Texas Democratic Party convention goes virtual

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The Texas Democratic Party has moved to take its massive June convention to the virtual realm, giving party officials a chance to put a significant mark on the way conventions are conducted in the future, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster and CBS News political unit associate producer Ellee Watson. The change comes as the coronavirus pandemic upended the political world, ending traditional campaign rallies, causing primaries to be conducted entirely by mail, and even putting the fate of the national convention into question. 

“We pride ourselves for having the largest convention in the country,” said Texas Democratic Party deputy executive director Cliff Walker. “It’s the biggest gathering of Democrats outside of the DNC (Democratic National Convention). But now that we’re having to make some adjustments, I think it really does give us some opportunities.”

As the coronavirus spread nationally in March, party leaders realized they might not be able to hold their customary convention, with thousands of Texans packed into a San Antonio convention center in early June, and they started looking at ways to reinvent the event for 2020 and beyond. The party announced the decision to transform its in-person convention into a virtual one in March, but is sharing details of how it will execute the plan for the first time. 

“We firmly believe that this is the future of what conventions can look like,” said Texas Democratic Party convention director Hannah Roe Beck.

The party plans to hold its virtual convention during the first week of June using two channels: One for official party business like voting on delegates and one with speakers, performances, and panels. The party is still in talks with the production company and the speakers about the locations for the broadcast events, but the idea is to build a TV studio and control room to deliver the feed.  

According to convention organizers, the “main stage” channel with speakers and panels will be broadcast on social media platforms such as Facebook. The party business will be conducted on a video chat platform like Zoom that will feature a grid of video boxes and allow participants to interact and ask questions. 

For voting on delegates and other party business, the state party has built out a system using Google Forms to insert preferences. Voting will be divided up across multiple days, instead of the traditional one to two days of voting, so that users with varying technological equipment and expertise have the time to participate. Party officials said there will be testing and extensive training on the process ahead of the convention. 

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Biden announcing his primary campaign. Earlier today, Biden and the Democratic National Committee officially joined fundraising arms to form the “Biden Victory Fund.” A DNC official told CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice the max donation to the Biden fund will be $360,600 and noted a fundraising partnership with state parties is in the works. Regarding fundraising, CBS News also confirmed with a Biden campaign official today that the campaign returned a max donation of $2,800 from comedian Louis C.K. The actor was accused of sexual misconduct in November 2017.

Late last night Joe Biden predicted President Trump would try to push back November’s general election in an effort to help the president win, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. “Mark my words, I think he is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,” Biden said during a Thursday evening virtual fundraiser. 

The presumptive Democratic nominee latched on to Mr. Trump’s earlier resistance to grant COVID-19 federal relief money to the postal service, labeling the move “un-American.” Biden said, “Imagine threatening not to fund the post office. Now what in God’s name is that about? Other than trying to let the word out that he’s going to do all he can to make it very hard for people to vote. That’s the only way he thinks he can possibly win.” Biden’s star-studded, energetic fundraiser netted more than $1.1 million dollars.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

A digital technology company that specializes in the mass collection of smartphone location data and is working for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign received millions from the federal coronavirus relief fund for small businesses, CBS News senior reporter Stephen Gandel and CBS News investigative reporter Graham Kates report

The company, Phunware, helped develop the “Trump 2020” campaign app, a tool over a year in the making and launched just yesterday. Home to 60 employees, the company was eligible for the low-interest loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, which is aimed at businesses with less than 500 workers. There is no allegation of illegality associated with its loan. But the size of the loan — $2.85 million — is nearly 14 times the current PPP average of $206,000. Meantime, hundreds of thousands of smaller businesses got nothing, because the nearly $350 billion loan program ran out of money in just two weeks. (Congress is allocating another $310 billion to the PPP loan fund this week.) 

The speed of Phunware’s loan is notable, too. The publicly traded Texas-based company named a high-profile former Wall Street executive as its corporate board chair on March 30, the day after the PPP program was passed by Congress as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. Phunware has not disclosed how much it expects to make from the Trump campaign this year. But the company has said in filings it is actively pursuing political work during the 2020 presidential election cycle. A spokesperson for the Trump 2020 campaign did not reply to questions sent for this article.

Asked about the impact of the coronavirus on the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says President Trump told reporters Thursday, “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in an election.” Trump took aim at presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, calling him “a sleepy guy in the basement of a house.” 

The president said he looks forward to debating the former vice president, adding that, “they’re keeping him sheltered because of the coronavirus.” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale echoed these comments in an interview Thursday evening, suggesting Biden “doesn’t want to be in those debates.”

