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Monday, April 27, 2020
The Hill's Morning Report: A Plethora Of Things Are Going On, Inside The USG And Out
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happier Monday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the daily co-creators, so find us @asimendinger and @alweaver22 on Twitter and recommend the Morning Report to your friends. CLICK HERE to subscribe!
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 54,877.
Capitol Hill is bracing for another trillion-dollar legislative fight as chatter consumes a potential package that would provide funding for cities and states, and infrastructure spending to deal with the continued fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.
Fresh off the battle that led to the $484 billion interim package President Trump signed into law on Friday, bringing the total in just over a month to nearly $2.8 trillion, lawmakers are looking ahead to the next legislative vehicle. Headlining the potential bill would be the long-awaited funding for state and local governments, which Democrats and some Republicans are clamoring for.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Friday that she expects the next coronavirus-related bill to include up to $700 billion for cities and states, including those that have been ravaged by the pandemic.
“They have made outlays for the coronavirus that are extraordinary. And they have lost revenue, and we want that covered because of the coronavirus,” Pelosi told MSNBC on Sunday, noting that the funding would go toward first responders and health care workers, among others. “And what that covered too — state and local — let's say our heroes … many of them risking their lives in order to save lives. And now they're in danger of losing their jobs.”
The National Governors Association, chaired by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), has requested $500 billion to boost state and local governments, while cities and counties are looking for $250 billion in relief (NBC News).
As The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes, multiple fights are on the horizon as part of negotiations for what is expected to be another gargantuan bill, outside of the state and local funding and a sizable amount for infrastructure, a bipartisan issue. Among those are potential changes to the small-business loan program that has received $660 billion, including whether lawmakers increase funding again and if new restrictions on who can receive funding will be included.
Also on the docket is a potential increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — an issue that did not make it into the interim bill — and toward voting as Democrats look to give states the ability to conduct elections through mail-in ballots.
While the details still need to be ironed out, lawmakers are struggling with one key issue of any deal: timing. Democratic lawmakers are pushing forward with the next coronavirus-related package in order to have a bill ready to bring up for consideration when lawmakers are tentatively expected to return on May 4. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not signed onto this timeline, having indicated that he has no plans to negotiate a bill until lawmakers return to Washington.
The House Republican Study Committee today will release a 36-point policy framework that includes initiatives tied to the coronavirus. Among proposals: “offset future COVID-19-related deficit spending,” which signals battles ahead with the majority.
The Washington Post: Trump and Congress spar over next coronavirus economic package as Congressional Budget Office paints grim picture of what’s to come.
The Hill: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin: “If we need to spend more money, we will, and we’ll only do it with bipartisan support.”
The Hill: McConnell state bankruptcy remarks raise constitutional questions.
The Hill: Pelosi: Governors’ impatience “will help us get an even bigger number” for state coronavirus funding.
As House Democrats seek the next massive package aimed at keeping the U.S. economy afloat, many economic analysts applaud the speed even as the public has had no time to grasp the benefits of stimulus checks and two rounds of funding for loans for small businesses. Both efforts have been ensnared in bureaucratic stumbles and brewing battles over the haves and have-nots.
Should publicly traded hotel chains get Paycheck Protection Program funds? Should well-funded private universities get taxpayer money for education programs? Should major restaurant chains be able to compete for limited funding with mom-and-pop restaurants and small town hair salons? The public discontent about the bailouts and payouts is growing. And that worries politicians in both parties.
The Hill: Three publicly traded hotel firms say they won’t give back PPP money.
The New York Times: Large companies take bailout aid while loans were aimed for others. Millions of dollars go to applicants facing financial and legal problems.
Bloomberg News: Resentment grows on Main Street over bailout winners and losers.
The public blowback against Trump has bubbled up in recent polling that shows eroding trust in his handling of the pandemic. His job approval remains well below 50 percent but is stabilized by his Republican supporters. Nervous GOP allies have been advising the White House for weeks to tone down the Trump-centric daily press briefings at the White House that the president dominated with grievances and announcements that wandered far afield of either the public health emergency or accurate readings of the nation’s economic duress.
