We’re beginning to see the economic impact of coronavirus in unemployment claims at the national level, but CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster says economists are warning that the worst is still to come. According to Labor Department data released on Thursday, there were 281,000 seasonally adjusted initial unemployment insurance claims for the week ending March 14. This measures people who hadn’t filed for unemployment insurance the week before. The number of claims was up 33% from the previous week and was the highest number of initial claims since September 2, 2017, right after Hurricane Harvey.
“The increase in initial claims are clearly attributable to impacts from the COVID-19 virus,” the Labor Department said in a news release. But the unemployment insurance numbers released today cover a period of time before some states ordered restaurants to close their doors, except for takeout and delivery services, and told bars, theaters, gyms and other businesses to close to help stem the spread of the outbreak. That impact will be seen in next week’s numbers.
While the jump today would be staggering in normal times, early unemployment figures from states this week indicate there could be a huge spike in claims when data is released next week, according to Justin Wolfers, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan. “The initial claims number that will be printed next Thursday, so it won’t be official until then, but ones printed next Thursday will show over a million initial claims. It may show one and a half million,” Wolfers said. “So this morning you saw it rise by 70,000, which is about a third. It’s going to rise by a factor of five.”
In an analysis for the New York Times, Wolfers found 629,899 claims filed in just 15 states this week. More than 80,000 claims were filed in California on Tuesday, according to Governor Gavin Newsom, compared to 2,000 on a normal day. Minnesota has seen more than 50,000 claims filed this week. The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency is experiencing a more than 550% increase in claims compared to normal anticipated activity at this time of year, according to Erica Quealy, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
When there’s a slow drip of businesses closing, economists can spend months debating whether there’s a recession. Now, many have been forced to close their doors at once due to Coronavirus, which will lead to “terrifying” numbers for the coming weeks.
“We expect the next two to three weeks to be terrifying,” Wolfers said. “All of those job losses that would normally occur over several months are going to occur over several weeks.” What’s not clear is whether there will be job losses beyond those expected in the next few weeks that are “directly attributable to social isolation,” Wolfers said. It will take some time to tell if there’s a significant round of job losses that follows the initial wave caused by businesses closures. “One literally quite important thing to say is no one knows anything,” Wolfers said. “And that may actually make you optimistic right now because it could be that we’re wrong about lots of negative effects as well.”
In an effort to blunt the losses from closing dine-in services, restaurant owners are encouraging people to continue ordering delivery and take-out, according to CBS News reporter Kate Smith. Some establishments are offering the services for the first time and say it’s allowing them to keep some of their employees working close to full schedules. L’Artusi, a downtown Manhattan Italian restaurant, had never done delivery before this week. Kevin Garry, the owner and managing partner of Epicurean, the restaurant group behind L’Artusi, said “when we turned it on, we had an amazingly positive response.” Business has been so good that L’Artusi has been able to offer their kitchen employees “close to a full schedule,” Garry said.
FROM THE CANDIDATES
With the 2020 race seemingly on the back burner as the nation focuses on the immediacy of the Coronavirus, Joe Biden’s campaign has been actively trying to shift its message online during the pause of public campaign events, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. One strategy they’re employing is blistering responses to President Donald Trump’s response-related daily press conferences. Today’s headline from the Biden team: “Trump Lies After Spending Months Downplaying Coronavirus and Ignoring Scientists and Experts Who Sounded the Alarm.”
In a statement, deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said, “Time after time, President Trump has failed the American people through his negligent and incompetent response to a global health pandemic — squandering months as he blithely downplayed its risks.” Biden’s campaign pointed to seven examples of statements from Mr. Trump between January 22 and March 9 which they say shows the White House “downplayed the growing threat of the virus.”
The continued focus on the pandemic also allows Biden to defend the legacy of former President Obama. “The Obama-Biden Administration set up the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense to prepare for future pandemics like COVID-19,” Biden tweeted, “Donald Trump eliminated it — and now we’re paying the price.”
The campaign for Bernie Sanders reached out to supporters today via email in a note signed by the Vermont senator, CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte reports. The note followed up on what we’ve heard Sanders talk about this past week regarding COVID19 – they’re looking for folks to share stories on how the virus is impacting them and what they need to get through this time. As was the case in his email yesterday, there was no donation ask; however, hyperlinks throughout the message routed to his website, which is bugged with ActBlue “Donation” tabs. “The main point to be made is that in this period of crisis it’s imperative that we stand together […] This is a moment that we have got to be working together and going forward together,” it reads. The letter asks for supporters to share their experiences but also sign a petition to show support for Sanders’ COVID-19 agenda.
If the campaign is on its last legs, a note like this reminds that Sanders and his staff speak to supporters as a tight-knit community. At the same time, the information collected could used to show Biden and the Democratic establishment an indisputable tally of Sanders’ coalition, which could arm Sanders with some leverage.
LIFE AFTER 2020
Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard announced in a Twitter video that she is suspending her presidential campaign, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders competing for the Democratic nomination. In the video, Gabbard said she is offering her “full support” for Biden in order to unify the country. The endorsement of Biden is a shift for Gabbard, who endorsed Sanders in the 2016 presidential election after resigning from her position as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.
