Inside the GOP debate over reopening
WALKING THE LINE — There’s a big argument going on inside the Republican Party over how to respond to Covid-19. Some Republican governors, like South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, have refused to issue statewide stay-at-home orders during the pandemic. And some, like Georgia’s Brian Kemp, are aggressively lifting them: Kemp allowed barber shops, nail salons, bowling alleys and other businesses to reopen today.
At the other extreme are aggressive lockdown governors like Ohio’s Mike DeWine and Maryland’s Larry Hogan — Hogan today laid out a recovery plan, but said it’s too early to consider ending his statewide shutdown.
If there’s a middle path, between “We’re open for business” and “We’re closed until further notice,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is trying to chart it.
On Monday, Abbott is set to announce a plan for ending his statewide stay-at-home order. The governor, who has kept details of the announcement private, is unlikely to push for a fast reopening, according to business executives and policy experts who say that he is deferring to medical experts. Instead, he is expected to issue a set of guidelines for sanitation standards and the use of protective equipment for restaurants and other businesses. Reopening is the one thing that isn’t bigger in Texas.
The Texas plan could offer a blueprint for other Republican-led states: In red states, the pandemic response is splitting the party. Republican leaders want to keep unemployment from swallowing their reelection plans, but they’re nervous about moving too fast. Kemp’s reopening was condemned by the president and by public health experts who said Georgia could succumb to a second wave of infections. Abbott has the chance to create a model for how to balance the public health response to the virus with the concerns of business interests and a noisy right flank.
No mess in Texas: Texas has 29 million residents who are spread across urban, suburban and rural areas. The state is, by one measure, the second most diverse state in the country. And so far it has been spared the worst of the virus. The state has recorded nearly 600 Covid-19 deaths, considerably fewer than the 1,000 in Florida, 1,500 in California and 16,000 in New York, though the state’s low levels of testing might obscure the virus spread.
Texas is playing the long game: Abbott isn’t up for reelection this November and has said that he is measuring the pandemic response in months, not weeks. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been publicly downplaying the threat of the virus and has argued that seniors should risk their health for the sake of the economy, but Abbott is preparing Texans to settle in for the long haul, while offering them some hope about a return to normalcy.
Abbott could fail spectacularly: He will almost certainly upset people who want an immediate reopening, as well as Democrats who say he’s putting big business interests over public health. Worse, Abbott may find that in this pandemic there's no middle path at all. Ending the shutdown, even with safeguards, could bring the virus raging back.
“I'm focusing on the next year,” Abbott told a Lubbock radio station this week. “Making sure that Texas over the course of the next year is going to be able to open up, and steps that ensure that we will be able to continue the economic expansion in the state of Texas as opposed to rushing the gate and having everybody getting sick and having to close businesses down again.”
Welcome to POLITICO Nightly: Coronavirus Special Edition. For a non-Covid weekend read, check out this piece on the Oklahoma crusader trying to push criminal justice reform. Reach out with tips: [email protected] or on Twitter at @renurayasam.
THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is clearing the way for upstate hospitals to begin elective surgeries on Tuesday, more than a month after the procedures — often the biggest revenue source for hospitals — were canceled, Shannon Young and Amanda Eisenberg write. The pent-up demand in New York City, for anything from knee replacements to breast cancer surgery, may lead to a migration of city residents north, carrying with them more chances to spread the coronavirus.
The stakes are high: If scores of people exposed to the coronavirus in New York City head north, they could spark an outbreak in upstate facilities that have not had nearly as much of a problem with the virus. Paradoxically, without that revenue, hospitals could face existential crises and the needs of vulnerable patients will grow.
Under Cuomo’s plan, the state will allow hospitals to resume elective procedures if the capacity is over 25 percent for the county and if there have been fewer than 10 new hospitalizations of Covid-19 patients in the county over the past 10 days, along with other caveats. All patients must also test negative prior to elective surgery, according to the state.
PUNCHLINES TONIGHT — Matt Wuerker reviews the best humor of the week with the Louisville Lexington-Leader’s Joel Pett.
PACIFIC HIGHWAY — The California State Assembly is exploring the feasibility of testing lawmakers for the coronavirus as they eye an imminent return to the state Capitol, Jeremy B. White reports. Conversations about such testing, first reported by The Sacramento Bee, come as legislative leaders weigh potential measures to safeguard lawmakers’ public health ahead of a tentative May 4 return date. Legislators adjourned early in March, shortly before Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order, and then delayed a planned April return as the infection threat endured.