Parscale told Fox News, “Even if it’s only the president and him 12 feet apart, with nobody in the crowd. He still doesn’t want to do it because he doesn’t want to be caught in those situations. I mean the man in the last few months has forgot what date it was, what year September 11th happened.” 

Mr.  Biden has repeatedly said he plans to debate Trump either virtually or in person if safe enough. Parscale also dismissed recent polls showing the president is running behind in Michigan and Florida

“I’m not worried about this one state,” he said. “I think we have new states like New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Minnesota in play.” The campaign manager added he is “not worried” about any of Biden’s potential vice presidential picks, including Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “I completely think in Michigan, it’ll help us. I think she has done everything wrong for that state,” Parscale said of the Democratic state executive.

VEEPSTAKES

ELIZABETH WARREN

Senator Elizabeth Warren on Friday called for an investigation into whether banks have been unfairly prioritizing larger clients as they’ve issued federal loans meant to help small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program. 

“Based on the last update provided by the SBA, the largest 4% of loans approved under the program cost over $150 billion – and accounted for 45% of all program funding, a clear sign that mom and pop businesses did not proportionally benefit from the program,” Warren and Rep. Nydia Velázquez wrote in a letter to inspectors general of the Small Business Administration and Treasury Department. 

CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak says the Democratic lawmakers cited several news reports about banks prioritizing bigger customers and about businesses receiving aid despite laying off most of their employees. Warren and Velázquez asked the agencies to review the banks’ process for granting loans and whether the companies receiving them were in need and if they had ties to the Trump administration. 

GRETCHEN WHITMER

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order on Friday morning that will extend the stay at home order in Michigan through May 15, notes CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. The current stay-at-home order expires at the end of the month. While the stay-at-home order is extended, Whitmer’s executive order eases some restrictions. 

Landscapers, plant nurseries and bike repair and maintenance shops may operate with strict social distancing measures enforced. In addition, motorized boating and golfing may resume with social distancing rules being practiced. The executive order also noted that employers must provide their employees who perform in-person tasks a non-medical grade mask. People who are in enclosed public spaces will also be required to wear a face covering, such as scarves, handkerchiefs or bandanas, to cover their nose and mouth if they can medically tolerate it. 

In a briefing Friday morning, Whitmer said the executive order is a “step forward, but added that the overarching message on how to combat the coronavirus remains the same. “Staying home remains our best weapon to defeat this enemy and to stop the spread,” she said. Hours later, the Republican controlled state senate passed two bills that would limit Whitmer’s emergency powers. In her briefing, Whitmer threatened to veto the legislation. 

“I’m not going to sign any bill that takes authority away from me, or from any future governor,” Whitmer said. “The powers of the executive office are incredibly important, especially in times of crisis where lives are on the line.” Michigan’s legislature also adopted a bipartisan oversight committee to examine the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

GOVERNOR’S MANSION

HELP WANTED

According to audio obtained by CBS News, several governors stressed the need for state funding during a call on Friday about testing with Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said he’s had to spend $36 million on a combination of testing, which is money he had to front using the state’s general funds. 

“If there’s no help for the state, then we’re left to go bankrupt. That’s the money we’re using to do the testing,” Walz said on the call. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell previously floated allowing states to go bankrupt while Congress hits the “pause button” on any further funding to the states. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has slammed McConnell’s comments in his press briefings, and during the call said that a clear show of support from Trump would help the governors “speak in the voice of solidarity and to do our jobs.” Cuomo added, “Because if we have to start to push back against this, it’s not going to be an easy situation for any of us.” In response, Pence referenced Trump’s prior comments about having “an openness to another bill, an openness to state support.” The call for state aid comes as governors across the aisle are concerned about any future cuts they might have to make, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro and CBS News digital political reporter Grace Segers.

During the call, the governors also gave updates on their testing capabilities, sharing some of the ways they’ve worked with public and private laboratories. Cuomo said the “delineation of responsibility” on testing between the federal and state governments is clearer, with the federal government handling issues with the national supply chains and the states handling their labs. 

“So the national manufacturers, the reagents, the test kits, the international supply chain, whatever those issues are, the federal government could facilitate that up to the national manufacturers. Then our labs in our states could actually get the supplies from the national manufacturers so our labs produce whatever they can produce,” he said. “It’s not the states on their own, and it’s not the federal government running the show. It’s an absolute partnership,” Dr. Anthony Fauci added.

