The New York Times - USA (2020-10-16)

(Antfer) #1


The 45th PresidentPolicy and Presentation

WASHINGTON — “Will you
please like me?”
This was President Trump on
Tuesday night, in Pennsylvania.
“Please, please,” he pleaded. “I
don’t have that much time.”
Mr. Trump’s exhortation car-
ried a certain abrupt despera-
tion. It was reminiscent of Jeb
Bush’s “please clap” to an audi-
ence before the New Hampshire
presidential primary in 2016 or
President George Bush’s “Mes-
sage: I care” in 1992. Both were
utterances that in retrospect
served as epitaphs for doomed
Whether that proves true in
Mr. Trump’s case is not yet
known. But “will you please like
me?” — which immediately went
viral — seemed especially ger-
mane to the president’s predica-
ment. To begin with, the appeal
was directed at suburban wom-
en, who polls show have been
particularly repelled by Mr.
Trump compared with four years
Shortly after the president
made his remark, Sarah Long-
well, the founder of Republican
Voters Against Trump, tweeted
out a clip of it along with this
retort: “I did a focus group to-
night with women who voted for
Trump in 2016,” Ms. Longwell
wrote. “Not a single one was
planning to vote for him again.”
In other words, Mr. Trump’s
effort smacked of a too-late,
too-lame apology to an ex who
has long since moved on. It also
underscored Mr. Trump’s special
knack for making statements (or
sending tweets) that are per-
fectly suited to being clipped,
saved and hurled back in his face
when facts contradict him later
on, or in real time. Mr. Trump has
proved himself, again and again,
a grand master of delivering
famous last words.
The coronavirus has hardly
cured him of this. If anything, Mr.
Trump seems to be tempting fate
on a daily basis since he himself
became infected. He has said he
is a “perfect physical specimen,”
feels better than he did 20 years
ago and is now “immune” from
the disease — never mind that
the course of the coronavirus has
shown itself to be treacherous
and unpredictable. He continues
to insist that the virus is “disap-
pearing,” an assertion flatly
contradicted by rising rates of
infection across much of the
country in recent days.
When Mr. Trump became sick,
some advisers hoped it might
chasten him, or at least curtail
his knack for making wildly
off-base or premature claims
about the virus. He already
boasted a long rap sheet of “un-
fortunate remarks,” all readily
captured and spread via video,
Twitter, TikTok and wherever
else famous last words get im-
mortalized these days.
“We have it totally under con-
trol,” Mr. Trump said in January
on CNBC, an opening salvo of
denial that would soon be hung
around his neck.
“This is their new hoax,” he
said the following month at a
rally in South Carolina.
“One day, it’s like a miracle, it
will disappear,” he said around
the same time.
Traditionally, presidents have
tried to avoid making statements
that might prove embarrassing
later on. They choose their words
carefully and proceed “out of an
abundance of caution,” per the
tagline of the moment in Wash-
Every president typically gets
one or two shudder-worthy
sound bites on their permanent
record. President Barack Obama
promised that “if you like your
doctor, you can keep your doc-
tor” under his health care plan, a
proposition that proved false
during the troubled rollout of the
Affordable Care Act in 2013.
“Brownie, you’re doing a heck
of a job,” President George W.
Bush said in a shout out to Mi-
chael D. Brown, the director of
the Federal Emergency Manage-
ment Agency during Hurricane
Katrina, which soon became a
Category 5 fiasco.
President Bill Clinton asserted
that “I did not have sexual rela-
tions with that woman, Miss
Lewinsky,” before admitting as
much. President George Bush, in
his most famous vow, said, “Read
my lips: no new taxes,” before
raising them.
“Politicians are always going
to say things they regret,” said
Victoria Clarke, a longtime Re-
publican communications strat-
egist who has advised several
elected officials and administra-
tions. Ms. Clarke invoked a fa-
vorite quote from one of her
former patrons, former Senator

