COVID-19 Federal Update 4-17-20
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday: 22,109, Tuesday, 23,649, Wednesday, 26,057, Thursday, 30,985, Friday, 33,286
Trump Goals for reopening
Trump Plan Leaves Decision to States: Days after insisting he had absolute authority to steer the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus outbreak, President Donald Trump instead handed over the keys to governors and businesses. Trump issued guidelines yesterday for states to consider as they decide whether to relax stay-at-home orders and other social-distancing measures enacted to curb the spread of the virus. The brief document lays out a three-stage process and leaves many difficult decisions to statehouses. The president set no deadlines, demanded no particular action and offered little federal assistance. One page of the document says that states undertaking a resumption of normal life should plan to “independently” secure protective gear and medical equipment for their hospitals. Businesses are advised to come up with their own protocols for temperature checks, protective gear, sanitation and testing.
“A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution,” Trump said yesterday at his daily White House news conference. “Now that we have passed the peak in new cases, we’re starting our life again.” Trump said that 29 of the 50 states qualified to begin the reopening process his administration laid out or would be ready soon, naming Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. He agreed with a questioner who suggested Hawaii. In the best case, a state could abandon all but minimal social distancing practices within a month, under the plan. Yet it’s not clear whether most governors, business owners and workers share the president’s optimism that it will soon be safe to risk easing measures that only now appear to be slowing the virus’s spread in some hot spots, while cases and deaths continue to rise across the country. In North Dakota and Wyoming, the number of cases is still rising, which may disqualify those states from attempting to reopen under Trump’s guidelines. Hawaii Governor David Ige, a Democrat, is “working with his cabinet and others to determine what specific milestones will be needed for Hawaii to begin a phased reopening,” spokeswoman Cindy McMillan said. McMillan said the state does not yet believe it meets the federal criteria. Read more from Josh Wingrove, Justin Sink and Polly Mosendz.
U.S. to Lead Global GDP Contraction: Few countries in the world have been spared from the devastating economic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak. But no economy will have a bigger impact on global growth than the U.S. The leader in confirmed Covid-19 cases, the U.S. is expected to account for 31% of this year’s decline in worldwide gross domestic product, according to Bloomberg calculations using International Monetary Fund data. That’s more than twice the country’s share of global output. Overall, the IMF forecasts the global economy will contract 3%, the most in almost a century, before soaring almost 6% in 2021. Read more from Alex Tanzi and Wei Lu.
Needs for Coronavirus Relief bill #4
Lawmakers Want Loans for Food Suppliers: Food service distributors such as US Foods and Gordon Food Service delivering critical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic should get priority for federal loan applications, a bipartisan group of 33 lawmakers said in a letter to Trump. The Treasury Department manages $500 billion in emergency relief for “severely distressed” industries under the third Covid-19 stimulus package. Lawmakers said the department should weigh difficulties food service distributors face as they adjust to shifting markets. Read more from Megan U. Boyanton.
Mnuchin, Democrats Far on Stimulus Deal: Democratic leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin remained far from a deal on the next stage of an economic relief package, even as a major aid program for small businesses has run out of money. The two sides, including staffers for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are set to talk again today, and a Senate pro forma session April 20 is the next scheduled opportunity to act if there’s a breakthrough. But chances of that are dwindling: Any action on a deal would require unanimous consent, and both chambers of Congress aren’t scheduled to return to Washington until May. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said there has been “absolutely no progress” on replenishing funding in the past week. “I hope our colleagues will come around soon,” McConnell said on the Senate floor yesterday. Mnuchin wants to add $251 billion to the $349 billion small business program, known as the Paycheck Protection Program. Schumer and Pelosi have insisted on some changes to the program, as well as another $250 billion for hospitals and state and local governments. Schumer and Pelosi spoke with Mnuchin again yesterday afternoon, and talks are ongoing, according to a statement released last night by a Schumer spokesperson. Steven T. Dennis, Billy House, and Erik Wasson have more.