HOW TO LIE WITH PANDEMIC CHARTS — Our interactive editor Andrew McGill emails us:
If you’ve spent time on Twitter or in front of cable television in the last month, you’ve probably seen a lot of charts.
While they’re vital in visualizing the pandemic — how else can we grasp the spread of a virus approximately 100 nanometers wide? — charts aren’t impartial. They have assumptions; they leave things out. And when they’re deployed to make rhetorical points, it can be devilishly difficult to find the lie.
Here are three things I look for when a new chart flashes across my Twitter feed:
1. Does the unit of measurement make sense? Bad news can easily be made to look good, if you don’t actually show the bad news.
A few weeks back, the administration deployed this positive-looking chart to show how well testing was going in the U.S. Generally, charts that show an up-and-to-the-left trend mean good stuff is happening. But sharp-eyed chart-readers noted the graphic showed the growth in cumulative tests conducted — not an increase in the number of daily tests, the more important metric. That trend was much more grim, as redrawn charts showed.
2. Has anyone monkeyed around with the scale? A common trick used to exaggerate — or minimize — a trend is to play around with y-axis. Take a look at this polling chart below:
Wow, looks like Candidate B is way ahead! Not really — the chart starts a number other than zero, exaggerating the gap. If the numbers on the left side of the chart look funky, beware.
3. Does the chart acknowledge uncertainty?
No one truly knows what’s going on. This is as true for coronavirus projections as it is for political polling, or even the fluctuations of the oil market. Good charts acknowledge this by showing uncertainty zones, or prominently displaying margins of error. Bad charts hide this stuff, and pretend to be all-knowing.
Charts help us understand this crisis. We just need to make sure we’re understanding it correctly.
GRIM PROGNOSIS — Emergency aid legislation will push the federal deficit to $3.7 trillion this year and federal debt held by the public to 101 percent of GDP by the end of the fiscal year, according to a projection by the Congressional Budget Office.
READY, SET, TRADE — Karen Pierce, Britain’s new top diplomat in the U.S., says an agreement between the two G7 nations would inject “a bit of optimism into the world economy,” and that Britain is ready to start negotiating virtually, Ryan Heath writes. In her most substantial interview to date, Pierce said the U.K. would fiercely resist the “backward step” of protectionism as a way of dealing with the supply chain weaknesses exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Pierce praised America’s decision to include health ministers in G7 meetings, but she also said “we want the multilateral institutions to work,” meaning Britain does not want the World Health Organization reformed or investigated during the pandemic. And she described Covid-19 recovery packages as an “incredibly important” opportunity for accelerating the “greening of economies,” including in the developing world.
EU HQ — Hard-hit Belgium is ready to start phasing in a reopening of the country on May 4. “We’re coming out of seven weeks of enormous sacrifices on a human, social and economic level. Now is the time to look to the future,” Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said today.
NIGHTLY ASKED YOU: What permanent changes will the pandemic cause in your behavior, either at work or at home? Below are some of your responses, lightly edited for style and clarity.
“We are old and retired. We may never comfortably enter a restaurant or grocery store again.” — Ron Sidener, retired federal agent, Leawood, Kan.
“I'll keep on buying canned and bottled fish. Really a revelation.” — Anna Durrett, communications, New York City
“I've always been a ‘just in time’ shopper. Why store a bunch of stuff when I can just buy it when I need it? Well, that will never happen again.” — Susan Redmond, writer, Bellevue, Wash.
“I’ll get a flu shot, always avoided in prior years.” — Susan Brooks, retired, San Clemente, Calif.
“I am going to feel less guilty about using my sick time when I am sick.” — Kelly Fukai, public affairs manager, Spokane, Wash.
“I will leave a much larger tip for takeout and delivery services.” — Justin Margolis, public and governmental affairs, Washington, D.C.
“I’ll never be able to cancel Netflix.” — Rick Sommer, retired, Wilmington, N.C.
NOW HEAR MATT TALK — Political cartoonists are supposed to be mean, POLITICO’s staff cartoonist said on the latest Dispatch podcast. During the Iraq war, Wuerker felt no qualms about skewering political leaders. But the pandemic, he said, calls for an entirely different mood. Wuerker, who has a brother working as an emergency room doctor, hasn’t completely taken to the rah-rah sketches that cartoonists drew to help the World War II effort, but he’s trying to be a bit nicer. “The least I can do, sitting around drawing cartoons, is try to find stuff that’s a little more cheerful or somewhat the lighter side of a global pandemic.”
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