I'm surprised he didn't propose doing an emergency podcast on Akela. Well, I was going to wait until everyone was ready, but I wanted to let you guys know that we've actually scrapped the run of our show for today. And we're going to just be talking about the Harry interview.
Hello and welcome to the five 30 Politics podcast. I'm dealing drink over the weekend. The Senate passed its version of the nearly two trillion dollar American rescue plan. It's slightly different from the House version based on concerns from some moderate senators today. We're going to talk about the political considerations of those moderates. Are they motivated by ideology, institution's electability, all of the above, something else altogether. We're also going to discuss the political future of New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo.
Over the weekend, the state Senate majority leader called on Cuomo to resign after multiple sexual harassment accusations. Cuomo said he will not resign. So what happens next here and what do New Yorkers themselves want? We're also going to take a look at what's going on with governors decisions to lift covid restrictions around the country after Texas and Mississippi lifted all restrictions last week.
Of course, Democratic governors are also, in many ways loosening some of their covid restrictions. So here with me to discuss it all is editor in chief Nate Silver. Hey. Also here with us is elections analyst Nathaniel Reget, Nathaniel Haylen.
And also here with us is Alexandra Samuels, politics reporter here at five thirty eight Alexandra. Welcome to the podcast. Is your first time with us. It's great to have you.
Yes, thank you. How do how howdy. And I should mention with an intro like that that you are on the ground in Austin, Texas. So I look forward to all of your reporting, in particular some of your insights into Texas today. And I should mention that you also used to report for the Texas Tribune. So you are an expert on all things Texas.
I like to think so. Later on in the show, science reporter and host of our covid-19 podcast, Anna Rothschild is also going to join us.
But let's begin with the situation in New York. Five women have accused Governor Cuomo of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior in recent weeks.
This comes after the state's attorney general and media reports have criticized his administration for how it handled and misreported nursing home deaths early in the pandemic. Some state Democrats have called for Cuomo to resign, while national Democrats have largely deferred to an independent investigation into the governor's behavior.
The most significant call to resign came on Sunday from New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart.
Cousins Cuomo said also on Sunday that there is, quote, no way he resigns. So this seems like a pretty severe governing challenge if the leaders of your party in the legislature are asking you to step down. Nathaniel, how should we expect this to play out?
It's definitely very up in the air. I think there's a huge amount that rides on how the story develops. Are there 10 other women out there who are going to accuse Cuomo? The FBI is already looking into how he handled the reporting of nursing home deaths in the state. And if there are more developments in that case, it could certainly lead to a resignation. But on the other hand, if this is the end of it and things drag out from here and he's able to kick the can down the road, maybe another story comes up in the news cycle.
You could easily see him riding out the wave, not resigning and maybe even winning reelection in twenty, twenty two, although that's a whole other can of worms.
I agree. I think at this point it is a wait and see game. I think it's easy for Cuomo right now to put on this brave face to say I'm not resigning, I'm not going anywhere. But I think a big reason for that is because not a lot of Democratic New York politicos have called for his resignation outright. That is until Sunday. And I think the most recent person to do so was Comptroller Scott Stringer. One thing I saw that was interesting was New York reporter Zack Fink tweeted yesterday that Cuomo was making the rounds in a sense of telling other New York politicians to not issue statements about him just yet.
And I think that Cuomo knows that if he loses support among New York Democrats and politicians in the state, that that could be the final nail in the coffin. I mean, Cuomo is a pretty seven guy. He's been stubborn kind of in various ways throughout the cold response for some critique, an aspect of his policy. And then he'll kind of publicly complain about the critique and then actually change things like two days later, after all. I mean, the problem is if you resign, then you'll forever be remembered for resigning because it's not the people be like, oh, well, actually, this was OK.
And he did the right thing and he bowed out. So they'll probably take it as a challenge to survive and maybe even run for reelection if he can't get anything done. If legislative leaders in New York State are going to say, OK, well, sorry, your agenda is squashed, that would be one thing. But like, it's a Democratic supermajority. They have lots of stuff they have to do. All these state legislators are. Busy because of all the Kobe fixing that has to be done, so I don't know, I think, again, is there impeachment in New York now?
There is impeachment.
There is, yep. And 10 legislators so far have called for his impeachment, which is not as many as have called for him to resign, but a significant number.
Rickitt, you and I have done research on scandals and catalog lots of scandals. And we do have an effect. And clearly you see that those numbers are down. But they also tend to have a shelf life where we found that if you win reelection after a scandal, then kind of the media stops talking about it anymore and it doesn't hurt you very much going forward. So how popular is Cuomo is a good question, but still like he's a little bit underwater now at most these numbers.
But that may improve again after the course of however many months when people are kind of thinking about other stuff.
Yet to Nate's point, the scandals database that we run here has 52 politicians who have faced scandals since the beginning of the Trump era in twenty seventeen. And only 12 of them have resigned for reasons that Nate laid out, like the legacy torpedoing that would be a resignation. My personal guess would be that he just declines to run for reelection in twenty twenty two. I think that's a way of saving face. You don't go down in history as the governor who resigned because of sexual harassment, but it also avoids a potential embarrassment of losing in twenty, twenty two, which I think is possible.
So let's talk about where the numbers are at this moment, because there's many different things that pollsters have been asking New Yorkers about Cuomo. And while there has been a lot of polling, it's not recent enough to take into account all of the most recent accusations, but the main things being pulled, our approval overall, whether or not New Yorkers want the governor to resign, and then also whether or not the governor should run for reelection in twenty, twenty two and they all get a significantly different result.
Alex, what are we seeing in terms of what New Yorkers are telling pollsters they want without going over the top lines for every individual poll?
