Politics Trump’s Ratings on the Virus Are Sagging. Why Isn’t Biden Surging? by Giovanni Russonello•President Donald Trump during a visit to a medical supply distributor in Allentown, Pa., May 14, 2020. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)It’s been a little over a month since Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and what a month it’s been.Or rather, what a month it hasn’t been.The race between Biden and President Donald Trump ought to be basically underway by now, but the horses seem unsure of how to get out of the stable, particularly in the case of Biden, who has been sheltering in place at home since March.While he has held consistent leads in most national and swing-state polls, they have not been altogether comfortable ones. And even as the public’s faith in Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic steadily erodes, Biden has struggled to establish a narrative that resonates with persuadable voters or motivates those on the left.
A CNN poll released Wednesday found Biden leading the president by 5 percentage points nationwide but trailing by 7 points among voters in crucial battleground states. In that poll — conducted a week after Biden publicly denied allegations of sexual assault, to which he had initially hesitated to respond — the former vice president’s support among female voters and college graduates was badly diminished from recent months.
Still, most swing-state polls have shown Biden in the lead, and Trump’s persistently low approval rating bodes poorly.
“You have a president who hasn’t had a day with an approval rating over 50%,” said Joel Benenson, a veteran Democratic pollster, pointing to Gallup figures. “So you’re looking at a campaign that’s going to be a referendum on Donald Trump, and so far Trump is losing.”
But for some Democrats, the results of the CNN poll again raised the specter that Biden could win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College, as Hillary Clinton and Al Gore both did.
The Enthusiasm Gap
Other recent surveys have been somewhat kinder to Biden than the CNN poll. A Monmouth University survey conducted earlier this month found him leading Trump by 9 points nationwide and largely holding onto his margins among women and well-educated voters. In a Marquette University Law School poll of Wisconsin voters released this week, Biden’s 3-point edge over Trump was unchanged since March.
But even in that Monmouth poll there were signs that his virtual campaign has yet to instill passion in crucial parts of his coalition. Among liberal voters, 33% said they were less enthusiastic than usual about voting in this year’s election. Voter enthusiasm ran higher among conservatives; just 12% of those voters said they were less enthusiastic than in previous years.
The CNN poll painted a similar picture, but more starkly: Four in five Republican voters said they were quite enthusiastic about voting this year; just 56% of Democratic voters said the same.
Of course, it is still early to draw definitive conclusions from these numbers: Trump has been in office for over three years, and he continues to address the public in news conferences multiple times a week, while Biden’s general-election campaign has hardly gotten off the ground. That is precisely what worries some Democratic observers.
The Pandemic Problem
In the five weeks since Biden became the lone remaining Democratic presidential candidate, all but sealing his nomination, Americans’ faith in Trump’s handling of the coronavirus has steadily sunk. In this week’s CNN poll, Americans disapproved of his pandemic response by a 13-point margin.
But Biden has largely stayed outside the spotlight in recent weeks — at the very moment when he might otherwise be expected to grab headlines with attacks on Trump’s leadership and examples of how he would confront the pandemic.In the CNN poll, voters were just 6 points more likely to say Biden would do a better job than Trump at responding to the virus outbreak. A month ago, the difference was 9 points in Biden’s favor.Asked about the economy, voters told CNN that Trump was their preferred steward by a margin of 12 points. A month ago, Trump led in this regard by just 4 points.The Tara Reade Allegation In recent weeks Biden has been thrown off balance by the allegation of sexual assault lodged against him by Tara Reade, who briefly worked in his Senate office in the early 1990s.In the Monmouth poll, 46% of Democratic voters said either that Reade’s accusation was probably true or that they weren’t sure. Among independent voters, nearly 4 in 5 selected one of those options; just 22% of independents said they didn’t believe the allegations.The CNN poll found that Biden’s net favorability rating among all Americans had sunk by 5 points since March — a possible consequence of the Reade accusation because Biden has not received much negative coverage on other fronts over the past few weeks. Looking only at registered voters, the drop in his favorability was more severe: to minus 5, from plus 3 in the March CNN poll. That dip was about even across women and men. (Monmouth also found positive views of Biden dropping slightly since March, though to a lesser degree.)But in terms of actual voting preference, Biden appeared to have taken a particular hit among women and white college graduates, according to CNN. In head-to-head matchups with Trump, his lead shrank by half among women since last month — and even more among voters with a college degree. He now leads the president by 14 points among women and by just 4 points among white college grads, according to the CNN poll.The Shrinking Middle Trump’s favorability rating has remained underwater in