COVID-19 Federal Update 4-28-20
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday: 54,877, Tuesday, 56,253
Legislating in the time of Corona
Lawmakers Press on Remote Voting by Proxy: Senate backers of a plan to allow remote voting in times of emergency announced they are holding a roundtable Thursday to collect input from experts on changing the Senate’s voting rules, Nancy Ognanovich reports. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said they will hold the session to look into remote voting via videoconferencing. The session will examine the possibility of amending the standing rules of the Senate to allow senators to vote remotely during a national crisis. Portman and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are also sponsoring a resolution to allow remote voting if Senate leaders or their designees agree an emergency exists. In such an instance, remote voting would be allowed for up to 30 days and the Senate would have to vote to renew the procedure after that. CNN reported yesterday House Democratic leaders said on a caucus call there will be a vote next week on the plan, whether or not there is a deal with Republicans, Ben Livesey reports.
Next Coronavirus Stimulus
McConnell Demands Liability Protections in Next Bill: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday the next coronavirus relief legislation must include liability protections for business owners who reopen and indicated he would be open to some aid for beleaguered states. The House and Senate both plan to convene in Washington on May 4 and resume business with the expectation of additional action to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic that has shut down businesses and thrown millions of people out of work. As some states begin gradually lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions, McConnell said that without protection from lawsuits, business owners could end up with years of legal claims over their efforts to restart the economy. Read more from Steven T. Dennis, Billy House and Laura Litvan.
Take 2: SBA Loan Programs
Small Business Loan Relaunch Hits Slowdown Issues: The Small Business Administration said yesterday a wave of demand for loans from the latest coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress last week was causing a slowdown of Paycheck Protection Program processing systems. “Currently, there are double the number of users accessing the system compared to any day during the initial round of PPP,” the agency said in a statement. “SBA is actively working to ensure system security and integrity while loan processing continues.” More than 100,000 lo ans were processed as of 3:30 p.m. ET yesterday after the program re-launched in the morning, reports Catherine Dodge.
Citigroup and US Bancorp were among ten lenders sued for failing to share Paycheck Protection Program loan fees with the lawyers and consultants that prepared applications for small businesses. Three firms sued the banks yesterday claiming they violated the Small Business Administration guidance for the emergency loans by either refusing to pay any so-called agent fees or by only agreeing to pay half the required amount. The banks that have helped distribute the federal emergency loans to help s mall businesses survive the Covid-19 pandemic were previously accused of prioritizing larger loans that earn them bigger fees and dealing with their existing clients before others, reports Edvard Pettersson.
JPMorgan Chase stopped taking new applications from small businesses seeking loans under the PPP before the initiative relaunched yesterday. The bank told customers that it wasn’t accepting new applications for the rescue loans because it was trying to work through a backlog of requests already in its pipeline, Jennifer Roberts, chief of the consumer unit’s business-banking division, said in a note to clients yesterday, expanding on a message it gave last Thursday. Read more from Michelle F. Davis.
The top lobbying group for the hotel industry said that most of its members could be worse off if they accept loans under the PPP. The American Hotel & Lodging Association — which had won special consideration for hotels after a last-ditch lobbying campaign — issued a study yesterday showing that hotel owners could end up with a better cashflow position if they didn’t take the loans and closed their doors. Read more from Ben Brody.
U.S. Expansion to See Its End in First-Quarter GDP: Less than a year ago, the U.S. economic expansion was celebrated as the longest on record. This week its end will become all but official. Commerce Department figures due tomorrow are projected to show gross domestic product shrank at a 3.8% annualized rate from January through March amid the Covid-19 pandemic and government-mandated lockdowns aimed at preventing its spread. Such a decline would be the steepest since just before the last recession ended in 2009. Read more from Katia Dmitrieva and Steve Matthews.
Fed Expands Muni-Debt Program: The Federal Reserve expanded the scope and duration of the Municipal Liquidity Facility, a $500 billion emergency lending program for state and local governments enduring the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. central bank lowered the population thresholds under which counties and cities would be eligible to sell short-term debt to the facility. The new levels were at least 500,000 for counties and 250,000 for cities, down from 2 million and 1 million. The effort would no w cover many of the nation’s large cities that were previously excluded, including Atlanta, Miami, Baltimore, Boston and New Orleans, according to Brookings Institution Fellow Aaron Klein, a critic of the original guidelines. Read more from Christopher Condon and Amanda Albright.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has already cut interest rates to nearly zero, but he still has to decide if more should be said about how long they will stay there. U.S. central bankers have been busy rolling out emergency lending facilities to provide liquidity to an economy largely shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s taken them away from the primary object of their attention in more normal times: deliberating over where to set borrowing costs. Powell and his colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee still have an important decision to make on that front. Read more from Matthew Boesler.