DeLauro Probes Azar on Relief: House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar yesterday “requesting additional details on when and to whom Congressionally-appropriated funding for hotspots, hospitals, and health care providers would be allocated,” according to a statement. DeLauro also asked about the Trump administration’s plan to “increase testing to contain the spread of COVID-19 if social-distancing efforts are relaxed, testing data on demographic disparities, as well as when nursing homes and senior living facilities s can expect additional guidance.” Read her letter here.
Help Sought for Senior Communities: Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and 25 others called on federal agencies yesterday to “ensure that long term care facilities occupied by seniors, as well as those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, receive adequate resources in fighting the coronavirus pandemic,” according to a statement. They urged Azar in a letter to not “overlook the residents and staff within nursing homes” and other communities when developing guidelines for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund. Read their letter here.
SBA’s Response Was Swift, But Not Smooth: Congress handed the colossal task of quickly getting $349 billion in pandemic relief for mom-and-pop firms to a small, understaffed federal agency that was overwhelmed from the program’s start.
Yet, after a glitch-plagued beginning, the Small Business Administration managed to approve applications and guarantee all the loans in just 13 days, dwarfing its previous record of $30 billion spread out over an entire year. With the funds now tapped out, many businesses remain in the cold, while some that received loans are still wondering when money will move into their accounts. Questions remain about the handling of loans, including potential inequities between states — for example, why Texas got more than California, according to the most recent figures available — and whether the rapid pace at which money is being approved raises questions about the potential for fraud. Read more from Mark Niquette and Naomi Nix.
Congress is debating adding an additional $250 billion to PPP, and small business advocates are calling on lawmakers to add more money for the disaster loan program as well. About 100 members of Congress signed a letter yesterday to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza with concerns about the EIDL program, saying they would strongly back a request for more funding. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters he supports adding money to the program, and a Senate Democratic bill floated last week included money for it. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin yesterday afternoon, and talks are ongoing, according to a statement released last night by a Schumer spokesperson. Democrats wants changes to the small business loan program, as well as more funding for hospitals and state and local government. Read more from Mark Niquette and Jennifer Jacobs.
Meanwhile, local and state governments renewed calls for federal support. At least $250 billion for local government relief is needed from Congress, the National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors said yesterday in letters to Congress and the Trump administration. Three Democratic governors from Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in a letter to Trump backed a bipartisan call from the National Governors Association for $500 billion to support the states during the crisis, in addition to funds for local governments, Sam McQuillan and Michael J. Bologna report.
States will likely opt out of extending the full swath of federal pandemic relief to their businesses, as they face shuttered state houses and potentially limited benefits. The federal tax code changes in the latest stimulus law are meant to help businesses suffering from economic upheaval during the pandemic. Included in the package was a temporary increase of the tax code Section 163(j) limit on deductions for business interest payments to 50% from 30% of adjusted taxable income. Read more from Tripp Baltz, Michael J. Bologna and John Herzfeld.
Lag in Relief Oversight Risks Repeat of Berry Martinis: The last time Congress disgorged billions of dollars to treat a national emergency, some of the money went to an evening reception for housing counselors who enjoyed strawberry shortcake martinis and were served from a carved beef station. Such questionable spending would be a plum target for watchdogs charged with monitoring the $2 trillion coronavirus relief voted by Congress. But first they’ll have to be assigned to the job. Three weeks after Congress set the spending in motion, and with money beginning to flow to thousands of businesses and millions of households, there’s little progress on naming overseers for the cascade of spending. Congress is out of town until next month, while a congressional panel that is to have five members limps along with one appointee, who has no staff and can wield little more than a Twitter account. Trump has signaled hostility to oversight, sidelining the inspector general named to monitor all pandemic spending, and clashing with Democrats over how much independence to grant the overseers. Read more from Todd Shields, Jason Grotto and Saleha Mohsin.
The head of the Senate panel overseeing Federal Reserve and Treasury Department efforts to boost the U.S. economy urged the agencies to provide “quick” guidance to the market on the terms and eligibility for federal pandemic relief. Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) also reminded the two agencies in a letter released yesterday of the disclosure requirements under the stimulus enacted last month that empowered them to disburse billions of dollars into the U.S. economy reeling under the coronavirus. Read more from Saleha Mohsin.
