COVID-19 Update | Thursday, Dec. 10
December 10, 2020
- Visit Elevate’s Transition 2020 Hub to see the most up-to-date list of rumored and announced Cabinet members and staff.
- President-elect Biden announced he will nominate Denis McDonough to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Typically, the position is filled by a veteran. McDonough was President Obama’s Chief of Staff from 2013-2017.
- President-elect Biden selected Susan Rice to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council. Rice served as President Obama’s National Security Adviser and Ambassador to the United Nations. The position does not require Senate confirmation
• Rice was previously seen as a top contender to be President-elect Biden’s Secretary of State before he selected Antony Blinken.
- The Biden transition team is reportedly vetting David Kim to be Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT). Kim is currently Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency. During the Obama Administration, Kim worked in the Department of Transportation as Deputy Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Governmental Affairs in the Office of the Secretary.
• A group of 19 members of the House sent a letter to President-elect Biden supporting Kim for the position.
- 106 House Republicans signed on to an amicus brief in support of the State of Texas’s case before the Supreme Court to invalidate electors in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia. The brief expresses the Members’ concerns over allegations of voter fraud.
- The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) vaccine advisory panel met today and concluded that the benefits of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risks. This meeting consisted of independent experts reviewing the vaccine data and debating if the vaccine is sufficiently safe and effective. This is the final step for the Pfizer vaccine before it can receive FDA emergency authorization.
- Bipartisan negotiations at the leadership level are continuing on a COVID-19 relief package, but today progress seemed slowed on the issue. While a CR is expected to keep the government funded through the 18th, an agreement would likely need to be reached in the next few days to allow enough time for the legislation to be written and passed through both chambers of Congress.
• Reports indicate that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) staff informed House and Senate leadership staff today that the ongoing attempts to include $160 billion in state and local aid, along with a temporary liability shield, into a final COVID relief package would likely continue to cause concerns with Senate Republicans. McConnell had suggested dropping these issues in the past but has gotten pushback from Democratic Leadership and the authors of the compromise proposal on that suggestion.
- After a vote from the Democratic Caucus, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) will remain Senate Minority Whip and become the lead Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee next Congress. Sen. Durbin is voluntarily leaving his position as Ranking Member of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee but will remain a member of the Appropriations Committee.
- The Senate continued consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today. Yesterday, the Senate invoked cloture to limit debate and could vote to end debate today, which would accelerate consideration. If that does that occur, a procedural vote will have to wait until tomorrow.
• Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is filibustering the NDAA due to a provision that would lessen the President’s ability to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Sen. Paul reportedly offered to end his filibuster and allow for a vote on the continuing resolution (CR) if the final NDAA vote is moved to Monday.
- The Senate will likely not vote until tomorrow evening on the CR to avoid a government shutdown this weekend and extend funding to December 18. The impetus behind extending government funding for one week is to allow for more time to negotiate a large end-of-year funding package, which could include COVID-19 relief.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee held an executive business meeting today to consider the Online Content Policy Modernization Act (S. 4632), which would amend Section 230 liability protections. Though the bill was debated by Committee members, a vote on did not occur. A vote on an amendment put forth by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) was held and failed.
- The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety held a hearing on “the Logistics of Transporting a COVID-19 Vaccine.” The hearing discussed preparation efforts to distribute a vaccine, both from the perspective of state governments and carriers, and potential challenges to effective distribution. Specific issues addressed included sufficient supplies of dry ice, how priority can be given to vaccines during the peak holiday season for shipments, and the different requirements for transporting the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
- Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced the Collegiate Athlete and Compensation Rights Act, which would allow student athletes to be compensated for the use of their name, image, or likeness (NIL) through a national framework. Under the legislation, student athletes would not be classified as employees and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would oversee all NIL compensation. The text of the bill can be found here.
- Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Todd Young (R-IN), and Angus King (I-ME) introduced the Trillion Trees and Natural Carbon Storage Act to support the Trillion Trees Initiative and encourage the planting of trees as a natural carbon storage mechanism. According to a press release, the bill would:
• Create the Interational Forest Foundation.
• Provide $10M for Forest Nursery Revival programs through the Department of Agriculture.
• Increase international forest management cooperation.
• Add carbon sequestration to international conservation programs.
• Authorize loan guarantees for carbon credit markets.
- Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced the Promoting Digital Privacy Technologies Act (S. 4981) to support emerging data privacy technology and protect personal data.
• According to a press release, the bill would facilitate National Science Foundation research into privacy-enhancing technologies (PET) and establish standards for PET integration into data use by the public and private sectors.
- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced that votes on an omnibus government spending package and COVID-19 relief bill could occur at 6:30pm on Tuesday, December 15. No additional House votes are expected before that time.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that Section 230 “needs to be revised, but you cannot repeal it or else you will destroy protections for small businesses and entrepreneurs working their way up.” Speaker Pelosi explained that there is bipartisan support to amend Section 230, but not repeal it.
