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The Morning Dispatch: Will Trump Use Executive Orders to Handle COVID Relief?
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The Morning Dispatch: Will Trump Use Executive Orders to Handle COVID Relief?

Plus, why the GOP is suing states over election laws.

Happy Friday! We think (knock on wood) we just made it through our first “slow news week” since we first launched this newsletter 10 months ago. Probably our last one for a while, too. Buckle up!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The United States confirmed 58,177 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, with 8.2 percent of the 731,700 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,841 deaths were attributed to the virus on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 160,090.

  • Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville announced that as part of President Trump’s troop drawdown from Germany and subsequent realignment the U.S. Army V Corps headquarters group will be going to Krakow, Poland in 2021.

  • Initial jobless claims dropped approximately 250,000 week-over-week to 1.2 million for the week ending on August 1, according to Labor Department data. It was the 20th straight week more than 1 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance.

  • The Commission on Presidential Debates rejected a Trump campaign request to add a fourth debate before the start of early voting. “There is a difference between ballots having been issued by a state and those ballots having been cast by voters, who are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates,” the commission wrote, adding it would “consider [a] request” for a fourth debate if both candidates agreed to it.

  • New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit aimed at dissolving the National Rifle Association—which is incorporated in New York—after an 18-month investigation reportedly revealed extensive financial misconduct within the organization resulting in the loss of more than $64 million over a three-year span.

  • President Trump issued two executive orders late Thursday night targeting Chinese-owned social media apps TikTok and WeChat. The orders prohibit—beginning in 45 days—“any transaction that is related to WeChat [or TikTok] by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd [or ByteDance Ltd.].” Microsoft remains in talks to buy TikTok, and now has 45 days to do so.

  • The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which began in June, will be “extremely active,” according to a revised forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Before November 30, the agency predicts 19 to 25 “named storms,” of which seven to 11 are expected to become hurricanes.

  • Former ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, the favorite of the Trump GOP establishment, beat out political outsider Manny Sethi in Tennessee’s Republican Senate primary on Thursday, all but assuring he will replace retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander in January.

  • Just months after the USMCA trade deal went into effect, the Trump administration is reimposing 10 percent tariffs on Canadian aluminum imports, reportedly because Canada refused to limit the amount of the metal it exported to the United States.

Trump Gets Cozy With His Pen and Phone

Another day has come and gone with no coronavirus aid deal in Congress, and one thing is quite clear: This is the White House’s fight now. Although the Senate will technically stay in session next week in hopes a deal will be struck, most senators have already headed home for the August recess. Party leaders remain in Washington to continue butting heads.

We reported yesterday that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been content to permit the White House to take the reins on negotiations with Democratic leaders. But President Trump showed impatience with the proceedings again Thursday, suggesting, as he has several times this week, that he might use executive orders to get what he wants.

There are two major takeaways from this. The first is that President Trump has apparently decided that if he’s going to be in the driver’s seat for negotiations, he might as well just shoot for the policy priorities he’s wanted all along. A payroll tax cut is something the president’s wanted to make part of the COVID relief package for months—but which McConnell managed to keep out of the GOP proposal when it was released last month.

Experts on both sides of the aisle largely agree that a payroll tax freeze would make for bad economic policy during the pandemic, primarily because the benefits accrue to people who still have their jobs—people who are still affected by the pandemic, certainly, but who arguably need an emergency infusion of cash least.

“We have been arguing that COVID-19 relief, you should have this in a temporary, targeted manner,” Joel Griffith, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute, told us. “Suspending the payroll tax puts us further into debt and it actually doesn’t help the people that need it. For those that actually need some assistance, it doesn’t help them at all, because they’re not working.”  

But the message of Trump’s tweet is clear: If and when he goes the executive order route, we should expect the payroll tax to be among the things he addresses.

The second takeaway is still more important. Trump’s threat to abandon congressional sausage-making in favor of legislating by executive order shows once again that he’s willing to usurp legislative authority when he is unhappy with the way Congress is authorizing it—the sort of thing another president might have called governing with a pen and a phone.

