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Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – June 23, 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:

  • President Trump asserted Tuesday that the U.S. would record fewer cases of coronavirus with less testing after stirring controversy by saying over the weekend he asked aides to slow down testing. He tweeted, “cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever-expanding. With smaller testing, we would show fewer cases!” 
  • President Trump signaled Monday that he’s open to a second stimulus check for Americans still reeling financially from the coronavirus pandemic and the related economic lockdown.  During an interview he was asked whether he plans to give another cash payment to some Americans, Trump said: “Yeah we are. We are.” He added, “we will be doing another stimulus package. It’ll be very good, it’ll be very generous.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, while testifying before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, suggested the administration is exploring sending another check to some Americans.  At the time, he said, “I think we’re going to seriously look at whether we want to do more direct money to stimulate the economy.”
  • According to Politico, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the chairman of the select oversight panel on coronavirus, sent a six-page letter to the Trump administration asking for details about any efforts to suppress coronavirus testing by the White House.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, obtained by the Washington Post, asking the administration to immediately spend the money that Congress allocated for testing and contact tracing. “While it has been months since these funds were first appropriated, the Administration has failed to disburse significant amounts of this funding, leaving communities without the resources they need to address the significant challenges presented by the virus,” they wrote.
  • Vice President Mike Pence told governors yesterday that federal government health experts were worried that more young people are testing positive for the coronavirus around the country.  Pence’s comments echoed concerns voiced by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who signaled he may halt or reverse the state’s economic reopening if the virus continues to expand at what he called an “unacceptable rate.”  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he is “seriously considering” implementing a quarantine for out-state-visitors to New York as the number of cases drops there while elsewhere cases are spiking.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, Brett Giroir, Stephen Hahn, and Robert Redfield testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the coronavirus today.   Fauci told lawmakers that parts of the U.S. are beginning to see a “disturbing surge” in coronavirus infections and also said he expects a vaccine will be ready by early next year.
  • House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) announced that she will hold a hearing on coronavirus oversight next week with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. 
  • Trump administration aides have discussed launching an in-depth evaluation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to chart what they view as its missteps in responding to the pandemic.  Part of that audit would include examining more closely the state-by-state death toll tally only the Americans who died directly of COVID-19 rather than other factors.  Additionally, they are considering narrowing the mission of the agency, trying to embed more political appointees within it, and make the CDC nimble and more responsive.
  • The Treasury Department estimates that an additional 30 million to 35 million Americans are still waiting on their payments.  Financial aid meant to assist Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic has been slow to reach the most vulnerable, who are often disconnected from the banking system.  Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)  introduced a bill in March that would allow individuals to open free bank accounts with the Federal Reserve, avoiding the fees and minimum-balance requirements that often block the poorest from traditional banking.

In the News:

  • Florida officials expressed new concern on Monday that the tactics used to slow the spread of the coronavirus are falling short and may not be enough to stop a resurgence of positive cases.  Officials urged businesses and residents particularly young people to stay vigilant about social distancing. 
  • The University of Michigan is canceling its commitment to host one of three scheduled presidential debates between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, citing health concerns. 
  • Nearly a third of mental health and addiction treatment centers haven’t received any of the $175 billion HHS is giving to hospitals and other health providers on the front lines of the coronavirus response. Centers and counselors have been overwhelmed with work and many are struggling to stay afloat and now, they’re appealing to the government for help.
  • The University of California, San Diego, plans to test its students, faculty, and staff regularly for COVID-19 beginning in the fall.
  • The nation is entering a new and uncertain phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.  New coronavirus clusters have been found in bars, churches and casinos.  In Baton Rouge, LA, at least 100 people tested positive for the virus after visiting bars in the Tigerland nightlife district.  At a Christian summer camp near Colorado Springs, at least 11 employees fell ill just before the season’s opening.  It comes as new known virus cases were on the rise in 23 states on Monday as the outlook worsened across much of the nation’s South and West.
  • The European Union may block Americans from entering its member countries as the bloc plans to reopen its borders on July 1 and the U.S. infection rate remains high, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.  
  • More than 700 U.S. cities plan to delay or cancel infrastructure projects after their responses to the coronavirus outbreak left budgets with unplugged holes, according to a National League of Cities survey released Tuesday.  The survey, which collected data from over 1,100 municipalities in all 50 states, found that most cities will delay or cancel equipment purchases.