COVID-19 UPDATE | FRIDAY, NOV. 20
November 20, 2020
Election and Transition News
– A group of over 50 House Democrats sent a letter to President-Elect Biden formally supporting Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) for Secretary of the Department of the Interior, citing the historic nature of a Native American Cabinet Secretary.
· The letter was led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and was signed by progressive and moderate Democrats alike.
· Rep. Haaland joins a pool of candidates that includes fellow New Mexico delegation members, Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
– President-Elect Biden said that he will announce his choice for Treasury Secretary soon, “just before or just after Thanksgiving.” This position is of great importance to many interests in shaping tax policies (from business taxes to environmental incentives). President-Elect Biden said his nominee “will be accepted by all elements of the Democratic Party, from the progressive to the moderate coalitions.”
· Leading contenders for the Treasury Secretary position include former Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin, Federal Reserve Board of Governors Member Lael Brainard, former Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
– Katherine Tai, trade counsel to the House Ways and Means Committee, is being floated as a potential nomination for U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). Tai has received support from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), though she reportedly is popular on both sides of the aisle. Other potential candidates that have expressed an interest in the USTR position include Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA).
· Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) is supporting Jayme White, his longtime trade adviser, to be Deputy USTR in the Biden Administration.
– Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said that he will allow multiple emergency Federal Reserve lending programs to expire on December 31, claiming that the programs “have clearly achieved their objectives.” These programs support corporate credit and municipal-borrowing markets and provide loans to small and medium businesses and nonprofits.
· The Federal Reserve has requested that all emergency COVID-19 programs be extended to continue to assist the economy.
· If the programs expire, $455B of unused funds would be returned to the Treasury. Secretary Mnuchin argues these funds could be used to provide additional direct COVID-19 relief.
– Pfizer announced that it will apply for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today. If approved, the vaccine could be ready to begin distribution by mid-to-late December. However, it is not expected that widespread distribution and use will be achieved until mid-to-late 2021 at the earliest.
· Moderna could apply for emergency use authorization for its vaccine as soon as next week.
– Appropriations negotiations are ongoing and an agreement on subcommittee funding levels, known as 302(b)s, is not expected by today’s unofficial deadline. Leadership staff in the House and Senate met yesterday to discuss the end of year government funding package. Published reports indicate that the expiration of certain COVID-19 relief programs was also discussed though the meeting largely focused on funding the government.
· This meeting is what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was likely referring to in comments about staff-level meetings on COVID-19 relief yesterday. There continues to be no indication that formal discussions on an additional COVID-19 relief package are ongoing in Congress.
– Negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021 continued as the White House offered an unexpected exchange this morning. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows suggested that President Trump could be willing to drop his opposition to provisions that would remove the names of Confederate leaders from military bases, in exchange for the repeal of Section 230 protections.
· Republican criticism of Section 230 has been centered around ongoing accusations of bias against conservative thought and figures on social media, which they claim the provision enables.
· Some Democrats also find issue with Section 230, saying that the liability shield removes the incentive for social media networks to police content that spreads disinformation, and may foment division and political violence. However, this concern does not appear to be enough to convince House Democrats to entertain the White House’s possible offer.
· Separately, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) indicated that House Democrats now support a Senate provision to rename military bases named after Confederate leaders over three years. The current House provision calls for the renaming within one year. It continues to be unclear whether Republicans will ultimately accept any language on renaming bases.
– Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) commissioned a report by the Government Accountability Office, which found that 12M adults working full-time jobs are enrolled in Medicaid and 9M receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aid. According to the report, of the workers enrolled in both Medicaid and SNAP, 70% work at least 35 hours per week and many of them work for restaurants, department stores, and grocery stores.
– Despite many Republican Senators still not acknowledging President-Elect Biden’s victory, it appears that President-Elect Biden’s Cabinet will be confirmed under the potential Republican Senate. Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have indicated that they will support Cabinet candidates that are “within the mainstream.”
· Along with the 48 confirmed Senate Democrats, the three Republicans would create a 51-vote majority for the Cabinet confirmation process.
– Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) released additional information on his One Agency Act, which would shift all antitrust enforcement authority to the Department of Justice, rather than the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Information on the bill can be found here.
· This legislation in unlikely to advance, as both Democrats and Republicans have expressed their support to increase FTC funding to facilitate better antitrust enforcement.
