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Advocacy Update | Monday, Jan. 4 (PM)

January 4, 2021

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.
  • The Georgia runoff elections to fill both of the state’s Senate seats will be held tomorrow. The outcome will determine who controls the Senate for the next two years. We anticipate that the results may be close and could be litigated, making for a longer period of time before control of the Senate is fully understood.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation to allow an exception for retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as Secretary of Defense in the Biden Administration. As a reminder, the waiver is necessary because Gen. Austin has not been out of the military for the seven years required for him to serve as the civilian leader of the Department of Defense. On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) set the legislation up to be fast-tracked.
  • The Biden Administration is expected to issue a memo, as is customary, freezing so-called “midnight rules” that will have not taken effect by the time President-elect Biden is sworn in on January 20. Midnight rules refer to agency rules and regulations that an outgoing Administration may seek to implement in the last hours before a new Administration takes over.

COVID-19

  • President-elect Biden selected three additional members for the White House COVID-19 Response Team. Their roles will include coordinating a vaccine, testing and supply chain strategy. In a recent statement, President-elect Biden stated that the COVID-19 Response Team is a team of “world-class medical experts and public servants” who will be “ready on day one to mobilize every resource of the federal government to expand testing and masking, oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines, re-open schools and businesses safely, lower prescription drug and other health costs and expand affordable health care to all Americans.” Those selected included:
    • Bechara Choucair to be COVID-19 Vaccine Coordinator
    • Carole Johnson to be COVID-19 Testing Coordinator
    • Tim Manning to be COVID-19 Supply Coordinator
  • Operation Warp Speed Chief Adviser Moncef Slaoui said that the federal government is considering accelerating vaccination efforts by administering the Moderna vaccine in two half doses, which produced “identical immune response” to one full dose. This would ramp up immunization numbers in an effort to vaccinate 80% of the population and achieve “herd immunity” against COVID-19. As a reminder, in order to be fully vaccinated, each individual requires two shots.
  • The final decision on the issue will be determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
    • On December 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began requiring all air travel passengers coming into the U.S. from the United Kingdom (U.K.) to test negative for COVID-19 within three days before their departure. Passengers will not be able to board their flight if they refuse to be tested.
  • Airlines for America (A4A), which represents major U.S. airlines including American, Delta, Southwest, and United, expressed its support for the CDC’s proposal to require testing for all international air travelers into the U.S. The airlines requested access to rapid testing and 14 days to implement the requirements. Read the full letter here expressing A4A’s support, which was sent to Vice President Pence, can be found attached.
    • The Canadian government announced last week that it will soon begin requiring all incoming international air travelers to test negative for COVID-19 three days or less before their travel into Canada.
  • Canada also placed a ban on air travel from the U.K. until at least January 6.
    • United Airlines sent a memo to the Biden transition team encouraging the creation of a White House Task Force to Safely Restore Air Travel. The task force would consist of leaders from government, airlines, the travel industry, organized labor, and public health organizations in order to recover the aviation industry and ensure travel safety.
    • Late on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the U.K. would be entering a third national lockdown. The new lockdown comes in response to the massive surge of COVID-19 infections in the nation, fueled in large part by a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus responsible for the illness. In a televised address, Johnson said the strain was between 50% and 70% more transmissible than the strain that has circulated for much of the pandemic. The lockdown goes into effect on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at which time schools will close for in-person learning, among other measures.
  • Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that its semi-autonomous government would be implementing a stay-at-home order for the nation, one of the four constituent countries of the U.K. Aligning with the U.K.’s nationwide lockdown, the stay-at-home order in Scotland will go into effect on January 5.
  • Earlier on Monday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan characterized the virus as “out of control” and emphasized the strain being placed on the city’s hospitals.
    • House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX) tested positive for COVID-19 and is quarantining. Rep. Granger received the first round of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine last month, but as a reminder and as mentioned above, two shots of the vaccine are required.
    • The U.S. reached 20M recorded cases of COVID-19 on Friday, less than two months after reaching 10M cases.
  • Congress
    • The 117th Congress was largely sworn in yesterday at the Capitol. Some Members were not present because they were quarantining due to COVID-19 exposure or positive COVID-19 test results. Additional Members who were not sworn in yesterday were sworn in today, with the exception of Republican Representative-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA), who has been “seated provisionally” and New York’s 22nd Congressional district, for which the result is still being contested in court.
    • Congress will count the Electoral College votes on Wednesday at 1:00pm to formally certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Both chambers of Congress adopted a resolution governing the counting of the votes by voice vote on Sunday.
