COVID-19 Federal Update 4-16-20

April 16, 2020

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday: 22,109, Tuesday, 23,649, Wednesday, 26,057, Thursday, 30,985.

 

Needs for Coronavirus Relief bill #4

Democrat’s Push to Prevent Vaccine Patents: The next coronavirus package must include “anti-profiteering” language that would deny any single drug maker the exclusive right to produce a vaccine or treatment for Covid-19, four senior House Democrats said.  Democrats Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in a press conference yesterday that they’re concerned drug companies may price out many Americans if they’re given patent protections for a Covid-19 vaccine or therapeutic. “A drug that’s unaffordable is 100% ineffective,” Schakowsky said.

 

The four want to include in the next major coronavirus legislation provisions to deny any company exclusive rights to develop vaccines or medicines related to the coronavirus as well as bar “unreasonable pricing” for such pharmaceuticals and force drug makers to publicly report related research funding. Schakowsky said she’s working with House Democratic leaders on advancing their priorities. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Sanofi, along with universities around the globe, are working toward a vaccine to stop the spread of the illness. But public health experts have said one won’t likely be ready for widespread use for another year to 18 months.  House Democrats didn’t succeed in getting similar provisions included in earlier coronavirus packages, with pushback from lawmakers who fear it could reduce incentives for companies to develop a vaccine against the virus. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

 

Charitable Giving Perk May Be in Next Relief Bill: Nonprofit groups want Congress to expand the tax break individuals can get for donating to charities, citing the crucial role the entities are playing during the pandemic. Calls are building for an expanded charitable giving deduction, which mean individuals could claim the perk regardless of whether they itemize their taxes. The third relief package passed in March made a $300 deduction available for those who claim the standard deduction. But nonprofit advocates hope the next package goes further. Read more from Kaustuv Basu.

 

Supplemental Funding for CARES Act: CARES Act 2.0

Small Business Loan Talks Continue: A standoff in Congress over funding for hospitals, state and local governments that has hindered prospects of a deal to inject new funding into an overwhelmed small business loan program may be near a resolution, after staff of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) talked to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and officials yesterday.  The parties agreed to continue talks today, according to a senior Democratic aide, Laura Litvan reports.  Schumer and Mnuchin spoke earlier yesterday, amid mounting pressure on Capitol Hill to add more funds to the Paycheck Protection Program and before state governments facing a revenue crunch start slashing budgets, Litvan, Steven T. Dennis and Billy House report.

Republicans want to limit action now to adding $250 billion to the small business aid plan, a key part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus passed late last month. Democrats want an additional $250 billion for state and local governments and hospitals, changes to the small business program, more money for other loan programs that are running out of money and a boost to food stamp benefits. McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a press release last night said the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration informed them the loan program would “exhaust its funding in a matter of hours.”

“This did not have to happen,” the Republicans said. Mnuchin and SBA head Jovita Carranza last night said the agency won’t be able to issue new stimulus loan approvals “once the programs experience a lapse in appropriations.” They urged Congress to provide funds for the paycheck program “at which point we will once again be able to process loan applications,” Ben Livesey reports.

Schumer also said that “the only way we can get our economy back up and running is by addressing the health crisis” with “ widespread, sophisticated testing.” Democrats said they are calling for $30 billion in emergency funds to vastly expand testing systems and urge the Trump administration to put a national testing plan in place. “The administration is at best scatter-shot, and at worst chaotic when it comes to testing,” Schumer said. He said that Democrats would like to see a testing plan and money included in a phase-four virus relief bill, Greg Sullivan and Laura Litvan report.

Dozens of physician groups and state medical societies want Congress to give doctors more time to repay loans they receive from the Medicare agency in response to the Covid-19 emergency. Revenue will take a significant hit if the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requires 100% of physicians’ future program billings to go toward repaying the money, they said in a letter yesterday to House and Senate leaders. The American Medical Association led the effort and is the top signatory on the correspondence. Read more from Tony Pugh.

