NewsChannel5 +Inside PoliticsCapitol View Commentary


Capitol View commentary: Friday, July 24, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 12:41 PM, Jul 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-24 13:41:52-04


By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

July 24, 2020



This week the number of novel coronavirus cases worldwide topped 15 million, with the U.S. now recording over 4 million cases, and over 2.6 million of those still active.

The number of deaths are rising again and could add another 1 million more fatalities within the next two weeks. Tuesday and Wednesday over a thousand deaths were reported nationwide for the first time since early June.

But there is a new model that shows deaths can and are being reduced if the wearing of masks increases.

Mask wearing has been very controversial and partisan, but national polling is beginning to show an overwhelming consensus is emerging.

The continuing spike in this still first wave of the virus has also brought a major change in reactions from President Trump this week. He has now tweeted it is “patriotic” to wear a face mask, and then told reporters things with COIVID-19 “may get worse before they get better.” The President claims it will get better, but he outlined no national game plan or new leadership efforts to get the nation there.

Will bringing back the coronavirus task force briefings give the President a more solid and positive footing on this issue? Despite its large TV ratings in the past (which seems to be the mean reason he is bringing these sessions), can the President avoid the gaffes he committed in earlier briefings (i.e., injecting bleach as a cure). It was those mistakes that helped drive his job approval numbers down. Can the sessions keep any credibility with the President just reading from prepared remarks, and without the health experts who are perceived to be much more knowledgeable about what is going on, as the nation continues to wage our so far less than successful “war” against COVID-19?

Even by the second day of his new briefings on Wednesday, President created new controversy, blaming Black Lives Matter protests as the likely cause for the recent rise in virus cases. Medical experts say there is little evidence of that.

Late in the week, another thought crossed my mind about the President’s rather sudden change of tone and message about the virus. It occurred to me Thursday evening when Mr. Trump announced he was cancelling his acceptance speech in Jacksonville, FL for the Republican presidential nomination because COVID-19 is so bad in that state and he didn’t to risk the lives of “our people” by having an event there. Of course, he moved the GOP convention speech to Florida from Charlotte, NC because he wanted a full-blown event which the Governor of North Carolina wouldn’t allow because of the extent of virus there.

So are these changes of heart and his new and different talking points about the virus a way to stop his slide in the presidential re-election polls? Did the shakeup in his campaign, including adding a new campaign manager have something to do with this?

Of course, every week there are always other issues the President is involved in or stirring up (depending on your point of view). That includes the deployment of some shadowy federal law enforcement officials to Portland, Oregon, and soon says the President in other cities, to fight a surge in out of control violence. The cities and states are not sure what this is about or if they want the help. Out in Portland the mayor was among those teared gas by these para-military agents. A federal judge late Thursday pushed back on some of their activities.

There are also new issues raised this week by Mr. Trump about the U.S. Census, which is well underway. The President has issued a memorandum instructing the Commerce Department not to count undocumented residents, even though it is not clear how those people can be determined from the Census. The Constitution is clear. It mandates a census every ten years and says the count shall include every person in each state in the country. There is no mention of citizenship status, just every PERSON.

There are millions and millions of dollars at stake with the Census, along with the political representation of our government on the congressional, state and local levels. How this issue raised by the President is worked out, is potentially a very big deal. It is an issue also likely headed to the courts, even as the Census is trying to catch up from the pandemic and wrap up its work.


The government is starting to put its money on the line to produce approved COVID-19 vaccines and have them ready in the tens of millions, perhaps as early as late this year.

This news comes as the U.S. government indicted two Chinese hackers for trying to steal coronavirus research and purloin other information from companies around the world.

At the same time, Washington is closing one of China’s consulates in Houston, Texas marking another new low in American-Chinese relations. The Chinese have now retaliated by closing one of the U.S. consulates in that country as four other Chinese nationals have been indicted on spying charges.


