COVID-19 Federal Update 5-7-20
Happening on the Hill
Trump Vetoes Bill to Restrict Iran Power: Trump yesterday vetoed legislation that would require his administration to seek clearance from Congress for any military action against Iran. “This was a very insulting resolution, introduced by Democrats as part of a strategy to win an election on November 3 by dividing the Republican Party,” Trump wrote in a statement. “The few Republicans who voted for it played right into their hands.” The resolution, which was introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), would have barred troops from engaging in military actions against Iran without congressional approval, Daniel Flatley reports. The Senate will hold a vote to overturn the veto this afternoon, but likely lacks the two-thirds majority necessary to override Trump’s action.
Senators Seek Investigation of Carnival: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are urging a Senate committee to investigate Carnival’s response to the pandemic. In a statement yesterday, the senators cited reports indicating that Carnival continued sailing as the disease spread, even after recognizing the risks to passengers and crew. The statement was accompanied by a letter to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Jonathan Levin has more.
Distancing, Video, Masks at Altered Senate Judiciary Hearing: The Senate Judiciary Committee became one of the first congressional panels to adapt to new ways over the coronavirus pandemic as senators showed up in-person and via teleconference to hear testimony from Trump’s pick for the second highest court in the U.S. Despite a few instances where audio from the video stream was difficult to hear, the new format went smoothly—a common theme as more government institutions embrace new procedures to carry out work amid the health crisis. The U.S. Supreme Co urt this week made history when it began a series of teleconference oral arguments that were livestreamed to the public. Read more from Madison Alder.
Senate Hearing Today on Testing: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee convenes to discuss new tests to diagnose Covid-19. NIH Director Francis Collins and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Acting Director Gary Disbrow will testify. Democrats will likely press the witnesses over the administration’s testing readiness and leadership as it ramps up efforts to reopen the economy. Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will also raise the issue of Rick Bright, the former Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority director who was reassigned, according to excerpts of her remarks obtained by Bloomberg Government. Bright said he was ousted over his concerns regarding a drug pushed by the Trump administration for the coronavirus and clashed repeatedly with his superiors over other issues related to the pandemic, according to a complaint he filed on Tuesday.
Nominations: The Senate yesterday confirmed by an 84-7 vote William Evanina to be director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center. Trump yesterday announced his intent to nominate James Broward Story, a career member of Senior Foreign Service, to be ambassador to Venezuela, reports Chelsea Mes. North Carolina businessman and Republican fundraiser Louis DeJoy will be named head of the postal service, the Washington Post reported yesterday, citing the Postal Service’s Board of Governors. The White House and DeJoy declined to comment to the Washington Post.
Ginsburg Released From Hospital: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was released from a Baltimore hospital after being treated for a benign gallbladder condition, the U.S. Supreme Court said last night. Ginsburg, 87, a four-time cancer survivor, was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital on Tuesday after tests revealed she had a gallstone that had caused an infection. She took part in two telephone argument from the hospital earlier yesterday. “She is doing well and glad to be home,” the court said in a statement. Read more from Greg Stohr.
SBA Says $184 Billion in Loans Processed: The Small Business Administration said yesterday that it’s processed $183.5 billion in loans out of the $310 billion Congress authorized for the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program. The agency said on its website that it’d processed over 2.4 million applications from 5,422 lenders as of 5 p.m. Eastern time. The total amount of federal loans approved increased by about $2.3 billion from Tuesday, Mark Niquette reports.
A California software company that received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of over $750,000 sued the government over new guidelines attempting to restrict who can get such assistance. Zumasys said in a suit filed Monday against the Small Business Administration and Treasury Department it’s concerned it’ll have to pay back the forgivable loan the company and its two subsidiaries received in mid-April, some of which has already been spent to keep nearly 70 employees on the payroll. Malathi Nayak has more.
Auto-Parts Makers Seek U.S. Loans: Auto-parts manufacturers are lobbying for access to federal loans so they can resume making the components necessary for U.S. automobile assembly plants to begin producing cars again. The details of such a program, including its size, are still being discussed with lawmakers, but the loans are needed to help cover the initial raw materials purchases and other costs of producing parts after a roughly six-week period of almost zero revenue from components used in new vehicle production, according to Ann Wilson, senior vice president of government affairs at the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association. Read more from Ryan Beene.
If you’re looking for a real-time list of public companies who have received SBA Cares Act loans, AI Margaret rom Factsquared has been reading SEC 8-Ks as they’re filed.
Future Stimulus Legislation
Hoyer Floats Aid Vote Next Week: The House could vote on a Democratic plan for the next multibillion-dollar virus relief package as soon as next week, if the party can overcome some internal disagreements over what should be included, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said yesterday. Though Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said any additional relief plan would need bipartisan support, House Democrats are sorting through proposals that will articulate their own policy proposals. He said yesterday that committee chairs are collecting ideas from lawmakers, and once that’s done will finish writing the legislation. Read more from Billy House.
