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Columns
Simply put, the numbers don't look good for Trump on the economy

WASHINGTON — President Trump is telling voters that he is presiding over the strongest economy “in the history of our country.”

But that’s not what top economists, major newspapers and the nation’s economic pollsters are reporting.

Here’s what economic reporter Jim Tankersley of The New York Times told his readers on July 31:

“The United States just suffered its worst economic quarter in nearly 75 years. Its recovery from the depths of a pandemic-induced recession has stalled, as coronavirus deaths rise again across the country.

“Rather than push for a comprehensive plan that could win support from both Democrats and Republicans, Mr. Trump first embraced big-ticket items that Senate Republicans did not want and that would do little to help millions of struggling workers and businesses. That included a payroll tax cut and an expanded tax break for business lunches, along with $1.75 billion to rebuild the FBI’s headquarters in Washington,” Tankersley reported.

Instead of negotiating with Congress to come up with a legislative package that could easily pass, as President Reagan did with a stubborn Democratic-controlled Congress, Trump refused to deal.

At one point, Trump declared that “we really don’t care” about further attempts to find compromise on additional economic stimulus for the economy and taxpayers. This was his idea of “wheeling and dealing”?

It was about this time that Trump’s public approval polls on the economy began to slip, as the coronavirus pandemic tightened its death grip on the nation and the economy.

“Trump’s economic approval polls were at one of the strongest levels of his presidency at the beginning of the year. He averaged a 56% approval rating on the economy in January and February, according to polls by ABC News, NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and Quinnipiac University,” according to a July 29 analysis by CNN’s Harry Enten.

However, Trump’s economic approval score was the strongest of his presidency at the beginning of the year, before falling to 49% approval, accompanied by a dismal 47% disapproval score.

“The bad news is that Trump isn’t winning on any of the major issues that are shaping the campaign,” Enten wrote at the time. “He trails Biden by at least 10 points on coronavirus. He is down by closer to 20 points on race relations. And now he is basically even on the economy.”

“There’s simply no record of a presidential candidate not leading on any major issue and still pulling out a victory,” Enten wrote. “That leaves Trump with little or no room for error.”

Things haven’t improved since then.

Nearly 900,000 U.S. workers filed unemployment claims last week, the second straight week that jobless claims were still above historical highs.

Another 839,000 Americans submitted claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the unemployment benefits program for the self-employed and gig workers, a gloomy number that has been climbing for nearly a month.

The latest figures offer hard evidence that the troubled Trump economy is still weakening, contrary to the administration’s specious claims that everything is hunky-dory. It isn’t.

Indeed, the professional statisticians at the Labor Department say that both unemployment numbers have been rising for the past four weeks.

“It’s super disappointing,” says AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist with Indeed Hiring Lab. “It really points to mounting damage from the coronavirus.”

The number of jobless workers filing for unemployment insurance continues to rise, too.

The Labor Department reported late last month that 29.6 million people were receiving federal unemployment insurance. That’s nearly 20 times the 1.59 million receiving jobless benefits for the same period last year.

Still, the unemployment rate in August fell below 10% for the first time since April, but according to Labor Department data, the labor market’s recovery could stall if Congress does not provide more federal aid. And as of this week, that remained problematic.

All of this is taking place at a time of deep political divisions and a weakening economy. No president in modern history has been reelected when the jobless rate was over 7.2%. As of August, it was 8.4%.

Trump has clearly lost his advantage on the economy, the deciding issue in this campaign. He came into office as a successful businessman who knew how to turn the U.S. economy around, create jobs and cut deals with Congress.

Now he is presiding over an economy that is hemorrhaging jobs, and he refuses to wheel and deal with Congress.

Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.


Columns
Russiagate dead-enders try for comeback

The Trump-Russia investigation effectively ended on July 24, 2019, the day special counsel Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill. Mueller’s halting presentation of his 400-plus-page report troubled both Republicans and Democrats. But of greater concern was this fact: After two years of investigating, with all the powers of law enforcement at his command, Mueller failed to establish that Russia and the Trump campaign conspired to fix the 2016 election. It was the central allegation the special counsel was hired to investigate, and he could not establish that it ever took place.