I'd say if I had a takeaway conclusion. One, New Yorkers don't think he should resign right now, but they also don't want him to run in twenty, twenty two. And like you said, Galen, I think a lot of these polls are just coming out and I'm not sure how these numbers will change in a month or two when the independent investigation or report comes out. But I think it's fair to say that the scandal on top of scandal that he's facing right now, whether it be the sexual harassment allegations or the nursing home cover up, that is definitely tanking his overall approval right now.
I actually recently wrote an article that recapped governors approval ratings in general. And Cuomo had among the lowest of the approval ratings that we've seen. It was about 50 50, which, of course, in a state as blue as New York is not a very good performance for a Democrat. But the trend line is also important. As recently as a few months ago, he was very popular. He was writing this wave of goodwill over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which is generally, up to this point, been seen to be good.
But actually, the nursing home scandal, I think, really did start to hurt him, arguably more than the sexual harassment scandal, because it really tarnished that image of him as a covid-19 savior. And you started to see his approval rating come down from being very good to being mediocre. And then since the sexual harassment scandal, we only have, I think, two good polls, Quinnipiac and Emerson, although as you mentioned, Galen, they don't even take into account the most recent allegations and calls for him to resign.
And those have had some of his worst numbers yet. Quinnipiac had him at a forty five percent approval rating and a forty six percent disapproval rating, and Emerson was even worse. Thirty eight percent approval. Forty nine percent disapproval.
All his numbers on covid are better than his numbers. Overall, they are. Yes. And on qualities like being a strong leader and still something like. Sixty one percent of people still think he's a strong leader. So I do think that's a point in favor of maybe he can ride this out.
Yeah, I mean, as someone who lives in New York, I feel like there are national media types and also some like New York media types who are like Cuomo is just like a media darling and that's why he was so popular. I think that's kind of half true, but false. There are things about living in New York. So, for example, New York is one of the top states in the country for covid testing. It's pretty easy to get a covid test here.
Our vaccine rollout started out slow as far as reasonably smooth, since we have regulations that are generally fairly sensible, words not opening everything up, it's not keeping everything closed. And like at a time when, like, Europe is really suffering, he gave those press conferences that were data driven ish and reassuring ish to people. So, like, I would have thought he would have a better chance of surviving this nursing home scandal than when you add the sexual harassment to it.
Alex, you mentioned that polls show that New Yorkers don't want Cuomo to resign at this point in time, but also don't want him to run for reelection. And looking at the Quinnipiac poll that you mentioned, Nathaniel, it looks like it's a 15 point gap in terms of how many people say he shouldn't resign. 40 percent of New Yorkers say he should resign. Fifty five percent say he shouldn't. We are now increasingly seeing that Democratic lawmakers in the state are calling for the governor to resign.
Is it fair to say that lawmakers and voters see these kinds of things differently? Are voters just kind of waiting and taking cues from lawmakers? Why are lawmakers calling for Cuomo to resign when the majority of New Yorkers don't want him to resign?
I think it maybe has to do with these people at the state level having to work with Cuomo on a day to day basis. And maybe they think that the scandals are overwhelming and it's overshadowing his ability to work with them on a day to day basis, whereas the voters don't have to deal with that. One thing that I noticed is I don't know from a voter's point of view, is it just easier to say, hey, we're kind of at the tail end of this pandemic?
Is it easier to just ride it out with the person who has been there for us from the beginning and then say, hey, we don't want you to run in twenty, twenty to one way or another, you're also going to have a competitive Democratic primary in twenty, twenty two with Cuomo without because he's been in office for three terms, because New York's always been a funny state for local politics, because of the kind of imbalance between downstate and upstate, people are kind of not as attentive to local politics.
They might be given that there is not much to politics overall. There is room here for people to kind of get ahead of the story and see what they think is the right side of the issue. You also have a mayoral primary in New York that's very competitive coming up soon. So people like Scott Springer is probably trying to push himself relative to that mayoral race.
But what you don't see actually is national Democrats weighing in and calling for Cuomo to resign. You've seen the White House and even New York state senators defer to this independent investigation. We didn't see that kind of wait and see attitude with Senator Al Franken when he resigned early on in the me too. Movement. I'm curious, is this just a different situation? We should look at it differently or have Democrats changed how they react to sexual harassment scandals since the beginning of ME2?
Well, I think people forget the context on Franken, which is that this was happening right when you had this Alabama special Senate election where Roy Moore, who, of course, was doing things that are way worse than Franken or Cuomo or almost anybody to run for public office, but you had a time when Democrats are trying to stay on the right side of the moral high ground. I think that might have affected things. Also, Franken was due to come up for reelection, I guess.
I think it was four years from then. So he might have been more vulnerable. But like fundamentally, a governor has jurisdiction over his state or her state. A senator makes policy for all states. So it's more appropriate in some sense for other national Democrats to weigh in if it affects a member of the United States Congress.
So do you actually think that that calculation of like, oh, well, I'm a national politician and this is a state level issue is more the consideration. So, for example, we look at Gillibrand, who was one of the first senators to call on Franken to resign in this situation, even though she is a New York state senator, she's deferring to the independent investigation. And you even see reporting after the fact that some senators said they felt that they came out to aggressively against Franken and regretted encouraging him to resign.
So is the Democratic Party recalibrating here? I'm curious, Alexandra, Nathaniel, what you guys think?