Restart of U.S. Economy to Hinge on Mexico, Canada Help: What if Mexico and Canada don’t have the same timetable as the U.S. in mind for reopening the economy? Manufacturers in sectors ranging from chemicals to electronics have suppliers across the continent’s national borders. The automotive industry, which halted operations weeks ago to protect workers from the Covid-19 pandemic, is also contemplating how to reboot in North America. Much of the uncertainty about timing revolves around Mexico, which so far has taken an even stricter approach than the U.S. and Canada in the way it’s designated essential businesses allowed to still operate during the health crisis. Read more from Jenny Leonard.
Customs Panel Calls to Delay USMCA: An advisory panel for U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the latest group to ask Trump administration trade officials to delay the start date of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to allow the auto and other industry groups more time to prepare for new rules. The Commercial Customs Advisory Committee says the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn make it difficult to meet these requirements before early next year. Read more from Rossella Brevetti.
Research Efforts, Testing and Treatments
China Boosts Virus Death Tally: China revised its official death count from the coronavirus, adding some 1,290 fatalities from the city of Wuhan, but officials rejected accusations that it has covered up the true scale of the epidemic. The addition boosts the nationwide death toll by nearly 40% to 4,632, the National Health Commission said today, of which the majority come from Hubei province where Wuhan is located. Total confirmed infections rose to 82,692 after Wuhan added 325 cases in the revision, which was reported by sta te news agency Xinhua. Read more.
Mask-Maker 3M Joins States to Fight Price Gouging: With the coronavirus pandemic driving up demand for protective gear, profiteers and unscrupulous middlemen have taken advantage. Now, one of the biggest manufacturers of the products is fighting back. 3M, the maker of the coveted N95 mask that drew criticism from Trump over their availability, filed four lawsuits in the past week against alleged price-gougers in New York, California, Texas and Florida. The firms were seeking to sell 3M respirator masks to the Strategic National Stockpile, New York City government and a California medical center at prices as much as six times the normal cost — while 3M said it has not increased its prices. Read more from Susan Decker.
Biotechs Are Battling to Make First Good Blood Test: Antibody tests are at the forefront of a push to assess who has potentially built up some immunity to the new virus, even unknowingly, pinpointing who can probably leave confinement and start rebuilding shattered economies. But the technology is harder to get right than for basic diagnostics, and new tools have proved unreliable in the U.K. and Spain, raising questions about whether the race to supply them has come at the expense of quality. “Every scientist and his dog is trying to make this test,” said James Gill, a clinical lecturer at Warwick Medical School in Coventry, England. “Whichever one is the fastest, whichever one is the cheapest, and whichever one is most reliable will be adopted.” Read more from Tim Loh.
Moderna Snares $483 Million for Virus Vaccine: Moderna said the U.S. government has agreed to pay as much as $483 million for the company to develop and test its Covid-19 vaccine now in an initial clinical trial. Under the agreement, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would fund development of the vaccine mRNA-1273 up through approval by U.S. regulators, as well as efforts to scale up manufacturing, Moderna said in a press release. Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is one of the first to begin human trials. Moderna said that if the trial is successful, it could reach final-stage testing by fall 2020. Read more from Robert Langreth.
Most Americans Say Trump Too Slow to Act: Almost two-thirds of Americans say Trump was too slow to take important steps to address the coronavirus outbreak when cases of the disease were first reported in other countries, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Sixty-six percent said their greater concern is that states lift restrictions too quickly rather than not quickly enough, Ben Livesey reports.
Behavioral Health Likely to Worsen: Most community behavioral and mental health organizations have closed at least one program and almost half of those same organizations have either already or plan to cut staff as they turn patients away during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey released by the National Council for Behavioral Health yesterday. The survey also found that nearly a third of clinics are turning away all patients in recent weeks. The survey shows the economic impact the coronavirus is having on behavioral health organizations and the possible downstream effect it’s likely having on those who need mental health services. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council, said. “We are only one month into this pandemic, and it already has crippled the ability of behavioral health care providers to offer lifesaving treatment and services to patients, Alex Ruoff reports.