Easing Budget Caps for Pandemic Weighed: Key lawmakers and the Trump administration are divided over a proposal to change next year’s spending limits to allow for increased funding for health programs as negotiators are seeking a long-term path for responding to the coronavirus. A bipartisan group of House appropriators support exempting critical health-care funds from budget caps set under the Budget Control Act, which would enable big increases in biomedical spending next year without requiring offsetting cuts to other programs.
Congress has already appropriated hundreds of billions of dollars outside of the budget caps in response to the coronavirus, but the plan would allow for sustained increases for the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies. President Donald Trump’s administration, however, isn’t entertaining any proposals to alter the discretionary spending limits for fiscal 2021, a senior administration official said. The pushback is a major barrier to a deal, because any plan would require signoff from the House, Senate and White House in order to amend the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said at a House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee hearing yesterday he supports a budget cap exemption, and that he’s discussed the issue with Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). Full committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) would also support budget cap exemptions, spokesman Evan Hollander said in April. The exemption could allow greater spending on the NIH, CDC, Strategic National Stockpile, and Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, Cole said at the hearing. He added that DeLauro also proposed including the Food and Drug Administration’s food inspection network.
Former CDC Director Tom Frieden proposed a specific “Health Defense Operations” budget designation for key health programs that would exempt them from budget caps indefinitely. Frieden, former Senate majority leaders Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and four other former CDC directors sent a letter Tuesday to congressional leaders proposing the idea. Frieden also discussed the plan with appropriators at the hearing.
Frieden said the change could save money by forestalling future pandemics and that “sustained, baseline funding is the only way we will ensure we are prepared for the next pandemic.” Funding the health-care programs through the normal process forces them to compete with other priorities for limited funding, Frieden told lawmakers. “If it’s in discretionary, no matter how well intentioned everyone is, there are going to be problems,” Frieden said. “If it’s in mandatory, no matter how fixed we think it is, it isn’t.” Read more from Jack Fitzpatrick and Alex Ruoff.
Republicans Want Audit of Aid to WHO: Five Republican senators introduced a bill yesterday that seeks an accounting of how U.S. aid money is spent on the World Health Organization and other multilateral groups. “It is important that the United States knows where our taxpayers’ dollars are going,” Senate Foreign Affairs Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said in a statement. Trump has said WHO took Chinese claims about the coronavirus at “face value,” and he ordered a 60-day freeze of U.S. funding for the organization in April. Read more from Daniel Flatley.
- WHO is considering sending a mission to China, with an academic focus on finding the zoologic source of the coronavirus. “Without knowing where the animal origin is, it’s hard to prevent it from happening again,” Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said at a press briefing yesterday.
- Earlier yesterday Secretary of State Michael Pompeo ratcheted up his criticism of China’s handling of the outbreak, asserting that it covered up the origins of the virus even as he eased off his earlier claims of “enormous evidence” the virus escaped from a laboratory near Wuahn. Pompeo started a briefing laying out a timeline of China’s actions, saying that it had silenced doctors’ early warnings about the virus. Read more from Nick Wadhams.
Trump to Keep Virus Task Force: Trump said he’ll keep his coronavirus task force running indefinitely, backing away from a decision that was signaled by the White House a day earlier that he planned to disband the group of public health experts. Trump yesterday said he would be adding two or three more members to the group who will be focused on opening the U.S. for business. Asked about his reversal, Trump said: “I thought we could wind it down sooner, but I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday when I started talking about winding it down.” Trump struck up the task force in late January as the coronavirus was spreading rapidly across the globe. About a month later, he put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the group of public health officials, including Deborah Birx and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci. Josh Wingrove has more.
Insurers Seek to Bend Curve on Testing Prices: Health insurers nationwide are seeing bills for coronavirus tests as high as $1,000 as the U.S. looks to increase dramatically the number of tests performed. Insurers say they are only just now gathering claims data for Covid-19 tests and say the $1,000 tests, almost 2,000% of what Medicare pays for the same diagnostic, aren’t the norm but show the range they’re seeing different providers charge for the same test. Some of the biggest laboratories for Covid-19 testing, including LabCorp and the University of Washington, have a “cash price”—what a person could pay directly for the test—anywhere between $50 and $200. The huge cost variation could have long-term implications for insurers and for Americans without insurance seeking tests, particularly as states and the federal government try to ramp up testing and re-open businesses shuttered by the virus. Alex Ruoff has more.
