COVID-19 Federal Update 4-14-20

April 14, 2020

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday: 22,109, Tuesday, 23,649


Needs for Coronavirus Relief bill #4

Boost to Student Borrower Protections Sought: As many as 9 million student borrowers have federal loans not covered by protections in the latest stimulus, according to a letter to top lawmakers yesterday by the American Federation of Teachers, consumer advocates, and industry groups. The stimulus law provides automatic forbearance and waives interest on federally held student loans for six months. The letter urges lawmakers to expand those benefits to borrowers with Perkins loans or Federal Family Education Loan Program loans even if their debt is owned by colleges or banks, Andrew Kreighbaum reports.


States Seek health Funds in Stimulus: Congress is under mounting pressure to provide a fresh infusion of funds to a faltering economy, but the prospect for Republicans and Democrats to strike a quick deal were clouded by significant differences and little sign of progress in negotiations.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked Congress for “urgent action” to replenish a $349 billion small-business relief program, which may run out within days. The nation’s governors, meanwhile, are demanding lawmakers provide half a trillion dollars in economic aid to plug revenue gaps to assist with treatment for Covid-19 and response efforts.


Democratic leaders yesterday reiterated their demands for changes to the small business loan program, as well as for an additional $250 billion in relief to states and hospitals in whatever Congress does next.  “Small businesses, hospitals, frontline workers and state and local governments across the country are struggling to keep up with this national crisis,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a joint statement. “They need more help from the federal government and they need it fast.”

Lawmakers are still scattered across the country, so getting something done this week would likely require unanimous consent in Congress—a tall order in any event and harder still with party leaders themselves nowhere near agreement.


House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) advised lawmakers yesterday that the chamber isn’t expected to meet prior to May 4, but that if the House is “required to take action on critical legislation related to the coronavirus response,” members will be given “sufficient notice” to return to Washington.  President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) want to give the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program a $250 billion infusion and leave other issues for another stimulus package to be negotiated later. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.


Implementation of CARES Act

Mnuchin Says Some Aid Coming Tomorrow: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said 80 million taxpayers should receive coronavirus relief payments by tomorrow and that the government is accelerating assistance to businesses as well. Mnuchin announced the payments yesterday at the White House news conference, along with progress the Small Business Administration has made in processing loans from the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program. Both relief programs were created in the $2.2 trillion stimulus Trump signed last month. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.


The Treasury Department and IRS are facing increasing pressure to ensure that debt collectors don’t get access to relief checks. Democratic attorneys general from 26 states sent a letter yesterday to Mnuchin asking him to designate relief checks under the new stimulus law as exempt from garnishments, effectively cordoning them off from private debt collectors. Read more from Evan Weinberger. Mnuchin offered reassurances yesterday on the stability of the U.S. mortgage market amid the coronavirus pandemic and the squeeze it has put on mortgage servicers. “We’re going to make sure that the market functions properly,” he told reporters at a White House briefing. He added that the Treasury Department has had discussions with the Federal Housing Finance Agency about the mortgage market. “We have all the appropriate people on it,” he said. “We’re very aware of the issue.” Read more from Saleha Mohsin and Jennifer Jacobs.


Democrats Look to Rein in Trump Spending Plans: House Democrats plan to introduce a bill that would require the Justice Department to investigate when watchdogs say officials have broken the law on government spending, and could lead to employees being fired, the head of the House Budget Committee said.  Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) is “pretty close” to finalizing the legislative language of a bill that would broadly rein in the president’s flexibility with funds appropriated by Congress, the committee chairman said. The use of funds by the president is a major concern for Democrats after the Trump administration withheld aid for Ukraine and transferred military funds to build more fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border. The issue gained added urgency since Trump signed into law trillions of dollars in tax and spending measures to respond to the coronavirus. “The fundamental purpose of the legislation is to reassert Congress’s power of the purse,” Yarmuth said in a phone interview yesterday. Read more from Jack Fitzpatrick.