For weeks Nashville Mayor John Cooper has touted that a mandatory mask mandate is the best way to fight the COVID-19 virus, which continues to spike, especially in the Lower Broad tourist area downtown. Last week, the Mayor has closed the bars down there, and all across town, until at least the end of July.

Based on the photos of the sidewalk activities downtown last weekend, the bars may be closed, but the restaurants next door are still open, with so many young people bringing their partying and drinking to those establishments and to the sidewalks outside, without wearing masks, that the TMZ website calls our city “No-mask-ville”. The photos would seem to back up that new nickname, which is certainly not quite as catchy as the “It City”.

In response to this kind of embarrassing national publicity, the Mayor said early in the week, he will impose a curfew, through a new public health order, to close all restaurants on Lower Broad, throughout the city, and any establishment that serves alcohol, after 10:00 p.m. each night. The new order is expected to be approved and in effect today (Friday).

The city is continuing to move quickly to shut down businesses who tried to stay open. They are ones who even though they sell food, are also operating as bars. One such establishment in Old Hickory went to court but decided to stay closed until the end of July after being warned they could face some stiff penalties, including fines and jail time. They do still plan to contest the matter with a lawsuit.

As for enforcement of the current mandatory mask order, Metro Police had issued almost 7,000 warnings by early this week, but so far have not issued a single citation. The police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, pushed back on officers doing the enforcement, saying it is “unacceptable.” Mayor Cooper, initially, said the FOP doesn’t represent the feelings of Nashville’s rank and file officers who want to defend our city during the greatest public health crisis Nashville has ever faced.

Now the Mayor says educating the public is “key,” that the city can’t “cite its way out” of our virus problem. Fair enough. But almost three weeks after the mask mandate was announced, the daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases do not show any signs of decreasing (most days being in the 400-550 or above range). At the Thursday media briefing, officials said they are seeing some a small decline in the 14-day average of new cases as well as the number of days it takes for cases to double. The percent of positive cases coming from testing has also leveled off (it was at 10% or below, then shot up to over 12% but has now leveled off).

One other sign for hope that Nashville’s mask mandate is taking effect, the number of new cases when from 407 on Thursday to 294 on Friday, one the lowest daily increases in recent weeks. Still the 14-day average for cases remains in the red while the transmission rate, and now both hospital and ICU bed capacity, are now in the yellow for the key metrics the city is tracking. Local health officials admit there needs to be much more improvement which leads them to continue to plead with public to do their job to wear a mask, wash your hands and observe social distancing.

All this makes you wonder how many more cards Mayor Cooper has left in his deck to play against the pandemic. There’s still the possibility of another complete economic shutdown which nobody wants. Some are already petitioning the Mayor to least shut down all of Lower Broad. That includes a granddaughter of the late country music superstar Johnny Cash. Even Metro Councilman Russ Bradford is speaking out, posting on Twitter that the Mayor should declare Broadway as a health hazard.

"This is serious now, it’s time...take the needed step of declaring Lower Broadway a public health hazard and shut it down!"

When asked about closing Lower Broad at his media briefing Thursday morning, all Mayor Cooper would say is that “everything is on the table.”

Out of the mouth of babes! The situation has a 10-year old Nashville student writing an open letter to the bar owners on Lower Broad and to her “fellow citizens” who frequent that part of town, asking them to do the right thing… quit partying and wear a mask so children can go back to school.

Meanwhile, for the second time in two weeks Nashville has been singled out by the White House as needing to take “aggressive action” about the virus. The Cooper administration says again that the city has already taken almost all the steps recommended and that the “White House is late to the game.”

I would also point out that a few months back Nashville was incorrectly singled out for a virus spike when someone in the White House or the CDC thought Hartsville, TN was part of Nashville. The big spike in the virus in Hartsville at the time was due to an outbreak at a prison facility there.

Despite national criticism from a similar CDC report leaked from the White House last week, the administration of Governor Bill Lee still shows no interest in a statewide mask mandate. But instead he sees the state’s role in providing leadership on this critical issue is by producing a round of TV Public Service Announcements to urge people to wear masks. Whatever.