Senators Want Defense Production Act for Pork: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) and Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are asking for additional resources and powers, including invoking the Defense Production Act, to keep the state’s pork production viable amid the coronavirus pandemic. Action is required to “ensure that safe, affordable and abundant food remains available in this crisis,” they wrote in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and members of the coronavirus task force, Megan Howard reports.
Virus Aid to For-Profit Tribal Corporations Paused: A group of American Indian tribes persuaded a judge to bar the Trump administration—at least for now—from doling out coronavirus relief money to for-profit tribal corporations in Alaska. Congress allocated the money, part of the $2 trillion Cares Act, for “tribal governments” to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Eighteen tribes sued to challenge Treasury’s decision that Alaska native corporations in Alaska would also be eligible for the cash, stating they feared giving money to the corporations wouldn’t leave enough for federal-recognized tribes, including those in Alaska, to address the pandemic. The Alaska corporations, established by Congress in 1971 as part of a settlement with Alaska Natives, own some of the state’s largest enterprises and are among its biggest employers. Read more from Robert Burnson.
Reopening of States
Trump says testing plan to allow reopening: The White House issued a strategy to expand U.S. testing for the coronavirus on Monday, accelerating President Donald Trump’s push to reopen the economy even as the nation’s outbreak approaches 1 million infections. The new guidance to states to help them build testing capacity, developed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, was coupled with announcements by retailers including Walmart and CVS that they would open hundreds of new sites to provide tests. Trump has endured criticism that the U.S. outbreak has become the largest in the world in part because the government was slow to develop widespread testing to track and contain the disease. The U.S. didn’t exceed 100,000 Americans tested for the virus until March 19, according to the Covid Tracking Project, which compiles state data — more than eight weeks after the first case was reported in the country. “We are continuing to rapidly expand our capacity,” Trump said at a White House news conference on Monday evening. He said he’s “confident that we have enough testing to begin reopening and the reopening process.” “We want to get our country open and the testing is not going to be a problem at all,” he said. “In fact, it’s going to be one of the great assets that we have.” A White House official said the administration plans to provide enough tests to all 50 states to screen at least 2% of their residents. The intention is to target the most vulnerable communities, including the elderly and minority populations that have seen higher mortality rates from the virus. The official asked not to be identified before Trump’s announcement. The president met with retailers before the Rose Garden news conference where he and other officials outlined the strategy. Read more from Justin Sink, Mario Parker and Angelica LaVito.
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement the President’s testing blueprint “does nothing new and will accomplish nothing new.” Murray added “Perhaps most pathetically, it attempts to shirk obviously federal responsibilities by assigning them solely to states instead.” Murray said the latest coronavirus relief bill, signed into law last week, requires the Trump administration to provide a national strategic plan to expand testing to Congress within 30 days.
Virus Testing Shortages Undermine Drive to Restart U.S. Economy: Maryland was so desperate for Covid-19 testing that Governor Larry Hogan turned to South Korea for help, launching a secret operation to buy half a million diagnostic kits from a company there. Colorado’s governor said finding supplies is so competitive he doesn’t publicize orders until they’ve arrived. Illinois says it has solved its swab problems, while Wisconsin complains it’s only received a few thousand from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — about a third of what it requested. A tech-industry effort in Utah, meanwhile, has used its business connections to provide Utah, Iowa and Nebraska with thousands of tests. As Trump has alternated between leading the outbreak response and saying states should figure it out on their own, scenes of fierce competition and uneven access to coronavirus testing and supplies are playing out across America. With more states pushed toward reopening on Monday, experts warn that U.S. testing capacity, while improved, remains a fraction of wh at it should be. Read more from Emma Court and Olivia Carville.
Trump Signals Schools Among First to Open: Trump suggested that schools might be among the first institutions to reopen given the lower vulnerability of youngsters to the coronavirus. “I think you’ll see a lot of schools open up,” the president said yesterday. “Young people seem to do very well.” Trump said he expected some schools to restart even if there are only a few weeks left in the school year. “Even if it’s for a very short period of time,” Trump said. “I think it would be a good time.” Read more from Mario Parker and Justin Sink.
