Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – August 2020 #1

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In Washington

  • The divide between Democrats and Republicans continues as talks today have still resulted in no deal on a new coronavirus stimulus package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin met for the sixth time in seven days to try reaching an agreement. Yesterday’s meeting went on for over two hours, but there are still differences over funding for state and local governments, unemployment benefits, liability protections, and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Speaker Pelosi continues to remain steadfast that the Democrats will not negotiate on the US$600 enhanced unemployment benefit but showed flexibility that the benefit could be pegged to the unemployment rate. “No. I think that the number, the US$600 is related more to the unemployment rate. If the unemployment goes down, then that number can go down, but it doesn’t go down -- you know, you’re not saying to the American people, ‘We have more infections, more deaths, we have more unemployment, we have more hunger, and now we’re going to cut your benefit,” Pelosi said this morning on CNN.
  • President Trump announced that his administration is looking “very seriously” at ways he can use executive orders to stop evictions. Trump blamed Democrats as not being serious about negotiating a coronavirus relief bill and wanting to bail out cities and states “that have done a bad job over a really long time, ” he said. The President said he has “a lot of powers with respect to executive orders” but did not provide any further details on what those powers are and how he would apply them.
  • The New York Times reports that government researchers are becoming fearful of political intervention from the White House as pressure to develop a coronavirus vaccine by October 2020 continues under the ambitious Operation Warp Speed. With the U.S. facing thousands of people dying, the difficulty opening schools, and depression looming, they fear that the administration may be looking for a silver bullet. They are concerned that the White House may push to overlook data and at least limit emergency approval to a vaccine prior to the 3 November elections.
  • House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), has tested positive for Coronavirus. Grijalva self-quarantined last week after coming into contact with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). Grijalva says he is feeling fine and showing no symptoms.
  • White House Coronavirus Task Force Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx warned Sunday that the country has entered a “new phase” of the pandemic. “I want to be very clear what we’re seeing today is different from March and April. ... It is extraordinarily widespread,” Birx said. While many note that Birx has to walk a fine line, House Speaker Pelosi said Sunday that “she does not have confidence in” Birx, linking her to disinformation about the virus spread by President Trump. Pelosi isn’t the only one slamming Birx, President Trump accused Birx comments this weekend as kowtowing to Pelosi tweeting: “So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combating the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutic. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!”
  • Assistant HHS Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir said Sunday ”there is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for the virus, despite President Donald Trump’s continued promotion of the anti-malaria drug.” On NBC’s Meet The Press, Giroir “said he could not recommend hydroxychloroquine” because trials “do not show any benefit.” Giroir said, “We need to move on from that and talk about what is effective.”
  • The National Restaurant Association sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling for the lawmakers to extend aid for restaurants by providing a second Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan and to make expenses paid with the loan tax deductible. Meanwhile, the Independent Restaurant coalition is advocating for the passage of RESTAURANTS Act which provides a US$120 billion grant program to help the industry.

In the News

  • COVID-19 cases in states like Florida, California, Arizona and Texas have begun to decline after seeing spikes in cases in recent weeks, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Although cases appear to be declining, deaths have been on the rise since early July. The U.S. reported an additional 1,047 deaths based on a seven-day average on Sunday; that’s nearly a 15 percent increase from the previous week.
  • More than 100 current and former CEO’s are calling for more funding to help small businesses. In an open letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other top lawmakers, the business executives warn that "By Labor Day, we foresee a wave of permanent closures if the right steps are not taken soon."
  • President Trump may be renominated in private at a "closed press" event in Charlotte, North Carolina according to the Republican National Convention (RNC). Over the weekend, RNC communications director Michael Ahrens told CNN that "no final decision has been made" on whether reporters will be allowed to cover the RNC in person.
  • New Jersey’s Governor announced Monday that indoor gathering limits have been reduced to 25 people to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Also, all students will need to wear face coverings at all times while at school, unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health.
  • Russia will begin a mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in October, according to Russian health officials.
  • Retail bankruptcies are approaching their highest number in a decade. A collapse in demand for suits and other office attire has led Tailored Brands, the parent company of Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, to file for bankruptcy. Le Tote filed for bankruptcy Sunday. The latest bankruptcies bring the total retail bankruptcy filings this year to 43, according to tracking by S&P Global Intelligence.
  • Banks are tightening lending standards even as the Federal Reserve urges them to get money to borrowers hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Fed survey out Monday. According to the survey, banks “cited a less favorable or more uncertain economic outlook, worsening of industry-specific problems, and reduced tolerance for risk as important reasons” for tightening credit.
  • Big job gains in May and June appear to be giving way to a more subdued pace. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expect July nonfarm payrolls to rise by 1.26 million. That number would be well below June’s 4.8 million but still better than anything the U.S. has seen in the pre-pandemic era.

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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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