Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – August 2020 #4

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  • After negotiations remained stalled Wednesday evening, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that if an agreement in principle wasn’t reached by Friday, "there's no sense to continue" negotiations past then. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin repeated a similar statement saying if a deal wasn’t reached by Friday, then it will be hard to complete a deal. Meadow later walked back his statement. The administration is threatening it would look at taking executive actions to provide limited pandemic relief. There are questions on how much legal authority the President would have in implementing such executive actions; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the president can most likely make some limited actions, but Congress still holds the “power of the purse.”
    • In a CNN interview Thursday House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) dismissed Meadow’s demand saying he doesn’t even know what it means. “There is no walking away from the people and crisis,” Hoyer said, "We need to get something as soon as possible and I hope that means by Friday.” Hoyer said executive orders can only take care of a small part of the problem. He noted that Mark Meadows is “not famous for compromising” and criticized Republican last minute demands and the lapse of benefits after having sat on the issue for over two and half months. Hoyer said that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has a better understanding of the need for compromise. Since a large part of the Republican conference is not in agreement with spending additional stimulus money, McConnell will depend on getting Democratic support to pass a deal. In response to Republican complaints about the lack of concessions on the Democratic side, he said the Democrats' goals are to push hard for those issues that are absolutely “essential '' for the American public rather than a wish list.
    • Blame on the impasse is getting heated as Speaker Pelosi said Thursday that Republicans don’t give “a damn” about those struggling, and that’s why they don’t have a deal. Leader McConnell countered accusing her of lying, and he said Democrats should have extended unemployment benefits last week when Republicans offered to do just that.
  • A bipartisan group of 30 attorneys general wrote a letter to congressional leaders urging them to expand and extend the federal government’s aid for student loan borrowers. The state leaders also want Congress to extend those protections before they expire next month.
  • Meanwhile, President Trump said that his administration is taking steps to extend student loan relief through executive action. The President tweeted Thursday “Upon departing the Oval Office for Ohio, I’ve notified my staff to continue working on an Executive Order with respect to Payroll Tax Cut, Eviction Protections, Unemployment Extensions, and Student Loan Repayment Options.”
  • Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), announced in a letter on his website that he tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday morning. Davis says he has been careful to follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and has been outspoken among his caucus about the need for safety amid COVID-19.
  • Facebook and Twitter blocked a video on President Trump’s social media accounts for violating their policies on coronavirus misinformation. The president posted a video of his Fox News interview where he claimed children were “virtually immune” from COVID-19 in defense of sending children to school. Twitter went as far as to freeze Trump’s campaign account until the video was removed. This comes as Johns Hopkins public health expert, Dr. Caitlin Rivers testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis against opening schools in the fall saying children can transmit the virus and “outbreaks in schools are likely.”
  • In response to President Trump’s renewed claims that the coronavirus “will just go away,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday that the "highly transmissible" virus isn't likely to be eradicated from the planet, but states' efforts to enforce measures against the virus and the race to a vaccine could keep it from drastically disrupting life in the United States again. "We may need to go through a season of it, and then by the next season if we have a vaccine it won’t be a pandemic, it won’t be immobilizing the world, it won’t be destroying the economy," he said.
  • President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday requiring the federal government to buy “essential” drugs from U.S. companies. “If we’ve learned anything from the China virus pandemic, it is that we are dangerously over-dependent on foreign nations for our essential medicines, for medical supplies like masks, gloves, goggles and medical equipment like ventilators.” White House trade advisor Peter Navarro said during a conference call with reporters Thursday morning. The order’s “buy American” provision requires the federal government to develop a list of “essential” medicines, and then requires the Defense Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to purchase U.S.-made versions of those drugs.
  • The State Department announced it has lifted its global level 4 travel advisory - the highest level of travel advisory - due to COVID-19. The advisory has been in effect for the past four months and urged Americans not to travel overseas due to the risks of the global pandemic. The State Department will return to its previous system of assigning country-specific advisories since health conditions are "improving in some countries and potentially deteriorating in others," according to a note from the department.
  • On 5 August, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), the Chairwoman of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, sent a letter to White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar about the Trump administration’s failure to finalize and release a vaccine-distribution plan. The lawmakers said they were concerned about recent reports that some of the nation’s top public health experts were being sidelined in the process. The White House has announced that for the first time, the U.S. military, not the CDC, has taken the lead in a civilian vaccine distribution program. Public health experts warn that using the military in such a way could further erode the public’s confidence in the safety of a vaccine.

In the News

  • Jobless claims hit their lowest level during the COVID-19 pandemic last week, with 1.86 million Amerians filing for unemployment benefits, according to the Department of Labor. Meanwhile, those who have collected benefits for two straight weeks, dropped by 844,000 - though that number was still at 16.1 million.
  • Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has tested positive for COVID-19. DeWine’s office announced his positive test shortly before he was scheduled to meet with President Trump in Cleveland. The governor currently has no COVID-19 symptoms, his office said in a news release.
  • Coronavirus infections are falling or holding steady in most parts of the country, including states where cases recently had spiked such as Arizona, California and Florida. According to Johns Hopkins University, The U.S. has recorded more than 158,000 deaths and 4.8 million cases of COVID-19.
  • New York City will set up checkpoints around the city, including at bridges and tunnels, in order to locate travelers from areas with high COVID-19 rates and quarantine them for 14 days, officials said Wednesday.
  • The Supreme Court lifted a lower court order requiring several jails in southern California to take steps to slow the spread of COVID-19. In a 5-4 decision, the high court granted a request from officials at the Orange County Jail, supporting their claim that a federal trial judge had overstepped his authority by ordering spacing, cleaning protocols and inmate testing.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) director-general says he hopes the U.S. will reconsider its decision to leave the organization, stating that a “divided world” cannot defeat COVID-19.
  • This year’s Masters golf tournament will likely be held without fans in Augusta, Georgia, according to Mayor Hardie Davis. The event was moved from April to November due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Fully 32 percent of households owed money for missed rent or mortgage payments from previous months at the beginning of August, according to a survey by Apartment List, an online rental platform. A Morning Consult survey estimates 5.4 million additional people will be unable to pay all of their bills by the end of August without a new job or the extra US$600 in weekly unemployment insurance that expired last week.

 

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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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