Editorial: The Fine Print in Trump’s Coronavirus Executive Orders

After Congress failed to come to an agreement on a new coronavirus relief package, Donald Trump, self-proclaimed “deal maker,” sidestepped Congress and signed three memoranda and one executive order (all four of which he incorrectly called “bills”), claiming they would “take care of, pretty much, this entire situation.” The “deals,” however, are legally questionable, since Congress must approve federal actions on spending and taxation. Additionally, when one looks more closely, the four hollow executive orders are not “deals” at all for Americans.

House Democrats passed the more than $3 trillion Heroes Act in May to continue relief to Americans, but the bill stalled in the Senate. Republicans can’t even agree among themselves on how to move forward with a relief bill. Donald Trump is no doubt hoping his base will see him as stepping in to save the country, with these four actions as proof of his 2016 campaign claim that “I alone can fix it.” In reality, though, they fix nothing, and, in fact, make things worse. Here is what Trump’s “dealmaking” will get Americans:

Payroll Tax “Cut”

What Trump is calling a “tax cut” is actually a tax deferment that lasts from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31. Under this executive order, the U.S. Treasury will stop collecting payroll taxes during that time from workers who earn less than about $104,000 a year, or $4,000 every two weeks. Though workers will temporarily feel as if they’ve gotten a pay increase, they will owe those payroll taxes at a later date.

This does nothing to help those who don’t receive a paycheck because they are unemployed.

Trump ordered a tax deferment instead of a cut because he does not have the power on his own to cut taxes. He is, however, calling on Congress to make it a permanent tax cut. This sounds great until we realize that the payroll tax is what supports Social Security. If a tax cut is made permanent, it will deplete the funds in our Social Security system.

Deferred Student Loan Payments

Trump’s memo regarding student loan payments waives interest on all federal student loans until December 31, and allows delayed payments until December 31. Principal payments will be due on December 31, and full payments including interest will start again on January 1. Student loan debt will not be canceled.

Relief for Renters and Homeowners

Trump’s “relief” here amounts to nothing more than a “study” to see if a moratorium is needed. The federal moratorium on evictions has ended, and Trump’s new executive order does not extend it; evictions due to financial hardship are now no longer banned. Trump has instead called on Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield to study whether halting evictions stops the spread of COVID-19. This doesn’t address the financial hardships that have already resulted from COVID-19.

Trump’s memo also doesn’t provide money to help homeowners. It only calls for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to “see if they can find” any more funds to help, though no aid is promised, and no legislation is in place to protect homeowners from losing their homes due to COVID-related financial hardship.

Supplemental Unemployment Aid

Unemployed Americans were receiving $600 a week from the federal government in addition to their state unemployment aid, but that expired at the end of July. Democrats and Republicans could not agree on how or if to extend the federal aid; Democrats wanted to continue the $600 per week, and Republicans wanted to reduce it to $200 a week. Trump’s memorandum calls for the federal aid to restart at $400 a week. This sounds like a compromise until we look more closely at how it would work.

The federal $400 a week has two conditions in order for unemployed workers to receive it: their states must ask for it, and their states must contribute 25 percent ($100) of that $400 per week for each recipient.

Many states, already financially strapped from the coronavirus pandemic, won’t be able to afford to provide this supplemental benefit for their unemployed workers. And because of outdated and inadequate processing systems in some states, many unemployed Americans are still waiting on their first round of unemployment benefits. It could take months for states to adapt to new guidelines and systems for executing this latest scheme if they do sign on.

What’s more, the source of this additional unemployment aid is questionable. Trump wants to fund it by shifting $44 billion of funds from the Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Relief Funds which are designated for tornadoes, hurricanes, and extensive fires such as forest fires. Currently, 30 million Americans are unemployed. The funding to cover them all would run out in less than five weeks.

And again, in reality, Trump’s action assumes and ignores Congress’ rightful authority.

David Super, a constitutional law expert at Georgetown Law, says, “The basic notion here is the president is rejecting Congress’s power of the purse. That is something nobody who cares about separation of powers can let slide, even if they like what the money is being spent on.”

The legality of these four actions is already being called into question by members of both parties, and it’s likely that Trump will face formal legal challenges over them, since he is attempting to bypass Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump’s actions “absurdly unconstitutional.”

Trump has offered a hollow set of pseudo-relief measures that are full of contingencies, not the least of which is whether they are even legal or enactable. Besides offering no real and definitive relief from financial hardship, Trump’s executive actions fail to address several other important issues, including funding for schools to help ensure safe reopening, relief for the hungry, and assistance for cities and states as they continue to battle COVID-19. Trump’s “deal” for financially strapped Americans is hardly a deal at all.

Trump signs executive orders on coronavirus relief l GMA
Good Morning America  [2020-08-10]

Trump signs executive orders on payroll tax, evictions, and unemployment bonus | Global News [2020-08-08]

Editorial: Trump’s Rally in Tulsa: A Bigly Unfilled Arena

Donald Trump was clearly an unhappy man as he made what Twitter users have referred to as his walk of shame back to the White House following Saturday’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Trump campaign had boasted earlier that they had received 1 million RSVPs to the event. On the night of the rally, however, fewer than 6,200 showed up, leaving almost two-thirds of the 19,000 seats empty in the BOK Center, where the rally was held. Trump and some of his allies would like to blame everyone but Donald Trump, himself.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale blamed the media. “The fact is that a week’s worth of the fake news media warning people away from the rally because of Covid and protesters, coupled with recent images of American cities on fire, had a real impact on people bringing their families and children to the rally,” he said.

