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Capitol View commentary: Friday, April 17, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 12:26 PM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 13:26:37-04

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
April 17, 2020
AS THE PANDEMIC SEEMS TO PLATEAU HOW DO WE RESTART THE ECONOMY? KILLING THE ECONOMY; DIVIDING UP THE VIRUS STIMULUS FUNDS; TENNESSEE SCHOOLS CLOSED FOR THE REST OF THE SPRING TERM; OTHER COVID-19 HOT SPOTS AND ISSUES; A CABINET CHANGE; FINALLY MUCH MORE TESTING AND CONTACT TRACING; MISERY DOES NOT LOVE COMPANY; BIDEN’S BIG WEEK; POLITICAL CAMPAIGN GURUS ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE NUMBERS AND THE GOOD NEWS JUST KEEPS ON COMING;

AS THE PANDEMIC SEEMS TO PLATEAU HOW DO WE RESTART THE ECONOMY?

I don’t hear much talk anymore about “a peak” in the coronavirus outbreak.

President Trump maintains significant parts of the nation are now past the peak so it’s time to begin to gradually re-open the nation’s economy. He even wants to start the process before May 1 which is the current deadline to keep the “Stay at Home orders” in place in many states. Those orders impact about 90% of the nation’s population.

Here is the three-phase plan the President outlined on Thursday afternoon to begin his re-opening of the economy .The 50 state governors are being to left to decide what parts of the federal “guidance” to implement and when to do so along with employers and individuals.

President Trump has appointed a group to help him further oversee the re-opening of the economy. Among the Tennesseans appointed are our two U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn. One of the candidates seeking to take Senator Alexander’s place next year, former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, is a part of the President’s group as well. The President has already endorsed Hagerty for the Alexander Senate post over his GOP primary opponent, Dr. Manny Sethi.

By the way, both Republican Senate candidates have filed their quarterly fundraising disclosures. No doubt due to the pandemic, they are both doing a lot of self-funding these days.

Getting back to President’ Trump’s “guidance” on the “re-open the economy” issue, the new plan came at the end of a back and forth week from the White House about who would be in charge on this matter. After weeks of deferring to the 50 state governors to do what best for their areas in terms dealing with the virus, President Donald Trump said on Monday he had “total authority” based on the Constitution. The next day he beat a hasty retreat on that as even Republicans pushed back.

In terms of what most health experts are saying, it appears that instead of “approaching the peak” or “past the peak”, we are hearing that we have indeed “lowered or flattened the curve,” and now the pandemic has plateaued. But we remain at a fairly high level of new virus cases and deaths nationwide. So, while it appears for now, the medical system will not be overwhelmed, we are far from out of the woods in dealing with COVID-19.

That means here in Tennessee, for now, moves such as converting the Music City Center into hospital bed space are on hold while the state looks at other options including a possible new outbreak of the virus as the state’s economy is re-opened. It appears Governor Lee is quite concerned about a return of the virus.

How can we tell the ‘Stay Home” is working in Tennessee? Observe the traffic pattern changes and take time to listen and observe how the order may be helping nature and our environment. A new Vanderbilt study shows the Safer at Home order in Nashville and the surrounding counties has definitely been bending the curve and starving the virus . As for the rest of the state, not so much says the study.

But different media outlets report the VU study a little differently because the future remains uncertain. Whatever progress we’ve made against the virus will continue only based on continuing the social distancing and other measures we’ve been following, and that remains hard to predict.

KILLING THE ECONOMY

But these social distancing measures are clearly killing the economy. Here are the latest examples. Reports released on Wednesday show March retail and manufacturing numbers are worse than expected. In fact, they are the worst declines ever reported.

The number of those seeking unemployment relief also continues to rise. The 5.2 million added nationally this week is half of last week’s, which was which was over 10 million. However, all together in the four weeks since the pandemic was announced, and the economy was placed in a self-induced coma, over 22 million Americans have sought unemployment assistance. Nobody has ever seen such a sudden rise.

As for Tennessee, like the rest of the country, claims are down the week of April 11 to just below 75,000. But the 4 week total seeking help since the pandemic began is now well over 300,000 as the virus continues to wreck economic havoc.

