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The Morning Dispatch: Hello, Justin Amash
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The Morning Dispatch: Hello, Justin Amash

Plus, how should reopening businesses be thinking about liability if a customer or employee gets sick?

Happy Wednesday! The TMD we were planning to give you today required a slight rewrite at about 8 p.m. last night, when ex-Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan announced he was forming an exploratory committee to run for president as a Libertarian. Regular business hours, Congressman!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Tuesday night, there are now 1,012,583 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States (an increase of 24,132 / 2.4 percent since yesterday) and 58,355 deaths (an increase of 2,110 / 3.8 percent increase since yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard. Of 5,795,728 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (202,233 conducted since yesterday), 17.5 percent have come back positive. There are 106,265 Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 complications (a decrease of 22,408 /17.4 percent since yesterday), and 115,936 have recovered from the virus (an increase of 4,427 / 4 percent since yesterday). The number of hospitalizations dropped precipitously overnight and it’s not yet clear why. We hope to provide an explanation in tomorrow’s TMD.

  • The House of Representatives abruptly dropped plans to reconvene at the Capitol next week after a chorus of complaints from lawmakers arguing there were no procedures in place to protect them from the spread of the coronavirus. 

  • In an attempt to prevent further disruptions to food supply chains, President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act to compel U.S. slaughterhouses to remain open.

  • Hillary Clinton endorsed Joe Biden for president Tuesday during a livestream event about the impact of COVID-19 on women.

How Will Justin Amash Affect the Presidential Race?

For those closely following Rep. Justin Amash’s moves the past few months (there are dozens of us—dozens!), his announcement last night that he is forming an exploratory committee with the intention of running for president as a Libertarian should come as no surprise. He’d toyed with the idea for over a year: describing himself as an ideal third-party candidate at libertarian conferences, posting cryptic tweets about Americans “deserving another option,” repeatedly refusing to rule out a campaign whenever reporters (including yours truly) asked.

Well, he finally did it—and in true Libertarian fashion, he broke the news with a Nintendo Super Smash Bros. meme.

https://twitter.com/amashforamerica/status/1255285680160280577

Declan has a piece for the site today outlining the current state of the Libertarian race, what’s next for the congressman from Michigan, and the potential impact Amash could have on the general election.

“Americans are ready for practical approaches based in humility and trust of the people,” Amash wrote. “We’re ready for a presidency that will restore respect for our Constitution and bring people together. I’m excited and honored to be taking these first steps toward serving Americans of every background as president.”

Securing the Libertarian party nomination.

Amash—who formally left the Republican Party last July—will have to move quickly to assert himself in the Libertarian party primary.

Winning that nomination would immediately give him an advantage over other third-party candidates for one reason: ballot access. “[The Libertarians] have this great prize, right?” Matt Welch, editor at large of Reason magazine told The Dispatch earlier this year. “They’re going to be on 50 ballots probably, and nobody else is going to come close to that. And all you have to do is win a majority of delegates of a thousand votes in Austin, Texas in May, and you get to be on 50 ballots.”

“I think he would get the Libertarian party nomination,” Welch said. “He’s very revered in the Libertarian world generally. If you had to name one person who people within the party would want to see run for that office, I think the name is Justin Amash.”

The general election.

Amash has said he would not run for president unless he believed he could win. But his most significant role in the race will likely be as a spoiler. Can he eclipse Gary Johnson and Bill Weld’s Libertarian-record 3.27 percent of the popular vote in 2016?

Veteran Republican strategist Rob Stutzman was torn over whether Amash’s presence would deal more damage to Donald Trump or Joe Biden. “Amash would create a substantial complication for Trump in Midwest states and Arizona that he must win to replicate his electoral college jujitsu. In 2016, Trump won all of those states with pluralities, not majorities,” he said in an email. But he added that the five-term congressman from Michigan “could possibly complicate Biden’s attempt to recapture college educated suburbanites that voted for Democrats in 2016 by giving them [a] non-Trump alternative to vote for that isn’t burdened with sucking up to Bernie [Sanders] and [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] progressives.”

But Stutzman ultimately concluded, “Amash in the race is most likely bad news for Trump.”

Amash hasn’t yet (publicly) been polled in a three-way race against Trump and Biden, but a recent Suffolk University/USA Today poll found a generic third-party candidate drew more votes from Biden. The former vice president led Trump 44 percent to 38 percent if respondents were offered an additional option. Biden’s lead jumped to 10 points—50 percent to 40 percent—if that additional option was eliminated.

What kind of race will he run?

Amash’s campaign website is, thus far, understandably sparse. But in an interview with The Dispatch in January, he outlined what a hypothetical third-party bid might look like. 

“Members of Congress have miscalculated,” he said. “I think they are making assumptions about how partisan their constituents are that are not correct. It is true that a small percentage of the population is very politically active and will be either cheerleading for the president or opposed to the president on everything. But most people are pretty moderate.”

Amash added that Libertarians in particular are “under the impression that they have to persuade people of something that is a wholesale change to them, and that’s not the case. When people ask me, ‘when has libertarianism ever been tried?’ I would say in the United States of America, this is the most libertarian country that has ever been known.”

