COVID-19 Federal Update 4-6-2020
One in 1,000 Americans Infected: The U.S. has more than 330,000 coronavirus cases confirmed as of yesterday, meaning one in every 1,000 Americans are infected, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and Medicine, Derek Wallbank reports.
States: New coronavirus hot spots have been identified in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and Colorado, while New York, Louisiana and Detroit continue to account for many of the 337,646 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States (NPR). Eight states do not have stay-at-home orders in effect (CNN).
New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Sunday said New York experienced a drop in new hospital admissions and a declining daily tally of deaths, which he called a “blip.” But if it holds, it could foreshadow relief in the Empire State from the ravages of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 4,000 people there (The New York Times). “You could argue that you’re seeing a slight plateauing in the data, which obviously would be good news,” Cuomo said during his daily briefing in Albany.
Louisiana: The Rev. Emmanuel Mulenga, pastor at Saint Augustine Catholic Church, in New Orleans, a nearly 200-year-old church in the city’s historically African American Treme neighborhood, gave out palm fronds on Palm Sunday to parishioners while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. He blessed the fronds and put them on a table near the back of the church where people could easily spot them. “Despite the social distancing … the spiritual aspects of our lives, faith, still continues, and I personally believe that under the present circumstances we need those personal connections and prayer even more,” Mulenga said (The Associated Press). … Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), who has warned his state could be “the next Italy” in terms of COVID-19 spread, said on Sunday that the majority of the state’s 4,500 churches are adhering to orders not to convene in large groups, but he said the separation of church and state means his administration will not use law enforcement to mandate compliance from defiant pastors (The Advocate).
Washington: A state that was first to see COVID-19 infect its population is a beacon of hope for many other states as community-spread of the disease plateaus there. Washington on Sunday announced that it will return more than 400 ventilators to the Strategic National Stockpile after determining that the machines could be better used in states facing more dire conditions. Washington had 7,498 known cases on Sunday, with 319 deaths (The New York Times).
Trump Says Relief ‘Flawless’: Trump on Saturday dismissed concerns over the rollout of a $349 billion program to assist small businesses rocked by the virus, saying loan distributions were “way ahead of schedule” even as banks struggle to respond to the flood of requests. “It’s been flawless so far,” he told reporters. “I don’t even hear of any glitch.” His rosy assessment came even as some small businesses said that they were worried that funds for the Paycheck Protection Program, a tent-pole of the stimulus signed into la w last month, may run out before loans are even approved. Saleha Mohsin and Jennifer Jacobs have more.
Trump said at a press briefing yesterday he likes the concept of additional stimulus checks for individuals once the first round has been delivered. Read more from Justin Sink.
Meanwhile, as it confronts the worst economic disaster since the financial crisis in 2008, the Treasury Department is riddled with vacancies among its political appointments. Of 20 Senate-confirmed positions reporting to the secretary, seven aren’t filled, and four are occupied by acting officials. The domestic finance unit, which should be handling the brunt of the work tied to the pandemic, is particularly empty, Mohsin and Robert Schmidt report.
Thousands of small businesses apply for relief as some owners frustrated by process: One day after the launch of a $350 billion loan program designed to rescue millions of small businesses pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic, technical glitches continued to cripple the ability of the nation’s top lenders to begin processing the loans, throwing into doubt when any of the applicants will start receiving any money.
The lending program, which forms part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, is a much-needed lifeline for the 30 million small businesses across the country. It offers loans of up to $10 million to companies who employ fewer than 500 people. Those loans are forgiven as long as the businesses meet certain conditions, such as using the majority of the funds to pay worker salaries for the eight weeks following the loan closing.
However, two of the nation’s biggest banks say they have only just been able to start processing loans. “We are all waiting on the Small Business Administration,” a Chase senior executive told NBC News.
Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase received tens of thousands of applicants within hours of the program’s launch on Friday, senior executives at both companies told NBC News. Bank of America reported receiving over $22 billion in requested funds. Wells Fargo, which appeared to have a late start, on Saturday opened a portal where customers could register and get an email back “with next steps within in a few days.” Citi’s website said “applications will be available shortly.”
To begin the lending process, small businesses must submit their application via an online portal on their bank’s website. A banker then conducts a phone call with the applicant. However, there’s no way in the hastily fashioned system for the banks’ computers and those of the Small Business Administration, which administers the Paycheck Protection Program loans, to talk to one another. Bankers have resorted to entering applicant information by hand into E-Tran, the proprietary system used by the SBA to guarantee loans and generate loan numbers.
With banks reporting tens of thousands of applications just in the first day, the system is already overwhelmed. The SBA usually processes about 60,000 loans in an entire year. Despite this, President Donald Trump said in a news briefing Saturday that, “in 24 hours, the SBA processed over 28,000 loans.” “Remember, we had the greatest economy,” Trump said. “Now we have to open our country.”
Senior banking executives at Bank of America and Chase told NBC News they were still waiting on loan numbers to come back from the SBA, and so far had not processed any more than a trickle from the flood of applicants.
