It’s the eleventh month of the pandemic and despite the newly approved Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, U.S. workers are still suffering. A mere $600 stimulus check, included in the latest pandemic relief bill, will not be enough for millions of Americans. In a country where 42% of households have reported inadequate savings in the case of a drop in income, the financial repercussions of COVID-19 will not be equal for all.
In the first study where administrative bank data was linked with race, researchers found that, although household responses to adjustments in income don’t vary by race or ethnicity, the impact of the income adjustment does.
The University of Chicago, in conjunction with the JPMorgan Chase Institute, released a new working paper that details how white, Black, and Hispanic households adjust to income shocks. The data suggests that the historic racial wealth gap will likely affect how well-off households are in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The researchers analyzed Chase bank account records from 2012 to 2018 for 20 million households, comparing income, liquid wealth, and consumption habits to voter registration and self-reported race and ethnic identification. The study aimed to investigate the month-to-month impact of household income changes.
The authors found that Black and Hispanic households adjusted their consumption 50 and 20 percent more, respectively, than white households who faced similar financial income changes. This difference is reported to be explained by the households’ liquid wealth. Although the income volatility has welfare costs for all groups, the impact on Black and Hispanic households is greater than white households. This vulnerability is profound considering the length and economic impact of the prolonged pandemic.
As the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting the deadly insurrectional riot on January 6th, questions are still being asked about how “Fortress DC” responded to a violent mob attacking the U.S. Capitol Building with a joint session of Congress occurring.
Washington, DC is uniquely complicated in terms of how many public safety agencies have some jurisdiction inside the District. City authorities such as the Metropolitan Police Department and DC’s own Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) cover non-federal areas of the city, but must maintain a close working relationship with federal authorities including the U.S. Park Police (responsible for the National Mall and monuments), the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Protective Service and Office of National Capital Region Coordination (ONCRC), the Secret Service, FBI, and of course the Capitol Police who cover the Capitol Building and congressional offices.
There are also a myriad of agencies that can be called in critical situations, as evidenced over the summer by unmarked federal law enforcement officers from the Department of Justice sweeping the streets of Washington in response to civil unrest. To add one more layer of confusion, due to the District’s unique governance structure, the DC National Guard does not respond to the Mayor like other Guards respond to their Governor. The Mayor can only request activation of the Guard from the Secretary of the Army, and those requests are only supposed to be for non-federal city territory.
Mutual aid is a well-established concept in the emergency management world. Neighboring jurisdictions are supposed to share resources, including personnel, during critical incidents through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), a pre-9/11 federal law. While jurisdictionally complicated for all the reasons mentioned above, the agencies in and around DC have used mutual aid and joint incident commands countless times - for presidential inaugurations, large crowd events like the 4th of July, protests including Black Lives Matter, or events like the Navy Yard shooting in 2013.
The U.S. Secret Service was on-site at the Capitol as the security detail assigned to Vice President Mike Pence and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who is still a U.S. Senator. As the sitting Vice President and number one in the presidential line of succession, keeping Pence safe is a major national security priority. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Grassley (as the president pro tempore of the Senate) are second and third in the line of presidential succession. To allow those three and the Vice President-elect to be endangered in the same building at the same time is a stunning failure of the “continuity of government” principles that have been in place since the Cold War.
Despite some initial statements to the contrary, there was ample intelligence ahead of January 6th suggesting that the event was intended to be violent. Open source investigations by journalists and extremism watchdogs found thousands of postings indicating intent to “Occupy the Capitol.” The New York Police Department, which has the most robust intelligence arm of any local police department in the country, sent intelligence to the Capitol Police that included posts with specific language about the violent intent of those traveling to Washington for the 6th.
The horror in Washington, D.C. on January 6th was nothing short of a terrorist attack. Contextualizing these Trump supporters through a terrorism studies lens, clear parallels can be drawn to the incentives and actions of Islamic terrorists. Both groups seem to follow a cultural and social organization model based on victimization, and they approach the “performance” aspect of terrorism in a similar way. To call the violence in the U.S. Capitol building, and the contemporaneous attempted bombings across D.C., anything other than terrorism is to downplay the seriousness of the offenses and endanger our country. The Trump supporters who violently invaded the bastion of our democracy are terrorists and must be treated accordingly.
