Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – October # 2

Hogan Lovells

Hogan Lovells

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

In Washington:

  • President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus, the White House physician announced late Thursday. The President tweeted at 12:54 a.m. Friday: “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!”
    • President Trump’s age and health status due to obesity puts him in a high-risk category according to the CDC. Sources close to the President say he has a low-grade fever, nasal congestion, and a cough. The President will be taken to Walter Reed Medical Center at 5:30 p.m. today “out of an abundance of caution.” A White House Spokesperson says the President will be working from his presidential offices at the Walter Reed for the next several days.
    • Friday afternoon, the president’s physician, Dr. Sean P. Conley, says the President received a single infusion of an experimental virus treatment that is an antibody cocktail developed by Regeneron. He is also taking vitamin D, zinc, melatonin, a daily aspirin and an antacid.
    • The news has vast implications on national security and on the final month of the 2020 campaign. The Vice President, cabinet members, congressional leadership, and even Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett may have been exposed to the virus. Some may need to quarantine. The White House did not contact the Biden campaign to notify them that Biden or campaign staffers were possibly exposed to the virus during Tuesday night’s presidential debate, which featured staffers for each campaign and the candidates’ families in relative proximity indoors. Former Vice President Biden and his wife Jill Biden both tested negative Friday morning.
    • The news came after Bloomberg reported that the President’s top aide, Hope Hicks, was diagnosed with the virus Wednesday morning and started experiencing symptoms by that afternoon. Hicks had been traveling with the President and many top aides to the presidential debate and to a rally in Minnesota. Despite the knowledge of Hicks's positive test, the President also held meetings and travelled to an indoor campaign event in New Jersey. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared at a press gaggle sans mask and said that White House operations deemed that it was safe for the President to go because it was an “outdoor” [sic] event. The comments left questions of transparency because the fundraiser was held both indoors and outdoors. Furthermore, the White House did not notify the fundraiser hosts that the President's aide had tested positive while the indoor roundtable was held without masks.
    • Who is testing Negative
      • Vice President Mike Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence, Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Barron Trump, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and her husband Doug Emhoff tested negative for the virus Friday morning.
    • Who is Testing Positive
      • Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) tested positive for coronavirus after visiting the White House on Saturday for the announcement of Judge Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. Lee met with Barrett on Tuesday. The senator has attended recent Senate Judiciary hearings and closed Senate Republican lunches. Lee experienced allergy-like symptoms that prompted him to get tested.
      • Notre Dame University President Rev. John Jenkins, who was at Saturday’s Supreme Court announcement, has tested positive.
      • Media reports say that a White House press staffer and several press reporters have also tested positive.
      • Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has tested positive after a family member contracted the disease and is recovering at home in Michigan.
    • On the Hill
      • So far, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that they plan to proceed with Judge Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination hearings on October 12. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called upon Senate Republicans to delay the hearings after committee member Sen. Mike Lee tested positive. In a joint statement they said, “It is premature for Chairman [Lindsey] Graham to commit to a hearing schedule when we do not know the full extent of potential exposure.” It was revealed Thursday that Judge Barrett had coronavirus over the summer and recovered, which may place her in a lower-risk category for complications or to contact the virus again.
    • Elections
      • The Trump campaign has canceled most of the President’s and his family’s campaign events and says they will be moving some to virtual events. In a controversial move, Vice President Pence will resume his campaign events. Many health experts say that while Pence has had a negative test this morning, his exposure put him at high risk and he still can take up to two weeks to incubate the virus. Furthermore, protecting the Vice President’s health should be a White House priority for the line of succession and the continuity of government, experts cautioned.
      • Vice President Biden, who has been practicing strict safety measures during the campaign, will continue to campaign.
  • Speaker Pelosi said Friday that President Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis could improve prospects for an evasive stimulus deal, while implicitly chiding Republicans for not making a deal yet. “This kind of changes the dynamic because here [Republicans] see the reality of what we have been saying all along.” Pelosi later Friday said that her and the administration were closer to a deal and Democratic lawmakers are focusing on drafting legislative language. The speaker in a press release outlined where there were still differences that they are working on. Pelosi also directly called on airlines to hold off on any furloughs saying that they will either enact standalone legislation to extend the Payroll Support Program or include it in a comprehensive coronavirus relief package. She called relief “imminent.”
  • On Friday, House Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) attempted to pass his standalone bill on the House floor by unanimous consent, but Republicans blocked the bill by objecting to the motion. “I am tired of the bureaucracy around here,” DeFazio said on the floor. “It’s time to do real things for the American people and this is real. These people’s lives are at stake.”
  • HHS Secretary Alex Azar testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Friday where he was pressed on the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. The hearing mostly covered HHS’s vaccine efforts which many members are concerned has become politicized after the President has repeatedly contradicted the agency's scientist and vaccine makers estimates of when the vaccine will be generally available. Azar said that he thinks the President's prediction of being “weeks away from a vaccine” is the President “trying to be hopeful” but assured the committee that the approval and distribution of the vaccine would solely be based “on the data and independent processes.” Members grilled Azar about false statements made by the President on masks, testing, and what members characterized as demeaning statements questioning the integrity of the agency's scientists.
  • The HHS secretary Alex Azar also told the panel that he’s ordering a review of a $300 million ad campaign aimed at inspiring confidence in the federal coronavirus response. The taxpayer-paid ad campaign was heavily criticized when it was revealed to have been crafted “to inspire hope” by a political appointee rather than the agency's public health officials. The agency had put HHS official Michael Caputo on leave after it was found that he and his aid had interfered in the agency's reports written by its scientists.
  • HHS Secretary Azar announced Friday that the administration is renewing the public health emergency declaration for the coronavirus. The declaration provides critical authority to help the administration boost telehealth and Medicaid funding and allow local health departments to reassign federally funded personnel. The declaration must be renewed every 90 days.
  • Several food banks are unhappy that the Department of Agriculture is requiring that all food aid from its Families to Farmers Food Box Program include a letter from President Trump claiming credit for the program. Organizers are claiming that the inclusion of the letter equates to campaign literature and could be misconstrued as election activity. Several Democratic lawmakers were concerned that the action could be a violation of the Hatch Act. The USDA responded by saying the letters don’t violate the Hatch Act. This week, the White House posted a campaign-style video on Twitter touting the food boxes.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and several other members are calling for a testing program to be implemented on the Capitol campus. “This episode demonstrates that the Senate needs a testing and contact tracing program for Senators, staff, and all who work in the Capitol complex,” Schumer said in a statement Friday. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has been advocating for more testing for months.