Democrats Criticize Aid Disbursement: Congressional Democrats aren’t pleased at the “speed and manner” in which the Trump administration has been dispersing the $100 billion emergency fund created under the CARES Act (Public Law 116-136) for hospitals and other health-care providers, Alex Ruoff reports.  On a caucus conference call yesterday, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the administration had released $30 billion in funds last week but reminded his colleagues it was a figure based on Medicare payouts from the year before, according to a readout of the meeting from senior Democratic aides. Some hospital groups have complained that sending out the payments based on Medicare payouts leaves out hospitals that largely serve those covered by Medicaid, who tend to be much poorer.  Democrats also discussed the need to have demographic and racial data on Covid-19 cases, according to the aides.  America’s Essential Hospitals also outlined similar concerns about the emergency funding in a letter yesterday to Congressional leaders, and gave recommendations for how to target funds. Read the letter here.

In the Senate, Democratic leaders are pushing the head of HHS to send out the emergency funds in a “more targeted manner” and said they were also worried how the administration was using the money.  The lawmakers asked Secretary Alex Azar in a letter to give the funds to the “hardest-hit” providers on the frontlines of the outbreak. They also condemned the administration’s decision to use the money to pay for uncompensated care instead of finding other ways to extend insurance to more Americans.  The letter was signed by Schumer, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).



Health Care


Subsidies for COBRA Sought: As stimulus talks continue, Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) yesterday told House leaders that they should ensure that the next package includes measures to help families “affordably maintain access to their existing health coverage in the face of skyrocketing job losses.” Because many people have health insurance coverage through an employer, “the current economic downturn could result in untold numbers of families losing access to critical health services at the worst possible time,” he wrote in a letter to Pelosi, Alex Ruoff reports.


Special Enrollment Period for ACA Plans: Democratic lawmakers urged the Trump administration in a letter yesterday “to immediately establish” a special enrollment period to get health coverage from the Affordable Care Act marketplace during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a statement. They called on the White House “to use all administrative tools available to assist the millions affected by the coronavirus pandemic in accessing health insurance coverage, including through expanded awareness of the existing special enrollment periods for those who lose their job-based health coverage.” Read their letter here.


Hospitals Get Upper Hand in Payment Rate Talks: Insurers will have a tough time negotiating for lower payment rates from hospitals and other health-care providers on the front lines of the pandemic. Hospitals and doctors around the country have been working to battle the disease, oftentimes without adequate equipment and protective gear. They also face financial hardship from canceling elective surgeries and other procedures to free up space for Covid-19 patients. Those factors give providers more leverage as they negotiate deals over prices they charge insurance companies for medical services, analysts say. Read more from Sara Hansard.


FCC Begins Virus Telehealth Push: Health providers as of yesterday can apply for $200 million in telehealth funds to fight the coronavirus pandemic, even as they criticize eligibility restrictions and wrestle to comply with regulations for using the aid. The eligibility and regulatory questions highlight challenges the government faces in quickly distributing aid intended to fund broadband-connected devices such as video apps that allow long-distance consultations and pulse oximeters that measure blood oxygen levels. Jon Reid and Ayanna Alexander have more.


Medicare Program Could See Exodus: More than half of health-care provider groups that participate in a Medicare cost-savings program will likely quit that program out of fear they’ll suffer financial losses due to the virus, according to an organization that represents them. Fifty-six percent of 226 accountable care organizations responding to a survey by the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations said they that are likely to drop out, according to a report released yesterday. Read more from Sara Hansard.


Immigrants Seen as Untapped Pool to Fight Virus: There’s one way hospitals across the U.S. could meet the surging need for more medical professionals to fight the coronavirus: tapping the pool of immigrants and refugees with foreign medical training. Thousands of people who come to the country through family reunification, seeking asylum, or as a refugee feel pressure to immediately find work, and jobs in their chosen medical field aren’t an option because of the time and cost it would take to meet U.S. licensing standards. But as the virus cripples some states’ health-care systems, providers are seeking faster ways to respond. Genevieve Douglas has more.