“I think most Americans are already there,” he argued. “It’s not a matter of persuading them of the principles. It’s persuading them that you are applying the principles they already believe in.”

If You Get Sick at a Restaurant, Who’s Liable?

COVID-related liability lawsuits are on the rise around the country. That’s according to a team of lawyers from Alston & Bird LLC, who have been tracking the advance of such litigation for the U.S. Chamber Litigation Center: “Workplace-related suits, including complaints accusing businesses of exposing workers or customers to COVID-19, are also continuing to increase with many more likely to follow.” 

Sarah has a piece up at the site today unpacking what this means for the end of the lockdown, and why some business groups are asking Congress to help cover their backs.

What’s the legal issue here?

With the coronavirus still spreading far beyond our ability to track every instance of it, it’s a safe bet that some reopening businesses will become sites of transmission, even if their owners take all reasonable precautions. This, of course, could open such businesses up to lawsuits. To prevent this, business groups are pressing for new legislation to create a “liability shield” for the coronavirus—essentially, protection from lawsuits concerning virus transmission, provided that a business can demonstrate it took precautions to limit the spread.

Will Washington do anything about it?

Republicans on Capitol Hill have been largely simpatico here. Both the White House and the GOP-led Senate have signaled that protecting businesses from liability over the spread of disease is a priority for the next spending package: “It won’t pass the Senate without it,” Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. 

There are, of course, a few holdouts: “The reasonable approach is for states to give businesses more flexibility to determine how to safely operate, while still subjecting them to ordinary liability,” independent Rep. Justin Amash tweeted Monday (a day before announcing his possible presidential campaign). “I don’t know what [McConnell’s] proposing, but I do know that potential liability is something businesses should have to consider as they design safe workplaces.” 

But the biggest obstacle to the bill isn’t likely to be objections from conference rebels. Rather, it will be in figuring out how to actually create a one-size-fits-all bill that has a prayer of threading the needle between protecting businesses from unreasonable lawsuits and exempting businesses from feeling the need to take necessary precautions. “Many questions still remain about which types of businesses would be protected,” Sarah writes, “and whether they would have an affirmative defense against all lawsuits that allege anything short of gross negligence.” 

Worth Your Time

  • As parts of the economy begin to lurch back into motion over the next few weeks, it won’t just be governors’ timetables that will determine how quickly different categories of businesses reopen their doors. It will also be a matter of how stringently those timetables are enforced. For instance, most coronavirus roadmaps have bars slated as some of the last establishments to reopen—but as this Idaho Statesman piece details, some Idaho pubs are making plans to open up anyway, relying on local authorities’ assurances that businesses that choose to reopen ahead of schedule will not be cited.

  • Another problem facing reopening is one some GOP senators have been warning about since the CARES Act passed last month: that some laid off people may be happier to cool their jets for a few months than to go back to work right away, simply because under the terms of the relief bill, unemployment insurance pays better than their job would for the next few months. It also means that a business qualifying for one of the act’s small business payroll loans can actually be bad news for that business’s employees. This piece by the Wall Street Journal’s Eric Morath walks through these difficulties and hiccups in the law and how they’re likely to play out over the weeks ahead.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In case you missed our note to readers yesterday, you can check it out here for an update on where The Dispatch stands amid all this coronavirus uncertainty. Bottom line: While the current economic environment has created challenges to our business, like so many others, your daily Morning Dispatch email isn’t going anywhere. We decided against taking a forgivable loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, in part because we’ve added new members at a much greater pace than we had anticipated. For those of you who have already become members, an enthusiastic thank you. Please help spread the word about what we’re doing and consider buying gift memberships for friends and relatives. And for those of you who have not yet joined, if these new economic challenges don’t prevent it, we’d appreciate your consideration. You can join here.

  • In the two weeks since the French Press last addressed Tara Reade’s allegation of decades-ago sexual assault by Joe Biden, the evidence has strengthened somewhat, with more contemporaneous confidants coming forward to say Reade told them about the assault at the time. In yesterday’s edition (🔒), David walked through how the story highlights the hypocrisies and terrible decisions of pretty much everyone involved: “Joe Biden is now confronting the ‘believe women movement he helped build. Key media outlets and multiple media figures are now face-to-face with their own, post-Kavanaugh double standards. And finally, the GOP is left without an arrow in its quiver against the Democratic nominee because of its own profound moral compromise.” 

  • The latest (and 200th!) episode of The Remnant features Jonah interviewing Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher for a wide-ranging (cynics might say “meandering”) discussion touching on plans to annex Greenland, Gallagher’s beef with Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, and a mailbag segment. Give it a listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

  • Back in January, Declan spent an hour with Justin Amash (in part because he was anticipating Amash’s announcement yesterday!). The end-result was this comprehensive profile, which we published months ago but are reupping here in case you want to learn more about what motivates the newest presidential contender and his journey to this point.

Let Us Know

The Amash news is welcome for at least one reason: It gives us something to argue and debate about for a bit other than the worldwide pandemic, which is a bummer to discuss no matter how interesting the individual conversation. What were your reactions to seeing a serious third-party candidate throw his hat in the ring?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).