Lawmakers are negotiating additional rounds of pandemic relief legislation as social distancing and shelter-in-place orders keep most of them away from Washington until May 4 at the earliest. Although some work on other priorities continues remotely, progress has slowed on other health-care legislation..

 

Pelosi, McConnell Yet to Pick Stimulus Overseers: Pelosi promises that a five-member oversight commission to police a major part of the massive coronavirus relief programs “will be in place,” but after two weeks just one member has been appointed. The reasons for delay in choosing the chairman and three additional members aren’t clear. The deadline is less than a month away for the first report by the commission, which will oversee about $500 billion of aid — loans, loan guarantees, and investments — to affected industries, including airlines.  Schumer is the only one of the four top House and Senate leaders to make his appointment, naming Bharat Ramamurti, on April 6. Pelosi, McConnell and McCarthy also name members to the commission, and Pelosi and McConnell will jointly choose a chair.

The commission, which is to designed operate for five years, was established in the $2.2 trillion rescue package passed late last month. It’s modeled after a similar temporary oversight commission that reviewed the Troubled Asset Relief Program during the 2008 economic crisis. Read more from Billy House. Ramamurti asked the Federal Reserve for information on the trillions in emergency loans that the central bank plans to extend to businesses, Saleha Mohsin and Billy House report. He said in a letter to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell the bank had not “announced what information it will publicly release” about its dealings with private companies, or even whether it would release the names of individual beneficiaries.” “I write to respectfully request that the Federal Reserve publicly release detailed and timely information about each individual transaction,” Ramamurti said in a four-page letter, which was released yesterday and includes a long list of bullet points and requests. “The public deserves to know which companies are receiving taxpayer-backed lending through the Fed and on what terms.”

 

Economy

Trump Readies Opening Plans: President Donald Trump said he will unveil guidelines to relax stay-at-home rules today, citing signs that the coronavirus outbreak is plateauing in parts of the country. “The battle continues, but the data suggests that nationwide we have passed the peak on new cases,” Trump said yesterday at a Rose Garden press conference, report Mario Parker and Michelle Fay Cortez.  Still, as top executives from some of America’s biggest companies pressed Trump to move toward reopening the U.S. economy, they urged him to ensure that robust testing regimes are in place, according to people familiar with the discussions.  Trump held a marathon series of calls yesterday with hundreds of U.S. business leaders to discuss the coronavirus outbreak, after rejecting a separate plan to create a smaller economic task force. In a call with financial services, hospitality, food and beverage companies, and retailers, executives said the U.S. needs more virus testing capacity so people feel comfortable returning to work. Some said they’re trying to secure their own capabilities, a person familiar with the matter said.

Trump told the executives the government might soon announce the availability of a saliva test for Covid-19, which the CEOs said could be a positive development to keep employees safe once they return to work, according to another person briefed on the call. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a saliva test developed by Rutgers University and others for emergency use. Read more from Jordan Fabian and Jennifer Jacobs.

Trump’s Claims Collapse When Met by Limits on Powers: Trump said Monday he had the “ultimate authority” to dictate to states how to reopen their economies, and that he’d craft his plans with advice from a council of top business, medical, and political leaders. By Wednesday, both claims fell apart. For the president, that’s becoming a pattern. Trump’s public statements on the coronavirus outbreak show him running into the limits of his power, as well as his ability to bend events, politicians and even the national narrative to his will. While he’s previously used his political standing and bluster to compel cabinet members and fellow Republicans to carry out his wishes, he’s found a virus that’s killed more than 27,000 Americans so far to be undeterred by his usual tactics. Read more from Justin Sink.

Jobs Collapse Worsens With Gig Workers Stuck in Limbo: Unemployment claims data due today will likely show a deepening toll from the coronavirus, which has destroyed jobs at an unprecedented pace in the economy’s worst rout since the Great Depression. Extending jobless benefits to the self-employed, who wouldn’t ordinarily qualify, was a key part of the $2 trillion rescue package known as the CARES Act approved by Trump and Congress last month. But unemployment insurance in America is a patchwork of 50 state-level operations, and they need time to catch up. In Virginia, for example, officials say their new system to handle claims by the self-employed and contractors will be up and running within weeks. Read more from Shawn Donnan, Reade Pickert and Catarina Saraiva.