Saliva Test Wins FDA Approval: A device that tests patients for Covid-19 using saliva instead of the traditional swab technique gained FDA approval, Spectrum Solutions and its partner Rutgers University announced yesterday. Widespread testing has been hindered in part because the swab needed for traditional virus testing is in short supply. The new saliva test created by Spectrum Solutions and a branch of Rutgers’ Human Genetics Institute doesn’t require swabs. Patients spit in the tube and close it, which releases a preservation solution that guards the components needed to test for the virus. Read more from Jacquie Lee.  Earlier yesterday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said a lack of universal testing means it could be summer or fall before the city can start returning to normal, in part because the city has a shortage of testing swabs. “This is the crucial need if we’re going to transcend to the next level,” de Blasio said at a daily virus briefing, Henry Goldman reports.



‘Essential’ Label Stirs Business Frenzy: Pet stores are considered essential. So are landscapers. Hair salons aren’t. Neither are shops that sell books or clothes.  The Trump administration’s labeling of industries considered “essential” is quickly creating winners and losers as coronavirus shuts down swaths of the economy. It’s also setting off a lobbying frenzy among industries — from battery makers to poultry producers — angling to join the ranks of hospitals, supermarkets, and other businesses whose continued operation has been deemed necessary.  But because the designation by the Department of Homeland Security is advisory only, it’s left a patchwork of rules from state to state. California has adopted the federal recommendations entirely, protecting whole sectors from the consequences of lengthy closings. Other state and local governments have used advisory as a guide and added their own orders — leading to rules that vary by border, as some such as Pennsylvania opt to keep liquor stores closed while others consider them essential. Read more from Ari Natter.


Virus Revives Deregulation Debate: A new panel intended to advise the White House on strategies for nursing the decimated U.S. economy back to health is poised to renew a debate over deregulation, with proponents touting potential large-scale benefits for businesses and critics calling rule rollbacks the wrong solution. Proposals to immediately cut rules that impose costs, or significantly trim health care, telecommunications, and financial regulations, were made by conservative groups last week as reports of the new task force surfaced. Trump is expected to unveil the task force’s membership today. Cheryl Bolen has more.



Research Efforts, Testing and Treatments


Plan to Reopen Hinges on Testing: President Donald Trump’s push to reopen the world’s largest economy hinges on a breakthrough that has so far eluded him: ratcheting up testing capacity to stave off another wave of coronavirus. Trump is anxious to end economy-crushing social distancing practices that have curbed the spread of the illness. He declared yesterday that he has “total” authority to reopen the country, a claim disputed by legal experts and some lawmakers, while Democratic governors on each coast formed alliances to chart their own paths. The president will announce a council of doctors and business people today that will advise him on restoring the U.S. economy, which little more than a month ago was his top argument for re-election in November.

But there are ample warning signs that Trump’s haste to move past the coronavirus could lead him into a trap: A premature abandonment of the social-distancing behaviors that the government’s top medical experts say have stabilized the rate of U.S. infections, leading to a new outbreak and further economic damage.


Key to avoiding a second round of infections, death and social distancing is robust testing for the virus, so that public health authorities can quickly identify any new flare-ups and contain them before they spread. While the U.S. has recently achieved the capacity to test more than 100,000 people a day, the country is still struggling with shortages of testing materials as well as the manpower necessary to administer the tests and process them. Read more from Josh Wingrove and Emma Court.


Trump Defends His Coronavirus Record: Trump yesterday declared “everything we did was right” and angrily denounced media reports suggesting his administration had failed to adequately ramp up coronavirus testing or the production of medical supplies in a testy press conference at the White House.  Trump, who said he was frustrated by the reports questioning his administration’s response to the crisis that has left more than 20,000 Americans dead and millions unemployed, played a campaign-style video defending his record and highlighting instances where media and medical analysts downplayed the threat posed by the coronavirus. Read more from Justin Sink.


Governors Join to Plan for Reopening: Some of the nation’s most prominent governors said they would form regional alliances to coordinate reopening schools and businesses after the coronavirus pandemic subsides, setting up a potential clash with the president, who claims that he alone has that authority. Six states in the Northeast, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said they would jointly develop a plan to reopen schools and businesses after the outbreak subsides. On the West Coast, California, Washington and Oregon said they would join together on their own framework.


