Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, December 2020 # 2

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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:

  • Congress continues to debate a new coronavirus relief package, possibly as part of a government spending bill due December 11. Here are the latest developments:
    • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rejected a proposed bipartisan coronavirus package Tuesday amid months of congressional inaction to curb the economic damage from the outbreak. The Kentucky Republican has called for a smaller “targeted relief bill” this year. McConnell said a must-pass spending bill and pandemic relief provisions will “all likely come in one package.”
    • In the “spirit of compromise,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that they recommend that the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators on Tuesday be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations. In a joint statement on Wednesday, the Democratic leaders said they plan to offer improvements but emphasized the need for swift action and believe that good-faith negotiations could lead to an agreement.
    • The Majority leader is meeting with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) on Wednesday to discuss COVID-19 relief legislation.
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Wednesday that he's aiming for the chamber to finish its work and pass a government spending bill by Friday, December 11, to give lawmakers enough time to quarantine for two weeks before Christmas and avoid potentially infecting their families with COVID-19. Hoyer acknowledged his preferred timeline for passing a government funding bill and a coronavirus relief bill before the chamber adjourns was “very optimistic.”
  • Two top Democrats on the House Transportation Committee on Monday called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the dangers of air travel during pandemics. In a letter to the GAO, committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Subcommittee on Aviation Chairman Rick Larsen (D-WA) requested three studies to examine existing research on the transmission of communicable diseases during air travel, government and industry responsibilities in mitigating those risks, and the industry’s current mitigation measures, respectively. The pandemic has cut air travel by as much as 90 percent year-over-year.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is suggesting that Americans postpone holiday travel after a busy Thanksgiving weekend that will likely result in a surge of new coronavirus cases. The agency recommends that people who do travel should be tested one to three days before and three to five days after their trips, while avoiding public activities for seven days, the CDC said. The agency released similar guidance against travel over Thanksgiving, but officials said travel volume remained high.
  • On Wednesday, the CDC updated its guidance where is shortening its recommended quarantine times for people who have been exposed to the virus from 14 days to ten days if the individual is not exhibiting any symptoms and has not been tested. If someone has tested negative, the CDC recommends quarantining for seven days, though officials say 14 days is still the best way to reduce transmission. The CDC hopes the change in guidelines will encourage more to quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19.
  • Former President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he would gladly take the coronavirus vaccine if top health officials deemed it safe. He added that he would be willing to film it, if that would build confidence in the U.S. about vaccine safety.
  • The Congressional Oversight Commission, responsible for overseeing Covid-19 relief funds has released its seventh report as mandated by the CARES Act. The Commission criticized the Defense and Treasury departments for failing to provide satisfactory answers for why a $700 million loan that was funded through the CARES Act was offered to shopping company YRC Worldwide in July. The company had previously been sued by the Defense Department for overpriced shipping charges.

In the News:

  • The U.K. on Wednesday became the first country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use. Distribution of the vaccine will begin next week, with elderly people in care homes and medical workers first in line. The U.S. FDA is reviewing the same vaccine for emergency authorization.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced Wednesday that it is again extending its suspension of sailing, this time through March, for most of its scheduled voyages. The company, had previously suspended its cruising until December 31. Rival company Carnival, the largest cruise company in the world, has suspended its operations through January, with some of its brands extending the suspension further into 2021. Shares of Norwegian are down over 60 percent since January 1 of this year.
  • Home mortgage applications jumped 9 percent last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally- and holiday-adjusted index. Joel Kan, a top economic forecaster at the Association, said, “[h]ousing demand remains strong, and despite extremely tight inventory and rising prices, home sales are running at their strongest pace in over a decade.”

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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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