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COVID-19 Update | Tuesday, Dec. 8

December 8, 2020

Election and Transition News

  • Visit Elevate’s Transition 2020 Hub to see the most up-to-date lists of rumored and announced Cabinet members and staff.
    • Published reports indicate that President-elect Biden will select retired General Lloyd Austin to be Secretary of Defense. Austin was previously the Commander of U.S. Central Command and would be the first African American to hold the position. This appointment has not yet been officially announced.
     Gen. Austin would need a waiver from Congress to become Secretary of Defense, as he has not been out of the military for the required seven years. Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis also required a waiver when selected for the position in 2017.
    • A number of Democratic Senators who opposed Mattis’s waiver in 2017 have indicated that they would not support a waiver in this case either, citing the importance of having civilian control over the military, despite Gen. Austin’s credentials. Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), who in 2017 said he would not support future waivers, signaled openness to supporting the waiver for Gen. Austin.
  • President-elect Biden will reportedly select Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) as his nominee to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Rep. Fudge had also been in the conversation for Secretary of Agriculture.
    • Earlier today, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) indicated in an interview with MSNBC that though he could not confirm that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) would be selected as President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Agriculture. He did state that she “will be nominated to the cabinet.” Rep. Clyburn’s support is being reported as influential to secure the selection.
    • This announcement is an indication that President-elect Biden may be leaning toward former Agriculture Secretary and Governor of Iowa Tom Vilsack to be his nominee for Secretary of Agriculture.
  • President-elect Biden could also announce his nominees for Attorney General and other Cabinet positions this week.
    • Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is believed to be among the top contenders for Attorney General. Sen. Jones, elected in the 2017 Special Election to fill the seat of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) (who was, coincidentally, selected as President Trump’s Attorney General), lost his campaign for reelection to Republican candidate Tommy Tuberville.
    • The National Education Association (NEA) has issued a statement of support for current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to be President-elect Biden’s choice to chair the agency. In the statement, NEA expressed their belief that Rosenworcel would be well-suited to bridge the so-called “homework gap” and mend the digital divide.
  • The Supreme Court today rejected an emergency request made by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) to decertify the Presidential election results in Pennsylvania. The Court ruled without comment or noted dissent.
    • The decision was made as the so-called “safe harbor” deadline is set for today after which Congress cannot challenge the electoral votes that will be sent to Congress on January 6 for counting and will officially elect Joe Biden as the next President.


  • Though negotiations reportedly continue, official language for the $908B bipartisan and bicameral COVID-19 relief package has not yet been released.
    • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced this afternoon that he would be willing to drop his demand for liability protections to be included in the legislation if Democrats were willing to drop their request for state and local government relief. These have been two of the most contested issues throughout negotiations.
    • Shortly thereafter, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) rejected the offer claiming that state and local relief is a bipartisan priority. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also released a statement criticizing Leader McConnell’s offer.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also released a statement with an updated $916B COVID-19 relief offer after reportedly speaking with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). According to the statement, the offer does include state and local relief and would be paid for using$140B in unused Paycheck Protection Program funds and $429B in “Treasury funds.”
  • Separately, there has been a renewed push, most visibly by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), to include additional stimulus payments in the next COVID-19 relief package. Sen. Hawley has gone as far as to advocate directly to President Trump that he should veto any package that does not include stimulus payments.
  • Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD) said on Tuesday that Senate Minority Leader Schumer was opposing an effort to address the complicated tax situation caused by remote work during the pandemic.
    • Due to a patchwork of policies on taxation for employees remote working in a state other than their employer’s, taxpayers may experience significant variances in their 2020 filings relative to previous years.
    • Sen. Thune called upon Sen. Schumer to allow a measure to provide certainty on how such taxation would be conducted to be added to a COVID-19 relief package, and suggested that Sen. Schumer was resistant to such a proposal due to New York’s aggressive taxation of non-resident remote workers housed within the state.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed its safety and efficacy review of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, confirming that the vaccine surpasses the minimum threshold of 50 percent effectiveness, and poses no safety concerns that would preclude an Emergency Use Authorization.
    • The review represents a milestone moment for America’s fight against COVID-19 and pushes the Pfizer vaccine towards its last steps before deployment. On Thursday, December 10, an advisory committee to the FDA will meet and issue a recommendation on whether the vaccine should be authorized for use. A decision by the FDA will then be rendered in the days to follow.
    • Notably, the United Kingdom has already cleared the Pfizer vaccine for use. Headlines were made today when the first dose was administered to a 90-year-old Irish woman.
  • Today, President-elect Biden pledged to administer 100M COVID-19 vaccines during his first 100 days as President. He also stated that he will reopen most schools during the first 100 days and reiterated that he plans to mandate masks/face coverings on commercial aircraft, in federal buildings, and elsewhere where the Government is able to do so.



