COVID-19 UPDATE | TUESDAY, DEC. 1
December 1, 2020
Election and Transition News
– Elevate Government Affairs has developed a new hub to track the latest on President-elect Biden’s Cabinet nominations, staff hires, and other appointees. Visit the Transition 2020 Hub on our website for more information.
– Attorney General Bill Barr commented in an interview today that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has not found evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election.
· Members of President Trump’s legal team Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis responded to Attorney General Barr’s comments by claiming that the DOJ has not conducted a thorough investigation.
– President-elect Biden formally announced six members of his economic team, including:
· Janet Yellen to be Secretary of the Treasury
· Neera Tanden as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
· Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury
· Cecilia Rouse as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors
· Jared Bernstein as a member of the Council of Economic Advisors
· Heather Boushey as a member of the Council of Economic Advisors
– Another key economic position, U.S. Trade Representative, is not expected to be announced for a few weeks. As a reminder, House Ways and Means Committee trade lawyer Katherine Tai and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), among others, are currently seen as contenders.
– Todd Spencer, President of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), sent a letter to the Biden transition team to formally express interest in being nominated as Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
· Spencer is generally opposed to strict trucking regulations and does not believe they make highways safer, which contrasts the expectation that the Biden Department of Transportation will engage more directly in regulation.
– Businessman and former Democratic Presidential candidate Tom Steyer, who has also been a strong climate activist in his career, is organizing an effort to be nominated as the Secretary of Commerce.
· The Department of Commerce includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which gives it an important role in the Biden Administration’s climate policy.
– Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood voiced his support for Rahm Emanuel to serve as President-elect Biden’s Secretary of Transportation. LaHood confirmed that Emanuel is interested in the position and cited his transportation accomplishments as the Mayor of Chicago.
– The Communications Workers of America (CWA) sent a letter to President-elect Biden endorsing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to be nominated as chair of the agency. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has also voiced his support for Rosenworcel.
· CWA also supported Debbie Goldman, a member of CWA’s telecom policy staff, to fill the third Democratic FCC seat that is set to open next year.
– Three COVID-19 relief packages were released today: one by a bipartisan group of Representatives and Senators, one by Senate Republicans only, and one by Senate Democrats only.
– Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released details on a new targeted COVID-19 relief package produced by the Senate GOP.
· The package is comprised of a few key measures that have been discussed over recent months, including:
- COVID-19 liability protections for businesses.
- $257B in additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) second draw loans and an expansion of the pool of expenses considered to be forgivable. The revenue loss threshold would be lowered to 25% for eligibility under the PPP, instead of the 35% of the HEALS Act. $40B in additional funds would be provided to increase PPP loan amounts in order to cover worker protection expenditures for “front-line” sectors, specifically restaurants and personal services.
- Establishment of a grant program to offer targeted relief to shuttered live venues and theaters, totaling $15B.
- Forgiveness of the $10B Treasury loan issued to the United States Postal Service (USPS) under the CARES Act, should the USPS cash balance drop to $8B.
- Provision of $20B in additional farm assistance and “broad authority” for the Secretary of Agriculture to address COVID-19 impacts on farmers.
- $500M to fishers and fishing communities affected by COVID-19.
- Additionally, the bill contains several measures to address education, COVID-19 response, and future pandemic preparedness, including:
- Authorization of a one-time emergency appropriation for scholarship-granting organizations, to be administered for “qualified educational expenses” such as private school tuition or home-schooling expenses.
- Parents of children in K-12 education may use 529 College Savings Plan funds for education expenses (such as books or licensed tutoring).
- Short-term assistance for childcare providers so they may reopen.
- Provision of $105B through an “Education Stabilization Fund” to assist students with returning to school.
- Authorization of improvements and support for domestic manufacturing of needed medical countermeasures, such as vaccines and therapeutics.
- Authorization of grants for the establishment of state stockpiles of medical products and supplies for future public health emergencies.
- Encourages partnerships with medical product supply chains to increase manufacturing and stockpiling of resources for the Strategic National Stockpile.
- Provision of $16B for testing, contact tracing, and surveillance in states.
- Extends the deadline for spending already-appropriated relief funds to September 30, 2021.