With health data suggesting that the spread of the coronavirus may be nearing a plateau in the U.S., public officials are under growing pressure to chart a path back to normality. The longer the statewide lockdowns last, the more economic hardship there will be. But dropping stay-at-home restrictions too soon may risk a second wave of infections. Christian Berthelsen and Keshia Clukey have more.


Feds Order 64K Ventilators: Seven manufacturers have received contracts from the U.S. government worth a total of $1.43 billion to supply over 64,000 ventilators as part of the nation’s response to the coronavirus, the Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday. General Electric, Hamilton, Hill-Rom, Medtronic, ResMed, Vyaire, and Zoll will deliver the equipment over the next three months, the department said. The contracts will increase the national stockpile and help states that say they don’t have enough ventilators for all the Covid-19 patients who need one. Read more from Shira Stein.


NJ Issues Guide on Which Patients Should Get Ventilators: New Jersey has sent guidance to hospitals on how to allocate scarce ventilators among gravely ill patients stricken with the new coronavirus. Medical professionals should take into account patients’ likelihood of surviving until discharge and any other conditions that may limit life expectancy. Those medical objectives, rather than factors such as age and race, should determine the need to assign ventilators to patients, according to Governor Phil Murphy (D). “No discrimination of any kind,” he said. Read more from Elise Young.


Privacy of Apple’s Covid-19 Tools: Apple responded to Senate Democrats who sent a letter to CEO Tim Cook with questions related to the privacy of the iPhone maker’s Covid-19 screening tools. In a letter dated Friday, Apple said the tools “were built to protect the privacy and security of users’ data.” The company also answered questions related to data sharing, deals with government agencies, and the accessibility of the tools. The letter refers to screening tools launched in March that help users determine if they should quarant ine or seek medical help, not Apple and Google’s new partnership for contact tracing.  Apple said it “drew upon its engineering and clinical resources to help develop a new Covid-19 website and Covid-19 app” at the request of HHS and outlined the privacy protections in its agreement with the agency. Apple said the tools, which are available as an app and on the web, are not subject to HIPAA guidelines and said it doesn’t collect any personal data from individuals. Read more from Mark Gurman and Rebbeca Kern.


Homeland Security Panel Begins Virus Probe: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee launched an investigation into the origin of and the government response to the coronavirus pandemic, Politico reports, citing an interview with Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). The probe will look into why the federal national stockpile wasn’t better prepared, why pharmaceutical ingredients and medical devices are manufactured abroad, the World Health Organization’s response, and how the virus initially spread, Politico reports.





Mnuchin Holds Firm on Rescue Repayment: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is not budging on strict repayment guidelines for airlines wanting taxpayer aid, according to people familiar with the matter, dashing the industry’s hopes for leniency.  U.S. carriers seeking to negotiate payback demands on federal funding for payroll assistance now see very little room for movement with Treasury officials, said the people, who asked for anonymity to discuss private negotiations.   Mnuchin at a White House briefing last night said he has spoken to nearly all the airlines. “Very quickly decisions coming out,” he said.  Treasury is facing pressure to start doling out money soon to an airline industry losing billions of dollars and facing a drop-off in passengers of 95%. U.S. airline stocks fell, out-pacing a decline in the broader market and marking the first drop since last week’s rebound.  The agency said it has received 230 applications for aid from passenger carriers of all sizes. It’s working with 12 that would get more — in some cases much more — than $100 million each, and is discussing what sort of terms it will require in return. Bloomberg News has more on talks and plans from specific carriers.


U.S. Push for Cargo in Passenger Cabins: U.S. air-safety regulators, seeking to make it easier for airlines to ramp up transportation of cargo aimed at combating the pandemic, are poised to allow such shipments in the cabins of passenger planes, according to people familiar with the issue. The new guidance is slated to be issued in the coming days, they said, and is expected to resemble earlier moves by carriers and foreign aviation authorities from Canada to Ethiopia and the Middle East. Read more from Andy Pasztor.


Seeking Help from Drones: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking self-driving car companies to submit project ideas that could help with the coronavirus crisis, according to a letter from acting Administrator James Owens. The agency is willing to work with the companies to implement the projects, so long as they are safe.


