Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, October 2020 # 6

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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:

  • On a conference call Saturday, Senate Republicans relayed their objections to another enormous coronavirus relief package to party leaders and top Trump officials. Members cited that Republican voters have “no appetite” for the leading proposals’ trillion-dollar price tags. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has repeatedly thrown cold water on a big package, citing the opposition of roughly 20 Senate Republicans. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and John Barrasso (R-WY) warned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that spending $2 trillion on a deal would backfire in the elections. Senators' reactions show just how difficult it would be to pass a Senate bill that would provide enough relief being called for by Democrats. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has the opposite problem as she continues to face pressure to seal a pre-election deal from both moderate swing-district incumbents as well as progressives.
  • Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Mark Meadows are calling on Congress to “immediately” pass a coronavirus relief deal and to redirect the unused funding in the Payment Protection Program (PPP) to be repurposed. “Now is the time for us to come together and immediately vote on a bill to allow us to spend the unused Paycheck Protection Program funds while we continue to work toward a comprehensive package,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wrote in a letter on Sunday to members of the House and Senate. “The all-or-nothing approach is an unacceptable response to the American people.”
  • Meanwhile, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Secretary Mnuchin "may" offer a proposal priced higher than Speaker Nancy Pelosi's most recent offer of $2.2 trillion while appearing on CNN’s State of the Union. Kudlow also downplayed Senate Republican opposition to the latest proposals, indicating that the GOP would go along if a deal were struck between the White House and Democrats. “Don’t forget, the Republicans in the Senate put up their own bill a few weeks ago and got 53 votes, I think it was. So, they united,” Kudlow said. “I think, if an agreement can be reached, they will go along with it.”
  • President Trump said Sunday that he was ready to begin campaigning after declaring himself "immune" following his treatment for COVID-19. "I'm immune," Trump said in an interview on Fox News Sunday Morning Futures. "The president is in very good shape to fight the battles." Questions still remain about his health, with some medical experts skeptical about the White House physician's Saturday announcement that Trump had completed his treatment and was no longer considered a transmission risk. Friday, Oct. 9, the White House said that the President was taking a COVID-19 test and would report when he has tested negative. As of Monday afternoon, the results of a negative finding have yet to be reported.
  • President Trump held a White House event on Oct. 10, where he addressed a few hundred supporters on from the balcony overlooking the White House South Lawn. The White House handed out masks, but many attendees did not wear, and there was no social distance. President Trump is planning to resume full-fledged rallies with an event in Florida on Monday, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and Wednesday in Iowa.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, told CNN on Monday that the Trump campaign should stop airing an ad that uses comments he made without his permission and allegedly out of context. “I hope they don't do that because that would be kind of playing a game that we don't want to play,” Fauci said. Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh responded, "The video is from a...television interview in which Dr. Fauci was praising the work of the Trump administration. The words spoken are accurate, and directly from Dr. Fauci’s mouth.”
  • On Monday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows refused to talk to the press with his mask on. While stepping outside the Senate hearing room to talk to the press about the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Meadow’s took off his mask to address reporters, but reporters asked him to put the mask back on. “I’m not going to talk through a mask,” Meadows said as he left the area. Meadows has been working inside the White House with President Trump while he is recovering from COVID-19. Meadows last reported testing negative for the virus last Monday.
  • According to a Gallup poll, Americans' willingness to get a coronavirus vaccine dropped to 50 percent in late September, an 11-point fall from August. Republicans are now more willing to be vaccinated, while Democrats and independents have become increasingly uncomfortable. The results follow President Trump’s public statements boosting the prospect of a vaccine approval before the election and numerous reports that the President has, so far unsuccessfully, pushed for an accelerated, election-driven approval timeline.

In the News:

  • A Wisconsin state judge on Monday ruled that Gov. Tony Evers’s (D) coronavirus mask mandate is lawful, turning aside a challenge from a conservative legal group. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, backed by the state's GOP-controlled legislature, argued that Evers overstepped his executive authority by issuing multiple emergency orders to slow the COVID-19 pandemic. But Judge Michael Waterman ruled there is nothing prohibiting the governor from declaring successive states of emergency. The plaintiffs vowed to appeal.
  • Southwest Airlines pilots’ union is pushing back on a company proposal to cut pay by 10 percent to reduce costs amid the pandemic. “Our goal is to protect every pilot job,” and avoid furloughs, Southwest said in a statement. “Until then, we must also begin to restore our balance sheet by more closely aligning our loss in revenue with lower costs.” The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association took issue with the pay cut and pointed to other options like voluntary time off at reduced pay and early retirement packages. “We have a revenue and short-term cash problem that cannot be fixed by concessions alone,” the union said in a memo on Friday.
  • Carnival Cruise Lines announced on Monday that it will be canceling cruises out of Port Canaveral and Miami through November. The statement issued on Monday said cruises out of the two ports in December are remaining on the schedule. The port’s major source of money, cruise ship revenue, is expected to drop by almost two-thirds in the next fiscal year. The port has already laid off 43% of its port employees. Thousands of cruise ship employees are also out of work.
  • The spread of coronavirus in the U.S. is getting worse. Over 50,000 new cases were reported for four days in a row; the worst stretch in two months. According to Johns Hopkins University, thirty-one states have reported more new COVID-19 cases in the past week compared to the previous week. Nine states--Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Wyoming--are reporting record-high COVID-19.
  • North Dakota’s number of new cases of COVID-19 are double the number of beds available. The state is starting to send its coronavirus patients out of state because health officials say there are only 20 ICU hospital beds available at this time. More than half of those beds are located in the city of Fargo.

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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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