Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, November 2020 # 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:

  • Two Treasury Department moves in recent days are generating controversy among lawmakers and policymakers:
    • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Thursday that he will not extend the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending programs created under the CARES Act. The lending programs expire on December 31. The programs were a response to the financial panic that accompanied the lockdowns in the spring, and gave the Fed the ability to lend up to $4.5 trillion into various financial markets. Mnuchin argued it was the intent of Congress for the funds to expire. Congressional Republicans have defended the decision while Democratic members have criticized it. The Fed, in a rare direct public rebuke, expressed disagreement as well. But as a Hogan Lovells partner noted in Friday’s Politico Influence, the impact may be minimal because some of the funds were not fully used, and Mnuchin’s move may increase pressure on Congress for another coronavirus relief package.
    • Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR) on Thursday criticized a new Treasury Department guidance limiting the deductibility for taxable income purposes of expenses related to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The PPP is a coronavirus relief program under which small businesses receive loans that can be forgiven if the proceeds are used to maintain payroll. The legislation that created the PPP states that the loan forgiveness is not considered taxable income. But under guidance issued Wednesday, if a business hasn't had its PPP loan forgiven at the end of the year, but expects the loan to be forgiven in the future, the company cannot deduct expenses related to the loan. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said Wednesday that the new guidance gives taxpayers more clarity. Grassley and Wyden rebutted that Congress had intended deductibility.
  • NIH official Anthony Fauci on Wednesday voiced his frustrations about the spread of misinformation about COVID-19, telling USA Today, "[g]et rid of these ridiculous conspiracy theories." His comments during an editorial board meeting and focused on the false notion perpetuated by some that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu. "I tell the people who deny or think that this is nothing, do you mean that every single country in Europe is doing the same thing, is making things up? They're not. I mean, it's so obvious," Fauci added.
  • Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar announced that Pfizer’s and its partner BioNTech filed for emergency Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its COVID-19 vaccine on Friday. This is the first coronavirus vaccine to seek regulatory clearance in the U.S. Final data, released Nov. 18, showed the vaccine was 95 percent effective in trials, even in older adults.
  • Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) has tested positive for COVID-19, roughly a week after he started self-quarantining. In a statement on Friday morning, he said he was experiencing “very mild symptoms.” On Wednesday, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), announced separately they had tested positive for Covid-19. As of this week, 26 House members and 7 senators have so far tested positive or been presumed positive.
  • White House special assistant Andrew Guiliani has tested positive for COVID-19. The news comes a day after attending a news conference with his father and Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on election fraud claims. The diagnosis prevented Rudy Giuliani and other key members of President Trump’s legal team from attending Friday’s meeting with Michigan lawmakers because of their exposure to coronavirus.

In the News:

  • The United States on Thursday recorded 2,015 new coronavirus deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, marking the first time the country has hit more than 2,000 deaths since May. The U.S. also set a new record on hospitalizations on Thursday. According to the Atlantic magazine-managed COVID Tracking Project, 80,698 people are currently hospitalized. In addition, more than 187,000 new cases were reported across the country, according to CNN. More than 252,000 have died.
  • A World Health Organization (WHO) panel recommended against using remdesivir in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 because there is no evidence it improves survival. Remdesivir recently became the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The WHO panel found the drug, which is delivered intravenously, had no real impact on whether patients would need to be put on ventilators. The recommendation was based on data from four international randomized trials involving more than 7,000 patients hospitalized for COVID-19.
  • Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently joined a chorus of experts arguing schools should be “the last thing” to shut down, citing the myriad benefits of live education instruction for young children. Gottlieb and others recommend closing other communal spaces like bars, gyms, and restaurants first, and if schools must go virtual, that high schools and colleges go first. Some jurisdictions including, notably, New York City, have pursued the opposite policy. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) shut down in-person public schooling recently, while restaurants and fitness centers remain open.

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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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