U.S. Outbreak Worsening, Cuomo Says: The coronavirus outbreak is clearly seen to be worsening if New York is excluded from the data, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). New York, the epicenter of the U.S.’s pandemic, makes up about a fourth of cases and a third of deaths nationwide. As New York data show a decline in the spread of the disease, the situation in other states is still worsening even as they encourage business to open, Cuomo said yesterday at a press briefing. U.S. fatalities from Covid-19 have climbed 61% in two weeks, to 65,307 as of May 5. Excluding New York, deaths have spiked 78%. Read more.
- California reported 2,603 new infections, its biggest one-day increase in cases. The number of daily deaths spiked to 95 from 63 the previous day. The jumps come as Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) takes steps to slowly restart the economy.
- Texas recorded its biggest daily jump in fatalities in a week as the death toll rose 4.6% to 948, according to state health department data. Total cases increased by 3.2% to 34,422. The surge in Covid-19 deaths comes as Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) reopening of the state’s economy accelerated.
Infecting Subjects to Speed Vaccine Weighed: Deliberately infecting healthy volunteers with the virus that causes Covid-19 may speed studies of vaccines against the deadly pathogen, the World Health Organization said. Such studies, which pose significant potential dangers to subjects, may be considered in dire situations and with certain disclosures and protections, a working group of the United Nations health agency said in a report posted yesterday on its website. Researchers around the world are racing to develop vaccines to protect against the deadly coronavirus and allow countries to rebuild teetering economies. So-called challenge studies, where treatments or preventatives are tested directly against the infection in informed volunteers, might speed the path of vaccines to the public. Read more from Corinne Gretler and John Lauerman.
Roberts Queries Curbs to ACA Birth-Control Rule: Chief Justice John Roberts suggested that the Trump administration had gone too far in giving employers and universities a broad religious opt-out from the Obamacare requirement that they offer free birth-control coverage through their health plans. With the Supreme Court hearing arguments by phone for a third day, justices yesterday re-entered a fractious debate over the ACA’s contraceptive requirement. Roberts, who could hold the swing vote, said the Trump exemption may “sweep too broadly,” going beyond what is needed to accommodate legitimate religious objections. Roberts also questioned arguments made by two states challenging the exemption, but he directed his toughest questions at two lawyers defending the White House approach. Read more from Greg Stohr and David McLaughlin.
Democrats are citing the pandemic in an effort to persuade the Supreme Court to save Obamacare. In the high-stakes suit that a group of Republican states led by Texas initiated to take down the law, the California-led coalition working to defend it kicked off its opening brief telling justices that many of the Affordable Care Act’s reforms “have proven indispensable in the context of the current pandemic.” That same sentiment was echoed by the House in its brief yesterday. Read more from Lydia Wheeler.
Democrats Blast Judge Over ACA: Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats said a federal district court judge allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is too biased and inexperienced to sit on the federal appeals court that’s been a launching pad for future Supreme Court justices. Justin Walker came under fire repeatedly at his confirmation hearing yesterday for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, with Democrats pointing to his past comments criticizing a Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Read more from Laura Litvan
No Escape From the Virus at 30,000 Feet: They must sit close to coworkers for hours on end. Social distancing from strangers — their customers — is nearly impossible. After work they head for nearly deserted hotels and scrounge for places to buy food. Thousands of pilots and flight attendants risk exposing themselves to the deadly coronavirus on a daily basis. Well over 500 have fallen ill and a handful have died. Unions are frustrated at the U.S. government’s unwillingness to mandate standards and what they say is a failure of the airlines and even some passengers to fully adhere to the recommendations of health authorities.
“Airline pilots are putting themselves in harm’s way each time we go to work,” said Joe DePete, president of the 63,000-member Air Line Pilots Association union. At the same time, President Donald Trump is pushing to reopen the American economy — something that could entice people back to flying, increasing the risk for flight crews. The pandemic has so far crushed demand for travel, cutting passenger loads to as little as 5% of last year. The numbers have recently rebounded, but only slightly, leaving airlines with billions of dollars in losses and facing an uncertain future. Yet as airlines slash their schedules to save money, planes are fuller — occasionally even packed.
At a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday, industry representatives defended their actions, but acknowledged there might be a need for additional federal health requirements. “It’s something that needs to be seriously considered,” Nicholas Calio, president of the Airlines for America trade group, representing large carriers, told lawmakers. In interviews in recent weeks, more than a dozen pilots and flight attendants described a chaotic world of rolling cancellations, sometimes tense standoffs with passengers who don’t understand they’re putting others at risk and an eerie new reality of empty terminals and few flights. Read more from Alan Levin.
Frontier Faulted for Charging for Extra Seat: House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.) said that U.S. airline Frontier’s decision to require customers to pay extra to block the middle seats on their flights for social distancing amounts to profiteering from coronavirus fears. Charging passengers to keep middle seats empty is “capitalizing on fear and passengers’ well-founded concerns for their health and safety,” DeFazio said in a statement yesterday. Frontier is requiring passengers to wear masks and blocking every other row on its aircraft departing on flights through first week of May to limit virus risks, Kasia Klimasinska reports.