I think some senators at the time post Franken told The Washington Post, and forgive me if I'm simplifying this, is that they think they were forced to make this sort of snap decision about Franken and maybe did so at the expense of due process. And I think the idea was that Franken should have received his day in court, which maybe would have led to a more thoughtful outcome and maybe less people calling for his resignation just immediately after the scandal broke. So I think that's maybe one of the reasons why we're seeing some pause with Cuomo now, with Gillibrand and Schumer, who so far have called for this independent investigation to work its way out before they actually make a decision on whether he should resign or not.
The other timing that's relevant with the Franken accusations is that they came right on the heels of me, too, as a national movement. And there were a lot of very strange arguments to my ear being advanced around Al Franken. Right. It was like people who were liberal Democrats who were saying, of course, we have zero tolerance, but maybe we should have a little bit of tolerance for Franken. And then we kind of couch it in these, I think sometimes disingenuous arguments like, oh, we need like an investigation into the facts.
Well, there are facts that dispute them. OK, maybe to investigate that, but I don't think there is that much it actually a dispute in that case. So I think Democrats came out of that thinking that whether they want to admit it or not, there is kind of a sliding scale and it's not zero tolerance. And what the standards are is not clear. But like Gillibrand took a lot of crap for her stance. It was ironic that, like a woman winds up getting blamed basically for a man's misdeeds.
Whatever you think, frankly, should have resigned or not. But like, I think there were lessons learned. So I do think it's different timing. But also I think Democrats did take away some lessons from that that are awkward and maybe not spelled out that might affect things. I mean, Cuomo was also like he is not seen as an ally.
Of progressives either, and the U.S. is an ally of moderate, so it's not totally shocking who's coming out in support, who isn't a peace here that we mentioned early on, but I think plays into how Democrats have potentially evolved on this. And maybe some of you disagree. Democrats haven't evolved and you can make the argument against that. But so in 2013 and we talked about this on the podcast at the time, the three top Democratic officials in Virginia all face scandal.
So the governor, Ralph Northam, was in a photograph where it was clear that he was either wearing blackface or dress as a KKK member. Then the lieutenant governor was accused of sexual assault by two women. And then the attorney general also came forward and said that he had worn blackface himself. And so, you know, it went from people calling on the governor and then also the lieutenant governor to resign to all of a sudden a situation where all three top Democrats in the state have been accused of wrongdoing and they all agreed not to resign and they stay in place nine months after all of this news broke.
In many ways, their approval ratings had rebounded. They were above water and no one was talking about it anymore. So I'm also curious if Democrats have looked at that lesson, especially the people in power like Cuomo and said, oh, you know what, like the way to resolve this is to just let time pass and refuse to resign.
Yeah, I think the passage of time and also how many people you have on your side is going to be pretty indicative on whether you decide to run again for reelection. In the cases that you mentioned in Virginia, their approval ratings did rebound, but none of them at the time mustered enough majorities, support from voters who were asked whether or not they should seek office again. So I think it might be likely that we see a similar situation with Cuomo where it's possible that his approval ratings rebound from what we're seeing now.
But I think it will be a harder uphill battle for him to get to the point where voters really say, yes, we want him to run again in twenty twenty two. Right.
I think the missing context there, Galen, is that the lieutenant governor is running for governor and he's probably going to get squashed. The attorney general is facing a competitive primary to hold on to his seat and the governor can't run again because of term limits. So I think you might have had a different scenario. As my database and research into scandals shows, there are ways for politicians to face consequences other than resigning. Many of them retired in order to not lose reelection.
Many of them do go on to lose reelection. And the number who who actually do successfully continue their political career is actually a minority.
So these things, despite like people looking at Trump's experience or looking at what happened in Virginia, these things do matter. Yes.
How should we think of that and the terms of democracy in politics? Like, is that a depressing thought to think like voters care for a time, but then they lose interest?
I mean, I tend not to want to judge voters too much either way. If you think, well, this guy is a creep, but these are good legislators or a good governor or sure, this woman's corrupt, but she does a lot of good things for our state. You know, our voters being irrational for not waiting scandals enough. I mean, it seems like it depends a lot on what the nature of the scandal would be when you have someone that like Roy Moore.
Right. I mean, that was probably like a I mean, how much did he run below the baseline in Alabama? Probably 20 or 30 points or something like that. So in really extreme cases, voters can extract a lot of punishment enough to elect a Democrat in Alabama in squishier cases then they might not. And I don't know if that's rational or not.
All right. Well, of course, this is an evolving story and we will continue to check in on what's happening here in New York and how things progress. But I do want to talk about the passage of the American rescue plan. But first, today's podcast is brought to you by calm sleep. We all love it and most of us probably want more of it. But rather than getting a solid night's rest, we often find ourselves scrolling social media or reading the news.
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The numbers, not the letters. The nearly two trillion dollar American rescue plan passed the Senate on Saturday, but there were some final sticking points that were largely hashed out by moderate Democrats and Joe Manchin in particular. In the end, the increase in unemployment benefits will remain at three hundred dollars instead of going up to four hundred dollars and will extend through Labor Day, but not through the end of September. Also, the 14 hundred dollar stimulus checks will be phased out for individuals making over eighty thousand dollars as opposed to one hundred thousand dollars.
And a proposal to include a minimum wage hike in the bill also failed, with seven Democrats and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats opposing it. The bill was still passed along strict party lines. It's now headed back to the House for approval of the new provisions, and then it will go to President Biden's desk.
I want to key in on how the moderate Democrats in the Senate are thinking about these negotiation processes. And in particular, let's start off with why was Manchin it was really him down at the end extracting these concessions for a bill that wasn't going to get any Republican support anyway.