John McCain, Republican of
Arizona: “May the words I utter
today be tender and sweet, be-
cause tomorrow I may have to
eat them.”
The current White House has
served up a sprawling buffet,
with the president as head chef.
It is a crowded kitchen, though.
A proclivity for “unfortunate
remarks” has been a trademark
of the Trump administration
from the outset.
It kicked off on Day 2 when the
first of four Trump White House
press secretaries, Sean Spicer,
claimed that the crowd gathered
for Mr. Trump’s 2017 inaugura-
tion was “the largest audience to
ever witness an inauguration,
period.” Overhead photos of Mr.
Trump’s inaugural crowd next to
Mr. Obama’s proved this remark
to be ridiculous, period.
But the response to the co-
ronavirus has placed the White
House’s pre-existing condition
on, well, steroids. In March, an
outgoing White House chief of
staff, Mick Mulvaney, accused
the media of hyping the pan-
demic to “bring down” the presi-
dent. Mr. Mulvaney said this at
the Conservative Political Action
Conference, an annual gathering
that has become a pep rally of
Trumpism. It was also an early
petri dish for the illness in the
Washington area.
The current outbreak in White
House has been accompanied by
a video parade of “unfortunate
remarks” — or, depending on
your point of view, a rampage of
News of the current White
House press secretary, Kayleigh
McEnany, testing positive last
week was accompanied by a

now-infamous clip from a Fox
News interview Ms. McEnany
gave in February. “We will not
see diseases like the coronavirus
come here,” vowed the then-
future press secretary. “Isn’t that
refreshing when contrasting it
with the awful presidency of
President Obama?”
Likewise, when Kellyanne
Conway, a former senior White
House adviser, revealed her own
coronavirus diagnosis, numerous
news media outlets and Twitter
feeds resurrected an oft-mocked
statement she made about the
still-emerging outbreak in
March. “It is being contained,”
vowed Ms. Conway, who herself
had earned a special White
House status for infamous state-
ments when she defended Mr.
Spicer’s inaugural crowd whop-
per by saying he was merely
providing “alternative facts.”
The White House has shown a
particular gift for setting time-
lines that have proved embar-
rassingly unrealistic. Mr. Trump
suggested in March that the
virus would die in warmer
weather and expressed a hope
that the nation’s churches would
be filled on Easter Sunday, April

  1. Vice President Mike Pence
    predicted on April 24 that “by
    Memorial Day weekend we will
    have this coronavirus epidemic
    behind us.” This was right
    around when Jared Kushner, a
    senior adviser and Mr. Trump’s
    son-in-law, was predicting the
    country would be “really rocking
    again” by July.
    To be fair, White House com-
    munications has never been the
    high wire act that it is today.
    Abundance of caution will only
    get you so far.
    “No president can go four
    years without making a com-
    ment that can be considered a
    ‘gotcha moment,’ ” said Erik
    Smith, a veteran Democratic
    spokesman and operative. “But
    this president seems to pile them
    up like cordwood and take joy in
    Indeed, part of Mr. Trump’s
    appeal to his supporters is that
    he refrains from the usual poli-
    tician’s caution, even in situa-
    tions — like the middle of a pan-
    demic — that would seem to
    demand an abundance of it. It
    has lent the president a level of
    credibility as a “straight shooter,”
    even as he has been caught in
    thousands of false statements,
    dubious boasts and comical
    “It affects virtually nobody!”
    Mr. Trump declared of the co-
    ronavirus at a packed rally in
    Ohio last month — another re-
    mark that would go literally
    viral. It did not age well.


