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December 2, 2020

Transition News

    President-elect Biden interviewed Michele Flournoy today, who is widely believed to be the top candidate for Secretary of Defense, despite facing increased opposition due to her policy position and ties to the defense industry.

·    As we have previously reported, other candidates for Secretary of Defense include former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and retired Gen. Lloyd Austin.

–    Despite receiving support from former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s potential nomination to be Secretary of Transportation is facing increasing opposition from progressives.

·    Emanuel has been publicly opposed by the Transportation Workers Union of America, the Association of Flight Attendants, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

–    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) voiced his support for Mary Nichols to be President-elect Biden’s Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nichols is the current Chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which sets many of the state’s regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

·    Nichols previously served as Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation during the Clinton Administration.


–    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) issued a joint statement voicing their support of the bipartisan $908B COVID-19 relief package, urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to use it as a basis for negotiations. In the statement, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer also referenced a separate offer they made to Leader McConnell and Leader McCarthy, in addition to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Monday, details of which have not been publicly released.

·    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) also cited conversations with Majority Leader McConnell and that they agree on the need to pass COVID-19 relief as soon as next week.

·    Majority Leader McConnell seems committed to his targeted package and Secretary Mnuchin said that President Trump would sign that bill.

–    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) amended its COVID-19 quarantine guidelines to say that quarantine can end after ten days if the person has not developed any symptoms or seven days if the person is asymptomatic and tested negative for COVID-19.

·    However, the CDC still states that quarantining for 14 days is “the best way to reduce the risk of spreading [COVID]-19.”

·    The CDC also recommended that holiday travel be postponed after the increased amount of travel around Thanksgiving, which will likely lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

–    Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, predicted that the U.S. could vaccinate up to 100M people by February 2021. The timing is, of course, in part dependent on when vaccines are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but that number would likely cover those most vulnerable to the virus in the U.S.

–    The United Kingdom granted emergency-use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and intends to begin distribution within days. The FDA could grant authorization for the vaccine later this month.

–    The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control released new guidelines for air travelers, which state that systematic quarantines and testing are not an “effective public health measure.” The guidelines explain that COVID-19 infection and the resulting spread is more likely to come from a country’s own population than from travelers.

·    EASA emphasized the importance of a coordinated approach across the European Union ahead of the increase in holiday travel.

–    Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas urging him to work with the Canadian government to expand permitted travel across the U.S.-Canada border as COVID-19 continues to impact the two countries, specifically citing the economic impacts on border towns.

·    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday that he will not agree to lifting border restrictions until COVID-19 is under control worldwide.


General Congress

–    It appears that Congress will move forward with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week despite President Trump’s threat to veto the package if it does not fully repeal Section 230 liability protections.

·    Multiple Congressional Republicans stressed the importance of passing the NDAA for military and national security, viewing Section 230 as a separate matter to be addressed.

·    President Trump also previously threatened to veto any NDAA package that included the renaming of military bases honoring Confederate leaders.

–    Negotiations on fiscal year 2021 appropriations are facing complications from unresolved budget issues and renewed efforts for a COVID-19 relief package. A spending deal or continuing resolution must be passed by December 11 in order to avoid a government shutdown.

·    Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said that he expects a brief second continuing resolution will be necessary to provide more time to finish the omnibus package.


–    Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) was sworn into the Senate today after defeating Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ). The Senate composition for the remainder of this Congress is now 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats.

–    The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held an Executive Session today to consider the nominations of Greg Autry to be the Chief Financial Officer of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Daniel Huff to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce, and Nathan Simington to be a Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The three nominations were all reported favorably by 14-12 roll call votes along party lines. Our coverage of the Executive Session is attached.

·    Simington’s nomination continued to draw opposition from Committee Democrats. Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) expressed their concern over Simington’s independence, especially in relation to his commitment to advancing President Trump’s Section 230 agenda through FCC regulation and his previous misrepresentation of his involvement in Section 230 rules while at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

·    Sen. Blumenthal renewed his commitment to blocking Simington’s nomination.

–    Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) accused Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) of delaying the renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). According to Grassley, Democrats are delaying the renewal, which expires at the end of the year, in order to add new criteria such as human rights, anti-corruption, labor, and the environment.

·    A coalition of business groups sent a letter to Congress urging GSP renewal before the end of the year and ensuring the companies’ commitment to improving GSP when there is not such a tight deadline. The letter is attached.

–    Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) led a bipartisan letter to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer opposing the re-imposition of a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provision that would raise taxes on companies operating in Free Trade Zones (FTZ), specifically auto manufacturers.

·    The letter stated that the provision would “prevent the nearly 500,000 workers and their employers operating on U.S. soil in FTZs from receiving the same reduced tariff benefits as their counterparts in Canada and Mexico.”

