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Capitol View commentary: Friday, September 11, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 12:18 PM, Sep 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-11 13:18:20-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

September 11, 2020

THE PRESIDENT’S COVID-19 RESPONSE MOVES BACK TO THE FOREFRONT IN THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN; STATE AND LOCAL VIRUS METRICS CONTINUE TO TREND LOWER DESPITE HOT SPOTS IN PRISONS AND SCHOOLS WHILE AWAITING THE IMPACT OF THE LABOR DAY HOLIDAY; THE DEADLOCK ON MORE VIRUS AID CONTINUES IN WASHINGTON; A SIGNIFICANT NEXT FEW DAYS FOR THE FUTURE OF METRO GOVERNMENT; DR. JOHN VILE OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE UNIVERSITY GIVES HIS TAKE ON THE ELECTION ON INSIDE POLITICS

THE PRESIDENT’S COVID-19 RESPONSE MOVES BACK TO THE FOREFRONT IN THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

There are slew of books that have come out recently from those who worked in the White House or administration of President Donald Trump.

Every one of these books has been highly critical of the President. Some have included exposes and disclosures that have and continue to make the headlines. But in terms of potential impact on the presidential race, one book likely stands above all the rest in that regard.

The book is RAGE, written by Bob Woodward of Watergate fame. The early excerpts of his work, which are based in many ways on lengthy on the record, recorded interviews with the President, are creating quite a firestorm of renewed controversy over the President knowledge and actions in the early days of the pandemic, even before the first death had been suffered in this country.

As early as February the President told Woodward he knew from his briefings that COVID-19 was very deadly and highly contagious, even more than the flu.

Of course, that is not anywhere close to what the President told the public Mr. Trump explained to Woodward, he didn’t tell what he knew because he wanted to stay positive, show leadership and not create panic. Others, including his Democratic opponent Joe Biden, say the President deliberately misled the voters and failed to perform his number one duty to keep Americans safe.

The President is clearly on the defensive on an issue where he has struggled in voter job approval polls. He is trying to fight back.

The President, and some on social media, ask why Woodward didn’t report the President’s comments earlier instead of waiting for his book.

While President Trump says he takes COVID-19 very seriously, he still seems to be in cheerleader mode. He told a campaign rally crowd in Michigan that the virus is in the final stretch. The nation’s top infectious doctor has a very different message on that.

So far, it does not appear the President and his campaign are effectively getting on top of this issue.

It appears this Bob Woodward/ virus story has enough ‘legs’ and it will stay in the news cycle for a while. It is already creating new attack ads against Mr. Trump, with more likely to come. As to whether it will mortally wound his re-election campaign, remember in 2016 a video surfaced of Trump making salacious and completely inappropriate comments about women.

There were calls he step down from the GOP ticket (then Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam was among those who said so). Mr. Trump did not step aside. He continued to campaign, dismissing his comments as locker room talk and he won the presidency.

What will 2020 hold on this issue?

On Thursday, current Tennessee Governor Bill Lee refused to discuss the issue regarding President Trump downplaying the coronavirus despite knowing its deadly nature.

The clearest sign that a campaign issue is kryptonite is when those who should be your political friends either don’t want to comment, or answer in a way that changes the subject.

This past week also saw the President having to deny reports that he has disparaged U.S. war dead as “losers” and “suckers.” The accusations were made by anonymous sources but were confirmed by a variety of media outlets.

Another issue that emerged this week is word that as Joe Biden and the Democrats are enjoying record fund raising numbers, President Trump’s campaign has blown through close to $1 billion so far and may need personal financial help from Mr. Trump of up to $100 million. The President says he will spend whatever it takes but supporters are concerned.

The controversy also continues to rage over the politization of intelligence reports. A government whistleblower this week says he was demoted because he refused to doctor his reports, as his bosses ordered him to, so that they mirror what the President has said about the radical left and Antifa leading increasing violence across the country, and downplay the role of white supremacist groups doing the same. They also want the intelligence reports to downplay Russian efforts to meddle in another U.S. presidential election and play up China and Iran doing so.

This week, Microsoft entered the fray with its own report about foreign interference through hacking in the 2020 race. It’s growing and involves multiple countries.

Both the presidential and vice- presidential candidates attended 9/11 remembrance ceremonies today (Friday). That horrible event briefly united the country 19 years ago. Now our politics are so fractured, you wonder if anything can bring the nation together again.

