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The Morning Dispatch: Is the Economy on the Brink?
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The Morning Dispatch: Is the Economy on the Brink?

Plus, Democrats renew push for voting rights reform.

Happy Thursday! We don’t know about you, but we’re going to log on to the Dispatch Live portal as soon as we can this morning to make sure we get the best seats in the house. ‘See’ you at 8:30 p.m. ET!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The United States confirmed 70,778 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, with 8.9 percent of the 796,395 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,192 deaths were attributed to the virus on Wednesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 143,184.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced a $1.95 billion agreement with Pfizer to purchase 100 million doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine, pending its approval and manufacture, with the ability to buy an additional 500 million doses if needed. This agreement comes two weeks after the Trump administration’s $1.6 billion agreement with Novavax for 100 million doses of its vaccine.

  • The State Department ordered Chinese officials to close and vacate their consulate in Houston, Texas, accusing China of engaging “for years in massive illegal spying and influence operations throughout the United States against U.S. government officials and American citizens.”

  • A funeral for a Chicago man who was killed in a drive-by shooting last week was disrupted by another drive-by shooting, which left 15 injured. At least one of the shooting victims is in “extremely critical condition.”

  • Following on the heels of an executive order directing law enforcement agencies to protect federal property last month, President Trump announced he will be sending a “surge” of hundreds of federal officers to Chicago, Albuquerque, and Kansas City. “Under no circumstances will I allow Donald Trump’s troops to come to Chicago and terrorize our residents,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted earlier this week.

  • The governors of Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota each announced on Wednesday mask mandates that will take effect in the coming days. More than half of the 50 states now have some form of mask mandate in place.

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a bill that would update the Voting Rights Act of 1965—in the name of the late Rep. John Lewis—to restore voter rights protections overturned in a 2013 Supreme Court case.

  • The House of Representatives voted on a bipartisan basis—305-113—to remove statues and busts of Confederate figures and leaders from the U.S. Capitol. The bill, which is unlikely to advance in the Senate, would require states—who are each allowed to send two monuments to the Capitol—to replace “all statues of individuals who voluntarily served” the Confederacy.

  • A new Cato Institute/YouGov poll found that 62 percent of Americans—including 52 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans—believe today’s political climate prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find those beliefs offensive.

Is the Economy About to Get a Lot Worse?

After days of fervent and at times hostile discussion, the Senate Republican proposal for a new infusion of federal spending to keep the economy limping along is beginning to take shape. The White House and Sen. Richard Shelby, who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, announced Wednesday night they had hashed out a deal on the appropriate levels of spending, which they said will be announced later today. (Though this morning’s Politico Playbook offers reasons to be skeptical.)

The proposal is expected to refuel several key measures from the March CARES Act, including the Paycheck Protection Program small business funding, another round of direct payments to many Americans, and money to extend unemployment insurance, according to a Politico report from Wednesday. It would also provide billions for schools and to buttress state-level coronavirus testing efforts.

The fight over the next COVID relief package is taking place against an economic backdrop that increasingly feels like a calm before the storm. Looking back over the last few months, some economic indicators would suggest a slow but steady resurgence from our near economic full-stop back in March. After soaring from 4.4 percent to nearly 15 percent in April, the unemployment rate ticked down encouragingly in May and June to around 11 percent. Stocks have largely recovered from their wild springtime plunge. The housing market remains surprisingly strong.

But even these modest pieces of good news have been largely attributable to two perhaps unsustainable economic factors. First, states spent weeks going forward with reopening their economies even as reduced distancing helped the pandemic spread. And second, the federal government spent that time pouring a colossal, steady stream of cash into the economy, staving off the consequences you’d expect from a mass spike in unemployment that would really send us spiraling into economic crisis, particularly evictions and foreclosures.

Even if Congress passed a new COVID aid bill today, the logistical difficulty of getting all those programs spinning back into effect would still likely mean a brief interruption in the payments. Of particular note are the $600-per-week expanded unemployment benefits for jobless Americans, which were paid out for the last time under the terms of the CARES Act last week. Even if they’re extended, there will likely be a lag between payments of at least a couple weeks.

The unfortunate picture painted by all this: It could be that the worst economic times of the pandemic—at least from the point of view of working people—are still ahead of us. 

Democrats Renew Voting Rights Push

Tributes to civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis have bubbled up from far and wide since his passing on Friday, but the one Lewis himself might appreciate most came on Wednesday, and it came from Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont.

As Audrey writes in an explainer for the site, Leahy’s legislation “seeks to restore and expand provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) that were struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court’s ruling in a case called Shelby v. Holder.” The legalese is a little tricky here, so let’s try and break it down.

Does the Voting Rights Act still prohibit any “standard, practice, or procedure” that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen … to vote on account of race or color?”

Yes. Those protections as outlined in the 1965 VRA are still intact, even after Shelby.

So what is the purpose of Leahy’s legislation?