– The National Governor’s Association (NGA) discussed federal stimulus for states and equal distribution of COVID-19 vaccine doses on a call with President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris yesterday. During the call, the bipartisan group of Governors asked for $500B in state and local funding to offset revenue losses and their own response spending during the pandemic.
· Questions of equity were also raised, with the Governors highlighting the possibility that poor and minority communities would have reduced access to vaccines if they are distributed primarily through retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens.
· Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), chair of the NGA, said he took away from the call that Biden “basically supported the HEROES Act.”
– The House passed the National Apprenticeship Act of 2020, introduced by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), in a 246-140 vote today. As a reminder, the legislation would create 1M new apprenticeships across the country.
· It is not expected that the legislation will be considered in the Senate before the end of the session. The White House threatened to veto the legislation and some Republican Members, including House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC), criticized the lack of inclusion of Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAP).
· House Democrats are likely to pursue the legislation again next Congress with the help of President-Elect Joe Biden.
– House Republicans are expected to hold presentations to the Steering Committee on December 1 and December 2 to fill committee Ranking Member positions.
– Reps. John Curtis (R-UT) and Dean Phillips (D-MN) released the Worldwide Wind Turbine Act to make exporting recycled wind turbine parts easier. According to a press release, the recycled materials would be donated to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and then exported abroad instead of being thrown in landfills.
– The Congressional Western Caucus announced that Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) was unanimously voted to be Chairman in the next Congress, replacing current Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ).
– House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) sent a letter to General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Emily Murphy requesting a briefing on why the GSA has yet to ascertain President-Elect Biden’s win and allow the transition process to move forward.
· The letter also proposed that there be a public hearing with Murphy and other GSA officials, citing the importance of federal resources for the transition process.
– Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) introduced a bill (H.R. 8789) to facilitate interagency action to integrate national apprenticeship system programs with secondary, postsecondary, and adult education.
– The U.S. and Taiwan began a bilateral economic forum, which will discuss collaboration to combat COVID-19 and increasing production of medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE).
· The forum will also discuss relocating supply chains from China to Taiwan, developing “trusted” 5G networks, protecting research, and screening foreign investments for national security risks.
· Taiwan Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Chern-Chyi Chen said that Taiwan will pursue a free trade agreement with the Biden Administration.
– The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) imposed $550,000 in civil enforcement penalties during fiscal year 2020, which was significantly less than the $14.7M imposed in Fiscal Year 2019 and $149M in Fiscal Year 2018. The 2020 penalties were the result of only three settlements.
– California regulators unanimously approved programs to allow autonomous vehicles (AVs) to charge passenger fares and offer shared trips. AV companies must receive an operating permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles and a permit from the Public Utility Commission before beginning their passenger service.
· This approval is seen as a major step in increasing the feasibility of AV ridesharing services.
– A group of 26 energy and utilities organizations sent a letter to Senate Leadership urging the immediate confirmations of the two Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) nominees that were advanced out of the Energy and Natural Resource Committee earlier this week.
· The letter voices concern that the three current FERC members may resign at the beginning of the Biden Administration, making it impossible for FERC to conduct any business.
– General Motors committed to making 40% of its U.S. products battery electric vehicles (EVs) by the end of 2025. This will include 30 all-electric models and $27B in EV investment.
· GM said that its battery technology will allow EVs to travel 450 miles on a full charge.
– The U.S. Travel Association released its Fall 2020 Travel Forecast, which found that travel spending will decline by 45% and will not return to 2019 levels until 2025. Also according to the forecast, by the end of 2020, there will be a total loss of $510B and $1T by 2023. Additionally, the forecast found that domestic leisure travel will decrease by 24%, domestic business travel by 60%, and international travel by 76%.
· Lastly, the forecast found that in total, the travel industry will lose 4.5M jobs, which is 50% of all jobs.
– The U.S. reported 185,000 new cases and 2,000 deaths yesterday, as the new wave of COVID-19 continues to grow.
· Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced via Twitter on Friday that the border with the United States will remain closed through December 21. The border has been closed to most traffic since March 2020.
Federal Register Notices – The National Park Service (NPS) requested nominations for the National Park System Advisory Board. The Board advises the Secretary of Interior and Director of the NPS on the National Park System, NPS-administered programs, National Historic Landmarks, National Natural Landmarks, and National Historic Trails. Nominations must be sent by December 7. The notice can be found here.