A Master of Last Words

Utters Another Epitaph

For a Flailing Campaign


A plea to be liked

that may come back

to haunt him.

coronavirus cases and dead-
locked talks in Washington over
new stimulus.
The Democratic House has
twice passed multitrillion-dollar
packages to provide more help
and to stimulate the economy, but
members of a divided Republican
Senate, questioning the cost and
necessity, have proposed smaller
President Trump has alter-
nately demanded that Congress
“go big” before the elections and
canceled negotiations. On Thurs-
day, he signaled he was ready to
increase the size of previous
White House offers, to accommo-
date Democrats, only to be re-
buffed hours later by Senator
Mitch McConnell, Republican of
Kentucky and the majority leader.
The Cares Act included one-
time payments for most house-
holds — $1,200 per adult and $
per child — and a huge expansion
of unemployment insurance.
That expansion at least doubled
the share of jobless workers who
receive checks, the researchers
estimated, by including gig work-
ers and the self-employed through
December. In addition, it added
$600 to weekly aid through July —
nearly tripling the average bene-
fit. For about two-thirds of the
beneficiaries, the bolstered
checks more than replaced their
lost wages.
At its peak in May, the aid kept
more than 18 million people from
poverty, the Columbia re-
searchers found. But by Septem-
ber, that number had fallen to
about four million.
“The Cares Act was unusually
successful, but now it’s gone, and
a lot more people are poor,” said
Zachary Parolin, an author of the
Columbia analysis.
While the Columbia model
showed an improvement in Sep-
tember, the Chicago and Notre
Dame analysts found poverty con-
tinued to grow.
Among those experiencing new
hardships is Kristin Jeffcoat, 24,
who is raising three children in
Camptonville, Calif., a hamlet
about 80 miles north of Sacra-
mento. When schools closed last
spring, Ms. Jeffcoat, an Instacart
shopper, stayed home to watch
them. Then her husband got laid
off from landscaping work.
The expanded safety net ini-
tially caught them: Together, they
received more than $1,500 a week
in jobless benefits, which ex-
ceeded their lost wages. They also
received a $3,900 stimulus check,
which they used to prepay three
months of rent. But since the un-
employment bonus ended in July,
their cash income has fallen
nearly 80 percent.
Now living on $350 a week plus
food stamps, Ms. Jeffcoat and her
husband have gone without elec-
tricity because they cannot afford
generator fuel (their house is off
the power grid) and have spent
weeks without propane for cook-
ing and hot showers. “We stick
with cold meals — cereals,” she
To feed the children, Ms. Jeff-
coat said she sometimes skips
meals, especially at the end of the
month when the food stamps have
run out. Her husband sold his
tools to buy diapers, and Ms. Jeff-
coat tried to sell her eggs to a fer-
tility clinic, but she did not medi-
cally qualify. Worse than the phys-
ical hardships is the worry.
“I’ve definitely found myself
feeling a little more anxious —
snappier with the children,” Ms.
Jeffcoat said.
Income volatility is especially
hard on low-income families, who
lack the savings or credit to keep

essential bills paid. It acts as a
kind of invisible tax, measured in
units as varied as late fees, toxic
stress and worse school outcomes
for children. “The lack of predict-
ability has all kinds of negative
consequences,” said Bradley L.
Hardy, an economist at American
University, who notes the recent
benefit fluctuations amplify the
economic gyrations.
The aid expansion did not reach
everyone. About a third of the un-
employed still do not receive un-
employment checks, the Colum-
bia analysts estimated. Some job-
less people are unaware they can
apply, and many encounter red
tape. Undocumented workers are
disqualified from unemployment
aid, and no one in their households
can get stimulus checks, including
spouses and millions of American
Among individuals eligible for
stimulus checks, about 30 percent
failed to receive them, the Colum-
bia researchers estimate. While
most families received them auto-
matically, those too poor to have
filed tax returns had to apply.
Still, admirers of the Cares Act
say its success in reducing pov-
erty, amid an economic collapse,
shows the benefits of a strong
safety net. “It wasn’t perfect, but
hands down it’s the most success-
ful thing we’ve ever done in negat-
ing hardship,” said H. Luke Shae-
fer, a poverty researcher at the
University of Michigan.
Members of both research
groups said the rising poverty
showed a need for a new round of
help. “It’s really important that we
reinstate some of the lost bene-
fits,” said Mr. Meyer, who is also
affiliated with the conservative
American Enterprise Institute.
His conclusion that poverty is
rising may draw special attention
because he is a critic of govern-
ment poverty statistics, saying