KEY CONSTITUENCIES

LATINO VOTE

Are the daily presidential news briefings on Coronavirus — and the near-constant coverage of President Trump’s words and actions in response to the pandemic — giving him a campaign advantage? A new survey out today suggests it might be with a critical bloc of support for Democrats, according to CBS News political correspondent Ed O’Keefe. 

Just 49% of Latino registered voters would vote for former Vice President Joe Biden while another 10% said they were undecided but leaning towards backing him, according to the poll by Latino Decisions. Seventeen percent of respondents said they back Mr. Trump, with another 6% undecided but leaning in his direction. Eighteen percent said they are undecided. 

The poll was conducted on behalf of Henry Muñoz, the former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a longtime party moneyman who is close to Biden and his senior advisers. There is softer-than-anticipated support for Biden among Latinos because Democrats are “creating a vacuum” that reflects a lack of information in the Latino community about how the Trump administration is responding to the crisis, Muñoz said. 

“This isn’t an ask-people-for-their-vote moment; it’s a moment when we should be speaking to Americans about what they’re going through and reaching out to them and letting them know that we have their back, because the other party does not, and this president does not,” he said. 

“He is killing us and not testing us and we’re losing jobs, and he’s taking care of insiders.” What might help Biden? Picking a Latina running mate, the poll finds. Read more about it here.

STATE-BY-STATE

CALIFORNIA

California’s Senate Minority Leader and Bakersfield Republican Shannon Grove are asking Governor Gavin Newsom to “move away from pursuing a set of uniform, statewide policies” in response to the coronavirus. Grove is asking Newsom to allow some parts of the state to end lockdowns ahead of more afflicted areas. Grove said the rate of spread across communities has been different, adding, “many counties have in fact only had a handful of cases.” 

According to an analysis from the Los Angeles Times, Kern County, which encompasses Bakersfield, has 699 confirmed cases of coronavirus. In contrast, neighboring Los Angeles County has reported over 17,000 confirmed positive cases. Grove said “it does not make sense to indefinitely bind” different areas as part of the same statewide lockdown and urged Newsom to grant city and county governments “more flexibility and discretion” when it comes to ending shelter-in-place mandates.

Meanwhile the California Republican Party is asking Newsom to prohibit campaign operatives and volunteers from collecting mail-in ballots from voters at their homes. The practice, referred to as ballot harvesting, is legal and allows any person to collect a mail-in ballot from voters and turn it in to a polling place or the registrar’s office. 

Prior to 2016, the law restricted this practice to just relatives of or those living in same household as the voter. The California Republican Party says it has not heard back from Newsom after sending him a letter nine days ago to prohibit this practice because it presents the same risk as in-person voting. The letter argues that the practice of ballot harvesting, which may involve a stranger visiting a voter’s home and returning that voter’s ballot to the election offices, would be a threat to the safety of others. 

In a statement to CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Newsom “needs to make clear that ballot harvesting stands in direct conflict with the stay-at-home order he issued.” And in a tweet this morning, McDaniel renewed the calls to prohibit the practice of ballot harvesting ahead of California’s special election, adding, “Gov. Gavin Newsom has been dodging this all week.” Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment from CBS News. 

WISCONSIN

Hundreds of Wisconsinites descended on the state capitol building in Madison on Friday to call on Governor Tony Evers to reopen the state. CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster reports many of the speakers said Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order was an infringement on civil liberties and hurting the economy. 

Attendees waved American flags and some wore shirts or flew flags supporting President Trump. Live videos streaming on Facebook showed many people were not wearing masks and some appeared to not follow social distancing guidelines. The protest and rally came the same day that Wisconsin’s extended safer at home order took effect. The order, which goes through May 26, keeps some businesses closed, but lifts some restrictions such as allowing “non-essential businesses” to do “Minimum Basic Operations,” including deliveries and curbside pickup. 

Golf courses are also allowed to open. Republican leaders in the legislature have asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to block that order. On Monday, Evers released a plan to reopen the state in three phases based on a 14-day downward trend in coronavirus cases and increasing testing capabilities, improving contact tracing and ensuring enough hospital capacity. 

An Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found that 68% of registered Wisconsin voters approve of how Evers has handled the coronavirus pandemic and 67% believe the local response to the virus is going well. While the protest was happening, Wisconsin reported 304 new positive COVID-19 cases and five more deaths from the virus. It was the highest increase of cases the state has reported in a single day. Overall, 5,356 people in Wisconsin have tested positive for the virus and 262 people have died from it.

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