As I report in my new book, “Obsession: Inside the Washington Establishment’s Never-Ending War on Trump,” for a while after Mueller’s testimony, some Hill Democrats struggled to keep alive the idea of impeaching President Trump over the Russia affair. The number of House Democrats who supported impeachment actually increased after Mueller’s testimony. But their plans changed as others in their party whipped up excitement about a new line of attack against the president — the Ukraine matter, which became the basis of the partisan impeachment of the president in December 2019.

But now, believe it or not, Russia is back. Two new books — “Donald Trump v. the United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President” by New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt, and “True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump” by CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin — revive the Russia allegations against Trump. Both begin with the assumption that Trump was guilty in the Russia matter — a highly questionable way to start — and then ask why Mueller, with all his resources, was unable to bring the president down.

The Schmidt book made news by claiming that the Justice Department forbade Mueller and the FBI from probing “Trump’s decades-long personal and business ties to Russia.” The result, Schmidt said, was that Mueller “never fully investigated Mr. Trump’s own relationship with Russia, even though some career FBI counterintelligence investigators thought his ties posed ... a national security threat.” Thus, investigators never found the fabled evidence that might have proved Trump’s guilt.

That’s the ticket! Even though the FBI and special counsel investigated Trump for three years, he was never really investigated! No less than Andrew Weissmann, the top Mueller deputy known as the special counsel’s “pit bull,” shot down Schmidt’s claim.

For his part, Toobin argues that Mueller was simply too principled and upstanding to go after Trump. To Toobin, Mueller’s big failures were 1) not demanding to examine Trump’s tax returns and 2) not issuing a grand jury subpoena to force Trump to testify. “These two decisions are the most revealing, and defining, failures of Mueller’s tenure as special counsel,” Toobin wrote. Mueller was too “reticent” and “rule-following,” Toobin concluded, and his report was a “surrender.”

A third book, by fired FBI official Peter Strzok, the man made famous by his anti-Trump texts with girlfriend and fellow FBI official Lisa Page, says that no matter what Mueller found, Trump was a national security threat. Even if the president did nothing illegal, Strzok claims, he was “unpatriotic.” (Strzok appears not to have thought deeply about whether it is a good idea for the FBI to investigate a major-party presidential candidate based on a subjective notions of patriotism.) Strzok and the FBI, the book suggests, were forbidden from getting the facts about Trump. Indeed, in best conspiratorial fashion, the Atlantic magazine speculated that Strzok was fired because he was “getting too close to the truth.”

The bottom line: Schmidt, Toobin and Strzok are all trying to convince Americans that Trump was really guilty, that collusion was really a thing, and that law enforcement and journalists were right to obsess about Russiagate for three straight years.

But to repeat, here’s the problem: The Trump-Russia affair was about one big allegation — that the Trump campaign and Russia conspired to fix the 2016 election. There was a huge investigation. It could never establish that the crime even took place, much less who might have committed it. Every other problem Mueller and Democrats faced stemmed from that one failure. Trump’s defense team knew that from Day One. Read “Obsession” and you’ll learn some of the extraordinary things that went on behind the scenes. But as you hear some voices now trying to revive collusion, remember: We’ve been there and done that.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.


Editorials
Stop the bleeding

The state of Maryland ended its most recent fiscal year with a $585.8 million “unassigned balance.” The money is separate from the state’s Rainy Day Fund and other pools of cash at Annapolis’ disposal.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot wants the $585.8 million to go toward helping small businesses.

Restaurants, shops and other small businesses on the Eastern Shore and throughout Maryland continue to struggle and face serious challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus and its economic impacts still threaten scores of jobs and small businesses. “We just need to stop the bleeding,” Franchot said in an interview with The Star Democrat.

We strongly agree with Franchot’s effort to help small businesses.