Dead People Get Virus Checks: The federal government’s economic stimulus payments are being distributed to a wide swath of Americans, including some who are recently deceased. When the money reached many Americans’ bank accounts yesterday, some recipients were surprised to find payments for their spouses or parents who had passed away. It’s an expected consequence of a program passed with urgency and meant to cover as many people as possible. The IRS is relying on data that’s as old as 2018 in some cases, resulting in dead people included in the payments. Laura Davison and Erik Wasson have more.

Perdue Sees ‘Plenty of Food’ Amid Disruptions: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue assured Americans the country has “plenty of food” after coronavirus closings at major meat-processing plants focused fresh attention to strains in the supply chain. “The bare store shelves that you may see in some cities in the country are a demand issue and not a supply issue,” Perdue said at the White House briefing yesterday. “It has taken us a few days” for food companies to address a “misalignment” in distribution as restaurants close and more food is sold through grocery stores, he said. Read more from Mike Dorning.  Meanwhile, employers of seasonal agricultural guest workers will get some flexibility in the Department of Homeland Security program so they can hire workers during the coronavirus pandemic through a lifting of requirements on H-2A visas. Read more from Genevieve Douglas.

 

Trump Claims Untested Power to Adjourn Congress: Trump threatened yesterday to try to force both houses of Congress to adjourn—an unprecedented move that would most likely raise a constitutional challenge—so he can make appointments to government jobs without Senate approval. “If the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress,” Trump said yesterday during a White House press briefing. “And perhaps it’s never been done before, nobody is even sure if it has, but we’re going to do it.” During an adjournment, presidents can make temporary appointments without Senate approval. But they can’t make recess appointments when the Senate adjourns for only a few days. It was not clear that a president has the authority to force Congress to adjourn, and Trump would be sure to face fierce opposition to any such move from lawmakers at the Capitol. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted yesterday: “No President in history has ever used the Constitutional power to adjourn Congress.” Read more from Mario Parker and Justin Sink.

Former Lawmakers Hold Remote Hearing Test: Dozens of former Congress members are hosting a mock remote hearing today to spotlight how Congress can continue its work online during the global coronavirus pandemic. The goal of the event is to test the logistics and pitfalls of how a hearing would work virtually, since the House and Senate are not scheduled to resume work in Washington until May 4. The pressure to allow more remote activities mounted in recent days as Congress negotiates further rounds of relief funding to aid an economy crippled by social distancing. With lawmakers at home, work on the legislative agenda has slowed. The hearing will be hosted by an advocacy group and led by former Reps. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) and Bob Inglis (R-S.C.). The witness list features representatives from Zoom, Microsoft, former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus, and others. Read more from Rebecca Kern.

 

Research Efforts, Testing and Treatments

 

Coronavirus Infections Reach 2 Million: The coronavirus has infected 2 million people around the world, a grim milestone exposing the challenges of trying to contain the pathogen. What started as a mysterious pneumonia-like disease in Wuhan late last year has morphed into a global health crisis that has threatened health systems and economies alike. It took about four months for the virus to infect 1 million people and only 12 days for that figure to double. The total case count yesterday is likely even higher than 2 million, with cou ntries including the U.S. testing only a fraction of their populations. Read more.

 

N.Y., N.J. Trail in Federal Grants: New York, which has more cases of Covid-19 than any other state, has received the least amount of federal health grants per diagnosed person, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis of some $2.5 billion distributed by the Health and Human Services Department. The health grants, based on existing congressionally authorized programs, form just a fraction of the hundreds of billions that the federal government is distributing to combat the disease caused by the coronavirus.

