The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Power Up: Millions of unemployed left hanging on coronavirus relief as Congress hits ‘dead end street’

with Brent D. Griffiths

Today marks 19 years since nearly 3,000 lives were lost on Sept. 11, 2001. The pandemic has made the annual in-person tributes a little more complicated, but there are ways to tune in online. We'll be back in your inbox on Monday.

On the Hill

WASHINGTON LIMBO: There's no clear path forward for Congress to pass a coronavirus relief bill by the November election, after lawmakers' latest attempt failed in the Senate. That's a grim prospect for millions of Americans who relied on enhanced unemployment benefits that expired in July. 

The vote was 52-47 on the $300 billion relief bill backed by Republicans – far short of the 60 votes needed for the measure to advance. It was opposed by Democrats, who were seeking a more expansive relief package, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). 

Just hours before the failed vote, figures released by the Labor Department reinforced the worrying economic outlook: About 884,000 people filed unemployment claims last week, and another 839,000 had claims processed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program for self-employed and gig workers. 

  • “When added together, the numbers of new unemployment claims and PUA claims have risen for four weeks straight,” our colleague Eli Rosenberg reports.
  • Compare that to pre-pandemic levels: The previous record for initial weekly claims was 695,000 from 1982, a level that the country has been above for more than five months.” 
  • The total number of people on some form of unemployment insurance is going up too: The 29.6 million people as of Aug. 22, according to labor data, is nearly 20 times the 1.59 million on jobless benefits during the same period last year.

Congress is showing little appetite to reach an agreement before lawmakers return back home for a final campaign push, despite calls from Federal Reserve officials to deliver more fiscal assistance for the sake of the economy.

“It’s sort of a dead-end street,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told our colleagues Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim and Tony Romm of the latest developments. “Very unfortunate, but it is what it is.” 

  • “We don’t want to go home without a bill, but don’t be a cheap date,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her members, defending Democrats' negotiating position, a person familiar with her remarks told our colleagues. “When you are in a negotiation, the last place to get weak knees is at the end.”
  • “I think both parties want to get out of here and campaign,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) told our colleagues earlier in the week. “The CR is the next order of big business to do and the cleaner the better, the quicker.”
  • Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) added: “My guess would be that if we leave in September with a CR we will not come back to do anything before the election.”

What could have been: The failed GOP bill included $300 in weekly enhanced unemployment benefits and new money for small businesses – which also expired in July – and for coronavirus testing and schools. But it did not include any spending on a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans, a provision the White House supports – and officials promised would come by August

By contrast, the House Democrats' $3 trillion bill that passed earlier this summer would restore the full expired $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefit from the Cares Act. The GOP's skinny plan also lacked food or rental assistance, and relief for state and local governments under strain. 

  • “The smaller Republican package also excluded any new money for cities and states, a top Democratic priority as municipal governments face the prospect of mass layoffs because of plunging tax revenue,” per Erica, Seung Min and Tony. “And it contained some conservative priorities that Democrats dismissed as unacceptable ‘poison pills,’ including liability protections for businesses and a tax credit aimed at helping students attend private schools.”

President Trump may pick up the baton: The impasse may renew a push from the White House to unilaterally direct funding through a new round of executive actions that would “direct funding to certain groups amid fears that the nascent economic recovery could fail to gain momentum, Erica Werner and Jeff Stein reported earlier this week. 

  • “White House officials have discussed efforts to unilaterally provide support for the flagging airline industry while also bolstering unemployment benefits, according to two people aware of the deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal policy discussions,” per Erica and Jeff. “The White House has also discussed moving without Congress to direct more money for school vouchers and changing President Trump’s recent payroll tax changes to make it more effective. Typically, such actions require congressional approval.

By the numbers: While he's already rejected some of Democrats' demands, Trump's indicated that he believes that additional assistance is needed to keep the economy afloat amid concerns that millions are still facing significant financial hardship.  

  • "Nationally, more than 1 in 4 survey respondents said they expect someone in their household will experience a loss of income in the next four months, according to the government’s Household Pulse Survey, which queried Americans about their financial well-being over the final weeks of August,” per Erica, Seung Min and Tony. 
  • “The new figure, released Wednesday, suggests an estimated 64 million Americans are still facing significant hardship, though economists cautioned the numbers may be skewed because the Census Bureau had a lower rate of response than it has in its previous studies.”
  • Eviction watch: “Federal survey data also indicates that an estimated 5.4 million Americans may be facing eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, further adding to the pressure on lawmakers to address a looming housing crisis."
  • The hunger threat is also high: “About 10 percent of all adults reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days, according to the latest data, collected August 19 through 31," according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities's Brynne Keith. “Also alarming, the data show, 9 to 14 percent of adults with children reported that their children sometimes or often didn’t eat enough in the last seven days because they couldn’t afford it, and that translates into millions of children.”
  • Our colleague Tory Newmyer reports that job openings are leveling off: “New job postings slowed in late summer after three months of steady increases, according to measures maintained by jobs sites.” 

Point of contention: Republicans have maintained that the $600 supplement that Congress approved in March through the Cares Act has deterred people from working. However, economists largely agree — both conservative and liberal — that this is not the case, reports the New York Times's Patricia Cohen. 

  • “Researchers at Yale University who reviewed scheduling and time clock data for small businesses said, ‘We find no evidence that more generous benefits disincentivized work either at the onset of the expansion or as firms looked to return to business over time,'" per Cohen. “Five other studies by different groups of economists produced the same results. And in a survey by Franklin Templeton-Gallup, conducted in early August, most people said extra government relief would not keep them from going back to work.”
  • “The latest results show that Americans rationally understand the greater long-term security of returning to work rather than relying on ongoing government assistance,” Sonal Desai, chief investment officer of Franklin Templeton Fixed Income, told Cohen. 
  • Without the supplement, “the overall economy could degrade from its current slow rebound in growth to no growth at all,” former chair of the Federal Reserve Janet L. Yellen told Cohen.

The campaign

WORRIES RISE ABOUT TRUMP'S TV PULLBACK: “Fearing a coming cash crunch, Trump’s campaign has pulled back from television advertising over the last month, ceding to [Joe] Biden a huge advantage in key states and sparking disagreements over strategy within the president’s senior team,” Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey report.

  • Some Republicans close to Trump are baffled by the decision: “Among those worried is Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who recently told the president she was concerned his ads were not on television in states such as Michigan and Florida where Biden was blanketing the airwaves."


Microsoft says Russian hackers are back at it: “Russian military spies who hacked and leaked Democratic emails to inject chaos into the 2016 presidential election are active again, targeting political parties, advocacy groups and consultants, the tech giant announced,” Ellen Nakashima and Josh Dawsey report.

Most Americans want to vote before Election Day, a massive shift: “About six in 10 registered voters nationwide say they want to cast their ballots before Election Day, a significant departure from previous years that will force the candidates to reshape how they campaign in the election season’s final weeks, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted by Ipsos,” Amy Gardner, Emily Guskin and Scott Clement report.

There's also evidence Trump's assault on mail-in voting is sinking in: “While Democrats are split on whether they prefer to vote in person or by mail, 71 percent of Republicans say they prefer to vote in person, with 21 percent preferring to vote by mail and 9 percent preferring to drop off their ballot,” Amber Phillips reports.

Want to know how to vote in your state?: Our colleagues have created a perfect tool to make sure you're prepared.

The people

9/11, 19 YEARS LATER: Trump and Biden are scheduled to pay their respects in Shanksville, Pa., the place where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field after passengers' heroic efforts. Biden will also visit New York this morning for a ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Vice President Pence will be also be at Ground Zero, but the two presidential candidates are unlikely to see each other.

  • The two men had very different experiences that day: “The Sept. 11 attacks targeted the cities that molded the two men, Washington and New York, reinforcing the clashing worldviews they now offer the American electorate: Biden’s embrace of U.S. institutions and global alliances, Trump’s distrust of foreigners and insistence that America must go it alone,” Matt Viser writes in a story that traces back where they were almost two decades ago.

The pandemic has altered remembrances: “In New York, the double beams of light that evoke the fallen twin towers were nearly canceled in the name of virus safety, until an uproar restored the tribute. The Fire Department has cited the virus in urging members to skip observances of the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, among them almost 350 firefighters,” the Associated Press's Jennifer Peltz reports. Victims relatives' can visit the Pentagon in small groups, but otherwise military leaders will conduct the yearly ceremony without them in attendance.

  • Many have noticed our current grief hasn't given way to even fleeting unity: “The attacks of September 11 taught Americans a new set of rituals for collective grief. The days and months that followed were an exercise in mourning on a national scale … And yet the exercise this year feels dissimilarthe loss of life is no less tragic, the pictures are familiar, but the presumption that every American is experiencing the same kind of grief has vanished. Why?,” Garrett M. Graff writes in the Atlantic. Graff is author of the 9/11 oral history, “The Only Plane in the Sky.”

Both Graff and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer will retrace the day via Twitter. Fleischer's yearly thread is a must read if you've never seen it in real time.

From the courts

COURT BLOCKS TRUMP'S CENSUS ORDER: “A federal court blocked a memorandum signed by Trump seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted in the census for apportionment, saying such action would violate the statute governing congressional apportionment,” Tara Bahrampour reports.

  • The ruling is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court: “The ruling came hours after a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to produce internal documents connected to its sudden decision to end the 2020 Census count a month earlier than the Census Bureau had planned." 

EX-OFFICERS CHARGED IN FLOYD'S DEATH BLAME EACH OTHER: “The four former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's killing appear to be turning on each other, with each offering significantly different versions of the infamous arrest that acknowledge Floyd should not have been allowed to die that day but also deflect the blame to others,” Holly Bailey reports from Minneapolis.

  • The details: “The four men have said in court documents that they all thought someone else was in charge of the scene on May 25 — with rookie officers arguing they were deferring to a veteran, and the veteran saying he was simply assisting in an arrest that was in progress. All have said in court documents that the relationship between the veteran officer — Derek Chauvin — and the others is at the heart of the issue, as each officer perceived their role, and who was in charge, quite differently. Chauvin was the officer shown with his knee on Floyd’s neck as he struggled to breathe in videos of the ill-fated arrest.”

At the White House

TRUMP RAGES ABOUT HIS CALM: “A visibly agitated and angry Trump defended his decision to intentionally mislead the public about the lethality of the coronavirus by saying he had an obligation as the nation’s leader to prevent panic,” Philip Rucker reports.

  • Key quote: “I don’t want to jump up and down and start screaming ‘Death! Death!’ because that’s not what it’s all about. We have to lead a country,” Trump said at a White House news conference. He added, “There has to be a calmness.”
In interviews for Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward's new book, President Trump called coronavirus “deadly,” as he publicly downplayed its threat. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

At issue is why Trump told Bob Woodward he knew covid was deadly while publicly downplaying the virus: Asked why he did not level with the American people by calmly presenting information about the virus in real time — as, for instance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had done — Trump was defensive.”

Phil had quite an exchange with the president:

Serenity, now!: “Trump evidently did not feel the same presidential obligation to imbue serenity a few hours earlier, however, when he sounded the alarm on Twitter about a number of other topics,” our colleague writes. “Throughout his five years on the national political stage, Trump has used fear to acquire and keep power. Scare tactics are the hammer and screwdriver of his tool kit.”

  • “If I don’t win, America’s Suburbs will be OVERRUN with Low Income Projects, Anarchists, Agitators, Looters and, of course, ‘Friendly Protesters,’ ” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.

In the media


The NFL season kicked off with players protesting racism: “The Houston Texans, who were in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday to face the Chiefs for the first game of the year, remained in their locker room during the playing of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ which is known as the Black national anthem,” the New York Times's Ken Belson reports.

  • One player, Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor, knelt and raised an arm during the national anthem: “Both teams then were booed as they linked arms in the middle of the field for a moment of silence, which Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt called ‘unfortunate.’”

Jane Fraser poised to make history on Wall Street: “Citigroup chief executive Michael Corbat will retire early next year and be replaced by Jane Fraser, making her the first woman to lead a major U.S. bank,” Hannah Denham reports.

Cocktail hour like the Kennedys: Mary Beth Albright shows you how to make a drink fit for Camelot, round table not included. 

JFK loved Jackie's daiquiris. Make one for yourself on this episode of All the Presidents’ Drinks with Food Video Host and Editor Mary Beth Albright. (Video: The Washington Post)