Bankers said they were working systems to automate and speed up the process but had no idea when these customers would start to see money in their accounts. An email from the Small Business Administration to lenders Saturday morning apologized for “ongoing technical issues,” which included slowness and the inability of “many” lenders to create new logins or reset passwords.
The SBA did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment.
Some community banks, locally owned retail banks with less than $1 billion in assets, reported being able to make loans. Connect One Bank of New Jersey told CNBC Friday that they had processed a loan and deposited it into a customer’s account.
“@BankofAmerica & community banks are rocking!” Trump tweeted late Saturday morning, adding that he would take additional steps if necessary to shore up the program.
“I will immediately ask Congress for more money to support small businesses under the #PPPloan if the allocated money runs out. So far, way ahead of schedule. @BankofAmerica & community banks are rocking!”
Since the program is first come, first served, small businesses who applied at lenders who were having trouble with the hastily fashioned relief program run the risk of missing out.
Small businesses, which employ almost half the private workforce, don’t have the cash runways of big companies such as Amazon or Starbucks to help them weather a crisis of this magnitude. In a recent study, half the small businesses surveyed had two weeks or less of cash liquidity.
“After the financial crisis, we lost 1.8 million small business owners,” Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business, told NBC News. “After the reaction I’m hearing, I’m worried about what that number might be after this is over.” Read more from Stephanie Ruhle and Ben Popken
Who Gets Stimulus Cash and How: This is normally the time of year when the federal government is collecting taxes due, but the devastating coronavirus now has the U.S. trying to rapidly dole out hundreds of billions of dollars in aid and tax breaks to businesses large and small. Steven T. Dennis, Laura Davison and Mike Dorning provide a guide for some of the benefits that are available and how to qualify.
Trump Taps Stimulus Watchdog: Trump intends to nominate a White House lawyer to a newly created post of inspector general to oversee spending of the coronavirus stimulus. In a statement on Friday night, the White House said Trump chose Brian Miller for the job, despite having questioned the authority of the position almost as soon as it was created.
Miller, according to the statement, is now a “special assistant to the president and a senior associate counsel in the White House Counsel’s office. Before that, he “was an independent corporate monitor and an expert witness.” He has worked at the Justice Department and was an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia, the statement added. The inspector general will work out of Treasury and have subpoena powers. Read more from Mohsin and John Harney.
Trump Considers Eco Panel: Trump said he’s “thinking about” forming a panel to examine how best to restart the country’s economy, which he earlier termed a “good idea.” The U.S. economy was never meant to be closed as it is, to a large extent, at the moment, Trump said. “We’re not going to have separation for the rest of our time on the planet.” Trump early tweeted an endorsement of a plan offered by Dana Perino, former press secretary to President George W. Bush. Read more from Justin Sink.
Trump Says He Doesn’t Expect to Impose Oil Tariffs: Trump said at a press conference yesterday he doesn’t think he’ll have to impose tariffs on imported oil to blunt the impact of a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, but held out the option to protect U.S. oil producers. Trump had on Saturday ramped up threats to use tariffs to protect the U.S. energy industry from a historic glut of oil, as efforts to forge a global deal to cut output appeared to lose momentum. Read more from Justin Sink and Mario Parker.
Airlines vs. Customers in Refund Spats: The Covid-19 crisis is pitting airlines across the globe against grounded customers. Regulations in the U.S. and Europe generally call for carriers to offer passengers a refund if a flight is canceled, with exceptions for circumstances like inclement weather. It happens in normal times, but country lockdowns have dissolved schedules for weeks, with airlines parking their fleets and guarding their money as revenue withers. Their customers are flooding social media to complain that they can’t get their money back for canceled trips. The U.S. Transportation Department on Friday issued an enforcement notice ordering airlines to pay up. Read more from Alan Levin, Charlotte Ryan, and Jonathan Stearns.
Meanwhile, Pelosi and Schumer urged the Treasury Department to move more quickly to help airlines to save industry jobs and refrain from imposing “unreasonable conditions” that might spur some carriers to decline payroll assistance, a concern that has been raised by regional airline trade groups and flight-attendant unions. In a letter yesterday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Pelosi, Schumer and other Democrats stressed that provisions of the $2.2 trillion stimulus passed by Congress were aimed specifically at bolstering aviation jobs. Read more from Billy House.
Governors Urge Swift Release of Education Aid: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos should release $30 billion in emergency funds for schools and colleges within two weeks, the National Governors Association wrote in a letter Friday, Andrew Kreighbaum reports. The stimulus package directs $13 billion to K-12 schools and more than $14.25 billion to higher education institutions. Another $3 billion would be doled out by governors. The letter also called for guidance from the Education Department on how those funds can be spent and asked that the money be permitted to cover costs already incurred by schools and colleges after shutting down campuses.
Trump Wants Stadiums Full by August: Trump held a conference call with top officials from several professional sports leagues Saturday as organizations race to reschedule games and tournaments over the outbreak. Participants included the NBA’s Adam Silver, MLB’s Rob Manfred, NFL’s Roger Goodell and NHL’s Gary Bettman, the White House said. Representatives from the PGA and LPGA tours, IndyCar, Major League Soccer, and professional wrestling also participated. The president told reporters that he hopes people would be able to go to s porting events again by August. Read more from Justin Sink.