 

Health grants to New York amount to $802 per person diagnosed with Covid-19. Alaska, by way of comparison, ranks second-to-last in total cases but is on tap to receive $111,380 per confirmed Covid-19 case, Bloomberg Law’s analysis of HHS data shows. The analysis is based on data downloaded from the agency April 13. New Jersey, second only to New York in its coronavirus cases, is getting $898 per case, ranking it second-to-last, HHS data show.  The disparity can be attributed to rules and grant formulas designed for varying circumstances—treating lower-income populations with mental health concerns, for example. The situation is compounded by the pressure for regulators to get the money out fast. Read more from Shira Stein and Aaron Kessler.

 

A second round of coronavirus relief for hospitals and health-care providers will go out by the end of this week, U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said to reporters yesterday. The second round will have a specific portion set aside for U.S. hot spots, Verma said. Stein has more.

 

Philips Probed on Foreign Ventilator Pricing: Meanwhile, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Economic and Consumer Policy subcommittee, wrote a letter to Philips Electronics’ North American subsidiary seeking information about its foreign sales of ventilators after the company had entered a contract with HHS the to provide ventilators to the U.S. stockpile.

In a letter, Krishnamoorthi said that Philips reportedly has been selling ventilators to foreign clients at far higher prices than what it could have received from HHS. Its foreign sales reportedly exceed “$17,000 per ventilator, more than five times the price it would have received” for ventilators under HHS’s contract, Krishnamoorthi said. Read more from Teaganne Finn.

 

Stockpile Management Probed: Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asked Trump yesterday in a letter to “provide answers” on his “mismanagement of the Strategic National Stockpile, which has left states without the federal assistance and supplies they need to combat this virus and save lives,” according to a statement. Their letter comes the same day Rep. DeLauro said she can’t get answers from the White House on how it’s using the $16 billion from stimulus package to buy supplies for the stockpile. “We are not getting an accounting” of that $16 billion, she said.

 

N95s Can Be Sterilized Three Times: Health workers can safely reuse their N95 masks up to three times if they decontaminate them with a hydrogen peroxide-based sterilizer, an NIH study found. The report released yesterday come as the FDA has granted emergency approval to STERIS, Battelle Memorial Institute and Advanced Sterilization Products to use their sterilization systems for N95 masks, which are typically designed for one-time use. All of the companies with an FDA authorization to sterilize N95 respirators use the vaporized hydrogen peroxide method, according to their authorization letters, which NIH scientists ultimately recommended. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

 

Abbott Rolls Out Third Covid-19 Test: Abbott Laboratories rolled out its third test for Covid-19 even as the government plans to nearly double the amount it pays to manage the company’s first kit to generate more usage. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will raise the reimbursement rate for tests run on Abbott’s m2000 machines to $100 from $51 as an incentive to get hospitals and health centers to hire more technicians and increase their use. The m2000 machines, which can process up to 1 million tests per week, have been running at less than 10% of their capacity, White House coronavirus task force manager Deborah Birx said last week. Read more from Michelle Fay Cortez.

 

Antibody Testing for Essential Workers: New York State took its first step on the road back to normal life and began laying foundations for how the process will work, introducing an antibody test to identify medical personnel and other essential workers who’ve already been infected with the coronavirus and have some immunity, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said. Christian Berthelsen and Keshia Clukey have more.

 

 

Transportation

 

Auto Factories Need Months to Restart: Automakers are anxious to get their assembly lines rolling again, especially since leaving factories idle is costing them billions of dollars by the week.   But the experience many of them have had in China illustrates just how long a slog it’s going to be before plants are producing at anywhere near pre-shutdown levels. It took almost two months for most of China’s industry to return to some semblance of normalcy — and that was with the benefit of mobile apps the government installed on citizens’ cell phones to track their movements and potential exposure to Covid-19 infected people.

North American factories may have the benefit of Apple and Google trying to start a similar contract-tracing effort, but participation will be voluntary. And the tensions brewing already between President Donald Trump and state governors indicate U.S. government efforts won’t be nearly as centralized as China’s were, suggesting that already cash-strapped suppliers may also have to deal with a patchwork of state-by-state orders dictating when businesses can reopen.

