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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 27, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 1:23 PM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-27 14:23:15-04

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
March 27, 2020

PANDEMIC DELIVERS TREMENDOUS UNEMPLOYMENT BLOW TO TENNESSEE AND U.S, ECONOMY; PANDEMIC CREATES POLITICAL FIGHT OVER THE FUTURE OF RESTRICTIONS: THE RELIEF BILL; CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS; BACK IN NASHVILLE & TENNESSEE AND SOME FINAL THOUGHTS;

PANDEMIC DELIVERS TREMENDOUS UNEMPLOYMENT BLOW TO TENNESSEE AND U.S, ECONOMY

The other shoe fell this week from the Coronavirus.

With over 82,000 persons infected (now the most in the world) and over 1,000 dead from the pandemic, the release Thursday of the latest weekly unemployment benefits applications were off the charts nationally.

Things appear just as bad looking at Tennessee’s unemployment filings.

One slight ray of economic sunshine, there are some firms looking to hire thousands of new workers.

And Governor Lee is setting up a jobs exchange.

Meanwhile Nashville Mayor John Cooper sees serious financial issues from for the city not only from the impact of the pandemic but also the devastating March 3 tornado and Metro’s already difficult budget issues. He spoke to NEWSCHANNEL Chief Investigative reporter Phil Williams about it.

Nashville was planning to start its budget making process early, but that is being postponed, largely waiting to see what federal assistance may be coming to Nashville. The Mayor will still deliver his first State of Metro Address on schedule Tuesday, but it will be done on line without an audience. This is similar to how Metro has been holding its daily COVID-19 updates. In the interim, the city is placing a freeze on hiring and promotions, except in essential service areas, and there is a freeze on all out of town travel unless absolutely required, among other belt tightening moves.

THE TENNESSEAN says the city is facing a $300 million hit to its budget.

PANDEMIC CREATES POLITICAL FIGHT OVER THE FUTURE OF RESTRICTIONS

I wrote in last week’s column that there would be a real fight brewing, when people started thinking that the coronavirus was under enough control, that at least some of the social distancing and other restrictions to combat the illness, could be lessened, or removed, at least in some parts of the country.

But I didn’t think that battle would be ramping up this soon.

It began to happen this week from the very top.

President Donald Trump says he wishes and hopes the restrictions would be waived (at least in some lesser impacted areas) by Easter Sunday (April 12). The President says with the economy, more or less in free-fall due to the pandemic, we need to careful not “to make cure worse than the problem itself.”

Some think he is right.

Former Tennessee Senator Bob Corker seems to agree with the President.

But others think the President is dead wrong.

WASHINGTON POST

The criticism of the President goes along with some general dissatisfaction over his role in the daily news briefings at the White House. Such sessions have become standard for live TV coverage in major cities and states across the country. I have heard very good reviews for the daily briefing sessions done by Governor Bill Lee with other state officials as well as the ones Mayor John Cooper’s office has organized every day for Metro. But the reviews for the President are not so good.

Even governors in red states are opposing President Trump on seeking to end the virus restrictions by Easter. While not directly related to opening up the economy, within a few hours of the President expressing a desire to lessen COVID-19 restrictions by April 12, Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee announced he was extending the closing all schools in the state until April 24, almost two weeks later.

Former Tennessee Senator and Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist says it is too early to reopen the nation in the next few weeks. But he says it is time to starting plan such an effort. Another doctor running for the U.S. Senate this year, Dr. Manny Sethi says it time to set the criteria to get the nation back to work.

At least one local media outlet is criticizing former Senator Corker.

I certainly agree getting back to work and back to normal is critical. But it must be safe to do so and based on data. Given the continued lack of testing nationwide, especially in areas that do not appear to be hard hit by the virus, I am not sure we have nearly enough information to even put a plan together at this point.

One quick national poll indicates a huge majority of Americans favor a national quarantine over the President’s suggestion.

As has been a worrisome problem throughout the Trump administration’s response to this crisis, it seems the President spoke out about lessening the virus restrictions (again) without keeping others in the loop on his thinking (or lack thereof)

But despite the pushback, the President is still moving forward to get large parts of the country back to work “within the next few weeks”, adding “I am not going to do anything rash or hastily.”
ASSOCIATED PRESS

But perhaps the most trusted healthcare person on the national scene during this crisis, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says it is not us, it’s the virus who decides what should happen next about relaxing restrictions.