“Although I may not agree with the Vice President on every issue, I know that he has a good heart and he is motivated by his love for our country and the American people,” Gabbard explained in her Twitter video. “I’m confident that he will lead our country guided by the spirit of aloha — respect and compassion — and thus help heal the divisiveness that has been tearing our country apart.” CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman says Gabbard consistently polled in the low single digits and failed to make the debate stage as the nominating contests were underway. CBS News estimated that Gabbard received two delegates from American Samoa.
As the campaign rallies and town halls come to a grinding halt due to fears over coronavirus, one political activity has not yet been canceled: campaign fundraising. CBSN political reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns and CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice say presidential and congressional campaigns must adjust to a strange new world of digital rallies, tele-town halls and ground-game operations, but fundraising is an area that has already been working effectively online and candidates have long been investing in and growing digital fundraising tools and see it as a critical campaign function.
On Thursday, CBS News confirmed that the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have suspended in-person fundraising events, but digital fundraising efforts will continue. “President Trump and the RNC have the strongest fundraising operation in presidential history and our unmatched data and digital operation make us uniquely equipped to sustain a digital fundraising operation,” said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh in a statement.
“As it is, we are in an incredibly strong position. While we are temporarily suspending in-person fundraising events, we will still be able to gather support from Americans who fully support President Trump, his accomplishments, and his leadership,” he said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign has also not been holding in-person fundraisers of late but his team is exploring digital fundraising options. “We’re raising money digitally, doing virtual fundraisers [and will] continue to be creative about how to use video or multimedia elements,” says Biden Campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo, arguing that President Trump’s handling of the pandemic has caused an even greater sense of urgency among Democrats to oust him from office while generating enthusiasm around Biden’s candidacy. After Sunday’s debate — which showed Biden and Bernie Sanders standing a “socially distant” six feet apart and bumping elbows instead of shaking hands — the Biden campaign had its best debate fundraising haul, surpassing each of the past 10 previous debate nights. The handling of COVID-19 was a chief topic of discussion. The outbreak comes as the Democratic presidential primary is wrapping up with Biden leading Sanders in the delegate count 1,093 to 802. Such a moment would, in normal times, present a prime fundraising opportunity for the Biden campaign.
“At this point historically, what would happen is we’d aggressively start to pivot to the general election to talk about joint fundraising committees with the DNC and really building the infrastructure to really compete with the Republicans in November,” said Rufus Gifford, President Obama’s 2012 campaign finance director and a supporter of Biden. “It will be generally harder to raise money at a time when people are concerned… It’s not the easiest or best time to raise money, so you have to acknowledge that reality especially considering we don’t know how long that’s going to last.” But the pandemic and the ensuing economic instability make asking for money a delicate task. With people’s jobs and livelihoods at stake — candidates have to consider the sensitivity around raising money in a time of crisis as other aspects of daily life have come to standstill. “You have to be a little mindful that there’s lots of stuff going on that might prevent someone from being able to contribute or to contribute as much as they would want to,” said Ducklo.
On Thursday, the Governor of Connecticut Ned Lamont announced he would be postponing the state’s presidential primary scheduled for April 28 amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus. CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says this makes Connecticut the sixth state to delay its 2020 primary following Maryland, Ohio, Louisiana, Georgia and Kentucky.
“In coordination with other states and our Secretary of the State, and in an effort to carry out Democracy while keeping public health a top priority, I have decided to move our presidential primary to June 2nd,” Lamont first stated in a tweet. “My most important concerns are allowing every Connecticut voter to make their voice heard in the selection of the presidential candidates, and ensuring that they are able to cast their ballots as safely as possible,” posted Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill on Twitter. “Moving the primary date is a good first step, and will give our local election officials more time to prepare. Changing an election date is not something we do lightly – it’s a recognition of the severity & nature of this crisis, and more steps may be necessary to guarantee that every CT voter has an opportunity to cast their ballot.”
Four states are still scheduled to hold primaries on April 28, including Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. However, the Rhode Island Board of Elections voted on Tuesday to move the primary from April 28 to June 2 as well but it still awaits the governor’s approval.
IN THE HOUSE
Twenty-six lawmakers have had to self-quarantine because of the coronavirus, with many other House members closing their offices to prevent further spread or because of a positive diagnosis of a staffer. CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that these 26 lawmakers include two House members that tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Ben McAdams of Utah.
In a Tweet, Diaz-Balart said that he will remain in his Washington D.C. apartment to avoid contact with his wife in South Florida, who has a pre-existing condition. “I want everyone to know that I am feeling much better. However, it is important that everyone take this extremely seriously and follow CDC guidelines in order to avoid getting sick and mitigate the spread of this virus.”
The question of how Congress can function and act on emergency legislation, in a time of social distancing in response to a disease that appears to have greater impact on older populations, still remains to be seen. In a letter, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House, which is currently in recess, will not return “until we are in a position to vote on the third piece of emergency legislation to respond to the economic impact of this crisis.” Hoyer added, “I share the concerns of many Members regarding the number of Members on the House Floor at any one time. I therefore expect that the House will adjust our voting procedures in order to follow the CDC’s recommendations. No decisions have been made on exactly what these changes will be, but we will be discussing all options.”
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