Tesla and Fiat Chrysler are planning to begin reopening U.S. plants on May 4, while Toyota and Honda have said theirs will be down through at least May 1. General Motors and Ford have refrained from scheduling restart dates for their facilities. In advance of reopening, a dozen Ford workers at its Plymouth, Mich. factory are experimenting with wearable social-distancing devices that could be deployed more widely.

Governors Ask Trump to Waive Biofuel Quotas: In the latest blow to ethanol producers, five U.S. governors are asking the Trump administration to waive U.S. biofuel-blending requirements, arguing the cost of complying with the mandates on top of coronavirus-spurred lockdowns pose a “severe economic harm” to the country. The Environmental Protection Agency now has 90 days to decide on the matter. Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Michael Hirtzer break down the tough choices facing the industry and administration.

United Air Braces for ‘Essentially Zero’ Travel Demand After Aid: United Airlines is warning employees of bleak times and potential long-term payroll cuts despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer assistance, as the outlook for travel demand remains depressed into next year. The carrier will further chop its flight schedule in May to roughly 10% of the capacity it had planned at the start of 2020, and similar cuts are in store for June, said Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby. As an example of the shortfalls, the carrier will fly fewer people du ring all of next month than on a single day in May 2019. Read more from Justin Bachman.

Private-Plane Groups Seek Tax Suspension: U.S. private jet and piston aircraft operators are asking the federal government to suspend the fuel tax they pay while they seek to recover from the disruption brought by the coronavirus outbreak.  Eliminating the tax until Jan. 1, 2021 would “provide a valuable incentive” to maintain jobs and business at smaller airports, the National Business Aviation Association, which represents corporate aviation operators, said in a statement.  Congress’s $2 trillion aid package included a fuel-tax relief for commercial aviation, Alan Levin reports.

NYC Traffic Plunge Threatens Local Financial Pain: Air travel at New York City’s airports almost disappeared in March while traffic on the bridges and tunnels plummeted after the Covid-19 pandemic prompted travel restrictions, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey said yesterday. The speed of the recovery is difficult to estimate, the agency said. One-third of the Port Authority’s revenue is derived from passenger tolls, fares and user fees. The agency also runs two smaller regional airports in addition to JFK and Newark.  The Port Authority said it didn’t believe the CARES Act provides funding to cover losses at its bridges and tunnels, and it’s unclear that its Trans-Hudson rail line will receive funding. Martin Z. Braun covers other details in the bond filing.

Auto Safety Groups Oppose AV Inclusion: Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, along with 80 other organizations, sent a letter yesterday to House and Senate leaders opposing efforts to include autonomous vehicles legislation to Covid-19 response legislation.  “We write to express our deep concern about a recent blog post implying that the SELF DRIVE Act be a part of America’s strategy to combat COVID-19,” they wrote.” “The AV legislation from the prior Congressional session and the recent staff draft provisions fail to address key safety challenges contributing to the motor vehicle crash mortality and injury toll.”

Committee Gathers Info for Water Bill: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next week will begin an information-gathering process on two pieces of draft legislation, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020. Copies of both bills will be released next Wednesday, according to a statement from the panel that also lists the deadlines for comments from invited stakeholders and committee members.

Lawmakers Oppose Ligado Request: Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.), along with House Armed Services ranking member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), are asking President Donald Trump to intervene and prevent the Federal Communications Commission from allowing Ligado Networks to use spectrum that will interfere with GPS reception.  “This plan would cost taxpayers billions of dollars to replace current GPS equipment, which could be rendered useless, and would force American families and businesses to use foreign space-based navigation and timing systems to replace the functions of GPS,” they wrote in a letter. “There is grave concern across your administration about the harmful impact of this specific plan from the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Interior, Justice, Homeland Security, Energy, and Transportation, as well as NASA, National Science Foundation, U.S. Coast Guard, and FAA.”

Tweaks Proposed for Oil Spill Rules: The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration yesterday released a proposed rule to formally change the timing notifications of oil spill response plans, as well as what records need to be produced during an inspection or investigation and create minimum requirements for those records to be submitted electronically, instead of on paper.  “This change does not have direct safety effects but will improve the efficiency of inspections and investigations,” the agency said in its proposal. Sylvia Carignan recaps additional details on the proposal.