“If Congress wants to make this tax change, they’ve had months to contemplate this,” Griffith said. “They’ve thus far chosen not to, which is their constitutional prerogative, because setting tax policy, that legislation comes through Congress and then is signed into law by the president. Thus far Congress has chosen not to do this, so it’s not the president’s prerogative to do so.”

Could such an order hold up in court? Griffith said that’s almost beside the point: “When it comes to governance, whoever the executive is, or even when it comes to Congress passing legislation, we really want a country in which the congresspeople and those in executive office, they’re looking at this, not relying on a court necessarily to rein them in, but really trying to act with the Constitution in mind. Because each person serving, whether it’s the president, whether it’s in Congress, has taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. The responsibility of abiding by that is not just with the Supreme Court.”

During the Obama era, most conservatives in Congress strongly opposed President Obama’s willingness to legislate by executive order, particularly when, in 2014, the president tried to order the executive branch to stop enforcing border security laws for some immigrants.

“The framers of our Constitution… believed if the president wants to change the law, he cannot act alone; he must work with Congress,” Sen. Ted Cruz wrote then in an op-ed for Politico. “He may not get everything he wants, but the Constitution requires compromise between the branches. A monarch, however, does not compromise.”

Your Morning Dispatchers reached out to Cruz’s office yesterday to ask whether he believed Trump had the ability to go around Congress in this case. A spokesman for Cruz sidestepped the question: “The negotiations on Capitol Hill have completely ignored what the American people need the most: a plan to get our country back on track. … It is clear that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s only objective is to keep the economy closed in hopes of defeating Donald Trump in November.” The spokesman did not respond to a further request for specific comment on Trump’s authority to issue the executive orders he has promised.

Similar inquiries to other major critics of Obama’s executive order policy, including Sen. Rand Paul and members the House Freedom Caucus, went unanswered altogether.

The Coming Legal Fight Over Mail-In Voting

The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee sued the state of Nevada earlier this week after Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law a bill that will send official ballots to all registered voters in the state before the presidential election this November. In a piece for the site, Audrey talked to representatives from the RNC, Republican National Lawyers Association, and the Nevada Republican Party to figure out why they’re so upset.

What, exactly, did Nevada do?

Passed a bill that will send official ballots to all registered voters in the state before the presidential election this November. This marks the eighth state—in addition to D.C.—to adopt universal, unsolicited mail-in voting for the election over pandemic concerns. Nevada’s new law means that before the election, the state will mail ballots to every voter on its voting rolls, including in those ballots prepaid postage for their return.

“Today, I signed AB 4, which ensures protections for Nevadans to vote safely at the November election during the pandemic,” Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak tweeted Monday. “During this global pandemic, I made a commitment that we’d do all we can to allow Nevadans to safely cast a ballot in the upcoming November election.”

What do Republicans see as the problem with this?

“Voter rolls are notoriously not accurate,” said David Warrington, president of the Republican National Lawyers Association, in an interview with The Dispatch. “The error rate on voter rolls can swing pretty dramatically depending on where you are, because you have people who die, you have people that move, you have people that change addresses, leave the state,” he said. “There are various other reasons why somebody whose name may be on the voter roll today may not actually be an eligible voter to vote in that state.”

Nevada Republicans are up arms about the bill. “When you have a leadership that decides to change the election laws less than 100 days out from the election, obviously there’s an agenda put on the plate,” said Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald in an interview with The Dispatch. “They had a 100-page bill that was drafted up, and clearly was drafted up by some D.C. lawyer, this is nothing that came out of Nevada. It was a back room, smoke-filled, however you want to put it, dirty bill that was dropped.”

Do Republicans see Nevada as an isolated case?

No. The GOP is currently litigating in 19 states over election laws that institute universal mail-in voting, no-excuse absentee ballots, and/or other election laws that Republicans believe jeopardize the integrity of our democratic system.

But isn’t voter fraud with mail-in voting exceedingly rare?

Yes—particularly in states that have developed the infrastructure for it. universal mail-in voting has proved to be extremely effective in the five states that have conducted their elections universally by mail for several years now. In these states—Colorado, Utah, Washington, Hawaii, and Oregon—instances of fraud have remained remarkably low. 

