Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – July 2020 #21

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In Washington

  • Democrats and Republicans continue to be in gridlock as Congress is on the cusp of the deadline on unemployment benefits. Minority Leader Charles Schumer grimly warned that that "the country is about to careen over several cliffs," and blamed Republican division on why negotiations are "going nowhere." Talks collapsed this week and remain nowhere near a deal. At this point, Democrats hold the cards after coming together as a caucus and already passing legislation while Republicans lawmakers and the White House can’t seem to come to an agreement. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) met with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows but announced no breakthroughs. With the GDP plunging 32.9 percent in the second quarter and 1.43 million workers filed initial claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending 25 July, the heat is turned up on high for Republicans to find a deal. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is hoping to gain Democratic support to work together and several individual proposals from lawmakers are starting to line up.
  • Yesterday afternoon Leader McConnell attempted to advance a privileged motion to set up a roll-call vote on a standalone unemployment insurance extension. The vote failed as Democrats remain unified on including a $600/week benefit extension as part of a comprehensive stimulus package that addresses the COVID-19 crisis. The GOP gambit will allow Senate Republicans an opportunity to go on record saying they attempted to act on supplementing the unemployment benefits as they expire tomorrow. "They want jobless aid to expire tomorrow, period," McConnell said. "If that is their position, they will have to vote for the entire country to see." In response, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) accused the GOP of participating in a stunt instead of negotiations, saying the “disunity, dysfunction of this Republican caucus” created the situation of having no agreement before people start losing benefits.
  • The House of Representatives passed the "Child Care for Economic Recovery Act'' (H.R. 7327), 250-161, legislation with multiple tax benefits for childcare to assist parents amid the COVID-19 crisis closed schools and upended childcare. The bill doubles the tax credit for child and dependent care, raises the income threshold, and directs federal funding to state child care programs. The legislation also increases aid for businesses and 50 percent refundable payroll tax credit for mortgage obligations, rent, and utility payments incurred by facilities that have suffered a loss of revenue or closure due to the virus.
  • Herman Cain, a former presidential hopeful who was once considered by President Trump for the Federal Reserve, has died after being hospitalized with coronavirus. He was 74. Cain’s death was announced Thursday on his website. Cain had attended President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, OK, less than two weeks before receiving his diagnosis.
  • Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has mandated masks on the House floor and House office buildings in response to Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) announcing he was infected with COVID-19 after socializing mask-free on the House Floor and among the halls of Congress. Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) wrote a letter to Speaker Pelosi renewing his calls for rapid testing in the Capitol. Pelosi and Leader McConnell have so far declined to implement mandatory testing despite the President’s offer to provide a rapid test in the Capitol citing the lack of tests available to the public.
  • Speaking of masks, top public health officials now recommend measures beyond cloth masks to protect citizens against COVID-19 infection. White House Coronavirus Responses Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx recommended Thursday morning the use of face shields. On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, suggested the use of eye shields or goggles. The CDC currently acknowledges that face shields may be appropriate for “sustained close contact with other people,” but does not recommend face shields for normal everyday activities.
  • In her Thursday morning appearance on “Fox and Friends,” Dr. Birx urged state and local officials to require mask wearing across the country, but particularly in Midwestern states where the virus appears to be spreading quickly. In all, 30 states have mask mandates.
  • In a rare move, Congressional Republicans swiftly rejected President Trump’s suggestion on Twitter yesterday that the presidential election should be delayed due to what Trump alleges are election integrity risks inherent in mail-in voting. House Minority Leader McCarthy, Leader McConnell, Senate President pro tempore Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and several House members all firmly pushed back publically on the idea. McConnell dismissed the idea calling the election date “set in stone.” Trump lacks the authority to delay the election; the Constitution gives that authority to Congress to set the date.
  • Meanwhile, a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll previewed yesterday found 70 percent of Americans support the availability of vote-by-mail, including 88 percent of Democrats and half of Republicans. Voters’ personal health is top of mind; three-quarters of respondents said they were worried about catching COVID-19 at the polls.
  • Legal immunity for businesses, educational institutions, and other organizations is rapidly emerging as an obstacle to a deal on the next COVID-19 relief package on Capitol Hill. Both sides are digging in. Leader McConnell said on Tuesday there is “zero chance” he’ll bring a deal to the Senate floor without legal immunity provisions. Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer likewise countered there will be no deal unless the proposal is dropped. The proposal pits the parties’ constituencies against each other. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce enthusiastically backs McConnell’s stance, while unions and plaintiffs’ attorneys are staunchly opposed.
  • Several lawmakers and staffers are self-quarantining after coming into close contact with Rep. Louie Gohmert after he tested positive for COVID-19. That includes House Appropriations Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX) and House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). Attorney General William Barr is also getting tested following his Tuesday appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, where Gohmert is a member.

In the News

  • The U.S. economy saw the biggest quarterly plunge in activity ever, though the plummet in the second quarter wasn’t as bad as feared. Gross domestic product from April to June plunged 32.9 percent on an annualized basis, according to the Commerce Department’s first reading on the data released Thursday. Meanwhile, some 1.4 million people filed for initial jobless claims last week, according to the Department of Labor.
  • Coronavirus infections in the U.S. are beginning to decline after a summer of sharp increases. Some of the hardest-hit states are improving significantly, but we're at the stage of this most recent outbreak where deaths can spike. Coronavirus deaths passed 150,000 in the U.S. yesterday and are still rising. This week, the U.S. overall saw a 2.8 percent drop in new infections — within the range we classify as "holding steady."
  • McDonald’s is partnering with the Mayo Clinic as part of its efforts to navigate the pandemic. The medical center will offer McDonald’s advice on best practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and review the company’s environmental health and safety precautions and some of its global standards.
  • Boeing lost US$2.4 billion over the past three months, the company revealed Wednesday. It's just the latest sign of trouble for the aerospace giant as it continues to grapple with the fallout over its beleaguered 737 Max aircraft and the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • U.S. energy consumption plummeted to its lowest level in more than 30 years this spring, federal officials reported Wednesday. The drop was driven by less demand for coal that is burned for electricity and oil that’s refined into gasoline and jet fuel, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

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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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