Postal Service Reels During Outbreak: The U.S. Postal Service is staring at “a rapid drop in mail volumes and a significant loss in needed revenues” because of the novel coronavirus that could lead to a halt in mail delivery, a spokesman said. Though the stimulus signed last month included a $10 billion line of credit for the Postal Service, the USPS is concerned that is not sufficient “to withstand the significant downturn in our business” that could result from the pandemic, spokesman David Partenheimer said on Friday. Louis C. LaBrecque has more.
Coronavirus Stimulus Money – Phase 4
Partisan Fights Ahead on Phase Four Bill: Congress‘s near unanimity on last month’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue bill has given way to partisan finger-pointing that threatens to poison the debate when lawmakers try to construct another emergency boost to the struggling economy.
The crisis has only worsened since President Donald Trump signed the law on March 27. But there is little consensus on next steps as patients flood hospitals in some U.S. cities and leaders extend the economic shutdown.
Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) late last week exchanged biting letters accusing each other of fumbling the initial response. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blamed Democrats for distracting the nation from an emerging threat with an impeachment trial. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Trump’s slow response has cost lives.
The rancor was growing as the number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. pushed past 325,000, deaths exceeded 9,200 and government data began showing the pandemic’s rapid and widespread impact on the world’s biggest economy. Meanwhile, the current rescue plan got off to a rocky start, as small businesses struggled to submit documents and lenders ran into trouble with the government’s portal for loans.
The increasingly alarming numbers prompted Pelosi to scale back her earlier ambitions for Congress‘s next coronavirus stimulus package. She said Congress should “update” the current legislation to provide more money for small businesses and individuals. Pelosi said over the weekend she wants the legislation to get a vote this month.
Yet there isn’t consensus on what the next stimulus should look like. McConnell told the Associated Press in an interview that there will be a fourth virus-related bill, but said he and Pelosi have “a little different point of view” about the timing of the next package and what should be included.
Lawmakers in both parties are already proposing an assessment of the U.S. response to the outbreak, which has exposed shortages of equipment and the faltering efforts of the federal government to get and distribute medical supplies where needed. But even what form that takes is the subject of partisan bickering. Read more from Billy House.
Pelosi Pares Goals for New Stimulus: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) scaled back her ambitions for Congress‘s next coronavirus stimulus package to focus on additional direct payments to individuals and expanded loans to businesses, possibly leaving an $800 billion infrastructure plan and other Democratic priorities for a later bill, Erik Wasson and Billy House report.
“While I’m very much in favor of doing what we need to do to meet the needs of clean water, more broadband and the rest of that, that may have to be for a bill beyond this,” Pelosi said Friday on CNBC. “I think right now we need a fourth bipartisan bill—and I think the bill could be very much like the bill we just passed.”
Pelosi followed her CNBC interview with a statement Friday saying that Congress more immediately will need to build on the last relief package, known as the CARES Act (Public Law 116-136). Even amid the urgency of the virus response, Pelosi promised to continue working “on an infrastructure package for recovery that addresses some of the critical impacts and vulnerabilities in America that have been laid bare by the coronavirus.”
In a letter to House lawmakers this weekend, Pelosi said communities in the U.S. “cannot afford to wait” for the next coronavirus stimulus and “it is my hope that we will craft this legislation and bring it to the floor later this month.”
Urgent Funds for Health Centers: House Democrats want to inject an emergency $10 billion into the country’s community health-center program, but clinics and hospitals say they need seven times more. Their costs are mounting as health centers, like hospitals, forgo more lucrative services like dental care or cosmetic operations to prioritize coronavirus patients. The National Association for Community Health Centers had originally asked Congress for $3.2 billion but received $1.3 billion as part of the stimulus. The group now wa nts $77.3 billion, which would include a five-year extension of the program. Alex Ruoff has more.
Special Covid-19 Commission: Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) introduced a measure last week that would create a bipartisan commission to assess the country’s “preparation for and response to pandemics” that would be modeled on the Sept. 11 commission, according to a statement. The bill calls for 10 members for the “COVID-19 Commission,” split equally between Democrats and Republicans. Read text of their bill here. Speaker Pelosi said last week that her chamber would create a special committee to oversee the government’s response to the outbreak. Billy House and Erik Wasson have more on that agenda item.
Research Efforts, Testing and Treatments
Trump Says CDC Suggests Masks: Trump said that public health officials are recommending the use of non-surgical grade cloth masks as a voluntary way to prevent the spread of the virus, but that he did not plan to wear one himself. “It’s only a recommendation,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “You don’t have to do it.” The announcement marks a reversal for health officials, who had previously said those without symptoms didn’t need to don a mask. Trump said the advice on masks from the CDC doesn’t change guidelines calling for social distancing. He emphasized that the CDC isn’t suggesting the use of commercial medical-grade masks, which are in short supply at hospitals. Read more from Mario Parker and Jordan Fabian.