Virus Kicks an Already Down Postal Service: Across shut-down communities nationwide, Americans have been reminded of the role the U.S. Postal Service plays in their life: It’s perhaps the nation’s oldest essential service. It’s ironic that just as the Postal Service is again proving crucial, its future has never seemed more tenuous, Devin Leonard reports.  Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) warned USPS might run out of cash by June and sought to include $25 billion in aid in the most recent congressional stimulus bill. But the White House would only allow the USPS to borrow an additional $10 billion to cover its Covid-19-related shortfall at the direct order of President Donald Trump, according to a senior administration official.  Robert Duncan, chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors and a Trump appointee, cautioned that the loan wouldn’t be enough to stave off “a liquidity crisis” at the agency. Now attention turns to the next stimulus bill as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) talks about including as much as $4 billion to increase voting by mail in the November presidential election.


Global Food Shipments Paralyzed by Port Problems: The port backups that have paralyzed food shipments around the world for weeks aren’t getting much better. In fact, in some places, they’re getting worse. Lockdown measures, limited hours of operation and lack of workers are contributing to the bottleneck. Read more from Jen Skerritt, Leslie Patton and Emele Onu.


Ford To Produce Gowns, Testing Kits: Ford will produce 100,000 or more air-purifying respirators starting today at a Michigan factory staffed by about 90 paid volunteer workers represented by the United Auto Workers, according to a statement. The automaker says it’s leading an effort to mass-produce reusable gowns for health-care workers and Covid-19 test kits with airbag supplier Joyson Safety Systems and Thermo Fischer Scientific, respectively. Read more from Keith Naughton.


Building Resilient Infrastructure: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting comments for its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Policy that replaces the existing grant program. Under the new program, after each major disaster FEMA can set aside 6% percent of recovery funding from the Disaster Relief Fund into the National Public Infrastructure Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund. FEMA will determine what portion of the fund will be available for the next year’s grant cycle for projects that strengthen mitigation capabilities. Comments are due May 11.


U.S. Disaster Response Network Is Stretched Thin: Managers of both nonprofit and government agencies that respond to disasters see this year shaping up to be a stress test of a system that is bound to fail. Because of Covid-19, the number of major disaster declarations that FEMA is managing has jumped to 97 as of April 10 from 43 at the beginning of March. Even though the U.S. has a national emergency agency, it is not really designed to handle an emergency that is national in scope. FEMA is designed to handle, at most, a few state-by-state disasters at a time. Leslie Kaufman relates the shortfalls of federal disaster response.


Study Finds 230,000 U.S. Bridges Need Repair: Infrastructure investment should be back on the table once policymakers shift their focus from coronavirus rescue efforts to economic recovery, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). “Economic recovery from coronavirus begins with strategic road and bridge improvements,” ARTBA President Dave Bauer said. “Increased transportation investments support direct job creation and retention, while putting in place capital assets that will enhance U.S. productivity for decades to come.” The organization released a report yesterday on the condition of U.S. bridges and found more than 230,000 need major repair work or should be replaced at a cost of almost $164 billion, based on Federal Highway Administration data.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said that while the analysis was sobering, it wasn’t “all that surprising.”  “My Moving Forward Framework released earlier this year is a launchpad for making transformational investments to not only make our bridges and other infrastructure smarter, safer, and made to last, but also to create millions of jobs and support American manufacturing, something that will be badly-needed in the coming months as we deal with the economic fall-out of COVID-19,” DeFazaio said in a statement.


Lawmakers Weigh In on Ligado’s Airwaves Plan: DeFazio and House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness Chairman John Garamendi (D-Calif.) are weighing in on Ligado Networks’ request to make heavier use of the company’s airwaves and operate in L-Band, a region of spectrum near the Defense Department’s GPS system. In a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao the lawmakers expressed their “strong concerns about a decision pending at the Federal Communications Commission which could jeopardize not only the development of a back-up signal to GPS, but GPS itself.” They also requested a series of documents, giving a significantly shorter timeline than usual, C4ISR Net reports.