I mean, this may be too cynical, but I think a lot of it was a power play. He essentially demonstrated the leverage that individual Democrats can wield by threatening to break from party leaders in a 50 50 chamber with the current makeup of the Senate, Democrats need his votes. And so that leaves Democrats left playing this complicated game. They can't tilt to far center without losing progressive support, but then they can't go too far left in fear of losing members like Manchin or cinema.
First of all, in the end, Joe Manchin did vote for a one point nine trillion dollar stimulus package. I mean, that's a lot of money, only some of which is actually directly tied to covid. Relief includes a lot of money for states and localities and so forth. And like it's a very progressive bill. I mean, on the minimum wage stuff, minimum wage polls quite well. I think it's certainly possible that Joe Manchin genuinely thought that like 15 dollars, minimum wage is too high for West Virginia.
And there are a lot of other Democrats like Sinema, who also were not willing to increase the minimum wage, would probably not have survived scrutiny if the parliamentarian anyway necessarily. One thing I don't totally understand is like why didn't Democrats try to compromise it like eleven fifty or 12, 50 or something? Minimum wage. It seems like if you're Elizabeth Warren, as someone who wants a higher minimum wage is fairly linear. Getting halfway there is a lot better, you would think, for progressive priorities and getting none of the way there.
Well, I think that that is going to happen. It's just going to be what happens next. The parliamentarian in the Senate ruled that the minimum wage can't be raised to reconciliation anyway. So it kind of had to be excluded from this. I am sure that, like you mentioned, they will come back and try to negotiate on this and maybe include Republicans, but obviously at least include moderate Democrats.
I think Alex makes a great point that it is just to kind of show what he can do. I also think it comes down to ideology. I think Joe Manchin truly thinks of himself as kind of this old fashioned down the middle bipartisan dealmaking, Senator. And this was consistent with his vision of himself and certainly his personal ideologies. I think he probably also has misgivings about what he might see as reckless spending and wanted to do his part to reel that in.
Obviously, there are also the electoral considerations. He comes from an extremely red state, and that is interesting. You maybe need something to bring back to West Virginia and say, look, I stood up to those evil national Democrats. I'm actually not convinced that he's even going to run for reelection. Personally, I think that's an interesting question. He's going to be seventy seven, I believe, when his seat is up next. And he's also kind of expressed dissatisfaction with being in the Senate in the past.
But I think actually, specifically with the minimum wage and we can talk about that later, I think it's clear that for some people like cinema and things like that, that it is just a personal ideological thing rather than going with politics, because the minimum wage increase, as Nate said, is very popular.
Broadening out from Manchin here, I am curious about the interplay between ideology and electoral concerns, because we always talk about Manchin in cinema, but of course, we're not. That Asaph are also Democrats from states that are just as competitive when it comes to statewide elections.
And so how much of it is electoral concerns and how much of it is just ideology? And can we tell that from looking at voting records or so on?
First of all, I would disagree. I think Georgia is not comparable to West Virginia. It's much more purple.
Sorry, I should more compare it to Arizona, Georgia and Arizona. Yeah, yeah. I mean, look, I think all the criticism that Manchin gets for progressives. Would be much better directed at cinema because she is someone who has a more conservative voting record than you probably need to in what is now a very purple state that has two Democratic senators in which Joe Biden narrowly won. Any time Manchin votes for any Democratic priority, then that's a real bonus because he'll be going to a conservative Trumpton Republican in that state, probably.
But cinema, she actually kind of underperforms where you might expect a purple state senator to be in terms of voting for progressive priorities. I mean, I've had this critique for years. I think both Republican and Democratic activists took that, quote unquote, far right and far left aren't adjusting enough for the context of the state that they're talking about.
Yeah, to the cinema point. Her state, Arizona, voted on a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to twelve dollars an hour, not fifteen dollars an hour. But that ballot measure passed fifty eight percent to forty two percent in twenty sixteen when the state was less purple than it is today. So the minimum wage is something that clearly has a lot of support in Arizona. It would be the smart political play, I think, for someone like Sinema to come out in favor of it.
Maybe the 15 versus 12 is the issue. But you see Sinema, but also some of these other moderate senators, even in places not that people like the two senators from Delaware voted against the minimum wage increase. And so I think you have to say that it comes from a place of personal ideology or perhaps a misreading of the political climate. Maybe they're playing more toward donors. Internal circles are probably more of these kind of elite fiscal conservatives. And so maybe they're gearing their votes toward that person rather than looking at the polls.
I'm not exactly sure, but it's definitely not consistent with the popular opinion as the University of Chicago economics major in this group.
Oh, God. I do feel compelled to point out that the science on the minimum wage is not settled. Exactly. For a long time, the conventional wisdom was that, oh, actually, economists opposed mean wage increases because they would cost jobs. And the empirical evidence is question that to a large degree, and it's been much more mixed. But if you're talking about going to fifteen dollars, what is it right now? It's seven twenty five. Seven twenty five.
That's quite radical as an experiment. It's probably OK, fine. In Seattle or New York City or San Francisco or default wages are that high. But I don't know if it's true in Wilmington, Delaware or Wheeling, West Virginia or whatever else. Right.
And the CBO, to whatever extent they can try to forecast these things, economics doesn't always get it exactly right. But they forecasted that this would bring more than a million people out of poverty, but also lose about a million jobs.
Yeah, and it's a difficult tradeoff to make. So when it came to this vote on the minimum wage, which is now we're not talking about just cinema and mansion. We're talking about seven Democrats plus Angus King, the independent caucuses with the Democrats.