The term “terrorist” is politically loaded and contentious. A study by Schmidt and Jongman in 1988 found 109 unique definitions of terrorism. When statistically broken down, the most common elements of these definitions include force and violence, political characteristics, and fear and terror at 83.5%, 65%, and 51%, respectively. The “rioters” from yesterday’s events meet all the main criteria. Yesterday was to be the certification of the Electoral College outcome by Congress, a formality that was only newsworthy because of President Trump’s continued denial of the results. In a dramatic and unprecedented scene, Trump’s supporters stormed the building in protest. Many were outfitted with firearms, an act illegal in and of itself, as guns are forbidden within 1,000 feet of protests in the District of Columbia and in government buildings. The insurrectionists physically fought with police officers as lawmakers and staffers lay on the ground, many of them praying, before they were evacuated. Two pipe bombs were discovered at an RNC office and in the Capitol complex itself and safely detonated elsewhere.
Those who argue against the terrorist designation for these insurrectionists may point to the fact that only one life was lost inside the Capitol, and it was that of an instigator. However, the thwarted bombings point to attempted murder. At least one terrorist carried zip-ties, causing speculation that there may have been a hostage or kidnapping plot. But, more to the point, terrorism is less about the act of killing and more about the act of intimidation. According to the Department of Defense, terrorism is the “calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear.” It is safe to say that this attack instilled fear in the hearts of Americans across the country: fear for the people inside the building, fear for democracy, fear of future attacks.
If we are to label these Trump supporters as terrorists, we must try to understand them as such. Although it is tempting to group pro-Trump terrorists in with the religious theory of terrorism because of their cultish obsession with him as a Godlike figure (similar to the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, responsible for the subway sarin attack in Tokyo), they seem to fit the cultural, or identity, theory best. Trump is the embodiment of his base’s culture: white supremacy, victimization, and xenophobia. Trump is an avatar for their discontent with a rapidly changing America, an enabler for their outdated ideals that are condemned by mainstream culture. The cultural difference between Trump supporters and other Americans is encapsulated in a recent viral tweet: “Now that Biden won, watch me not wear his name on my hat and not put a giant Biden flag on my truck and drive around with it for 4 years like a f****** weirdo.”
The extreme wing of Trump supporters is motivated by their passion for their culture, their animosity to outsiders, and their feelings of victimization. Ironically, these motivations are strikingly similar to Islamic terrorists, even though Trump’s base tends to be anti-Muslim. Both seem to follow a natural systems model, which theorizes that organization participation is mainly motivated by kinship and shared culture, not political or religious goals. According to former acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness at the Department of Defense and Congressman Brad Carson, most foot soldiers in Al Qaeda know nothing of Islam’s basic teachings. Recruitees are often young, socially isolated men who thirst for adventure, danger, and brotherhood. Similarly, it is not clear how much far-right extremists know about government or public policy. In fact, they reject reality and embrace fake news and conspiracy theories, like Q-Anon. Domestic terrorist analysts have noted a rise in “mass radicalization” due to disinformation. Even more concerning is that conspiracy theories have entered the mainstream media. Extremism is relative. Should the Republican Party continue its shift to the far right, the fringe will become normalized.
On December 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133), preventing a government shutdown. The expansive $2.3 trillion package provides $1.4 trillion for government agencies through next fall and $900 billion in pandemic-related aid. The legislation will provide critical support for the American people and economy to weather the next several months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its passage will also likely influence the politics of the policy agenda for the 117th Congress and the upcoming runoffs in Georgia.
Mr. Trump’s final approval came after he threatened to veto the nearly 5,600-page legislation in a week-long standoff with Congress, arguing that lawmakers should increase the amount of the stimulus payments to Americans from $600 to $2,000 and eliminate unnecessary spending. Reports indicate that the decision to ultimately sign the omnibus spending bill came after discussions between Mr. Trump, his top advisers, and key party leaders. Specifically, they reminded him that his political legacy was on the line, as well as the outcome of the Republican incumbents in the Georgia runoff races that will decide which party will control the Senate.
Lawmakers finally managed to reach an agreement on a followup stimulus bill to March’s massive stimulus package, delivering much-needed financial assistance for American families, workers, and businesses. After months of tense legislative gridlock, Congress voted to overwhelmingly pass the bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill. On December 21, the House of Representatives first cleared the legislation 359-53, and the Senate proceeded to approve the measure in a 92-6 vote. One reason for the long-delayed relief was that both parties struggled to agree on the overall price tag of the package, as Republicans raised concerns over too much spending and Democrats argued that the funding was inadequate. The other narrative behind the prolonged negotiations over the bill was likely each party intently working to prevent the other from claiming a major legislative win before the 2020 Presidential Election.
