Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – May 2020 #2

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[author: Shelley Castle]

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:

  • Vice President Mike Pence told reporters that the administration is winding down and disbanding the White House Coronavirus Task Force around the end of the month. Officials say that key medical experts will continue to advise the President daily and will be accessible to the press.
  • POLITICO reports that yesterday, the House Committee Chairman submitted drafts for the next stimulus package, CARES 2, to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Although the timeline is uncertain, the proposal could be made public by Friday and be voted on the floor as soon as next week. The measure will be used by Democrats to lay down a marker and pressure Republicans, who are still unsure if another stimulus package is necessary. Minority Leader Kevin McCarty (R-CA) said, “I’m not saying there’s not going to be another bill. You just passed $3 trillion. You want to make sure that’s implemented and implemented correctly.”
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) are planning to attempt to pass legislation later today that would mandate new disclosure requirements for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other disaster relief accounts. The measure would require public daily and weekly reporting by geographic location, demographics, and industry of the PPP, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, and other disaster relief programs.
  • Democratic members of Congress announced new legislation in both the House and Senate that would prevent the administration from bailing out the fossil fuel industry using CARES Act funds. The Resources for Workforce Investments, not Drilling Act (ReWIND Act) bars fossil fuel companies from participating in the Federal Reserve’s Main Street lending program which was just expanded last week in ways that would enable some small and medium oil and gas companies to participate. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (WA), Jared Huffman (CA), Ilhan Omar (MN), and Barragan (CA) led more than two dozen lawmakers on the effort. Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR) led companion legislation in the Senate.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci reiterated again that it’s unlikely that the novel coronavirus originated in a Wuhan laboratory. “If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated,” Fauci told National Geographic. “Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.” Yesterday, the Five Eyes international intelligence sources reported that despite China not being open about the initial spread in Wuhan, there is no current evidence to suggest that the coronavirus leaked from a Chinese research laboratory. President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have aggressively been claiming that there is “significant” evidence that China that the virus came from a Wuahan lab.
  • House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) are working on legislation to expand inspections at nursing homes, bolster reporting of deaths in long-term care facilities and increase funding for protective equipment for workers. Members hope to garner some support from Republicans and introduce the measure soon.
  • Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, sent a letter along with other Democratic lawmakers to Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day asking for detail the company’s plans for remdesivir, including securing and scaling up the supply chain, complete disclosures of taxpayer investment in the development of the drug, and purchase and pricing arrangements.
  • The Washington Post is reporting that the coronavirus response being spearheaded by President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been hampered due to the inexperienced volunteers. Sources said that efforts “have relied in part on volunteers from consulting and private equity firms with little expertise in the tasks to which they were assigned, exacerbating chronic problems in obtaining supplies for hospitals.” One of the volunteer’s filed a complaint with the House Oversight Committee expressing concerns that the group’s efforts were “falling short.”
  • Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) sent a letter to the Treasury Department asking to reverse its current guidance and allow employers to provide health insurance to furloughed workers to be eligible for the employee retention credit. Chairman Neal is also calling for a 90-day suspension of all tariffs on products related to the coronavirus pandemic response.
  • Dr. Rick Bright, the former director of the office involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine, has filed an extensive whistleblower complaint today alleging his early warnings about the coronavirus were ignored and led to retaliation. Bright was abruptly fired after clashing with the administration over the funding for unproven coronavirus treatments that were favored by President Trump.

In the News:

  • Stocks rallied at the open Tuesday as efforts to reopen the economy and loosen restrictions on businesses continued. The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded up more than 300 points or 1.3 percent. The S& P gained 1.4 percent while the Nasdaq Composite rose 1.7 percent.
  • The New York City Health Department says that fifteen children have been hospitalized with symptoms that could be linked to coronavirus. The children all tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, showed persistent fevers and other signs of Kawasaki disease.
  • U.S. COVID-19 testing numbers are picking up. National testing numbers have surged from 5,000 tests a day at the beginning of the crisis to more than 300,000 tests last Friday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. It’s the first time that many tests have been recorded in the three months of testing data.
  • Seven northeastern states announced they would reopen their economies jointly when the time was right, but this is now unlikely. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) extended the state’s business shut down through May 14 and is expected to begin rolling back some restrictions under social distancing requirements. California is the first state to borrow $348 million in federal funds so it can continue paying out rising claims for unemployment benefits.
  • White House Senior Economic Adviser Kevin Hassett tells CNN the U.S. unemployment rate could be as high as 20 percent in data released by the Labor Department on Friday. One week ago, Hassett had estimated a 20 percent unemployment rate for June, but he says the latest data received on claims is “worse than expected.”
  • Frontier Airlines is allowing passengers to purchase an empty middle seat for $39, part of a program aimed at “well-being and comfort. The program runs through August 31 and could be extended.
  • Costco is the latest grocer to limit meat purchases, as the meat processing facilities that shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks are partially reopening this week. Costco on Monday said it will be temporarily limiting meat purchases to three items per member.

[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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