Was this a vote to respect the institutions of the Senate because Bernie Sanders was trying to change the bill and to include a minimum wage, even after the Senate parliamentarian had said that it couldn't be included in a bill that would go through reconciliation? So are they just saying like, hey, the Senate parliamentarian already ruled we can't overrule the Senate parliamentarian? Or were they actually saying, I don't think the minimum wage should be raised to fifteen dollars an hour because of these eight people?
Many of them had never said before that they opposed raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour.
Yeah, and like you said, the vote was an exact extrapolation on where senators stand on raising the minimum wage. I think that if the parliamentarian had found that it was in order to increase the minimum wage through reconciliation, there might have been a negotiation on what the exact amount was. I think Nate mentioned earlier that Manchin has already said he supports an eleven dollar minimum wage. I know Holly on the Republican side and also said he's in favor of raising the wage, of course, with some different types of measures there.
But I think what we're likely to see, I think this discussion might be tabled for now, but in the future, I think it's likely that Republicans and Democrats might be able to find some sort of agreement since raising the wage is very popular nationally, I think it could have been seen as a parliamentary vote.
I'm here to casting my vote to respect Senate institutions, but I don't think it ended up that they actually did see it that way. And I think that Democrats know that in order for this to pass, it needed to pass 60 40. So it was never going to pass anyway because Republicans weren't going to vote for it. So I do think that senators treated it as a symbolic vote on the minimum wage itself. You see that in some of the statements that they released, none of them were talking about, oh, I did this because we have to respect the parliamentarian's rulings.
You see statements like Tom Carper of Delaware who said policymakers have a responsibility to be especially mindful of the fragile state of small businesses all across this country, or Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who said that she supports raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, but with, quote, safeguards in place for small businesses. So I think that they really did use that as a chance to signal their moderation and pro-business bona fides, even though, again, the puzzle being that a strong majority of voters support raising the minimum wage and aren't on the pro-business side.
So it does. Come down to are they trying to appeal to business constituencies, to Deasy's idea of moderation?
Alex, how do you suspect that these kinds of divisions within the Democratic Party, particularly in the Senate, will play out? Is it like the forty two Democrats who are voting to raise the minimum wage to 15 dollars or the eight like who has more power here and how does that divide get reconciled?
I do think right now what we're seeing is that the moderates in the Senate do have outsize power because Democrats need all of their votes to pass a lot of legislation. And so they know that they need to tailor whatever bills that they're moving forward, that it will have the support of the entire Democratic caucus. As far as what we're looking at it, what defines a moderate senator? I think that varies based on who you ask. Some will say these eight who voted against raising the minimum wage, oh, yes, they're moderate.
Some will say no. Keep an eye on more like the mansion cinema types who are way more likely, I think, to buck their party than others in that group. So I think one big thing that I'm looking at now is what's going to happen with the filibuster and what senators are going to be in favor of just completely getting rid of the filibuster or changing it. A little bit like Manchin signaled some openness to doing so this past weekend. So, again, I do think the moderates have a lot of outsized control in the chamber.
So Manchin said he is open to making the filibuster more painful, as in in order to use the filibuster, you actually have to speak the entire time that you are filibustering something.
Does it that kind of mean like ultimately he's OK with functionally getting rid of it? Because then the alternative would be politicians are literally just speaking in perpetuity in order to filibuster. How did you read that?
I read it similar to how you did like getting rid of the filibuster without outright saying, I want to get rid of the filibuster, because if I'm understanding it correctly, it's those in the minority can talk something to death. And then when everyone is done talking, there would still be a vote on the bill. And I think the vote would still just need a simple majority. So maybe that was just mansion's way of getting around it without an outright saying that, yes, I want to get rid of the filibuster.
I mean, I think if you think of this as like. Leverage, then having ambiguity can create more leverage sometimes, but the House passed H.R. one, which is a big set of electoral reforms. It would supposedly end partizan gerrymandering. It does a lot of stuff on campaign finance, a very sweeping and ambitious bill. I think a lot of Democrats would say that, well, director, democracy, that's an existential priority. And that's the kind of thing that would be worth nuking the filibuster over.
I mean, remember, if 50 Democratic senators want to pass a bill, then they can get rid of the filibuster and pass that bill. So it's kind of Joe Manchin hedging a little bit. And I did think it was probably significant.
All right. Well, as I have said many times on this podcast, we will continue tracking what people are saying about the filibuster and where things go from here. But let's move on and talk about some of the state level covid restrictions. But before we do that, we're going to say goodbye to our colleague, Nathaniel.
Thanks for joining us today, Nathaniel. Sure thing, Galen. Good to talk to you.
Let's move on and talk about some of the governors that are doing away with covid restrictions in their state altogether, or at least loosening them.
But first, last week, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas and Tate Reeves of Mississippi announced that they were lifting all covid restrictions in their states. Democrats criticized that decision and Biden called it, quote, Neanderthal thinking. Democratic governors, however, have also been lifting many restrictions.
And so we're going to talk about the politics and the science that go into these moves. And joining us to discuss it is Anna Rothschild, science reporter and host of our covid-19 podcast, which is called Podcast 19. And I thank you for joining us. Thanks so much for having me, Galen.
And I should also mention that to any folks who are listening to this podcast who have not yet listened to podcasts 19.
First of all, what do you think? Second of all, you should go listen to it anyway.
Alex, I'm going to have you kick us off here because you're based in Austin, as I mentioned, and you're very familiar with Texas politics. So what is going into this decision by Governor Abbott to lift all corporate restrictions, including mandates, and say Texas is one hundred percent covid restriction free?
So I think there definitely was some politics that went into it, particularly because Abbott was getting flak from those on his right flank and then also Democrats. He was in kind of a lose lose situation. I think Republicans were chastising him for saying that he was too slow in reopening the state. And they pointed to examples in Florida, Governor DeSanto, who basically had no restrictions. And so they were like, why is Republican State X doing this? But then you're over here doing why?