To provide additional help to the hundreds of thousands in Tennessee who are newly unemployed, this week the state began sending out the extra $600 per month in federal funds approved by Congress and President Trump to help tide them over, at least for a while. The extra funds come even as state government continues to struggle with a signup process to qualify for unemployment help, that continues to lag behind.

The up to $1200 coronavirus stimulus checks finally began to flow into the public’s bank accounts this week, but not without some wrong information being circulated about having to pay the money back. You don’t!

Those receiving their stimulus money with a check (rather than by bank draft) will see President Trump’s name on it. That has set off a whole additional round of controversy and some say a delay in getting some of the checks in the mail. The President denies he had anything to do with it.

The IRS is sending out a lot of checks so there are plenty of problems cropping up.

Meanwhile the $300 billion in federal money for loans (The Paycheck Protection Program) to keep businesses, such as restaurants open, and employees paid, has already run out of money with many applicants and their workers left without.

Back inside the Washington Beltway, Congress and the Trump administration continue to stay in a stalemate over how to fund and structure yet another virus relief act , something which will clearly be needed until whenever the economy is opened up.

The President seemed so frustrated on Wednesday, he threatened to do something no other President has ever done. That is, to employ a never before used power under the Constitution to adjourn both houses of Congress if there is a dispute! Mr. Trump is, of course, blaming Democrats. However, his annoyance with Congress seems to come from his appointees not being confirmed. Appointment approvals are the sole authority of the Republican-led Senate, not the Democratic-controlled House. Others contend they don’t see any dispute going on that would allow such a forced adjournment. The House is already adjourned and doesn’t plan to return to Washington until early May (unless a new virus stimulus or relief bill deal is reached). The Senate remains in a perfunctory daily session (not passing any legislation). But because the GOP Senate leadership continues to do that, President Trump cannot make the recess appointments about which he is having such a fit.

Despite all this craziness and the new guidance from the White House, what about reopening the country, say in May?

This article from the ATLANTIC outlines what a possibly difficult and extended road we face getting back to normal, and how that normal won’t be what we’ve been used to experiencing.

Here’s what Forbes article says about public support for a quick reopening. It’s not positive.

Already California and Oregon have plans.

Seven Midwest states are banding together.

Tennessee borders on more states (9) than any other in the nation. Yet so far, I have heard no talk about us joining with surrounding states just more silliness about a rivalry and comparisons with Kentucky.

Here’s a CNN rundown of the status of reopening efforts in all 50 states.

Governor Lee has appointed a group to look at ways to open the economy,. The makeup of the group is not sitting well with state labor leaders. Meanwhile, the four major cities in the state (Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville are collaborating on what to do.

Here’s one example of the difficult road ahead particularly for cities like Nashville which depends on the large crowds generated by tourism, conventions, concerts and sports. Dr. Anthony Fauci, perhaps the most trusted health care person in the nation these days, says pro and other sports can perhaps return this summer and fall but with a couple of stipulation including no fans in the stands!

Here is some local reaction to sports contests without fans.

And of course it couldn’t be another week in the Trump administration, without the President continuing to pick a fight with the World Health Organization, an effort that seems to have little to do with combatting the virus and more with playing the blame game.

USA TODAY

DIVIDING UP THE VIRUS STIMULUS FUNDS

Governor Lee is also appointing a bi-partisan group to decide how to divide up the $2.3 billion (that’s with a B!) the state is receiving in federal virus relief funds.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper says the city is getting $200 million in virus funds. That will certainly help but given the likely several hundreds of millions in projected revenue shortfalls from the pandemic, from last year’s budget and from the March 3 tornado, Metro is likely still in a big hole. The Mayor is set to file his budget, and what he has described, as a sharply higher property tax hike request by the end of this month.

It would obviously help in terms of increased tax revenues (especially sales tax and tourism related taxes) if Nashville can open up the city’s economy as soon as possible. But the Mayor also said this week any opening of the local economy by May 1 would be at best “aspirational.” It appears Metro will act based on science and data as to not undue the work and process the city has accomplished against the virus with the social distancing measures now in place. The Mayor has indicated he will soon extend his Safer at Home order until at least April 30. Governor Lee has already extended his Stay at Home through the end of the month.

Whether it’s cabin fever, politics or fear of what lies ahead for the economy, there is public opposition to continuing Stay at Home orders including in Kentucky.
Michigan too.