PSAs worked well last spring to “flatten the curve” of the virus. Given how controversial and partisan mask wearing has become I have my doubts :30 or :60 second ads will do the trick again, but I hope I am wrong.

State health officials do admit one reason the state is on the White House zone is because COVID-19 is now surging not just in the major urban areas but also in Tennessee’s second tier cities and smaller counties.

On this same topic, following President Trump’s sudden change of tone and position on wearing masks, more and more Republican-controlled counties surrounding Nashville, such as Rutherford and others, are using their newly granted powers from Governor Lee to require mask usage. That is a complete reversal from where leaders in those counties stood on this issue just a few days ago. Schools which before had been planning on an in person opening of schools are either delaying the start of classes or mixing in more on-line studies. Even the Rutherford County Schools are requiring masks to be worn by anyone coming on campus. These moves come even as President Trump (again apparently as a part of his new attitude and kinder, gentler talking points about the virus says schools in hard hit areas should delay classes, although he is still insisting any new federal monies for schools have an amount set aside for use only for schools who do reopen with in person. For those that don’t their monies should go to parents to use for private school tuition or tutoring.

The continuing public and political shift about the use of masks means almost all counties around Nashville have the mandatory mask order Mayor Cooper has publicly desired. But how much and how soon that will make a difference to the virus raging in our state and in Nashville remains to be seen. Mayor Cooper says Tennessee needs to get away from its ongoing all 95 counties for themselves approach on this public health crisis.


The state of Tennessee continues to deal with sharply elevated daily new case numbers of COVID-19. In fact, almost all the days for the highest number of new cases of the virus in Tennessee have been set since July 1. Yesterday (Thursday) was no exception with the second highest number ever for cases, and a record number of both hospitalizations and deaths for a single day.

In terms of hospitalizations, the previous record high had been set just the day before on Wednesday.

The administration of Governor Bill Lee was also set to release on Thursday its final guidance to local school systems on how to open classes in person this fall, and do so safely. That guidance was deferred however until Tuesday. The state is still waiting from revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington, which has been working on its new plan for several weeks, and seems to be struggling with what to recommend.

NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES reports, even before schools reopen, state health records show over 7,500 school age children in Tennessee have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Even before those numbers surfaced, a group of Tennessee doctors on Wednesday said efforts towards opening schools in person should be delayed because the state has “an unacceptable growth” in COVID-19 cases overall.

In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General this week said the same thing about the virus transmission rate nationally. Schools should not open, he says, until the transmission comes down.


A somewhat mysterious grass roots effort to recall Mayor John Cooper, and the 32 members of the Metro Council that voted for a 34% property tax increase last month, has fizzled out. The group was not able to produce the nearly 70,000 voter signatures needed to put the matter on the ballot for a special election in December.

The group also sought to put a measure before voters that if approved would have greatly limited the city’s ability to raise taxes in the future. That petition did not garner enough signatures either.

Supporters of the effort say they have a Plan B in mind to remove the Mayor, but without any details it is hard to assess or believe that whatever else is attempted is likely to be successful.

Those pushing the recall effort may also busy defending themselves against in court against a lawsuit which says the last minute robocall efforts to gain more signatures on the recall petition violated federal law.

In the wake of the failed recall effort, there continues to be reports that the sales tax revenue loss the city feared it would see due to the coronavirus shutdown last spring has not been as bad as expected. In fact Metro has received $100 million more in sales tax revenues for the last quarter of fiscal year 2020 (March-June) than what was anticipated.

That led some councilmen to introduce a resolution Tuesday night asking the Cooper administration to submit a new tax levy ordinance that the Council could pass to lower the property tax hike. That would require at least a couple of special Council meetings to get a lower tax rate approved before the tax bills are sent out by October.