Buy Electric-Car Stocks, Goldman Says: The significant pullback in U.S. auto stocks creates an opportunity for investors to own long-term growth names including Tesla and other companies exposed to electric vehicles, Esha Dey reports, citing Goldman Sachs. Even with gasoline averaging about $2 per gallon, the total cost of ownership for electric cars is already competitive with vehicles powered by traditional internal-combustion engines in select categories, including mid- to high-end cars, analyst Mark Delaney wrote in a report.

 

 

Campaign Trail

 

Trump Fundraising Machine Slowed as Virus Spread: Two committees that support Trump’s re-election campaign combined to raise $136 million in the first quarter, though the coronavirus pandemic sharply cut their intake in March, filings at the Federal Election Commission show. While Trump continues to enjoy a wide financial advantage over presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the $63 million the president’s committees raised in March was down 27% from February. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders may have slowed fundraising, which started kicking into high gear in January as the Senate acquitted Trump of impeachment charges.

Two committees, Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again, helped the president and the Republican National Committee bring in $212 million in the first quarter. Read more from Bill Allison.

Warren Says She’d Accept A Biden VP Offer: A series of endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) this week cemented the Democratic Party behind Biden as the presumptive nominee and demonstrated the careful calculus of party leaders to unite its once-warring progressive and moderate wings. Yesterday evening, Warren answered with an emphatic “yes” when asked by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow whether she’d accept an offer from Biden to be his running mate. Read more from Tyler Pager.

Meanwhile, Biden’s campaign signaled to donors yesterday that they should direct their money to a longstanding Democratic super political action committee rather than a group founded to support the former vice president during the primaries. Priorities USA, a super PAC created in 2011 for Obama’s re-election, “is an organization of proven effectiveness and the work they are doing to elect Joe Biden and defeat Donald Trump is absolutely critical,” the campaign said in a statement. Read more from Tyler Pager and Bill Allison.

Biden Says Trump Having ‘Temper Tantrums’: Biden unloaded on Trump yesterday for “having temper tantrums” and failing to empathize with Americans suffering from the effects of the coronavirus or the collapsing economy, offering his sharpest critique yet of Trump’s crisis response. The former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee urged Trump to change course, use his bully pulpit to set a better example for the country and flex the authority of the presidency to further mobilize the federal government to fight the virus. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Texas Ordered to Allow All Votes By Mail, ACLU Says: Texas must let any registered voter afraid of catching the coronavirus vote by mail in upcoming elections, a state court in Austin ordered Tuesday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The bench ruling came hours after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, stated that voters without physical conditions or illnesses that prevent their voting at the polls will be denied mail-in ballots. The fight will undoubtedly draw the attention of Trump, who’s expressed displeasure with mail-in ballots, believing them to be a source of voter fraud. Read more from Laurel Calkins.

Michigan Redistricting Commission Prevails: The Michigan Republican Party and other local citizens failed Wednesday to convince the Sixth Circuit to revive their lawsuits on the state’s new Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, because the eligibility criteria for serving on it were constitutional. The individual activists and the state GOP challenged the commission based in part on the fact that various classes of individuals were barred from serving as commissioner to avoid political conflicts of interest. Read more from David McAfee.

 

 

Other News Stories

 

WHO Eyes Funding Gaps After Trump Halt: The World Health Organization is assessing any funding gaps and will try to fill them with other partners after the U.S. halted payments over Trump’s complaint that the WHO is too deferential to China, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing. WHO member states will review the organization’s performance, which is usual in such circumstances, Tedros added. “No doubt areas for improvement will be identified and there will be lessons for all of us to learn. But for now, our focus, my focus, is on stopping this virus and saving lives.” Read more.

Trump’s broadside against the WHO is another major blow to international institutions designed to help nations confront global crises—and may leave countries even less prepared for the next one. Trump’s move was the latest salvo in a wider struggle between the U.S. and China over global leadership. Both countries are courting other nations and public opinion, as they cover up their own shortcomings in the outbreak and position themselves for the post-virus world. Read more from David Wainer and Nick Wadhams.

