COVID-19 Update | Thursday, Aug. 6
August 6, 2020
The Senate is in session. The House is not. House lawmakers have been told to be available to vote on a COVID-19 relief package, subject to the call of the Speaker.
COVID-19 Package Negotiations
- Negotiations continue among the principles, but so far, they remain apart on an agreement.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will meet with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tonight, which will be the ninth meeting between the four since negotiations began.
- Chief of Staff Meadows said if an agreement is not reached by Friday, it does not make sense to continue negotiating. Meadows has been the main advocate for executive action on delayed payroll tax collection, extending the eviction moratorium, and extending enhanced unemployment benefits.
- Speaker Pelosi countered these comments by saying there was no specific deadline and that she is committed to continuing to negotiate and reach a deal.
- Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) signaled that the Senate will technically be in session next week, no votes or hearings are scheduled. Most Senators are now expected to return to their states and not return until Congress votes to pass the next package. The House is also in the same position, with recess delayed as they wait on a deal to be formulated.
- Neither chamber is expected to officially begin its August recess until additional relief legislation is passed.
- It remains unclear when Senate Majority Leader McConnell will take a more active role in the negotiations.
- Senate Minority Leader Schumer plans to continue to advocate for additional relief for transit agencies even amid Republican skepticism that transit agencies require additional relief.
- As a reminder, transit agencies have requested $32B in additional relief.
- Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) indicated that it is likely that Congress will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) before September 30, when appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 officially expire. As a reminder, the Senate has not moved any of its appropriations bills due a lack of agreement on keeping police reform and COVID-19 relief separate.
- The No TikTok on Government Devices Act, S.3455, passed the Senate by unanimous consent. The legislation, which is sponsored by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Rick Scott (R-FL) would prohibit government devices from having the TikTok app downloaded. A press release can be found here.
- The unanimous passage of this legislation in the Senate comes as TikTok faces more scrutiny from various members of the federal government and follows moves already taken by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ban the app on federal government devices due to security concerns.
- It has been reported that Microsoft is in talks to purchase the company.
- Also, H.R. 6395, the House FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed containing similar language in the last week of July.
- Sixteen Senate Republicans sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Schumer urging the clean extension of the $25B Payroll Support Program (PSP) for airlines. The letter also suggested that the Senate leaders support businesses across the aviation industry, such as airport concessionaires and manufacturers.
- Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) introduced several pieces of legislation that would increase scrutiny on the Chinese government and Chinese products. A press release on the bills can be found here.
- The WeChat No More Act, S.4452, would ban federal employees from downloading or using the Chinese messaging service WeChat on their devices.
- The Combatting Chinese Propaganda Act, S. 4457, would prohibit companies that do business in the U.S. from making public statements that reflect the propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party.
- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Climate Equity Act. The legislation would create an administrative structure within the federal government to address the climate crisis, ensure policies are founded in equity and provide justice for frontline communities. A press release on the legislation can be found here. Bill text can be found here.
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced companion legislation in the House.
- 35 House Members, led by Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Max Rose (D-NY) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf requesting information on why the federal government will no longer cover the full cost of National Guard Deployments in 47 states and territories but will continue to pay the costs in Texas and Florida.
- As a reminder, President Trump announced an extension of the National Guard deployment through the end of the year to continue to assist States with COVID-19 relief but required states to pay for 25% of the cost of deployment, except for Texas and Florida.
- Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) is the latest Member of Congress to test positive for COVID-19. Rep. Davis has been a leading voice within the Republican caucus calling on Congress to develop a more robust COVID-19 testing plan.
- Separately, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced his support for COVID-19 testing at the Capitol, saying that he will discuss this with his colleagues over the next several days.
- The Department of Labor reported that there were 1.19M new unemployment claims last week, a decline from the last two weeks of July.
- As a reminder, there are 31.3M U.S. workers who are receiving unemployment benefits.
- President Trump announced that he will sign an Executive Order that would require federal agencies to purchase essential drugs and medical supplies that were made in the United States, rather than buying from overseas companies who provide the bulk of the materials typically.
- United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer released his written responses to questions for the record from the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.
- In the questions for the record, Lighthizer said that he plans to begin trade negotiations with Japan in the next few months and that initial negotiations were delayed due to the pandemic.
- Lighthizer said that the United States and India are continuing to discuss a limited trade deal, but that India still does not meet the criteria necessary to be designated as a developing country under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).
