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COVID-19 UPDATE | THURSDAY, NOV. 12

November 12, 2020

Election Development and Presidential Transition

–    President-elect Biden has selected Ron Klain to be his Chief of Staff. Klain is a longtime Biden aide. Mr. Klain worked for him while he was in the Senate and served as his Chief of Staff when he was Vice President. 

·    Klain was also Chief of Staff to Vice President Al Gore. 

COVID-19

–    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that they will not accept a COVID-19 relief package under $2T, once again setting up a conflict with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and decreasing the likelihood of a relief agreement this year. 

·    Leader McConnell has maintained his support for a $500B bill, despite rejection from Senate Democrats and public willingness from the Trump Administration to go higher. 

–    Seven days after setting a new record for cases reported in a single day, the U.S. again set a COVID-19 record with 145,835 new cases and 1,431 deaths reported yesterday. At least 65,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. 

–    As the virus continues to break records in both transmission and mortality, National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease Director (NIAID) Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed some optimism this morning.

·    Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Dr. Fauci said that it was possible for the U.S. to avoid another national lockdown if the nation universally adopts recommended public health measures, like social distancing and mask usage. 

·    Dr. Fauci also expressed optimism regarding forthcoming vaccine candidates, saying that if the nation “can just hang in there” through the winter, “the cavalry is on the way.” 

Congress

Senate

–    Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to the Business Roundtable requesting details of how it is taking concrete political action to combat climate change. Specifically, Sen. Warren asked for carbon pricing strategies and how the Business Roundtable will disclose its progress to prove that its goals are not “empty rhetoric without any actual climate action.” The letter is in response to the Business Roundtable’s September endorsement of a “market-based mechanism” to curb emissions contributing to climate change. 

–    Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) stated that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should “consider the entire spectrum of options for penalizing Facebook” for anti-competitive behavior. She encouraged full prosecution, not just a fine. Sen. Blackburn urged the FTC to interview former Facebook employees to fully understand how it stifles competition from smaller rivals. 

·    As a reminder, Sen. Blackburn was also an original cosponsor of the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act, along with Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) which would modify Section 230 protections for big tech companies. 

–    Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) have stated that President-elect Biden should begin receiving daily intelligence briefings. Though they have not acknowledged Biden’s victory, they believe that Biden should be informed in the case that he does become president. 

·    Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Rob Portman (R-OH) also expressed that they did not oppose Biden receiving briefings. from the Trump Administration to go higher. 

Administration

–    U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is aiming to reinstate a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provision into the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to exempt Foreign Trade Zones (FTZ) from duty-free treatment on products sold in the U.S. The original USMCA implementing bill did not include this provision, but Lighthizer would like to see it included in the technical corrections bill. 

·    Reports indicate that Lighthizer is pushing the technical correction because it would raise about $2B over the next 10 years, which Lighthizer and USTR claims could be used to address other issues that would benefit U.S. auto manufacturers, like addressing merchandise processing fees charged by Customs and Border Protection. 

–    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a special airworthiness information bulletin warning against the use of disinfectants on commercial jets. Disinfectants could negatively impact airworthiness through corrosion, embrittlement, increased flammability, and electrical short circuits. 

·    Recommendations included monitoring fogging and misting and preventing liquids from pooling.  

–    The Trump Administration’s deadline for TikTok to divest its U.S. business is today. In a statement today, The Commerce Department said it won’t enforce the order that would have effectively forced a shutdown of the video-sharing app, citing a preliminary injunction against the shutdown by a U.S. District judge in Philidelphia. The Commerce Department said that the shutdown order will not go into effect “pending further legal developments.”    

·    TikTok said that it continues to negotiate an ownership deal with Walmart and Oracle. 

·    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin emphasized that the Department of Treasury is focused on resolving national security risks from ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly. 

–    President Trump issued an Executive Order on “Addressing the Threat from Securities Investments that Finance Communist Chinese Military Companies.” This order bans Americans from investing in Chinese companies that the Administration believes are tied to the Chinese military, a list of which can be found here

·    The ban will be effective January 11. 

Other News

–    A group of 15 East and Southeast Asian countries began meetings today to discuss the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This trade agreement aims to reduce tariffs and produce consistent market access and country of origin rules. 

·    The deal includes, among others, China, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan. 

·    India exited negotiations over e-commerce provisions and concerns that reduced tariffs would increase cheap imports entering India. 

·    Signing of the agreement could increase pressure on the U.S. to re-engage on free trade with Asia after it abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

–    A group of over 130 environmental and progressive organizations sent a letter to the Biden transition team outlining their criteria to ensure that financial appointees are committed to combatting climate change, supporting renewable energy, and divesting from fossil fuels. 

·    All nominees should support an emissions pathway to prevent the average global temperature from rising above 1.5°C and publish their plan to achieve that goal. 

·    Nominees should also support excluding fossil fuel companies from federal bond-buying programs and should not have recently worked in the fossil fuel industry. 

–    The Climate 21 Project, a group of climate experts and Obama-era officials, released a policy blueprint for how the Biden Administration can address climate change. 

·    The recommendations span eleven federal agencies and White House offices and suggest the creation of a White House National Climate Council. 

–    The first cruise that resumed operation in the Caribbean, operated by SeaDream Yacht Club, recorded a positive COVID-19 test on board. The cruise performed testing before boarding, but masks were not required on the ship. Passengers and non-essential crew are being asked to isolate.

·    This could be a further setback for the cruise industry, as this voyage was being closely monitored as a test case. 

–    Activists in the European Union (EU), known as Reclaim Your Face, are campaigning against the use of facial recognition and other biometric identification technology, claiming that they will facilitate unprecedented surveillance.  

·    The EU is expected to release laws on artificial intelligence early next year, which lawmakers have promised will discuss how facial recognition is used in public spaces. 

–    China announced that it has built almost 700,000 5G base stations this year, which exceeds its original target of 500,000 base stations. China currently has 1.2B 4G users, many of whom are unwilling to upgrade to more expensive 5G. China will need 10M 5G base stations for complete coverage. 

·    Globally, the 5G network infrastructure market has doubled to $8.1B in 2020. 

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