Local businesses and their employees are still very much on the front lines of COVID-19 battle. While pandemic numbers in Maryland have improved, some consumers are still pulling back on spending and are hesitant to venture out. Some of that is based on fear of infection and some is based on the economy, lost jobs and cuts in pay and hours. Social distancing rules also still limit how many customers restaurants and other businesses can serve.

The economic pain is still very real.

The anxiety of COVID-19 is still very real for workers and families unsure about their paychecks and how they are going pay their rent and other bills.

We do not need more political platitudes and posturing on the pandemic from either side of the aisle.

We need action.

We like Franchot’s idea of getting money directly to small businesses. Too often, so-called investment and stimulus packages do not make it to Main Street. They certainly make it to Wall Street, the clients of K Street lobbying firms and bloated government bureaucracies.

The federal Paycheck Protection Program was not perfect, and we will see how many jobs it ended up saving.

But at first glance, the program did extend a critical lifeline to a number of small businesses and their workers throughout the Shore and the state.

Francot’s idea is for quick financial aid for small businesses with local economic developers and other leaders helping identify businesses that need help.

While we need another stimulus program from Washington to help with the continued impacts of COVID, that will likely not happen until after the presidential election. Unfortunately, politics trumps (pardon the pun) needs on the ground.

But Maryland has a chance for its own, new business assistance effort. Helping small businesses saves jobs as well as tax revenue.

Maryland faces some major budget deficits when the full fiscal impacts of COVID-19 are felt.

Local businesses and their employees and the money they spend and the tax revenue they generate are going to be key to navigating upcoming budgets.

An innovative and effective small business program can also help showcase Maryland to other entrepreneurs, innovators, creative workers and companies. The state has been working hard to improve Maryland’s business climate and image as it competes with Virginia and other states for jobs and investments.

We always need to attract more innovators and job creators to the state and to the Eastern Shore. We should remember that every company — including Amazon, Apple and Tesla — started out as a small business, as a start-up.

Franchot’s program can help save jobs and local businesses now. It can also help foster and bring the next great ideas and the next great companies to Maryland.


National
AP
Today in History

Today in History

Today is Wednesday, Sept. 16, the 260th day of 2020. There are 106 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlights in History:

On Sept. 16, 1974, President Gerald R. Ford announced a conditional amnesty program for Vietnam war deserters and draft-evaders.

On this date:

In 1630, the Massachusetts village of Shawmut changed its name to Boston.

In 1810, Mexico began its revolt against Spanish rule.

In 1966, the Metropolitan Opera officially opened its new opera house at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts with the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra.”

In 1982, the massacre of between 1,200 and 1,400 Palestinian men, women and children at the hands of Israeli-allied Christian Phalange militiamen began in west Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

In 1987, two dozen countries signed the Montreal Protocol, a treaty designed to save the Earth’s ozone layer by calling on nations to reduce emissions of harmful chemicals by the year 2000.

In 1994, a federal jury in Anchorage, Alaska, ordered Exxon Corp. to pay $5 billion in punitive damages for the 1989 Exxon Valdez (val-DEEZ’) oil spill (the U.S Supreme Court later reduced that amount to $507.5 million). Two astronauts from the space shuttle Discovery went on the first untethered spacewalk in ten years.

In 2001, President George W. Bush, speaking on the South Lawn of the White House, said there was “no question” Osama bin Laden and his followers were the prime suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks; Bush pledged the government would “find them, get them running and hunt them down.”

In 2005, President George W. Bush ruled out raising taxes to pay the massive costs of Gulf Coast reconstruction in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, saying other government spending had to be cut to pay for the recovery effort.

In 2007, contractors for the U.S. security firm Blackwater USA guarding a U.S. State Department convoy in Baghdad opened fire on civilian vehicles, mistakenly believing they were under attack; 14 Iraqis died. O.J. Simpson was arrested in the alleged armed robbery of sports memorabilia collectors in Las Vegas. (Simpson was later convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery and sentenced to nine to 33 years in prison; he was released in 2017.)