Trump also said a timeline to lift restrictions on travel from Europe depends on how long it takes the region to “heal” from the impact of the virus, reports Chelsea Mes.
OSHA Inspectors Hit 45-Year Low: As Trump pushes to restart the economy, the federal agency that’s supposed to protect employees from workplace hazards has been operating with historically low staffing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had only 862 inspectors at the start of the year, the smallest number since 1975, according to a report by the pro-labor, nonprofit National Employment Law Project. The total was down from 952 in 2016 and a historic high of 1,469 in 1980. “They cannot return people to work until they protect workers on the job, and they can’t protect workers on the job with voluntary guidelines,” the report’s author Deborah Berkowitz, who served as OSHA chief of staff under President Barack Obama, said in an interview. Read more from Josh Eidelson.
Barr Names a Team to Act on Strict Virus Limits: Attorney General William Barr directed top Justice Department prosecutors to take legal action against state and local officials if their coronavirus restrictions go too far, saying “the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.” Barr tapped the head of the department’s civil rights division, Eric Dreiband, and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider “to oversee and coordinate our efforts to monitor state and local policies” related to coronavirus and “take action to correct them” if necessary, according to a department-wide directive issued yesterday. Read more from Chris Strohm.
New Mexico Mayor Defies Virus Order: Gun stores and golf courses got the green light to reopen yesterday in one city in New Mexico, where the mayor is bucking state directives that aim to prevent the spread of the outbreak. Grants, population roughly 9,000, at first “played along” with public health orders that shuttered everything but stores and activities deemed essential, Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks said. The cooperation ended when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said the state would extend the orders until at least May 15, he sa id. “We’re not doing it no more,” Hicks (D) said yesterday in an interview. Read more from Brenna Goth.
U.S. Courts Weigh Reopening: Federal courts are considering reopening their doors largely shuttered by the pandemic, as some states begin to do the same. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said it had distributed guidance to its constituent courts on how to go about restarting operations. The guidelines will depend “heavily” on the conditions in the communities surrounding those venues. No specific timeline was put forth by the office, Madison Alder reports.
Reopenings Urged Despite Warehouse Outbreaks: Also yesterday, Kevin Hassett, an economic adviser to Trump, said the administration has data showing that essential businesses over the past four weeks have started to operate without major coronavirus flare-ups. Hassett said it’s likely safe for non-essential businesses to reopen as well. “We’ll figure out what practices we need to engage in in order to operate safely,” he said in an interview with CNBC. However, the White House declined to provide the data that Hassett cited. And over the last two weeks, Covid-19 outbreaks have been reported at food plants, distribution centers, and warehouses across the U.S. that have remained open. Nonetheless, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro echoed Hassett’s claims during a CNN interview, arguing the performance of aerospace firms and other “essential industries” shows the country is ready to return to work—albeit with distancing and hygiene guidelines. Jordan Fabian and Josh Wingrove have more.
Colorado, Nevada Jump Into Response Pact: Colorado and Nevada are joining California, Oregon, and Washington in what is coming to be known the Western States Pact, a bloc coordinating policies and strategies to combat the pandemic. “There is no silver bullet that will solve this pandemic until there is a cure, so we must have a multifaceted and bold approach in order to slow the spread of the virus, to keep our people safe and help our economy rebound,” Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis (D) said in a news release. Read more.
Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said yesterday there will likely be “meaningful” changes to the state’s stay-at-home orders in weeks, while the six major counties in the San Francisco Bay Area said they’ll extend their restrictions through May. Newsom said a relaxing of those orders depends on new cases continuing to drop and ongoing social distancing. He warned residents that several beaches were crowded this weekend and data show more people on the move. Read more.
GOP Floats Private-Sector Response Proposals: Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Johnson (R-La.) and the head of the Health Care Task Force, Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), pitched nine policy recommendations to “provide the U.S. health-care system with the stability and flexibility it needs to overcome” the pandemic, according to a statement. They include a proposal to suspend the requirement that Americans’ health savings accounts be tied to a high-deductible health plan, and a recommendation that the FDA “fast-track the approval here of any device or drug already approved to test for COVID-19 in one or more allied countries.” Read their proposals here.
