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Trump, GOP place big bet on economy for 2020

Trump, GOP place big bet on economy for 2020
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Republicans are betting on the economy as they try to hold on to the Senate and the White House in November.

The spread of the coronavirus and the subsequent economic fallout have rattled the party's 2020 message and sparked a round of dismal poll numbers for President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE and Republicans in key battleground races.

But GOP senators are hoping a potential upswing in growth heading into the fall, combined with fundamental policy differences that contrast with Democrats, will allow them to save a key piece of their campaign strategy.

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“As long as it’s moving in the right direction and people have some hope — obviously we’ve been through a tough time, but I think if we see a V-shaped recovery, which I think most people are predicting now, then I think that will be a good issue to run on,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynIntelligence leaders push for mandatory breach notification law Senate GOP signal they won't filibuster debate of hate crimes bill Application portal for venue grants down for five days with no updates MORE (R-Texas), who is running for reelection in November.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Biden outreach on infrastructure met with Republican skepticism McConnell seeks to end feud with Trump MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, added that he thinks “most people believe that the president and Republicans in Congress, when it comes to the economy, have better policies and strategies for bringing the country back.”

“Hopefully that will be underway already — you’ll start to see the evidence of that as the economy picks up and things open up — but either way I think there is inherently a lot of support for policies that traditionally Republicans advance,” he said.

The Trump campaign leaned into the issue with a TV ad that went up Friday. It sought to paint former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Olympics, climate on the agenda for Biden meeting with Japanese PM Boehner on Afghanistan: 'It's time to pull out the troops' MORE as someone who would “crush our economy” compared with Trump, who “led us to the strongest economy in history” and is “doing it again.”

“We have done a great job. If you look back a few months to an economy that was the greatest of all time. ... Now you look at what we're doing. I'm doing it all over again,” Trump told Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityBoehner says he voted for Trump, didn't push back on election claims because he's retired Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Boehner finally calls it as he sees it MORE in a Fox News interview. “And we're going to have an amazing year next year. We're going to have a great third quarter.”

Republicans vowed heading into 2020 to put the economy at the heart of their election message, and GOP senators were projecting confidence about their chances of winning the White House and holding on to the Senate, where they are defending 23 seats with several GOP senators in “toss-up” races.

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But since then, the 2020 landscape has been upended, as the coronavirus cratered the economy. Labor Department data released on Thursday showed the 11th straight week of more than 1 million new applications for unemployment benefits.

Further throwing a curveball into the GOP’s election year strategy, the killing of George Floyd has put police brutality under a national microscope and police reform legislation in the forefront for Congress.

Trump has sparked backlash, including from members of his own party, with his response to the protests and has faced a steady stream of bad polls in recent weeks.

A Fox News national poll showed Biden with a 12-point lead over Trump, and a FiveThirtyEight average of national polling had Biden leading by more than 9 points.

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll released earlier this month had Trump’s approval at 39 percent. That could have down-ballot reverberations for GOP senators, who have stuck closely to Trump as they try to win in November.

“I think when you’re in office you sort of get blamed when things are not going well. There’s a lot of chaotic activity, and it sort of sticks to you as an incumbent,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Biden aide: Ability to collect daily intel in Afghanistan 'will diminish' Leaving Afghanistan: Is it victory or defeat? MORE (R-S.C.) said when asked about Trump’s poll numbers.

“But as long as he’s seen as being able to deliver on the economy, he’s in a pretty good spot, assuming things level out,” he added.

The GOP’s decision to lean into the economy comes after the May jobs report showed the country surprisingly added 2.5 million workers to payrolls that month.

The unemployment rate also dipped from April, when it hit the highest level since the Great Depression, but remains abysmal at 13.3 percent. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told CNN last month that he believed the statistic could remain in the double digits through Election Day — presenting a historic headwind for Trump’s reelection hopes.

Democrats have urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Democrats roll out legislation to expand Supreme Court Wall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study MORE (R-Ky.) to move faster on another coronavirus relief package, warning that they are risking more economic damage by waiting until mid-July, at the earliest, to pass a bill. Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer lays groundwork for future filibuster reform Holder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ Capitol Police officer killed in car attack lies in honor in Capitol Rotunda MORE (D-N.Y), speaking from the Senate floor, said several deadlines are approaching that will be impacted by what is in the next bill.

“Leader McConnell is willing to blow through his own deadlines, but some deadlines will arrive whether the Republican leader likes it or not. Whether he likes it or not, his inaction is creating some very steep cliffs for our economy and the American worker,” Schumer said.

“Economists from all walks of life are telling Senate Republicans to get off the mat and do something to help the economy before it’s too late,” he added.

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But Republicans have the backing of the White House, which has hinted that it considers the May jobs report as the start of good economic news heading toward November.

Voter views on Trump’s handling of the economy have generally outpaced his approval rating. The Associated Press-NORC June survey found that 49 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the economy — a good 10 points above his approval rating.

“I would note that this economy is robust and growing and coming back stronger than anyone could think from this because of the president,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters late last week. “So we artificially shut down the economy, but we have a robust recovery happening and taking place, and that's thanks to President Trump.”

But there are certainly signs of economic headwinds that could dampen those predictions, underscoring the risk of putting the economy at the center of the party’s campaign strategy.

The stock market has been extremely volatile amid a spike in cases across the country as more states have reopened. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, for example, dropped more than 1,800 points in one trading day earlier this month, marking the worst day since March, amid fears of a new wave of cases.

The Dow closed down roughly 200 points on Friday, driven by news that Apple was closing some of its stores in coronavirus hot spots and that the World Health Organization warned the virus was entering a “new and dangerous phase.”

But Cornyn, when asked about the risk of leaning into the economy if the markets react negatively to new cases, said, “That’s entirely speculation.”

“The models have proven to be way off, and so, you know, some unexpected event, sure, that could have an impact, but we're in a lot better shape to deal with the COVID than we were the first time,” he said.