As the battle rages, are the social distancing and other restrictions working? Here’s an article that cites evidence it is.

THE RELIEF BILL

It didn’t exactly happen at “warp speed,” which was the way GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised, but by Wednesday of this week, the Senate (Republicans and Democrats) along with the White House had an agreement for a $2 trillion COVID-19 Relief package, likely the largest of its kind ever.

Here’s how the $2 trillion will be allocated to do, among other things, help state and local governments do more to combat the virus and also address the severe dislocations already appearing in the economy for businesses and individuals.

The bill immediately ran into trouble Wednesday with some Republican Senators balking over the increased unemployment compensation written into the measure. Their efforts to amend the bill failed and the full Senate approved the measure in a unanimous vote of the members present.

Immediately after passage, the Senate bill received praise, even from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, although she stopped short of saying the House will pass it.

But that was on early Wednesday by Thursday, the Madame Speaker was predicting bi-partisan House approval of the Senate bill when the vote is taken Friday.

But as of noon Friday (Nashville time) debate in the House continues.

Final passage in the House came around 12:30 pm Nashville time.

Before the measure passed in the Senate, the COVFID-19 Relief bill got a bad review from one of those on the front lines of fighting the virus, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. His state and the city of New York are the epicenter of COVID-19 pandemic in America (with more than half of all U.S. cases). The Governor says the Relief bill is “terrible.,” then continued his strong attacks on Thursday.

So how much will Tennessee receive from this relief bill? One report says it will be up to $3 billion.

The stock market seems to like the Relief Bill. After falling sharply (another 3%) on Monday, when Senate Democrats and Republicans were at odds (and the measure doubled in size from $1 to $2 trillion). On Tuesday the market had its greatest single day rise since the Great Depression of almost 2,119 points on the blue-chip index. Wednesday the market stayed up too marking the first time it has been up two days in a row since February. Then Wednesday with passage of the Relief Bill in both the Senate and the House, it went up another 1,300 marking the largest gains over 3 days since 1931.

But the stock market is always fickle and hates uncertainty, so who knows what next week will bring?

Remember as well, Wall Street rebounding is not Main Street recovering or the rest of the new economy, such as gig work, getting well.

CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS

Congress and all of Washington is trying to find a way to lead the nation through the greatest public health and economic crisis since the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and the 1930s Great Depression.

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing its spread across the country and around the globe. The U.S. is now the first in the world with the most confirmed virus cases. In addition to already killing over a half million worldwide and over a thousand people in the U.S., the disease also threatens to take down both the American and the world’s economies.

Our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week is Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper.

He is now back on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight as the House went into session Friday to approve the $2 trillion Virus Relief bill for America which the U.S. Senate passed late Wednesday.

We appreciate him taking time to join us, via ZOOM.

Tune us in!

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. 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

BACK IN NASHVILLE & TENNESSEE AND SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

In Nashville & the state of Tennessee this past week, our leaders (Governor Bill Lee and Mayor John Cooper) have both been taking actions to keep restrictions in place, even adding to them.

On Sunday, Mayor Cooper announced a “Safer at Home” order which closed non-essential businesses and encouraged residents throughout Davidson County to stay home when possible and avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people for non-essential purposes. Until further notice, all businesses not performing essential services were ordered closed beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday, March 23.

Later in the week, Mayor Cooper moved to close many city parks facilities because too many folks were using them in violation of the CDC guidelines. Therefore, all playgrounds, dog parks, basketball courts, tennis courts, picnic shelters, and skate parks are closed to the public until further notice. Parks, greenways, trails and golf courses will remain open, but golf club houses are closed, which means concessions, restrooms and cart rentals are not available,

Governor Lee has imposed lesser restrictions statewide. He continues to resist a petition effort signed by thousands of Tennessee doctors demanding he issue a ‘shelter in place” order as has been mandated in several other states and cities. He did ban all elective surgeries due to the virus including apparently abortions. He has called out the National Guard to perform humanitarian work (not law enforcement). To coordinate Tennessee’s effort, he has established a “consolidated command’ group headed by Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter. The Governor indicates he is constantly monitoring the situation to see if more restrictions need to be put in place. He is also becoming increasingly vocal about those who seem to refuse to follow the CDC virus restrictions.

