Advocacy Update | Friday, Dec. 18
December 18, 2020
Election and Transition News
- Visit Elevate’s Transition 2020 Hub to see the most up-to-date lists of rumored and announced Cabinet members and staff.
- President-elect Biden announced additional members to the White House communications and press staff, including:
• Kate Berner to be Deputy Communications Director.
• Amanda Finney to be Chief of Staff for the Press Office and Special Assistant to the Press Secretary.
• Emma Riley to be Chief of Staff for the Office of Communications.
• Mariel Sáez to be Director of Broadcast Media.
- Pete Buttigieg, President-elect Biden’s nominee to be Secretary of Transportation, discussed his intention to prioritize equity and equitable job creation as Secretary. Buttigieg also expressed his optimism on bipartisan infrastructure legislation in the next Congress and the importance of addressing automation.
- Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller ordered the Department of Defense to stop cooperating with and providing briefings to the Biden transition team, though potential remains that cooperation could resume after the holidays.
• The move is yet unexplained, but there is speculation that it may be linked to a Washington Post article posted on Wednesday evening that described the money that could been saved if President-elect Biden halted construction of the border wall with Mexico. The article used figures reportedly leaked from within the Department of Defense, believed to have been given to the Washington Post by Biden Transition staff, per Defense officials. No evidence was presented that this was the case.
- Congressional Democrats have reportedly been considering inserting a waiver in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 omnibus funding bill to clear one of two hurdles for President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, General Lloyd Austin. General Austin, who retired from the Army in 2016, requires a waiver to serve in the Cabinet position due to existing law that the Secretary of Defense must have been out of the military for at least seven years prior to assuming the position.
• Some Senate Democrats have pushed for the inclusion of a waiver in the FY21 omnibus funding package, though their peers in the House have shown mixed support. While Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), a noted Biden ally, has come out in favor of the move, some House Democrats, like Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA), have reinforced their desire to see public hearings on the matter in the early days of 2021. The House has used such procedures in past Congress’s to compel a Secretary-designate to come before a committee, as they do not have confirmation authority.
- President-elect Biden will receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, December 21. Vice President-elect Harris will receive the vaccine the following week.
• Vice President Mike Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams received the Pfizer vaccine on live television this morning.
- A limited number of COVID-19 vaccines have arrived in Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have been vaccinated and other Members of Congress will follow in the coming days.
- The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet this Saturday and Sunday to discuss and vote on the Moderna vaccine and the groups that should receive the vaccine next. The committee is currently considering prioritizing access for essential workers and groups at the highest risk of infection due to age, race, or medical condition.
• House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging priority access to COVID-19 vaccines and testing to DHS employees. The committee has reportedly heard that some essential DHS employees, including air marshals and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, have had to obtain vaccinations and tests from local health agencies and other federal agencies. The letter was also prompted by reports that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told its employees to seek vaccines from the local level. The letter is attached.
- The Treasury Department released an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal encouraging a second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The piece emphasized the importance of employee retention for economic recovery by supporting small businesses and reducing pressure on unemployment insurance systems. The opinion piece states that an additional round of PPP is necessary as restrictions are reimposed and that the additional round should target small businesses that most need the assistance.
- Over 700 business groups sent a letter to Congressional leadership discouraging the inclusion of deductibility limits on the PPP in the COVID-19 relief package. The letter warned that only allowing deductibility for some businesses would cause significant tax increases on businesses that are already struggling.
- New York State announced a delay of the sales tax payment deadline for New York City restaurants. The move comes as Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) ordered indoor dining to be closed in the five boroughs, due to rising COVID-19 positivity rates throughout the state. Previously, sales taxes collected by businesses were due on December 21.
• No new date for payment is available at present. Interest and penalties on sales taxes are waived, and a moratorium on commercial evictions has been put in place.
- House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced a two-day continuing resolution (CR) to allow Congress to continue working on COVID-19 relief and the omnibus spending package until December 20. As a reminder, current government funding expires tonight at midnight. Negotiations continue but there are still outstanding issues that need to be resolved before a deal on both packages can be reached. After reaching a deal, drafting of the bill would need to be completed and voted on in both chambers. As of this writing, the House passed the two-day CR 320-60, and the Senate passed it shortly thereafter. The bill now heads to President Trump for a signature. The next votes in the House are not expected until Sunday at 1p EST.
• Leader McConnell said today, “I’m even more optimistic now than I was last night that a bipartisan, bicameral framework for a major rescue package is very close at hand.”
• However, points of contention remain. One involves Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who is seeking to attach a provision to restrict the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending program, which would obstruct the Biden Administration’s economic response capabilities.
• Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) attempted to secure $1,200 direct stimulus payments to all Americans, but the effort has been blocked by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) due to concerns over the national debt.
• Other considerations include $12B-$15B in additional money for state departments of transportation and allowing 501(c)(5) labor unions to participate in the PPP.
- President Trump has until December 23 to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is ten days after receiving the bill, not including Sundays. This timeline would require Congress to return to Washington the week of December 28th to attempt to override the veto.