- A group of 47 House Republicans sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell opposing continued work on financial system climate risk regulations. The letter specifically targets tests that would measure lenders’ vulnerability to climate change, as it would damage the oil and gas and coal industries.
- The House approved two energy bills yesterday. The Timely Review of Infrastructure Act was passed by voice vote and would allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to raise staff salaries. The Ceiling Fan Improvement Act was passed in a 396-2 vote and would correct energy efficiency standards on large ceiling fans.
- Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Lance Gooden (R-TX), Steve King (R-IA), and Trent Kelly (R-MS) introduced a bill (H.R. 8896) to repeal Section 230 liability protections and prevent online censorship.
- House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) sent a letter today to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asking for an update on providing key documents to the Committee related to their decision to help stop the transmission of COVID-19 on cruise ships.
• As a reminder, the lawmakers launched an investigation into the CDC’s actions and related communications last winter when cruise ships continued to sail and COVID-19 was spread by cruise passengers. Part of the investigation was requesting thousands of pages of records, few of which have been delivered to date.
- Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) introduced the Future Innovations Regarding Essential Biodefense Responses Equipment and Knowledge (FIREBREAK) Act (H.R. 8897) to provide military personnel with tools to protect them from future pandemics.
• According to a press release, the bill would create a Department of Defense program for rapid and cost-effective pandemic countermeasures and continue the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Pandemic Prevention Platform.
- Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ) introduced the Break Up Big Tech Act (H.R. 8922) to eliminate the Section 230 liability shield for interactive computer service providers. As stated in a press release, the bill would specifically target providers that:
• Sell personal data without a user’s consent.
• Act as a digital marketplace.
• Use addictive products and designs.
• Use algorithms for content moderation.
- Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), and Brendan Boyle (D-PA) introduced the American High-Speed Rail Act (H.R. 8926) to enhance high-speed rail as a safe and clean travel option for Americans and create 2.6M jobs. According to a press release, the bill would:
• Provide $41B in grants from the Federal Railroad Administration each year.
• Extend transportation planning metrics to include wider economic benefits.
• Create development incentives for non-federal partners.
• Establish performance-based safety standards for high-speed rail.
- The White House is expected to release a 30-year shipbuilding plan today to expand the Navy’s fleet to 355 ships. The plan is the result of a nine-month naval force structure study by the Department of Defense
• It is unlikely that the plan will advance during the remainder of the Trump Administration.
- The Department of Labor found that there were 853,000 unemployment claims last week, which is the highest figure since September. The number of state unemployment aid recipients also increased to 5.8M, which was the first increase in three months.
• These numbers may reflect companies laying off additional employees as COVID-19 cases increase.
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously authorized proceedings to ban U.S. operations of China Telecom Americas, which is affiliated with the Chinese government. The vote was prompted by national security concerns.
- There are unconfirmed rumors that the Administration may be considering issuing an Executive Order (EO) banning federal use of Chinese drones. The EO may also ban federal dollars from being used for contracts/agreements that involve Chinese drones.
• As a reminder, language banning the use or purchase of Chinese drones by federal agencies was recently dropped from the NDAA.
- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 20009, entitled COVID-19: Updated Interim Occupational Health and Safety Guidance for Air Carriers and Crews. The SAFO contains updates based on the latest information and recommendations from the CDC. SAFO 20009 replaces SAFO 20003 and includes guidance for air carriers and crew related to health monitoring, health protection, minimizing crewmember exposure, and more.
- DOT in partnership with the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and State, established a new web portal where airline passengers can obtain updated information on how to “Fly Healthy” this holiday season.
• The portal is intended to help travelers plan safe travel at the airport, on commercial aircraft, at their destination, and while returning home.
- The French Data Protection Agency will impose a fine on Google and Amazon for violating European Union privacy laws over cookie tracking technology. Google would be fined €100M, the agency’s largest fine to date, and Amazon would be fined €35M.
- The European Council will not debate or vote on a post-Brexit trade deal with the United Kingdom (U.K.) during its summit this week, though European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen may provide a debrief.
• Any proposed deal would have to be approved by all 27 European Union (EU) member states before the December 31 deadline.
• U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that there is “a strong possibility” that the U.K. will not reach a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the EU. In that case, the U.K. and EU would trade on World Trade Organization terms.
- DroneAnalyst released its annual market sector report, which found that the global market share for Chinese drone manufacturer DJI has decreased 5% since 2018 due to losses in the North American market. The report also found that U.S. claims that foreign-made drones threaten national security have harmed the industry more than they have driven competition.
- The American Trucking Association’s (ATA) lawsuit against Rhode Island is expected to be tried in federal court early next year. The lawsuit in is response to Rhode Island’s tolls on large commercial trucks, which began in 2018 to collect funds for road and bridge repairs.
• If the ATA loses the case, it is possible that truck-only tolls could be implemented in other states.