WHO Warns About Southern Hemisphere: The World Health Organization is concerned about a rising number of cases in Latin America, Africa, some Asian countries, as well as eastern Europe, WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that the pandemic is far from over. Everybody in the Southern Hemisphere should get the seasonal flu shot now as the flu season is starting there, he added. Countries can avoid a second wave if they put the right policies into place, but they need to be vigilant if they intend to ease lo ckdowns. Read more.
Bill Aims to Speed Up Virus Response: HHS would have to develop a national strategy for beefing up the country’s ability to spot and test for Covid-19 as well as future outbreaks under a proposal from two lawmakers looking to follow up on a landmark biomedical innovation law. Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) yesterday introduced what they called a concept paper, a precursor to a draft bill that outlines their priorities for “Cures 2.0,” the follow-up legislation to the 21st Century Cures Act.
HHS would have to craft a national plan for testing, data-sharing infrastructure, vaccines, therapeutics and a strategy to have medical supplies ready to mitigate current and future pandemics, under their proposal. The announcement signals that lawmakers continue to move forward on improving their 2016 law during the pandemic. Prior to the coronavirus crisis, DeGette and Upton wanted to issue a draft bill in the first few months of 2020, as discussion began last fall. They plan to unveil “Cures 2.0″ this year, DeGette said. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.
Watchdog Starts Site to Track Trillions in Spending: An oversight committee created to root out fraud and abuse within the trillions of federal funding being spent to combat coronavirus launched its website and announced its executive director yesterday, the first move by a panel already ensnared in a controversy. The independent committee was established to oversee spending under the $2 trillion stimulus Trump signed into law last month. The group, whose mandate has expanded to include almost $500 billion more in funding approved last Friday, is comprised of independent inspectors general from over a dozen federal agencies.
Investigations are already underway looking into U.S. airlines receiving federal aid, the validity of tax credits claimed by businesses, the accuracy of economic stimulus payments, and whether the HHS has adhered to safety protocols during the outbreak, according to the website. Robert A. Westbrooks was named as the executive director. He “most recently served as the Inspector General for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation where he helped protect retirement benefits” of 35 million American workers, according to the statement. Read more from Chris Strohm and Laura Davison.
Warren Seeks Details From Medical Wholesalers: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) want medical wholesalers to detail their involvement in the administration’s medical supply chain project. In a letter to Cardinal Health, Concordance, Henry Schein, Owens and Minor, McKesson, and Medline, the senators say there have been “reports of political favoritism, cronyism, orders seized by the federal government and price gouging” in the project. Read more from Teaganne Finn.
Virus Reignites Push on Home IV Drugs: Home health agencies and members of Congress are seeking a policy change to certain Medicare benefits to let more patients who need lifesaving IV drugs get those medications at home during the pandemic. Enabling more at-home drug infusions would protect people at high risk for severe complications and help hospitals around the country clear space for Covid-19 patients. But while the federal Medicare agency has relaxed some rules to make it easier for doctors to combat the coronavirus, it hasn’t yet taken action to make getting at-home infusions easy, attorneys say. Read more from Jacquie Lee.
Azar Calls Taiwan to Discuss Virus: HHS Secretary Alex Azar today spoke with his Taiwanese counterpart about combating the coronavirus, a rare Cabinet-level contact between the two governments that’s certain to draw anger from Beijing. Alex Azar discussed giving Taiwan a bigger role in the global battle against Covid-19 in a telephone call with health minister Chen Shih-Chung. The two also discussed U.S. support for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO, according to a summary of the meeting released by the Taiwanese foreign ministry. Samson Ellis and Miaojung Lin have more.
Democrat Probes Trump Over WHO Funding: House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) yesterday said he’s launching an investigation into the Trump administration’s decision to withhold funding from the World Health Organization. Engel said in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Trump’s decision was a “political distraction from the administration’s own response to the coronavirus global pandemic,” demanding that the department provide records “dealing with the decision to halt funding.” Read the letter here.
Health Insurers Propose Subsidies but Shun Government Coverage: Health insurers are pushing Congress for more government help in the face of Covid-19—including near total premium subsidies for people who lose their jobs and stay on their employer-sponsored insurance—but they’re steering clear of the next step, full government-sponsored coverage. The insurance industry has pushed back against Medicare for All or a public option to allow people to buy government health plans. They say the private market works better than a government system. But if insurer ad vocates succeed in their quest to get more subsidies in future pandemic aid packages, it may prove difficult to argue later against more government involvement. Read more from Sara Hansard.
