COVID-19 UPDATE | TUESDAY, NOV. 17
November 17, 2020
– COVID-19 continues to escalate in severity throughout the United States, with over 153,000 additional cases and 622 deaths reported yesterday.
· After recording 10,000 new cases on Monday, California halted its reopening process and imposed some of the most stringent restrictions in the nation. Indoor dining and religious services are suspended, and gyms are closed.
· Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) issued an executive order today that requires bars and restaurants to close at 10:00 PM for indoor service, reduces the total capacity allowed in retail stores and religious facilities to 50%, and prohibits audiences at racetracks and football stadiums. In order to address a potential surge in hospitalizations and possible nursing home outbreaks, the Maryland Department of Health has barred most hospital visitations and limited indoor visits to nursing home residents.
- Virginia re-imposed tighter restrictions following a spike in new cases, as 2,125 new cases were reported today.
- In the District of Columbia, 245 new cases were recorded, bringing the district’s transmission rate to 1.21%, just over the threshold its guidelines set out as a sign of a need for restrictions.
- 2,550 people in total are hospitalized throughout the greater Washington region, an increase of 1,000 since the beginning of November.
– There continues to be a lack of progress on COVID-19 relief negotiations as no conversations are currently taking place. President-elect Biden and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have expressed their support for the HEROES Act, while Republicans are aiming for a more limited bill. Senator Schumer has asked the Majority leader to discuss the matter, but to date, no conversations have occurred.
– A number of COVID-19 relief provisions expire at the end of the year. These provisions include:
· Pandemic emergency unemployment assistance
· Eviction moratorium
· State and local relief funding
· Small business debt relief
· Tax credits for family and sick leave
– The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election” with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The hearing covered content moderation practices to combat misinformation surrounding the election, potential anti-conservative bias on social media platforms, and Section 230 reform. Our coverage of the hearing is attached.
· Senators on both sides of the aisle stressed the importance of further hearings with the tech CEOs, including Google and Amazon, on other issues such as privacy, antitrust, and health risks associated with social media.
· During questions from Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Zuckerberg committed to sending a Facebook representative to testify before the Senate Judiciary Intellectual Property Subcommittee in December.
· Zuckerberg and Dorsey both agreed on the need for increased transparency in their companies and confirmed that they were conducting reflective reports on their handling of the election.
– The Senate held a procedural vote on the confirmation of Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and rejected advancing the nominee 50-47.
· This was due to opposition from Democrats and Republicans, including Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), and the absence of multiple Republican Senators.
· Republicans expressed their desire to hold another vote on her nomination.
– Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced tonight that he has tested positive for COVID-19, after earlier saying that he was voluntarily self-quarantining after exposure to a positive case.
· Sen. Grassley was absent for today’s procedural vote to confirm Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve and also absent from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with the Facebook and Twitter CEOs.
– There are multiple trade bills in the Senate that will be important to watch during the lame duck session, including:
· Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) renewal for the Generalized System Preferences (GSP) and the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB), which are both set to expire before the end of the year.
· Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) bill that would ban imports from Xinjiang unless there is “clear and convincing evidence” that products are not made using Uyghur Muslim forced labor.
· Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) provision, which would likely be included in a COVID-19 relief package, that would require the government to only purchase personal protection equipment (PPE) that is made in the U.S.
– The House will hold votes tomorrow on formally moving to conference on the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Once those votes are held and conferees are selected in the House and Senate, formal conversations are set to begin later this week.
– Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made comments on the Senate floor today that signaled optimism for a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on an end-of-year spending package by the end of the week.
· Such an agreement on the 12-appropriation bills would prevent a potential government shutdown on December 11, the day the current Continuing Resolution expires.
– Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (S. 4897) to foster U.S. global leadership, protect the nuclear fuel supply chain, and reduce carbon emissions. According to a press release, the bill would:
· Promote global leadership by allowing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to lead international forums and deny the import of Russian and Chinese nuclear fuel.
· Foster nuclear technology innovation by reforming permits, incentivizing nuclear reactor deployment, and identifying regulatory barriers to emission reduction.
· Preserving nuclear reactors and investing in nuclear energy.
· Supporting supply chain infrastructure through the development of advanced nuclear fuels, a uranium reserve, and modern manufacturing techniques.
· Authorize cleanup programs for abandoned mines on tribal land.
– Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced a bill (S. 4901) to direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to conduct a study into the impact China has on standards for emerging technologies.
– The Senate is likely to remain in session through December 18 to consider the multiple legislative items and appointments still outstanding.
– House Democratic leadership elections are currently taking place. Rep David Cicilline (D-RI) is running for Assistant Speaker of the House and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) is running for Vice Chair.
· Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) voiced his support of Rep. Kelly, emphasizing her work on increasing diversity in tech.
· Human Rights Campaign endorsed Rep. Cicilline, stressing the importance of his representation of the LGBTQ community.
– The House voted on and passed Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio’s (D-OR) Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act under suspension of the rules.
· The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will consider its Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act during a markup tomorrow.
· The legislative process on these bills is being accelerated as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to unground the Boeing 737 MAX this week.
– House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) voiced his support for Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) to be chosen as Secretary of the Department of the Interior. He did not seek the position himself, citing his usefulness in his current Chairmanship.
· Rep. Grijalva cited Rep. Haaland’s passion and dedication on the Natural Resources Committee to public land and the climate crisis and emphasized the importance of her Indigenous heritage.
· The Indigenous Environmental Network also sent a letter to President-elect Biden supporting Rep. Haaland for the position.
– The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a final rule to hold freight railroads accountable for delays that are caused to Amtrak by creating timing and delay standards. The rule sets a minimum standard of 80% on-time performance and requires Amtrak and railroads to certify schedules.
– President Trump has elevated Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg to Acting Under Secretary of Energy in addition to his current position. In addition, Nicholas Andersen is now the Acting Principal Secretary for Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response.
– The Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced $7.7M in Tribal Transit Program grants that will be given to 25 tribal governments in order to fund public transportation improvements.
– Reportedly, before the end of President Trump’s term, his Administration is looking at a number of potential Executive Orders/actions and completing agency rulemakings on issues impacting immigration, trade, health care, China, and school choice before inauguration.
– The Zero Emission Transportation Association announced its formation. This coalition of utilities, mineral producers, and electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers aims to achieve 100% EV sales by 2030, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
· The group will likely focus on obtaining point-of-sale consumer incentives for EVs, federal investment in infrastructure, and more stringent performance standards for emissions.
– A group of environmental organizations sent a letter to President-elect Biden to ensure that Ernest Moniz does not play a role in the Biden transition team, Cabinet, or Administration due to his connection with fracking. According to the letter, Moniz is “incompatible with a stable climate.”
– Pebble Mine submitted its “compensatory mitigation plan” to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for review, though it has not yet been released publicly. The plan aims to describe how the mine’s environmental damage will be mitigated.
· It is unclear whether this report will meet the standards set by the Trump Administration, and many experts have questioned if environmental mitigation is possible.
· As a reminder, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) are both against the permitting of the project.
– The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy released a report which found that the Biden Administration could implement national appliance standards on 47 products to reduce CO2 emissions by 1.5B to 2.9B metric tons by 2050.
· The report also found that the average American household would save $230 annually and 2050 peak electricity demand would be decreased by 13%.
– The U.S. and United Kingdom signed the Air Services Agreement today to ensure that flights will continue after the Brexit transition period ends on December 31. Operations will continue as they did under the European Union’s Open Skies deal.
– A group of industry officials urged President-elect Biden to quickly begin to remove Trump Administration tariffs on China and other countries. Executive action on this issue would face obstacles, given the political ramifications of easing actions against China.
· The group also urged President-elect Biden to renew multilateral work, specifically with the World Trade Organization.
– A group of environmental and clean energy organizations sent a letter urging Congress to pursue clean energy legislation this year, specifically by expanding clean energy tax incentives. · The letter asks that tax credits be extended to the wind and solar industries and be updated to incentivize offshore wind, energy storage systems, and high voltage transmission. It also seeks expanded tax credits for EV infrastructure.