Vaccine dilemma: Ensuring the manufacture and distribution of enough eventual COVID-19 vaccine to everyone in the United States who needs it is the enormous undertaking Trump’s savviest advisers want him to get a grip on now, especially because everyone wants the world to return to work.
Who gets a vaccine when supplies are initially scarce? Who will own a vaccine in a world in which open science for pharmaceuticals is rare? How fast can a vaccine that is proved effective be manufactured and deployed?
Anthony Fauci, director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently told his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health during a videoconference that even if a vaccine is available next year, “I don’t think we’ll have enough doses for everyone” (ABC News).
Researchers believe those infected who recover from COVID-19 develop immunity that may fight off future infection for some period of years, but the coronavirus is expected to be seasonal and could develop into different strains in the future, a potential challenge for vaccine development. There is much about the disease that researchers say they need to learn, and Fauci has outlined ambitious plans to scale up a future vaccine (Bloomberg Law). The 79-year-old immunologist said on Sunday that the virus is unlikely to be eradicated this year (CBS’s “Face the Nation”).
Tom Bossert, a former national security adviser to Trump, said on Sunday that the president needs to look further down the road to get the United States prepared (The Hill). “He needs to be looking 20 yards, 200 yards and as far in front of his headlights as he can, or we’re going to end up having shortages or shortfalls in our vaccine manufacturing capabilities,” he said on ABC News.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who helped former President George W. Bush prepare in 2005 for a potential influenza pandemic, made the same point in March, citing his experience and lessons learned (Fox News).
“The goal of developing and stockpiling vaccines is simply stated, but not easily achieved,” Leavitt wrote. “Developing and stockpiling vaccines is not a job for any one government. It is not even a job for any one nation. It requires cooperation between nations, cooperation between different government entities within nations, and cooperation between governments and the private sector.”
Former Homeland Security Department official Juliette Kayyem, an author and national security analyst for CNN, wrote in The Atlantic last week that the question of distributing vaccines to the U.S. population, if left by the Trump administration to the 50 states to manage, will be agonizing.
“Everyone will be clamoring for it,” she predicted. “Medical professionals and first responders will go to the front of the line, as they should. But who goes next? Elderly people, who are more vulnerable, or healthy young people, who are more mobile, more likely to be infected without symptoms, and more likely to be working in jobs requiring contact with others? Those in urban areas, who are more likely to be exposed by casual transmission, or people all across a state? You or me? Decide quickly.”
There is some suggestion that the administration, behind the scenes, believes the country that develops a vaccine will control it. Many companies are racing to find a vaccine, and global researchers have been praised for open-science efforts to collaborate to unlock a cure that is safe and effective for worldwide use.
The New York Times in March described reports in Germany and some glimmers in the United States that the U.S. government sought to buy or bring a German biotech firm under U.S. control because of its promising early research on potential vaccine candidates for COVID-19 (“The Daily” podcast). The administration told the Times that such reports were “overblown.”
Trump Warns of Deadly Weeks: Trump warned that deaths from the virus in the U.S. will escalate over the next one to two weeks, and could be on par with the number of fatalities seen in world wars. “There’s going to be a very, very deadly period, unfortunately,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Saturday. Trump said that as the number of deaths peak, “I really believe we probably have never seen anything like these kind of numbers, maybe during the war—a world war. A World War I or II or something.”
“The next week is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, it’s going to be our 9/11 moment, it’s going to be the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Separately, on “Fox News Sunday,” Adams said the difference between the pandemic and those historic events were “it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.” Read more from Jordan Fabian and Justin Sink.
Trump struck a more upbeat tone yesterday, as he and Vice President Mike Pence said they see signs the U.S. outbreak is beginning to level off or stabilize, citing a day-to-day reduction in deaths in New York, the epicenter in the country. “We are beginning to see the glimmers of progress,” Pence said at a White House news conference on Sunday. “The experts will tell me not to jump to any conclusions, and I’m not, but like your president I’m an optimistic person and I’m hopeful.” Pence said the government is starting to see “cases, and most importantly losses and hospitalizations, begin to stabilize.”
New York state reported 594 new coronavirus deaths yesterday, a reduction of 36 from Saturday. Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a daily briefing that the data may show the state is reaching a “plateau” — or could be “just a blip.”
But Trump was more optimistic. “Maybe that’s a good sign,” he said. “We hope we’re seeing a leveling off.” Justin Sink and Mario Parker have more.
Governors from across the country whose states are at various points in the pandemic response spoke out yesterday, with some critical of the absence of sweeping federal guidance and many in the process of setting up field hospitals for an anticipated rush of patients. Hailey Waller has more.
Defense Act to Retaliate on Supplies: Trump said he would use the Defense Production Act to retaliate in cases where companies ship medical equipment elsewhere that’s needed in the U.S. to cope with the pandemic. “You could call it retaliation because that’s what it is. It’s a retaliation. If people don’t give us what we need for our people, we’re going to be very tough,” Trump told reporters on Saturday. The president said he invoked the act to ban exports of supplies needed around the world to fight the virus, escalating a spat with allies including Canada and 3M. Read more from Justin Sink and Ben Bain.
