Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, October 2020 # 12

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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:

  • Tuesday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Democrats and the White House have moved closer to a deal on a fourth COVID-19 stimulus relief bill ahead of her latest call with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Pelosi downplayed the importance of a Tuesday night deadline for an agreement prior to the election. "I'm optimistic because I do think we have a shared value — not many, but a shared value — that finally they want to crush the virus," Pelosi said during an interview with Bloomberg TV. By Tuesday afternoon the sides had narrowed their target for an overall price tag: the White House increased its offer to nearly US $1.9 trillion, while Democrats are pushing for US $2.2 trillion. On Monday afternoon, Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill said the speaker had tasked House committee chairs with resolving remaining disputes over issues including a national testing strategy, an expansion of tax credits, and relief for state and local governments.
    • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd Tuesday that “The Republicans are deeply divided. It's awfully tough to negotiate when [Secretary] Mnuchin has to go from Pelosi over to McConnell to find out whether McConnell will get people and [Senator] Thune just pointed out, they don't have the votes over there.”
    • President Trump made another appeal for Republican lawmakers to support an economic relief package higher than the US $2.2 trillion proposed by Pelosi. "It’s very simple. I want to do it even bigger than the Democrats," Trump said on Fox & Friends on Tuesday.
  • Seventy-two percent of Americans support a stimulus package totaling US $2 trillion according to a New York Times-Siena College poll released Tuesday. Just 21 percent of respondents opposed a package of that size that would “extend increased unemployment insurance, send stimulus checks to most Americans and provide financial support to state and local governments," according to the Times.
  • The Senate is set to vote on the reauthorization of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses Tuesday afternoon. The bill reauthorizes another round of the small business loans but is likely to be blocked by Democrats, who have opposed standalone relief bills in favor of a more comprehensive relief package. The PPP loans have kept many small businesses afloat during the pandemic but expired on 8 August and have not been authorized since then. Under the program, businesses with 500 or fewer workers were eligible for loans up to US $10 million, which became forgivable if at least 60 percent of the amount is spent on payroll.
  • President Trump has not met with the White House coronavirus task force in "quite some time," National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins told NPR's Morning Edition Tuesday. Collins said that Trump instead gets his information from Vice President Mike Pence and task force member Dr. Scott Atlas. "Obviously, it's a bit of a chaotic time with the election...There's not a direct connection between the task force members and the president as there was a few months ago," Collins said.
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued guidance on Monday strongly recommending that all passengers and employees on airplanes, trains, buses, and other public transportation wear masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. The new guidance notes that traveling increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 by bringing people in close contact with others for prolonged periods of time. “Broad and routine utilization of masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel more safely even during this pandemic,” the CDC said in its interim guidance.
  • First Lady Melania Trump canceled a campaign stop with President Trump Tuesday evening in Erie, Pennsylvania, citing a “lingering cough.” The first lady’s chief of staff Stephanie Grisham released a statement saying “Mrs. Trump continues to feel better every day following her recovery from COVID-19, but with a lingering cough, and out of an abundance of caution, she will not be traveling today.”

In the News:

  • In response to the recent surge of COVID-19 cases across the U.S., people traveling to New York from 43 states and territories are now ordered to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival or face fines, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.
  • Reuters reports that AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trial in the U.S. is expected to resume as early as this week after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed its review of a serious illness. The company’s late-stage trial for its COVID-19 vaccine has been on hold in the U.S. since 6 Sept. after one of the participants in the U.K. reported a serious adverse reaction.
  • Former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb is warning that the U.S. is about “a week away from seeing a rapid acceleration” in COVID-19 cases. Gottleib told CNBC on Monday that without a backstop from widely available treatments, this “fall and winter season is when this coronavirus is going to want to spread.”
  • Target says it will spend more than US $70 million on another round of employee bonuses as the holiday season picks up. The retailer will pay US $200 to its more than 350,000 employees who work at stores, distribution centers and contact centers, according to a post on its website.
  • British scientists on Tuesday announced plans to launch the first COVID-19 human “challenge” trials in which researchers will intentionally infect a sample of healthy volunteers with the virus in order to speed up the testing of potential vaccines. According to The Washington Post, the research, set to begin in January, will be led by scientists at Imperial College London and funded by the British government.
  • The pandemic may be exacerbating drug abuse in the U.S., according to a report released on Tuesday by the Associated Press. The AP says that May was the deadliest month for overdoses in the state of Kentucky for the past five years with nearly as many deaths in that one month as the state had seen in the entire preceding year. National trends reportedly indicate that overdose deaths are on track to reach record highs this year. Pandemic-caused stressors such as job loss, disrupted treatments, and isolation are all believed to be factors in the spike.

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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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