- Meanwhile, Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at a hearing yesterday it’s not necessary for the federal government to force social distancing on flights through a rule. Hilary Godwin, dean of the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, said that close proximity of people over an extended period of time creates a greater transmission risk. Read more from Courtney Rozen.
- Calio also said the federal government, not the airlines, should collect passenger contact information so that health officials can contact fellow travelers if a flyer is infected. It would take airlines 12-14 months to build their own system to collect passenger contact information for health officials, Calio said. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he is working on legislation that would create a government passenger information portal for disease contact tracing.
- At the same hearing, Todd Hauptli, president of the American Association of Airport Executives, told the panel that airport aid under the third coronavirus aid package isn’t enough, and asked for at least $10 billion more in federal funds. More than 3,000 airports have already received a combined $10 billion in aid, Rozen reports.
- Calio had said at the hearing airlines won’t need more federal aid, but he later changed his stance and said that more aid shouldn’t be ruled out, Bloomberg News reports.
Panel Tweaks, Moves Water Infrastructure Bills: The Senate’s environment panel approved two major water infrastructure bills yesterday after rejecting a Republican committee member’s push to give Western states more authority in delegating their water supplies. The water bills (S. 3591 and S. 3590), developed by the top Republican and Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, will now go to the full Senate. It’s not clear when the chamber will act. Dean Scott has more.
Defense Department to Move to Reverse Ligado’s Approval: The Defense Department will move to overturn Ligado Networks’s approval for a mobile network over concerns the planned service would interfere with military and civilian GPS receivers, a Pentagon official said. “This is a bad deal for America,” Dana Deasy, the department’s chief information officer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing yesterday. “There are too many unknowns and the risks are too great to allow the proposed Ligado system to proceed in light of the operation al impact to GPS.”
Deasy, who was among several defense officials to testify, said he’d work to get the Federal Communications Commission to reverse its approval of Ligado’s plan, granted April 20. The Defense Department will ask the Commerce Department arm that coordinates spectrum use to lodge a request with the FCC to reconsider, Deasy said. Read more from Todd Shields and Tony Capaccio.
- Investigation Into Carnival: Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Edward Markey (Mass.) are urging the Senate Commerce Committee to investigate Carnival’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a statement yesterday, the senators cited reports indicating that Carnival continued sailing as Covid-19 spread, even after recognizing the risks to passengers and crew. Read more from Jonathan Levin.
- Support for Buses, Motorcoaches: Senate Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking that the department provide technical assistance to the motorcoach industry during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has stifled sales during a peak season. The CARES Act (Public Law 116-136) passed in March includes a $454 billion lending program, but the program’s rules “do not fully recognize some of the unique challenges motocoach companies face, particularly the high level of capital investment needed,” the lawmakers said.
Lawmakers Push to Revive Car Industry: A bipartisan group of House lawmakers from states with a large auto industry presence is mounting a push to aid the sector that has idled factories and seen car sales plummet due to the coronavirus. Nine lawmakers from both parties so far have signed on to a draft letter urging Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to consider fresh proposals to support auto industry employment in future coronavirus legislation.
The effort, led by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and others from Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Alabama, doesn’t propose specific forms of aid for carmakers, parts suppliers or dealers. But the lawmakers wrote that “it will be necessary to support demand for some time to ensure a meaningful recovery,” according to the draft, which was provided by Upton’s office and reported earlier by The Washington Post. Read more from Ryan Beene.
Meanwhile, auto-parts manufacturers are also lobbying for access to federal loans so they can resume making the components necessary for U.S. automobile assembly plants to begin producing cars once more. The details of such a program, including its size, are still being discussed with lawmakers, according to Ann Wilson, senior vice president of government affairs at the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, reports Beene.
There’s at least one thing going in General Motors’s favor: sales of highly lucrative trucks. Full-size pickup deliveries soared 27% in the first three months of the year, the automaker reported yesterday. That momentum will likely endure into the current quarter. Industrywide, trucks outsold passenger cars in the U.S. for the first time ever in April, according to market researcher Autodata, Craig Trudell and David Welch report.
Uber Reducing Workforce by 14%: Uber will eliminate 3,700 jobs and permanently close 180 driver service centers, the first in a series of cost-cutting measures to be announced in the next two weeks as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. The reductions will affect 14% of staff around the world, mainly those in support and recruiting, Dara Khosrowshahi, the CEO, wrote in an email to employees yesterday. Read more from Lizette Chapman.