Trade experts warned any decision to block exports of masks and other equipment would risk retaliatory measures by countries that would undermine international efforts to fight the Covid-19 outbreak. The shortage of supplies in the U.S. has been blamed on inadequate federal stockpiles as well as a shortfall in domestic production. The U.S. has until now been relying on emergency air shipments from China and other countries to help fill the gap. Yet it’s unclear whether other countries would allow such flights to continue if the U.S. is refusing to allow its own exports. Read more from Mario Parker, Justin Sink and Shawn Donnan.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said there’s no evidence that any drug is in short supply because China or any another country is blocking key ingredients from flowing into the U.S. market. “We are monitoring that very closely,” Hahn told Fox News yesterday. Some of those shortages may be evident due to spikes in demand for some medications, he said. The FDA maintains a public database of shortages, which can occur for many reasons including manufacturing problems, delays and discontinuations. Read more from Naomi Nix.
Nearly half the supply of hydroxychloroquine to the U.S. comes from makers in India, a flow that has now been abruptly stanched after the Asian nation banned exports of all forms of the malaria drug touted by Trump as a “game changer” for treating the coronavirus. According to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence, 47% of the U.S. supply of the drug last year came from India. Only a handful of suppliers in the top 10 are non-Indian, such as Actavis, now a subsidiary of Israeli generics giant Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. It’s likely that some of their production facilities are nevertheless located in India, the biggest maker of generic drugs in the world. Read more form Lisa Du.
Hospitals Said Can’t Charge Uninsured: Hospitals and health-care providers that accept federal funding provided through the $2 trillion stimulus measure aren’t allowed to bill uninsured patients treated for Covid-19, HHS leader Alex Azar said Friday. The providers will be reimbursed at Medicare rates, Azar said, which will be carved out of a $100 billion slice of the law. When probed about re-opening enrollment for Affordable Care Act plans or potentially expanding Medicaid, Azar demurred. People who’ve recently lost their employer-provided insurance can enroll through Obamacare’s exchanges under the law’s special enrollment rules, said Azar, Jacquie Lee reports.
Reopening Obamacare exchanges is the most efficient way to let uninsured Americans buy coverage amid the pandemic, health-care advocates say. But so far that seems to be a quixotic hope for many. The Trump administration has signaled that it won’t reopen the HealthCare.gov exchange to allow more people to sign up for health coverage. Read more from Sara Hansard.
Separately, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) urged Trump in a letter “requesting a virtual meeting to discuss proposals for immediately expanding health insurance coverage to uninsured Americans,” such as through Medicare and Medicaid, according to a statement. Jayapal and Dingell are lead sponsors of H.R. 1384, the Medicare for All Act of 2019. Read their letter here
Patient Privacy During Pandemic: Data sharing by big technology companies is helping government officials combat the dizzying spread of the coronavirus by monitoring compliance with social distancing and stay-at-home orders. It’s also putting privacy experts on edge. Companies including Google and Facebook had already been collecting, for advertising purposes, massive volumes of data. And some of them are now stripping data of personal ID markers, aggregating it, and providing it to researchers, public-health authorities and government agencies.
Consumer advocates fear an emphasis on health over privacy could undermine the protection of civil liberties, similar to what happened after 9/11, when the U.S. secretly began collecting mass amounts of information on its own citizens in an effort to track down terrorists. Read more from Ben Brody and Naomi Nix.
Separately on Friday, Senate Democrats asked Apple CEO Tim Cook about how his company is ensuring the privacy of consumers’ health data that’s submitted to Apple’s coronavirus app. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked Cook for more details on the terms of agreement between Apple and federal and state governments, and whether the screening site and app must be HIPAA compliant, Rebecca Kern and Mark Gurman have more.
DOD Encourages Troops Wear Coverings: The Pentagon has issued guidance on personnel wearing face coverings after U.S. health officials recommended the step for the general public. “Effective immediately, to the extent practical, all individuals on DoD property, installations, and facilities will wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers,” the policy says. Read more from Steven Geimann.
DOD Cautious Over Virus Patients on Ship: The Defense Department remains cautious about allowing Covid-19 patients on the Navy hospital ship anchored in Manhattan but is reassessing that policy daily, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Friday. The USNS Comfort is “not an environment built for treating infectious diseases en masse,” Hoffman said. The Comfort, which docked in New York last Monday, was assigned to add 1,000 beds to the city’s capacity with the intention to take virus-free patients, such as trauma victims, in order to free up space in hospitals. Only a handful of New Yorkers are being treated on the Comfort so far, however. Read more from Tony Capaccio, Glen Carey, and Travis Tritten.
Virus Spurs Global Free-for-All Over $597 Billion Medical Trade: Germany’s Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said the shared experience of battling the coronavirus could lead to a “new age of solidarity.” There’s little sign of the crisis bringing nations closer together, though: From India to Europe and the U.S., governments are rushing to get hold of masks, ventilators, gloves and medicines in a free-for-all that’s stoking tensions in a world already stung by globalization. Countries are rushing to introduce export restrictions, contributing to what the World Trade Organization calls a “severe shortage” of goods needed to fight the virus. Read more from Alan Crawford.