they exaggerate the number of
poor people by failing to fully
measure the resources that lower-
income households receive.
But some opponents of further
assistance argue it has discour-
aged people from working.
“There’s just lots of opportunity
that’s not being accessed — we’ve
got to get people back to work,”
said Jason Turner, who runs the
Secretaries’ Innovation Group,
which advises conservative state
officials on aid policies. “I’m not as
alarmed about poverty as I am
about unemployment. Poverty is
an arbitrary income threshold,
and people who dip below it, they
make adjustments. If you’re not
working at all, that’s a huge deal.
Physical and mental health de-
clines, substance abuse goes up.”
Given the magnitude of the cri-

sis, the increase in poverty since
January — about 8 percent by the
Columbia count — was a “modest
amount,” Mr. Turner said.
By the government’s fullest
measure, a family of four in a typi-
cal city is considered poor if its an-
nual income falls below $28,170.
The crisis is hitting minorities
especially hard, preserving or
even deepening the large poverty
gaps that predated the pandemic.
The analysts at Chicago and Notre
Dame (including James X. Sulli-
van and Jeehoon Han) found pov-
erty among Black people rising at
an especially fast pace, at a time of
widespread protests over racial
Black people and Latinos are

more than twice as likely as white
people to be poor, the new data
shows. Both minority groups dis-
proportionately work in indus-
tries hard-hit by the recession and
may face barriers to aid. Black
people disproportionately live in
Southern states with low benefits,
and some Latinos are disqualified
because they lack legal status.
Both studies also found child
poverty rising at a rapid rate, with
an additional 2.5 million children
falling below the poverty line
since May. Research shows that
even short stays in poverty can
cause children lasting harm.
Jenny Santiago, a single mother
in Pontiac, Mich., fears her house-
hold’s worsening finances creates
new peril for her four children,
ages 8 to 13. A driver for takeout
services, Ms. Santiago quit work
when schools closed in March to
to watch her children. The stimu-
lus check and $600 unemploy-
ment bonus provided “a nice
chunk” of help, she said, “but it
didn’t last forever.”
Now that her income has dwin-
dled, she trims her meals to feed
the children, and her landlord is
trying to evict her.
Both studies showed poverty
started to rise before the unem-
ployment bonus expired in July,
suggesting the stimulus checks,
which arrived earlier, played an
important role.
Optimists might note that the
Columbia study showed poverty
fell in September. That could be a
sign that hardship is easing. But
Mr. Parolin, the Columbia re-
searcher, said that he “wouldn’t
make too much of a one-month
trend” when levels remain elevat-
ed. And the Chicago-Notre Dame
study found poverty in September
continued to grow.
Officially, the government
measures poverty on an annual
basis and publishes its estimates
in arrears — this year’s rate will
not be released until next fall. To
provide policymakers more
timely information, both teams
use monthly census data to
project more up-to-date trends.
The Chicago-Notre Dame ap-
proach counts the most recent 12
months of income, preserving the
annualized time frame. The Co-
lumbia researchers consider each
month’s income separately, which
makes it more timely but ignores
earlier paychecks and aid. (The
researchers include Megan A.
Curran, Jordan Matsudaira, Jane
Waldfogel and Christopher
Still, the stories they tell are
consistent. “The Cares Act was
very successful,” Mr. Wimer said.
“But one of its shortcomings was
its temporary nature.”

Hazel Musa, 5, and Tino Musa, 3. Their parents, Richard Musa and Kristen Jeffcoat of Camptonville, Calif., lost their jobs in March.


With Aid Spent, Poverty Traps Millions More

From Page A

Mr. Musa and Ms. Jeffcoat have struggled since losing their Cares Act benefits of $600 a week.


The Democratic-led House has twice passed multitrillion-dollar
relief packages, but Senate Republicans have balked at their size.


An expansion of

benefits didn’t reach

all jobless people.

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