Insurers Win in ACA Payments Case: The federal government must abide by a pledge to pay insurers $12 billion to cover some of the losses that they incurred providing risky policies under the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court ruled. Justices, voting 8 to 1, sided with a group of nonprofit insurance companies that sued after Congress refused to appropriate money for the ACA’s “risk corridors” program over three years. The insurers alleged the federal government reneged on a promise that encouraged them to cover previously unin sured people. Greg Stohr has more.
Gilead Says U.S. Broke Research Deal: Gilead Sciences Friday accused the U.S. government in the Court of Federal Claims of violating research agreements by secretly patenting HIV treatments using information that was shared during the company’s development of Truvada for PrEP. The U.S. sued Gilead for infringing its HIV-treatment patents with Truvada in November in Delaware federal court. Gilead’s complaint said the U.S. government wouldn’t have received the patents if it hadn’t breached the agreements. Read more from Blake Brittain.
FDA Targets Toy-Like Vaping Products: Makers of e-cigarette products that appear to be toys and candy and help minors hide their vaping from parents are taking heat from the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA said yesterday it’s issued warning letters to 10 companies it says have been targeting their vaping products at young people. The companies’ wares include backpacks and shirts with stealth pockets for e-cigarettes and concealed vapor hosing woven through the fabric. They also sell vaping devices that resemble smartwatches, p ortable game systems, and fidget spinners, the FDA said. Christopher Brown has more.
Senators Seek Suicide Hotline in Next Bill: Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and 39 other lawmakers are trying to include the “National Suicide Hotline Designation Act” in the next coronavirus stimulus package. The bipartisan, bicameral measure (S. 2661;H.R. 4194) would designate 9-8-8 as the number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, according to a statement. Gardner unveiled the bill with Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). Read the statement here.
U.S. Airlines See Almost $20B in Loans: Lenders worldwide have pledged more than $31 billion of loans to major airlines scrabbling to line up funding as the coronavirus pandemic forces them to ground their fleets.
Companies from the Americas account for bulk of the borrowings with almost $20 billion in total, according to data collated by Bloomberg. European airlines have raised $7.4 billion since March 9, while Asian firms have lined up $4.1 billion. In the dash to secure financing, airlines have either been drawing down from existing credit lines or taking on new loans. The response from airlines has been a stampede to borrow from governments and banks. The International Air Transport Association has repeatedly warned the health crisis could bankrupt half the world’s airlines, pushing countries such as France and the Netherlands to prepare state bailouts. Jacqueline Poh breaks out some of the largest borrowers from the sector.
Lawmaker Seeks Masks Requirements on Airlines: Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) wants federal transportation, health and safety officials to require the use of face masks to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in air travel. Cohen sent a letter yesterday detailing the “unsafe and uncomfortable situation” of his recent American Airlines flight from Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, N.C., during which “the majority of flight attendants – both working and traveling – did not have on personal protective equipment (PPE) or even cloth face coverings, over half of the passengers did not have any type of cloth face covering, and many persons and off-duty personnel talked and traversed within the aisle.” “I respectfully request that the FAA, in conjunction with the CDC, update its guidance to airlines to ensure more robust safety protections are put in place,” Cohen wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and FAA Chief Stephen Dickson.
JetBlue Will Require Customers to Cover Their Faces for Travel: JetBlue will require customers to wear face coverings during travel, a first for U.S. carriers in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. Under the new policy starting May 4, passengers will have to cover their nose and mouth throughout their trip, JetBlue said in a statement Monday. That includes when they check in, board the plane, fly and exit the aircraft. The New York-based carrier is also asking customers to follow the same rule in airport terminals. Read more from Brendan Case.
Fewer Firearms: The decline in travel is leading to fewer guns confiscated at the airport. The Transportation Security Administration didn’t confiscate a single gun for four days between March 22 to April 21, marking the first gun-free days for the agency since 2014. For perspective, officers confiscated an average of 11 guns per day in travelers’ carry-on bags in 2019, reports Courtney Rozen.
Travel Slump, Oil Price Drop Makes Fatal Mix: Fuel is one of the biggest expenses for airlines, and unlike their U.S. counterparts, most European carriers still hedge their exposure by locking in prices on future consumption. Because of the way some contracts are constructed, airlines that are already struggling as passenger traffic evaporates are also bleeding cash in hedging losses. Airlines usually spend months preparing their fuel strategies, mandating banks to buy instruments that would staunch losses if the price of fuel rose. But because some of those instruments are structured, it also means that when oil prices plunge below a certain level, the airline ends up paying above market prices. Bloomberg News explains how European airlines are losing money on fuel hedges due to the historic plunge in oil.