“Oregon, which began voting by mail 20 years ago, has had 12 proven cases of fraud out of 100 million ballots,” explained Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance program at the Carnegie Endowment, in The Dispatch. “The Heritage Foundation has been collecting cases of fraud and has found less than 1,100 over the last 20 years—but that’s out of about 250 million mail-in votes over that time period.” Instead of notarizing each and every mail-in ballot, states use bar codes and signature matching technology that have proven to be effective in curbing election fraud. In the rare event that these technologies are circumvented, fraudsters are met with hefty fines—up to $25,000—and even prison time.

But states making the switch to universal mail-in ballots now may have difficulty getting systems up and running. Just look at New York’s primary earlier this summer.

“Absentee ballots are subject to fraud—but it is actually lowest in states prepared with the technology for widespread vote by mail,” Kleinfeld explains. “It is in states where absentee ballots are rare and anomalous to the mass voting system where most fraud has taken place.” Democrats’ push for universal mail-in voting in all 50 states must wrestle with this reality.

Worth Your Time

  • In 1945, John Hersey travelled to the devastated city of Hiroshima and reminded the world of journalism’s power to shatter apathy and cultivate compassion. At a time when Americans were relieved to see the end of history’s deadliest conflict, Hersey gave the first atomic bombing a human vantage point by capturing the stories of its survivors in a heartbreaking collection simply titled “Hiroshima.” 75 years later, Lesley M.M. Blume remembers the work of Hersey in this essay for the Wall Street Journal. “Hersey hoped to drive home the gruesome reality behind those impersonal numbers,” she writes. “As a war reporter, he had witnessed the worst in human nature, and he thought that our species’ best chance for survival in the atomic age rested on making people see the humanity in one another again.”

  • In our increasingly polarized world, genuine, good-faith political debate between people who strongly disagree is so rare that when you do find it, you want to hold on and never let go. Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat commandeered the editorial board’s podcast this week while two of his more liberal co-hosts were on vacation. In their stead, he invited on two pro-Trump writers—Daniel McCarthy and Helen Andrews—for a spirited discussion about the president’s handling of the pandemic, what 2020 outcome is best for the conservative cause, and what Trumpism could look like after Trump himself. 

  • “Racism makes a liar of God,” Gloria Purvis told Elizabeth Bruenig for the latter’s piece on how the Catholic Church is grappling with the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “It says not everyone is made in his image. What a horrible lie from the pit of hell.” Protesters tearing down Catholic statues—and even vandalizing some churches—have understandably turned many Catholics off of today’s anti-racism movement. But Purvis—a black Catholic who hosts a faith-based radio show—believes Catholicism calls for something more. “I don’t think a lot of people realize racism is a sin,” she says. “We are being called to love our neighbor … and my God, my God, we are failing.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • David’s latest French Press (🔒) takes a closer look at the killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old woman shot dead by Louisville police serving a no-knock warrant in March. His conclusion? “Supreme Court precedents killed Breonna Taylor. These court precedents have killed before,” he writes. “Unless there are substantial legal reforms, those precedents will kill again.”

  • David discusses his piece with Sarah on yesterday’s episode of Advisory Opinions, which also features conversations about voter scores and voter modeling on political campaigns, the Michael Flynn case, subpoenas for Trump’s financial records, and the Hatch Act.

  • The second part of Meghan McArdle’s two-part Remnant appearance was released into the world yesterday. Tune in for a continuation of her conversation with Jonah from earlier this week: Coronavirus punditry, veepstakes speculation, GDP numbers, and New York City.

  • On the site today, Akino Yamashita provides a physician’s perspective on that cognitive test that Trump still hasn’t stopped talking about “acing.” For all the jokes about how simple it is, it does provide doctors with important information.

Let Us Know

You don’t need to be a political genius to realize that Congress is fundamentally broken—the negotiations over the coronavirus relief package are just the latest example. You seemingly do, however, have to be a political genius to figure out how to fix the legislative branch.

Luckily, we’ve got a newsletter to which tens of thousands of political geniuses subscribe. Within the realm of the possible, how can you change the incentive structure for elected officials so that governing and legislating is prioritized over grandstanding and showboating? Or are we past the point of no return?

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 Samuel Corum/Getty Images.