almost every major poll since the beginning of his presidency. It’s a vulnerability that Biden will be eager to exploit, even as he struggles to maintain a positive image of his own.The recent Monmouth poll had signs of hope for Biden in this regard: Among voters who expressed unfavorable views of both him and Trump, Biden led the president by a significant margin. That would represent a reversal from 2016, when Trump beat Clinton among voters with negative views of both candidates.The share of voters expressing negative views of both candidates is much smaller this year than it was in 2016. Now more than ever, there are strong and stable bases of support on either political side: In the CNN poll, 95% of Democratic voters said they would support Biden, and the same share of Republicans said they would back Trump.Even those individuals who identify as political independents tend to lean strongly toward one party or the other — and to hold adamant feelings about Trump’s leadership — meaning that there are vanishingly few voters who truly ride in the middle lane of American politics.Across most general-election polls this year, the pool of voters saying they are undecided looks much smaller than it was in 2016.Still, the Monmouth poll found that Biden held a 16-point margin in the counties where Clinton and Trump ran nearest to even in 2016, a sign that he might have an advantage among the small slice of the electorate that is genuinely persuadable. In Monmouth’s poll just before the 2016 election, Clinton led by about half that much among voters in similarly competitive counties.“Those counties that are competitive are the ones where voters are much more likely to change their vote from one election to the next,” Patrick Murray, who runs the Monmouth poll, said in an interview. “How they behave from election to election tells us a lot about what’s important to voters.”This article originally appeared in The New York Times.© 2020 The New York Times Company
India should talk to Taliban if Delhi feels it will bolster peace push -Pakistan’s U.S. envoy by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali•By Phil Stewart and Idrees AliWASHINGTON, May 16 (Reuters) – India should speak with Taliban militants if it feels that it will help the peace process, Pakistan’s envoy to Washington said on Saturday, after a series of attacks in Afghanistan raised questions about whether the U.S. peace effort may collapse.In an interview with The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said it would be „appropriate” for an India-Taliban engagement.India and Pakistan have gone to war three times since they won independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and Pakistan has guarded the influence it has over the Taliban.Islamabad has long been resistant to India increasing its influence in Pakistan.”It is for India to respond to that suggestion,” Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Asad Khan told Reuters.Asked if he was open to an Indian dialogue with the Taliban, Khan said: „If India feels that their engagement is going to help the peace process, then we would defer to their judgment. But it’s not for us to sit in judgment on what they should do or they shouldn’t do.”He stopped short of saying he was open to an Indian engagement with the Taliban or whether Islamabad favored such a move.However, any acquiescence by Islamabad to an Indian role could be seen in Kabul and elsewhere as a sign of growing international concern with the peace push.Khan said that he would hopefully be speaking with Khalilzad soon and did not go by Indian media accounts, which he said in many cases are „fanciful” and give their own interpretations.The two nuclear armed neighbors came close to another war last year after a deadly attack on Indian police by a Pakistan-based militant group resulted in air strikes by both countries.Pakistan’s role in the peace negotiations is a delicate one, with Islamabad seeking to avoid demonstrating the kind of broad influence over the Taliban that Washington has long accused it of having.Two attacks in Afghanistan on Tuesday have complicated the U.S. push for peace. One attack, on a Kabul hospital’s maternity ward, killed 24 people, including two babies. Another, at a funeral in eastern Afghanistan, killed 32.The United States has blamed the Islamic State for the attacks.Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered the military on Tuesday to switch to „offensive mode” against the Taliban following the attacks. (Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by David Gregorio)
On May 7, Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., site of one of the biggest outbreaks of the coronavirus, reopened after coronavirus infections swept through the workforce.
A 20-year veteran of the company described to Yahoo News her experience of returning to work on May 11 after taking a COVID-19 test four days prior. She hadn’t received the results by the time she arrived for her first day. Her temperature was taken on the way in, but she only gave verbal confirmation that she was not infected.
The worker, who asked not to be identified because employees at the plant were told to refrain from speaking to the media, was given two moveable plastic sheets on poles to provide a barrier between her and the workers next to her, and new protective equipment, including a face shield and a mask, which made the already grueling work even harder.
“The face shield is s***,” she told Yahoo News. “It fogs up and drips down my face.”
The Smithfield plant, one of 14 meat-processing facilities to reopen after outbreaks spread among the workforces, is under intense oversight from the CDC.