  • The Senate confirmed Nathan Simington to be a Federal Communications Commission Commissioner in a 49-46 vote. As a reminder, Simington would fill the seat held by Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, whose term expires at the end of 2020, and serve a five-year term.
  • A group of ten Democratic Senators, led by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), sent a letter to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Janet Dhillon requesting information on whether the Commission has investigated or studied hiring technologies and potential discrimination as a result of using the technologies. The letter is framed in the context of companies hiring employees to staff back up as companies reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing titled “U.S. Coast Guard Capabilities for Safeguarding National Interests and Promoting Economic Security in the Arctic.” According to the Committee, the hearing examined how the United States Coast Guard (USCG) 2019 Arctic Strategic Outlook is being resourced through acquisition plans, training exercises, and infrastructure investments, and the importance of USCG presence in the Arctic as commercial sea traffic increases. The hearing also addressed the security implications of Chinese and Russian interests in the Arctic and the current state of the USCG’s icebreaking capacity.
  • Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced the Rural STEM Education Act, which would support rural STEM education and workforce development and broadband access. A full press release on the bill can be found here.
  • Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced a bill (S. 4967) to extend the holiday period for aviation excise taxes under the CARES Act.
  • Sens. Todd Young (R-IN) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bill (S. 4970) to widen the renewable electricity production credit to cover electricity produced from hydrogen.
  • House Democrats this afternoon unveiled a one-week continuing resolution (CR) to extend government funding through next Friday, December 18. The legislation does not contain any controversial policy riders and is expected to be considered in the House under suspension of the rules tomorrow. The Senate is expected to vote on the CR later this week.
  • The House passed the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act conference report today in a 335-78 vote with one member voting “Present”. The NDAA could be taken up in the Senate as soon as this week. It remains unclear whether President Trump will veto the legislation, forcing a difficult vote in Congress for members to potentially override the President’s veto. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced that while he will support the conference report, he would not vote to override a veto, should the President do so.
  • The House also passed the negotiated bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) this afternoon by voice vote. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it is anticipated that it may be included in a greater year-end government funding package. If so, the House would have to consider the legislation again when the House considers the government funding package.
  • Once again, a federal judge has temporarily blocked the Trump Administration from implementing an executive order that would ban TikTok from the United States. The order was previously temporarily put on hold in October by another federal judge.
    • Talks are ongoing between TikTok parent company ByteDance and the Trump Administration on allowing the app to continue to function in the United States, and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) is reviewing the possible purchase of an ownership stake in TikTok’s U.S. operations by Oracle and Walmart.
  • Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow said that President Trump is “not planning any new tariffs” on China before leaving office, as he is satisfied with Phase One compliance under the U.S.-China trade deal. However, Kudlow has inaccurately predicted President Trump’s actions before.
    • President-elect Biden revealed last week that he would maintain the Phase One trade deal and refrain from imposing any additional tariffs.
  • U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is currently in Ecuador to sign a Phase One trade agreement, similar to the deal signed with Brazil. The agreement covers trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, anti-corruption, and small- and medium-sized enterprises.
    • Ecuador intends for this deal to facilitate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the U.S. in the future.
  • Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) Commissioners Carl Bentzel and Daniel Maffei sent a letter to the Maritime Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Monday to request rapid testing and priority vaccine availability for maritime and port workers.
  • The FCC announced the beginning of its newest 5G spectrum auction today. The auction makes available 280Mhz of spectrum in the C-band (3.7 – 3.98Ghz), representing the largest 5G spectrum auction to date.
    • The auction has drawn criticism from the aviation sector and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) over potential interference to radar altimeters in aircraft, posing a civil aviation safety risk. Chairman Defazio sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday asking him to postpone the auction until the hazards were fully assessed.
  • On Monday, the Supreme Court issued an order calling for the views of the Solicitor General and the federal government in an ongoing antitrust suit brought about by Viamedia against Comcast. Viamedia alleges that Comcast holds a monopoly on the placement of TV advertising.
    • There is no due date for the government to brief the bench. Under traditional conventions, the briefing would wait until after President-elect Biden’s inauguration.
  • The White House is reportedly pushing the Interior department to release a five-year offshore drilling plan. The proposal would continue President Trump’s efforts to expand oil industry access to federal land.
  • Given the months-long public comment period that would come with the program, it would be almost impossible for the plan to be finalized before President Trump leaves office.
    Other News
  • Americans for Free Trade and Farmers for Free Trade sent a letter to President-elect Biden urging the quick repeal of Trump Administration tariffs on China and other countries. The letter specifically addressed the negative impact on U.S. businesses caused by Section 301 tariffs on Chinese goods, Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum, and the Boeing-Airbus dispute.
    • IBM and the Business Roundtable previously encouraged President-elect Biden to take similar actions.
  • The Environmental Defense Fund released a report on climate action by state, which found that states with their own climate targets are not meeting the 2030 emissions goals set by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
    • According to the IPCC, global greenhouse gas emissions must be 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and combat a rise in global temperature. Currently, 25 states and Puerto Rico will only reduce emissions by 11% from 2010 levels.
  • 30 states, plus D.C., submitted briefs on Friday and Monday to ask the Supreme Court to uphold the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) ability to compel companies to pay back consumers, or surrender earnings attributed to illegal conduct.
    • The briefs are in support of the FTC in a case brought by AMG Capital Management. The case is set to be heard on January 13, 2021.
  • Uber is withdrawing from the autonomous vehicle field. On Monday, Uber announced it was selling its self-driving technology division to self-driving startup Aurora Innovations. On Tuesday, Uber announced it was selling its autonomous aviation division, Uber Elevate, to Joby Aviation. It is important to note that Uber has already invested in Joby and this sale involves further investment.
    • Uber’s withdrawal from the field comes after two years of controversy, following the death of a pedestrian after a collision with an in-testing self-driving van.
  • The FCC’s initiative to have providers promise to withhold penalties from customers who struggled to pay internet bills during the pandemic was found to be less effective than the agency claimed. Law360 analyzed over 3,000 consumer complaints lodged with the FCC during the summer and found the claims at odds with Chairman Pai’s October claim that ISPs honored the pledge to not fine consumers during the crisis.
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District announced yesterday that it will move to fully remote learning and will cease current in-person operations. The school district cited the recent spike in COVID-19 cases as the reason for the move. The transition will take full effect on Thursday, December 10.
  • The United Kingdom announced that it will suspend regulatory tariffs against the U.S. associated with the Airbus-Boeing dispute, while it engages with the U.S. government on a post-Brexit trade deal. The suspension will go into effect on January 1, 2021.
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