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COVID-19 UPDATE | MONDAY, NOV. 16 (Evening)

November 16, 2020

Election and Transition News

–    The Trump campaign revised its lawsuit in Pennsylvania to remove its request to have over 680,000 absentee ballots thrown out because they were processed without campaign representatives being able to watch.

·    The case is set to be heard tomorrow, during which the campaign will continue to argue that ballots were not processed properly.

·    Additionally, lawsuits brought by voters have been withdrawn in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

–    Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) said that he will not participate in the scheduled December 6 debate against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, saying that there have already been two debates during the election. Ossoff has confirmed that he will participate. Debate sponsors have indicated that Perdue will be represented by an empty podium.

·    Democrat Raphael Warnock will participate in a separate debate on December 6. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) has not indicated if she will participate.

–    President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris participated in a virtual meeting with industry CEOs and labor union leaders to discuss COVID-19 economic recovery. Biden stated that his objective is to “get our economy back on track.”

·    Participants included leaders from General Motors, Microsoft, Target, Gap, AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, United Auto Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

–    The Biden transition team announced four officials to lead the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) transition. The team will be led by John Williams, a Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee and a former member of the FCC’s legal office. The other team members are former FCC officials Mignon Clyburn, Smitty Smith, and Paul de Sa.

–    National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said that the National Security Council is preparing for a “very professional transition” to the Biden Administration, contrasting actions by President Trump and the Trump Administration to hinder the transition process.

·    O’Brien cited the 2000 presidential transition as one that successfully began in mid-December.

COVID-19

–    The U.S. experienced record caseloads over the weekend, with North Dakota quickly becoming an epicenter of the outbreak with over 60,000 cases in the state. Over 245,000 deaths and 11M total cases have been recorded nationwide.

–    Moderna and Pfizer have both reported high efficacy in their vaccine candidates. If they are both approved, questions surrounding supply and logistics for deployment become paramount.

·    Possible vaccinations could start as early as December, but details are unknown. The situation is fluid as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certification has yet to be issued.

·    Some public health experts worry a lack of smoothness in the Presidential transition may impede efforts to swiftly distribute vaccines.

–    Congressional Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on a COVID-19 relief bill, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) doubling down on a $2T measure. Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has rejected this outright and reinforced his desire for a $500B bill.

·    At a speech in Wilmington, Delaware today, President-elect Biden voiced his support for a large relief package, like the HEROES Act which was passed by the House in May.

–    Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said that the FDA will move “as quickly as possible” to clear the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine candidates for emergency use.

·    Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS and federal testing czar, announced on Monday that the FDA will guarantee speedy reviews of emergency-use applications for COVID-19 tests developed by individual labs for their own use.

Congress

Senate

–    Senate Majority Leader Schumer said that he is confident that the Gateway Program will move forward once President-elect Biden’s appointees to the Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration take power. The Gateway Program would provide $13B to repair the Northeast Corridor’s Hudson River tunnel and build a new tunnel.

·    The Trump Administration has been blocking the completion of the environmental impact statement, which has held portions of the Gateway Program from advancing.

–    Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced that he will not support the nomination of Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, saying that “I am not convinced that she supports the independence of the Federal Reserve Board as much as I believe the Board of Governors should.”

·    Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) have already said that they will vote against the nomination. Democrats are also expected to oppose the nomination, making it possible that Vice President Pence would need to break the tie if the vote is held this week.

–    Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) led a letter to Facebook urging increased transparency around hate content, human and civil rights audits, and policy enforcement in places where ethnic and religious minorities face violence.

·    The letter comes after a report from Muslim Advocates, which labelled Facebook as the “World’s Engine for Anti-Muslim Violence.”

–    Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced that she will vote to confirm Nathan Simington to the FCC, ending any concerns over her position. Democrats remain opposed to the nomination.

House

–    Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) tested positive for COVID-19 and has begun contact tracing. It has been over a week since Rep. Walberg attended a public event.

·    Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) both announced that they are quarantining after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive.

Administration

–    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a new survey of drone industry leaders to gather how drone operators manage fatigue. Specifically, the survey seeks “common fatigue-related practices, and the minimum knowledge, skills, abilities (KSAs), testing, and staffing procedures required for operating” drones.

·    Survey results will be used to inform future rules on work and rest hours and certification for drone pilots, in order to further integrate drones into the national airspace system.

–    Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Jay Clayton announced that he would leave his position at the end of the year. Clayton was confirmed in May of 2017 for a five-year term, making his exit six months early.

·    Under SEC rules, the President must appoint an Interim Chair.

–    Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller issued a department-wide memo urging the U.S. to quickly withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper previously sent a memo to the White House expressing his concern over a quick withdrawal given continued violence and ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban.

Other News

–    The stock market has experienced significant increases after the news of Moderna’s vaccine candidate’s 94.5% effectiveness. The Dow is up 1.4%, the S&P increased by 1%, and the Nasdaq is up 0.7%.

–    Google filed papers in court arguing that at least two of its internal attorneys should be able to see Department of Justice (DOJ) records to assist its outside counsel in fighting antitrust allegations. The DOJ responded that only outside attorneys should be able to see records, as they are highly confidential. 

–    Former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the presumptive next Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), announced her priorities for the WTO. She stressed the importance of trade to defeat COVID-19 and ensure that developing countries have access to vaccines by working with the World Health Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization. ·    Okonjo-Iweala also discussed agriculture and fishery subsidies, digital trade negotiations, and improving income and living standards

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