FDA Calls on Survivors to Donate Plasma: The FDA is encouraging recovered Covid-19 patients to donate plasma to facilitate the development of and access to convalescent plasma, a treatment that the agency claims has the potential to lessen the severity or shorten the duration of illness caused by the coronavirus. Convalescent plasma is an antibody-rich product made from blood donated by people who have recovered from the disease caused by the virus. Convalescent plasma could also be used to produce hyperimmune globulin, which could also be used to treat Covid-19 patients, Katrina Lewis reports.
FDA Eases Rules to Make Drugs: Hospitals will have more options to buy drugs used to treat Covid-19 patients—like muscle relaxers and painkillers—thanks to relaxed rules the FDA announced to address drug shortages across the country. The changes mean facilities that produce drugs and sell them to hospitals don’t have to stick to a strict ingredient list established by the FDA when making large batches of drugs for hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients. Jacquie Lee has more.
Hospitals Weigh Resumption of Elective Services: Hospitals across the nation are laying out plans to return to normal operations, restarting elective surgeries and other lucrative procedures put on hold by the outbreak. Some hospitals are seeking to be among the first wave of the economy to open back up after weeks of focusing largely on caring for coronavirus patients and keeping other patients away. This shift has cost the hospital industry billions of dollars in revenue and resulted in the loss of roughly 100,000 health care jobs since March, according to Labor Department figures released yesterday. Alex Ruoff has more.
Airline Loyalty Assets Could Be Collateral: The U.S. Treasury Department is in talks with some airlines about accepting their loyalty programs as collateral against government loans to help them weather the coronavirus crisis. Other assets are also in play, including some international flight routes, planes, engines, airport gates and spare parts, according to people familiar with the negotiations, who requested anonymity because the matter is private. Applications are due today for the $25 billion loan program, the second round of U.S. funds made available to airlines. Read more from Gillian Tan, Jenny Surane and Mary Schlangenstein.
Most JetBlue, Spirit Route Cuts Rejected: The two airlines must continue flying to several dozen destinations after the U.S. Department of Transportation denied their requests, Alan Levin and Ryan Beene report. The two airlines had sought waivers to rules contained in stimulus legislation requiring a minimum level of service for carriers that accept financial assistance This is the first of many more requests to come. The regulator is reviewing additional exemption requests from 11 airlines and will release its decisions on a rolling basis, the agency said in a statement. Separately, President Donald Trump at a White House press briefing on the virus yesterday outlined the steps to lift social distancing in the U.S., and said that foreign travel and entry restrictions were more important than ever. Read the guidelines here.
More Fire Protection Needed for Cargo-Only Shift: New guidance from the FAA will allow struggling passenger airlines to turn planes into cargo-only aircraft provided they follow a variety of safety requirements, Alan Levin reports. With passenger demand plunging to nearly zero, some airlines have begun carrying more cargo to provide revenue. All large airliners have holds beneath the cabin where cargo is currently permitted. The new guidance would allow expanding the cargo loads to the entire plane. However, cargo compartments have specialized fire-detection systems that typically aren’t installed in passenger cabins, so airlines must take extra steps to ensure the crew can detect and fight fires, the FAA said. Airlines must also follow rules on properly securing cargo and the types of hazardous materials they can carry. Pre-existing FAA rules also require that carriers perform a risk assessment of the new operations, the agency said.
Bipartisan Travel Advocacy: More than 80 lawmakers signed a letter led by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) urging them to ensure destination marketing organizations are eligible for federal recovery funding. These quasi-government organizations are dependent on tourism for their budgets, yet aren’t eligible for stimulus relief for small businesses from enacted coronavirus legislation, they wrote. “Our DMOs are economic drivers across the country, bringing tourism dollars and supporting local businesses that provide jobs and incomes for hard working American families,” the letter said.
Trump Pushes Infrastructure: Trump said at a White House event with truckers yesterday that his administration is working “very strongly” on an infrastructure package totaling “potentially” $2 trillion, though he didn’t provide more details, Courtney Rozen reports.
