David Dayen’s update on the effects of COVID-19
Unsanitized: The COVID-19 Report for Oct. 5, 2020
COVID Outbreak Tightens Republican Margin for Error
on Barrett Confirmation
Plus, the Trump virus saga
Amy Coney Barrett's fate is in the hands of Mitch McConnell—and the health of the Senate Republicans. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)
First Response
Not only is the Senate Republican caucus down three members who have tested positive for COVID, but at least another three have self-quarantined on the possibility that they have the virus. That’s probably pretty smart; COVID-carrying Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) all participated in last week’s caucus luncheon, indoors, without masks.

This has led Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to seek a two-week adjournment agreement today. Under this plan and the Senate’s standing rules, the Judiciary Committee could still hold confirmation hearings on Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court next week. But they couldn’t do anything with it until the Senate comes back in session.

The Senate would come back on October 19—but only if Republicans have the votes to do so. I explained over the weekend that 51 Senators need to be present in the chamber for the Senate to successfully pass quorum and conduct business. Right now Republicans sit at 47, so four of those self-quarantining or isolating need to come out in order to restart the Senate. And that’s just the members we know about. Take a look at the Trump White House’s obfuscation on the president’s health condition (more on that below) and apply it to the Republican Senate. There’s no guarantee McConnell has the votes to reopen on the 19th.

Even if he does, the schedule gets tight. On the assumption that the Senate reopens (a big assumption), Democrats can (and will, according to my sources) ask for a one-week delay in the Judiciary Committee vote on Barrett before it moves it to the floor. That means the confirmation process will start on October 26th—just one week before the election. Democrats have some tools to slow down business, which increase depending on how aggressive they want to be. They could raise endless points of order and force a series of roll call votes. They could play out the string on time for various actions.

One interesting option involves the House of Representatives. If the House passes War Powers or Congressional Review Act resolutions, those can be brought to the floor by Democrats for debate and a vote. That eats up time. (you could also advance an impeachment hearing, but Republicans could just dismiss the trial. War Powers and CRA resolutions take longer to deal with.) There’s little indication that Speaker Pelosi is planning this, but a sneak attack right before the 26th could keep McConnell busy for nearly that entire week.

Another thing Democrats could do, as some have called for, is deny this motion to adjourn. Republicans don’t appear to have the votes to conduct business this week or next, whether Democrats deny the motion to adjourn or not. There’s political value in raising a fight, especially with the notion that Americans badly need economic relief and McConnell shouldn’t have the Senate leave town for two weeks.

That line would play better if House Democrats and the White House were anywhere near a deal: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is out today warning about the high cost and saying that Democrats should pass one measure at a time, something Democrats have rejected for months. (Pelosi is actually doing that with respect to a new airline bailout to avoid the 32,000-plus industry layoffs.) Anyway, my understanding is that the Senate, under this order, can return on 24 hours notice to pass a stimulus bill if there’s a deal, which would take at least a week to be translated into legislative language.

But to adjourn or not to adjourn doesn’t do much with respect to the Supreme Court fight. The confirmation hearings can go on regardless. Denying adjournment would keep vulnerable Republican Senators in town in theory, but only if quorum is allowed and there are votes to take. If we just have an endless quorum call doom loop then those Senators can just go home until the 19th. Meanwhile, McConnell had called up five district court nominees for a vote this week, and that will have to be withdrawn if the adjournment happens. Those get delayed then until McConnell returns, to eat up more procedural time.

The point is that the Senate calendar is tight. Any disruption, and any more Senators down with COVID, could easily push the Barrett confirmation out until after the election, when the dynamic could change. Chuck Schumer and the Democrats have two weeks to come up with a strategy. What’s it going to be?

The President Is a Sick Man
What happens when one of the worst people America has produced contracts the coronavirus? Well, he tries to hide it, first of all. He attends a series of fundraisers and rallies without disclosure, potentially exposing hundreds if not thousands of people. When he has to roll to the hospital because his condition is deteriorating, he shows fake photos of himself “at work,” even as most of the public knows he doesn’t work even in normal times. His physician, it is leaked, withholds details of his medical condition to lift his spirits and “convey confidence.” But it’s also noted that he’s taking a cocktail of medications that are really only reserved for very sick people. To top this off, he demands to be taken on a car parade around the Walter Reed Medical Center to wave at well-wishers, while Secret Service agents are forced to sit in the car with his contagious personage.

So whether he’s leaving the hospital today or not, I think we can say that Donald Trump is handling this disease almost exactly as you would expect it. All presidents lie, and most of them lie about their health: here’s a rundown, but I note that Gover Cleveland, known in his day for the slogan “Tell the truth,” snuck out of Washington onto a boat and had half of his cancerous jaw removed, in secret, in the 1890s when removing half your jaw was, you know, a treacherous thing, and when a reporter found out about it and leaked the information Cleveland’s White House ruined his life. There’s a great little book about this called The President Is a Sick Man by Matthew Algeo. Point being, the default setting in White Houses is obfuscation about a president’s medical condition.

Even when accounting for that, however, Trump’s… Trumpiness is exhausting and sad. The selfishness, the lies, the moral blindness is fully on display. “The President is a sick man” takes on new meaning.

Days Without a Bailout Oversight Chair
Today I Learned
  • I was in another episode of The Heist, the Center for Public Integrity’s podcast series on Steve Mnuchin. Here it is. (Center for Public Integrity)
  • New York City planning to shut down nine zip codes with high levels of virus cases. (NBC New York)
  • Disney chair Bob Iger actually quit California’s economic task force because the governor wouldn’t let Disneyland reopen. (Sacramento Bee)
  • Regal Cinemas, the second-largest chain in the U.S., suspending its operations indefinitely. Yikes. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Josh Mason on the start, not the end, of the coronavirus recession. I don’t agree with all of it but it’s worth reading. (Slackwire)
  • Boris Johnson blaming a resumption of UK cases on an “Eat Out” campaign. (Bloomberg)
  • A glimpse at Israel, the first country to impose a second national lockdown. (New York Times)
  • Market capitalism has failed in the pandemic, says Pope Francis. (Politico)

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