· The bill also moves to end the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, by extending unemployment assistance under the PUA to January 31, 2020 and creating a two-month phaseout period during which no new claimants would be accepted.
· Added to the legislation is a clause that adopts the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s proposal to make the U.S. “less dependent on China and other unstable, unreliable and hostile regimes for critical minerals.”
– A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers unveiled a $908B COVID-19 emergency relief framework to provide funding through March 31 as negotiations on a broader package have stalled. There is currently no indication that the framework has support from Republican or Democratic leadership.
· The plan was developed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Warner (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mitt Romney (R-UT), and Susan Collins (R-ME). House lawmakers involved included Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Fred Upton (R-MI), Dusty Johnson (R-SD), and Tom Reed (R-NY).
· Details continue to be unclear on much of the framework, including how certain pots of money would be distributed. However, at a high level the framework, text of which has not yet been publicly released, would include:
- $160B for state and local relief.
- $180B in additional unemployment insurance to provide $300 for 18 weeks.
- $288B for small businesses through the PPP.
- $82B for schools.
- $45B for transportation including:
- $17B for airlines.
- $4B for airports.
- $8B for the private bus and motorcoach industry.
- $1B for Amtrak.
- $15B for public transit.
- Liability protections for businesses.
– Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released details on the Senate Democratic COVID-19 relief bill, the American Worker Holiday Relief Act of 2020.
· Among other things, the bill:
– Extends the $600/pay-check pandemic unemployment compensation until October 4, 2021. Individuals who would otherwise continue to claim those benefits past the expiration date will continue to receive the $600 until their benefits run out, or January 3, 2022, whichever is first.
– Extends the PUA program in every state until the state and the country’s three-month average unemployment rate both are below 5.5%. PUA would become available for 65 weeks, instead of the current 39.
– Extends the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program in every state until the state and the country’s three-month average unemployment rate both are below 5.5%.
– Clarifies that individuals may claim PUA due to curtailed operations of their employers, and that they may claim PUA if they refuse a work offer or quit due to health and safety risks associated with COVID-19.
– Fitch Ratings revised its credit ratings for multiple transportation sectors, determining that airport volume will not return to 2019 levels until 2024. Cargo ports will likely return to normal operation levels in 2022, but the cruise industry is unlikely to fully recover until 2024.
– The CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices voted today to recommend that healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents be the first to receive any FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccination. Both groups are included in what is now known as Phase 1A of the vaccine distribution plan.
· This vaccination plan is not be binding but would provide a guide for state strategies. The deadline for states to submit their initial vaccine distribution plans is December 4.
– The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that it will release a list of business names and loan amounts that received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster loan (EIDL) program loans, as was ordered by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg.
· The list will be released on SBA’s website and will contain information on loans of $150,000 or less.
– New York City Health Commissioner David Chokshi mandated that adults over 65 and individuals with preexisting health conditions stay in their homes, apart from essential activities including medical care, grocery shopping, and visiting the pharmacy.
– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected shortly to issue new guidance that shortens the COVID-19 quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days, or a week if a negative test result was given after exposure.
– Published reports and our conversations indicate that negotiators on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) are seeking to complete their conversations this week. However, the issue of renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders remains a major point of contention that is threatening to derail passage of the NDAA. If an agreement is reached this week, the House could vote on the legislation as early as next week.
· As a reminder, President Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA if the provision on renaming the bases is not removed. House Democrats, who originally included language requiring bases to be renamed in one year, have been pushing for Senate language to rename the bases over three years.
· Additionally, reports are that President Trump continues to push for a repeal of Section 230 on this year’s NDAA, which is complicating the timeline of the bill.
– The United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission released its 2020 Annual Report, which stated that China is building a community of allies to combat the “global competition for power and influence” with the U.S. and gain a dominant position in the global hierarchy.
· Specifically, the Chinese government “seeks to revise the international order to be more amenable to its own interests and authoritarian governance system.”
· The report’s recommendations to combat China’s economic rise include applying greater scrutiny on Chinese company mergers, increasing ties with Taiwan, and granting Hong Kong activists asylum.
– Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) submitted an amicus brief in a lawsuit against the White House Council on Environmental Quality over changes to the National Environmental Policy Act.
· The changes aim to shorten deadlines for environmental reviews and reduce the role of climate impacts in new federal projects.
– The Senate confirmed Allison Clements and Mark Christie to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by a voice vote last night. FERC is now fully staffed with five members, consisting of two Democrats and three Republicans.
· Former Chairman Neil Chatterjee’s term ends in June, when another Commissioner will have to be nominated and confirmed.
– Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) scheduled a vote to advance the nomination of Christopher Waller to the Federal Reserve Board, making his confirmation possible later this week. However, no action was taken to attempt to advance Judy Shelton’s nomination again, decreasing the likelihood that she will be confirmed.
· Senator-elect Mark Kelly (D-AZ) will be sworn in on Wednesday, which likely will add to the opposition to Shelton’s nomination from Democrats and three Republicans.
– Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced a bill (S. 4927) to remove advance amounts (the upfront payment of $10,000 that does not have to be repaid) of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) from Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness calculation.
– The Democratic House Steering and Policy Committee officially endorsed Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to be Chair of the Appropriations Committee during the next Congress. The full Democratic Caucus will vote later this week.
· Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) can still receive support during the caucus vote. It is expected that a second round of voting may be necessary to decide between Reps. DeLauro and Wasserman Schultz.
– The House Republican Steering Committee chose Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) to be Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee during the next Congress. Reps. Mike Turner (R-OH) and Rob Wittman (R-VA) were also considered for the position.
· The full House Republican Conference will approve Rep. Rogers and other Committee Ranking Members later this week.
– The House is set to vote on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884) to decriminalize marijuana later this week, though it is unlikely to pass the Senate during this Congress.
· The bill would remove marijuana from the list of federally banned controlled substances but would allow federal transportation agencies to continue to test their employees for marijuana use. These agencies include the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
– The Department of Energy issued a new guidance to foster the domestic production of critical minerals through broad interpretation of the Title XVII and Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan programs. The guidance aims to encourage critical mineral and rare earth element manufacturing, recycling, and recovery and decrease the U.S.’s reliance on imports.
· The Department will accept mining proposal applications until February 1.
– The United Kingdom (U.K.) is creating a list of potential U.S. goods on which to impose retaliatory tariffs. These tariffs would be in response to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ruling to authorize $4B of tariffs for U.S. government subsidies for Boeing. However, the U.K. tariffs would not technically be a part of that ruling as it only applies to the European Union, which the U.K. left on January 31.
· This is the first step in the U.K.’s attempt to create an independent trade policy starting in 2021, regardless of whether a deal is reached with the European Union. The U.K. would need WTO approval before imposing retaliatory tariffs.
– The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) proposed significant service cuts to combat $500M of COVID-19-related losses in the absence of additional transit relief funding from Congress. The cuts would eliminate 2,400 jobs and include:
· Eliminating weekend train service.
· Reducing weekday train frequency to every 15 minutes on lines inside the core of the system and every 30 minutes outside the core.
· Ending service at 9:00pm on weekdays.
· Closing 19 Metro stations.
· Eliminating one-third of all bus routes.
– A group of over 50 consumer advocacy, safety, and disability rights organizations released a list of automated vehicle (AV) tenets that should be considered by Congress when drafting legislation. The tenets urge direct regulation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to ensure AV safety, access, sustainability, and consumer and worker rights.
– Bank of America announced that it will not provide funding for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, explaining that the company has “not historically participated in project finance for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.”
· This follows similar policies from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citi Bank.
– Ford is urging other carmakers to support California’s authority to enforce greenhouse gas automobile rules in order to create industry consensus, saying that the rules “should be the foundation for new regulations as the Biden administration considers stronger fuel economy standards in 2021.”
· As a reminder, General Motors withdrew from the Trump Administration’s lawsuit challenging California’s authority last week. – Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) submitted an amicus brief against the Trump Administration in an ongoing case regarding recent changes to the National Environmental Policy Act rules. The changes, issued in July by President Trump, shortened the timelines for environmental reviews conducted by agencies and reduced the number of required factors for assessment associated with climate change.