Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, December 2020 # 4

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[co-author: Shelley Castle]*

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

In Washington:

  • On Thursday, the U.S. experienced the deadliest 24 Hours since the Coronavirus pandemic began as a record 2,777 Americans died in just 24 hours. More than 14 million Americans have now tested positive, more than 192,000 new cases in just the past 24 hours, and more than 100,000 new people fighting this virus in the hospital. Government health officials say that these numbers don’t begin to show the additional surge expected from infections caught during Thanksgiving get-togethers. A key model projects almost 539,000 deaths in the U.S. from COVID by April.
  • Friday’s job report showed that the U.S. economy has only added 245,000 jobs, the fewest since April. The sharp downturn in jobs, married with the surge in COVID-19 cases, provides further evidence of how dire the job market and economic situation is. In response to the report, President-elect Joe Biden predicted a “bleak future” if Congress doesn’t take speedy action on a coronavirus aid bill, amid a nationwide spike in the virus that’s hampering the nation’s recovery. “If we act now — I mean now — we can begin to regain momentum and start to build back a better future,” he said. “There’s no time to lose.”
  • On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spoke on the phone about an agreement to provide coronavirus relief. The call came after Pelosi signaled Thursday a willingness to make major concessions to reach a rescue package in the $1 trillion range. It was the first discussion the two leaders have had in months. “Yeah, well we had a good conversation. I think we're both interested in getting an outcome, both on the omnibus and on a coronavirus package,” McConnell said. McConnell, so far, has shown an unwillingness to go much higher than $500 billion. Pelosi vowed to have an agreement by Dec. 11, which is the date government funding is set to expire but noted that additional relief will be negotiated in the next Congress. Questions remain whether an omnibus bill can be passed or if there will have to be another stopgap as negotiators continue. In the end, the two major sticking points remaining are liability protection and state and local aid.
  • Education Secretary announced Friday that the administration would extend the federal government’s suspension of monthly payments and interest on most student loans for another month, until Jan. 31, 2021. The student loan relief had been set to expire on Dec. 31.
  • President-elect Joe Biden and his COVID team met with NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci on Thursday. Biden asked Fauci to be his Chief Medical Advisor and a part of his COVID-19 response team. Fauci told the media that he said yes immediately, “right on the spot.”
  • Biden sounded a warning that he has yet to see a “detailed plan” from the Trump administration to distribute a COVID-19 vaccination. In a CNN interview, Biden said the Trump administration has “clued us in on their planning,” but is concerned with the lack of details they have to overcome the logistical challenges and actions needed to get the serum into an injection and “into people’s arms.” 'We have to have a much better way than they have seen thus far as to how it's distributed,' Biden said. NBC News reports on how the bulk of federal planning beyond the first round of vaccine distributions raises concerns about what happens next and who pays.
  • As part of his COVID-19 plan, President-elect Biden says he will ask Americans to wear masks for at least 100 days. “Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days. And I think we'll see a significant reduction," Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview on Thursday evening.
  • Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and three former presidents—Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton—said they would be willing to publicly get an approved vaccine to reassure Americans that it was safe.
  • House Small Business Chair Nydia Velazquez is pushing for additional small business relief after it was revealed that well-financed large companies obtained billions of dollars in emergency loans intended for small businesses. "Without deliberate action from Congress, large companies will continue to dominate, while small firms are left behind," she said. The news came after a court order forced the Small Business Administration to reveal that about a third of the $520 billion in Paycheck Protection loans were distributed in large amounts — ranging between $1 million and $10 million — that went to only 1.6 percent of the nearly 5.2 million borrowers. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are now under pressure to resolve the issue as it looks to possibly relaunch the Payment Protection Program (PPP) and expand the ongoing Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program.

In the News:

  • The head of the World Health Organization is concerned that the vaccine may lead many to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
  • The Navajo Nation is in dire straits. The nation has requested a Major Disaster Declaration from the federal government as COVID-19 cases surge amid shortages of medical supplies, personnel, and hospital beds.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a regional stay-at-home order on Thursday that would go into effect when a region hits the ICU capacity threshold. Four regions — all but the San Francisco Bay area — could meet that threshold “within a day or two," he said. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Bay Area issued a strict stay-at-home order for nearly 6 million starting Sunday, before the state order goes into effect.

*Legislative Analyst

[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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