Hahn Says China Not Creating Shortages: FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said there’s no evidence that any drug is in short supply because China or any another country is blocking key ingredients from flowing into the U.S. market. “We are monitoring that very closely,” Hahn told Fox News yesterday. Some of those shortages may be evident due to spikes in demand for some medications, he said. The FDA maintains a public database of shortages, which can occur for many reasons including manufacturing problems, delays and discontinuations. Read more from Naomi Nix.
Apple Designing Face Shields for Medical Workers: Apple is designing face shields for medical workers and separately has sourced over 20 million masks through its global supply chain, CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet yesterday. Cook said the company’s design, engineering, packaging and operations teams are working with suppliers to get the shield made and shipped. The first shipment was delivered to a Santa Clara, California, hospital last week and there are plans to ship over a million this week and another million weekly after that. Read more from Mark Gurman.
WHO Warns of Cycle of Lockdowns: The World Health Organization warned nations against abruptly dropping their restrictions aimed at slowing the virus’ march around the world, saying that careful planning is needed to prevent an economically destructive cycle of repeated lockdowns. A transition strategy is vital to avoid repeated quarantines, Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program, said at a press briefing in Geneva. “If we lurch from lockdown to poor control back to lockdown and back to poor control, that is not what anybody needs right now,” Rya n said.
Countries around the world have frozen public life to try to stop the pandemic, but those efforts have challenged economies, with nearly 100 countries already seeking financial help related to the coronavirus, according to the International Monetary Fund. Still, public health officials have warned that simply quelling the current wave of infections won’t be enough to stop the pandemic. As long as the virus lingers and there’s a large number of people who haven’t been exposed, there’s a risk of resurgence. Read more from Naomi Kresge and Corinne Gretler.
Abortion Limits in Pandemic: The U.S. Constitution doesn’t require Oklahoma to allow access to abortion during the pandemic, the state told a federal district court that is considering whether to block it from enforcing an emergency order that shuttered abortion providers. Providers, saying the state’s interpretation of the emergency order amounts to an illegal ban on abortions, want a temporary restraining order to halt it. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.
No Probe on Early Virus Response: House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said it’s unlikely a congressional panel overseeing coronavirus relief will investigate the Trump administration’s initial response to the pandemic that’s claimed thousands of American lives. “This committee will be forward-looking,” Clyburn told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” “We’re not going to be looking back on what the president may or may not have done back before this crisis hit. The crisis is with us.” Read more from Naomi Nix.
Biden Convenes Shadow War Room: With no campaign events to headline and the public’s attention consumed by the pandemic, Joe Biden is struggling to stay relevant and acknowledging frustration at being on the sidelines of a national crisis. So the Democratic presidential front-runner has built a shadow war room of public health and economic experts to keep him engaged on the issue, with academics, medical experts and former President Barack Obama administration alumni advising him on a response, just as they would a sitting president. He’s rolled out recommendations on the only policy Americans currently care about, plans that also give voters a window into a possible alternative come November. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.
Biden, Sanders Discuss Running Mate Process: Biden said Friday night that he has spoken to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to inform him he was starting the vetting process for a running mate, saying he wanted to give his rival advanced notice so as not to appear “presumptuous.” It was the first time he has publicly acknowledged private conversations with his only remaining rival in the Democratic primary race. “I am in the process and I’ve actually had this discussion with Bernie because he’s a friend,” Biden said during a virtual fundraiser. Read more from Tyler Pager.
Biden Suggests Virtual Nominating Convention: Biden said the party should consider a virtual nominating convention this summer because the coronavirus has led to limits on public gatherings. “We’re going to have to do a convention, we may have to do a virtual convention,” Biden said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think we should be thinking about that right now. The idea of holding a convention is going to be necessary. But we may not be able to put 10, 20, 30,000 people in one place.” Read more from Steve Geimann.
Meanwhile, Trump said Saturday there’s no contingency plan for the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled for Aug. 24-27 in Charlotte, N.C. The president predicted the country would be in “good shape” by then as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic fades, Justin Sink reports.
Trump Rejects Voting-by-Mail: Trump said he doesn’t support mail-in voting as a way to limit the spread of the virus, arguing that sending ballots increases the likelihood of fraud. “I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I think people should vote with voter ID. I think voter ID is very important. The reason they don’t want voter ID is they intend to cheat,” he said. “All kids of bad things can happen,” Trump added, without citing evidence or examples.
More than a dozen states have postponed their presidential primaries because of concern that voters would get too close to one another and spread the coronavirus. Trump said Friday he still expects the general election to be held Nov. 3. Read more from Justin Sink.
