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COVID-19 UPDATE | MONDAY, NOV. 30 (Afternoon)

November 30, 2020

Election and Transition News

–    President-elect Joe Biden announced key members of his communications team over the weekend.

·    Jen Psaki will serve as Press Secretary. Psaki served as White House Communications Director from 2015 to 2017 and as spokesperson for the Department of State under John Kerry.

·    Kate Bedingfield will serve as White House Communications Director. Bedingfield previously served as Communications Director for the President-elect when he was Vice President.

·    Additional members of the team that were announced include Phil Tobar as Deputy Communications Director and Karine Jean-Pierre as Principal Deputy Press Secretary.

–    This morning, President-elect Biden announced key members of his Economic Team, including:

·    Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen for Secretary of the Treasury.

·    Adewale Adeyemo as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. Adeyemo served as Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics under President Obama, was a Deputy Director of the National Economic Council (NEC) and currently serves as the President of the Obama Foundation.

·    Neera Tanden as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Tanden is currently the President and CEO of the Center for American Progress.

·    Cecilia Rouse as the head of the Council of Economic Advisers. Rouse is currently the Dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

  • Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey to be members of the Council of Economic Advisers. Bernstein served previously as Chief Economist to Vice President Biden during the Obama Administration, and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Boushey currently serves as President and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable growth and was previously the Chief Economist for Secretary Clinton’s 2016 transition team during her campaign.

–    President-elect Biden is expected to name a number of economic positions and nominees officially this week. Among those expected to be announced are:

·    Brian Deese to be Director of the NEC. Deese served as Deputy Director of OMB under President Obama and worked as a Senior Advisor to President Obama for climate and energy. He took over that portfolio after the departure of John Podesta. He also oversaw the Supreme Court nomination process in 2016.

–    Additional Cabinet and senior Administration positions are still being discussed but a number of reports have circulated outlining potential candidates to fill the positions.

·    President-elect Biden has added retired four-star General Lloyd Austin to his list of potential nominees for Secretary of Defense. Gen. Austin would be the first African American Secretary of Defense.

  • Michèle Flournoy is still considered to be a frontrunner.

Other potential nominees include former Deputy Secretary of Energy and National Security Council Member Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

·    Mary Nichols, Chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), is considered the frontrunner to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, Washington Governor Jay Inslee has also been under consideration.

·    Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), former Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor and Montana Governor Steve Bullock are in contention to be Secretary of the Interior. Rep. Haaland, who has received strong backing from Congress and outside groups, would be the first Native American Secretary of the Interior.

·    Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and former New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, among others, are being considered for Secretary of Transportation.

·    Former Director of the NEC Jeff Zients and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy are under consideration to lead President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 efforts, a position that could be referred to as “COVID czar”.

·    Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) are being considered to lead the Department of Agriculture.

  • Rep. Fudge has received strong backing from House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), who has argued the department should focus more on hunger.

·    Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms are reportedly being discussed for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

·    Michael Morell, former Acting Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director is reportedly one of the frontrunners to lead the CIA under the Biden Administration

  • Tom Donilon, a former Obama National Security Adviser, was also considered a frontrunner but has since indicated that he wishes to remain in the private sector.
  • Other people being considered include Sue Gordon, former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Vincent Stewart, a retired Lieutenant General who previously led the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), who previously served in the CIA and as a White House National Security Aide.


–    Published reports indicate that a bipartisan group of Senators are pushing to restart COVID-19 relief negotiations. The group reportedly consists of Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Warner (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

·    It is unclear how much success these Senators will have in pushing their respective leadership and head negotiators, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to compromise. However, the bipartisan nature of the group is encouraging.

–    Moderna will file for a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization (EUA) today. Moderna expects to have 20M vaccine does by the end of the year and plans to manufacture an additional 500M to 1B doses in 2021.

·    Moderna would be the second company, along with Pfizer, to apply for an EUA which, if approved, would allow for potentially two vaccines to be in distribution in the U.S. by the end of the year.



–    Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) threatened retaliation against France last week if the French government implements digital tax regulations against U.S. technology companies. The announcement came after the French government reportedly sent U.S. tech companies a notice for 2020 tax down payments.

·    The Trump Administration has also threatened to increase tariffs on French goods already in place.

·    As a reminder, global digital tax negotiations and negotiations between the U.S. and the European Union on digital taxation have stalled.