The final deal resembles the $1 trillion proposal introduced in July by Senate Republicans, which was rejected by House Democrats in favor of the more expensive, House-passed HEROES Act (revised in October). While the new round of stimulus is about half as large as the $2.2 trillion pandemic-aid bill from March, it stands as one of the most expensive and extensive relief bills in recent history, extending and modifying several provisions first enacted in the CARES Act. Notably, the package does not address several policy issues of strong interest to lawmakers, including additional funding for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses reopening during the pandemic. As in the CARES Act, the next tranche of stimulus checks will exclude adult dependents. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) indicated that approximately 15 million Americans in that demographic group, which includes college students and those aged 17 and older with disabilities, will not be eligible. This “Second Stimulus Check Calculator” will provide an estimated figure of the relief an individual and household can expect to receive.
President-elect Joe Biden in a tweet applauded the passage of the bipartisan agreement, adding that Congress will have to work on passing additional assistance in 2021. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) echoed the need to immediately provide more support as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) signaled a “wait-and-see approach,” revealing a potential preview of the agenda’s dynamic in the next Congress.
The stimulus bill’s enactment came nearly a week before the two contested Georgia races that will determine which party controls the Senate, which is currently divided 51-48 in favor of the GOP. On January 5, 2021, incumbent Senators David Perdue (R-GA) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) will confront candidates Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA), respectively, in a dual runoff after none of them received more than 50% of the vote in November. If Democrats win both, then it would significantly help Mr. Biden’s efforts to pass measures through the legislative branch. But if the GOP is able to maintain one seat, then the split government will force Washington to work across the aisle or remain in gridlock.
However, Mr. Trump’s objections to the COVID-19 relief legislation over the size of the stimulus checks could result in a politically problematic situation for Senate Republicans ahead of the runoffs. The Democratic-controlled House passed a measure on December 28 to increase the amount to $2,000 in a 275-134 vote, but the Republican-controlled Senate has not held a vote to pass the measure. Leader McConnell introduced another version of the $2,000 payment legislation, which would also fully repeal Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 and create a “Bipartisan Advisory Committee” to investigate the integrity of the 2020 General Election. The Kentucky Republican insisted that lawmakers should only consider the larger payments if the bill includes two other issues that Mr. Trump has urged Congress to address. Senate Democrats are unlikely to support the amended bill, and Mr. Biden asserted that electing the two Democratic challengers in the Georgia runoffs would result in the $2,000 becoming law at a campaign event in Atlanta.
Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler have aligned themselves closely with the Trump administration’s agenda, touting his signing of the latest relief bill as a major win for families and businesses in their home state, but have also echoed his call for more relief. Like other Republicans, they face pressure to violate their own party’s routine calls for less government spending, a keystone value of conservatism, in a loyalty test to the President. Finding a middle ground, they voted “yea” for the COVID-19 relief legislation and have subsequently found themselves in an unusual alliance with Democrats, advocating for Mr. Trump’s demand for another round of higher stimulus payouts. Mr. Perdue offered his support for an additional $1,400 to be paid to individual Americans on Fox & Friends, acclaiming it as “the right thing to do.” Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock have publicly expressed support for increasing the amount of the direct payments to Americans, giving their campaigns momentum leading up to the final stretch of the runoffs. While most public polling indicates that both Georgia races are virtually even, one GOP pollster revealed that “It may be too late. Too late for Trump, too late for the economy, too late for Covid, and too late for the Georgia senators.”
Convening in August, the Virginia General Assembly special session recently concluded with the passage of a series of bills to address criminal justice reform. While these bills are all steps in the right direction, more needs to be done in the upcoming January session to address the gaps and bills that did not pass.
The Virginia General Assembly passed a law to give Civilian Review Boards the power to initiate investigations and have a say in disciplinary rulings for law enforcement groups. While these groups existed before, they were previously restricted to an advisory role. However, this new law, which goes into effect July 1st 2021, only allows localities to implement this measure, rather than actually requiring these oversight groups. Shifting to mandatory civilian input would allow for greater transparency and accountability.
In further attempts to reduce violence and police brutality, House Bill 5049 limits the use of military weapons and vehicles by police, except when the Criminal Justice Service Board approves a waiver. The bill allows for the use of “kinetic impact munitions,” such as rubber and plastic-coated projectiles, only in the direct defense of an officer or other person. This is especially significant in the context of protests, with many police across the country using tear gas and rubber bullets on crowds. Other bills that passed include measures to increase crisis training, de-escalation techniques, and bias training.