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Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – June 11, 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:

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified before the Senate Small Business Committee and said unemployment was too high and that administration officials wanted to work on further economic incentives.  Possible avenues include changes to the small business-focused Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and tax credits.  He added, “I definitely think we are going to need another bipartisan legislation to put more money into the economy,” and cited specific assistance to the travel, leisure, and restaurant industries.  Mnuchin also said “we’re going to need to fix unemployment” insurance. Later, in an interview on CNBC, he said “we can’t shut down the economy again. We’ve learned that if you shut down the economy, you’re going to create more damage. And not just economic damage, but there are other areas, and we’ve talked about these medical problems and everything else that get put on hold.”
  • President Trump is launching a return to his typical schedule after spending weeks urging Americans to resume their schedules, hoping to restore the coronavirus-battered economy.  Trump is lining up in-person fundraisers, trips to his resort in New Jersey, and campaign rallies. But the country is far from achieving a semblance of normalcy.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has asked the White House coronavirus task force to brief Senate Democrats next week as some states have recently seen a spike in COVID-19 cases.  Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Schumer said “As the President continues to fixate on the stock market and Senate Republicans are ready to prematurely declare victory, we need to wrest the focus back to this crucial issue.  We need to understand why these spikes are happening and how to adapt our national response.”  A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
  • House Democrats used a hearing on “essential workers” to push for passage of labor-focused proposals, including a measure to pay increased benefits to front-line workers who contract COVID-19.  Republicans called for continued efforts to reopen businesses and schools. Democrats on the panel pressed for the Senate to take up H.R. 6800, a House-passed measure that would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue rules mandating employers take actions to protect workers from coronavirus exposure in the workplace. They also urged the House to pass H.R. 6909, a proposal from Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) that would pay benefits to essential workers, such as nurses and grocery store clerks who don’t have the ability to work from home, suffering from COVID-19.
  • Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) are pushing congressional leaders to include new provisions to bolster medical research and disease surveillance into the next pandemic-response bill.  The ideas are priorities for “Cures 2.0,” the follow-up legislation to the landmark 21st Century Cures Act (Public Law 114-255) the pair helped get signed into law in 2016.
  • Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to Christi Grimm, the acting inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging her to issue alerts in an effort to protect residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities from having their coronavirus relief payments confiscated by their residences.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) late yesterday issued orders to Amazon & eBay directing them to stop selling or distributing 70 products, including sprays, lanyards and other gear sometimes touted as “preventing epidemics.”

In the News:

  • Another 1.5 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.  Although initial jobless claims have been falling every week since peaking at 6.9 million in the last week of March, more than 44 million people have filed for initial unemployment benefits since mid-March.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 1,500 points on Thursday and was on pace for its worst day since the March sell-off as coronavirus cases increased in some states. The 30-stock Dow traded 1,700 points lower, or 6.3 percent. The S&P slid 5.4 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite dropped 4.6 percent.
  • A second wave of coronavirus cases is emerging in the U.S., raising alarms as new infections push the overall count past 2 million Americans. Texas yesterday reported 2,504 new cases of COVID-19, the highest single-day total since the pandemic emerged. A month into its own reopening, Florida this week found 8,553 new confirmed cases, the most of any seven-day period. California’s hospitalizations are at their highest in a month and have risen nine of the past 10 days.
  • Several governors have no plans to reimpose shutdown measures or pause reopenings, a sign that the political will to take drastic measures has dissipated even as the virus is still raging.
  • Mortgage rates just set a new record low, with the average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage hitting 2.97 percent on Thursday, according to Mortgage News Daily.
  • Regeneron announced the start of the first human trial of its antibody-drug that the company hopes will treat and prevent COVID-19.  The drug, REGN-COV2, which is a combination of two antibodies, is the latest potential therapy to enter clinical trials. The only drug that has so far been proven to effectively treat COVID-19 patients is Gilead Science’s Remdesivir.
  • International stocks declined after the Federal Reserve vowed to keep its monetary policy aggressive and struck a cautious note on jobs, prompting investors to revisit their assumptions about U.S. economic recovery.
  • Boris Johnson on Wednesday insisted it was ‘premature’ to say the U.K. had made mistakes in its response to the crisis after a top adviser said the country’s death toll could have been halved if it had gone into lockdown just one week earlier.