STATE AND LOCAL VIRUS METRICS CONTINUE TO TREND LOWER DESPITE HOT SPOTS IN PRISONS AND SCHOOLS WHILE AWAITING THE IMPACT OF THE LABOR DAY HOLIDAY

Heading into the sixth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, across most of the country, as well as here in Tennessee and Nashville, the virus cases numbers and other important metrics are trending downward except for a few hotspots. One here in Tennessee is a continuing outbreak in state correctional facilities, including several in Davidson County.

Higher education in Tennessee is also a concern, especially at the state’s flagship campus at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville where school officials this week said “all options are on the table” to deal with the growing virus problem that now numbers at least 600 cases and over 2,000 students isolated.

In West Tennessee (Jackson), Lane College has sent students home for two weeks (until September 21) and has gone to virtual classes.

In terms of K-12 education, the state has waffled back and forth about what it should or even could report. Finally, on Wednesday (a day later than promised), a new dashboard website has been posted to help parents and the public track cases in school districts across the state. But early on, it still doesn’t have all the districts and the information promised. Even when that happens, the site will only be updated once a week.

Associated Press

You can find the dashboard here.

In Nashville, unrest about Metro Schools continues. There are those unhappy with classes remaining on- line through fall break in October, with fall sports on indefinite pause, while those in private schools, and in surrounding counties, play on.

The concerns have a Metro School Board member facing a recall effort.

Since Labor Day, Metro has begun bringing back special needs students with the planned phase in to in-person classes for other students to begin with the youngest grades first, then up to high school students, who may not get back into classrooms until later in the fall.

Metro is giving parents an option. They have sent out a questionnaire for them to choose between staying virtual or coming back to in person classes. A decision will be for the rest of the year, and a choice is due no later than September 15. Those who don’t respond or decide will be placed in in-person classrooms. Reaction is mixed with some parents and teachers waiting more information and feeling rushed.

Metro school leaders late this week also took a small step towards allowing fall sports to get active, but still no games.

All of this comes as Nashville Mayor John Cooper feels good about the progress the city has made on the virus. It’s not enough to loosen any further restrictions or move forward out of our multiple-times, modified Phase II of the city’s road map to reopening our economy.

At his now weekly media update on COVID-19 on Thursday, Mayor Cooper noted that, unlike the beginning of the pandemic in March, when the major cities of the state had, by far, the vast majority of virus cases, now the urban areas such as Memphis and Nashville have just 15% of Tennesseans who aree ill. Davidson County was once first in cases statewide. Now the Mayor says we are 72 out of the state’s 95 counties on that list.

The Mayor did add some words of caution. He indicated he and other health officials are waiting anxiously to see how the community did in following health protocols for wearing masks and following social distancing over Labor Day weekend.

We won’t know how things went until at least next week. What we do already know is that Metro Police and health officials seemed to have their busiest weekend so far with enforcement actions during the Labor Day holiday.

To further encourage social distancing in the city’s entertainment district, Mayor Cooper closed Broadway downtown from 4th to 5t Avenues downtown last weekend. Such a closing is far from unusual (think Predator Stanley Cup Playoff games). But doing it every week, and passing an ordinance in the Metro Council to allow it, as is being proposed, is getting push back including from merchants along with concerns about rearranging regular bus routes used by essential workers.

Broadway is a state highway, so the state has to approve any extended closings. Mayor Cooper says the state has signed off on weekend closures of Broadway, but only through the end of September.

Mayor Cooper also says, as the city reopens, it needs more Metro employees to enforce health orders. There are two bills pending final reading Tuesday before the Metro Council. The ordinances would let the Mayor empower just about any amount of city workers he needs to help him. There has been increased pushback on the bills since it passed second reading on September 1. Some council members say the whole effort is “government overreach” while others want to narrow down the departments and employees that might be enlisted.

This week also saw one of the efforts to give final testing for a new COVID-19 vaccine put on pause, which includes testing being done here in Nashville. Being a medical center there are also other vaccine tests underway here.

Not all the virus related news is on the downbeat in Nashville. One of the city’s top tourist attractions, the Country Music Hall of Fame, reopened after being shuttered for the past six months after the pandemic began.

Meanwhile, the state has its own COVID-19 controversies to handle. That includes what NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES calls an $80 million no-bid spending spree with tax dollars for COVID-related supplies.

