Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – August 2020 #5

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  • Friday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hosted a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a last-ditch effort to hammer out a deal, but the negotiations ended without any promising developments. Afterward, Mnuchin told reporters that he and Meadows, based on today’s meeting, will officially recommend the President sign several executive orders related to unemployment insurance, evictions, and student loans. When leaving the meeting, Schumer called it "disappointing," while Pelosi said, "I’ve told them, 'Come back when you are ready to give us a higher number.'"
  • Prior to Friday afternoon’s meeting, Pelosi told reporters that on Thursday Democrats offered to reduce the cost of their bill by US$1 trillion if Republicans raised theirs by US$1 trillion - which would put the bill’s price tag in the US$2 trillion range. But she said the administration declined the offer.
    • Pelosi sent a dear colleague letter to House Democrats on Friday which outlined a list of unresolved issues, including divisions on school funding, money for testing, and funding for the Postal Service. Pelosi wrote, "In the past two weeks of negotiations, we have strived mightily to find common ground…however, many critical differences remain."
  • Meanwhile, President Trump has signaled that he would sign a series of executive orders to try to halt evictions and student loan payments, suspend the payroll tax, and extend enhanced unemployment insurance if a deal can’t be worked out. Sources say the signing could come as early as this evening but will likely be this weekend. On the executive orders, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox Business Friday, "The President is looking very, very carefully…about using executive authority to take up the slack" on unemployment benefits, a payroll tax cut, extending the eviction moratorium, and providing a benefit for reemployment. Kudlow said a draft of a potential Payroll tax cut "is basically completed," and he believes Trump will use executive authority to implement it.
  • The House Select Subcommittee on Friday heard testimony from Dr. Anthony Fauci and other key Trump administration health officials on the national coronavirus strategy. Fauci testified along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director (CDC) Robert Redfield and Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services. When asked whether the increase in COVID-19 cases was linked to an increase in testing, as Trump has repeatedly claimed, Fauci said, "If you do more testing, you will see more cases. But the increases that we are seeing are real increases in cases, as also reflected by increases in hospitalization and increases in deaths." Giroir told lawmakers during his opening statements that it was not possible to get all test results back within 48 to 72 hours because of "the demand and the supply" of tests, saying, "We cannot test our way out of this or any other pandemic."
  • A federal judge on Thursday dismissed House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-CA) lawsuit seeking to overturn the House's adoption of proxy voting. Judge Rudolph Contreras of the federal district court in D.C. ruled that McCarthy's suit was out of bounds because courts have no ability to review purely legislative functions, affirming the House's broad power to set its own rules. An aide said that McCarthy planned to appeal the ruling.
  • Senate Democrats are pushing for provisions in the next coronavirus relief package that would require the Trump administration to use the president’s Defense Production Act (DPA) powers to accelerate production of testing supplies, protective equipment, and any other supplies needed to fight COVID-19. The measure is sponsored by Sens. Chris Murphy (CT) and Tammy Baldwin (WI) and is backed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY). The president has resisted exercising such powers in the past and continues to defend the president’s efforts on supplies.
  • A US$765 million federal loan to photography company Eastman Kodak to produce drug ingredients to combat COVID-19 is facing scrutiny on two fronts. House Democrats are probing stock transactions by company insiders around the time of the deal's announcement. House Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee Chair Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA), and other committee leaders sent letters seeking information from Eastman Kodak Executive Chair James Continenza and the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. The lawmakers seek details on how Kodak obtained the government support and documents relating to stock transactions by company executives. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating the loan issuance.

In the News

  • The Labor Department reported the U.S. added 1.763 million jobs in July, better than economists predicted. The unemployment rate fell to 10.2 percent, but still remains above the Great Recession high of 10 percent that it reached in October 2009.
  • The U.S. has recorded more than 4,880,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 pandemic is moving into younger populations, as cases are spiking among children, teens, and young adults. New data from the WHO shows that most cases are reported in people aged 25 to 64.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Friday that the New York City school district and all other districts across the state can reopen. During a conference call with reporters, Cuomo said schools are eligible to reopen because all regions across the state have low coronavirus infection rates. However, he cautioned that each school district must submit reopening plans that require approval from the state Health Department.
  • Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now predict a grim COVID-19 future saying that by 1 December, the U.S. death toll from coronavirus could reach 300,000. That’s an 86 percent increase from the current death toll, and a 260 percent increase from the institute’s launch of its COVID-19 model in March.
  • The Gates Foundation and the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, have announced a partnership to produce a coronavirus vaccine available for distribution in poor countries for less than US$3 a dose. The collaboration aims to produce up to 100 million doses for quick distribution in the first half of 2021.

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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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