–    The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (S. 4897) in a 16-5 vote. The bill aims to enhance the nuclear energy industry by creating financial credits through 2026 for nuclear reactors that may close, developing advanced nuclear technologies, and creating a national uranium reserve.

·    The bill was opposed by Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

–    Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Screening Partnership Reform Act (S. 4937) to amend the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) Screening Partnership Program. According to a press release, the bill would:

·    Require TSA to include total cost to the federal government in the cost estimation process.

·    Provide certainty for airport operators in TSA’s process of selecting airport applications.

·    Allow airport operators to participate in selecting private screening companies.

·    Allow private screening companies to conduct training and certification on-site.

·    Encourage private screening companies to submit recommendations on how to improve screening processes to TSA.

–    Sen. Angus King (I-ME) introduced a bill (S. 4940) to help home healthcare workers pursue additional education and training to facilitate career advancement. As stated in a press release, the bill would provide career development funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

–    Sen. Angus King (I-ME) also introduced a bill (S. 4943) to fund expansions for home healthcare worker training programs, prioritizing rural healthcare providers. According to a press release, the bill would extend Affordable Care Act funding for the Personal and Home Care Aides State Training (PHCAST) program.


–    Majority Leader Hoyer released the House legislative schedule for 2021, the first session of the 117th Congress. The House will first convene on Sunday, January 3 and will continue to follow COVID-19 precautions.

–    The House passed multiple bills under suspension of the rules today, including the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (S. 945). This bill would remove Chinese companies that do not allow U.S. inspectors to access their audits from U.S. stock exchanges.

–    Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) announced that she will formally introduce legislation that would hold online platforms accountable for violating their own terms of service in January. Rep. Schakowsky cited the need to hold platforms to a higher standard to further safeguard elections. A draft of the bill can be found here.

–    The House Republican Steering Committee chose Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) to be Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, defeating Reps. Mike Turner (R-OH) and Rob Wittman (R-VA). Rep. Rogers is currently Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Committee.

–    Rep. Susan DelBene (D-WA) was unanimously chosen to be the Chair of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of moderate House Democrats.

–    The Republican Steering Committee also met to select Ranking Members to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Natural Resources Committee.

·    Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) was selected to be Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, over Reps. Michael Burgess (R-TX) and Bob Latta (R-OH).

·    Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) was selected over Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) for the Ranking Member position on the House Natural Resources Committee.


–    The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee expressing the view of the Trump Administration on the Senate’s fiscal year 2021 spending bills. Specifically, OMB took issue with:

·    Funding for long-distance Amtrak routes.

·    Funding for the Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program.

·    $10M for retainer payments on U.S.-flagged cable repair ships.

·    $100M in discretionary freight grants.

–    The International Trade Commission unanimously voted that wind turbine towers imported from India, Malaysia, and Spain negatively impact the U.S. wind energy industry, as they are sold under market value and subsidized.

·    The Department of Commerce will continue its investigation of these imports. Preliminary countervailing duties are expected on January 13 and antidumping duties are expected on March 29.

–    The Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized a rule to increase restrictions on service animals allowed on commercial flights. The new definition of a service animal is “a dog that is individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability,” which does not include emotional support animals.

·    Under the rule, passengers may only have two service animals and they must submit Department forms on the animal’s health, behavior, and training. Airlines may restrict service animals by size and require them to be leashed.

–    The Department of Education ordered federal student loan collectors to pause sending bills to borrowers in light of the approaching student loan relief expiration on December 31. Currently bills will be postponed until at least December 8.

·    When extending the loan relief in August, President Trump said that he would “most likely” extend the relief again at the beginning of December, though it is not clear if the White House still intends to do that.

–    As we reported yesterday, the Small Business Administration (SBA) published the lists of businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program loans after a federal court order. The lists can be found here.

–    The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 1.18M people in airports on Sunday, making it the busiest travel day since March after the 1.1M people screened on Wednesday, November 25.

Other News

–    IBM released a statement urging the Biden Administration to repeal Trump Administration tariffs on over $350B of Chinese goods in order to enhance U.S. manufacturing. IBM specifically requested “immediate, targeted relief on certain tariffs imposed under Section 301 for inputs, parts and components that support advanced manufacturing.”

–    Siemens announced that it has reduced its CO2 emissions by 54% since 2014, putting the company on track to reach its goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. In total, Siemens reduced its CO2 emissions by 1.2M metric tons and received 70% of its fiscal year 2020 energy from renewable sources.

–    The International Air Transport Association (IATA) entered the final phase of its digital passport development. The digital passport will be a single source that contains all a traveler’s COVID-19 testing and vaccine information, which will facilitate information verification and passenger confidence during international travel. –    A federal judge ruled against the Trump Administration’s attempt to limit immigration by restricting H-1B visas for high-skilled foreign workers and raising the required wages for H-1B workers. The judge found that the Administration did not allow enough time to consider changes or seek public comments, despite the attempt to use COVID-19 as a justification.

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