Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, March 2021 # 9

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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.

To see our client alert on the major provisions that were passed in the American Rescue Plan, click here.

In Washington:

  • President Biden on Thursday signed a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act into law. Biden, who signed the bill alongside Vice President Harris in the Oval Office, characterized the measure as historic legislation aimed at “rebuilding the backbone of this country.” The Biden administration will begin an all-out public relations blitz in the weeks to come to tout the benefits of the law. The president will travel to Pennsylvania next Tuesday. The White House says it expects many Americans to receive their direct payments by the end of March, and for some, as soon as this weekend.
  • President Biden gave his first prime-time address Thursday night on the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19’s spread a pandemic. Biden said his administration’s goal is that safe, small family gatherings will be possible by July 4th. The president also predicted that all Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine by May 1. His administration will direct states, tribes, and territories to achieve universal eligibility by then, according to administration officials. To support that directive, the federal government will launch an appointment-finder website, make shots available at more pharmacies and federally-run mass vaccination centers, and broaden the pool of people qualified to give shots.
  • The leaders of the House Small Business Committee reached a bipartisan agreement to extend the Paycheck Protection Program for two months amid growing concern that the March 31 expiration of the pandemic-rescue plan would leave many employers with much-needed aid.  The deal will delay the PPP's loan application deadline to May 31 and give the Small Business Administration (SBA) authority to continue processing pending applications for 30 days after that date.
  • According to a latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Thursday, 62 percent of Americans approve of how Biden is handling the pandemic. Thirty percent of Republicans and 22% of Trump supporters say they approve of Biden's handling of the pandemic. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. The poll also found Biden’s overall job approval rating at 49 percent. 
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced Thursday that she will support California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s nomination to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Becerra will play an important role in the administration’s efforts to end the pandemic if confirmed. Collins is the first Republican to support his confirmation and her support makes his confirmation likely in the equally-divided Senate.

In the News:

  • Thursday marked one year since the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. That same day, March 11, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, "I can say we will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now." The virus had by then infected more than 1,000 Americans and killed 31. That evening in an Oval Office address then-President Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel from Europe. 
  • Novavax said Thursday that final data from a trial in the United Kingdom shows its COVID-19 vaccine is almost 90 percent effective, but the vaccine was 48 percent effective in a separate trial in South Africa, where a new variant is prevalent. Novavax, a Maryland-based company, said it "expects the data to serve as the basis for submission for authorization to various regulatory agencies worldwide." It was not immediately clear if it would apply right away for U.S. authorization, or wait for an ongoing U.S. trial to finish.
  • Leading employers reports that only 1 in 10 office Manhattan office workers have returned since COVID-19 hit and less than half are expected to return by September, according to a new survey from the Partnership for New York City.
  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) has sued the city of Austin for keeping a local order requiring the use of face masks after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) eliminated the state-wide mask mandate. The lawsuit has been filed against Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D), Travis County Judge Andy Brown, and Mark Escott, the interim Medical Director and Health Authority for Austin, CNN reported. Paxton asked the court for a temporary restraining order so Austin cannot enforce its mask order, according to CNN.
  • New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie authorized the Assembly Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation into New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Thursday evening. Earlier Thursday more than 55 New York state legislators signed a letter calling on Cuomo to resign amid accusations that his administration falsified COVID-19 data relating to nursing home deaths and that Cuomo has sexually harassed multiple women.
  • As states speed up their immunization process, millions of disabled are not getting COVID shots because states are no longer following federal guidelines and prioritizing those with high-risk medical conditions.

[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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