COVID-19 UPDATE | FRIDAY, DEC. 4
December 4, 2020
– 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 is soon expected to announce a senior domestic climate change policy position, which would lead the new White House climate office. Potential candidates include former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Biden campaign climate adviser Ali Zaidi, and Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA).
· This position would collaborate with but be separate from the international climate envoy position to which Former Secretary John Kerry was appointed.
– Published reports indicate that transportation labor groups are quietly advocating for President-elect Biden to choose John Porcari as Secretary of Transportation. Porcari, a former Deputy Secretary of Transportation under President Obama, is currently a transportation adviser to President-elect Biden.
· John Samuelsen, International President of the Transport Union Workers of America, praised Porcari as a “brilliant” pick, saying he would “mitigate the human impacts” of initiatives like electrification.
– House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) indicated that she wants to attach a COVID-19 relief bill to the omnibus government spending package, if such a package materializes. It is important to note that there is no final agreement on either government spending or COVID-19 relief and that there is still a possibility that another short-term continuing resolution (CR) will be passed next week to avert a government shutdown next Friday, December 11 and allow more time for negotiation.
· Speaker Pelosi commented that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) supports combining the omnibus with COVID-19 relief. It is unclear whether that is completely accurate given that Leader McConnell has not made such comments publicly, though he did confirm the two had spoken both about COVID-19 relief and government spending.
– The House will vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Tuesday, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and the Senate could vote on it as soon as next week also. It is unclear if President Trump will follow through on his threat to veto the NDAA because it includes language on renaming military installations and does not repeal Section 230 liability protections. The NDAA has been signed into law every year for the last 59 years.
· The final NDAA removed many energy measures including increased research on carbon utilization and direct air capture, nuclear innovation funding, and an extended timeline for Strategic Petroleum Sales.
· The bill also did not include several provisions to regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or the proposed federal ban on foreign-made drones due to national security risks. The NDAA also made no changes to section 889 of the FY19 NDAA, which went into effect on August 13, 2020 and prohibits the federal government, government contractors, and others from procuring or using certain “covered telecommunication equipment or services”.
· The NDAA also included language related to cruise ships, which ensures that a physician and sufficient numbers of other medical staff are readily accessible to cruise ship passengers in the event of a medical emergency. The language also ensures that passengers are made aware of their location and best practices to abide by in the case of a medical emergency.
– Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle remain confident that they will be able to pass an FY21 government funding package before the end of the year. However, given the number of items that still have to be finalized they may need to pass a short-term CR next week to give themselves more time to negotiate.
– Negotiations between the House and Senate are progressing on an end-of-year energy package, based on the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act (H.R. 4447) and the American Energy Innovation Act (S. 2657). The energy package would likely be included in the omnibus bill.
· As a reminder, S. 2657 was set for passage in the Senate earlier this year but was derailed at the last minute over disagreements regarding hydrofluorocarbon language. However, a compromise on that language was reached this fall.
– The Senate Judiciary Committee rescheduled its markup to consider the Online Content Policy Modernization Act (S. 4632), which would reform Section 230 liability protections, for next Thursday, December 10.
– The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee announced a hearing on “The Invalidation of the EU-US Privacy Shield and the Future of Transatlantic Data Flows,” which will be held on December 9 and will feature the following witnesses:
· The Honorable Noah Phillips, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
· Ms. Victoria Espinel, President and Chief Executive Officer, BSA – The Software Alliance
· Mr. James Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Services, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
· Mr. Peter Swire, Elizabeth and Tommy Holder Chair of Law and Ethics, Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, and Research Director, Cross-Border Data Forum
– The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee also announced a hearing on “The Logistics of Transporting a COVID-19 Vaccine,” which will take place on December 10 and will feature the following witnesses:
· Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers
· Mr. Richard Smith, Regional President of the Americas and Executive Vice President, FedEx Express
· Mr. Wesley Wheeler, President of Global Healthcare, United Parcel Service
– Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) introduced a bill (S. 4954) to facilitate forgiveness of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans under $100,000.
· According to a press release, the bill would expand the streamlined forgiveness process to apply to loans up to $100,000 if the borrower submits an attestation form, which could be examined by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
– Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Rail Shipper Fairness Act (S. 4961) to improve service for rail shippers by reforming the Surface Transportation Board.