Fear of Car-Price Collapse Grips Auto Industry: The auto industry — already fretting lengthy factory shutdowns and depressed new-vehicle demand — is starting to sound the alarm about a potential used-car price collapse that could have far-reaching consequences for manufacturers, lenders and rental companies.  The grave concern market watchers have is that vehicles already are starting to pile up at places where buyers and sellers make and take bids on cars and trucks — and that this imbalance will last for months. If that fear is realized and prices plummet, it will be detrimental to automakers and their in-house lending units, which likely will have to write down the value of lease contracts that had assumed vehicles would retain greater value. Rental-car companies also will get less money from selling down their fleet of vehicles. Read more from David Welch and Keith Naughton.


Campaign Trail


Trump Re-Election Imperiled as Coronavirus Hits Key States:  Some battleground states crucial to Trump’s political future are being particularly hard hit by the coronavirus crisis, a development that could decimate his central argument for re-election at a critical moment. The booming economy Trump hoped to ride to a second term may be collapsing – with some forecasting a national unemployment rate as high as 30% – and the trifecta of states that delivered him the presidency will likely bear the brunt. Michigan, which Trump won in 2016 by 10,704 votes, now ranks just behind New York and New Jersey in the number of coronavirus deaths, with 1,479 fatalities as of yesterday. Pennsylvania, which has the fourth-largest number of coronavirus cases, ranked first in the nation in percentage of new unemployment claims in the last two weeks of March. He carried the Keystone State by 44,292 votes in 2016. Franklin & Marshall College professor Terry Madonna, a veteran political analyst, said Pennsylvania will be one of the most fiercely contested states in November and much will depend on Trump’s ability to restart the economy. Read more from Gregory Korte and Matthew Boesler.


Biden Wins Last Week’s Wisconsin Primary: Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, won the Wisconsin primary nearly a week after the state held controversial elections that forced voters to defy a stay-at-home order to cast their ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. Biden had 63.9% of the vote, with two-thirds of precincts reporting. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who dropped out of the race last week and endorsed Biden yesterday, had 30.8%, Tyler Pager reports. Beyond the presidential primary, voters were closely watching the race for a state Supreme Court seat, where Daniel Kelly, a conservative incumbent justice who was endorsed by Trump, was defeated by a liberal challenger, Jill Karofsky. She will serve on the court as it decides on a Republican push to purge more than 200,000 people from voter rolls before the November election in a state Trump won by just 0.77% in 2016.  Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said Karofsky’s victory came despite Republican attempts at “voter suppression” during a public health emergency. The result, Perez said, “speaks to Democrats’ incredible enthusiasm advantage and should terrify Donald Trump and every other Wisconsin Republican.”


Other News Stories


Census Delay Planned by Commerce: The once-per-decade U.S. census will be delayed by at least three months, the Commerce Department told Congress yesterday, as the coronavirus pandemic hinders in-person data collection from households. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced field operations will be delayed until June 1, and that in turn would delay completion of the count until Oct. 31. Separately, he also asked Congress to grant his department a 120-day extension of statutory deadlines as a result of the outbreak. This would push back the delivery of data used to determine state redistricting, the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the distribution of federal tax revenue to the states. Read more from Erik Wasson.


Reading the Justices Becomes Difficult With Phone Arguments: The Supreme Court’s plan to hold its first-ever arguments by phone next month introduces special challenges for those presenting their cases, including gauging the full reactions of the justices, high court advocates said. “We’re in a new frontier here,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who will argue remotely in an election case on behalf of the state. While lawyers are thankful that the court is showing historic flexibility amid the coronavirus pandemic and moving forward with their cases beginning May 4, they wonder how things will ultimately work via phone. Read more from Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson and Jordan S. Rubin.


DOD Networks Said at Risk: A government watchdog warned that the Defense Department failed to adequately protect its computer and information systems from “common and pervasive” cybersecurity threats, while the Pentagon on the same day announced a major increase in its capacity for remote work during the pandemic. Cybersecurity initiatives at the Pentagon are “incomplete—or their status is unknown because no one is in charge or reporting on progress,” the Government Accountability Office said yesterday in a summary of a report to Congress called “DOD Needs to Take Decisive Actions to Improve Cyber Hygiene.” Read more from Alyza Sebenius.