The stimulus package included $400 million in new Help America Vote Act emergency funds, made available to states for the the 2020 election cycle, that would be distributed by the Election Assistance Commission. “The EAC is working diligently” to get the funds to states so officials “can immediately implement contingency efforts in response to coronavirus to protect voters and election staff, and maintain the integrity of our election process,” EAC Chairman Ben Hovland, Vice Chairman Don Palmer, Commissioner Tom Hicks, and Commissioner Christy McCormick said in a statement.
Republicans asked the Supreme Court to block the extension of absentee voting in tomorrow’s presidential primary in Wisconsin, bringing the first coronavirus-related case to the nation’s highest court, Greg Stohr reports. The Republican National Committee is fighting a federal judge’s extension of the absentee ballot deadline to April 13. The election also includes a hotly disputed battle over a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Other News Stories
U.S. Airlines Apply for Government Aid
U.S. airlines are rushing to apply for federal aid as their revenue plummets amid an unprecedented collapse in travel demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Mary Schlangenstein and Justin Bachman report.
Second-quarter sales will plunge 90%, Delta said, and the carrier is burning through $60 million a day. JetBlue expects to carry 7,000 passengers a day this month and probably in May, down from the typical level of 120,000. Both companies, along with United and American, applied for government aid. Alaska Air, the nation’s fifth-largest airline, also intends to apply for government help, as does Southwest.
Meanwhile, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the Treasury Department to move more quickly to help airlines to save industry jobs and refrain from imposing “unreasonable conditions” that might spur some carriers to decline payroll assistance, a concern that has been raised by regional airlines trade group and flight-attendant unions. In a letter yesterday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Pelosi and Schumer and other Democrats stressed that provisions of the $2.2 trillion stimulus passed by Congress were aimed specifically at bolstering aviation jobs. Read more from Billy House.
LaHood Backs ‘Cash for Clunkers’ Sequel: Ray LaHood, who oversaw the program known as “cash for clunkers” during his tenure as U.S. Transportation Secretary in 2009 amid the Great Recession, backed a Ford executive’s suggestion that a sequel to the program could be helpful if the industry, lawmakers and the Trump administration agree that auto demand needs a boost once the virus begins to abate.
So far though, policymakers haven’t openly discussed specific forms of industry aid. Automakers have so far urged lawmakers and the Trump administration to pursue broad means of economic support, stopping short of calling for aid specific to the auto sector.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), whose district is home to Ford’s headquarters, said a vehicle scrappage or purchase incentive has been discussed as a possible form of relief for the industry, but consensus hasn’t been reached yet in Washington. Read more from Ryan Beene.
Trump Defends Firing Intelligence Watchdog: Trump defended the move late Friday to fire the U.S. intelligence community’s inspector general, saying that in his opinion, Michael Atkinson did a “terrible job” when he raised an alarm over a whistleblower’s complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment. “Not a big Trump fan, I can tell you,” Trump told reporters on Saturday, referring to Atkinson. Trump faulted Atkinson for taking what he called a false report to Congress.
Atkinson alerted lawmakers about the complaint regarding Trump’s demand that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son. He later testified in the House impeachment inquiry. Read more from Justin Sink.
Trump Keeps Up Drive to Fill Up Courts: The coronavirus crisis hasn’t slowed Trump’s drive to stock the federal courts with conservative judges. Trump last week moved to fill the only two open federal appeals court slots, nominating a pair of outspoken conservatives and drawing new protests from liberal groups.
The latest is Justin Walker, whom Trump said Friday he would nominate for a seat on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Walker, 37, made his mark in 2018 by forcefully defending then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his divisive Supreme Court confirmation battle. Walker called Kavanaugh “a fighter for conservative legal principles who will not go wobbly.” The Walker announcement followed the president’s selection last Monday of Cory Wilson, a Mississippi state court judg e, to fill a vacancy on the New Orleans-based Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Read more from Greg Stohr.
Trump Agrees With Removing Navy Captain: Trump said he agrees with the decision regarding the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, who was ousted after writing a memo pleading for assistance in addressing the coronavirus outbreak on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Trump told reporters that the captain, Brett Crozier, should not have expressed his alarm in a widely circulated letter after more than 100 crew members were affected. “The letter was all over the place,” Trump said. “That’s not appropriate.” Read more from Justin Sink.
Crozier has tested positive for Covid-19, according to a report yesterday from the New York Times, which cites two of his Naval Academy classmates.
U.K.’s Johnson in Hospital: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to the hospital for more tests yesterday after testing positive for coronavirus 10 days earlier. Johnson’s symptoms were not improving and the move was a precautionary step, a spokesman said. Read more from Tim Ross.
Dismissal of Ukraine Shadow Diplomacy Suit: The Trump administration won the dismissal of a suit claiming it violated federal record-keeping requirements by conducting off-the-books diplomacy with Ukraine officials, the same conduct at the center of the impeachment inquiry. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg threw out the suit, saying the alleged actions by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, among others, were isolated and didn’t appear to be part of a formal “policy or practice” that could’ve been found to violate the Federal Records Act. Read more from Erik Larson.