The Cooper administration opposes lowering the tax increase saying the city’s revenue situation remains uncertain while the COVID-19 pandemic rages. The full Council agreed, defeating the resolution 14-22. Supporters say they may file a new tax levy bill on their own, so stay tuned.

In other action the Council filled a vacancy on the Metro School Board to replace the late Anna Shepard.

The council also approved financial changes to the lease involving the MLS stadium/mixed use development being built at the Fairgrounds. These were negotiated last year by Mayor Cooper and the MLS team owners to move the project ahead. The changes include the soccer team assuming the responsibility for covering the debt service on the stadium in the event the sales tax and ticket tax revenues fall short of the projections. Another changed lease provision would remove a provision that the team’s failure to play MLS games at the stadium for 24 consecutive months would be a default of the lease. This move is seen as necessary is to facilitate financing for the mixed-use development.

One additional lease change added last night provides more distance between the development and the existing Speedway, a matter has long been a bone of contention. Opponents of the MLS development, who are still challenging the project in court, still don’t like the plan and tried to defer it, but failed.

Several pieces of police reform legislation have run out of steam, and without broad support, are being withdrawn from consideration at least for now.

Reversing course, the Council unanimously endorsed the city’s mask mandate, doing so on the body’s consent agenda. Two weeks ago, unhappy with the penalty for not wearing masks being a Class C misdemeanor, the Council rejected a similar resolution. But now, since it appears no one is getting anything but a warning from police for not wearing a mask, the bill breezed through. The Council even approved making violation of a mayoral executive order under a civil emergency (such as the May 31 riot at the Metro Courthouse) punishable as well by a Class C misdemeanor. The Council did add an amendment. It says , if the bill is passed into law on third reading, it will expire in 2023 when the current mayoral and council terms end.

Finally, the Council approved a resolution, that while memorializing in nature, speaks to the still sensitive nature of the recent property tax hike. Metro is now receiving a record number of complaints about garbage pickup, or should I say trash not being picked on time each week. Some years back, residents of the city’s Urban Services District used to pay more in property taxes to receive twice a week, backyard pickup of their refuse. Now that happens just once a week, and the service in large measure been privatized. It is the lack of consistent prompt trash pickup that seems to be at the heart of the increasing number of complaints. The Council asks the Public Works Department, the private haulers and everyone else involved to work things out as quickly as possible. It appears council members know, or certainly understand, that when you raise property taxes 34%, you better be damn sure the city is able to at least pick up the trash!

The Council Tuesday night also continued its streak of marathon meetings. For its last five sessions, three in June and two in July, the body has not finished any its meetings on the same day they began. Going only 6 hours Tuesday night was the shortest one so far in the marathon streak. The latest meeting might have ended before midnight, but sound system problems kept the meeting from getting underway for an hour. There was even talk of adjourning or postponing the meeting until next week before a solution was found to work around the sound issue. Even after that, the computer system being used to conduct the virtual meeting kept disconnecting members with no seeming rhyme or reason. After 11 meetings operating on emergency rules due to the pandemic, you would think the kinks in doing on-line meetings would be worked out. But it seems the gremlins remain in charge.


For the past week Tennesseans have begun the process of selecting a new United States Senator for Tennessee to replace long- time Republican incumbent Lamar Alexander, who is retiring.

It’s a race that for most of the year has been conducted in relative obscurity, overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, down the stretch, the two major Republican candidates, Dr. Manny Sethi and former ambassador Bill Hagerty, have been lambasting each other with TV attack ads all over the airwaves, trading charges over who is the true conservative. More attacks from the campaigns and from outside PAC groups continue to show up every time you turn on your TV.

Here is how the Associated Press sees the race which has some potential national political overtones.


Like any race where the major candidates are relative unknowns running their first statewide contests, endorsements are seen as very important. This week Manny Sethi got support from Senator Ted Cruz while Bill Hagerty is being backed Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and by Tennessee’s other U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn.

