Monthly Archives: March 2020

Trump Campaign Threatens Legal Action over an Ad

First of all, here is the ad in question.  It’s just 30 seconds.

The ad is being run by a group called Priorities USA, a superPAC.  Reminder:  A PAC is a political action committee that raises and donates money to campaigns; a superPAC operates independently of any candidates’ official campaign funds and organizations, and thus is not subject to limits on how much it can raise or spend.  But a superPAC has the same goal as an official campaign; in this instance, the goal of Priorities USA is victory for Joe BIden (the likely nominee) over Donald Trump.

I’ll get to the legal threat in a moment, but first, I have another observation to make.  The ad is being shown in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, and they’re planning to expand it into Arizona.  This illustrates that there is an ongoing shift of which swing/battleground states campaigns focus on.  Back in 2012, Ohio was getting a lot more attention, and not so much Minnesota.  As I’ve noted before, it’s Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that are being treated as the leading battleground states this time around.

Okay, now about the threat of legal action:  The Trump campaign has sent a cease-and-desist letter (here’s the full text of that letter) alleging that the use of the recording of Trump saying “this is their new hoax” is misleading, because it implies that Trump called the coronavirus itself, when all he was really calling a hoax was the Democrats’ way of politicizing it and accusing Trump of inaction.  (The letter has the full Trump quotation that that line came from, as well as citations of media sources affirming that Trump never called the virus itself a hoax.)

If this were a libel suit, the relevant case law would be New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), which says that when a public figure sues a news organization for defamation, whether for a news article or an advertisement, the public figure must prove that the news organization acted with malice or with reckless disregard for the truth.  However, that isn’t what they’re threatening.  Rather, the Trump campaign is threatening action under FCC regulations that require TV stations to refrain from knowingly broadcasting misleading information.

One point that needs to be made clear is that while a superPAC, Priorities USA, made the ad, it’s the individual TV stations that are getting the cease-and-desist letter.  Priorities USA isn’t backing down, but some TV stations may.  An important thing to remember is that threat of legal action can lead the receiving party to back down for fear that the mere cost of fighting it could be too much to bear, even with a good outlook for eventual victory in the courtroom.

Article in, March 26, 2020

Editorial in Slate, March 26, 2020, sounding alarm for freedom of the press

Again, the cease-and-desist letter, for the Trump point of view

Further update

As the Democrats and the Republicans in Washington move closer to an agreement, here’s an article with further detail on how the two plans differ.  Politico, March 24, 2020.

Both sides of the aisle understand that going without an agreement is not an option, but they’re going to try to get as much as they can of their respective demands before they cave.  Note how the demands of the two parties consist with what we’ve been saying in general about their differing partisan ideologies.  Even so, again, they all agree that something has to be done.

Elsewhere in the news, it appears now that Trump is invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950 to compel companies to produce for the crisis.

Washington and the Coronavirus: A Quick Update

I’m writing this on Monday, March 23, in early afternoon.  As of now, there are two key things to be aware of, with regard to what the federal government is doing–or, at the moment, what it isn’t.

First, Congress has yet to pass the emergency stimulus bill that would infuse up to three trillion dollars into the collapsing economy.  Democrats and Republicans both agree that federal money needs to be sent rapidly to individuals, small businesses, and some big corporations to rescue the nation’s economy.  However, the Democrats want more money than the Republicans do, and the Democrats want there to be more safeguards to make sure that the money dispensed to corporations doesn’t go into the pockets of their shareholders and their already-rich executives.  They want more guarantees that it will benefit the workers.

The negotiations aren’t happening the usual way, where bills in Congress are concerned.  The Senate is trying to reach bipartisan agreement on a bill that can then be sent to the House.  Two of the key negotiators are Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.  (Trump himself still isn’t on speaking terms with the Democrats on Capitol Hill, so he’s leaving that to Mnuchin, probably a smart move.)  They hope to have something by tonight; things fell apart last night (Sunday).

By the way, there’s another complication:  members of Congress have to be present in the physical chamber on Capitol Hill to vote.  It would take a rules change in both the House and the Senate to change that, and the question has been raised as to whether it would be constitutional.  Add to that the fact that three Senators (all Republicans) have tested positive for the Coronavirus and thus can’t vote.  Things are scary, and of course each party blames the other for obstruction, but ideally they’ll come to some agreement by tonight.

Article in Politico, March 23, 2020

Interview on NPR with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, March 23, 2020

Also, several state governors are calling on Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act, passed back in 1950 when the United States was fighting the Korean War, an act authorizing him to give orders to private industry to redirect their production efforts toward the national emergency.  So far he hasn’t, and relations between Trump and a number of governors, including Cuomo, remain tense.