JetBlue Asks to Pause Flights to Western Cities: JetBlue Airways has asked to halt flights through June 30 to five cities far from where its service is primarily concentrated on the East Coast, according to a government filing. The airports affected by JetBlue’s latest are in Albuquerque, N.M., Bozeman, Mont., Reno, Nev., as well as Sacramento and Palm Springs, Calif. The request seeks to temporarily remove locations from a list of cities the airline must continue to service in exchange for receiving taxpayer relief in the third coronavirus relief law. Ryan Beene has more.
United Backtracks on Cutting Hours: United is reversing course for now on a plan to cut work hours for 15,000 employees, replacing it with a voluntary leave program as the carrier races to lower costs and raise cash to survive the collapse in travel demand. United unveiled the new arrangement a day after the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers sued the carrier in federal court, saying the plan to reduce hours violated the terms of the U.S. government’s airline-rescue package. Read more from Justin Bachman.
DeSantis Says Trump Wants Foreign Travel Plan: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said he was working on a plan for handling the coronavirus threat from international travelers after a request from Trump. DeSantis said he was specifically concerned about Brazil, a country with close ties to South Florida. DeSantis said he was considering asking airlines to screen and test passengers from areas with significant outbreaks. Read more from Jonathan Levin.
U.S. Says It’s in Compliance With WTO Over Boeing Dispute: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in an agency release the U.S. is in compliance with the World Trade Organization in a subsidy dispute. “With Washington State’s repeal of this relatively minor tax reduction, the United States has fully implemented the WTO’s recommendation, ending this dispute,” Lighthizer said. Read more from Megan Howard.
Uber, Lyft Arbitration Pacts Bypassed When Government Sues: Uber and Lyft have long used arbitration agreements to keep driver misclassification disputes out of court, eluding a conclusive ruling on their business models that rely on independent contractors rather than employees. They won’t have that shield in California’s lawsuit seeking to enforce a new state law.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with the state’s biggest cities, sued the companies on Tuesday, alleging that they violated Assembly Bill 5, a new state law that makes it harder for companies to classify their workers as contractors who don’t receive minimum wage, overtime, and other benefits afforded to employees. Read more from Erin Mulvaney.
Trump Threatens China Trade Deal: Top Chinese and U.S. trade negotiators will speak as soon as next week on progress in implementing a phase-one deal after President Donald Trump threatened to “terminate” the agreement if Beijing doesn’t adhere to the terms. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will be on the call, according to people familiar with the matter. The U.S. will be represented by Robert Lighthizer, one of the people said. The planned phone call will be the first time Liu and Lighthizer speak officially about the agreement since it was signed in January, just before the global coronavirus pandemic hit the world’s two biggest economies and upended global supply chains. The deal called for Liu and Lighthizer to meet every six months, making next week’s call slightly ahead of schedule. Trump also seemed to suggest a development was on the horizon when he told reporters at the White House yesterday that he’d be able to report in the next week or two if he’s happy with how the trade deal is progressing.
On Sunday, in response to a question at a town hall from a business owner who said he was losing money on the tariffs, Trump noted that the duties prompted China to promise to buy $250 billion worth of U.S. goods. “Now they have to buy,” the president said. “And if they don’t buy, we’ll terminate the deal, very simple.” Relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated further since America became one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus. Trump has blamed China for misleading the world about the scale and risk of the disease, and even threatened more tariffs as punishment. China’s foreign ministry has in turn accused some U.S. officials of trying “to shift their own responsibility for their poor handling of the epidemic to others.” Read more.
Pandemic’s Economic Toll Sparks Call in U.S. to Abolish WTO: The World Trade Organization is coming under fresh criticism from Washington, this time from a Midwestern lawmaker who sees the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to rebuild America’s standing in the global economy. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), writing in the New York Times op-ed page on Tuesday, called for the abolition of the WTO, blaming the Geneva-based arbiter of international commerce for overseeing a system that he argued has failed American workers. The U.S. needs to stop Chinese imperialism and renegotiate trade deals with allies, he wrote, saying that “abandoning the WTO is a start.”
While no authority exists for the U.S. government to close down the WTO single-handedly, the missive from Hawley echoes many of the complaints the Trump administration brought to office in 2017. It also reflects the hardening of some Americans’ views about China and the growing list of scapegoats sought for the economic calamity the country now faces. Read more from Bryce Baschuk.
U.S. Delays Report on Hong Kong’s Autonomy: The U.S. delayed an annual report to Congress assessing Hong Kong’s autonomy, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said, amid signals that China’s top agency in the city could take a more hands-on role. The postponement will “allow us to account for any additional actions that Beijing may be contemplating in the run-up to the National People’s Congress that would further undermine the people of Hong Kong’s autonomy as promised by China,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington yesterday.
The move came days after China’s Liaison Office — its top agency in Hong Kong — accused resurgent pro-democracy protesters of jeopardizing the financial hub’s future. The U.S. previously dismayed China by showing support for Hong Kong’s demonstrators, who kicked off months of protests opposing Beijing’s increasing grip on the city last June. Read more from Karen Leigh.
