New York Assemblyman Ron Kim on Cuomo's Trumpian Covid Cover-up

And what comes next

Welcome to the big Sunday edition of Progressives Everywhere!

The nominal acquittal of seditious former President Donald Trump was a disappointment, though not at all a surprise. At least senators got home for Valentine’s Day.

With so many challenges ahead of us, I don’t want to dwell much on the impeachment trial itself. Instead, this issue is going to be animated by a few of the big takeaways from the entire ordeal, applied to both state and national politics. Here’s what we’ve got today:

  • Revelations and Chaos in New York

  • Where the Senate stands now

  • Key state and local headlines

Let’s get to it!

But first, thank you to our latest crowdfunding donors: Helen and Mike!



A Deadly Truth Leaks in New York

Last spring, as COVID-19 ravaged the state and killed thousands of residents a week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo became something of a national celebrity and folk hero. His assertive press conferences, marked by spartan PowerPoint presentations, were a perfect counterpoint to Donald Trump’s theater of the absurd, and became so widely watched that they even won him an Emmy this past fall. As Trump spouted lies and shirked responsibility, people found comfort in Cuomo’s blunt honesty.

Turns out he wasn’t being totally honest.

Late last week, the public learned that the state had coveted up the massive total number of deaths that occurred in nursing homes during the height of the pandemic. Why would they do that? In March, the governor ordered nursing homes around New York to re-admit any residents who had been hospitalized, even if they’d tested positive for COVID, so long as they were “medically stable.” More than 9,000 hospitalized residents were ultimately returned to nursing homes, and as we now know, over 15,000 nursing home residents have died of COVID-19. The administration’s fear, as has become clear, was that it would be placed under investigation by the federal government for the mass death event.

New Yorkers have long known Gov. Cuomo as a ruthless political animal, for better or worse. His agenda often leans to the right, so much so that he spent years supporting Republican control of the state legislature. Over the course of his two and a half terms, he has resisted a modest wealth tax in the country’s most economically stratified state (even now!), has eschewed his legal responsibility for NYC’s broken subway system, and used his power to scuttle investigations into his administration.

Many Democrats in the state legislature are far more progressive, and now that they have a supermajority, they’ve begun to call for immediate action.

Look, if we want Republicans to hold their leaders accountable and vote to convict them when they’re guilty of crimes, we as Democrats need to do the same with our leaders.

I spoke yesterday with one of those Democrats, Assemblyman Ron Kim, earlier this weekend to get his read on things. As the chair of the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Aging, Kim was on the call during which Cuomo’s top aide, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, admitted to the cover-up, and he’s been very outspoken since the revelation.

Progressives Everywhere: What do you make of this revelation? The state tried to backtrack to some degree, but the numbers are startling. How did this go down?

Assemblyman Kim: It’s so damaging and detrimental. They can't sit on it — they need to get ahead of it and be honest and transparent at this point. What happened was we wanted to go over the 40-plus questions that we submitted last year that they delayed on. And then the Secretary DeRosa, in the heat of the moment, I think she went off script and disclosed all this stuff about why they weren't able to share the data and then talked about the Department of Justice and their investigation.

The admission also implicated us as lawmakers, so now we have a duty to address it. If we don’t, we're being accomplices to their hiding of information. She went back and retracted and tried to correct this, so only she and the governor know the truth.

Last year, they asked for extraordinary powers to issue their own mandates. They pushed 9,000 COVID patients into state-owned nursing homes. We also recently discovered that they allowed experimental drugs to be administered on them. They aggressively pushed in the budget — which I voted against — for broader legal immunities that included nursing homes. We need to go back and connect those dots and figure out why they chose those policies, who pushed them, who are they listening to, who profited from those policies, and where do we go from here? That’s the kind of accountability that all New Yorkers deserve at this point.

Governor also recently said point-blank that he doesn’t trust experts and does what he wants.

I honestly completely forgot about that. It was very Trumpian, for sure. There were a number of people who left the Department of Health around the same time, and I think that was his reason for saying that, to cover that up. I have no doubt that the administration had a heavy hand in the way it directed those professionals. What were they being ordered to do? What were they hiding? Why did people have blanket immunity?

All those things are interlinked and I think finally, we have enough people — including the Attorney General of New York — and a number of outside people who can get to the bottom of this and give some sense of closure and justice to all the people who were impacted.

There was a heavy hand from the start, including with the battle with Mayor DeBlasio over shutting down the city last March. The governor didn’t want to do that and held it back a week.

Everyone made mistakes in the first wave. The point is how quickly did they own up to their mistakes, stay flexible, collaborative and readjust and learn from their mistakes? I think that's the difference between effective leadership during this pandemic and ineffective leadership. The mayor gets a lot of flack, but at the end of the day, I respect him because he shows up twice a week, he knows he'll be criticized by the press corps and the public, but he is openly transparent about every decision, every data point that's coming out of the city.