Trump switched gears on Friday and answered no questions at the briefing. Over the weekend, he held no briefings and suggested in a tweet that he may stop doing them. A briefing is scheduled this evening.
Reuters: U.S. response to the coronavirus splinters into acrimony and uncertainty.
Meanwhile, the White House over the weekend was reported to be considering replacing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, according to The Washington Post, The Associated Press and other outlets. Trump has reportedly been frustrated with Azar for weeks, but on Sunday evening the president denied the accounts and tweeted that Azar is doing “an excellent job.”
The GOP is worried about Trump’s weakened poll numbers in the midst of a battle to hold both the Senate and the White House through COVID-19 devastation, high unemployment and corporate gloom (The New York Times). Looking ahead to the November elections, veteran GOP political consultant Charles Black said, “If Trump is the issue, he probably loses.”
New White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus founder from North Carolina (pictured below), is getting an earful from allies on Capitol Hill about how to improve the optics while guiding the president’s decision making and a reelection team that cannot at the moment run on a playbook of economic mastery.
The Hill: Meadows puts his fingerprints on the Trump White House.
The Daily Beast: Meadows’s shadow job? Keep evangelicals on board the Trump train.
Science & COVID-19: Public health experts concur: The United States needs more coronavirus infection testing and a greater capacity to conduct those tests in a nation with 330 million people. The country also needs mass antigen, or antibody testing, but those snapshot tests are not all created equal, Stat News reports. And the World Health Organization warns that antibody tests do not prove that people infected once are immune from COVID-19 going forward (NPR). Equally important, scientists do not know whether the virus is reactivating in some patients who tested negative and then positive, or if new “flare-ups” are new infections. No other coronavirus has shown the ability to go dormant in humans, but researchers have more questions than definitive answers (Healthline).
Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said on Sunday that antibody testing needs a “breakthrough innovation,” which has not arrived yet. ”We have to be able to detect antigens, rather than constantly trying to detect the actual live virus or the viral particles itself. … I know corporations and diagnostics are working on that now. … This RNA [ribonucleic acid in living cells] testing will carry us certainly through the spring and summer. But we need to have a huge technology breakthrough” (The New York Times).
COVID-19 is not going away. It will menace the United States well into the fall and beyond. And the nation is going to blow past 60,000 coronavirus fatalities within days. The death toll from the disease will easily exceed the lower end of the disease models touted by the White House. COVID-19 is spreading beyond the two coasts and deeper into the interior of the country, even as nearly a dozen states champion plans already started or just beginning to revive economic activities and ease stay-at-home orders (Politico).
The Hill: Did everybody get the correct message? Do NOT inject or ingest household bleach or disinfectants to try to kill or ward off the COVID-19 pathogen. You could die.
The Hill: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is devoting its “total attention” to COVID-19, Bill Gates told The Financial Times in an interview. The foundation has an endowment of $40 billion.
The Hill: Sunday talk shows: Focus shifts to reopening economy hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mark Leibovich: Trump turns shared American experiences into us vs. them.
STATE WATCH: Four states (Alaska, Georgia, Oklahoma and South Carolina) have begun to reopen businesses, while eight more will lift stay-at-home orders by Thursday. They are Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana and Maine. The patchwork experimentation underway in a number of states ignored the guidance from the White House describing three slow-motion phases of revival. The disagreements about the potential risks of moving too quickly to open barber shops in Georgia (photo above) and retail outlets in South Carolina have pitted some mayors against governors in those states.
> New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said over the weekend that his state’s surge in new hospitalizations from COVID-19 appears to have crested, although a drop-off in new cases is gradual, and the death toll remains high. The governor outlined a plan that could begin a phased easing of shelter-in-place orders upstate after May 15 (The New York Times). Birx at the White House said on Sunday that New York remains the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak with 45 percent of all cases of COVID-19 and 40 percent to 50 percent of all U.S. deaths from the virus. She said U.S. hot spot locations with ebbing coronavirus statistics include Detroit, the state of Louisiana, and Houston.