TENNESSEE SCHOOLS CLOSED FOR REST OF THE SPRING TERM

As for Tennessee schools, Governor Lee recommended Wednesday that, not surprisingly, they should stay closed for the remainder of the school year. All state school systems, including those here in Nashville, are expected to comply. Schools have been closed since March 20.

Here are Metro Nashville Schools’ plans moving forward to serve and support its students heading towards the next school term in the fall.

OTHER COVID-19 HOT SPOTS AND ISSUES
Across the country, there are concerns about the closing of some meat plants due to the number of employees falling ill. That includes virus cases being detected in two Tyson Food plants in Tennessee, one in Goodlettsville and another in Shelbyville.

Another hot spot for virus outbreaks across the country continue to be in nursing homes. That includes Tennessee where some open government advocates are concerned the state is not being very transparent.

One other area of controversy for the Lee administration, the state’s order to ban elective surgeries, including abortion, is being challenged in the courts by a coalition of pro-choice groups. The lawsuit is similar to efforts in other states to allow such procedures to continue.

The State Attorney General is defending the temporary ban.

There may not be any games to bet on, but the state of Tennessee finally has rules in place to run its on-line only sports gambling program. It also appears uncertain when folks can begin to lay down their first wagers. All dressed up now, but no place to go, I guess.

So how long will “social distancing’ be a part of our everyday lives? Without a vaccine, which won’t likely be ready for at least another year to 18 months, how about 2022?

What about that “game changer” malaria drug that President Trump has been touting to help COVID-19 victims? One new study says the drug has side effects that show, despite what the President says, you might have something to lose if you take it in large doses.

A CABINET CHANGE

This week Governor Bill Lee announced a change in one of his top cabinet posts. Butch Eley is replacing Stuart McWhorter as Finance Commissioner. McWhorter has moved over to be in charge of the state’s Unified Command, overseeing the state’s efforts to fight COVID-19. Ely has served as Governor Lee’s Chief Operating Officer.

Butch Eley becoming Finance Commissioner reminds me. He is the second person I covered or worked with at the Metro Courthouse, back in the late 1970s and 1980s, who later became the state’s top financial official. Butch was a top aide to Mayor Bill Boner in the late 1980s, while Dave Goetz, who was Governor Phil Bredesen’s finance chief for eight years from 2003-2011, was a radio reporter for WKDA in the late 1970s and later worked with me at Channel 5.

Actually there was a third person the Courthouse who became a top financial official for Metro Government. After being the City Hall reporter at THE NASHVILLE BANNER, Rich became a top aide to Mayor Richard Fulton and then became Metro Finance Director for Mayor Karl Dean as well as serving in top post under Mayor Megan Barry.

All three of these gentlemen have had long, distinguished careers in both the public and private sectors. But I’d have to say, when I covered or worked with them at the Courthouse, it never occurred to me they would all become the chief financial officers of either the state or Metro governments. You never know how things will turn out. Congratulations, Butch!

FINALLY MUCH MORE TESTING AND CONTACT TRACING

All the health experts have said consistently there can be no reopening of the economy without much more broad- based testing along with contact tracing. Here’s why:

WHY MORE TESTS?
WHAT IS CONTACT TRACING?

This week we have finally begun to hear a lot more from both state and Metro officials about increased testing and contact tracing. In fact, on Wednesday, it was announced that beginning this weekend in Tennessee, if you want, or think you need a COVID-19 test, you can get one, even if you don’t show any symptoms. And, you can get the test for free!

As for contact tracing, at least one Democratic state lawmaker says such an effort is overdue!

According to this WPLN report on Wednesday, the state is now ginning up its contact efforts too.

To its credit, Metro Nashville officials spent quite a bit of time at its daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday explaining what the city is already doing on contact tracing and why that is important when we open up the local economy and see a new rise in virus cases. What wasn’t said is how many more city employees will need to be trained to do the contact work and how much that will cost.

But while the state and Metro are increasing testing that doesn’t seem to extend to prison and jail inmates.

The Tennessee Sheriff’s Association is opposing a broad release inmates due to COVID-19.

MISERY DOES NOT LOVE COMPANY

Tennessee this week had another of its major cities struck by a tornado. The Chattanooga/ Hamilton County area, along with portions of the Bradley and Marion County, were significantly damaged, with lives lost, much as Nashville and portions of Middle Tennessee were struck on March 3.

