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The Morning Dispatch: Jeb Bush on Governing in a Crisis
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The Morning Dispatch: Jeb Bush on Governing in a Crisis

Plus, is COVID-19 leading to an uptick in bankruptcy filings?

Happy Monday. We hope you had a more relaxing weekend than your U.S. senators did, cooped up on Capitol Hill trying to hash out an eye-poppingly expensive coronavirus stimulus bill. We’ve got the latest on that effort and much more for you to chew on today. Let’s get to it. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Sunday night, there are now 33,276 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States (a 133.5 percent increase since Thursday night) and 417 deaths (a 103.4 percent increase since Thursday night).

  • The Trump administration has postponed Tax Day from April 15 to July 15. 

  • The United States-Mexico border has been closed to all nonessential travel. 

  • Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order for the entire state to stop the spread of coronavirus on Friday. Ohio and Louisiana’s governors issued similar orders on Sunday.

  • Goldman Sachs projections show the United States GDP may shrink by as much as 24 percent in the second quarter. 

  • Walmart is planning to hire 150,000 new workers and increase employee bonuses, coordinating with restaurants and other companies that have laid off employees or cut back on their hours to hire workers newly in need of employment.

  • Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, tested negative for coronavirus after a member of the vice president’s staff was diagnosed with the virus.

  • Emirates, the world’s biggest international airline, announced that it will be canceling most of its flights for the time being. The airline had initially announced a complete suspension of flights, but will continue flights to a few countries, including U.S., the U.K., Japan, Australia and Canada, after requests from the nations’ governments. 

  • Country music icon Kenny Rogers died Friday night at the age of 81.

A Wild—but Wasted—Congressional Weekend 

As much of America continued to shelter at home this weekend, the U.S. Capitol was the site of a flurry of activity. The Senate scrambled to find bipartisan support for a $1.8 trillion stimulus package, but those efforts ran aground Sunday afternoon after Democratic leaders dug in their heels.

By and large, both parties agree that a mammoth jolt of federal spending is in order to shore up a teetering stock market and bring relief to Americans who have been forced from work by America’s social distancing efforts. But the parties remain apart on key issues: Democrats insist the GOP package’s $500 billion packet of emergency loans should come with more strings attached (including assurances that firms receiving aid not lay off workers) and contain better oversight to prevent the Trump administration from simply dispensing cash to favored industries.  Meanwhile, Republicans have accused Democrats of trying to lard up the stimulus with tangentially related spending, like beefing up election security and forgiving up to $10,000 in student loan debt for every American. (The government has already stopped charging interest on federal student loans.)

After a procedural vote to move forward with the stimulus failed 47-47 Sunday afternoon, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave an uncharacteristically fiery speech from the Senate floor, accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of torpedoing productive talks. Pelosi had announced that the House would introduce a competing bill hours before the Senate vote.

“We had a high level of bipartisanship in five different working groups over the last 48 hours, where members who were participating were reaching agreement. And then all of a sudden the Democratic leader and the Speaker of the House shows up, and we’re back to square one,” McConnell said. “For goodness sake, she’s the speaker of the House, not the speaker of the Senate. We don’t have one. We were doing just fine until that intervention.”

Initially, McConnell insisted the Senate would convene to vote again at 9:45 a.m. today—fifteen minutes after the stock market opened, he said ominously. But objections from Schumer moved that vote to be scheduled for noon.

The negotiations were a race against an unsettling clock in more ways than one: Three more Republican senators, including Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, were obliged to enter self-quarantine after Sen. Rand Paul tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of quarantined Republican senators to five. (Senators cannot vote remotely.)

Paul has not shown coronavirus symptoms, but after coming into possible contact with carriers at an event earlier this month he opted to receive a precautionary test because of his reduced lung function, a result of a physical attack he suffered in 2017.

Sources tell The Dispatch that the news of Paul’s positive test was met with shock and outrage among congressional Republicans, as Paul had continued socializing with his colleagues while awaiting his test, and even used the Senate gym Sunday morning before receiving the positive result. Some of that anger even made it out into the public: After Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema tweeted that Paul’s behavior was “absolutely irresponsible” and “endangers others,” GOP Sen. Martha McSally responded that she “couldn’t agree more.”

