Both Sides — the press keeps screwing up Covid relief bill coverage

GOP in disarray

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A much-needed Covid-19 economic relief bill hasn't been passed in Congress for the simple reason that Republicans don't want to pass one. That clear-cut fact should define news coverage surrounding the ongoing inaction on Capitol Hill.

Instead, anxious for a Both Side storyline, the press has spent months bungling the story, portraying Democrats, and specifically Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, as standing in the way of stimulus relief checks being sent out to struggling Americans.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer recently launched into a heated argument with Pelosi, demanding to know why she won't accept the White House's relief proposal — even though Republicans don't support it, which means the bill will never be voted on. And it's Pelosi who's "taking a gamble in coronavirus relief negotiations, playing hardball in eleventh-hour talks," the Washington Post stressed last week.

Leaning into a "gridlock" and "dysfunction" narrative, the Beltway media have botched the story for most of this year. Last summer, journalists claimed "Congress" was to blame for weekly $600 relief checks being cut off. Wrong — the payments ended because Republicans forced them to end. That kind of Both Side coverage has given Americans a skewed understanding of why the federal government under Trump isn't functioning properly in a time of national crisis.

Background: Democrats in the House are currently offering a $2.2 trillion relief bill, which has already been drastically scaled back from the original $3.5 trillion proposal they passed in May. (Republicans ignored the May bill, in part, because White House aides were telling GOP leaders the pandemic would be over by September.) The $2.2 trillion bill includes  $600 in weekly enhanced unemployment benefits, and checks of $1,200 to qualifying adults (or $2,400 for couples).

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The White House says it supports a $1.8 trillion bill. So why don't both sides negotiate, meet in the middle, and sign a deal to help millions of Americans who need assistance, as the economy remains broken? That's the narrative the Beltway press locked in on — Congress is dysfunctional, and the Covid relief bill proves it! That preferred storyline is simple to understand and it blames Both Sides for the lack of Congressional action.  

Instead of unpacking the two relief bills and highlighting what's so radically different about them — funding for unemployment benefits, child care, state and local governments, and the GOP's obsession with liability protections for corporations, nationwide testing — the press pays attention to the price tag. That leaves news consumers (and Wolf Blitzer) with the false impression that both bills are similar, it's just that the Republican one is slightly smaller.

The media malpractice is worse because there actually is no Republican Covid relief bill. Pelosi and Democrats are getting beat up in the press for not hammering out a deal with Republicans, but Republicans aren't offering a deal. Yes, the press generated headlines about a $1.8 trillion bill that Trump's White House recently floated. But as soon as the White House proposal was sent to the Hill, Republican senators eviscerated it as too costly.

• “An enormous betrayal” of Republican voters" — Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)

• "There’s no appetite right now to spend the White House number or the House number" — Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

• "I don’t get it" — Senator Rick Scott (R-FL)  

It's basically devolved into this:

Media: Why won't Democrats accept GOP's offer?

Democrats: There is no offer.

Media: But why won't Democrats accept it?!

The only relief bill GOP senators have passed was a comically small, $500 billion proposal that's targeted at helping companies, not everyday Americans.

The fact that Republicans have no relief bill highlights another crucial part of the story that's been largely overlooked — Democrats aren't negotiating with Republicans. Instead, Republicans are negotiating with themselves. The White House says it wants a bill and Senate Republicans balk every time. “He’s talking about a much larger amount than I can sell to my members,” McConnell said of Trump’s proposal.

The GOP is complete disarray over Covid relief. Yet the press keeps portraying the story as a showdown between Democrats and Republicans. That's a false premise. Democrats have no negotiating partner on the other side because the GOP and the White House can't agree on what they want regarding Covid relief. One day Trump tweets that he's walking away from any deal. The next day he's demanding Congress "go big" and pass a $1.8 trillion dollar package.

How does Pelosi negotiate knowing Republican senators don't support the White House plan, and that the White House plan changes by the day depending on the manic Twitter moods of Trump?

That's not how legislation gets passed, especially not during a public health crisis. And that's why the latest, crucial Covid relief bill has not been passed — because Republicans don’t want it to.

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GOOD STUFF:

For an interesting look at Kamala Harris’ historic run for office, and specifically how her nonverbal gestures are being interpreted culturally, check out “The Racial Politics of Kamala Harris’s Performance Style,” by Lauren Michele Jackson in The New Yorker:

Liberal concern for the way Harris is interpreted, by detractors and superfans alike, recalls the protective instinct that many Democrats felt toward Clinton—and stands in contrast to the more muted concern that gets extended to other, more junior congresswomen of color, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar. There is doubtless a contingent that still, despite everything we know about then and now, accounts for the triumph of Trump in 2016 in terms of gender alone, just as there are followers of Harris who assume that an unfavorable compound of race and gender was responsible for her flameout in the Democratic primaries.

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FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Stevie Wonder, "Where Is Our Love Song" (featuring Gary Clark, Jr.)

It's new. And it's terrific — his best in years.

Where are our words with hope?
Oh how we need those words of hope
Not the kind of hope that leaves some of us behind
But the kind of hope that lifts up all humankind
Where are our hope words?
Our desperately needed words of hope