  • It is expected that at least 140 House Republicans and at least 12 Republican Senators will object to the counting and certification of some of the Electoral College results on Wednesday. As of Monday evening, Sens. Josh Hawley (MO), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Mike Braun (IN), Ted Cruz (TX), Steve Daines (MT), Ron Johnson (WI), John Kennedy (LA), James Lankford (OK), Bill Hagerty (TN), Cynthia Lummis (WY), Roger Marshall (KS) and Tommy Tuberville (AL) had all committed to voting against certification for specific states.
  • While the effort to prevent the certification is expected to fail, the division it has caused within the traditionally unified Republican caucus is notable. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Mitt Romney (UT), among others, have criticized the move, and pledged to certify the results as counted. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has previously recognized President-elect Biden as the winner of the election, and has reportedly been critical of the challenge in calls between Republican Members. A divided Republican caucus will likely contribute to a tumultuous two-year cycle in the Senate with individual Senators breaking to promote their own agendas, some with an eye towards 2024.
  • Senate
    • The Senate voted Friday to override President Trump’s veto of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The 81-13 vote was the first veto override of the Trump presidency and allowed the NDAA to become law after the House had previously voted to override the veto last Monday.
  • As a reminder, President Trump vetoed the legislation over a lack of language repealing Section 230 liability protections for tech companies, renaming of military installations honoring Confederate leaders within three years, and language limiting troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Europe.
    • The standoff in the Senate over raising the direct-payments included in the COVID-19 relief bill to Americans to $2,000, up from the $600 originally slated, ended with no increase in the dollar amount provided. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) began a push before the end of the year to provide $2,000 in direct stimulus funds, spurred on by President Trump’s public backing of larger checks.
  • Democrats in the House and Senate came out in support of the effort. The House passed a bill to provide the larger checks on Monday, December 28, with a degree of bipartisan support. Senate Minority Leader Schumer continued to push for a vote on the House-passed bill, which was clean legislation that solely provided for the increased disbursement, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell rejected the bill.
  • On Tuesday, December 29, Senate Majority Leader McConnell introduced a new bill with an increase to $2,000 but also included the creation of an advisory committee to assess the November 2020 General Election for wrongdoing, and to repeal Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act. The bill did not come to a vote.
  • Attempts by Sen. Sanders to filibuster the veto override of the 2021 NDAA to force consideration of the $2,000 checks were not successful, and the override passed, as noted above.
  • House
    • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was reelected as Speaker for the 117th Congress. She received 216 votes and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) received 209 votes.
  • 5 Democrats did not vote for Speaker Pelosi. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) received one vote. Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) voted for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) to be Speaker as the Speaker does not necessarily need to be a Member of the House.
  • Three Members voted “Present”.
  • Three Members of the House did not vote due to being absent for varying reasons.
  • This will be Speaker Pelosi’s fourth term as Speaker of the House. She has previously indicated that she will not run for an additional term.
    • Along a party line vote, the House approved the rules package for the 117th Congress. A press release on the package can be found here. The package:
  • Weakens the minority’s motion to recommit power by only allowing bills to be sent back to committee, not amended on the floor. This is a fairly significant diminution of the minority party’s power.
  • Creates exemptions from the pay-as-you-go provision, which requires legislation that increases the deficit to be offset, for pandemic response and climate change policies.
  • Renews rules in response to COVID-19 that allow Members to cast votes by proxy and committees to meet remotely.
  • Retains the possibility of remote voting.
  • Reauthorizes the Select Committees on the Climate Crisis, Coronavirus Crisis, and Modernization of Congress.
  • Creates the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth.
  • Blocks former Members of the House from accessing the floor if they have been convicted of an election-related crime.
  • Restricts House Members and employees from sharing manipulated images, videos, or audio on official social media accounts.
  • Prohibits identification and retaliation against whistleblowers.
  • Allow committees to subpoena current and former Presidents, Vice Presidents, and White House employees.
  • Administration
    • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is launching the Airport Coronavirus Response Grant Program to disburse the $2B in COVID-19 relief enacted at the end of 2020. Under the program, funds will be distributed as follows:
  • $1.75B will be for primary commercial service airports (those that have over 10,000 annual passenger boardings) and will be distributed by boardings similar to regular Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds.
  • $200M will also go to primary commercial service airports based on boardings to then be available to provide relief to “on-airport car rental, on-airport parking, and in-terminal airport concessions” for rent and minimum annual guarantees.
  • $45M will be for non-primary commercial service and general aviation airports. Of that $45M, $5M will be divided equally among airports that participate in the FAA Contract Tower program.