And this first story is creating more questions and a follow-up.

On Thursday, Governor Lee defended the no-bid purchasing and said he would continue the policy due to the emergency caused by the pandemic.

In a time of questions and calls for systematic reform in police training and their scope of work, another potential controversy could another controversy be brewing after Governor Bill Lee announced he will use $300,000 in federal virus funds to fund scholarships to train 90 more police officers in the state.

The Governor along with several law enforcement groups also announced a new use of force policy for law enforcement.

They say the changes they are recommending for law enforcement in Tennessee are “:unprecedented” and could set a new national standard.

Teacher groups continue to call on the Governor to use federal or state money do more to help teachers and students stay safe in the classroom as they return to in person classes.

The police reform effort is also stirring again in Nashville. Demonstrations were held at the Metro Police HQs demanding change.

THE DEADLOCK ON MORE VIRUS AID CONTINUES IN WASHINGTON

The American economy, placed in a deep economic downturn by the coronavirus pandemic, continues to struggle to rebound. In a troubling sign, while new claims for unemployment assistance rose only slightly this week, the nation still has close to 30 million people seeking some form of unemployment aid.

In Tennessee, the number of those seeking unemployment aid for the first time fell slightly, compared to the week before. Those needing new help total 11,706. Last week it was 12, 035. Some 176,388 Tennesseans are asking for continuing assistance.

Those who have been receiving the supplemental unemployment aid of $300 a week in FEMA funds will see that come to an end. When it might come back remains uncertain as a bill by Republicans in the U.S. Senate to pass a scaled back or “skinny” virus relief bill (that included $300 in additional weekly unemployment aid) failed due to the filibuster rules of the upper chamber.

Both parties are blaming each other for the continuing impasse in Washington. The failed GOP Senate bill might give some Republican Senators political cover in their tough re-election races. The Democrats believe as the days pass the need for a larger relief bill will become so apparent it will hurt the GOP in November.

Who is right? Who knows? But for the millions hurting in this country, all they know is you can’t spend any of the political bluster or the gridlock in Washington to pay the rent or the mortgage or to feed a family.

A SIGNIFICANT NEXT FEW DAYS FOR THE FUTURE OF METRO GOVERNMENT

The next few days may tell us a lot about the future of Nashville’s Metro government and its governing constitution these last 58 years, the Metro Charter.

There have been a bevy of amendments to the Charter proposed. Some are from a citizens petition drive, fueled by the continuing public anger over the 34% property tax increase approved by the Metro Council and Mayor Cooper back in June. The petition effort also seems to be pushed (funded?) by the ultra -conservative Americans for Prosperity group which defeated the city’s transit plan in 2018.

Other amendments have been proposed by councilmembers, some to try and stop the petition-backed changes by giving voters a choice if the December 5 election is called.

This story is a major one, and with everything else going on it, has gotten very little media coverage unfortunately. We have covered it extensively in this column. This TENNESSEAN article is good background piece on the matter as we head into Friday when some important developments may occur.

Some of the moving parts of this puzzling situation that could be resolved, beginning sometime on Friday. They include:

1. The Metro Election Commission, which has been counting the voter signatures on the petitions, could announce its petition count and whether a December 5th special election will be called if there are enough signatures.

2. The Metro Charter Revision Commission is meeting Friday to decide its recommendations on all these amendments (likely they will reject everything except the Council’s proposal to keep the status quo in the Charter).

3. Based on what happens on all that, what the Council will decide what to do Tuesday night. It will take a 2/3 or 27 votes to place an amendment on the ballot. Based on the last Council meeting, the only amendment the Council will likely OK is the status quo charter amendment giving voters a choice to block the petition effort, even if it is also approved by voters.

Given all the debate on this and the other items on the Council’s 15-page agenda, prospects look likely for another meeting of our 40 city leaders at the Metro Courthouse that will last again well past midnight.

DR. JOHN VILE OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE UNIVERSITY GIVES HIS TAKE ON THE ELECTION ON INSIDE POLITICS

Next week on Tuesday September 15th…we will be less than 50 days…or 7 weeks before the November 3 presidential election.

Dr. John Vile, long- time political science professor and Dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee University, is one of those watching the race closely.

He is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

We welcome back Dr. Vile.

We always enjoy having him on the program!

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. We are also back on DISH TV with the rest of the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

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 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 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.