As Congress continued to hash out its differences, President Trump told the press that disaster declarations in New York and Washington state have been approved, and that the White House is working with states to beef up hospital surge capacity. Warnings from doctors and public health professionals have become increasingly urgent as hospital and ICU occupancy rates climb. Trump has said repeatedly that if the government can defeat the virus, the markets will take care of themselves. But in a late Sunday night tweet, Trump indicated he’s listening to the growing number of voices on the right who insist that the economic cost of social distancing is not worth the price:

Jeb Bush on How Crisis Can Lead More People to Value Competency

We’ve spilled much proverbial ink detailing the federal government’s response to COVID-19 in recent editions of The Morning Dispatch. But in many ways, states and municipalities are on the frontlines of this crisis. Shutting down mass gatherings, closing schools, enacting shelter-in-place ordinances—as David recently pointed out in a piece for the site, the relevant legal authority here rests with governors.

And governors across the country—from Mike DeWine in Ohio and Gavin Newsom in California, to Larry Hogan in Maryland and Andrew Cuomo in New York—have been making difficult decisions that impede their states’ economies to protect their most vulnerable citizens.

Jeb Bush is no longer a governor, but he led Florida through nine hurricanes from 1999 to 2007, so he’s no stranger to dealing with a crisis. From Patricia Mazzei’s 2015 Miami Herald profile

After Hurricane Irene in 1999 and a no-name storm in 2000 flooded much of Southwest Miami-Dade, Bush recognized what he called a “systemic” problem.

“He sat at our table and said, ‘What can I do as governor to make this better?’” recalled Chuck Lanza, Miami-Dade’s emergency manager from 1995-2003. Local administrators presented a list of $200 million in flood-control projects. “We said, ‘If we can get these projects taken care of, we won’t have these problems again.’ And he said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’”

He followed through. Federal, state and city dollars paid for new pumps, wider canals and redesigned canal banks. Water stopped flowing into the streets. “I give him 100 percent credit for that,” Lanza said.

Bush cut a public service announcement on the importance of social distancing just last week. The Dispatch caught up with the former governor over the weekend to get his thoughts on the pandemic and gubernatorial leadership more broadly. 

“Governors and mayors are well-suited to deal with emergencies. Generally, they can’t run and hide,” he says. “They are trained to deal with big crises because of the smaller ones that come at them regularly. Good leaders learn to anticipate next step problems because of that experience. They learn how to communicate effectively, be transparent, and to be truth tellers.”

Say what you will of Bush’s unsuccessful 2016 campaign (full disclosure: Declan put in some hours as a volunteer), the “low-energy” moniker was much more effective than it was accurate. Bush characterized his dealing with those nine hurricanes—eight of which occurred in a brutal 14-month span from 2004 to 2005—as “life-altering,” working 18 hour days to balance managing both the crisis at hand with the day-to-day operations of running a state. “It was invigorating,” he says.

A virus’ spread—much like a hurricane’s path—is unpredictable, with leaders having to rely on data and models mapping out a range of potential outcomes. Bush said he and his team always “managed to [the] worst case,” but “tried to communicate a hopeful message all the while.”

“I love federalism,” Bush said, making the case for states and governors to continue leading in the response to the virus. “National mandates are normally inappropriate given the diversity of our country.”

But some things must be done nationally. On the stimulus package being debated in the halls of Congress, he urged some restraint. “Policymakers have to be careful not to fall prey to the call of ‘do something!’” he said, arguing they should “come up with the optimum plan to stave off a deep GDP decline that doesn’t socialize risk.”

Bush sees in the response an opportunity to take a second look at superfluous regulations.

“I think there will be a belief we should not over rely on the federal government and get back to embracing local solutions,” he added. “It is becoming clear there are a lot of rules and regulations holding us back. If our leaders can use executive orders in times of crisis to kill rules that impede progress, why can’t we change them when there isn’t a crisis?”

And while Bush did not once mention President Trump, he said he thinks the pandemic will lead to “a movement toward valuing competency, consensus, and servant leadership.”

Bankruptcy Courts Brace for Impact

Bankruptcy filings in the United States have been steadily declining since 2011 after reaching a peak of nearly 1.6 million in the wake of the 2008 crash. But all that may be about to change.

Sarah, our Houston native, talked to David Jones, chief bankruptcy judge of the Southern District of Texas, about what was happening in his courthouse this week.

What is happening with your current caseload right now?

If you look at it from a volume perspective, things have actually gone down. As you can probably imagine, people are trying not to file new cases and I will assume that lenders are being accommodating. And of the hearings that are currently scheduled, people are asking for continuances. So the only thing that we are really hearing are emergencies. 

