Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – September 2020 # 9

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  • Senate Republican leaders hope to recess for election season by the end of next week, believing that chances for a COVID-19 relief package are slim. Senators anticipate passing only a government funding stopgap before Election Day. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) emphasized this week that the House is committed to getting a coronavirus deal, is in no rush to leave Washington and has some leverage on the Senate’s plans.
    • Pelosi met privately with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on 16 Sept. expressing a need for even more relief citing the airlines and restaurant industry’s dire state since passing the CARES Act. When asked if she’s still holding for US$2.2 trillion Thursday morning, Pelosi replied, ``It's hard to see how we can go any lower when you see the great needs.” Pelosi noted that with so many needs, much of the money passed in the Act would have to be “reallocated.”
    • In a 16 Sept. press briefing, President Trump said he liked the “larger amount” of the Problem Solver Caucuses US$1.5 trillion proposal saying, “Some of the Republicans disagree, but I think I can convince them to go along with that because I like the larger number. I want to see people get money.”
  • Airline executives met with White House Chief of Staff Meadows on Thursday to push for relief for the airline industry to stave off massive layoffs. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly spoke to reporters after the meeting, calling for a six-month extension to the CARES Act’s Payroll Support Program (PSP) for airlines. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby and Airlines for America CEO Nick Calio also attended the meeting. Meadows pressed congressional Democrats to come to a legislative deal, stressing that executive action was possible but “less than ideal.” Meadow says the White House supports a stand-alone assistance package to the airline industry if Speaker Pelosi was to put it on the floor.
  • Disputes over whether President Trump will rush a COVID-19 vaccine’s approval process before the election continue to roil politics on both the Hill and the campaign trail. As reported yesterday, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told Congress that he believes a vaccine will be available to the general public in the late second quarter or third quarter of 2021, with a “very limited supply” available at the end of this year for people at the greatest risk. At a press briefing Wednesday evening, President Trump disputed Redfield’s comments saying the director was “made a mistake” and was “confused.” Trump said that Pfizer would be announcing results soon, maybe in October, and the vaccine would be distributed to the general public immediately.
    • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said he trusts President Trump’s estimate of a vaccine release timetable over that of Director Robert Redfield. “I think one of those two individuals had more information than the other, and that was the president,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows agreed, telling “Fox & Friends” that Redfield’s mid-2021 estimate for wide availability was a “mistake” and that Redfield was “confused.”
    • Meanwhile, the Trump campaign is accusing Democratic nominee Joe Biden (DE) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) of “spreading anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.” Biden warned that it is President Trump who is politicizing the development of a vaccine by rushing the government to produce one without proper protections for health. “I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump. At this moment, the American people can’t either,” Biden said.
  • Several state officials are concerned about federal review of a potential COVID-19 vaccine and plan to independently analyze the clinical trial data before distributing the vaccine. Roll Call reports that seven states indicated they would analyze the data independently: California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and West Virginia. Another two — Montana and Wyoming — said they'd only administer a vaccine that completed clinical trials and an outside committee's review. Three states — Arizona, Georgia and Oklahoma — indicated they would accept federal recommendations as usual.
  • The White House rejected a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) proposal to send face masks to every household in the U.S., according to The Washington Post. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reportedly suggested in April sending five reusable masks to every residential address, prioritizing areas with the worst outbreaks. But the White House reportedly vetoed the plan, purportedly to avoid a panic, instead creating the Project America Strong initiative. That US$675 million initiative has distributed about 600 million masks specifically to vulnerable and critical sectors of the population, according to HHS.
  • Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R) on Wednesday proposed legislation to keep the U.S. on Daylight Saving Time (DST) through 7 November 2021, skipping this November’s one-hour “fall back” and next March’s one-hour “spring forward.” The senators argue the measure would “provide one year of stability for families who are already dealing with enough change with virtual learning, work from home, and other disruptions the COVID-19 pandemic has placed into our daily lives.” They added that “[m]ore daylight in the after school hours is critical to helping families and children endure this challenging school year.” Federal and state lawmakers and researchers have long touted the public safety, health, and economic benefits of making DST permanent.
  • As the number of mail-in ballots is expected to surge amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Democrats released a report Wednesday claiming that on-time mail service has still not recovered from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's controversial partially-rescinded changes to USPS service. According to data analyzed by investigators working for Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, on-time delivery of first-class mail fell by 9.1 percent compared to the week before the USPS began implementing DeJoy's changes, and in some areas, by 15-20 percent. For his part, President Trump on Wednesday alleged that mail-in voting is a greater threat to election integrity than foreign interference.
  • The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent federal agency, spent months analyzing and preparing a “behemoth” set of recommendations regarding the threats to minority voting rights during the coronavirus pandemic, but the report will not be published. A conservative commissioner who was appointed two weeks before the vote objected, causing the vote to approve to fail by a tie of 4-4.
  • A former top aide to Vice President Mike Pence and part of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, released a two video condemning President Donald Trump's response to the pandemic. Olivia Troy, who was a homeland security adviser, asserts that the President failed to protect the American public because he only focused on himself and getting reelected.

In the News

  • A World Health Organization (WHO) official warned that the spread of the novel coronavirus in Europe now is worse than it was in March, near the start of the pandemic. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said at an online press conference Thursday that rebounding virus numbers from September “should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.” Europe has reported 300,000 cases in one week, the highest 7-day total since the start of the pandemic. In total, Europe has reported about 4.9 million coronavirus cases and 226,524 deaths.
  • Texas is allowing more businesses, including retail stores, gyms, and restaurants, to push forward with reopening plans after a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations over the summer has started to decline. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said in most areas of the state COVID-19 patients are now less than 15 percent of all hospitalizations. Still, as of Wednesday, Texas had reported 4,186 daily new cases, based on a seven-day moving average — a more than 14 percent increase compared with the week prior, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
  • Shares of office furniture retailer Herman Miller are surging after a blowout earnings report thanks to the increase in working-from-home. Herman Miller jumped more than 35 percent in midday trading on Thursday. The company said customers are upgrading their homes with work and office furniture amid the pandemic. The home office category increased nearly 300 percent since last year, the company said in its earnings release.
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced a legislative deal Thursday to hike taxes on the state's wealthiest residents in order to fund tax rebates sent to families further down the income scale. The deal would raise the tax rate on earners making more than US$1 million per year to 10.75 percent from 8.97 percent. Revenue from the tax would fund a rebate of up to US$500 to households earning less than US$150,000 if they have a child. The income cap for single-parent households would be US$75,000. Murphy estimates the rebate checks would reach about 800,000 families

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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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