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Ron DeSantis wants us to revisit March 2020; Donald Trump’s latest filing war; and a hot take on col͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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August 8, 2023
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Principals

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Benjy Sarlin
Benjy Sarlin

It was the one thing from the Trump years everyone seemed to agree on: The multi-trillion dollar aid package that sailed through both houses to the president’s desk on March 27, 2020, before the pandemic polarized. Now Shelby Talcott reports Ron DeSantis has made the CARES Act the center of his new attacks on Trump. That’s prompting howls of hypocrisy from the former president’s camp, and raising the question of how Republican senators who voted for CARES — like, say, Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley — will react.

The tennis-ball sized hail never arrived in Washington yesterday, but Trump is currently navigating through a blizzard of legal filings across multiple cases, the most urgent of which could determine whether he’s allowed to post all-caps commentary on evidence in the case. And one of the witnesses named in those filings just made the debate stage.

Also we talked to the House’s foremost nerd, Virginia Democrat Don Beyer, about the latest nuclear fusion news. His reaction is basically “I am become death, destroyer of worlds,” only the exact opposite.

Steve Clemons is on vacation.

Priorities

☞ White House: President Joe Biden found some common ground with 74-year old Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker at the team’s White House visit: “People counted you out, saying you were past your prime,” he said. “Hell, I know something about that.” Biden is flying to the Grand Canyon today to talk about conservation and climate investments. Vice President Kamala Harris is headed to Philadelphia to talk up the administration’s infrastructure work.

☞ Senate: Jeff Gunter, a Republican donor and former ambassador to Iceland under Trump, is running for Senate in Nevada. He joins several candidates looking to unseat Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen, including former state lawmaker Jim Marchant, who is best known for promoting Trump’s false election claims.

☞ House: A group of twenty-five Democrats are urging Republicans not to try to cut SNAP benefits further in talks over the Farm Bill reauthorization after a previous deal imposed new work requirements on the program.

☞ Outside the Beltway: Ohio is holding its much-watched referendum today on whether to make future referendums more difficult to pass — like a proposed amendment to guarantee abortion rights that’s on the ballot later this year. Read David Weigel’s latest on-the-ground reporting ahead of the vote.

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Shelby Talcott

Ron DeSantis’ risky attack on Donald Trump’s COVID aid

REUTERS/Reba Saldanha

THE NEWS

Ron DeSantis has settled on a new attack, arguing that Donald Trump’s giant COVID aid package is responsible for the nation’s current ills, from mail-in voting to rising national debt to freeloaders who won’t work.

There’s just one problem: It implicates almost the entire Republican party — and possibly DeSantis himself.

KNOW MORE

The Florida governor has mentioned the $2 trillion aid package, signed by Trump during the earliest days of the pandemic in March 2020, at least three times in recent weeks.

  • He tweeted at the beginning of August that the Fitch Ratings downgrade of the U.S. credit rating was “a result of frivolous spending and ballooning national debt for programs like the CARES [Act].”
  • He said CARES “underwrote” COVID restrictions and encouraged people “not to work” at an event in New Hampshire.
  • And he amped things up even further during an NBC News interview that aired throughout Monday, saying the aid fueled 2020 election practices that Trump decried. “They embraced lockdowns,” he said. “They did the CARES Act, which funded mail-in ballots across the country.”

SHELBY’S VIEW

The original CARES Act was probably the least-controversial major bill of Trump’s presidency at the time — it passed the Senate with unanimous support and the House by voice vote as COVID-19 ravaged New York City. Polls showed voters of all parties strongly backed it as well.

That makes it hard to throw mud at Trump (and perhaps Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.) without dirtying a whole lot of Republicans who might not appreciate it, even if they went on to oppose later iterations of COVID aid.

DeSantis himself frequently cited CARES Act funding in press releases and sometimes on Twitter. “We thank President Trump for this much-needed support and look forward to our continued work to defeat COVID-19 and emerge stronger than before,” he said in one April statement announcing billions in emergency aid.