As COVID-19 ravages meatpacking plants throughout the country, beef and pork options are dwindling in grocery stores. Consumers are beginning to realize just how much of their meat consumption depends on a flawlessly executed assembly line of some 2,000 workers and a supply chain vulnerable to disruptions. Now, new internal reports from the government warn that some parts of the country may see meat shortages by the end of the month.
“Analysts suggest that meat supply chain disruptions could see 20 percent higher prices than last year and potential spot shortages of meat in certain markets by the end of May,” says an internal government senior leadership briefing slide dated May 12, and reviewed by Yahoo News.
The briefing, marked for official use only, was produced by the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
A separate DHS document, dated May 13, says that while there won’t be general food shortages in the U.S., the country is likely to face shortfalls in some areas. “COVID-19 probably will reduce the variety of food available in the United States as certain food processing facilities close for days or weeks to mitigate COVID-19 spread,” the document says. “The food and agriculture workforce is especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 due to close working quarters and a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).”
While some consumers are already being caught by surprise as the site of empty meat shelves at the grocery store, the government has had multiple warnings. For over a month, DHS, HHS and FEMA reports warned of breakdowns in the supply chain, ranging from outbreaks of infection among meat-processing workers, to shortages of chemicals and equipment needed at those facilities, according to more than a dozen daily updates reviewed by Yahoo News.
DHS, HSS and FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Those warnings came after an internal government briefing from the beginning of April, previously reported by Yahoo News, predicted possible food shortages, including for meat.
Since that time, at least a dozen meat plants owned by meat giants Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, Cargill, USA Holdings and JBS have paused operations, though only two are still closed as of May 14. At least 213 meatpacking and processed food plants and nine farms have confirmed cases, and approximately 14,259 meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19, with 65 deaths, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network.
Following the recent openings, pork processors are now operating at about 80 percent of their normal capacity, while beef is at about 75 percent. “That number was clearly smaller a few weeks ago,” said Malone. “But we have some pretty incredible rebounds.”
The CDC has published guidelines that all plants are aiming to follow, but experts say there should be some organized effort to help ensure that the supply chain is stable. “It hasn’t been discussed but it is clear that we need government establishing regulations,” said Miguel Gomez, a professor of economics at Cornell University, in reference to worker safety.
In a comment to Yahoo News, the CDC said that it has developed guidance to help meat- and poultry-processing facilities decrease the spread of COVID-19, and that it is working closely with states.
“State and local health departments are heavily involved in decisions related to the plants and their employees,” the CDC said. “States were asked to provide aggregated data concerning the number of meat- and poultry-processing facilities impacted by COVID-19, and the number of workers with COVID-19 in these facilities, including deaths.” The CDC has made those findings public.
The CDC encourages screening and ongoing medical monitoring of workers, as well as adjustable plastic barriers that workers can individually alter; however, it also allows potentially infected people to return to the workplace. “The guidance advises that employers may permit workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 but remain without symptoms to continue to work, provided they adhere to additional safety precautions,” CDC told Yahoo News.
To ensure the continuation of production, the guidance advises employers to prioritize the most critical positions, and to potentially cross-train workers to perform critical duties in order to reduce the total numbers needed.
On April 30, the USDA said that, in addition to CDC oversight, it would establish a federal leadership team to ensure continuity of operations at meat and poultry plants, according to one of the DHS documents reviewed by Yahoo News.
A USDA spokesperson said in an email that President Trump issued an executive order declaring that meat and poultry processors meet newly established criteria under the Defense Production Act. The USDA also said they are directing processing plants to operate in accordance with the CDC and OSHA guidance and requiring establishments to provide written documentation of mitigation plans for review by the USDA-led federal leadership team.
Smithfield and Cargill did not respond to requests for comment about whether they are sending this documentation to the USDA.
Those who follow the industry say the reason meatpacking plants are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 is because of how they are built. Meatpacking plants employ thousands of people to work shoulder to shoulder for 12-hour shifts. Carcasses zoom by as each employee does their part.
“The same thing that made the meat-processing plants so efficient is also what made them so susceptible,” said Chad Hart, a professor of economics at Iowa State University.
“You see a highly stylized, highly efficient process,” Hart said. “We had concentrated folks into large facilities because they are economies of scale. The more you can do in one building, the cheaper it is.”
Not only are workers not able to socially distance, they also are running out of personal protective equipment (PPE), which is critical for food-processing plants. According to the documents reviewed by Yahoo News, PPE remains in short supply.