Apparently, Parscale thinks that the threat of contracting COVID-19 was just hype, and should not be a deterrent from large indoor public gatherings. It would also seem that protesters and “American cities on fire” are nothing more than nuisances deterring Donald Trump from having a successful ego-stoking event.

Parscale also blamed local Tulsa law enforcement for the low crowd numbers, saying that police had “overreacted,” and had barred entry to “thousands” of supporters who tried to get into the BOK Center for the rally. He blamed Black Lives Matter protesters, too, for trying to keep rally-goers away. Reporters say, however, that, other than some verbal confrontations between MAGAs and BLM protesters, no one had barred attendees from entering BOK Center.

Trump, too, blamed a combination of protesters and the media, notably not making any distinction between “thugs” and peaceful protesters.

“You are warriors,” said Trump to the small rally crowd. … “We had some very bad people outside. They were doing bad things.”

“I’ve been watching the fake news for weeks now,” he continued. “…And everything is negative: Don’t go, don’t come, don’t do anything.”

If there is any speculation about throngs of Trump supporters trying unsuccessfully to attend Trump’s rally, we should also note that even in the overflow area outside the arena, no huge audience was waiting to greet Trump or Pence. By early evening, the arena was nearly empty, plans for Trump and Pence to speak in the overflow area were canceled, and the speaker platform was dismantled.

One other element some are blaming (or crediting, depending on perspective) was a trolling effort by users of social media platform TikTok, and some K-pop fans. They reserved numerous tickets online with no intention of showing up, so that thousands of seats would be left vacant.

Another Trump campaign official refuted that as a factor, however. “We had legitimate 300k signups of Republicans who voted in the last four elections. Those are not [TikTok] kids. It was fear of violent protests. This is obvious with the lack of families and children at the rally. We normally have thousands of families.”

Admission to the rally was on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the TikTok stunt probably was not a major reason for the large number of empty seats. It probably contributed to the initial estimation of the expected crowd size, however.

“Since the day I came down the escalator, I’ve never had an empty seat,” Trump has said, referring to the supposed crowd sizes at his rallies. Though that statement has always been false, never has it been more untrue than on Saturday in Tulsa.

It couldn’t be true that Trump supporters stayed away because they really did fear becoming infected with COVID-19, could it? The largely unmasked people who were in attendance didn’t appear to be worried. Trump has continually downplayed and even ignored the seriousness of the pandemic, contradicting the medical experts and leading his supporters to do the same.

But as the U.S. leads the world in COVID-19 deaths and cases, and as the number of cases is now climbing again in many states, could it be that at least some of his supporters, those who didn’t show up to the rally, have decided that they can no longer trust what Donald Trump says about the coronavirus? Could it be that some of them are even offended that Donald Trump completely disregarded their health and safety by encouraging them to brave the virus in order to attend his rally in Tulsa?

Is it possible they might be growing weary of Trump’s constant opposition to what the medical experts are saying? Might they be tired of Trump’s crowing about how well he’s handled the spread of the virus, despite all evidence to the contrary? Was the idea of being required to sign a waiver saying they would not hold the Trump campaign accountable, should they become infected with COVID-19 the last straw?

Trump continues use racial slurs to refer to the coronavirus (“the kung flu,” “the Chinese virus”), and has used racist and anti-immigrant sentiment to fuel his campaign.

He has downplayed and largely ignored the past and current racial tension that has built to a crescendo in the U.S., too, disparaging the protesters and conflating them with violent, looting opportunists. He was ignorant of the existence of Juneteenth, originally scheduling his rally on that day, in the city where one of America’s most brutal massacres of African Americans took place. Is it possible that Donald Trump has finally overdosed some of his supporters on his unabashed racism?

On June 1, when Trump used military might to clear peaceful demonstrators from a public park so that he could proceed through the park to a widely offensive photo op, numerous decorated and highly respected military leaders criticized his actions. Some leaders from his own party, including President George W. Bush and Senator Mitt Romney, spoke out against the spectacle, warning that Trump was exhibiting signs of an authoritarian ruler. Even some of his appointees distanced themselves from Trump’s actions on that day. Could it be that some of Trump’s supporters are questioning just who it is they voted for in 2016?

Was the turnout at Trump’s rally in Tulsa an indicator of a crack in the seemingly impermeable MAGA wall of support for Trump? Are fewer people willing to walk through fire (or breathe COVID-infected droplets) in their unwavering support of him? No matter what the reasons for the low turnout at Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, it wasn’t because people were clamoring to get in and someone kept them out. It was simply because they chose not to come.

Trump reacts after low turnout at Tulsa rally l GMA [2020-06-22]

Trump’s Tulsa rally in less than 4 minutes | Washington Post [2020-06-20]