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Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – June 24, 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:

  • Yesterday, Senate Republicans met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to discuss the next coronavirus relief bill.  After the meeting, Mnuchin said, “we’re going to take our time and make sure that we’re thoughtful. Whatever we do, it will be much more targeted, much more focused on jobs, bringing back jobs, and making sure we take care of our kids.”  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said Republicans will assess economic conditions next month and draft legislation then if necessary.  President Trump has expressed support for another round of stimulus checks and the option could be considered in the next package. However, not everyone is on board, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said he would rather “extend unemployment insurance, but to do that in a more limited way”; Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said “it’s too early” to throw his weight behind the idea; Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said “I’m still trying to figure out if that’s going to be needed”; and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said it depends on the new unemployment numbers.
  • During yesterday’s House Energy and Commerce hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci said President Trump never told them to slow down testing despite asserting as much at a rally over the weekend.  In fact, Fauci said they will be doing the opposite, “we’re going to be doing more testing, not less.” Fauci and CDC Director Robert Redfield also told the committee that President Trump did not consult with them before moving to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO).  Both health officials said their agencies continue to work closely with the WHO.  Officials told lawmakers yesterday that they haven’t discussed the COVID-19 pandemic with Trump for more than two weeks, a period in which cases have surged in Texas, California, Florida, and Arizona.  The increase in cases has ignited fear that hospitals could be overwhelmed and that some of the steps states have taken to re-open for business may need to be rolled back.
  • President Trump insisted he was serious when he revealed that he had directed his administration to slow coronavirus testing in the U.S., shattering the defenses of senior White House aides who argued Trump’s remarks were made in jest. He said, “I don’t kid. Let me just tell you. Let me make it clear,” when pressed on whether his comments at a campaign event Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., were intended as a joke.
  • Republican senators say there’s no evidence the U.S. is ready to ease up on the number of daily tests, which they think should be increased until there is a vaccine.  Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD), said “we need tests and we need … millions of them, tens of millions of them, especially when we start opening up this fall.”  Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, told reporters that the country needed to be carrying out testing and would be increasing, not reducing, its testing capacity.  Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) added that the country needed “more and more testing,” while Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told reporters after a closed-door caucus lunch that “we need as much testing as we can get.”
  • The Trump administration is planning to end federal support for local coronavirus testing sites across the nation at the end of the month including seven in Texas, where confirmed cases of COVID-19 are spiking.  Texas officials are urging the White House to rethink the move, warning of “catastrophic cascading consequences” of pulling federal support for testing sites, four of which are in Houston and Harris County and administer thousands of tests per day.
  • On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he’ll move forward with a plan to let Americans sue the Chinese government over the coronavirus pandemic by amending a law that protects foreign countries from lawsuits in U.S. courts.  “Now the time has come for us to put on the table new tools to deal with an old problem,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said.  “I cannot think of a more compelling idea than to allow individual Americans or groups of Americans to bring lawsuits against the culprit Chinese government for the damage done to their family, to our economy and to the psyche of the nation.”  Some lawmakers on the Judiciary panel, including top Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) voiced skepticism about the proposals, saying the U.S. should focus on its own response to the virus.

In the News:

  • The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut issued a travel advisory Wednesday that requires people arriving from states with high coronavirus rates to quarantine for 14 days.  The advisory, which goes into place at midnight, applies to anyone coming from a state with a transmission rate above 10 per 100,000 people on a seven-day rolling average or 10 percent of the total population testing positive on a seven-day rolling average.  As of Wednesday, the advisory applies to Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah and Texas.
  • New coronavirus cases spiked in several states, with Arizona, Texas, and California reporting new daily records of infections Tuesday, prompting elected officials to tighten rules on gatherings and strongly urge people to stay home and follow social-distancing guidelines.  The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 9.1 million, with more than 2.3 million cases in the U.S., as the nation’s death toll reached more than 121,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
  • The National Association of Manufacturers is launching an ad campaign to encourage mask-wearing among the public as businesses and states begin to re-open. The ad spot which will run in states with a large manufacturing sector including Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio comes amid the increasing politicization of mask-wearing, with Trump supporters often hostile to them.
  • As COVID-19 cases surge in Florida, more than 7,000 people have signed an online petition urging Disney and government officials to reconsider the opening of Disney World next Month. The petition, which was posted on MoveOn.org on Sunday, states. “Having our theme parks remain closed until cases are steadily decreasing would keep our guests, our employees and their families safe. Re-opening the theme parks is only putting our guests, employees, and families at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.”
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s refusal to open a special enrollment period for people to buy health insurance on federally operated health exchanges during the COVID-19 pandemic is dangerous, 14 attorneys general told a federal court.  In an  amicus brief filed on Monday, the coalition argues that there is both a critical need for and a legal obligation to create a special enrollment period on HealthCare.Gov to help the millions of individuals that have lost coverage as a result of the pandemic.
  • Travelers from the U.S. and Brazil could be prevented from entering the EU when the bloc’s external borders are reopened. EU ambassadors will on Wednesday meet to discuss criteria for countries to be allowed to restart travel to Europe. That’s expected to include a requirement that countries must have an infection rate below the EU’s average to be on the list.