U.S. Ethanol Group Asks Trump for Aid: Meanwhile, the oil and fuel industry is also feeling pressure from the glut. Ethanol advocates asked President Donald Trump for aid yesterday, warning that more than half of U.S. capacity to produce the biofuel is already offline as coronavirus-spurred social distancing efforts cause demand to crater, Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Michael Hirtzer report. The American Coalition for Ethanol asked Trump to direct his cabinet to formulate a plan to aid the renewable fuels sector, comparing it to the president’s push for oil industry spending. “Now is the time your leadership in support of America’s farmers and the renewable fuels sector can help cut through bureaucratic red tape and respond to the mounting economic harm,” ACE head Brian Jennings wrote in a letter to Trump. “A more urgent response is needed,” Jennings said, adding, “The administration has tools that can be deployed with the necessary political will.” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said American officials “haven’t come up with anything” on aid for ethanol producers, during a call hosted by North American Agricultural Journalists. But, he said, ethanol could be a part of the next round of aid that the government was formulating steps on.
Boeing Set, While Tesla’s Restart Threatened: Boeing will resume 787 Dreamliner production at its South Carolina factory next week, after reactivating its manufacturing in the Seattle area earlier this month, Julie Johnsson reports. Most South Carolina employees will get back to work on May 3 or May 4, Boeing said in a statement yesterday. The big question for Boeing executives is how long the economic turmoil spurred by the virus will continue to sap demand for air travel — and the company’s jetliners. Boeing is expected to announce lower production rates for the Dreamliner when it reports first-quarter earnings on April 29.
Tesla may be forced to rethink plans to call workers back to its lone U.S. vehicle-assembly plant next week, as San Francisco Bay-area counties plan to extend their shelter-in-place orders through next month. The health officer of Alameda County — where Tesla’s Fremont factory is located — and six of her peers in nearby areas said in a statement yesterday they will issue revised orders later this week that largely keep current restrictions in place. The orders had been set to expire on May 3. Read more from Josh Eidelson and Dana Hull.
Safety Officials Eye Tesla’s New Automatic Feature: Tesla is rolling out a new feature of its partially automated driving system designed to spot stop signs and traffic signals. But that update isn’t in harmony with National Transportation Safety Board recommendations limiting where Tesla’s Autopilot driving system can operate, because it has failed to spot and react to hazards in at least three fatal crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it “will closely monitor the performance of this technology,” adding that driver s must be ready to act and law enforcement agencies will hold them responsible. Read more from the AP.
Judges Dissect ‘Kafkaesque’ Pipeline Review Process: Federal regulators could be forced to update their review process for pipeline challenges after judges scrutinized the fairness of a longstanding policy that often keeps opponents out of court while a company builds a project. The full slate of active judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit convened via teleconference yesterday for a dispute over the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s use of “tolling orders” to lengthen the time the agency has to resolve complaints about pipeline approvals. The seemingly bureaucratic debate has sweeping on-the-ground implications for energy companies, landowners, and environmentalists. A ruling against FERC could require the agency to process challenges faster, giving project opponents a better chance of blocking construction in court. Ellen M. Gilmer has more on the case.
Ranchers, Advocacy Groups Fires Shots Against Trump Water Rule: Ellen M. Gilmer also recaps the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association lawsuit yesterday, and their claims that the new Navigable Waters Protection Rule violates the Clean Water Act, the Constitution, and U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Meanwhile, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Shore Rivers also brought their suit yesterday against the Trump administration. Their claims were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and are focused on the rule’s removal of federal protections for certain wetlands and seasonal streams in the Mid-Atlantic region, Amena H. Saiyid reports. The Pacific Legal Foundation also represents ranchers in Oregon and is expected to file a similar challenge to Trump’s rule in federal court there. Additional lawsuits are expected from environmental groups and left-leaning states.
New Hire on International Aviation Regulators: Sebastian Mikosz on June 1 will join the International Air Transport Association as the senior vice president for member and external relations to lead the organization’s global advocacy activities and aero-political policy development, along with managing the association’s strategic relationships.