But the other side of that is that we follow a protocol in the Southern District. When we deal with commercial cases, one of the things that we ask lawyers to do is when they think they are getting ready to file a case, we ask them to contact our staff and give us an estimate of when they think they’re going to file so that we can reserve time for those cases. 

The calls that we are getting … it’s just constant. It’s almost unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and we’re only really sort of in the second week of this. So, currently, if you came to the courthouse today, the courthouse would be extremely quiet. But if you were to listen to the phone calls, to look at the emails, to look at the texts, you would see a huge amount of volume that is circulating as people try to figure out what they’re going to do.

Are those calls concentrated in specific industries—oil and gas or restaurants, for example—or is it more widespread?

It’s both ends … and everything in between.

From an energy perspective, you saw a wave of bankruptcies that have been filed within the past three years and all of those reorganizations were done, based upon a price curve which is no longer accurate. We’re seeing a lot of those folks readjust and evaluate, and they may very well be back for what we call a Chapter 22, which is your second time through Chapter 11.

You’re seeing panic going on with individuals actually worse than after Hurricane Harvey. You have families who thought that everything was rocking along. They were making enough money to pay for their house, their cars. But they found out this week that they are furloughed, and they don’t know for how long.  

And let me talk about restaurants. Restaurants typically operate off very, very thin margins. Most of those businesses simply cannot survive for very long without having the doors open—even if you include takeout and delivery. … Most of those types of businesses do have one or more loans that I’ll call institutional loans. But you also have to remember that if you have a business, whether you’re there or not, you have a water bill, you have an electric bill, you have an insurance bill. You have installment debt due on the equipment that you purchased when you open the restaurant. Obviously, you have lease obligations. There is a month to month .. “nut” that has to be met—irrespective of whether your doors are open or not. And when you can’t pay that, sometimes these folks simply don’t have any choice.

To listen to the full interview, check out Sarah and David’s legal nerdery podcast, Advisory Opinions

Worth Your Time

  • In many ways, the face of the U.S. government’s response to coronavirus is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In appearance after appearance, in a wide variety of media, Dr. Fauci delivers factual information in a calm, dispassionate fashion. In recent days, gave two particularly notable interviews: one with Peter Nicholas of The Atlantic, and another, with Jon Cohen of Science. Fauci discussed his work routine, his personal preparedness and the work of the coronavirus task force. He praised certain aspects of President Trump’s handling of the crisis but acknowledged differences of opinion and the challenges of appearing at press briefings when the president says things that aren’t true. Fauci offered a “no comment” when asked about Trump’s “deep State Department” dig, said he would never use the phrase “China virus,” and described how he deals with Trump’s misstatements of fact. “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”

  • Giving us some much-needed non-pandemic news, last week Tom Brady shocked the football world by signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. ESPN’s Seth Wickersham published a piece exploring how the iconic New England Patriot ended up leaving his long-time team and what motivated him to bolt to Tampa.

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

This video was a good reminder that social distancing doesn’t necessarily mean social isolation!

Toeing the Company Line

  • Your Morning Dispatchers sometimes tire of David pumping out sterling missives that make this newsletter thing look easy. Alas, he’s written another such Sunday French Press, focusing on the line people of faith are called to walk in times of peril between the two failings of pointless self-sacrifice and cowardice. Read it here.

  • And if you missed Jonah’s Friday G-File, there’s still time to rectify that! As America gears up to argue about whether, in Trump’s words, our social-distancing cure is worse than the disease, Jonah expounds upon an under-remarked point: that whatever its economic drawbacks, our mass societal effort to fight the virus has at least shown many Americans — far from the Ayn Rand-fetishizing brutally individualist fetishizers of productivity we’re sometimes scorned to be — to be capable of a sort of collective moral heroism.

  • Or, hey, maybe you’re tired of reading by now? You’re in luck: Jonah also has a new episode of The Remnant up for your listening pleasure. In it, he talks to psychologist Dr. Michele Gelfand about “tight” and “loose” theories of culture: Why do places like Japan and Singapore seem to be in lockstep while the U.S. is so freewheeling? How should we tighten up, culturally, as a response to COVID? You won’t want to miss it.

Let Us Know

We’re finding more and more that too much time spent social distancing can do odd things to a brain. What’s the most paranoid thing you’ve found yourself doing because of the coronavirus?

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

Photograph of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush comforting a grieving woman after Hurricane Charley in 2004 by Mario Tama/Getty Images.