Arkansas Abortions Allowed to Continue: Arkansas may not enforce an order forcing abortion clinics to stop offering surgical abortions in most circumstances during the coronavirus outbreak, a federal court in the state decided. Little Rock Family Planning Services is likely to succeed on its claim that a cease-and-desist order issued by the state’s health department that prohibits it from performing surgical abortions except when necessary to protect a patient’s health or life, is unconstitutional, the U.S. District Court for the East ern District of Arkansas said. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.

Government Staff Say They’re Forced to Come In: Long before the coronavirus, the Trump administration tried to rein in telework across federal agencies, using policies and collective bargaining proposals to restrict employees’ discretion to work from home. Now, as a pandemic sweeps the nation, employees at federal and state government agencies say the same insistence on in-person work is putting their health at risk. Along with failing to provide protective equipment for critical workers, public employees say, agencies are requiring them to come into the office to perform tasks that could be done remotely or put off until it’s safe. Thousands of government employees have contracted Covid-19. Read more from Josh Eidelson and Polly Mosendz.

U.S. Says Iranian Ships Harassed Navy: Iranian ships repeatedly harassed and approached American vessels conducting operations in the Persian Gulf before disengaging after multiple warnings, according to U.S. Central Command. More than 10 ships with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the American vessels at extremely close range and high speeds yesterday, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs said. The “dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision,” according to the statement, which added that U.S. commanders on the scene “retain the inherent right to act in self-defense.” Glen Carey has more.

Russia Missile Test Is Threat to U.S. Assets: Russia tested a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile yesterday that was tracked by the U.S. military, Gen. John Raymond, commander of Space Force and U.S. Space Command, said in a statement. “Test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counterspace weapons programs,” Raymond said.

China Rebuffs U.S. Accusation on Nuclear Test-Site Activity: China rebuffed a U.S. accusation that it had maintained activity at a nuclear weapons test site, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying the country was upholding its commitment to the international testing ban. In a summary of an annual report assessing global arms-control agreements, the U.S. State Department said yesterday that China “maintained a high level of activity” at its Lop Nur test site in the western region of Xinjiang. The report noted “possible preparations” to operate the site year-round and “concerns” that China wasn’t complying with standards adhered to by the U.S., France and the U.K.  “The U.S. neglects all the facts and makes wanton accusations against China,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a briefing today in Beijing. “This is irresponsible and ill-intentioned.” Read more.

Nuke Crews Pull Longer Tours: Air Force personnel manning nuclear missile silos in the U.S. heartland are performing rotations as long as 14 days. Fighter pilots on alert for immediate defense of the U.S. are kept in near-isolation. It’s part of the “new abnormal” for the Air Force as it ensures smooth functioning during the outbreak, according to General David Goldfein, the service’s chief of staff. As the outlines of the pandemic became evident, “we did a reset,” he said. “We’ve got to adapt faster than the virus.” Read more from Tony Capaccio.

Trump Challenge to Mercury Curbs: The Trump administration is preparing to wage an attack on the legal basis of requirements to capture mercury and other heavy metal pollution from power plants, potentially setting the stage for a court to toss the mandates out altogether. The move could come as soon as today in the form of a final EPA rule concluding those mercury pollution controls are too costly to justify and no longer “appropriate and necessary,” two people familiar with the matter said. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Amena Saiyid.

 

Today on the Hill

 

White House

  • 8:30 am – The President participates in a G7 Leaders’ video teleconference on coordinated action in response to COVID-19
  • 10:00 am – The President hosts a phone call with members of the House of Representatives
  • 11:00 am – The President hosts a phone call with members of the Senate
  • 1:30 pm – The President delivers remarks celebrating America’s Truckers
  • 3:00 pm The President participates in a video teleconference with Governors on COVID-19 response and economic revival
  • 5:00 pm – Members of the Coronavirus Task Force hold a press briefing

Senate

  • On recess and not scheduled to return before May 4th

House

  • On recess and not scheduled to return before May 4th

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