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Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – June 30, 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 two top congressional Democrats are urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to start negotiations on the next coronavirus relief package, as the country sees an uptick in cases.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) in a letter to McConnell on Monday accused Republicans of being “missing in action.” Senate Republicans are expected to wait until after the break to start negotiating and drafting the next potential relief bill. Though House Democrats passed a roughly $3 trillion bill earlier this year, it has been declared dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate.  McConnell, on Friday, told reporters that a future coronavirus bill would have to come together in July and that the Senate would have to take the lead on drafting it. “If there’s a final rescue package, that’s when it will develop and it will start, once again, in my office. … The House efforts are simply not practical,” he said.  
  • The House on Monday passed a bill to expand the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in a largely party-line vote of 234 to 179.  The bill would increase the 2010 health law’s subsidies that help people afford their premiums and add more federal funding for Medicaid expansion.  The bill is not expected to go anywhere in the GOP-controlled Senate.  Also Monday, House Democrats passed a bill that would extend an eviction and foreclosure moratorium for renters and homeowners for a year, while also providing Americans additional financial housing assistance. The “Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act” of 2020 includs several provisions from the $3 trillion Heroes Act, which has yet to be voted on in the Senate.  The bill’s housing provisions include $100 billion for a rental assistance fund and $75 billion for a homeowner’s assistance fund to cover rent, mortgage and utility expenses. 
  • President Trump threatened to veto House Democrats’ $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan on Monday, arguing it should eliminate or reduce environmental reviews and doesn’t route enough money to rural America.  The House is expected to pass the “Moving Forward Act,” H.R. 2 this week. The bill contains billions to repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges while setting aside funds for broadband, schools and hospitals. It would also require states to commit to reducing greenhouse gases and other climate measures in order to receive funding.  Republicans have branded it as an iteration of the Green New Deal crafted without their input.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health experts testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor (HELP) at a hearing entitled “COVID-19: Update on Progress Toward Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School.”  Fauci  said that the U.S. is “going in the wrong direction” as the number of coronavirus cases increase in the country. “I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 [cases] a day if this does not turn around and so I am very concerned,” Fauci said.  
  • The House Financial Services Committee heard testimony today from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell in a hearing entitled “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.”  Since mid-March, the Fed and Treasury have introduced a bevy of joint programs aimed at lending money where it is needed.  In Powell’s prepared remarks he indicates a commitment to keep the programs going to whatever extent necessary. The central bank chief also expressed concern about the “extraordinarily uncertain” outlook as the path of the coronavirus remains unclear.
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Monday said House lawmakers who wish to vote remotely due to the pandemic can do so through mid-August, extending a deadline that was set to expire Saturday.  Pelosi first allowed proxy voting May 20. The new period for remote voting will last through Aug. 18. 
  • House Democrats are weighing how to enforce the use of masks on Capitol Hill during the coronavirus pandemic as a number of GOP lawmakers continue to defy the public health guidance.  House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), the chairman of the select committee overseeing the federal coronavirus response, warned on Monday he would not grant speaking time to any member not wearing a mask during future in-person hearings. “My Republican colleagues’ refusal to wear masks is perplexing because you have asked repeatedly to hold in-person hearings, and you assured me that this could be done safely. In response, I told you that I would work in good faith to hold in-person hearings if we could do so safely and consistent with the Attending Physician’s guidelines,” Clyburn wrote in a letter to House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), the panel’s top Republican.
  • Companies have flooded the U.S. Trade Representative with hundreds of China tariff exclusion requests for products that could be used to help treat COVID-19, according to a report by Politico.  The comment period formally ended Thursday, but affected parties had three additional business days to respond. USTR has already temporarily exempted some Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and medical goods from President Trump’s tariffs on more than $350 billion worth of Chinese goods.  But in late March, it asked for additional suggestions. 

In the News: 

  • More and more state officials are hitting pause or rolling back efforts to reopen the economy as the coronavirus spreads to new communities and gains speed in many parts of the U.S.  At least 16 states have paused reopening plans and more than half are reporting a rise in cases. New Jersey is delaying its reopening of indoor dining and Jacksonville, Florida the site of the Republican convention in August, issued a face mask requirementArizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced that he is ordering bars, clubs, movie theaters, waterparks and gyms to close for 30 days to curb the virus. 
  • Consumer confidence rose more than expected in June as the U.S. as some stay-at-home and quarantine restrictions were lifted.  The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index surged to 98.1 for the month, up from May’s reading of 85.9.
  • AMC Theatres is pushing back its reopening by two weeks after movie studios further delayed two summer blockbuster premieres that could be key to getting people to come back to theaters. The decision comes as several states are considering or reimplementing some coronavirus shutdown measures as cases surge in much of the country. 
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) will send a team of experts to China next week to investigate the original source of the coronavirus. “We can fight the virus better when we know everything about the virus, including how it started,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the organization, said on Monday.