Header graphic for print
Focus on Regulation

Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – May 18, 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:

  • On Friday, the House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill, “The HEROES Act” (H. R. 6800) with a vote of 208-199.   The legislation included aid for local governments and additional direct payments for individuals. Fourteen Democrats, mostly in Republican-leaning states, voted against the bill.  Rep. Peter King (R-NY) was the only Republican to vote to support the bill.  The House also passed (217-189) a historic rule change allowing House proxy votes, rather than voting while physically present on the chamber floor.  These rules changes will make remote work easier and voting during the coronavirus pandemic possible for all members.  Senate Republicans still expressed no sense of urgency for another stimulus bill and have no immediate plans to produce an alternative proposal.  Some Senate lawmakers speculate it won’t be until June before something gets worked out.   President Trump said he is not interested in the package passed by the House.  On Sunday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told CBS’s Face the Nation she has no “red lines” when it comes to negotiations.  In the meantime, the Senate leaders plan to take up the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and possibly a bipartisan energy package.  On Monday, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said that a future stimulus package may not be needed to address the economic damage caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced the House schedule for the next couple of weeks while on the House Floor.  There are no expected votes this week as staff and committees finalize plans to carry out the new rules on remote working so they can return to critical legislation in the coming weeks.  The House will be in session May 27 and 28, after the Memorial Day Recess.  Hoyer said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) will be considered on May 27 and there may be more COVID-19 related bills considered on both days.  Among must-pass bills, Hoyer listed appropriations, the NDAA, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), and the surface transportation bill.
  • Vice President Mike Pence added five new members to the government’s coronavirus task force as the White House increasingly focuses on efforts to reopen the country safely.  The new members include Dr. Peter Marks, Director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health who will be focused on vaccine development.  Thomas Engels, Director of the Health Resources and Services Administration, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue are also joining the task force.
  • President Trump is calling the next phase of the pandemic response “transition to greatness.”  The Washington Post notes how consequential actions are being decided by others as the President appears to be serving “more as a salesman and marketer than a decider.”  The nation’s governors, business leaders, and scientists, and public health officials are all developing and overseeing the plans to reopen their economies safely and leading the race for a vaccine.  The Washington Post says the U.S. has retreated from its historic position of global and federal leadership.
  • Late Friday, the U.S. Small Business Administration and Department of the Treasury unveiled the application for loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  While the application does provide instructions, additional guidance and regulations are expected soon from SBA to help with the Loan Forgiveness Application process for both borrowers and lenders.
  • The Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CBS’s Face the Nation that “there are very real health consequences to these shutdowns that need to be balanced against possible illness from the coronavirus and other medical procedures or regular screenings not being performed or postponed until the outbreak is further contained.  Things like “cardiac procedures, cancer screenings, and pediatric vaccinations are critical health needs that are part of reopening the economy,” he said.
  • Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the ranking member for the Senate Commerce Committee sent a letter to Secretary Elaine Chao requesting the agency to provide “clear and uniform” safety guidance for airlines and airports, in the absence of federal guidelines from Whtie House.  She said guidelines should include limiting aircraft capacity and seating.   At this time, the FAA and CDC have only provided voluntary guidance related to crew health and cleaning planes. Last week, the Senator wrote Vice President Mike Pence, CDC Director Robert Redfield, and NIAID Director Anthony Fauci also requesting consistent and clear federal guidelines.
  • The White House has started to schedule more meetings by teleconference after two staffers tested positive for COVID-19.  Aides are now required to wear face masks around the White House, and in-person meetings, if they occur at all, are held in the largest conference rooms possible.  This week, President Trump plans to meet with governors and restaurant executives at the White House, while Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Florida to meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and deliver personal protective equipment to a nursing home.
  • According to Bloomberg, “The White House wants Congress to require hospitals and insurers to reveal the prices they negotiate for medical services as part of any additional round of coronavirus stimulus, in an effort to short-circuit a legal battle with the healthcare industry.”   Last year, the Health and Human Services Department published two rules requiring hospitals and insurers to make their prices public.  The rules are being challenged in court, but the President believes writing the requirement into law would end the court battle.

In the News:

  • Deaths from COVID-19 have reached nearly 90 thousand in the United States.  It’s the worst-affected country, with more than 1.4 million diagnosed cases.
  • Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said that while he expects the U.S. economy to recover, the downturn brought about by the coronavirus could last until the end of 2021.  In an interview with CBS News‘ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night, Powell said Americans needed to prepare for a new economic reality saying “This is a time of great suffering and difficulty and it’s come on us so quickly and with such force that you really can’t put into words the pain people are feeling and the uncertainty they’re realizing. And it’s going to take a while for us to get back.”
  • Amarillo, Texas, has been identified as a coronavirus hot spot after Governor Greg Abbott (R ) ordered increased testing of meat plant employees.  More than 700 cases were confirmed over the weekend after all 3,587 employees at a Tyson beef plant in Amarillo were tested, according to High Plains Public Radio. The plant resumed operations Monday.
  • J.C. Penney Co., Inc. plans to close about 29 percent of its stores, a regulatory filing showed on Monday, two days after it filed for bankruptcy protection.  The closings would bring the total store count from 846 to about 604 locations.
  • One-third of U.S. small businesses have stopped operating, while another 11 percent expect to fail in the next three months if Covid-19 conditions persist, according to a survey by Facebook Inc. and Small Business Roundtable.  The survey included 86,000 business owners and employees.
  • Walt Disney World Resort has announced the first phase in its plans to reopen Orlando, Florida locations.  A Disney Parks blog post details how Walt Disney World plans to tackle the first phase of re-opening which involves the re-opening of the Disney Springs location on Wednesday, May 20.
  • Biotech company Moderna, Inc. released promising results in an early-stage human trial for its coronavirus vaccine.  The company says the vaccine, mRNA-1273, produced antibodies in all 45 participants.  In a statement, the company’s chief medical officer Dr. Tal Zaks said “When combined with the success in preventing viral replication in the lungs of a pre-clinical challenge model at a dose that elicited similar levels of neutralizing antibodies, these data substantiate our belief that mRNA-1273 has the potential to prevent COVID-19 disease and advance our ability to select a dose for pivotal trials,”
  • Of more than 100 vaccines in development globally, at least eight have started testing in humans, including candidates from Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc.  At the same time, pharmaceutical giants like Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Sanofi are building capacity to make hundreds of millions of doses of their own or their partners’ vaccines.   The efforts are part of a larger rush, including at the White House, to line up funding for accelerated testing and expanded manufacturing capacity, all to make doses available in the U.S., starting as soon as this fall.
  • Delta Air Lines said on Monday it would resume flying several major routes in June that were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.