Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, February 2021 # 10

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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:

  • The Senate adjourned Friday evening after former President Trump’s defense lawyers rested their case on day four of Trump’s second impeachment trial. The defense used under three hours of their 16 allotted hours. They echoed Trump in calling the impeachment an act of "political vengeance" and alleging that Trump's speech preceding the Capitol riot was merely "ordinary political rhetoric." Once Trump's defense concluded, senators posed written questions to both House managers and the defense. The trial resumed at 10 a.m. Saturday, beginning with closing arguments from both sides, and the final vote happened later in the day.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance on Friday saying that teachers and school staff could return to campuses even if they haven't been vaccinated, but does not mandate that schools reopen.  The CDC recommended that California and other states should give them priority in line for shots.   The 33- page data-driven document expands on old recommendations and advise school leaders on how to "layer" the most effective safety precautions to mitigate the virus and keep children and staff safe at school. The updated guidance comes as President Biden tries to make good on his promise to see more schools reopen within his first 100 days in office.
  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) told Politico Friday that she opposes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by including such a provision in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Congress is considering. Opposition to including the provision from Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is a blow to President Biden's hope of passing it via budget reconciliation, thus circumventing a filibuster. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the $15 minimum wage provision will be in the House bill that she intends to send to the Senate. But Biden acknowledged this week that the wage hike likely won't make it into the relief package.
  • The Pentagon has approved 20 more military teams, a combined total of 4,700 service members, to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administer COVID-19 vaccines across the country. Following last week’s approval of five such teams, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin authorized an additional 20 to support FEMA at vaccination mega-sites and smaller locations, top Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday. The 20 will be broken up into 10 teams of 222 personnel supporting mega-vaccination sites and 10 teams of 139 personnel helping at smaller ones.  
  • U.S. airline executives met Friday with White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients. The White House declined to comment on the online discussion, which included the chief executive officers of United , American and Southwest Airlines.  White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that reports that there’s an intention to testing requirements for domestic U.S. flights are not accurate, saying the administration isn’t seriously considering a testing mandate, though no options are formally ruled out.   The prospect of requiring tests within the U.S. was floated this month by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Psaki said Thursday that the administration will always consider safety measures but that “no decisions have been made around additional public health measures” for domestic flights. 

In the News:

  • On Friday, California state health officials said the state will start allowing Californians with severe disabilities and certain medical conditions to get vaccinated for COVID-19 beginning March 15. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mark Ghaly said in a press briefing that the priority groups would be limited to those with “severe, high-risk" developmental and other types of disabilities, and those with “certain underlying medical conditions that leave them at high risk of COVID.”
  • A top aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) admitted to Democratic lawmakers that the administration refused their request for data on coronavirus deaths in nursing homes because they feared it would "be used against us" by federal investigators egged on by then-President Trump, according to a tape obtained by the New York Post. Cuomo recently denied a report from New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) purportedly showing that the Cuomo administration undercounted coronavirus deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent. State lawmakers from both parties have castigated Cuomo in response, and several Republicans have called for his resignation.
  • The U.K. economy contracted by 9.9 percent in 2020, its largest annual contraction since the Great Frost of 1709, as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the economy. In the final quarter of the year, gross domestic product grew by 1 percent, according to the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics, as the country reimposed nationwide lockdown measures. 
  • Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte lifted the state's mask mandate Friday. And Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday announced he would gradually end a months-long "pause" on economic activity meant to slow the virus’ deadly resurgence over the holiday.

[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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