–    The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold an Executive Session Wednesday, December 2 to consider:

·    Mr. Greg Autry to be Chief Financial Officer of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

·    Mr. Daniel Huff to be Assistant Secretary of the Department of Commerce

·    Mr. Nathan Simington to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

–    The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an Executive Business Meeting Thursday, December 3 to consider Chairman Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) Online Content Policy Modernization Act (S. 4632). As reminder, the legislation has been on the schedule for multiple markups previously but has yet to be considered by the committee.


–    Originally expected to return to session today, the House will now return Wednesday with last votes expected Friday for this week. However, Members are being asked to remain in Washington, D.C. over the weekend as the House may seek to conclude its work for 2020 by as early as December 7. The House is currently scheduled to remain in session until next Thursday, December 10.

·    As a reminder, multiple bills and legislative packages remain outstanding, including the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), government funding (which currently expires December 11), the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), and potential additional COVID-19 relief/stimulus.


–    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working with airlines to aid in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

·    The FAA has allowed United Airlines to carry five times the amount of dry ice normally allowed on board to assist with transportation of the Pfizer vaccine candidate which must be stored at extremely low temperatures. United has begun operating charter flights to move vaccine doses into position for quick distribution once it is approved by the FDA.

·    American Airlines has also begun conducting trial flights between Miami and South America to prepare to ship vaccine doses.

·    Other delivery services, including FedEx, UPS, and DHL, are prepared to support the delivery of vaccines via truck and plane in reusable containers that include dry ice and are able to maintain the necessary temperatures to preserve the vaccine. Most recently, Pfizer announced they will use the three delivery services.

–    The Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized a rule on Friday that narrows the authority given to aviation consumer advocates. The rule codifies the definitions for unfair and deceptive practices by airlines and ticket agents.

–    The EPA is not expected to meet today’s deadline to issue next year’s biofuel blending requirements as part of the Renewable Fuel Standard. If the EPA does not issue these requirements before President-elect Biden takes office, his new EPA leadership will have to scramble to issue the requirements as well as resolve 41 requests for exemptions from small refiners who have struggled due to the pandemic.

–    The White House extended the deadline for ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, to reach a deal with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) that satisfies the Administration’s national security concerns with the app. The deadline is now December 4.

–    The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments from the FCC on loosened media ownership rules on January 19, one day before President-elect Biden is inaugurated. The argument is over a rollback that relaxed restrictions on ownership of multiple television stations in the same market and multiple kinds of media entities.

·    The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated much of the rollback which elevated the case to the Supreme Court.

–    The Federal Reserve announced that it will extend its backstop lending programs to stabilize short-term funding markets in response to COVID-19. The programs, which were originally set to expire on December 31, have been extended to March 31.

·    The extensions apply to the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, Primary Dealer Credit Facility, and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Liquidity Facility.

·    However, these extensions do not apply to the lending programs that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin previously announced he would not extend. These programs affect corporate and municipal debt and loans to small businesses and nonprofits. They are set to expire on December 31.

–    FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by Donald Trump in January 2017, announced he would be stepping down from the agency on January 20, 2021 (President-elect Biden’s inauguration date). The stepping-down of an FCC Chairman after a change in administration is traditional.

Other News

–    Delta Airlines plans to launch its first air bridge that would eliminate the need for quarantine between Atlanta and Rome. Delta is launching the route in partnership with Italy Alitalia. Among the protocols required for passengers will be a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours of departure, rapid tests at both Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Rome-Fiumicino International Airport and a rapid test in Rome before returning to the U.S. Trial flights on the route are expected to begin December 19.

–    State and local governments continue to struggle amid revenue losses due to COVID-19. The most recent example is the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), which may have to shut down a large number of transportation and infrastructure projects due to projections it could lose $500-$600M of mostly gas tax revenue. PennDOT has requested $600M in emergency funding from the State Legislature.

–    The United Kingdom announced a plan on Friday to develop new competition rules for tech companies such as Google and Facebook. The new rules are in response to a report from the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority that argued these companies are becoming too dominant. 

·    The rules are expected to be developed throughout next year and implemented in 2022. –    In a filing on Friday, Google argued that two of its lawyers should have access to sensitive information of competitors such as Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Microsoft and Oracle as part of the lawsuit the Department of Justice has brought against Google. The competitors had previously requested that Judge Amit Mehta, who is overseeing the case, limit access to the information to not provide Google with a competitive advantage. The Department of Justice and Google will appear before Judge Mehta on Wednesday to discuss access to the information.

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