Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – June 2020

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[author: Shelley Castle]

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

In Washington:

  • Today, the House will meet for a pro forma session and the Senate will resume consideration of John Badalamenti to be United States District Judge for the Middle District of Florida.  The full House will be conducting committee work remotely throughout the month of June.  The House legislative calendar for summer 2020 has been updated and can be found here.
  • As far as the next COVID-19 relief bill, on Friday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said “we’re taking a careful look at a fourth and final bill. You can anticipate the decision being made on whether to go forward in about a month. It will be narrowly crafted,” McConnell said.  He added, “if there’s another bill, and there may well be, it will be written in the Senate. It will be supported by the administration.  It will not be $3 trillion. So we’ll be discussing the issue of how much and the issue of when.”  At the center of the debate is the $600-a-week unemployment bonus granted in the CARES Act which is set to expire at the end of July.  Republicans don’t want to renew the provision but seem to be willing to negotiate. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) has proposed that the federal government give people who stop collecting unemployment and go back to work $450 a week for several weeks.  But this proposal will not cover all of the 40 million Americans who are unemployed.  Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) said there could be “some collaboration” between Portman’s proposal and his own plan to expand the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) through the Paycheck Security Act.  The bill would provide a refundable payroll tax credit for companies of all sizes that have seen a 15 percent decline in revenues to rehire and pay laid off and furloughed workers up to $90,000 per year.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is “eyeing a push to automatically tie unemployment benefits to the condition of the economy,” something supported by Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Democrat economist, despite the hefty price tag. Senator Wyden said direct payments were not a top priority of his for Phase Four, as compared to automatic stabilizers for unemployment benefits and more aid for “the smallest of small businesses.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a $628 million agreement with Emergent Biosolutions to manufacture COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec was a consultant to Emergent before his 2017 appointment.  Six Democrats last month shared concern that Kadlec did not disclose his work with multiple biodefense entities when being nominated and asked him to update his ethics disclosures to reflect this.
  • Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said his meetings with President Trump have “dramatically decreased” in recent weeks.  Fauci told STAT News “I was meeting with him four times a week back, a month or so ago, but as you probably noticed, the task force meetings have not occurred as often lately. And certainly, my meetings with the president have been dramatically decreased.”
  • Over the weekend President Trump delayed the G-7 summit until September after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would not attend over COVID-19 concerns.  The meeting was originally scheduled for July.  The president also says he plans to invite additional countries to the summit, including Australia, Russia, South Korea, and India.
  • According to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, the COVID-19 pandemic will reduce the size of economic output by a combined $7.9 trillion over the next decade in real terms, or 3 percent of cumulative GDP.  The report also noted that “recent legislation will, in CBO’s assessment, partially mitigate the deterioration in economic conditions.”

In the News:

  • Many nations are entering a pivotal period this week, giving students, shoppers, and travelers a return to some sense of normalcy after several months of lockdowns. It comes as more than six million people around the world have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 396,000 have died from the virus.
  • The US death toll for the coronavirus is now topping 104,000 with cases of coronavirus rising in 15 states as this country slowly reopens.
  • The number of protests that are spreading across the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death has increased concerns about the increased spread of the coronavirus.  Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms advised protesters to get COVID tests this week. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago may postpone its reopening. Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she was concerned the protests could spark another increase in coronavirus cases in a city that started the first phase of its reopening on May 29.
  • Gilead announced on Monday a Phase 3 study that shows hospitalized patients with moderate COVID-19 pneumonia receiving a 5-day dose of remdesivir were 65 percent more likely to show clinical improvement after 10 days.
  • Several leaders from Southern states prone to hurricanes are preparing and rewriting their disaster plans as hurricane, wildfire, and tornado season is beginning.  States and cities have never had to respond to a large-scale natural disaster during a global pandemic.  With support networks and budgets being strained in all states, it will be more difficult to depend on the usual outside support during these types of disasters.
  • Moderna, one of the leading pharmaceutical companies developing a COVID-19 vaccine, said it has started a mid-stage trial and has given doses to the first patients. The 600-person, phase 2 study will give healthy participants one of two doses of the candidate, or a placebo and examine them for potential side effects as well as whether it creates an immune-system response that could protect against the coronavirus.
  • Drug maker Eli Lilly began testing the first COVID-19 antibody drug derived from the blood of a coronavirus survivor.  The testing is starting about a month earlier than expected.  The company will first test the therapy in hospitalized patients to determine whether it could also prevent infections.

[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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