A May 2 update from FEMA says that the California Department of Food and Agriculture found that more than three-quarters of the counties they surveyed “had trouble fulfilling their PPE needs; many suppliers out of stock.” California said it needed 1.8 million masks, 700,000 face coverings, and 3.8 million gloves, while the Georgia Department of Agriculture “requested staff working in meat- and food-processing facilities placed second only to first responders and health care workers when prioritizing PPE supplies.”
The response to this PPE shortfall has been haphazard. Some states are assisting efforts by providing more PPE and test kits to plants, while others, such as Iowa, are regulating for food safety and worker safety but are not providing assistance. In other states, factories are left to their own devices.
But it isn’t just the lack of PPE and plant shutdowns that affected the supply of meat.
The supply chain is susceptible to bottleneck events such as these, according to Trey Malone, a professor of agriculture, food and resource management at Michigan State University.
“Initially policy makers thought we could shut off some parts of the supply chain and leave others,” he said. “What we’re discovering is that we have a far more interconnected supply chain within food and agriculture than we thought.”
While infection outbreaks at plants were easy to anticipate, one of the unexpected challenges facing meat supply was a shortage of ethanol. With travel at a standstill, gas prices are dropping and the plants producing ethanol, which is used as an essential additive to auto gasoline, are shutting down as a result.
“Gas prices shouldn’t matter for food,” said Malone. “But it matters quite a bit.”
Meatpacking plants rely on carbon dioxide, a byproduct of ethanol production, both to shock livestock before it is killed and to refrigerate stored meats. Ethanol is also used to create the special feed given to farmers for livestock that encourages rapid weight gain.
Decreasing fuel demand has caused 29 of 45 U.S. ethanol plants to stop production, according to an April 8 DHS document reviewed by Yahoo News. These plants produce 40 percent of U.S. commercial carbon dioxide.
The 40 percent to 50 percent cut in ethanol production is not an essential limiting factor of meat production. Plants are still functioning with what they can get and there are also ways to re-route the chemical from industries that aren’t using as much of it as they used to, like the beer industry.
But it does threaten to become a more serious issue if oil demand continues to decline, warns Dermot Hayes, professor of economics, finance and agribusiness at Iowa State University.
“For now, we aren’t seeing any plants close because of lack of CO2,” he said, but if there is a shortage, there wouldn’t be any other way to shock the livestock.
“The plants are built for a certain system, so we have to use that system.”
As for the workers at the Smithfield plant, they too are facing the limits of the current system when it comes to protecting their health.
The 20-year veteran who spoke to Yahoo News said that prior to the closure, she worked just 2 feet away from the co-worker on her left and just 6 inches from the co-worker on her right. After returning, there were fewer workers, but she did not feel able to maintain 6 feet of distance at all times, though she felt fairly safe with all the gear.
Only two of five lines are currently operating in the department, and she estimated the plant is operating at 50 percent capacity, not because the company is restricting the number of workers, but because so many people are infected or unable to come to work.
The company is pushing employees to return, she said, including a friend of hers whose son tested positive for the virus.
“I don’t feel that the company cares about those who do go to work or is trying to stop the spread,” she said.
In the coming days, the Justice Department will make an important decision: whether to file criminal charges against one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies for allegedly colluding with rivals to inflate the prices of widely used drugs.
The company, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, is betting that in the middle of a deadly pandemic, the Trump administration won’t dare to come down hard on the largest supplier of generic drugs in the United States.
It is a high-stakes gamble that could affect millions of Americans who rely on Teva’s dozens of inexpensive generic drugs, as well as its brand-name products like Copaxone, for multiple sclerosis, and Ajovy, for migraines. Teva officials say criminal charges could cripple the Israeli company and potentially leave it unable to sell drugs to federal programs like Medicare.
For years, the Justice Department and state prosecutors have been investigating what they describe as a conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies to increase the prices of popular drugs. The department has already extracted guilty pleas and $224 million in penalties from four other drug companies.
Lawyers for Teva, which prosecutors believe was deeply involved in the conspiracy, until recently had been holding settlement negotiations with officials in the Justice Department’s antitrust division. But in April, the company all but walked away from the talks, essentially daring the Trump administration to file charges, according to people on both sides of the discussions.
Teva officials have said that the company did nothing wrong and that they plan to vigorously defend themselves.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Teva executives and board members believe that one reason the Trump administration will back down is to avoid the impression that it is harming a company that is helping the U.S. fight the coronavirus.
A week or two before Teva’s lawyers pulled out of the settlement talks, a board member, Roberto Mignone, reached out to the White House to discuss the company’s efforts to provide drugs that might help treat the coronavirus.