Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – August 2020 #6

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  • On 8 Aug. President Trump announced four executive actions aimed to extend economic aid to Americans while Congress remains in a stalemate over the next coronavirus relief package. The executive actions’ effectiveness and legality are in question and likely to be challenged in court due to them exceeding the Constitutional powers of the executive office.
    • The orders sparked confusion with the President initially misstating the directives and the administration scrambling to explain the actual policies over the weekend. The President said during a press conference, that, via executive order, he will unilaterally continue expanding unemployment benefits at US$400/week rather than the previous US$600/week. But the executive action is a memorandum to the Secretaries of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and the Administrator of FEMA directing them to create a new program that would offer a US$400/week in federal unemployment benefits only if Governors request it and if states pay one-quarter of the benefit amount (US$100) from their funds. States are already cash strapped and asking for new aid to help cover massive budget gaps from having to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and the president’s legal authority to do so is unlikely. Trump later changed what he said, suggesting that he would have the authority to waive that 25 percent match on a state-by-state basis.
    • He also sent a memorandum to the Secretary of Education directing her to take action to pause student loan payments until the end of the year and extend the moratorium on evictions. Additionally, Trump said an executive order authorizes the Treasury Department to defer payroll taxes for Americans making less than US$100,000/yr. but would require taxes to be paid back the following year. The move would also require several changes to the payroll systems, which would hinder the program’s implementation. The orders do not address funding for businesses, schools, state and local governments, or the second round of individual stimulus checks.
    • The Trump administration defended the President’s move saying they were necessary because Democrats wouldn’t compromise on a broad coronavirus relief package but several GOP lawmakers expressed concern over the Trump executive orders. Democratic leaders said the executive orders are “inadequate” and “unworkable”, as well as “unconstitutional”. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), on Fox News Sunday said, “What the President did, I would agree with [Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE)], it was ‘unconstitutional slop.’ While it has the illusion of saying we’re going to have a moratorium on evictions, it says, ‘I’m going to ask the folks in charge to study if that’s feasible.’ ... Millions of children in our country are food-insecure. Our bill addresses that with tens of billions of dollars [to] feed the children. The Republican bill has US$250,000. While our bill addresses those who are on the brink of eviction. ... The Republican bill has nothing.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday on ABC News, “Unfortunately, the president’s executive orders, described in one word, could be paltry, in three words, unworkable, weak and far too narrow.”
    • President Trump tweeted that Schumer and Pelosi wanted to meet to make a deal, but Democratic aides say there has been no contact from their offices and the White House, and White House staff said that they were unaware of contact.
    • Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that they hope the unemployment payments will go out quickly, but “can’t pinpoint” when Americans will see the benefit while shifting the responsibility on the states. McEnany also said that it was important to note that any delays in the President’s program rests with Democratic leadership rather than the administration.
    • Whether the President’s move was to give Republicans some leverage in negotiations or head to the courts, there is still a chance this week that an agreement can be reached as members continue to feel the pressure from their constituents as millions of American’s struggle with unemployment, not enough food to eat, and inability to pay their August rent and mortgage payments. Several vulnerable Senate Republicans need a deal, while several Democrats do not want to appear to be halting benefits that might be in the pipeline. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said the White House is open to resuming negotiations and are still willing to “put more money on the table” and willing to compromise saying “if we can get a fair deal we’ll do it this week.”
  • National Security Adviser O’Brien, on CBS’ Face The Nation, said, “We’re working on testing. And I think what has happened with testing in America is really a miracle. There is no country in the world that comes close to what America is doing on testing. But we’re working on getting more testing out there. ... We’re going to fight like heck. We’re working hard on vaccines, working hard on testing machines that are portable and fast, we’re working on therapeutics.”
  • The House won’t be called back into session until a week later than scheduled. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced Monday that the chamber won’t be called back into session until the week of 14 September, although lawmakers have been notified that they could be called back before then if a deal is reached on another COVID-19 relief package.
  • President Trump is urging colleges to go forward with football this fall despite concerns about COVID-19 safety. The President tweeted Monday, “Play College Football!” after earlier this morning tweeting, "The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” and used the hashtag “WeWantToPlay.” The call comes as the several conferences have and are about to announce that they will be either postponing or cancelling NCAA fall sports until 2021.

In the News

  • COVID-19 cases in the U.S. surpassed 5 million on Sunday, doubling the number of cases since June. New spikes are surfacing in the Midwest while states in the South and Western U.S. continue to fight against surges in the coronavirus. The milestone comes just 17 days after the US total exceeded 4 million. At this time a reported 163,000 Americans have died from the virus.
  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says the number of people passing through checkpoints at airports rose for a second consecutive week. On Sunday the number hit 831,789, the most since 17 March.
  • On the heels of the uptick in airline travel, airline shares Monday headed for their biggest one-day percentage gains in nearly a month. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines shares were each more than 7 percent higher in early afternoon trading, while United Airlines was up more than 8 percent, and Southwest Airlines rose more than 4 percent. Meanwhile, bipartisan political support has grown for more aid to the industry. Current aid, which prohibits job cuts, expires in October. Labor unions and airline executives have been pushing for US$25 billion in additional assistance through March 2021.
  • A new report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association, shows that 97,000 children in the US tested positive for coronavirus in the last two weeks of July. The researchers found a 40 percent increase in child coronavirus cases. The report also makes clear that close to 340,000 children have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, meaning over a quarter of those who tested positive were from the last two weeks of July.
  • Eastman Kodak’s US$765 million loan agreement with the U.S. government to produce pharmaceutical ingredients has been put on hold due to “recent allegations of wrongdoing,” the U.S. International Development Finance Corp (DFC) said. Last week, senior Democratic lawmakers asked federal regulators to investigate securities transactions made by the company and its executives around the time it learned it could receive the government loan.
  • New Zealand has now gone 101 days without any community transmission of the coronavirus (i.e. a case acquired locally from an unknown source) and life in the country has largely returned to normal – an experience far different from the havoc that the virus has caused elsewhere.

[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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