Mass Transit Faces Downward Spiral of Reduced Revenue, Ridership: The toll of the coronavirus on air transportation is well known: It’s emptied airports and pushed carriers to bankruptcy. Mass transit employs almost as many people as air transport in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—and it’s also in a perilous state. While the airlines’ catastrophe followed a decade of record profits, transit ridership in the U.S. since 2014 had already been declining, a result of cheap gas, the emergence of ride-hailing, and decaying infrastructure. Now experts predict that U.S. rail and bus systems may never fully recover from the pandemic. That could present new obstacle s to millions of low-income commuters and set cities on a course toward heavier congestion and failed climate goals. Read more from Laura Bliss and Michelle Kaske.
N.Y. Transit Seeking $3.9B in Federal Aid: New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest mass-transit system in the nation, will ask for an additional $3.9 billion of federal aid as the agency estimates the financial impact of the coronavirus may reach $8.5 billion and projects ridership this year won’t return to pre-pandemic levels. The MTA’s revenue is in a free-fall as people stay at home and avoid using the system. After a nearly $4 billion federal allocation to help cover lost revenue, the agency needs additional funds to stop the MTA’s “immediate financial hemorrhaging” and help support the region’s economy, which accounts for 10% of the nation’s gross domestic product, Pat Foye, the MTA’s chairman and chief executive officer, said during yesterday’s press briefing. Michelle Kaske explains MTA’s plans to also look to capital markets.
Boeing Resumes Seattle-Area Production Next Week: About 27,000 people will return to producing twin-aisle jets such as the 747 and 777 as soon as April 20, the company said in a statement yesterday. Boeing will also restart efforts to resume output of the 737 Max, which was halted in January. Boeing is adopting a phased approach to getting the factories back on track, with staggered shift times. It will also require face coverings and use floor markings and signs to create physical distance. The company will provide protective gear for employees where distance can’t be maintained, Julie Johnsson reports.
Still, Boeing faces a quandary as it reopens its Seattle-area factories: how to keep its employees safe while minimizing the use of protective gear that’s desperately needed for medical workers. The planemaker plans to limit scarce N95 masks for plant workers, relying mainly on cloth face coverings. In an April 9 letter to Washington state officials, Boeing cited new U.S. government guidelines directing companies to reserve the respirators for hospital staff on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic, reports Johnsson.
Princess Cruises Sees First Coronavirus Wrongful Death Suits: Princess Cruises’s alleged mismanagement of the novel coronavirus outbreak on its vessels is at the center of a new wrongful death suit filed Wednesday in California federal court. Princess operates a number of ships that suffered high-profile Covid-19 outbreaks beginning in early February. Its parent company, Carnival, allegedly knew about the problem early but chose to keep sailing, a choice that has drawn media scrutiny along with litigation. Read more from Porter Wells.
Coronavirus Means Speeders Now, More Cars Later: Drivers are dangerously zooming through coronavirus-empty streets across the U.S., with many states reporting alarming speed increases, the Governors Highway Safety Association said yesterday. State police in Florida and Iowa are reporting drivers speeding 20 to 40 miles over the limit, GHSA said. In Minnesota, car crashes and fatalities have more than doubled compared to the same time period in previous years. “Emergency rooms in many areas of the country are at capacity, and the last thing they need is additional strain from traffic crash victims,” said executive director Jonathan Adkins.
Critical Infrastructure Workers List Update: The latest guidance for state and local governments on what industries and workers should be considered critical during the Covid-19 outbreak is expected soon. Businesses such as auto dealerships have tried to have their workforces and businesses considered “critical.” The release by the Homeland Security Department’s cybersecurity and infrastructure security arm will mark the third update in a month. Read more from Shaun Courtney. Meanwhile, Trump told reporters at a White House event with the trucking association yesterday that his Department of Transportation, led by Secretary Elaine Chao, is encouraging states to keep truck and rest stops open so that drivers can still find food with coronavirus-related restaurant closures.
