Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, December 2020 # 3

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Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines from Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs practice.

In Washington:

  • While we have seen some hopeful progress this week on coronavirus relief, some cracks are beginning to show. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the Senate floor Thursday, signaling an unwillingness to compromise with Democrats and starting a sparring match with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY).
    • McConnell said he believed a deal on coronavirus relief was "within reach," but didn't embrace the bipartisan, bicameral $908 billion proposal gaining steam within his own caucus. That bipartisan proposal included short-term federal protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits, but both Democrats and McConnell were cool to the idea. McConnell argued instead for a smaller package featuring more small business aid through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a liability overhaul, and extending soon-to-expire CARES Act programs. McConnell also suggested that the Senate only pass Republican and Trump-approved provisions leaving the rest for later.
    • Schumer criticized the Republican leader for taking the Senate floor, claiming that a compromise was within reach and then making a long list of Republican demands and disparaging Democrats. “What he wants to do is posture, to put partisan bills on the floor and say, take it or leave it,” Schumer said.
    • But several GOP senators are expressing support for the bipartisan bill and Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters on Thursday, “I’ve never been more hopeful that we’ll get a bill.” Other senators showing support for the bipartisan package include: Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas, and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota
    • President Trump on Thursday said he would sign a coronavirus relief package if Congress can broker a deal in the final weeks of the year after months of gridlock. "I want it to happen, and I believe they're getting very close to a deal," Trump said in the Oval Office. Asked if he will support a deal, Trump replied "I will."
  • President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Transition co-chair and former Obama administration official Jeff Zients to serve as the White House’s Covid-19 coordinator and Vivek Murthy, the former U.S. surgeon general under Obama, will return to that role, but with a broader role as the administration’s top medical expert and public face of the work. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a co-chair of Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, will also take a key role in the administration’s response while focusing on health disparities.
  • The federal government will issue cards to each vaccinated American confirming that they received the coronavirus vaccine. "Everyone will be issued a written card that they can put in their wallet that will tell them what they had and when their next dose is due," Kelly Moore, associate director of the Immunization Action Coalition, said Wednesday, according to CNN, relaying the Defense Department’s plans. The Pentagon has issued details about the vaccine kits that will be assembled by the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, including that the kits will include the card. The Pentagon released images of the card on Wednesday.
  • NIH official and infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci is set to meet virtually with President-elect Biden's team later in the day. "[T]oday will be the first day where there will be substantive discussions about the transition between me and the Biden team," Fauci told CBS News's Major Garrett on the Takeout Podcast. Biden and Fauci have not spoken directly. The doctor, however, said he has had conversations with Biden's incoming chief of staff Ron Klain.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday delivered a blow to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s (D) pandemic-related ban on indoor religious services, siding with a church that challenged the measure as unconstitutional religious discrimination. The justices directed the lower court to reconsider the case in light of their ruling in a New York case on November 25 that backed Christian and Jewish houses of worship that challenged New York state restrictions in coronavirus hot spots.

In the News:

  • Pfizer has run into supply chain problems causing it to cut back half the doses it promised to send worldwide by the end of the year. The pharmaceutical company will only be shipping 50 million doses but said it will make up for the shortfall by shipping more than a billion doses of the vaccine in 2021.
  • A small study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that people who received the Moderna coronavirus shot had higher levels of antibodies three months after vaccination than people who recovered from COVID-19 infections.
  • The U.S. saw its highest single-day coronavirus death toll on Wednesday with 3,157 deaths. The number was 20 percent higher than the previous single-day high of 2,603 on April 15, and brings the total U.S. death toll to 273,799, according to Johns Hopkins University. Additionally, on Wednesday new hospitalizations exceeded 100,000 for the first time ever, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Of those hospitalized, 19,396 were intensive care patients, another new high. Lag time between infection and hospitalization means that these numbers likely do not reflect the number of new infections caused by Thanksgiving gatherings.
  • Facebook announced Thursday that it will begin removing misinformation about coronavirus vaccines as the immunizations are poised to be rolled out globally. Posts containing false claims about “safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects” about the vaccines can be taken down, the social media giant said in a blog post. Facebook is rife with vaccination misinformation. Some researchers have found that online anti-vaccine sentiments have contributed to real-world hesitancy to take a coronavirus vaccine.
  • The AP reports that IBM security researchers have detected a cyberespionage effort using targeted phishing emails to collect vital information on the World Health Organization’s initiative for distributing COVID-19 vaccine to developing countries. The researchers said they could not be sure who was behind the campaign or if it was successful.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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