Telecommunications Service Review Panel: A new Cabinet-level committee will assess whether foreign entities should be allowed to participate in the U.S. telecommunications services sector, under a new executive order from Trump. The committee, headed by Attorney General William Barr, will assist the Federal Communications Commission in its “public interest review of national security and law enforcement concerns” that may be raised by foreign companies that want to enter the sector, according to the order, Jon Reid reports.
Trump Tightens Pressure on Maduro: Trump is stepping up his campaign to oust Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro with the coronavirus pandemic and plunging oil prices threatening to worsen a humanitarian disaster years in the making. The Trump administration says its restrictions don’t prohibit humanitarian aid from flowing to Venezuela, the same argument it makes when pressed about sanctions on Iran. As a result, it’s holding firm to its policies even as some world leaders, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, say that it’s time to rethink sanctions to prevent the outbreak from worsening. David Wainer and Patricia Laya have more.
FTC Says Altria Made Secret Deal: Altria Group withdrew from the e-cigarette market in the fall of 2018 because of a secret deal with rival Juul Labs, not over public-health reasons that it had cited publicly at the time, according to federal antitrust officials. The Federal Trade Commission published Altria’s clandestine arrangement with Juul in an antitrust complaint Friday. The FTC complaint cites new evidence about the negotiations between the two companies that resulted in Altria’s $12.8 billion investment in Juul in 2018. David McLaughlin and Tiffany Kary have more.
Today on the Hill
- 10:00 am – In-House Pool Call Time
- 11:00 am – Pence leads a video teleconference with governors on COIVD-19 response
- 12:30 pm – Trump receives his lunch with Pence
- 3:00 pm – Pence oversees White House coronavirus task force meeting
- 5:00 pm – Members of the Coronavirus Task Force hold a press briefing
- On recess and scheduled to return April 20th
- The Senate will hold pro forma sessions today and Thursday at 10 a.m.
- On recess
- The House will hold a pro forma tomorrow at 11:30 a.m.
Legislation Introduced Friday, April 3, 2020
- H.R.6427 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To preclude the transfer of Federal prisoners during the emergency period described in section 1135(g)(1)(B) of the Social Security Act, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6428 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To provide for the exemption of certain earnings from the retirement earnings test, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6429 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To establish in the Legislative Branch a National Commission on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic in the United States.
- H.R.6430 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To require that school food authorities and local educational agencies not collect unpaid meal fees during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6431 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To require the creation of a national commission to prepare for future national emergencies, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6432 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a task force to conduct a study on physician shortages, including barriers to physicians trained abroad practicing in the United States, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6433 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To provide an exclusion from gross income for certain qualified first responders.
- H.R.6434 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To amend title 49, United States Code, to allow certain urbanized areas with a population of over 200,000 to be eligible under the small transit intensive cities formula, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6435 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To direct the Federal Trade Commission to develop and disseminate information to the public about scams related to COVID-19, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6436 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the direct payment requirement on the exclusion from gross income of distributions from governmental plans for health and long-term care insurance.
- H.R.6437 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To ensure that all communities have access to urgently needed COVID-19 testing, treatment, public health information, and relief benefits regardless of immigration status or limited English proficiency, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6438 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To allow 2020 recovery rebates to be made on the basis of an individual’s taxpayer identification number.
- H.R.6439 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To amend title 37, United States Code, to extend eligibility for hazardous duty pay to members of the uniformed services exposed to the cause of a declared public health emergency.
- H.R.6440 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To establish the National Commission on the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- H.R.6441 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To amend title 5, United States Code, to provide unpaid leave for certain National Guard service by Federal employees and employees of the District of Columbia, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6442 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To provide Americans with paid sick time and paid leave so that they can address their own health needs and the health needs of their families.
- H.R.6443 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To secure the national supply chain by providing tax incentives in economically distressed areas of the United States and its possessions.
- H.R.6444 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to establish an exception to jurisdictional immunity for a foreign state that discharges a biological weapon, and for other purposes
- H.R.6445 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To modify nutrition programs to address the Coronavirus Disease 2019, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6446 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To allow the President to temporarily suspend activities relating to the 2020 decennial census of population, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6447 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To amend title 40, United States Code, is amended with respect to the maximum contribution for certain projects or activities carried out in certain distressed counties, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6448 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude from gross income payments under the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program and certain amounts received under the Indian Health Professions Scholarships Program.
- H.R.6449 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To provide that during an emergency declared under the National Emergencies Act or the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits issued under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 may be used to purchase certain durable goods.
- H.R.6450 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To prevent price gouging during emergencies, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6451 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to prohibit debt from medically necessary procedures related to COVID-19 from being included on credit reports, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6452 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To require the Secretary of Transportation to repay the credit risk premiums paid with respect to certain railroad infrastructure loans after the obligations attached to such loans have been satisfied.
- H.R.6453 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To direct the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report the number of background checks conducted by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System during the month of March 2019 and during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6454 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To forgive certain disaster loans, and for other purposes.
- H.R.6455 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)To establish the National Commission Regarding the 2019 Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic, and for other purposes.
- H.Res.915 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)Honoring the accomplishments and legacy of César Estrada Chávez.