It is a true puzzlement. No containment effort on a statewide or local level can be enforced in any fashion other than by the honor system. Those who refuse to follow this best advice seem both short sighted and really stupid. Why would anyone risk their health, even their lives, along with their family, friends and anybody else with whom they come into contact?

To build support for the social distancing restrictions in place the Governor is appearing in some public service announcements along with some celebrities.

Both the Governor and Nashville officials have been pleading for donations of medical equipment and other supplies for younger people with some success. Meanwhile to me, it is beyond understanding how the federal government continues to abdicate its responsibility to take over this equipment supply issue. It makes no sense for all 50 states, several cities, numerous hospitals and, even the feds themselves, to be out competing and outbidding it each other for these vital resources. If this is war, wage it! And that best happens with a coordinated national response not this half-hearted, “we are not shipping clerks” response from President Trump. Such a response is not only unwise, but it could soon be deadly.

Trying to find some hope in these times, late Thursday Mayor Cooper asked residents to share their own stories by using the hashtag #NashvilleStrongStory on social media. He wants them to highlight and promote the positive response of Nashville’s residents following the March 3rd tornado and Metro’s citywide coronavirus (COVID-19) challenges.

He wants them to use the hashtag #NashvilleStrongStory on social media. He also invites Nashvillians to visit Metro’s COVID-19 response website, covid19.nashville.gov, to learn about more ways to help fellow community members during this crisis.

Both the State and Metro have also started information hot lines to help what is likely an ever more confused and frightened citizenry. But the state is catching some flak about its service.

To care for a very at risk population, Metro is setting three different sites for the homeless depending on what level of service they need.

The city is also trying to help those in local jails who confined and cooped up together are very much at risk.

It is heartening to know, efforts by Metro and the State to beseech public and private businesses as well as non-hospital health care groups to donate any extra medical equipment they have, are showing some results.

Indeed, kindness has not been cancelled.

Unfortunately, the effort to open drive-thru testing centers in Nashville still can’t get started because (what else) city officials can’t get the test kits. But late word from Metro (around noon) indicate Governor Lee has promised the city will have the test equipment needed in order for at least some of the drive-thru centers to open as early as Monday

Along with that ray of hope came this from the state news, the worst of all this week, it was reported the state has sent word to doctors that if they don’t have proper personal professional equipment to use diapers or swim googles instead. Really.

I could continue to write page after page about all the unprecedented and disturbing changes and developments I am seeing in my hometown, my native state and my country trying to deal with this pandemic. You can find lots of stories about that elsewhere on NEWSCHANNEL5’s website.

For me, after over 40 years of covering and commenting on the news, this story and this week just got to be too much. I always try in this column to report and observe from a 10,000- foot level but it just got overwhelming.

So I tried to go higher in this column, maybe to the 50,000 foot level, capturing the major trends of the week, looking ahead to what may happen next, while also trying to show the positive things that are happening to help deal with this madness.

As an old reporter, I hope I am not getting soft or over the hill. I also hope this new way to write Capitol View will help me a better analyst and give my readers a break, a little pity. I suspect many of you really don’t want to read all this terrible news recounted here when you can get it elsewhere.

The latest virus numbers as of late Friday morning, show the following for Nashville:

Total number of Cases: 312
Number of Cases confirmed today: 20

Cases by sex
Male: 153
Female: 155
Unknown: 4

Total Cases by age
Unknown 32
0-10 3
11-20 20
21-30 122
31-40 54
41-50 30
51-60 20
61-70 18
71-80 11
81+ 2

Total 312
Recovered 55
Deaths 2

Total active cases 255

Total number of tests administered Total positive results Total negative results Positive results as percentage of total
3521 312 3209 8.9%

The state numbers will be posted at 2:00 p.m. here

My closing thought this week is to ask everyone to pray and do so unceasingly. Pray that a divided nation will come together (as I said at the beginning of the column) to deal with the greatest public health and economic challenge we have faced since the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Great Depression of the early 1930s.

Stay well and safe!