Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – August 2020 # 20

Hogan Lovells

Hogan Lovells

In Washington

  • Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confirmed during a call with GOP conference and White House officials that the Senate will not reconvene until after Labor Day. During the call, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said that his call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was a waste of time. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin added that he doesn’t believe Pelosi wants to make a deal.
  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told The Hill that if Republicans can reach consensus on a "skinny" coronavirus relief package, he is going to put it on the floor for a vote. But by Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s own estimation, up to 20 Republican senators are prepared to vote against anything delaying an introduction of the bill.
  • Three senior Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials and several outside experts say that President Trump has targeted the agency and his attacks threaten crucial damage to the agency's credibility. The agency has already been marred by a series of public missteps that have brought several to question the integrity of the agency. In the latest fallout, Friday morning, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn terminated his top spokesperson, Emily Miller, over the controversy surrounding the FDA's emergency use authorization of convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19. Miller's dismissal also comes just after the Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) terminated another public relations consultant, Wayne Pines, who had advised Hahn to apologize for misstatements and inflating the benefits of blood plasma therapy. The officials expressed more immediate fears that political incentives could interfere with the approval decisions surrounding a COVID-19 vaccine that Trump has repeatedly suggested could come before the November 3 election.
  • Officials at HHS say Operation Warp Speed will continue even if President Trump loses November's presidential election. HHS deputy chief of staff for policy, Paul Mango, told reporters during a phone call Friday, "The vast majority of folks who are working on Operation Warp Speed (OWS) are not political appointees of the Trump administration." OWS is a public-private partnership created to help fast track the development of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering collecting the phone numbers and email address of all travelers entering the U.S. as part of its COVID-19 tracing measures. The information would be obtained regardless of whether they have contracted the virus. Two officials with inside knowledge of the plans said that the information could be accessed by law enforcement agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project said the program was too far-reaching to have a public health impact and "raises serious concerns about privacy and misuse."
  • Four people who attended the Republican National Convention events in Charlotte, N.C., have tested positive for the coronavirus. Two attendees and two staffers were sent home. There have been no reports of infected people at the Washington events where there was little mask wearing or social distancing. One of Defense Secretary Mark Esper's staffers traveling in the Indo-Pacific region has also tested positive for the virus. Pentagon officials said members of the delegation learned of the positive result as they arrived in Guam on Friday.
  • The Federal government is preparing to begin deferring Social Security taxes for "all" federal employees as part of President Trump's plan to defer payroll taxes that was included in his executive orders for COVID-19 relief. It appears that the federal employees who qualify for the deferral will not be able to opt out from participation. Furthermore, the administration has yet to finish writing the guidance providing details of how the deferral would work. The National Finance Center, which oversees the federal employees' payroll, informed employees in a memo that the deferred taxes will eventually be forgiven, even though only Congress has the authority to so by passing legislation. Union representatives are concerned about the tax implications and debt burden it will have on employees. They believe employees should have the choice to opt out.

In the News

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates more than 200,000 COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S. by 19 September.
  • MGM Resorts International laid off 18,000 U.S. employees on Friday who were furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Declines in tourism and travel, restrictions on capacity, lack of sports events, and negligible conference business has hit MGM's Las Vegas casinos hard. At the start of this year, the company employed 70,000 workers in the U.S.
  • A new study from the Economic Policy Institute estimates about 12 million Americans have lost their health insurance since February due to increased unemployment.
  • Thirty-five percent of respondents to a CNBC and Change Research poll call the current state of their personal finances "poor" or "not so good." Looking ahead to next year, more than half of respondents said they are "worried and uncertain" about the unemployment rate (60 percent), wages rising (52 percent), and health care costs (57 percent).
  • Children infected with COVID-19 can shed the virus for weeks, even after their symptoms clear or if they never develop symptoms, according to a new study published Friday in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics. Overall, researchers said the virus was detectable for an average of about two and a half weeks in children's respiratory tracts.
  • San Quentin, a Bay Area prison for men, has experienced a staggering COVID-19 outbreak in recent months. About two-thirds of its inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus and 25 have died. Infections are only now slowing.
  • U.S. consumers increased their spending by 1.9 percent in July, marking the third straight monthly increase in consumer spending. Friday’s report from the Commerce Department also showed that income rose 0.4 percent in July after two months of declines.

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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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