> New Jersey: Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said his state, which is coordinating its coronavirus responses with New York and Connecticut, is still several weeks away from reopening economic activities (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Allies of former Vice President Joe Biden are concerned that his campaign will be unable to compete with the financial might of the Trump operation, especially as the novel coronavirus continues to strike at the heart of the economy.
According to analysis conducted by The New York Times, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have a $187 million advantage over the Biden operation and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). While Biden raised $46.7 million in March, roughly two-thirds of the total was raised in the first half of March before parts of the nation were shut down, signaling problems for the campaign’s April total and uncertainty in the summer months.
“That’s insurmountable,” said one Democrat who has raised money for Biden regarding the $187 million figure. “I don’t see how you make that up. People say you don’t need as much for this election because you don’t have to spend on a field team because of the pandemic. But people are stuck at home, so you better be able to match their TV spending.”
On the bright side, as the presumptive nominee, Biden and the DNC have now opened a joint fundraising account that allows individuals to contribute $360,800. As Amie Parnes and Jonathan Easley note, Democrats will also rely on dark money groups, including Priorities USA, though the Republicans are by no means lacking in that department.
“Everyone is worried about it,” the Democrat added. “Nobody wants to think that we could lose this thing, but we very well could if we don’t address this.”
The Hill: Biden rips stimulus packages, labels big companies “greedy.”
The Washington Post: Nancy Pelosi endorses Joe Biden for president in video remarks calling him the “personification of hope and courage.”
With Biden sequestered to his Delaware home and unable to reach supporters away from his basement, the former VP has taken a back seat to Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as legislative battles remain front and center in the discussion.
Along with the two Democratic leaders, governors such as Cuomo have also received a sizable amount of attention, as Alexander Bolton writes, while Biden has stayed out of the spotlight, potentially out of fears of politicizing the outbreak.
Recently, Biden has received outsize attention about who his potential running mate will be. He has also occupied a separate space, mostly on social media, where he has tried to serve as a counterweight to Trump.
He has also tried to stake out positions on the policy front, having laid out detailed plans for containing the virus. The proposals include making free testing widely available, putting more resources into developing a vaccine, restoring the White House national security council directorate for global health security, and directing the Department of Defense to prepare for deployment of military resources to expand medical facilities and help with logistical support.
The Hill: Immigration activists raise alarm over “cruel” exclusion from coronavirus medical aid.
INTERNATIONAL: The city of Wuhan, China, the initial epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, no longer has any COVID-19 patients in the hospital after 12 people were discharged on Sunday (South China Morning Post).
> United Kingdom: Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work on Monday, having recovered from the novel coronavirus after spending three nights in the intensive care unit earlier this month. Johnson’s return to the top of government comes as questions mount over the national response and the economic fallout from the virus (Reuters).
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has served as caretaker leader in Johnson’s absence declined to give a timetable for the country to reopen its economy, saying that the U.K. is at “a delicate and dangerous stage” in the response to COVID-19. As of Sunday evening, there were 154,037 confirmed cases of the virus in Great Britain, while the death toll eclipsed 20,000 (Sky News).
> North Korea: After days of speculation over the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, top South Korean officials indicated early Monday that the 36-year-old is not “grave danger,” as it was initially reported, and is “alive and well” in a coastal town.
"Our government position is firm," Moon Chung-in, the top foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told CNN. "Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspicious movements have so far been detected."
Speculation kicked off after Kim did not attend the celebration of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea and the current leader’s grandfather, on April 15.
Reuters: Heir unapparent: If North Korea faces succession, who might replace Kim?
> Spain: Spanish children saw the light of day as the government allowed them to leave their homes to go for walks for the first time in six weeks under parental supervision. According to guidelines, children were allowed to take short walks with a parent for up to an hour, and they had to remain within 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) of their homes. They could take only one toy out and were not allowed to play with other children.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is expected to announce on Tuesday a plan to “de-escalate” the national lockdown, which was put into effect in early March (The Associated Press).