The Blackburn endorsement is curious, spending more time in her news release attacking Sethi, than she does praising Hagerty. Here is part of the text of her news release:

“I fully support Bill Hagerty for the United States Senate, because I need a true Tennessee conservative to stand with me to protect our Tennessee values,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn. “Bill is a true conservative, and he will always fight for Tennesseans. Manny’s friends - and personally picked board members - supported Phil Bredesen and publicly wrongly attacked me during the 2018 election. He stood by and did nothing - they remain on the board of his ‘policy think tank’ to this day and were not held accountable for their accusations. He wanted to work in the Obama, Biden White House, defended and supported Obamacare, and gave to ActBlue, which is bankrolling the Marxist BLM movement. Tennesseans can’t afford to send someone who is conveniently conservative to be a Republican and consistently supports President Trump when it’s politically convenient.”

Here is an interesting take and a prediction in the GOP U.S. Senate contest. It is penned by Frank Cagle, a longtime political observer, analyst and columnist over in Knoxville. It’s the second part of his Frank Talk column featured on the KnoxTNToday. com website under the title: Loyalty?


On INSIDE POLITICS this week, we have asked two of our best political analysts, Democrat Larry Woods and Republican Chip Saltsman, to join us.

We will ask them to assess where we are as the 2020 elections approach and the virus rages. From our suddenly red-hot Tennessee U.S. Senate race in the GOP primary, to the continuing court battle over mail-in absentee voting due to the pandemic, we will analyze it all, along with the national scene with the upcoming national political conventions and the presidential race.

Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS will air 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 cannot see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on 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 early in 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 ongoing battle over how and which voters can cast ballots in the upcoming 2020 election continues.

After a Nashville Chancery judge ruled last month that voters during the pandemic can request to vote absentee through the mail in the August and November elections.

This week a federal judge put a caveat in that, refusing to set aside other state laws because the plaintiffs did not ask soon enough for the court to act for the August elections although he says he will consider the matter for the November voting .

Meanwhile, Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper was highly critical of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett when he came to Washington to testify before a congressional committee this week. Since the state official was testifying before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Cooper had to send his comments by letter to Republican Committee Chair Sen. Roy Blunt and Democratic Ranking Member Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The Nashville lawmaker says Hargett’s office has engaged in voter suppression tactics. “In 1996, Tennessee was the 10th easiest state to vote”, says Cooper. “But years of poor leadership have taken their toll and now we are the third worst state (in the nation). From criminalizing the activities of voter registration groups to creating bureaucratic labyrinths for college students to overcome, Tennessee spares no expense when it comes to stopping people from voting.”

Indeed, it appears the Democratic members on the Senate committee got Congressman Cooper’s letter and added their own criticism during Secretary of State Hargett’s appearance.

Associated Press

Here is part of the exchange between Secretary of State Hargett and Senator Klobuchar about Tennessee’s somewhat singular aversion to allowing drop boxes to collect absentee ballots. It was not a great moment in the spotlight for Tennessee.

While Congressman Cooper himself faces no Republican or Independent opposition in November, for the first time in a decade, he does have two primary opponents in the August 6th Democratic primary. Cooper would appear to be a heavy favorite to win, but he does not seem to be taking anything for granted, sending out at least 5 direct mail pieces to active party voters and placing ads on social media.

His opponents may perceive Cooper as a congressman ripe for a primary upset as has occurred recently to some other long- time Democratic House members in safe blue seats. Cooper’s mailings seek to make it clear that long before the current unrest over social justice, police defunding and voting rights issues, along with support for historically black colleges and universities, Congressman Cooper has been a part of that ongoing battle for several years, despite his long time reputation as being more of a moderate Democrat.

The 2020 election may also mark the last time Davidson County is more or less its own congressional district. Republicans dominant in the Tennessee General Assembly seem more determined than ever to redraw the state’s congressional district lines after the 2020 Census, to divide Nashville up into multiple congressional districts, all carefully drawn to elected congressmen from the suburban Republican counties surrounding blue-voting Davidson County.


Another tough week of reports on the economy as we still try to recover from the economic shutdown caused by the virus.