Antitrust Enforcers Watch for Collusion: Corporate efforts to suppress wages or inhibit job mobility for workers on the front line of the pandemic will face legal action by the government, the nation’s top antitrust enforcers said. In a joint statement released yesterday, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission said that they are “on watch” for potentially anti-competitive conduct by recruiters, staffing agencies, and employers who engage in collusion or other illegal activity that distorts the labor market. Victoria Graham has more.


North Korea Fires Missile Barrage Ahead of South Korea Election: North Korea fired multiple missiles from its eastern coast today, in a show of military might ahead of parliamentary elections in South Korea. The projectiles were fired this morning from sites near Munchon and neighboring Wonsan on the east coast, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense said in a statement. North Korea launched short-range cruise missiles from Munchon that flew more than 150 kilometers (90 miles), the ministry said, while fighter jets conducted exercises with air-to- surf ace rockets.  The exercise comes on the eve of parliamentary elections in South Korea, a vote that will shape the remaining tenure of President Moon Jae-in. The South Korean leader, who was elected in 2017 on a pledge to improve ties with North Korea, has had his efforts frustrated by renewed tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. Read more from Jihye Lee and Shinhye Kang.


Virus-Related Abortion Ban Blocked: Alabama officials can’t enforce a blanket ban on abortion services under a state emergency order designed to encourage social distancing and save medical supplies during the pandemic, a federal court in the state ruled. A ban on abortion procedures except those necessary to save the mother’s life would substantially burden women’s right to abortions without providing enough benefits to justify a ban, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama decided yesterday. Prohibiting or postponing abortions until the emergency order’s expiration date of April 30 would make “a lawful abortion literally impossible” for some women, it said. Mary Anne Pazanowski has more.


Meanwhile, Arkansas abortion providers are fighting back in federal court against the state’s push to ban surgical abortions under an executive order declaring an emergency over the coronavirus. Little Rock Family Planning Services and physician Thomas Tvedten yesterday asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas for permission to supplement a complaint challenging state laws restricting abortion, Pazanowski reports.


Texas abortion clinics can once again offer pill-induced abortions to all patients as well as surgical procedures to women whose pregnancies will be too far advanced by the time the governor’s emergency public-health decree expires, a federal appeals court said late Monday. The New Orleans appeals court unexpectedly reversed course and denied Texas’s second bid to overturn an Austin judge’s order blocking the state’s directive banning nonessential medical procedures in order to conserve scarce supplies to treat coronavirus patients. Last week, the appeals court twice sided with Texas before fully analyzing the clinics’ arguments. Read more from Laurel Brubaker Calkins.

ACA ‘Sabotage’ Case Partially Proceeds: A group of U.S. cities can proceed on their claim that the Trump administration violated federal procedural law when it adopted rules gutting various parts of the Affordable Care Act, a federal court in Maryland ruled. Dismissal of the Administrative Procedure Act claims would be premature given the procedural posture of the lawsuit, and the fact that the administrative record surrounding the rules’ adoption hasn’t yet been filed, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland said. But the cities’ argument that Trump violated the Constitution’s “take care” clause by deliberately “sabotaging” the ACA may not move forward, the court said, Mary Anne Pazanowski reports


Today on the Hill


White House

  • 10:00 am – In-House Pool Call Time
  • 11:30 am – Trump participates in a meeting with recovered COVID-19 patients
  • 2:00 pm – Trump receives his intelligence briefing
  • 3:30 pm – Trump participates in a meeting with Healthcare Executives
  • 5:00 pm – Members of the Coronavirus Task Force hold a press briefing


  • On recess and scheduled to return April 20th


  • The House will meet today at 10 am in pro forma session
  • On recess  – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer yesterday said that the House is not expected to meet prior to May 4th.  However if lawmakers need to take action on legislation they will be given sufficient notice to return to Washington.



Legislation Introduced Yesterday


  1. 1. R.6479— 116th Congress (2019-2020)To require air carriers receiving Federal loans under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to limit compensation paid to each executive to the amount of such executive’s 2019 salary until such loans are repaid, and for other purposes.

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