    • The FAA also published two final rules for drones last week, covering remote identification and operations over people and at night. The Remote ID rule includes a broadcast-only transmission requirement, as opposed to the additional internet transmission requirements that had been included in a previous version of the rule. The Operations Over People and at Night rule creates four categories for operations over people and allows operations at night under certain conditions.
  • Both rules go into effect 60 days after their publication in the Federal Register last week.
    • The Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) last week issued a final rule implementing the Pilot Program for Eliminating Duplication of Environmental Reviews. The rule will officially go into effect on January 27.
    • The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) will impose new 25% tariffs on $1.3B worth of French handbags, cosmetics, and soaps beginning Wednesday. The new tariffs were originally announced in July and are the latest chapter in the dispute between France and the U.S. over France’s digital services tax.
  • As a reminder, the Trump Administration has argued that the tax unfairly targets U.S. tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple.
  • USTR also plans to impose additional tariffs on European Union (E.U.) aircraft parts and alcohol amid the ongoing dispute over Boeing and Airbus subsidies.
    • USTR also extended tariff exclusions for medical device components from China last week. The exclusions were extended for three months and would have expired on December 31.
  • USTR did not extend exclusions for a long list of other items that are imported from China. As a reminder, 160 business organizations wrote to USTR last month requesting an extension of the broader tariff exclusions.
    • The Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released guidance last week extending the safe harbor window for tax credits on renewable energy projects offshore or on federal land. The guidance extends the safe harbor period for 10 calendar years after construction on the project began.
    • Outgoing Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai circulated proposals for votes during the FCC’s last official meeting under his Chairmanship on January 13. Among the proposals are:
  • A rulemaking on freeing up 12GHz satellite airwaves for 5G use
  • Approving rules for auctioning off portions of the 2.5GHz airwave
  • Finalizing details for grantees under the FCC’s $100M telehealth pilot program
    • FCC ethics lawyers determined that Commissioner Nathan Simington is not blocked by ethics rules from voting on Section 230 reform. This could give Chairman Pai the necessary votes to adopt his Section 230 proposal before he resigns on January 20.
  • As a reminder, Simington told Senate Democrats during his confirmation process that he would recuse himself from Section 230 rulemaking if he was advised to do so by ethics counsel.
    • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final greenhouse gas rule for aircraft last week. The rule will apply only to new aircraft designs and for in-production designs beginning in 2028. The rule brings the U.S. into harmonization with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regulations.
    • Mark Christie was sworn into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today after being confirmed by the Senate on November 30. FERC now has its full five members for the first time since 2018, with a Republican majority.
    • Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chair Kristine Svinicki announced that she will retire from her position on January 20. Svinicki has been a member of the NRC for 14 years, the longest tenure in the NRC’s history, under Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump.
  • Other News
    • Daimler Trucks North America last week was fined up to $30M because it failed to recall vehicles in a timely fashion and failed to comply with reporting requirements, according to a consent order Daimler signed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Daimler will initially be required to pay $10M and spend another $5M on safety improvements. If the company does not meet requirements under the consent order, it will be subject to the additional $15M penalty.
    • More than 53% of K-12 students in the U.S. attend schools that offer virtual-only education plans, 32% attend traditional in-person schools, and 15% attend hybrid schools, according to data service Burbio.
  • In order to allow for students to return to school safety, President-elect Biden has called for tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in testing, transportation, cleaning, personal protective equipment, and ventilation. One plan reportedly being considered would see all students, teachers, and staff tested for COVID-19 once a week.
    • The U.K. House of Commons voted 521-73 to approve the post-Brexit trade agreement with the E.U. The agreement went into effect on December 31, when the U.K. officially left the E.U. The European Parliament still must ratify the agreement before it becomes permanent, which is expected to occur by February.
    • The merger between Fiat Chrysler and PSA Peugeot was approved by shareholders today, making the new company Stellantis the fourth largest auto company in the world. Stellantis aims to more capably address the technological shift to electric and autonomous vehicles. The company will have the ability to produce 8.7M cars annually.
  • Federal Register Notices (abbreviated)
    • On December 31, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order requiring all airline passengers into the U.S. from the United Kingdom to test negative for COVID-19 before their departure, through March 26. The notice can be found here.
    • On January 4, the Small Business Administration (SBA) requested comments on an information collection on Paycheck Protection Loan Program Borrower Information Form and Lender’s Application for Loan Guaranty, specifically on the Loan Necessity Questionnaires for non-profit and for-profit borrowers. Comments must be received by March 5. The notice can be found here.
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