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Podcast | Race to the White House: Episode 7 - Uncertainity in times of Covid-19

Nivedita V? | Updated on March 24, 2020 Published on March 22, 2020

This week, we will focus on the impact of the coronavirus in the US and how the Democrats as well as the Republicans are dealing with the crisis.

This week, the race to the White House took a back seat and focus shifted to tackling the coronavirus. CNN reported that the number of people who have tested positive for the virus jumped from a few thousand on Sunday last week to more than 13,000 on Friday. 

After initially dissing the coronavirus as a hoax made by the Democrats to undermine his presidency, US President Donald Trump, on March 11, made an unusual speech from the Oval Office. He ordered the suspension of travel to Europe for 30 days. “We are marshalling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people,” he said in the speech, adding that his administration’s action was the “the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.”

To prevent the spreading of the coronavirus infection, many States and cities advocated lockdowns. The impact was immediate – stock markets crashed and there was a huge spike in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits.

 

A report by USA Today said that claims have skyrocketed, quoting the US Labour Department, which on Thursday that the unemployment benefit claims climbed by 70,000 to 2,81,000 last week. This was the highest level for initial claims since September 2, 2017, when it was 2,99,000. The four-week moving average of initial claims rose by 16,500 to 232,250 last week.

It also said that a number of initial claims attribute the drastic rise to the COVID-19 virus. This is because companies were facing supply-chain issues, or low demands. Service-related industries were the worst hit, with hotel and food services industries, transportation and warehousing industries all taking a hit.

Trump, this week, grew more serious about the crisis, after Fox News’ tucker Carlson met with him in Mar-a-Lago to emphasize the possible economic and social impacts. Finally, started to work to mitigation plan. 

 

He asked the Republican-majority US Senate to “go big” on a financial package. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a economic rescue plan on Thursday. This plan wants to pump $1,200 direct checks to taxpayers, $300 billion for small businesses to keep workers on payroll and $208 billion in loans to airlines and other industries. You heard it right – the Republicans are planning to spend in welfare  schemes.

Trump announced on Friday that he will allow the nation’s more than 42 million federal student loan borrowers to take a break from making their monthly payments, without incurring interest or penalties for at least the next two months.

During the initial days of the outbreak, the Republicans were only thinking of providing a bailout to the oil and aviation industries. But, progressives in the democratic party like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez  and even former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney both backed the idea of providing cash to Americans in the time of this unprecedented crisis.

The idea found support in the White House quickly. Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Tuesday, “Americans need cash now. I mean now in the next two weeks.” 

On Thursday, representative Tulsi Gabbard announced the introduction of a bill that will provide an emergency nontaxable universal basic payment of $1,000 for adults. This payment will continue till covid-19 is no longer a “public health emergency”.

Senator Sanders goes even further. He wants to provide $2,000 to every household every month till the end of the crisis. To lessen bureaucratic problems, he wants to provide relief to all, wealthy or poor.

Others warn of massive recessions in the coming months, saying the government should ensure that a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis bailout does not occur – wanting regulators to prevent executives using bailout money to buy back shares and give themselves a nice big raise.

It is worth noting that direct cash payments were down previously in the US. Business insider reports that in 2008, President George W. Bush signed economic stimulus legislation that provided individuals up to $600 in the form of a tax rebate check. 

On the 14th, the house Democrats passed a bill that would provide two weeks of sick leave to the workers affected by the pandemic. This will include those who were quarantined, those caring for family members with the infection and those who have children whose schools and daycare centers are closed because of the lockdown.  After 10 weeks, paid leave will apply only to those people who have to take care of their children who are affected by the lockdown.

The bill allowed exemption to businesses with fewer than 50 workers but it applies only to companies with fewer than 500 employees. It also provides tax credit to employers who pay workers’ wages while they are absent  the wall street journal reports. But industry groups and GOP lawmakers have warned that firms may not have enough cash to keep up with payments.

While this was going on, Joe Bide, who  won primaries in Florida, Arizona and Illinois on Tuesday, was not very active throughout the week.

Politico reports that presumptive democratic nominee held a conference call with reporters on Friday in which he trashed Trump’s handling of the situation. It also reported that Biden will plan a regular shadow briefing on the outbreak, and how he would handle the crisis.

President Trump stop saying false things, will ya?” Biden said. “People are worried they are really frightened, when these things don't come through. He just exacerbates their concern. Stop saying false things you think make you sound like a hero and start putting the full weight of the federal government behind finding fast, safe and effective treatments.” 

However, this has not pleased many. The hashtag ‘where is Joe’ trended on Twitter. Political adviser to Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Peter Daou, white on Twitter: people, I mean this seriously,#whereisjoe? Trump is in front of the camera everyday, reassuring people, putting on an appearance of “leadership”. Where is Biden? Why isn't he dominating the airways?.

Trump war room on Twitter said, Joe Biden is still in hiding. A conference call with select reporters allows him to sit down, use notes, and not be on camera. He doesn't have the capacity to stand in front of a camera and answer questions for an hour every day like President Trump!

So, how will this impact the election? The coronavirus crisis offers a serious opportunity to compare the governing styles and ideological commitments of Sanders, Biden and Trump. 

There are three early takeaways from the crisis:

1. There is a marked change in how trump is handling the crisis—from not taking it seriously  at all, he is now showing that he can lead. And it shows. according to a new Ipsos/ABC News poll, 55 percent said that they approved of the president's handling of the situation, while 43 percent said they disapproved. The numbers were basically reversed from one week ago when 54 percent said they disapproved and 43 percent approved.

2. Wall street will not be the sole beneficiary of any bailout 

3. Are we looking at a massive political re alignment? Will the Republicans become the voice of the people and will Democrats lose support because they have not been proactive?

Published on March 22, 2020