> Italy: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced to the nation on Sunday plans to lift some restrictions starting on May 4, including the ability to visit with relatives nearly two months after the national lockdown was announced on March 10. According to the new rules, gatherings and parties remain banned and schools are shut down for the remainder of the academic year. However, Conte said that funerals will be allowed to take place with up to 15 individuals, parks will be reopened and restaurants are now able to offer takeout and not just delivery for customers (The New York Times).
America needs to win the coronavirus vaccine race, by Scott Gottlieb, opinion contributor, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/2S926PQ
College campuses must reopen in the fall. Here’s how we do it, by Christina Paxson, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/2VCsjbM
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The House will convene a pro forma session Tuesday at 9 a.m.
The Senate will hold a pro forma session at 8 a.m.
The president will take part in a video teleconference with governors on the COVID-19 response at 2 p.m. and will meet with industry executives at 4 p.m. Trump and Vice President Pence will lead a coronavirus task force briefing at 5 p.m.
📚 Library of Congress: The nation’s premier library is celebrating its 220th anniversary through April 30 with online programs and a new app to explore digital collections. The Library of Congress buildings are shut and public events canceled through July 1. Information: Celebrate a virtual birthday.
👉 The Coronavirus Report, helmed by The Hill’s Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons, has updates and exclusive video interviews with policymakers emailed each day. Sign up HERE!
➔ Media: During his first interview since retiring from MSNBC, former “Hardball” host Chris Matthews told a Vanity Fair podcast that complaints about inappropriate remarks he made about journalist Laura Bassett in 2016 before she appeared on his show were “highly justified.” ...Trump fumed on Twitter on Sunday that Fox News is listening to “Democratic talking points,” complaining he wants an “alternative” to a network he once praised as reliably supportive (The Hill).
➔ Scammers: Stimulus payouts to help Americans weather the COVID-19 pandemic are quickly becoming a favorite target of thieves and scammers, who see the money (both direct deposited and mailed) as an easy way to profit during the ongoing crisis (The Hill). … Medical quackery is on the rise during the pandemic, reprising an era of charlatans, snake oil salesmen and unscientific cures. Mo Rocca with CBS News’s “Sunday Morning” talked with an author about the history of an age-old phenomenon that preys on fear, hope and misinformation.
➔ Economy: The coronavirus breakout is exacerbating U.S. economic inequality as analysts project a possible economic depression. COVID-19’s higher prevalence among communities of color, the disproportionate blow to service sector workers and the slow road to recovering jobs lost since March have captured the attention of lawmakers and the White House, especially in an election year (The Hill). … The oil market remains in turmoil. What happened? Five things to know (The Hill). … Financial markets have recovered more than half their losses since the start of the coronavirus emergency in the United States but some analysts think investors are irrationally exuberant about what’s ahead (The Hill). Global markets rose this morning as investors displayed renewed confidence about economic recovery (The New York Times).
➔ Veterans: Lawmakers and veterans advocacy groups accuse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of not doing enough during the coronavirus emergency to protect the vulnerable population the department serves and the employees and healthcare workers who provide care. More than 6,000 VA patients have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 400 have died. Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 VA healthcare workers have been infected, resulting in 20 fatalities. The situation has not improved six weeks into federal quarantine guidelines (The Hill and NBC News).
➔ Singing for a Broadway breakthrough: Andrew Lloyd Webber is enjoying a virtual competition he created called the “Cadenza Challenge,” which may lead to a new Broadway or West End phenom when musicals resume on stage with audiences. “Everybody is needing something to lift the spirits at the moment,” the “Phantom of the Opera” composer said about entries that have arrived via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. He said he’s been impressed by all of them (The Associated Press).
Around the world, loving, happy couples are innovating to turn pandemic-era nuptials into shared events despite a deadly coronavirus. They’ve subtracted their in-person guests and added hundreds of livestream and Zoom well-wishers. They’ve walked down aisles in nearly empty churches with smiles hidden by face coverings, dressed in all their finery. They’ve savored their first kisses as a married couple through those precautionary masks, and postponed long-planned wedding receptions and parties for a day when congregating is once again safe.