One way Congress did manage to help keep people’s heads above water financially, is to allocate $600 extra dollars per week for the unemployed. The money in particular helped folks pay their bills and their rent. That could start to change next week. That is when the last of those $600 checks will be sent out.

The end of these funds could set off a wave, perhaps even a tsunami of evictions.

Republicans have said from the beginning the extra $600 was too generous and encouraged folks not to go back to work. But the economy and job hiring are not recovering. The latest indication of that came Thursday when the number of people making first time applications for unemployment rose to 1.3 million. Such requests for help have been above 1 million for 18 consecutive weeks.

In Tennessee, the unemployment assistance numbers rose again this week with a total of 740,000 appeals for help coming since March 15. Fortunately, a few thousand have now found work.

GOP leaders in Congress now realize there will be a need for a 5th virus relief bill. Our elected leaders and the White House spent most of this week debating (arguing) about what to include in the legislation. As far as they’ve gotten is a “a fundamental agreement” between the White House and Senate Republicans.

But by Friday morning this “fundamental agreement” had not become an actual draft bill written down on paper. It appears Congress may still be stuck at step 1 of this process.

The tentative cost of the GOP/ White House bill is $1.1 trillion. The hardest part of getting something approved likely still lies ahead, getting Democrats and Republicans in the House on board. There are also reports of a Tea Party revival to stop the plan.

It appears regardless of what gets worked out next week on a tentative bill, Congress is unlikely to act on a new relief plan before the $600 unemployment checks run out. That means if Congress authorizes any check renewals (or another round of $1200 stimulus checks) they may well be for a lesser amount and may have to be sent out retroactively later in the year. Congress, which this week returned from its 4th of July recess, is about to go on its August break and stay out of session through Labor Day.


The deaths, within hours last Friday, of two of nation’s Civil Rights icons, Reverend C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis, have set off a national wave of sorrow over their passing and praise for how much they did to improve social justice in America, beginning in the early 1960s.

Both men had a lot to do with changing things in Nashville, first by leading the non-violent struggle to desegregate our city’s lunch counters. Then they went on to organize and lead the Freedom Riders whose courage to desegregate interstate bus travel in the South put their lives on the line, and several times put them behind bars in jail. Then, it was on, to the still on- going struggle for voting rights, when again Lewis and Vivian were beaten by police just for trying to exercise their rights to demonstrate while crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL.

I never had the chance to meet or interview either of these men, but as child in the early 1960s I did watch their extraordinary and courageous leadership in Nashville and during the Freedom Rides. I did once have Congressman Lewis booked on INSIDE POLITICS to discuss one of his books but, due to scheduling issues, it was cancelled. When he passed last week, I again particularly regretted not meeting and having my photo taken with him.

That’s because John Lewis had a legendary reputation for being so gracious, he always stopped to take time to have his photo taken with anyone who asked. Indeed, my Facebook feed last weekend was full of personal pictures taken with Lewis, reminding me I missed that opportunity.

Over the past week there has been much discussion about what should be done to honor John Lewis and C.T. Vivian. Pass a new voting rights act in Congress? Name a building or erect a statue?

I suspect John Lewis would want everyone to continue to work to end social injustice in our nation including engaging in a little” good trouble” if required. John Lewis saw “good trouble” as way to let everyone know, as it is chanted in today’s resurgent civil rights marches organized by a new generation of young leadership, that no justice means no peace.

So to honor the legacy of Congressman John Lewis and the Reverend C.T. Vivian, it is really up to us. There is a quote from John Lewis high on one of the walls of the Nashville Public Library’s Civil Rights Room downtown. The Room is literally just steps away from where John Lewis was taunted, hit, carried out and arrested just for trying to order something to eat at a lunch counter of Church Street almost 60 years ago.

Lewis quote is his simple but difficult challenge to all us about what to do in his honor to continue to move ahead on social justice:

“If not us, then who, if not now, then when? “