Ohio will conclude its primary today, six weeks after the election was delayed by state officials to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Most votes will be cast through mail-in ballots, which must be postmarked by Monday or delivered to county boards of election by 7:30 p.m. today. There is very limited in-person voting. Any votes cast on or before March 17, the original primary date, will be included in the results. Greg Giroux previews what to watch in the election.
In Maryland’s 7th District, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) is favored to win a special election today and complete the term of the late Elijah Cummings (D), who died last October. All voters in the district received mail-in ballots, which must be postmarked on or before today or delivered to a drop box location by 8 p.m. Mfume served in the House from 1987 until 1996, when he resigned to become chief executive officer of the NAACP and was succeeded by Cummings. The Baltimore-area 7th District is overwhelmingly Democratic, giving Mfume the advantage over Republican Kimberly Klacik.
White House Nods to Trump Defeat Possibility: The White House instructed federal agencies yesterday to begin preparations in case Trump is defeated in November and a new president takes office, a routine contingency ahead of the election. Russell Vought, acting head of the White House Office of Management and Budget, issued a memorandum ordering dozens of agencies to appoint a transition director by Friday, in keeping with the Presidential Transition Act. The law helps prepare for the potential inauguration of a new president, but is also “ helpful to prepare for leadership transitions that occur between the first and second terms of administrations,” Vought said. Read more from Josh Wingrove.
Sanders Slams New York Primary Cancellation: New York canceled its June 23 presidential primary in response to the pandemic, citing a state law that permits the vote to be called off if races are uncontested. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) campaign said the decision was an “outrage” and called on the Democratic National Committee to reverse it. Sixteen states and one territory have delayed votes or moved to mail-only ballots, but New York is the first state to cancel the entire primary. Read more from Emma Kinery.
Democrats Seek DeVos DACA Reversal: Senate Democrats said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos improperly told colleges their undocumented students are ineligible for emergency coronavirus relief and demanded she reverse the decision. Congress last month authorized nearly $31 billion in relief to colleges and K-12 schools as part of the CARES Act. The stimulus aid included more than $6 billion in funds for direct aid to college students. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum. Separately, DeVos is launching competitive grant programs offering more than $307 million in response to the coronavirus crisis. A $180 million grant program for K-12 schools, announced yesterday, will seek proposals aimed at virtual education. State education agencies can use the money to provide microgrants to families to pay for classroom technology. Agencies also can use the funds to develop online education programs, Kreighbaum reports.
Trump Says He Knows About Kim’s Health: Trump said he knows the health status of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and suggested the world would be hearing additional details “in the not too distant future,” but he declined to elaborate further. At a White House news conference yesterday, Trump said he couldn’t “tell you exactly” the status of Kim’s health, but added that he did have a “very good idea” about his condition. “But I can’t talk about it now,” he said. “I just wish him well.” Speculation about the 36-year-old dictator’s physical health accelerated after the Seoul-based news site Daily NK reported April 20 that he was recovering from surgery, citing an unidentified person inside the country. Read more from Mario Parker and Justin Sink
Later, top South Korean officials said they know Kim Jong Un’s location, in the strongest remarks yet from Seoul since the North Korean leader disappeared from public view more than two weeks ago. “The government is aware of Kim Jong Un’s location” Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said when asked directly in a parliamentary session, without elaborating. Asked separately if South Korea informed Trump of Kim Jong Un’s whereabouts and condition, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha clarified that Trump was aware of Kim Jong Un’s condition but not his location. Read more from Jihye Lee.
Today on the Hill
- 10:00 am – In-House Pool Cal Time
- 11:00 am – Trump meets with the Governor of Florida
- 12:30 pm – Trump receives his intelligence briefing
- 3:00 pm – Trump delivers remarks on supporting our Nation’s small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program
- Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to D.C. until May 4, but negotiations and drafting of next stimulus bill can take place without most lawmakers in town
- The House will meet for a pro forma session at 9 a.m.
- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will hold a press briefing at 11 a.m.
- Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to D.C. until May 4, but negotiations and drafting of next stimulus bill can take place without most lawmakers in town
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union president hold a press call on the need for state and local aid in the fourth stimulus funding bill at 12:30 p.m.
Legislation Updates from Yesterday
- H.R.6625— 116th Congress (2019-2020)To establish requirements for cruise lines to receive Federal funds and Federal assistance, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep. Speier, Jackie [D-CA-14] (Introduced 04/24/2020) Cosponsors: (4)Committees: House – Transportation and Infrastructure; Ways and Means Latest Action: House – 04/27/2020 Referred to the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.