So I think that was part of it. When he announced that he was lifting the mask mandate and opening everything. One hundred percent, he pointed to the states hospitalization rates and overall case numbers going down when he made his announcement. The flip side to all of this, of course, is that both Texas and Mississippi are among the lowest in the nation and their vaccination rates. And I think at the time of Abbott's announcement, between six to seven percent of Texans had been fully vaccinated.
Give a sense for why that's so poor in Texas.
I think just the rollout process has been kind of difficult. The lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, had previously written a letter to a board, I guess, that oversees the vaccine rollout in Texas. And he had offered suggestions for how it could be made easier. But I think right now there's just been difficulties in getting it out to the right people at the right time.
And things were kind of paralyzed in the state for about a week because of the storms and power outages and lack of water. I don't know if that had something to do with that as well.
Yeah, and the governor said that he had wanted to make this opening announcement about a week prior, but wasn't able to because of the storm. Again, the flipside to that is, you know, with the storm, people were not able to get vaccinated. People were living with other folks who they hadn't been in contact with. They were in hotels. So they weren't able to be in the comforts of their own home. So there could be a spike in cases because of the storm.
We just don't know right now because it's too early.
I want to put this in the context of what the federal government is saying. So what are CDC guidelines currently with regards to restrictions? Sure.
So after the announcement by these governors, Rochelle Walensky, who's the director of the CDC, said that the next three months are really pivotal and that now is not the time to be loosening restrictions. Basically, she talked about the fact that while we've seen cases going down due in large part to vaccination, we're starting to see that decrease plateau a little bit. And at the same time, we're seeing more cases caused by this new variant of the virus that's more infectious, more contagious.
So despite what these governors are saying, she's urging people to still take precautions, still socially distance wear masks, wash your hands.
This is coming from the federal government. We've seen Republican governors take a different path. There's also Kristi Noem in South Dakota who never enacted any of these restrictions to begin with.
But also we're seeing the blue state governors, maybe most notably. In New York and Gavin Newsom in California, loosening restrictions significantly as well, not necessarily following the CDC guidelines or the urging of the director of the CDC, that now is not the time to, as you said, be loosening restrictions here in New York. I can say, for example, that live events are going to start again in April. What are you thinking in terms of I know the Biden criticized these red state governors, but it's not really just a red state thing.
What are you thinking about the politics that's going into this in Connecticut, by the way, maybe the most dramatic one where they're basically lifting all limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings? I think like March 19th or something. So look. I think the CDC has slightly lost the plot in its communication strategy because I think they're seen as shifting the goalposts. I think they're seen as like. Advocating for a position in this case toward more caution as opposed to like necessarily making the policy recommendation that you would end up with.
And so I think these governors see themselves having to balance competing interests, the interests of what people in their state want to do, business interests against the health guidelines, as opposed just kind of taking what they say at face value, I think is partly because the CDC like isn't giving people very many specifics. We'll say we have to wait for cases to come down further. But if you don't kind of give people a date or a target, then you kind of have to improvise.
And when Foushee, I think at one point mentioned, we have to have cases come down to ten thousand cases. I mean, that's pretty low, depending on various questions about exactly how much protection from mild infection vaccines provide, we might not get there any time soon. And so if you're not presenting a target, then governors have to adjust and adapt on their own. There's some polling questions. It's very sensitive to the question wording, but there is some tolerance for increasing activity.
When it used, people were actually pretty cautious, at least in polls, and that when cases are going down, then it's hard for the CDC, I think, to win the argument. You know, they can make good arguments and make the argument that no one is variants are increasing. Number two, boy, just a matter of four to six weeks. You probably have vaccines on demand for almost anyone who wants one. I think they'd be better off just kind of saying, hey, look, just give us four weeks.
Give us four weeks. That will help a lot. Make April 1st or April 15th opening day or something. Right. But instead, there's a lot of ambiguity. And I think it's tricky.
I think the CDC has been extremely conservative across the board with its guidance not just for businesses, but also even until today for what people can do in their private lives, even after they've been vaccinated. So today they've finally said that vaccinated people can hang out together. We hadn't had official guidance about that until today. And I think that when you're so cautious, it does, to Nate's point, make people feel like, well, what was the point of all of this?
Like, what's the point of getting vaccinated and doing all of this, going to these extreme lengths if we're not able to get back to some semblance of normal?
Yeah, I thought what the CDC today did was pretty good because like obviously one a critique is like people are afraid of complexity and he wants those guidelines contain a lot of nuance. And so I thought that was well done.
I totally agree. I just think other countries have gotten to that place with their messaging around vaccination sooner. And when you tell people across the board to be cautious, it's hard to take anything seriously.
Alex, what are the politics been like on the ground in Texas?
Was Abbott facing voters at a general public that was rebelling against the restrictions, or is this more of a signal towards, you know, there's lots of things that he could run for president in twenty, twenty four, or is this more broader political signaling or was he really facing pressure from people on the ground?
I think it's both, particularly on his right side. There is a pretty notorious case in Texas with Shellie Luthor. She was a Dallas hair salon owner who refused to shut down her salon, even though Abbott had ruled earlier in the pandemic that hair salons had to be shut down. And she received a lot of national attention, actually unsuccessfully ran for a state Senate seat, basically being this anti Abbott no mask type Republican. And she got a decent amount of support.
