Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – May 2020 #15

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Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines provided by the Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs team.

In Washington

  • The Senate is headed out of town for the Memorial Day recess. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) had tried to block having a recess, and instead demanding that the Senate work on coronavirus assistance, but dropped his plans after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised to take up Gardner’s bill to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund after the recess. McConnell also announced late Thursday that the annual defense policy bill would be on the agenda when the Senate returns for its June work period. The House will be in for two days next week to deal with surveillance legislation and an overhaul of small business rescue loans, although proxy voting will be allowed.
  • The Senate put the passage of the Payment Protection Program Extension Act (S. 3833) on hold. The Senate offered opening remarks on the bill but was unable to get unanimous consent after hot lining the bill yesterday. There is a chance a similar House bill could come to the floor next week during a pro forma session. The House version (H.R. 6886) would extend the loan forgiveness period for 24 weeks. Unlike the Senate version, the House would not require businesses to spend at least 75 percent of the loan on payroll costs.
  • Senators on both sides of the aisle are supportive of domestic production of medical goods and products that are currently being manufactured in China and elsewhere, but it’s unclear what a bipartisan strategy would look like. There are more than a dozen proposals being circulated in Congress at the moment while the Trump Administration is working on its own “Buy American” executive order on medical supplies. In addition to a bipartisan approach, during a Thursday event Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said the U.S. needs to be part of an “international coalition of like-minded countries” to create a trade model “that doesn’t have supply chains so heavily invested in one place.”
  • The President’s top economic official expressed uncertainty on Thursday that America’s economy would swiftly recover from the downturn caused by the coronavirus, striking a more cautious tone than the President in recent days. The Director of White House National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, said there are some “small glimmers of hope” and voiced some optimism about a dramatic improvement this summer.
  • As far as the next stimulus package, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that there’s a “strong likelihood” another relief bill will be needed. According to Axios, McConnell told President Trump during a private meeting that the next piece of legislation has to be under US$1 trillion. Some Senators are saying that negotiations will start in June and that a measure will be passed before the August recess.
  • Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Tom Carper (D-DE) sent a letter to Senate leadership requesting funding for independent live music venues in the upcoming coronavirus relief legislation. In the letter, Senators said that live event venues were among the first to close down due to the pandemic, and “they are likely to be among the last to reopen,” adding that their reopening may not occur until a vaccine is widely available.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that 27 coronavirus antibody tests will no longer be distributed in the U.S., as part of a previously-announced crackdown by the regulator on the tests. Antibody tests look for markers in the blood that indicate exposure to the coronavirus, but, in contrast with diagnostic tests, cannot determine whether a patient has an active Covid-19 infection. The tests either didn’t seek authorization from the FDA or had “significant problems” identified with them, according to the FDA.
  • Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to the U.N. health agency’s executive board saying it wants the World Health Organization (WHO) to start work “now” on a planned independent review of its coordinated international response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • In an afternoon new briefing, President Trump announced that he was deeming houses of worship “essential” and in his direction, the CDC has established guidelines for communities of faith. Furthermore, the President demanded that governors reopen churches this weekend and threatened that he would “override” any governor’s decisions to keep churches closed despite having the authority to do so.
  • Several defense officials say they support extending the National Guard’s federal deployment due to COVID-19. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday that he supports extending relief efforts to the states if it is needed to fight the pandemic. The chief of the National Guard Bureau says he recommended to President Trump extending the deployment until at least the end of July. The cut-off date is currently set for late June. National Guard Chief General Joseph Lengyel told POLITICO “The mission is not done yet” and “The one thing we know for sure is that this mission is going to continue beyond the 24th of June.”
  • New guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about a third of coronavirus infections are asymptomatic. The CDC also says its “best estimate” is that 0.4 percent of people who show symptoms and have COVID-19 will die, and the agency estimates that 40 percent of coronavirus transmission is occurring before people feel sick. Also the CDC now says that the “virus does not spread easily” from contaminated surfaces or animals” but primarily spreads from person to person.

In the News

  • A quarter of the staff at Tyson Foods’ Wilkesboro, North Carolina poultry facility have tested positive for COVID-19. Tyson said Wednesday that a majority of employees with coronavirus were asymptomatic and otherwise would not have been identified as having COVID-19 had they not been tested.
  • Layoffs at IBM are in the works, the company told FOX Business. The company declined to disclose where the cuts would take place, but Bloomberg reports the reductions would be spread across at least five states, including California, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
  • Royal Caribbean has further suspended most cruises through July, with voyages set to begin on 1 August, the company announced.
  • Unemployment rates were higher in April in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The national unemployment rate rose by 10.3 percentage points over the month to 14.7 percent. Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in April, 28.2 percent, followed by Michigan, 22.7 percent, and Hawaii, 22.3 percent.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNBC on Friday that now is the time to reopen the economy, but also cautioned that states should still take “very significant precautions” with social distancing. The U.S. coronavirus death toll is approaching 100,000 and more than 1.58 million people across the country have been infected, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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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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