Search for Virus Origin Means Mission to China: The World Health Organization is considering a new mission to seek the source of the coronavirus in China, amid growing controversy over the origin of a pandemic that has killed more than a quarter of a million people. “Without knowing where the animal origin is, it’s hard to prevent it from happening again,” Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said at a press briefing yesterday. “There is discussion with our counterparts in China for a further mission, which would be more academic in focu s, and really focus on looking at what happened at the beginning in terms of exposures with different animals,” she added.
At a briefing today, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying didn’t directly answer when asked if China would allow the WHO mission. She repeated that the origin of the virus needed to be determined by “scientists and professionals.” “The Chinese government and the WHO have seen good communication,” Hua said. “We would like continue our cooperation to deal with the pandemic.” Read more from Corinne Gretler and Naomi Kresge.
Perdue Says Meat Plants Should Reopen in 10 Days: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said he expects that U.S. meatpacking plants to fully resume operations within a week to 10 days, during a meeting with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) and Trump. The president said the U.S. has “plenty of supply” of meat. “Within a week and a half, we’ll be in great shape. Maybe sooner,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. Perdue added: “I’d say probably a week to 10 days before we’re fully back up.” Read more from Jordan Fabian.
Emergency Virus Measures Test Core Rights: State and local efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus with stay-at-home and lockdown orders has spurred a libertarian backlash driving sometimes armed demonstrators to the streets and lawyers into courthouses across the U.S. to file civil rights lawsuits. Aimed at freeing religious congregations and businesses from restrictions imposed in the name of protecting public health, the suits assert violations of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of freedom to publicly assemble, to worship, t o bear arms, and not be stripped of one’s property interests without due process, rights their proponents assert must be preserved even if the countervailing risk is illness or death.
The Supreme Court, grappling with its own social distancing requirements, on Wednesday declined to lift Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s March order to close all non-life-sustaining businesses. But, only days earlier, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit blocked Kentucky from barring drive-in church services and still more cases are pending including some with petitions already before the high court. Read more from Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson.
U.K. to Ease Lockdown Monday: The U.K. is set to ease parts of its nationwide lockdown Monday, with more freedom for people to leave their homes, but companies warned continued social distancing will hurt any economic recovery. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wants to start relaxing some measures next week “if we possibly can,” and will make a full statement on his plans on Sunday. Under the changes, the government will stop ordering people to stay at home and allow them to sit or sunbathe in parks and exercise outdoors as much 1s they like, as long as they keep two meters apart from others. But officials cautioned the changes will be minor easements, rather than a big move to unlock the economy. Read more from Joe Mayes and Tim Ross.
Health Insurers Offer Discounts to Customers Hit by Pandemic: Several of the U.S.’s biggest for-profit insurers will give money back to customers and cut upfront costs for care and prescriptions, after they got an unexpected windfall because patients delayed normal medical services during the pandemic. UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest insurer, said it will rebate premiums to some commercial customers and waive cost-sharing for Medicare members as part of a $1.5 billion pandemic assistance program. Separately, Cigna said its pharmacy unit will cap the costs of some drugs for people who have lost health insurance. Earlier this week, Humana announced it would waive cost-sharing for Medicare members to see primary care doctors for the rest of the year. Read more from John Tozzi and Emma Court.
Tech Companies Take Privacy Reins With Law Absent: Technology companies helping to fight the coronavirus are policing themselves to protect consumer data in the absence of a comprehensive U.S. statute and only a few state privacy laws. The companies are taking voluntary steps based on Europe’s privacy law, such as restricting the types of data they collect and stating upfront their specific purpose for gathering information. But without federal laws requiring such steps, consumers may doubt that companies will actually follow through and protect their data, said Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. Read more from Daniel R. Stoller.
White House Studies Virus Effect on Environment: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has started studying how much the sharp cutoff in human activity due to the coronavirus has affected the planet’s atmosphere and oceans. Its findings will help sharpen climate projections and weather forecasts, the agency said yesterday. One target of research is the link between reduced activity and levels of carbon dioxide, methane, aerosols, and other common air pollutants. Read more from Stephen Lee.
New York AG Appeals Primary Order: New York state Attorney General Letitia James (D) is appealing a judge’s order to reinstate the state’s June 23 Democratic presidential primary election, which had been canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. She filed notice yesterday that New York is asking the federal appeals court in Manhattan to review the order. U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres ruled on Tuesday that the cancellation violated voters’ constitutional rights. Bob Van Voris has more.
Santorum Leads Conservative Climate Group: Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and a pair of former Republican Senate staffers launched a group yesterday to push for conservative approaches to climate change and energy. Some of the Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions’ main targets will include seeking to streamline the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act, said Drew Bond, a coalition cofounder and former legislative assistant to former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.). Read more from Stephen Lee.
