Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, October 2020 # 16

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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.

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In Washington:

  • In a letter to colleagues on Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the White House has refused to sign on to Democratic lawmakers’ plan for a coronavirus testing strategy, despite earlier public statements to the contrary by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. “Today, we are waiting for an important response on several concerns, including on action to crush the virus,” Pelosi wrote. “Ten days after Secretary Mnuchin went on CNBC to declare that he was accepting our testing plan, the Administration still refuses to do so.” Pelosi’s letter to House Democrats came only minutes before a planned conversation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as the two push to reach a stimulus agreement. The chances of Congress approving a relief bill before Election Day have all but evaporated.
  • At least five of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff, including chief of staff Marc Short, have tested positive for coronavirus. The Vice President has tested negative so far. Despite guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggesting quarantining and contact tracing, the Vice President has continued campaigning and attending rallies and also plans to preside over today’s confirmation vote for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Top Democrats had urged Pence to abandon his plans to attend in a “purely ceremonial” capacity for the sake of the health of the Senators and staff that are required to be present.
  • On Oct. 25, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the U.S. was “not going to control the pandemic” but instead “control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.” On Monday, Meadows started walking back his statements after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden seized on the comments asserting that The Trump administration is giving up and “waving a white flag” in its fight against the virus. Meadows defended his remarks saying that the “full context” of his comments referred to the “need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines” to treat COVID-19.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continues to see an alarming number of high-level departures. POLITICO reports that at least 27 top political appointees have left the department since the COVID-19 pandemic, and more officials are expected to depart this week, including Danielle Steele, a top adviser to Secretary Alex Azar on FDA and National Institutes of Health. The embattled agency will most likely see a “wave of departures” if President Trump loses re-election, leaving “only a shell” of staff to guide the department through an expected second wave and vaccine trials and authorizations until Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.
  • President Trump continues to campaign that the pandemic is going to end soon and insists that his rival Democratic nominee Joe Biden will lock down the country. This weekend, the president pushed an unsubstantiated claim that hospitals and doctors are inflating the number of cases to capture more reimbursement. Multiple medical organizations pushed back on the president’s claims, including the American College of Emergency Physicians, that said in a statement that it“ is appalled by President Trump’s reckless and false assertions that physicians are overcounting deaths related to COVID-19.”

In the News:

  • The U.S. on Sunday set a new daily record of 68,767 cases on a seven-day average, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. is now reporting more new cases of COVID-19 on average, every day than ever before during the pandemic.
  • The U.S. has arrived at a “tipping point” in its latest coronavirus surge, but targeted public-health interventions can potentially prevent an even worse outbreak, according to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner. “We’re likely to see a very dense epidemic. I think we’re right now at the cusp of what is going to be exponential spread in parts of the country,” Gottlieb told CNBC.
  • Cities around the country are imposing new restrictions as COVID-19 cases continue to surge. Newark, New Jersey Mayor Ras Baraka announced Monday that all stores except supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations will close at 8pmET. Residents in El Paso, Texas, have been urged to stay home for two weeks after a surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelmed hospitals, according to the Associated Press.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday warned that getting the coronavirus pandemic under control may require “sacrifice for many, many people in terms of their personal lives.” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said during a press conference that “It may require shutting down and restricting movement and having stay-at-home orders in order to take the heat out of this phase of the pandemic.”

[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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