In 2009, Mary Travers, 72, part of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, died in Danbury, Connecticut.

In 2013, Aaron Alexis, a former U.S. Navy reservist, went on a shooting rampage inside the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 people before being shot dead by police.

In 2014, President Barack Obama declared that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa could threaten security around the world and ordered 3,000 U.S. troops to the region in emergency aid muscle.

Ten years ago: Pope Benedict XVI began a controversial state visit to Britain, acknowledging the Catholic Church had failed to act decisively or quickly enough to deal with priests who raped and molested children. The Seattle Storm completed their undefeated march through the postseason, beating the Atlanta Dream 87-84 for a three-game sweep in the WNBA finals. John “Jack” Goeken, founder of telecommunications giant MCI and father of air-to-ground telephone communications, died in Joliet, Illinois, at age 80.

Five years ago: Eleven Republican presidential candidates debated at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, wrangling over immigration, gay marriage and foreign affairs. Baton-wielding Hungarian riot police unleashed tear gas and water cannons against hundreds of migrants after they broke through a razor-wire fence and tried to surge into the country from Serbia. Country singer Sturgill Simpson and singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, both eclectic genre-bending artists, took home top honors at the Americana Honors and Awards show in Nashville.

One year ago: More than 49,000 members of the United Auto Workers went on strike against General Motors, bringing more than 50 factories and parts warehouses to a standstill. (The strike ended after 40 days when workers ratified a new contract.) “Saturday Night Live” said it had rescinded its invitation to Shane Gillis to join the cast; he was found to have posted a video in which he used a racial slur for Chinese people. The Pittsburgh Steelers announced that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would undergo surgery on his right elbow, ending the 37-year-old quarterback’s 16th NFL season just two weeks in. Former television newsman Sander Vanocur died in California at the age of 91; he’d been a questioner at the first Kennedy/Nixon debate in 1960.

Today’s Birthdays: Actor Janis Paige is 98. Actor George Chakiris is 88. Bluesman Billy Boy Arnold is 85. Movie director Jim McBride is 79. Actor Linda Miller is 78. Rhythm-and-blues singer Betty Kelley (Martha & the Vandellas) is 76. Musician Kenney Jones (Small Faces; Faces; The Who) is 72. Actor Susan Ruttan is 72. Rock musician Ron Blair (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers; Mudcrutch) is 72. Actor Ed Begley Jr. is 71. Country singer David Bellamy (The Bellamy Brothers) is 70. Country singer-songwriter Phil Lee is 69. Actor Mickey Rourke is 68. Actor-comedian Lenny Clarke is 67. Actor Kurt Fuller is 67. Jazz musician Earl Klugh is 67. Actor Christopher Rich is 67. TV personality Mark McEwen is 66. Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount is 65. Magician David Copperfield is 64. Country singer-songwriter Terry McBride is 62. Actor Jennifer Tilly is 62. Retired MLB All-Star pitcher Orel Hershiser is 62. Baseball Hall of Famer Tim Raines is 61. Actor Jayne Brook is 60. Singer Richard Marx is 57. Comedian Molly Shannon is 56. Singer Marc Anthony is 52. News anchor/talk show host Tamron Hall is 50. Comedian-actor Amy Poehler is 49. Actor Toks Olagundoye (tohks oh-lah-GOON’-doh-yay) is 45. Country singer Matt Stillwell is 45. Singer Musiq (MYOO’-sihk) is 43. Actor Michael Mosley is 42. Rapper Flo Rida is 41. Actor Alexis Bledel is 39. Actor Sabrina Bryan is 36. Actor Madeline Zima is 35. Actor Ian Harding is 34. Actor Kyla Pratt is 34. Actor Daren Kagasoff is 33. Rock singer Teddy Geiger is 32. Actor-dancer Bailey De Young is 31. Rock singer-musician Nick Jonas (The Jonas Brothers) is 28. Actor Elena Kampouris is 23.