· As stated in a press release, the bill would “increase competition, reform rate case regulations and end unreasonable practices.” Specifically, the bill would regulate railroad responsiveness, competitive switching, and passenger fees for fuel.
– The House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to decriminalize marijuana in a 228-164 vote.
· The bill received support from five Republican members and opposition from six Democratic members.
– House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation Chairman Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA) committed to ensuring that the Department of Defense’s requests for additional counter-drone authority do not create too much military control of airspace.
· Chairman Larsen stressed the importance of civilian control of airspace and supported the remote identification (Remote ID) rule currently being developed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
– Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who will be Ranking Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce next Congress, said that her top tech priority for the next Congress will be Section 230 reform, citing the need to hold tech companies accountable and address potential anti-conservative bias.
· This will likely cause conflict with Committee Democrats, who have been opposed to Republican attempts to amend Section 230 and President Trump’s attempt to include Section 230 repeal in the NDAA.
– Rep. John Katko (R-NY) announced that he is aiming to be Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, a position which Republican leadership will consider next week. The current Ranking Member, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), was chosen to take over the Ranking Member position on the House Armed Services Committee.
– House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA) introduced a bill (H.R. 8854) to create a program to monitor and prevent sources of airborne foreign object debris that may collide with aircraft.
– Reps. Carol Miller (R-WV), Rick Crawford (R-AR), Randy Weber (R-TX), Garret Graves (R-LA), and Greg Pence (R-IN) introduced a bill (H.R. 8859) to create grants for the deployment of innovative mobility and technology.
– Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) introduced the Provide Access and Retain Continuity (PARC) Act (H.R. 8864) to keep parks and other areas open during a lapse in federal funding.
· According to a press release, states would reach agreements with the Department of the Interior to continue operations that have an economic impact on tourism, mining, timber, and transportation during a government shutdown.
– Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT), Paul Cook (R-CA), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Mark Amodei (R-NV), and Doug Lamborn (R-CO) introduced the More Opportunities for Rural Economies (MORE) from DOT Grants Act (H.R. 8865) to support rural communities with large amounts of federal land by increasing access to Department of Transportation grants.
· As stated in a press release, the bill would specifically increase grants from the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation program, Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, public transportation innovation program, federal lands access program, Airport Improvement Program (AIP), and Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (CRISI).
· The Senate companion bill was introduced by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Steve Daines (R-MT).
– President Trump nominated Counselor to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) William Kimmitt to the International Trade Commission (ITC) for a nine-year term. It is likely that Kimmitt will have to be renominated in January as his nomination will expire at the end of this Congress.
· President-elect Biden could also renominate Kimmitt, as the six members of the ITC must be balanced politically and there are currently three Democrats.
– According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy added 245,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate decreased by 0.2% to 6.7%. October saw an increase of 610,000 jobs, reflecting a slowing rate of recovery.
· In total, there are 9.8M fewer jobs than in February.
– The Department of Commerce released its international trade report for October, which found that U.S. exports to China reached a monthly record of $14.7B. This record is likely due to China’s increased purchases of U.S. farm goods in response to COVID-19’s economic impacts but is still below the 2020 goal under the Administration’s trade deal.
· In order to reach the deal’s phase one goals, China would need to import an additional $140B of U.S. goods by December 31.
– Delta Air Lines announced that it will facilitate contact tracing of international travelers coming into the U.S. by voluntarily collecting names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will then send that information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The program will begin on December 15.
· The contact tracing information is required as part of Delta’s quarantine-free travel program between Atlanta and Rome, which begins on December 19.
– Southwest Airlines sent warning notices to 7,000 employees of a possible furlough on April 1. Despite other airlines furloughing thousands of employees, Southwest has yet to lay off any workers. These furloughs can be avoided if Congress passes additional airline relief.
· The bipartisan COVID-19 relief package that is currently proposed contains $17B for airlines to pay their workers.
– The U.S. Climate Action Network released a report which found that it is not practical to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent a 1.5°C rise in global temperature, as that would require a 195% decrease in emissions by 2030. According to the report, the best solution to combat rising global temperatures is for the U.S. to decrease emissions by 70% by 2030 while helping other countries pursue their climate goals.
Federal Register Notices – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that the minimum rate of random drug and alcohol testing will remain at 25% of safety-sensitive employees for drug testing and 10% for alcohol testing through calendar year 2021. The notice can be found here.