It has to do with Section 4 of the VRA, and something called “preclearance.” From Audrey:

Democrats are keen on reinstating the “coverage formula” of the VRA, which dictated which states and voting precincts needed to obtain federal “preclearance” before changing their election laws. When the law was initially passed, this coverage formula included states and local voting precincts that had a history of “literacy and knowledge tests, good moral character requirements, [and] the need for vouchers from registered voters,” and had “less than 50 percent voter registration or turnout in the 1964 Presidential election.” Included in Section 4(b) of the VRA, the formula was originally set to expire after five years but was reauthorized several times by Congress until the Supreme Court struck it down in 2013. 

While the formula has been applied to isolated voting precincts across the country—including counties in California, Michigan, and New York—it has mainly focused on former Confederate states, many of which had attempted to undermine African Americans’ right to vote under the 15th Amendment since the 1890s.

Once a jurisdiction was covered under Section 4(b)’s formula, the locality was required to preclear any changes to their election laws at the federal level and had the burden to show that those changes would not disproportionately affect minority voters. With the invalidation of that formula in Shelby, voters can still challenge discriminatory voting laws after they have been passed, but the burden is now on the voters to show that the law undermines their right to vote.

What was the Supreme Court’s rationale for invalidating this formula?

A majority on the court believed that enough progress had been made since the ‘60s that, as Audrey writes, “the foundation for the coverage formula no longer existed and therefore impermissibly intruded on states’ power to regulate their own elections.”

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that “voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity,” invalidating the coverage formula on the grounds that it was “based on decades-old data and eradicated practices.” 

What do Democrats say the implications are?

“Democratic lawmakers claim that the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the coverage formula has opened the floodgates to a flurry of discriminatory electoral laws that were formerly subject to strict federal oversight,” Audrey writes. 

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) told The Dispatch that “the best way Democrats and Republicans can honor John’s legacy is by taking action to safeguard voting rights—rights he risked his life for.”

Does Leahy’s bill have Republican support?

Technically, yes, but for all intents and purposes, no. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska signed on as a co-sponsor, telling The Dispatch she was “proud” to join the effort because “there is nothing more fundamental than the right to vote.”

But Murkowski is the only GOPer officially on board, and the Republican-led Senate is unlikely to advance the legislation. Even in the off chance it does, the White House has threatened to veto it. 

Worth Your Time

  • As we seek to root out anti-Semitism, the life and legacy of John Lewis serve as helpful guidance. In Tablet Magazine, James Kirchick pays tribute to Lewis’s lifelong fight against hatred in all of its many forms, even when it isolated him from his colleagues and allies in Congress. “Along with the rest of the country, Jews have been called upon these past two months to recognize the pain and suffering of their black fellow citizens. That is right and just,” he writes. “But if the extraordinary life of John Lewis teaches us anything, it’s that empathy should not be a one-way street—just like hatred is not a one-way street.”

  • After a lifelong career studying education policy, Thomas Sowell published his latest book—Charter Schools and Their Enemies—last month on his 90th birthday. Jason L. Riley’s op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, aptly titled “Thomas Sowell Has Been Right From the Start,” outlines the various ways in which charter schools level the playing field for black students. “In many cases, inner-city charter-school students are outperforming their peers in the wealthiest and whitest suburban school districts in the country,” he writes. “In New York City, for example, the Success Academy charter schools have effectively closed the academic achievement gap between black and white students.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Check out the most recent episode of The Remnant for Jonah’s latest bout of conservative egg-headery—and a healthy dose of rank punditry to boot—with Matthew Continetti of the American Enterprise Institute.

  • Vladimir Putin’s interference with Western liberal democracies isn’t limited to the United States. Be sure to read Tom Joscelyn’s latest Vital Interests( 🔒)for a deep dive into Russia’s meddling in the United Kingdom.

  • Jonah’s Wednesday G-File (🔒) is on the difference between a Republican and a conservative—and why that distinction matters now more than ever. “There’s nothing in the Constitution or conservatism that says a duly elected member of Congress, the first branch of government, is obliged to agree with the president just because he or she’s a member of the same party,” Jonah writes. “If you think surrendering in Afghanistan or withdrawing from Germany or defenestrating Anthony Fauci are the right positions, make the argument. If you think they’re not, make the argument. Don’t blather at me that they’re the right policies because they’re Trump’s.”

  • On the site day, Brad Polumbo looks at an idea being kicked around for the new COVID relief package, and that’s a “back-to-work” bonus that would reward those who went back to work with extra cash. Right-of-center economists aren’t so sure the plan is a good idea.

Let Us Know

Baseball is back! ESPN will air a doubleheader tonight, with the Yankees vs the Nationals at 7 and the Dodgers vs. the Giants at 10. How we’ve missed the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd … Oh wait. Baseball is back, but crowds won’t be. Will you be watching, either tonight or when your favorite team takes the field? And if so, how do you feel about the piped-in crowd noise that teams will using? Let us know!

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Doug Mills/Getty Images.