Again, she ended up losing. But when you look at someone like her and then you look at someone like Texas GOP chair Alan West hosting a open Texas rally right in front of the governor's mansion, he was facing a lot of pressure from those in his party to open up a lot sooner. And I think that's probably part of why we saw his announcement when we did. Again, like you said, underlying this all is the twenty, twenty four intention.
Abbott hasn't ruled out a White House bid for himself. And when you look at someone like de Santos or knowm, who are pretty well liked in Republican circles for essentially not having any restrictions or little to no restrictions, that's probably something that Abbott was taking into account when he made this announcement as well.
I do think it's worth making a distinction between mask mandates and opening businesses because wearing masks is not very costly. It's mildly annoying. And you have to go and buy a new batch of masks at Walgreen's every now and then. Right. But it's a very small step that I think people have more symbolic problems with, whereas like closing down whole sectors of society, that's kind of a bigger deal. It's more costly, your quality of life, more costly for the economy as well.
If you were really rational about it and you'd say, OK, well, we need to open up. It's been a year now, but to be do it safely, we actually have to keep this massive mandate in place. And by the way, like one thing in Texas is they are not prioritizing customer service workers or frontline workers for vaccines. To me, that seems like a no brainer, right? You want people come to restaurants, OK, then allow people on staff at the restaurant.
To be vaccinated, it's a moral issue as well as a practical issue, which is quite strange. And so so you can imagine some governor executing some kind of coherent set of plans where it's time to reopen. So here's how we do it safely, but instead it is ideologically position with the stuff.
So setting that distinction, I have a question for you. If you have the answer or anybody else who may have thought about this is I constantly check how different parts of the country are doing online in terms of their covered levels. Right. And I've seen the numbers go up and down over the past year in regions of the country facing outbreaks where other parts of the country are doing well. The cover numbers started going down before significant parts of the population were even vaccinated.
And you saw across the board in states that had really strict restrictions and states that had no restrictions at all. Like you see now, there is a more severe outbreak in New York City where we've had lots of restrictions than there is in lots of parts of Florida or South Dakota, where they've had no restrictions for so long.
And I'm sitting here wondering like what is going on? What is determining where there are outbreaks?
And so a piece of me wonders like, does this have to do in part with why people are just red state, blue state, whatever, giving up on restrictions because they don't really understand what is the main factor in where there are bad outbreaks or where there aren't?
Because as a layperson and of course, governors and CDC people shouldn't be laypeople, but like, I can't figure it out. So what is going on? What determines how bad an outbreak is? Are these restrictions really making a difference?
This is a really tough question to really piece of part. To your point, there is no real way to say that if a governor institutes really strong restrictions, there will definitely be a reduction in cases. As you said, California had really strict restrictions and then saw this big surge in the winter. But also South Dakota saw a giant surge in the fall and they've had no restrictions. Basically, it's hard to make these sweeping generalizations. We know the behaviors that lead to spread right.
We know that being indoors lists congregating in close contact with people that leads to spread. But whether or not these restrictions from above make much of a difference is, I think, really hard to piece apart right now and has a lot to do with the demographics of a state. How many people are having to leave their house to go to work versus working at home? Frankly, what season it is? Are people able to be outside or are they going to be inside more?
And then also just sort of an element of like an indoor wedding may not become a super spreader event, even if we know that an event like that has the potential to be a super spreader event. So I think it's worth remembering that we've only been studying this virus for a little over a year as a society. So there's some stuff that scientists just don't know about how well these restrictions really work. But there's also an element to this that I think gets a little overlooked, which is that like a state like Florida, people have said that even though they haven't had restrictions since September, they've been doing pretty well.
I mean, when dissent is lifted, those restrictions in September, I think that The Miami Herald reported that there had been fourteen thousand deaths in the state and now there are thirty one thousand deaths in the state.
And we have no idea how many of those could have been prevented if there had been restrictions. So just something to keep in mind.
I found a cool site this morning called covid-19. That Gleen project at would actually trace people's movement and their contacts. How many other people there around? And if you compare, OK, how many contacts do people in California have as compared to the US as a whole? The California baseline tracks the US baseline almost perfectly based on the amount of time we spend around other people. Now, if you look at it more carefully, it turns out that they have fewer contacts.
They spend more time with those contacts in people's bubbles or in their households, or if, frankly, if you're like going over to someone's house to hang out, you actually spend more time with them. I think obviously a few people have fewer contacts. They will spread less covid. But how much do government policies really influence? That is kind of hard to say. Now, if you look at South Dakota on that chart, you do see more contacts.
There might be a thing where like if you send a message. That, hey, it's a free for all this covid thing, it's a borderline hoax, you don't need to wear masks that might change behavior, whether a restaurant is open, especially outdoors or not. I mean, if people want to hang out, they're going to hang out. And one of those homes, I think, and that might not make as much difference as much as the the major stuff in practice, if you pick out the low hanging fruit, so work from home, avoid large gatherings and act prudently, then the smaller should probably make some difference, but maybe not as much as you would think, especially you kind of substitute in-person interaction in homes for out in public.
I think it also depends just how much virus is actually in the population at the time, which is not something that I think we've mentioned yet. And that is probably a factor in how much the virus spreads after restrictions are lifted.
You mentioned it a little bit at the top, but do we know what Americans want in terms of the level of restrictions?
I think Pew did a poll asking people, do you want fewer restrictions or more restrictions? And it came out that the problems with the status quo is good, that people are happy with the status quo. But there are about equal numbers on the side of wanting more and fewer in that poll. Actually, a few more people wanting fewer, which was different than previous polls. Not every poll agrees with that, but it's actually a tough issue to poll for a couple of reasons.
