Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, January 2021 # 14

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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:

  • Moderna is accelerating its testing on booster shots to vaccinate against the different variants and mutations in strains of COVID. Alarm bells have sounded after research shows the Moderna vaccine was six times less effective against the South African strain. The British strain appears not to reduce the antibody's ability to defend against the virus. Moderna is working on the development as a proactive measure as the virus evolves and to be prepared for Fall. The Biden administration is closely monitoring the emerging strains. "There are alternative plans if we ever have to modify the vaccine," National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Anthony Fauci said at a White House briefing last week.
  • Biden Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky told Fox News on Sunday that the administration does not know the current number of COVID vaccines available for distribution. Walensky says that the Trump administration did not track that data, making it extremely difficult for states to plan their vaccination distribution. States don’t know how many vaccines it will receive and the number of vaccinators and appointments it needs. Hospitals in several states have canceled thousands of appointments due to running low on vaccines or nearly depleting their share.
  • On Monday, President Biden banned most non-U.S. citizens traveling from South Africa from entering the U.S. and extended travel restrictions for Europe, the U.K., and Brazil, to curb the spread of COVID-19, particularly as new strains of the coronavirus are identified in several of the countries listed. The measures come as more contagious variants of the virus have spread.
  • White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese hosted a call Jan 24 with 16 bipartisan senators to discuss Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid plan. White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients and director of legislative affairs Louisa Terrell also joined the meeting. Many senators shared their concerns that stimulus checks need to be targeted to those that need them the most. After the meeting, GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine reiterated her concern that it is too early to pass another big package until the full impact of the last one is known. Sen. Mitt Romeny also had concerns with borrowing more money “for things that may not be absolutely necessary.”
  • President Biden told reporters Monday that Congress may take weeks to finish talks around a coronavirus relief deal and for Democrats to decide whether they should forge ahead without GOP support. He said a decision on whether to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a relief package with only Democratic votes “will depend upon how these negotiations go.” He noted that Democratic leaders in Congress would ultimately decide how to proceed with trying to pass legislation. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she would not put a “deadline” on the bill’s passage but said the administration is “mindful” about the March deadline for unemployment insurance, which she called the “unemployment cliff.”
  • The Biden White House announced it will resume regular briefings with public health experts focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic, reviving an approach that had declined during the Trump administration. The White House anticipates holding three weekly briefings led by public health officials and members of the administration's COVID-19 response team, press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
  • Dr. Deborah Birx, President Trump's coronavirus response coordinator, told CBS's Face the Nation that Trump received and presented different statistics than those she sent to the President. “Someone out there, or someone inside, was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president,” said Birx.” “I know what I sent up, and I know that what was in his hands was different,” Birx said. She believed that at least some of the data had been funneled by controversial White House coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas. Atlas has denied the claims saying any data he passed to Trump was "directly from the CDC.” Birx also discussed the difficulties of her position and working with President Trump saying she "always" considered quitting her job. "I had to ask myself every morning: is there something that I think I can do that would be helpful in responding to this pandemic?," Birx said in her first interview since leaving her role advising the Trump administration.
  • Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci blamed Donald Trump and the considerable amount of mixed messaging and divisiveness " from the top down" for the U.S.'s poor response to the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Fauci said that allowing coronavirus health care to become a political instrument and the lack of federal government involvement at state level had cost the country.
  • Dr. Fauci was awarded the National Academy of Sciences’ Public Welfare Medal for “decades-long leadership in combating emerging infectious diseases, from the AIDS crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic, and being a clear, consistent, and trusted voice in public health,” the academy said on Monday. The medal is that organization’s highest honor.
  • House Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is standing firm not and not allowing Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to push him around as the two continue to battle over a Senate organization resolution. Schumer said he will not guarantee that Democrats won’t blow up the filibuster. While Democrats will most likely not do away with the filibuster, most of the caucus wants to preserve the option in case McConnell abuses it. Meanwhile, McConnell’s demands are holding up the procedural vote, which essentially allows the Democrats the majority and the ability to move quickly on Biden’s first days. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has promised that he would not vote to change the filibuster in an effort to move past the standoff. Schumer would not commit to saying whether he would be willing to “go nuclear” and pass the organizing resolution with 51 votes. “All I can tell you is we are not letting Mitch McConnell dictate how the Senate runs or what we do. … I will tell you this. There’s huge anger in my caucus about what he’s done.”

In the News:

  • Merck announced Monday that it is ending work on potential Covid-19 vaccines after weak results from early trials. Although Merck is walking away from Covid-19 vaccines, the company said it will continue to work on a pair of treatments for the virus.
  • The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed Monday the first known U.S. case of a more contagious coronavirus variant initially found in Brazil. The patient with the Brazil variant is a resident of the Twin Cities metro area. The person became ill during the first week of January, and the specimen was collected Jan. 9, the state said.
  • California will lift its stay-at-home order across the state on Monday, paving the way for restaurants and personal care services to reopen with modified operations for the first time in weeks, according to the state’s health department. California now reports about 25,000 new COVID-19 cases a day on average, a more than 35 percent decline compared with a week ago, according to Johns Hopkins University. But more than 18,000 Californians are now hospitalized with COVID-19, a recent dip but more than double the number on December 1.
  • Driven by COVID-19 pandemic-related financial difficulties, 18 percent of renters in America, or around 10 million people, were behind in their rent payments as of the beginning of the month. In one of his first executive orders, President Biden extended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current eviction moratorium through the end of March. A new analysis from Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, and Jim Parrott, a fellow at the Urban Institute, shows the typical delinquent renter now owes $5,600, being nearly four months behind on their monthly payment.

[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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