- The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Majority staff released a Committee Investigation Report titled “Aviation Safety Oversight,” related to the Boeing 737 MAX. The report found that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) hindered the progress of Congressional investigators, punished whistleblowers, and allowed Boeing to train pilots in ways that resulted in their better performance on Boeing 737 MAX simulator tests, among other things.
• A full press release on the report can be found here, which includes more on the report’s findings. The FAA is reportedly reviewing the report.
- The Senate may vote on Eric Soskin to be Inspector General of the Department of Transportation this weekend. Soskin has had an extensive career as a trial attorney for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and will likely be confirmed to the Inspector General position.
- Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced (S. 5062) a “College Athletes Bill of Rights.” The bill, according to a press release, would “guarantee fair and equitable compensation, enforceable health and safety standards, and improved educational opportunities for all college athletes.” A House companion bill was also introduced by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Steve Cohen (D-TN). Also, according to the press release, the bill would provide:
• Fair and equitable compensation
• Enforceable evidence-based health, safety, and wellness standards
• Improved educational outcomes and opportunities
• The establishment of a Medical Trust Fund
• Accountability across college sports
• Freedom for college athletes to attend the institution of their choice
• The establishment of the Commission on College Athletics
- Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Sen. Brian Schatz introduced the National Ocean Exploration Act (S. 5024) to authorize and improve the National Ocean Mapping, Exploration, and Characterization Council.
• According to a press release, the bill would authorize the Ocean Exploration, Ocean and Coastal Mapping, and Hydrographic Services programs through 2030 and increase public accessibility of ocean-related National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents.
- Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) introduced the American COMPETE Act (S. 5043) to foster U.S. competitiveness in emerging technologies.
• As stated in a press release, the bill would require the Department of Commerce and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to produce reports and recommendations on artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, quantum computing, blockchain, advanced materials, unmanned delivery services, and 3-D printing.
• The House companion bill was introduced by incoming Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).
- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bill (S. 5045) to provide relief for multiemployer pension plans and ensure that all retirees can receive benefits from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. A statement on the issue can be found here.
- Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a bill (S. 5058) to remove Federal Communications Commission restrictions on multiple ownership of radio and television stations. The bill would also prevent the FCC from restricting common ownership of daily newspapers and full-power broadcast stations.
- The House Democratic Steering Committee approved five new members to the Energy and Commerce Committee for the next Congress. These members are Reps. Angie Craig (D-MN), Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Kim Schrier (D-WA), and Lori Trahan (D-MA). Of note, Rep. Rice beat out Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to claim the last Energy and Commerce slot.
- Del. Stacey Plaskett, the Democratic Delegate for the U.S. Virgin Islands, will fill the open position on the House Ways and Means Committee. This opening is the result of Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) joining the Biden Administration in January.
- Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Josh Harder (D-CA), Susie Lee (D-NV), David Trone (D-MD), Lauren Underwood (D-IL), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) were approved to join the House Appropriations Committee.
- The Department of Energy issued a Prohibition Order Securing Critical Defense Facilities to prevent the installation of equipment made by Chinese companies in order to secure defense critical facilities in the bulk-power system (BPS). Specifically, the order prohibits the “acquisition, importation, transfer, or installation” of Chinese equipment between a military base and the nearest substation. The order is effective January 15.
- The Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced the addition of the Chinese company Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), drone manufacturer DJI, and 75 other entities to the Entity List. These designations aim to protect U.S. national security by preventing the Chinese military from using advanced U.S. technologies and combatting China’s military-civil fusion (MCF) doctrine.
• The Entity List prevents companies from acquiring U.S. technology, specifically advanced technology nodes to produce semiconductors, by requiring export licenses.
• Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross issued a statement expressing his desire to ensure that U.S. technology “is not used for malign or abusive purposes,” citing China’s human rights abuses and violations of international law.
- The DOJ’s antitrust suit against Google has received a trial date of September 12, 2023. A DOJ attorney estimated that it could take 10-12 weeks to present evidence in the case.
• As a reminder, the suit is against Google’s control of the online search market.
- President Trump signed into law the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (S. 945). S. 945 was introduced by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) and passed the Senate in May and the House on December 2.
• As a reminder, the bill requires foreign companies give U.S. auditors access to investigate their financial reports. If a foreign company does not comply, they risk being prohibited from trading on any “U.S. stock exchange or over-the-counter market.”
- According to a report published by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the number of small businesses in the United States has declined by over one quarter during the last FY.
- The International Energy Agency predicted that coal will experience a short increase in demand during the global economic recovery in 2021. Though coal demand is expected to increase 2.8% in 2021, it will continue to decrease to 35% of global electricity production.
• Renewable sources of electricity are expected to pass coal as the largest global electricity source by 2025.
- New Jersey Transit officially finished positive train control implementation before the December 31 deadline, avoiding potential fines and service suspensions. According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), there are no longer any agencies at risk of missing the deadline.