THE VIEW FROM TRUMP WORLD

“If he can’t remember his own glowing statements about the CARES Act from just a few years ago, how the hell does he think he can be president?” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung asked in a statement.

To read more, including a Room for Disagreement, click here.

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Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl: The White House is preparing to ask Congress for more Ukraine aid as well as extra cash for disaster relief as soon as this week, setting up a potential battle with conservatives who’ve grown skeptical of the war.

The Early 202: The Blue Dogs are down to just 10 members, but are led by a younger, less white band of members than during the group’s heyday, who are promising to rebuild the caucus as a haven for members from frontline districts willing to break with leadership. (They aren’t necessarily embracing the term “moderate,” though).

Playbook: Early turnout has been high in Ohio’s ballot referendum. “Through Friday, more than 578,000 ballots had been cast. For comparison, about 288,700 people voted early for the May 2022 primary election,” Politico notes.

Axios AM: Is the public getting some courtroom fatigue? Google searches for “Donald Trump” and “indictment” have spiked with each new round of charges — but the peaks are getting smaller. Axios suggests that may mean readers are losing interest.

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Trump’s Trials
Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Donald Trump wants to take his case to the public. Jack Smith thinks it would be a press circus. It’s now up to District Judge Tanya Chutkan to decide who’s right. Last week, prosecutors asked for a broad protective order that would prohibit the former president from sharing non-public evidence handed over to his lawyers in the 2020 election case. On Monday, Trump’s defense team urged Chutkan to approve a narrower version that would only bar him from publicizing “sensitive” materials, citing “the First Amendment rights of President Trump and the public.” Special counsel Jack Smith responded with a filing calling the defense’s proposal “an unreasonable order to facilitate his plan to litigate this case in the media.”

Jordan Weissmann

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FAQ
REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

House Republicans have talked about defunding Jack Smith’s investigation. It’s hard to imagine that succeeding, but what happens if they don’t fund the government at all, triggering a shutdown after next month?

Not much, most likely. Attorney Robert Driscoll told Semafor the government delayed civil trials during the 35-day shutdown that began in late 2018, but criminal cases — and especially ones as high-profile as Trump’s — would be unlikely to be affected.

“Most of the criminal stuff is viewed as essential, because you’re dealing with speedy trial rights,” he said.

—Kadia Goba

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Bankruptcy
REUTERS/Mike Blake

Don’t sleep on this one: The trucking company Yellow, which received a controversial $700 million pandemic loan from the Trump administration, filed for bankruptcy on Monday and plans to liquidate its business.

Defense Department analysts initially concluded that Yellow didn’t qualify for the program, which was aimed at companies considered critical to national security. But the Pentagon reversed course after an apparent lobbying effort from the Treasury Department and White House, according to a lengthy Congressional oversight report. Trump also discussed the loan directly with James Hoffa, then the president of the Teamsters, who was pushing for the loan. Ultimately, Yellow received 95% of the aid delivered through the program. At the risk of sounding a little retro, could this be Trump’s own Solyndra?

Jordan Weissmann

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Debates
REUTERS/Scott Morgan

Mike Pence will be on the Republican debate stage in Milwaukee, his campaign announced on Monday night. The former vice president hit the RNC’s 40,000 donor threshold after previously hitting its polling requirements, joining seven others who are expected to be at the August 23 event, which is hosted by Fox News. Others still working on it: Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, businessman Perry Johnson, and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson. Pence’s presence could be especially relevant, since one of the most burning questions in the campaign after Trump’s indictment is what his rivals would have done in Pence’s shoes on January 6th. — Benjy Sarlin

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One Good Text

Don Beyer is the Congressman for Virginia’s 8th District. He is currently studying machine learning at George Mason University. We asked about him about the latest successful fusion experiment by U.S. scientists.

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Principals Team
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