Airport Grants: The deadline to apply for airport grants unrelated to the coronavirus has been extended to June 15, the FAA said in a statement. Airports have until May 4 to submit a notice of intent, and June 15 to send a final grant application.
More Calls to Delay USMCA: The Commercial Customs Advisory Committee, an advisory panel for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is the latest group to ask Trump administration trade officials to delay the start date of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to allow the auto and other industries more time to prepare for a slew of new rules. The committee says the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn make it difficult to meet these requirements before early next year, pointing to Jan. 1, 2021, as the earliest date that the agreement should take effect. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said the administration is targeting June 1 as the start date, which some in Congress and industry say is too soon.
Lawmakers Seek Visa Extensions for Refugees and Special Immigrants: Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) are asking Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf to allow entry in the U.S. for refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders if their documents have expired due to travel restrictions in place because of the coronavirus. “We urge you to automatically extend the validity periods of approved visas, parole and reentry permits, refugee travel documents, security checks, and any other essential documents necessary for entry into the U.S. until all Presidential Proclamations restricting travel to the U.S. are rescinded and there has been reasonable time for these individuals to travel to the U.S.,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter. “Allowing their visas and documents to expire because of COVID-19 related travel restrictions and interruptions — and thus compelling them to go through the arduous process of reapplying — would be burdensome and unnecessary, causing them renewed hardship.”
FCC Advances Ligado Airwaves Plan: The Federal Communications Commission is likely to approve Ligado Networks’s spectrum plan after Chairman Ajit Pai advanced the proposal to a closed-door vote, Todd Shields reports. Ligado wants to modify use of an airwaves swath it controls to accommodate a speedy wireless network, but the U.S. Defense Department warned it might interfere with military GPS operations. Lawmakers yesterday asked Trump to intervene in the decision, citing objections by other federal departments.
Ford Eyes Big Data: Ford has hired a former leader of Israel’s military intelligence corps, Col. Gil Gur Arie, to oversee its big-data analytics as the automaker moves to connect all its cars to the internet. Ford equipped all new vehicles with cellular connectivity last year and has said it will outfit new models with high-speed 4G LTE modems this year. Automakers will have a huge cache of data on how its vehicles are operating and the ability to analyze that data smartly will give them an edge in deciphering what drivers desire and will pay for in their cars. Keith Naughton highlights broader executive shuffling at the company.
Biden Says Endorsements Brought Windfall: Former Vice President Joe Biden told donors yesterday the trio of high-profile endorsements he got earlier in the week has triggered a surge in fund-raising, earning him more money in the last few days than he has received throughout the entirety of his campaign. Biden said his campaign raised $2.75 million on Wednesday, the day former rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) endorsed his campaign and the day after former President Barack Obama did. The day before, Biden said he raised $2.5 million online, the day after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) endorsed. Tyler Pager has more.
Grocery Group Gets Record Campaign Donation Fine: The Washington Supreme Court has reinstated an $18 million fine against the Grocery Manufacturers Association for violating the state’s campaign finance laws. It’s the largest such penalty ever assessed by the state. The Washington, D.C.-based trade group, which represents food and consumer products manufacturers, has been fighting the fine since 2017. Read more from Paul Shukovsky.
Democrats Lead Fundraising in Key Races: Democratic Senate candidates raised more money than Republicans in eight of the 10 most competitive races during the first three months of 2020, another sign that the chamber’s majority is in play. The fundraising dominance included contests in which Democratic challengers raised more than Republican incumbents in the quarter ending on March 31, according to reports to the Federal Election Commission: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Montana and North Carolina. Kenneth P. Doyle has more.
Other News Stories
House Weighs Allowing Votes by Proxy: The House will consider letting many members avoid traveling to Washington during the pandemic by arranging for other members to vote for them by proxy. House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) proposed this low-tech approach to address worries over health and travel raised by dozens of lawmakers during a call with Democrats yesterday. “A member casting a vote on behalf of another member would be required to have exact direction from that member on how to vote and would have to follow that direction,” McGovern said.