In the Volunteer spirit, the community is reaching out to help those in need.

Unfortunately, the child passed away on Wednesday.

BIDEN’S BIG WEEK

Candidate endorsements may not carry the political punch they used to, but this week likely Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden got a trifecta of support that should aid him in at least solidifying his party behind him.

First his final major competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders expressed his support during on a live stream meeting of the two on- line on Monday.

Then on Tuesday Biden got the endorsement of his former boss, President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as Vice President for eight years (2009-2017). Obama, as he did withheld his support until the party made its decision on a candidate through the primary and caucus process. With that effectively over, the former President sent out a YouTube video that is strong in his support for Biden, while also praising Sanders for his campaign. Obama also gave a glimpse on how he plans to attack the current president from now until November.

One other bonus for Joe Biden from President Obama’s endorsement, he will likely get former First Lady Michelle Obama to help the campaign as well.

Finally on Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren became the last of a bevy of Biden’s primary opponent who came over to his side with a tweet and e-mail to her former campaign supporters.

Normally, endorsement of this level and magnitude would have taken place before a roaring crowd at a huge Biden political rally. But in the age of the virus pandemic that wasn’t possible.

As for the impact of the Obama endorsement.

FOX NEWS
BUZZFEED ON THE SANDERS ENDORSEMENT

There are also indications not all the major progressives in the Democratic Party are coming on board, something which could be a voter turnout issue for Democrats this fall.

POLITICAL CAMPAIGN GURUS ON INSIDE POLITICS

We hear it every day as we deal with the virus pandemic.

When will we return to normal?

What will normal look like when it gets here?

With 2020 being a presidential election year, we already see how quickly how our politics and campaigns are changing.

The November election is now less than 7 months away and the August primary votes are less than 4 months away now.

How have our politics and our political campaigns already changed? Will they adapt still more in the weeks and months to come?

We’ve brought in two of the best political campaign gurus we know to discuss these topics as our guests on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

Carol Andrews has run many successful Democratic campaigns, advised many candidates.

Chip Saltsman has done the same on the Republican side.

We are lucky to have them join us for a chat.

Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times over the weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

7:00 p.m. Friday;
5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday;
1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.

Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.

THE NUMBERS AND THE GOOD NEWS JUST KEEPS ON COMING

As we approach the close of another week, here are the numbers.

They remain troubling and heartbreaking as the pandemic continues.

Worldwide late Friday A.M. (CDT), the virus is at almost 2.2 million cases while closing in on 150,000 deaths (near 147,000) and well over a half million people recovered (554,786).

In the United States late Friday A.M. (CDT), 667,000+ cases with 34,000 plus deaths and 56,000+ plus people recovered.

In Tennessee, you can find all the latest figures here with the Friday update posted at 2:00 P.M. (CDT)
https://www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html

Here is the latest for Nashville released at 9:30 A.M. (CDT) Friday.

Metro Public Health Department officials announced today a total number of 1597 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nashville/Davidson County, an increase of 37 in the past 24 hours.

The confirmed cases range in age from 2 months to 94 years.

Two additional deaths were reported in Davidson County – a 71-year-old woman and a 66-year-old man, both of whom had underlying health conditions.

A total of twenty (20) people have died after a confirmed case of COVID-19. 825 individuals have recovered from the virus.

The MPHD COVID-19 Hotline received 265 calls on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

Total number of cases: 1,597
Cases reported in the past 24 hours: 37
Cases by sex
Male: 754
Female: 749
Unknown: 94

Total Cases by age

Unknown 6
0-10 22
11-20 81
21-30 505
31-40 308
41-50 228
51-60 212
61-70 141
71-80 71
81+ 23
Total 1,597

Recovered 825
Deaths 20
Total active cases 752

Total number of tests administered Total positive results Total negative results Positive results as percentage of total
16,067 1,597 14,470 9.9%

Here is some good news, as kindness is not cancelled, it just continues and never stops growing!

FREE FOOD FOR THE NEEDY
VU STUDENTS HELP HEALTH CARE WORKERS
I BELIEVE IN NASHVILLE DONATES MASKS
VU DOCTORS RAISE MONEY FOR V.A. CUSTODIANS
PENCIL GROUP PROVIDES DIAPERS TO NEEDY FAMILIES