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Focus on Regulation

Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – May 15, 2020

Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines provided by the Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs team.

In Washington:

  • The House of Representatives passed H.R. 6800, “The HEROES Act” 208-199.  Some moderates and progressive members shared concerns about the measure; progressives felt like the bill did not go far enough, while moderates believed there should have been Republican input.   In all, 14 Democrats, mostly in Republican-leaning states voted against the bill.  Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairwoman Pramila Jaypal, (D-WA) was the sole hold out on the more liberal side of the party to vote against the bill. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) was the only Republican to vote to support the bill.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tweeted Friday ahead of the House vote saying, “Forget about this $3 trillion left-wing wish list that even House Democrats are criticizing. Republicans are focused on practical solutions like legal liability protections for medical workers and the schools, universities, and businesses that will be trying to re-open.”
  • Dr. Rick Bright’s testimony yesterday cast doubt on the timeline for a coronavirus vaccine and warned of dire consequences if we don’t get a national response effort in place.  He argued the Trump Administration failed to prepare for the Covid-19 outbreak and actively misled Americans on its response.
  • Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a ‘decision tool’ with recommendations to guide schools, businesses, restaurants, day-care facilities, and others seeking advice as to how to resume their lives into the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic.  The nation is still awaiting that detailed technical guidance, which the White House has held up and not shared publicly.
  • The U.S. Agriculture Department and White House adviser Ivanka Trump are unveiling a new food distribution program “Farmers to Families Food Box Program,” to aid small businesses and address gaps in the food supply chain spawned by the coronavirus.
  • The Senate’s stock-trading practices are currently under the microscope, and some are questioning whether lawmakers should be trading stocks at all, amid claims of insider trading and self-enrichment. The STOCK Act prohibits lawmakers and aides from buying or selling stocks based on information gleaned as part of their official duties.  However, a member of Congress has never been successfully prosecuted under the 2012 law.  After participating in COVID-19 related briefings, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) sold millions of dollars in stocks.  This week, Sen. Loeffler turned over documents to the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Senate Ethics Committee amid ongoing scrutiny over her stock trades.  Sen. Burr will step down temporarily as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee while under investigation by the FBI for his stock trading.  Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) is technically next in line, but he already chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who chairs the Senate Small Business Committee, said he would take the reins if asked.
  • Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Lisa Murkowski (R-A) sent a letter to letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking the Federal Reserve to buy longer-term debt issued by state and local governments to help ease the impact of coronavirus on municipal services.  They wrote, “establishing a facility to purchase municipal bonds from issuers and in the secondary market across all points of the yield curve would ensure state and local governments across the country can meet their financing needs as they respond to the health crisis and lay the foundation for future economic growth.”
  • President Trump announced the two leaders of the Administration’s new effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine called “Operation Warp Speed.”  They are Moncef Slaoui, the ex-head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines division, and four-star Army General Gustave Perna.  During Friday’s news conference at the White House President Trump said the U.S. will rebound regardless of whether or not a coronavirus vaccine is developed.  Trump said, “I just want to make something clear. It’s very important. Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back. And we’re starting a process.  Slaoui told the New York Times that developing and mass-producing a successful COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021 is a “credible objective,” but acknowledged it would be difficult.

In the News:

  • There are at least 1,419,863 cases of coronavirus in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.  Nearly 86,000 people have died.
  • Consumer spending fell a record 16.4 percent in April, according to a government report Friday.  A larger than expected drop, as economists predicted it would fall to 12.3 percent after March’s 8.3 percent dive.  Some 68 percent of the nation’s $21.5 trillion economy comes from personal consumption expenditures.
  • Many U.S. factories have been idled for two months now, forcing carmakers to lose billions of dollars a week.  Carmakers have been rolling out new safety protocols to resume operations, including plexiglass dividers, temperature checks, a face shield, mask, and gloves for every line worker.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory to thousands of doctors across the country Thursday, advising them to be on the lookout for a new syndrome that may be associated with coronavirus.  The syndrome, called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, has been found in children across Europe and in at least 18 states, and Washington, DC.
  • Social distancing has declined significantly from the height of the pandemic.  Since April, when all but few states had stay-at-home orders in place, the percentage of Americans that were completely or mostly isolating decreased at least marginally each week.  A Gallup Poll released Friday showed that by May 4, 58 percent of U.S. adults reported that they are still isolating themselves to some degree, a significant decrease from the high of 75 percent from the week of March 30 to April 5.
  • The German economy shrank 2.2 percent in the first quarter, the most in more than a decade, offering an early flavor of the damage from the coronavirus outbreak.  Restaurants and hotels probably won’t operate at full capacity as long as there’s no vaccine, and supply-chain disruptions mean exporters will continue to struggle.