Pelosi has given her blessing to the the idea, according to her office. McGovern, in his statement, underscored the notion would be only a temporary alternative. The House isn’t scheduled to be back in session until May 4, and both McGovern and Pelosi indicated that absent a unanimous consent agreement, a rule change to allow proxy voting would itself require a vote. Read more from Billy House.
GOP Senators Seek FBI Records on Russia-Trump Probe: Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) said in a letter they’re seeking additional documents from FBI Director Christopher Wray from the bureau’s investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign. The senators said recently declassified footnotes show reporting in a dossier used to investigate a former Trump campaign aide may have been part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Read more from Caitlin Webber.
Trump Undermines Curbs on Mercury: The Trump administration yesterday attacked the legal basis of requirements to capture mercury and other heavy metal pollution from power plants, setting the stage for a court to potentially throw out those mandates altogether. The EPA issued a “supplemental finding” that concludes those Obama-era controls on mercury pollution are too costly to justify and no longer “appropriate and necessary,” years after utilities complied with the requirements by installing scrubbers on coal-fired power plant s. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Amena Saiyid.
Space Force Arming to Jam Russian and Chinese Satellites: The new U.S. Space Force is building an arsenal of as many as 48 ground-based weapons over the next seven years designed to temporarily jam Russian or Chinese communications satellite signals in the opening hours of a conflict. The first system, made by L3Harris Technologies, was declared operational last month after years of development, and the Space Force has taken delivery of 16. The service is also developing a new system, known as Meadowland, that’s lighter-weight, capable of adding update d software and able to jam more frequencies.
Since its formation last year as the sixth branch of the U.S. military, attention has focused on the Space Force’s defensive duty in safeguarding U.S. satellites and on organizational questions about its budget and relationship with the Air Force. Less has been disclosed about its offensive role, which centers on Meadowland. Read more from Tony Capaccio.
Roger Stone Denied a New Trial: Roger Stone’s longshot request for a new trial because of alleged juror bias was denied by the judge who sentenced him to more than three years in prison. The widely expected decision issued yesterday by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington means Stone may have to report to prison within two weeks. Stone may also appeal within two weeks. Stone, a Republican operative and early Trump booster, argued he deserved a new trial because the foreperson of the jury that convicted him of lying to Congress and witness tampering in November was a Democrat opposed to the president. Read more from Erik Larson.
Merkel Defends WHO in G-7 Call: German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the work of the World Health Organization on a conference call with Trump and the other G-7 leaders. The leaders spoke yesterday as some prepared to started easing the restrictions aimed at curtailing the outbreak. Merkel “made clear that the pandemic can only be defeated with a strong and coordinated international response,” her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement. “In this context, she expressed full support for the WHO, as well as a number of other partners.” But in its own statement on the call, the Trump administration said that the G-7 leaders agreed that the WHO will need “a thorough review and reform” process. The talks touched on “the lack of transparency and chronic mismanagement of the pandemic by the WHO,” the White House said in a statement. Josh Wingrove and Patrick Donahue have more.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans said yesterday they support Trump withholding WHO funds until its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, resigns. The committee’s ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and other Republicans told Trump in a letter that they’ve “lost faith” in Tedros’ leadership and recommend the president to condition future fiscal 2020 voluntary contributions to the WHO on the resignation of Tedros, Teaganne Finn reports.
Meanwhile, the fight to eradicate polio from Africa might become one early casualty of Trump’s decision to withdraw WHO funds, the organization said. Nigeria, the last polio-endemic country in Africa, hasn’t had a reported case of the virus since August of 2016, according to the WHO. The U.S. is a major backer of fighting polio, which was on the verge of being eradicated on the African continent before the coronavirus outbreak, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said. Yinka Ibukun and Tope Alake have more.
Today on the Hill
- 11:00 am – In-House Pool Call Time
- 1:30 pm – Trump receives his intelligence briefing
- 3:00 pm – Trump hosts a phone call with faith leaders on the great American economic revival
- 5:00 pm – Members of the Coronavirus Task Force hold a press briefing
- On recess and not scheduled to return before May 4th
- On recess and not scheduled to return before May 4th