EPA Leans on Older Adjunct Workers, With No Raises: In a large office in an eastern city, a woman works 36 hours a week at the EPA processing and issuing permits—a task she said only one other person in her office knows how to do. The woman, who declined to be identified in order to speak freely, is a retiree who works in the EPA’s Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) program. The program was created nearly four decades ago to let older workers—some of them EPA retirees, but many not—use their skills at the EPA, while keeping active and earning some extra money.
The EPA has come to rely on the program to fill in gaps from hiring freezes and worker departures, according to program participants. But its pay scale for the senior workers hasn’t risen since 2010—even as federal employees have gotten raises of more than 5% between 2011-2018, according to the agency’s inspector general. And while the program isn’t intended to offer permanent employment at the EPA, many of the workers view themselves that way, and some have been working for the agency for more than two decades, the OIG found. Stephen Lee has more.
Navy’s Big Frigate Risks an Oversized Cost: The Navy truncated orders for its ill-fated Littoral Combat Ship because the small vessels were vulnerable to attack and too lightly armed. Now, a new report suggests that the frigate intended to replace it may cost 56% more than projected partly because it’s bigger. The service projects that 18 of 20 new frigates will cost an average of $940 million each in inflation-adjusted dollars. The first two are estimated at about $1 billion each because of one-time costs.
But the Congressional Research Service alerted lawmakers this week to “a potential issue” worth reviewing: the accuracy of Navy cost estimates considering that “ships of the same general type and complexity that are built under similar production conditions” tend to have similar — and substantially higher — costs per ton of displacement. Read more from Tony Capaccio.
Today on the Hill
- 10:00 am – In-House Pool Call Time
- 11:00 am – Pence delivers PPE from FEMA to Woodbine Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center
- 2:00 pm – Trump meets with the Governor of Texas
- 4:00 pm – Trump and First Lady deliver remarks at the White House National Day of Prayer Service
- 5:00 pm – Pence leads coronavirus task force meeting
- 9:30am – Senate Armed Services Committee hears from Kenneth Braithwaite, nominated to be secretary of the Navy, and Charles Brown Jr., nominated to be Air Force chief of staff, at confirmation hearing; G-50 Dirksen
- 10:00 am – Senate meets to consider S. J. Res. 68, the Iran war powers resolution vetoed by President Trump yesterday
- 10:00 am – Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hears from NIH Director Francis Collins, and HHS biomedical advanced research and development authority official Gary Disbrow on new tests for the coronavirus; 106 Dirksen
- 1:30 pm – Senate to vote on veto message; expected to be last vote of the week, previous votes in each chamber were far short of two-thirds majorities needed to override
- Senate Rules and Administration Committee is expected to vote to advance Texas election lawyer James “Trey” Trainor to fill a GOP vacancy on the FEC
- 2:00 pm – House Small Business Committee holds online hearing with small business leaders on the SBA’s implementation of the Cares Act loan program
- 10:45am: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds weekly press conference
- House leaders last week abandoned plans to reconvene today, citing concern about Covid-19 spread
Both chambers are trying to figure out next steps on response to the coronavirus
Yesterday’s Legislative Action
- S.3615— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 to extend the rural community hospital demonstration program. Sponsor: Sen. Murkowski, Lisa [R-AK] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (2)Committees: Senate – Finance Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
- S.3616— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for the inclusion of certain emblems on headstones and markers furnished for veterans by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Braun, Mike [R-IN] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (2)Committees: Senate – Veterans’ Affairs Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
- S.3617— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to require payment of hazardous duty pay for members of the Armed Forces performing duty in response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Ernst, Joni [R-IA] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (0)Committees: Senate – Finance Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
- S.3618— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exempt distilled spirits plants from denaturing requirements with respect to hand sanitizer produced to help combat COVID-19.Sponsor: Sen. Paul, Rand [R-KY] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (0)Committees: Senate – Finance Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
- S.3619— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend title II of division A of the CARES Act to modify certain provisions related to unemployment compensation, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Reed, Jack [D-RI] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (0)Committees: Senate – Finance Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
- S.3620— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to establish a Housing Assistance Fund at the Department of the Treasury. Sponsor: Sen. Reed, Jack [D-RI] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (18)Committees: Senate – Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
- S.3621— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to remove limitations on the required use of American iron and steel products in projects carried out using State revolving loan funds, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Baldwin, Tammy [D-WI] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (1)Committees: Senate – Environment and Public Works Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
- S.3622— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to waive the cost share requirement for Indian Tribes receiving disaster assistance relating to COVID-19, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Heinrich, Martin [D-NM] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (5)Committees: Senate – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
- S.3623— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to provide for an enhanced Coronavirus relief fund for units of government with a population of 500,000 or less, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Heinrich, Martin [D-NM] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (16)Committees: Senate – Appropriations Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Appropriations.