The mayor made some mistakes. He wasn’t decisive at first and I think he was about 10 days late in deciding to shut down. But the difference is that I think the governor and people like Donald Trump, they're extremely fixed-minded and vindictive. And it's a dangerous combination during an emergency because it's not about you, dude. This is about my constituents, our people who are dying, but you're worried about your fragile ego and your brand.

So looking forward, let’s say we hit herd immunity this summer or fall and can start rebuilding. Where do we go from here?

I have been talking about rebuilding toward a caring economy for the last couple of years. I think this has exposed the shortfalls of the wealthiest place in the entire country, the 10th wealthiest place in the world. We’re unable to take care of our most vulnerable, older population. I’ve seen as chair of the aging committee how we haven't paid enough money for our nurses, our home care workers, there's even a shortage of workers to do the paperwork. So I think we need to go back and reinvest in our people and pay people to do care work.

For way too long, we just assumed that family members and volunteers would do the care work, but that’s no longer the case. We need to invest money into the sector. Investing in care work in urban environments is also very intricately connected to the Green New Deal. If you think about it, care work leads to the smallest carbon footprint, it’s non-extractive when we take care of our people in our community. It is at the foundation of a sustainable future.

Now that Democrats have a supermajority, can you make bigger things happen?

We have some difficult battles to fight, because in places like Albany, there's a lot of corporate interests with a lot of money that are still dominating political conversations. And even though we have supermajorities, it is almost impossible, for example, to even introduce a new tax-the-rich bill without having so much institutional opposition. So I think this budget will be the litmus test of how progressive we are. We are trying to put together a comprehensive Tax Justice package that can generate up to $50 billion a year for New York.


What We Learned From the Impeachment Numbers

Yesterday, Senate Republicans voted to acquit Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection (though a vast majority of them admitted he did exactly that), putting an end to his second impeachment trial by endorsing terrorism by a wide margin. Here are the top-line numbers:

  • 57% of the Senate, representing 202 million Americans (62% of the population), voted to convict Donald Trump.

  • 43% of the Senate, representing 125 million Americans (38% of the country), voted to acquit Trump.

Putting aside the egregiously undemocratic nature of the U.S. Senate, which is a long-term problem that must be addressed, the more immediate takeaway is this: If we can’t even get ten Republican Senators to vote to convict Donald Trump of inciting the insurrection that nearly killed them, there’s no chance that we’ll ever get ten Republicans to vote for a single even mildly progressive Democratic bill. Republicans had no interest in helping people when they were in power, and now that they’re in the minority, they certainly don’t want to give Democrats a hand in making things better.

Republicans have made themselves fully irrelevant for the next two years. The onus is thus squarely on Democrats to make big moves to rescue this country and reverse its unprecedented inequality. If they don’t enact massive and tangible change, redistricting and political disaffection will almost guarantee that they’ll lose control of at least one chamber of Congress in 2022. And if that happens, it’ll be Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorne, Louis Gohmert, and their ilk in charge.

Where Things Stand Now — And What Needs Pushing

Given their slim majority and total GOP disinterest, Democrats have no choice but to nuke the filibuster. Otherwise, they will not be able to install new voter protections or deliver on a single legislative campaign promise beyond what survives in the COVID-19 relief bill that is winding through an exhausting reconciliation process.

And as it stands, even that bill is looking likely to fall short of initial promises, which will only compound the pain felt by the millions who aren’t even getting the unemployment benefits they deserve right now.

Putting aside the well-trod $2000 vs $1400 check debate, some Democrats in the Senate are insisting that the bill shed other key provisions, including the gradual minimum wage increase that would take the national standard to $15-an-hour by 2025. Never mind that the minimum wage increase was supported by 67% of voters nearly two years ago, well before the bottom fell out of the economy.

Leading the charge on that front is Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who was the subject of a strange profile in Politico last week. Stacked in between comments about her favorite colorful wigs and fawning comments from Republicans, she presents herself as a young dinosaur who had no interest in passing any sort of substantive agenda.

“What’s important is whether or not it’s directly related to short-term Covid relief. And if it’s not, then I am not going to support it in this legislation,” Sinema said. “The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process. It is not a budget item. And it shouldn’t be in there.”

Despite being one of the youngest, and let’s face it, hippest members of the chamber, Sinema holds views that can be as old-school as any of the Senate’s long-timers'. Not only does she want to keep the filibuster, she wants to rebuild it. And the end-around idea of overruling the parliamentarian to jam whatever Democrats want to in a budget reconciliation bill is not going to happen on Sinema’s watch either.

“There is no instance in which I would overrule a parliamentarian’s decision,” Sinema said. “I want to restore the 60-vote threshold for all elements of the Senate's work.”

I’ve been told by people in the loop that despite Sinema’s tough talk, she is movable on issues like minimum wage and the filibuster (at least for some bills). She’d be foolish not to be — a 2016 ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Arizona received far more votes than she did two years later, while Arizona Republicans are working hard to suppress the vote in ways that would put her re-election in grave danger should there not be a big new Voting Rights Act passed.