Number one, there was likely some bias in the twenty twenty election polls because people who stay at home are more likely to answer pollsters phone calls. You might have like a bias toward people who are more likely to be in lockdown's or voluntarily staying at home. So that might affect things a little bit. It could also be because we have some degree of social desirability bias. I mean, I think I've said this on this podcast before, but like.
There is a gap between what sort of behaviors people are trying to emulate on social media or if you read any type of media and what I would say that my friends do in private and people are being. Pretty cautious for most people, Microgrid are not pretending that it's 20, 19, but there's this notion if you go online that like, oh, actually the virtuous thing to do is to be virtual because it means you're going to have to do it right.
But people are saying, well, I barely left my apartment for a year except to see friends for 50 minutes outdoors in the park with masks on six feet apart. I don't think that actually is how most people are behaving.
But is there a gap in the data, like are people telling pollsters like, oh, yeah, we really want restrictions. But then is there mobility data that shows that people are, regardless of restrictions being more mobile?
Mobility data shows that mobility is not down that much. But again, that can be a little bit misleading because people can go on long drives or long walks and stuff like that. It's going to be one of the safer things to do under covered. This contact that I've described earlier shows that people nationwide are at about two thirds of their usual contacts. So you cut out a third of social interaction. Roughly speaking, it's actually up a little bit. It was down at more around 50 percent in December and January and has crept up to sixty five percent.
So that would suggest that people are coming out of their winter hibernation period a little bit. And that might some immigration cases. All I'm saying is like it's a case you have to look at revealed preference to. You can survey people and they may say one thing, but like that, people's behavior is a is a different thing. And and I think kind of warms up this week in New York at the Post to get up to the 60s. I mean, I think it's going to be probably a little raucous in some parts of New York.
Alex, what's your experience on the ground in Texas in terms of what preferences people are saying they have and how people are behaving?
Yeah, so we actually had a University of Texas Texas Tribune poll that came out March 1st, and this was unmasked specifically. But the poll found that 80 percent of the state's voters wear masks when they're in close contact with others outside their household. And this was regardless of party, that group included 98 percent of Democrats and 81 percent of Republicans. So when you look at Texas, where Abbott has completely lifted the mask mandate, I think it's likely that you're going to see people still going out in public and wearing masks as far as opening up the state.
One hundred percent. You know, you have some businesses. You can still decide whether they want to enforce social distancing and whether they want to enforce mass order. So I think even though Abbott made this announcement, it is going to be left on the individual decisions and the decisions of the businesses. As far as how serious these things are put in place, has Abbott suffered at all?
You look at the average approval ratings for DeSantis and Nome and you see that they're quite high. Actually, it seems like people in the state have liked their attitudes on covid Abbott taking that middle path. But now we considering how has he fared?
So one thing about Abbott is for as much complaining as there has been from Democrats and people to his right about his covid response, Republican voters have overwhelmingly stuck by him. We looked at this a couple of weeks ago and his approval rating among Republicans has really been the 70s and 80 percent. And he's already said that he's running for another term in twenty twenty two. So I think he does still have the support of a decent amount of his base.
So I think that's a good point about the overall approval ratings. And like my prior is to think that these governors are reading the political incentives of their own states reasonably well. I think on the mask mandates that most people would want to have like a national stage that might be a little bit of signaling, but the degree of like openness and close edness Rhonda Santos probably understands what would be optimal for him politically in Florida. And Cuomo understands that in New York.
And we also should point out that like a lot more people are. Getting vaccinated when you have a bunch of people who are vaccinated, and that will become at some point hopefully a majority of population, then it becomes harder to argue for preventing vaccinating people from hanging out with one another. I mean, there have been very many states to make the vaccine passport, right? Like in Israel where, hey, if you're vaccinated, you can go to this event.
Maybe that'll happen in some states. We'll see. But I think it's in most cases, a matter of weeks at the slowest states, which will be four to six weeks behind the fastest ones. And so maybe kind of all comes out in the wash in the end, unless there's another search.
I do want to urge that, like with people now able to get vaccinated, I do think there is a big difference between what public health officials and scientists think is safe to do in your personal life versus like publicly.
I was talking to Julia Markus, who's an epidemiologist and who has been a bit critical, actually, of the CDC's guidance up until now because she said that it was too conservative about what they were saying people should do, how cautious they were saying people should be. And basically, like we do have these really, really effective vaccines. Right. If what a vaccine is supposed to do is stop deaths and hospitalizations, our vaccines, all three of them do that really well, like in trials, they were 100 percent effective at stopping deaths and hospitalizations.
That's different than that efficacy number you've seen. And so I think that we're at this moment where we're about to get back, at least in private, to like having normal lives again.
You can go see your parents once they get vaccinated, like there's precautions we still need to take, but we're sort of approaching at least normality. And in private, I think that if we're going to open up completely, there should be ways to protect service workers, people who don't have a choice before we just like, let everyone go back to restaurants or go to concerts, that sort of thing.
So this is what I've been hearing from epidemiologists over the past few weeks.
Yeah, I think that's a good point. And I'll say I listen to podcast 19 last week and there is a longer discussion on this. And so I would encourage all of our listeners to go check that out there. But I think that as a wrap for today's podcast. So thank you so much, Alex, Anna and Nate, for joining me today. Thank you so much for having me. Yes, thank you. My name is Daylon Drew.
Tony Chow is in the virtual control room. Bit of Gary Curtis is on audio editing. You can get in touch by emailing us a podcast at 538 Dotcom. You can also, of course, tweet us with any questions or comments. If you're a fan of the show, leave us a rating or review in the Apple podcast store or tell someone about us. Thanks for listening and we will see you soon. During the state, there was too much looking down, and I think it was a little too.
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