- Lighthizer noted that he does not believe that the United States and United Kingdom will strike a deal before the November election.
- Lighthizer said that he does not believe the African Growth and Opportunity Act will be renewed once it expires in 2025.
- Lighthizer said that the Trump Administration is looking into options for reauthorization of the GSP.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new effort by the State Department, titled “Clean Network,” which would move to restrict the reach of Chinese tech influences within the U.S. The plan would seek to limit Chinese companies from freely accessing app stores, apps, cloud services, mobile carrier networks and undersea internet cables. A press release on this effort can be found here. Secretary Pompeo’s full press availability on this can be found here.
- The State Department lifted its advisory warning for U.S. citizens against travelling abroad. The advisory had been in effect since March 19, when the Department issued its highest level of travel advisory, Level 4: Do Not Travel, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Going forward, the State Department will issue country-specific travel advisories that reflect the changing COVID-19 circumstances in each country. A press release can be found here. An updated list on advisories for specific countries can be found here.
- President Trump is close to announcing a 10% tariff on aluminum imports from Canada. This move will likely spark tensions between the two governments, only a month after the U.S-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) entered into force.
- TSA announced that it awarded a $2.48M contract to Lavi Industries to quickly build 1,230 acrylic barriers for 37 U.S. airports in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, by further decreasing physical contact at TSA checkpoints. Additional contracts are expected in the fall. A press release can be found here.
- Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would award $3.3M in research, education, and training grants to universities that are a part of FAA’s Air Transportation Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE).
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to establish bidding procedures for the December auction of C-Band airwaves, which wireless carriers would use for 5G. A press release on the plans can be found here. Additionally, the FCC voted to approve Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to limit costly interstate inmate calling fees. A press release on details of Pai’s plan on the vote can be found here.
- Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, commented in an interview that he believes the nation can survive COVID-19 without another shut down if people can comply with fundamental public health measures like wearing face coverings, washing hands, and social distancing.
- The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that 121 coal-fired plants have been converted to burn other fuels between 2011-2019, 103 of which were converted to or replaced by natural gas-fired plants. This announcement illustrates the U.S.’ shift away from traditional coal-fired plants and toward natural gas. EIA’s press release can be found here.
- Federal Register Notices:
- Two Executive Orders, which we reported on earlier this week, were published in the Federal Register.
- “Aligning Federal Contracting and Hiring Practices With The Interests of American Workers,” which is focused on ensuring federal contractors are hiring American workers. It can be found here.
- “Executive Order on Improving Rural Health and Telehealth Access,” which would expand access to telehealth services after the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be found here.
- The White House’s official memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security to extend the of the use of the National Guard to respond to COVID-19, which we reported on earlier this week, was also published in the Federal Register. It can be found here.
- The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education within the Department of Education announced waivers that the Department issued within the last thirty days, in accordance with the CARES Act. The notice can be found here.
- The Institute of Education Sciences, within the Department of Education, announced a new information collection request. The deadline to submit information is October 5. The notice can be found here.
- The FAA issued a notice of a proposed airworthiness directive that would require software and design fixes, as well as updated flight crew procedures, for the Boeing 737 MAX before it can fly again. The notice can be found here.
- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a notice that the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) will hold a virtual meeting on September 23-24. The notice can be found here.
- Two Executive Orders, which we reported on earlier this week, were published in the Federal Register.
- The New York City government plans to set up checkpoints at certain entry points across the city to identify travelers who might come from states with high COVID-19 rates and mandate them to quarantine for two weeks. Travelers coming from 34 states and Puerto Rico will have to fill out a registration form with the city’s Sheriff’s Office and could face fines up to $10K if they are found in violation of their quarantine.
- Over 900 national and community organizations, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Schumer asking them to include language in the next COVID-19 relief package to extend the 2020 Census reporting deadline by four months.
- The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced that it will end some of the emergency production cuts that were implemented in the wake of COVID-19 and record low oil prices. As a reminder, these emergency production cuts came when oil prices hit record lows. The return of increased output from OPEC countries is seen as detrimental to U.S. oil producers, who continue to struggle amid the pandemic.
- A coalition of technology firms, led by the Information Technology Industry Council, sent a letter to House and Senate Armed Services Committee leadership requesting Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) education and diversity initiatives in the NDAA. The letter asks that Congress address the shortage of talent in the technology industry and help increase the diversity of students considering entering the technology industry.