Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, October 2020 # 13

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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:

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continued negotiations on a fourth COVID-19 stimulus bill on Wednesday. Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill sent a series of Tweets Wednesday afternoon reading, in part, “The Speaker & Secretary Mnuchin spoke today at 2:30 pm for 48 minutes. Today's conversation brings us closer to being able to put pen to paper to write legislation. With the exchange of legislative language, we are better prepared to reach compromise on several priorities.” Pelosi struck a positive tone on the state of stimulus negotiations earlier in the day, telling MSNBC, “I'm optimistic. There will be a bill.” In a letter to her colleagues Tuesday evening Pelosi said, “Our conversation provided more clarity and common ground as we move closer to an agreement.” The deal will likely include another round of US $1,200 direct payments for taxpayers, federal unemployment benefits, and additional aid to small businesses and the airline industry. The price tag for a bipartisan package would range somewhere between US$1.9 trillion and US $2.2 trillion.
    • The White House is sharing a positive outlook on negotiations as well. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told Fox Business on Wednesday morning “I am optimistic. We do share one goal and that is hopefully to get some kind of deal in the next 48 hours or so.” Meadows said the discussions had entered a “new phase” as the White House and Democratic negotiators wrangle over language of a potential bill, though he noted that the two sides remain apart on the price tag.
    • Even if Pelosi and the White House are able to reach a deal, the largest hurdle will likely be passing a bill through the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had previously stopped short of explicitly saying an agreement would get a vote amid widespread opposition from Senate Republicans to a package with a large price tag. But on Tuesday, McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference, "If a presidentially supported bill clears the House at some point we’ll bring it to the floor.” Even if the bill does land on the Senate floor, the odds of it passing are slim. Senator John Thune (R-SD), who serves as majority whip, said "I think we’re going to have a hard time finding 13 votes for anything,” referring to the number of Republican votes needed to approve a deal if all 47 Democratic-voting senators backed it.
  • Senate Democrats blocked Republicans’ attempt to pass a US $500 billion coronavirus stimulus bill on Wednesday. Republicans had tried to advance the bill, similar to one Democrats opposed last month but the measure failed in a 51-44 party-line vote, falling short of the 60 votes needed. The legislation included funds for a second Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan for struggling small businesses, a US $300 per week supplemental unemployment insurance benefit, and liability protections for businesses, among other provisions. It did not include another round of direct payments to people.
  • A Democratic lawmaker wants to know if the Trump administration pressured public health officials to let cruise ships resume operating too soon. The industry is under a pandemic-related order not to sail through Oct 31. In an Oct. 13 letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) questioned whether the White House weighed in on the CDC’s decision to extend the no-sail order to Oct. 31. Press reports say the CDC wanted to extend the order through Feb. 15, 2021, but backed off after White House involvement.
  • Just two weeks before Election Day, Wisconsin, a key battleground state, is facing one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country. Hospitalizations have more than tripled in the past month, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and the state has set up a field hospital as Gov. Tony Evers (D) warns the hospital system is “beginning to become overwhelmed.” Wisconsin is recording about 3,000 new cases per day, a figure that is still climbing. It’s the highest rate of increase among any battleground state.

In the News:

  • There are at least 8,282,666 COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and at least 221,247 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • A volunteer in a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford has died, Reuters reports, citing Brazilian health authorities. Oxford said there are no concerns regarding the safety of the trial and the health authority said the trial would continue.
  • Some states still haven’t begun paying a US $300 weekly boost to unemployment benefits more than two months after the Trump administration created the subsidy, which is disbursed through states. Alaska and New Jersey haven’t started payouts yet, state officials confirmed. They appear to be the last states to issue the payments. Other states, like Nevada and Wisconsin, started paying the aid just last week.
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and his wife tested negative for coronavirus Wednesday after coming in contact with a senior staff member who tested positive. The governor is canceling in-person events through the weekend and will continue to monitor his COVID-19 status.
  • All public school instruction in Boston will be remote starting Thursday, following a rise in COVID-19 cases, according to a statement released Wednesday by Boston Public Schools. “We have said all along that we will only provide in-person learning for students if the data and public health guidance supports it, and this new data shows that we are trending in the wrong direction,” said Mayor Marty Walsh in a statement
  • Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard said Congress needs to support more stimulus to address a recovery that so far has left out large parts of the U.S. economy. While speaking to the Society of Professional Economists, Brainard said “The recovery remains highly uncertain and highly uneven — with certain sectors and groups experiencing substantial hardship. These disparities risk holding back the recovery.” Brainard has been touted as a potential Treasury secretary should Democrat Joe Biden win the presidential election.

[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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