COVID-19 UPDATE | MONDAY, NOV. 30 (Evening)
November 30, 2020
The Senate is in session. The House will remain in recess until Wednesday, December 2.
Election and Transition News
– Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) tweeted his support of Neera Tanden to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), citing her experience and qualification.
· Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also voiced her support for Tanden.
– President-elect Biden announced Pili Tobar to be Deputy Communications Director. Tobar previously worked for the immigration reform fund America’s Voice and for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
– Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Kay Bailey Hutchison committed to a “smooth” and “seamless” transition to the Biden Administration, ensuring that all necessary information will be available.
– The COVID RELIEF NOW Coalition launched its ad campaign urging Congress to pass COVID-19 economic relief during the lame duck session.
· The Coalition consists of a wide range of industries affected by COVID-19, including the U.S. Travel Association, National Retail Federation, National Governors Association, and American Hotel and Lodging Association.
– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reversed its workplace guidance to remove a provision which allowed essential workers to avoid quarantining if they were exposed to COVID-19, but not displaying symptoms. The updated guidance states that those workers can only return to work as “a last resort and only in limited circumstances.”
– Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) urged Congress to quickly pass an unemployment relief package, specifically in response to the additional 30,000 layoffs by Disney. DeSantis blamed unemployment on inaction by the federal government and strict COVID-19 policies in California that require Disneyland to remain closed.
– New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 200,000 pre-kindergarten, elementary school, and special needs students will resume in-person school five days a week starting next week. School staff will be tested for COVID-19 weekly. Middle and high school students will continue remote education.
– Health Canada’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma announced that Canada could approve its first COVID-19 vaccine in December and distribution would begin in January. This will likely align with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine.
· Canadian vaccine distribution will prioritize high-risk groups, the elderly, healthcare and front-line workers, police and firefighters, and Indigenous communities. The government is currently prepared to administer 25M doses.
– Senate and House Appropriations subcommittees are currently negotiating the details of Fiscal Year 2021 funding bills. Any unresolved issues will be passed to House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL). Legislative text should be finalized by early next week in order to approve the funding by the December 11 deadline.
– Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) returned to the Capitol today after testing positive for COVID-19 and quarantining. Upon his return, Sen. Grassley said that “Congress must do its part and pass long overdue relief legislation to help families, businesses and communities get through this crisis.”
– The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will receive an update on CARES Act efforts to address COVID-19 from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tomorrow.
· In his written testimony, Powell explained the rebound in household spending and the recovery of over half of the 22M jobs lost in March. Though Powell was optimistic about vaccine development, he said that “a full economic recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities.”
– The House Steering and Policy Committee will meet tomorrow to recommend the next Chair of the Appropriations Committee. The candidate recommended by the Steering and Policy Committee will then face a vote by the full Democratic Caucus, though any candidate that received one-third of their support can request a full caucus vote.
· The current candidates are Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).
– The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that many U.S. households are falling below the poverty line after the expiration of additional unemployment benefits, as many states are not providing sufficient assistance.
· The enhanced benefits offered $600 per week, while regular state unemployment assistance ranges from $181-$466 per week. Individuals must earn at least $245 per week to stay above the poverty line.
· Many workers are relying on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which ranges from $114-$357 per week and is set to expire at the end of the year.
– The GAO also released a report regarding COVID-19 and the “Urgent Actions Needed to Better Ensure an Effective Federal Response.” The report reviews past federal actions in 2020 both from agencies and Congress and provides recommendations.
– The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a memo recommending that regulators require factories and wastewater treatment plants to monitor wastewater for Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS). This interim National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) aims to prevent the flow of PFAS into drinking water sources.
– The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected the proposal to extend the use of E-Rate program school subsidies to fund internet access for students and address the digital homework gap. This proposal has been supported by Congressional Democrats and the Department of the Interior. The decision was made in the FCC’s order outlining the final list of eligible E-Rate services.
– The Supreme Court heard arguments today from the Trump Administration’s lawyer to exclude undocumented immigrants from the Census count to determine new Congressional districts.
· The Census Bureau reported that it will not be able to release the first Census numbers by the legal reporting deadline of December 31 due to “processing anomalies.” Additional quality checks will take place until January 26, after President-elect Biden takes office.
– During arguments today on a case involving a Georgia police officer convicted of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA) by willfully and wrongfully accessing a license database, multiple Supreme Court justices questioned whether the case risked opening the door to the prosecution of innocuous behavior.
· The case, representing the first CFAA challenge at the Supreme Court level, hinges on whether the CFAA prohibits access to a computer for improper use regardless of whether the perpetrator has lawful and proper access to said computer.
· Previous lower court rulings on CFAA have given mixed interpretations of the law’s scope, and some rulings have raised concerns. A 2015 case found a defendant, a local news producer, guilty of hacking under CFAA, after he gave access credentials to hackers so they could deface an LA Times article online.
· Justices Gorsuch, Sotomayor, and Alito seemed to express skepticism and concern over a broadened scope of applicability for CFAA.
– The European Union proposed a partnership with the Biden Administration to eliminate China from global technology trade through a Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council. The Council would set standards for new technologies and prevent China from gaining economic dominance by setting its own standards. It will also address trade barriers, investment screening, intellectual property rights, forced transfers of technology, and export controls.
– The European Commission released a report which found that the European Union’s 2019 greenhouse gas emissions were down 24% as compared to 1990 and 3.7% from 2018 levels. Emissions are likely to decrease more in 2020 due to COVID-19.
· The European Union’s climate plan aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
– Stephen Gardner was announced as the new President of Amtrak. Gardner has been with Amtrak for eleven years and previously worked on rail policy in Congress. In his new position, Gardner will lead Amtrak’s day-to-day operations, focusing on expanding ridership and modernizing operations. William Flynn will remain the CEO. – The Canadian government said that it will move forward with its tax on digital services companies in light of stalled international negotiations, even if it must take action unilaterally. The proposed tax would take effect on January 1, 2022 and produce $3.4B in revenue over five years.