

NOPE: the Constitution sets strict expiration dates for terms of office, with no exceptions.
  • 20th Amendment: "The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin."
Congress, however, could shift the election date, but only by a few weeks at most, because of the dates above.
  • Article II, section 1: "The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States."
  • Article I, section 4: "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators."
Congress could pass a law requiring all states to offer all voters the option of voting by mail.

The conventions are in limbo.

II.  CAMPAIGN OPERATIONS

Shane Goldmacher at NYT:
Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden face the same headwinds. But the president began March with an enormous financial advantage over the Democrats: a combined roughly $225 million in cash on hand between his re-election campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared committees. Mr. Biden and the Democratic National Committee had only $20 million, after accounting for debts.
Jim Rutenberg and Matthew Rosenberg at NYT:
 Mr. Biden has only 4.6 million Twitter followers to Mr. Trump’s 75 million, 1.7 million Facebook fans to Mr. Trump’s 28 million, and nothing resembling the president’s robust ecosystem of amplifying accounts.

III.  THE STATE OF THE RACE

POTUS has gotten a bump in approval.

The change is modest compared with the bump that Bush 43 got after 9/11:



And Biden is running ahead,

IV,  THE FALL CAMPAIGN AND POSSIBLE OUTCOMES

It is already a tough campaign.



The economy will be a problem for the incumbent. Alan Abramowitz Electoral Vote Forecast: