COVID-19 UPDATE | MONDAY, NOV. 23 (AFTERNOON)
November 23, 2020
Election and Transition News
– President-elect Joe Biden made his first announcements on Cabinet nominees and senior positions. He announced:
· Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State
· Alejandro Mayorkas to be Secretary of Homeland Security
· Avril Haines to be Director of National Intelligence
· Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be Ambassador to the United Nations
· Jake Sullivan to be National Security Adviser
· John Kerry to be a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
· Reema Dodin and Shuwanza Goff to be Deputy Directors of Legislative Affairs
- Additionally, President-elect Biden announced last week the Louisa Terrell would be his Director of Legislative Affairs.
– President-elect Biden may also name his Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Treasury. Michele Flournoy is largely seen as the front runner for Defense while Janet Yellen and Lael Brainard are names rumored for Treasury.
– President-elect Biden met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Friday to discuss efforts to pass additional COVID-19 relief through Congress during the lame duck session. President-elect Biden has aligned himself with Congressional Democrats who have been pushing for around $2T of additional relief, a topline figure Congressional Republicans have so far opposed.
· Notably, the President-elect has not yet met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who is an essential player in passing additional relief.
· No talks between McConnell and Schumer have occurred yet.
– Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on Friday added his voice to the chorus of lawmakers who have called for Congress to extend the Payroll Support Program (PSP) for airlines. The program, which was originally authorized as part of the CARES Act, has since expired, but Sen. Cornyn argued that it is essential in the context of ensuring effective vaccine distribution.
– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance for travelers to get tested before and after flights to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The guidance also argues that testing must be combined with periods of isolation before and after travel, as well as everyday safety measures of social distancing and mask wearing in order to be effective.
· The new guidance was released as the holiday season begins and travel is expected to increase, even though the CDC is recommending people stay home for the holidays.
– AstraZeneca, who is developing a COVID-19 vaccine together with Oxford University, announced that its vaccine is up to 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in late-stage trials. As a reminder, the AstraZeneca vaccine is one of the most promising along with those being developed by Pfizer and Moderna.
– The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that it is developing a global “travel pass” to share passengers’ COVID-19 testing and vaccine information with airlines and governments in order to facilitate the resumption of international air travel. This system will be piloted in December and released widely in the beginning of 2021.
· Use of the travel pass would be voluntary and would aim to restore traveler confidence in the safety of testing and travel systems.
– House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced in an interview on Friday that House Democrats plan to bring back earmarks in the appropriations process next year, something supported by all three candidates vying to be Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. As a reminder, those candidates include Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).
· Earmarks allow Members of Congress to directly fund projects in their districts and states through the government funding process. Earmarks were banned by former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in 2011.
· Earmarks give Congress more control over funding, while the ban has expanded the discretion of Federal agencies in directing the money.
– Two additional Members, Reps. Bryan Steil (R-WI) and Joe Courtney (D-CT) have tested positive for COVID-19. This may decrease the likelihood that the full House returns to session in late-November as proxy voting is still in place, allowing for a smaller number of Members to return. It is currently unclear how this could affect negotiations on major pieces of legislation such as appropriations, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
– The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended the travel limitation on the U.S.-Canada border to only allow essential travel through December 21. The notice can be found here.
· DHS also extended the travel limitation on the U.S.-Mexico border to only allow essential travel through December 21. The notice can be found here.
– The Department of Transportation (DOT) is seeking to update its regulations around the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a key piece in the infrastructure process. According to a Federal Register notice, the proposal will align DOT’s NEPA process better with regulations from the Council on Environmental Quality at the White House.
– U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer commented last week that the U.S. must allow the White House and Congress to push for stronger Buy America provisions under the World Trade Organization’s Government Procurement Agreement. This would require the U.S. to withdraw from the agreement, a step that has yet to be taken and one that both Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) have warned against.
– USTR Lighthizer also commented that the U.S. and the European Union (E.U.) are still negotiating potential agreements to end the long-term dispute on subsidies for Airbus and Boeing. As a reminder, the dispute over these subsidies has resulted in the U.S. imposing tariffs on $7.5B worth of E.U. goods and the E.U. to retaliate with tariffs on $4B worth of U.S. goods.
– The United Kingdom (U.K.) appears willing to delay completion of trade talks until the Biden Administration takes office. Published reports indicate that the U.K. hopes to complete the talks in the first months of the Biden Administration.
– The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency proposed requiring banks to interact with customers on an individual basis rather than potentially denying them services due to being part of a particular industry. The move is a response to longstanding complaints from predominantly Republican lawmakers that banks are acting unfairly when denying investment from industries such as the oil and gas industry.
– A group of 20 industry and environmental groups sent a letter to the Biden transition team outlining how the Administration can create efficiency and reduce emissions from homes and buildings without Congress. The letter specifically calls for better appliance efficiency standards through the Department of Energy (DOE) as well as additional efficiency standards for homes through DOE and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
– A group of associations and companies opposed to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Ligado decision on 5G sent a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to preserve the provisions in the NDAA seen as anti-Ligado.
– AT&T, along with Amazon, Comcast, Microsoft, Oracle, Sonos, and DuckDuckGo, filed a request with the District Court for the District of Columbia Friday requesting that the judge not allow Google lawyers insight into sensitive documents in the course of the litigation between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Google. The filing argues that the documents would provide Google with opportunities to attack its competitors.
– Published reports indicate that a number of large biofuel companies are expected to call on President-elect Biden to push for a nationwide standard to reduce carbon emissions from fuel. This would likely be in the form of a new Renewable Fuel Standard but could also include other fuels such as sustainable aviation fuels.
– Over the weekend, over 500,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the United States, averaging 167,000 new cases per day from Friday, November 20, to Sunday, November 22. As of Monday morning, over 256,000 deaths have been reported in the United States since the start of the pandemic, and 83,000 Americans are currently hospitalized from COVID-19.
Federal Register Notices
– The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requested comments on the renewal of an information collection on air tour regulations for the Grand Canyon National Park. Comments must be submitted by January 22. The notice can be found here.
– The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP) requested comments on the draft Vaccines National Strategic Plan 2021-2025. The draft can be found here. Comments must be submitted by December 3. The notice can be found here.
– As mentioned above, DOT proposed to update compliance procedures for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), specifically to increase efficiency and modernize the environmental review process. This change is in response to the Council on Environmental Quality’s NEPA final rule; the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users; the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act; and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. Comments must be submitted by December 23. The notice can be found here.