Accountability

So how do we push her towards signing on to saving democracy and the economy? One tactic is to empower the grassroots groups that have already proven effective at this sort of thing. And unlike in 2009, we have a multitude of organizations ready to do this work.

Unions and progressive groups are already pushing back hard at President Joe Biden’s reluctance to use his legitimate power to force the minimum wage increase through. The recently formed No Excuses PAC used grassroots tactics and smart local media buys to pressure West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin into signing on to stimulus checks and starting the reconciliation process on the stimulus. Now, it’s targeting Sinema with the same approach.

This isn’t fire-breathing stuff, just a level-headed populist appeal based on Sinema’s prior statements and votes. But it’s not just Sinema — Democrats often tend to talk a big game when they’re out of power (it’s great for fundraising!) and then hesitate when it’s time to actually implement their agenda.

There are more than a few conservative Democrats in the Senate who now are reticent to push for progressive policies, either due to pressure from corporate donors, a fossilized understanding of populism, or an attachment to a long-past era of legislating. This includes the “Problem Solvers Caucus” members pushing “targeted” stimulus checks that would deny tens of millions of people the full payment promised them. It’s not only terrible politics, but it’s underwritten by deeply flawed data.

I want Democrats to win as much as anyone — I’ve devoted years of my life to getting them elected! But in order to continue winning elections, Democrats need to go big and deliver. No one’s going to go to the ballot box in 2022 and think “Jeez, I haven’t been able to pay rent or get medical care, but at least Democrats respected that racist old rule in the Senate.” We need to pressure the Democratic Party — for its own good.

Donate to No Excuses PAC!


Important News You Need to Know

Here are a few stories from around the country — I deliver lots more news and keep up on these stories throughout the week in the issues sent out to premium members!

Healthcare

  • Work requirements on Medicaid are incredibly cruel and remarkably ineffective, which makes them the perfect modern Republican policy. The Trump administration invited states to apply for waivers to institute work requirements, and had it not been for some court cases that held up their implementation, they would have denied millions of poor people healthcare for the sake of hurting poor people.

    Thankfully, the Biden administration is moving to rescind states’ permission to utilize those requirements, something it can do because the federal government pays an overwhelming percentage of Medicaid bills. Twelve states have refused to expand Medicaid, again for the sake of hurting poor people, and the COVID relief bill, as advanced by the House this week, seeks to convince them to finally take the plunge by promising to pay 95% of costs in the first two years.

  • Of course, we still need Medicare for All, not only because so many people will remain uninsured even with Medicaid expansion, but because even those with health insurance are badly damaged by the system. A new study shows that increases in insurance co-pays, which happen all the time, are literally deadly.

  • In the absence of federal action, states are beginning to take their own action on drug prices — and it’s a rare point of bipartisan agreement.

  • The Arkansas State Senate just passed a bill that would allow medical professionals to discriminate against LGBTQ people and anyone else they object to treating on “religious” grounds.

  • On the other hand, New Mexico lawmakers are moving to repeal an abortion ban from 1969 ahead of whatever the 6-3 conservative Supreme Court majority might have in store. Part of that law is a “conscience clause” that allows health practitioners to refuse to perform or help with the procedure, and conservatives are suggesting that nurses and doctors might straight-up leave the state if they’re forced to take care of patients.

Weed Watch

  • Finally, after three months of absurd circular negotiations and failed attempts to enact a change approved by the state’s electorate in November, New Jersey lawmakers and Gov. Phil Murphy might be closing in on a deal to legalize marijuana. The most frustrating part of all this is that Murphy has been demanding penalties for kids under 21 who are caught with weed, which partially recriminalizes the substance that everyone wants to see fully legal.

  • As Virginia lawmakers inch closer to legalization, North Carolina residents are itching to get in on the dankness themselves. A new poll shows that 54% of North Carolinians are in favor of legal weed and a full two-thirds want to see at least lower penalties for getting caught with the stuff.

Voting Rights

  • In Tennessee, a number of formerly incarcerated citizens are suing the state for making it functionally impossible for them to register to vote after they’ve paid all their dues and are technically eligible to cast a ballot. The situation sounds a lot like the chaos maze that Florida Republicans installed after the state’s voters overwhelmingly approved an end to felony disenfranchisement via ballot initiative in 2018.

    This stat explains so much about why these states are so controlled by (white) Republicans. It also made me nauseous:

    Nearly 450,000 Tennesseans, or 9% of the voting-age population, can't vote because of a felony conviction, according to a 2020 study conducted by The Sentencing Project. Only Mississippi has a higher percentage of its voting population disenfranchised.

  • Over in Texas, the state legislature begins its work this week. Democrats broke Republicans’ supermajority in the state Senate in November, but because they only did so by one seat, the GOP just went and changed the law to give itself a supermajority again. These people don’t care about the institutions or the will of voters, which makes a quote like this particularly Machiavellian:

    “This will ensure that Democrats will not have veto power over the conservative agenda that the majority of Texans clearly support — as we saw in the November election,” Sylvester said.

    Imagine if Democrats took the same attitude about the national election.

Also of note:


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