In the News:

  • The U.S. economic recovery is slowing, with the economy adding only 661,000 jobs in September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. The unemployment rate stood at 7.9 percent. The report is the last look at the labor market before the presidential election.
  • Apartment sales in Manhattan plunged by 46 percent in the third quarter, as homebuyers continued to flow to the suburbs and Florida, according to new real estate reports. There are now about 10,000 apartments for sale in Manhattan, which would be a record, according to Compass. There were a total of 1,375 sales in the third quarter, down 44 percent from a year earlier.
  • Rent prices continued to plunge across the U.S. last month, with San Francisco leading the decline, according to data from Zumper, a real-estate start-up. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco dropped more than 20 percent from a year ago, to $2,830, according to the report. The pandemic appears to be at the heart of the supply glut, with many renters experiencing a cash crunch and taking advantage of tech companies’ remote working policies.
  • The largest study of COVID-19 transmission yet conducted finds that most infected adults do not pass on the virus, but that children do so at a greater rate. Researchers in India tested more than a half-million contacts of 85,000 cases. Children are spreading the virus amongst themselves and also to adults. But the greatest risk for infection was a long bus or train ride. The attack rate — or the risk of transmission to someone else — was 80 percent for passengers sitting next to an infected person on a bus or train for more than 6 hours without a mask. By contrast, attack rates among household members, at hospitals, and in the general community were in the single digits. About 71 percent of people appear to have never passed on the virus to anyone.


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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