- S.3624— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend the national service laws to prioritize national service programs and projects that are directly related to the response to and recovery from the COVID-19 public health emergency, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Coons, Christopher A. [D-DE] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (16)Committees: Senate – Finance Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
- S.3625— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend subpart 1 of part B of title IV of the Social Security Act to ensure that mental health screenings and assessments are provided to children and youth upon entry into foster care. Sponsor: Sen. Blunt, Roy [R-MO] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (3)Committees: Senate – Finance Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
- S.3626— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to establish a review of United States multilateral aid. Sponsor: Sen. Risch, James E. [R-ID] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (4)Committees: Senate – Foreign Relations Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
- S.3627— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to provide for the expedited and transparent procurement and distribution of equipment and supplies needed to combat COVID-19.Sponsor: Sen. Baldwin, Tammy [D-WI] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (45)Committees: Senate – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
- S.3628— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to prohibit the use of Federal funds for purchasing dogs and cats from wet markets in China, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Ernst, Joni [R-IA] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (0)Committees: Senate – Foreign Relations Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
- S.3629— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to establish the Office to Enforce and Protect Against Child Sexual Exploitation. Sponsor: Sen. Wyden, Ron [D-OR] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (3)Committees: Senate – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
- S.3630— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to provide certain limitations on liability for actions taken by health care providers to combat COVID-19.Sponsor: Sen. Sasse, Ben [R-NE] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (0)Committees: Senate – Judiciary Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
- S.3631— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to provide relief for rural providers during the national emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).Sponsor: Sen. Sasse, Ben [R-NE] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (0)Committees: Senate – Finance Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
- S.3632— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to provide funding for cities, counties, and other units of general local government to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. Sponsor: Sen. Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [D-NY] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (6)Committees: Senate – Appropriations Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Appropriations.
- S.3633— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to continue to update and make publicly available EJScreen or an equivalent tool, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Duckworth, Tammy [D-IL] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (13)Committees: Senate – Environment and Public Works Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
- S.3634— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to address health workforce shortages and disparities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic through additional funding for the National Health Service Corps and Nurse Corps. Sponsor: Sen. Durbin, Richard J. [D-IL] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (12)Committees: Senate – Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
- S.3635— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to maintain a list of the country of origin of all drugs marketed in the United States, to ban the use of Federal funds for the purchase of, or reimbursement for, drugs manufactured in China, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Cotton, Tom [R-AR] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (4)Committees: Senate – Finance Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
- S.3636— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to transfer the United States Secret Service to the Department of the Treasury. Sponsor: Sen. Graham, Lindsey [R-SC] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (1)Committees: Senate – Judiciary Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
- S.3637— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to extend lease protections for servicemembers under stop movement orders in response to a local, national, or global emergency, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Tester, Jon [D-MT] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (13)Committees: Senate – Veterans’ Affairs Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
- S.3638— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to allow Coronavirus Relief Fund payments to be used to replace revenue shortfalls resulting from COVID-19.Sponsor: Sen. Sullivan, Dan [R-AK] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (5)Committees: Senate – Appropriations Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Appropriations.
- S.J.Res.68— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran that have not been authorized by Congress. Sponsor: Sen. Kaine, Tim [D-VA] (Introduced 01/09/2020) Cosponsors: (30)Committees: Senate – Foreign Relations Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Veto message received in Senate. Ordered held at the desk.
- S.Con.Res.38— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A concurrent resolution to establish the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies for the inauguration of the President-elect and Vice President-elect of the United States on January 20, 2021Sponsor: Sen. Blunt, Roy [R-MO] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (1)Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Submitted in the Senate, considered, and agreed to without amendment by Unanimous Consent.
- S.Res.560— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A resolution recognizing and supporting the goals and ideals of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Sponsor: Sen. Feinstein, Dianne [D-CA] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (5)Committees: Senate – Judiciary Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
- S.Res.561— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A resolution supporting the goals and ideals of National Nurses Week, to be observed from May 6 through May 12, 2020.Sponsor: Sen. Merkley, Jeff [D-OR] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (22)Committees: Senate – Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
- S.Res.562— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A resolution designating March 25, 2020, as “National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day”. Sponsor: Sen. Loeffler, Kelly [R-GA] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (2)Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Submitted in the Senate, considered, and agreed to without amendment and with a preamble by Unanimous Consent.
- S.Res.563— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A resolution designating March 2020, as “National Women’s History Month”. Sponsor: Sen. Feinstein, Dianne [D-CA] (Introduced 05/06/2020) Cosponsors: (35)Latest Action: Senate – 05/06/2020 Submitted in the Senate, considered, and agreed to without amendment and with a preamble by Unanimous Consent.