What to Know in Washington: Lobbying Speeds Up on Next Stimulus

A socially distant lobbying stampede has broken out in Washington for what may well be the last major stimulus bill to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Marijuana dispensaries want access to banking services, home builders want tax credits for constructing low-income residences, potato growers want to be paid for excess supply.

Even the lobbyists are lobbying for a bailout.

As the economic legislation winds its way through Congress, special interests are vying to impress lawmakers with the magnitude of their losses from the pandemic.

President Donald Trump has said he’s not interested in the $3 trillion package drafted by House Democrats and passed on Friday night. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doesn’t plan to move on any Republican alternative until June at the earliest, according to an aide.

With any compromise still weeks away, there’s still a window for lobbyists to get their wish lists in front of lawmakers. Democrats want money for state and local governments and to expand direct cash payments and unemployment insurance. Republicans are pushing to give employers temporary immunity from worker lawsuits to help speed re-openings.

Some of the asks have little to do with the coronavirus outbreak as interest groups resurrect long-sought goals, such as the cannabis industry’s bid for access to banking and retailers’ calls for a de-escalation of Trump’s trade wars.

Because of stay-at-home orders, lobbyists are pressing their cases via Zoom video meetings, speaking at digital “hearings,” dashing off coalition letters, and texting or calling lawmakers and staffers instead of in-person meetings on Capitol Hill. Ben Brody, Naomi Nix and Megan Wilson take a closer look at the groups competing for inclusion.

Trump Seeks to Require Hospitals to Open Books: The White House wants Congress to require hospitals and insurers to reveal the prices they negotiate for medical services as part of any additional round of coronavirus stimulus, in an effort to short-circuit a legal battle with the health care industry. The Health and Human Services Department published two regulations last year requiring hospitals and insurers to make their prices public. The industry has challenged the rule in court, arguing that it’s a First Amendment violation, and successfully delayed its implementation. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs and Shira Stein.

Also Happening on the Hill

This Week’s Floor Agenda: The Senate will be in session this week with plans to consider more judicial nominations.

The House won’t meet, but lawmakers plan to continue to focus on legislation responding to the coronavirus, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer(D-Md.) said Friday, Ben Livesey reports. No votes are expected. Hoyer said there will be pro forma sessions this week, with a swearing-in tomorrow of two Republicans who won special elections: Tom Tiffany in Wisconsin and Mike Garcia in California.

The House on May 27 will take up the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act extension, which the Senate amended and passed last week. Other Covid-19 related bills, if ready, would be considered on May 27-28, Hoyer said.

Powell to Face Lawmakers With Spend-More Message: Jerome Powell will look to perform a high-stakes balancing act this week when he’s expected to urge U.S. lawmakers to back more spending for an economy reeling from the impact of the pandemic. The Federal Reserve chairman is scheduled to appear via video conference along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin before the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow at 10 a.m. They’re testifying on the $2.2 trillion virus rescue package passed by the Congress in March.

The trick for Powell will be to make his case delicately, not overstepping his role as an unelected central banker and not appearing to take sides in the partisan battle over how much more Washington should do. Overplaying his hand could hurt the credibility of the Fed. Failing to argue persuasively may contribute to insufficient additional support and even deeper economic harm. Read more from Christopher Condon and Saleha Mohsin.

House Approves Rule Change to Allow Proxy Voting: The House voted Friday to let its members serve as proxies in Washington for colleagues who are in self-quarantine or otherwise homebound during the coronavirus pandemic, setting aside two centuries of precedent. The change is a low-tech answer by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her lieutenants to calls by some lawmakers for remote voting, and is meant to be temporary. The change passed 217-189.

Members will be permitted for the next 45 days to travel to the Capitol to carry out explicit instructions on votes for up to 10 colleagues. The new changes also allow hybrid hearings and virtual committee bill drafting, with some members in-person and some participating remotely. Read more from Billy House.

Murkowski Sees Energy Bill’s Return to Floor in Summer: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says to look for a big bipartisan energy package back on the floor this summer, as GOP leaders put a premium on bills that already have substantial bipartisan backing. The energy bill—which stalled on the floor in March over a single amendment to curb HFCs, a “super” climate pollutant used as a refrigerant—still faces a big hurdle as long as the impasse over that issue remains unresolved.

Senate leaders have begun fleshing out the summer floor schedule, which thus far includes plans for taking up some must-pass bills, including the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill, before the July 4 holiday. But Murkowski said she is optimistic opposing sides can break through the impasse over phasing down hydrofluorocarbons that sidelined the energy bill in March, Dean Scott reports.

Amazon Promises to Work With Congress: Amazon sidestepped calls by a congressional antitrust committee for Jeff Bezos to testify amid lawmakers’ allegations that the company hasn’t been forthright with Congress. The e-commerce giant promised cooperation with the House Judiciary Committee’s probe of its competitive practices in a letter on Friday to the leaders of the panel and its antitrust subcommittee. But Amazon didn’t directly address increasing demands that the company’s chief executive officer, also the world’s richest man, appear.

The response was called called “unacceptable” by Judiciary panel chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who added that members of both parties have questions about Amazon’s practices. “Will will not permit stonewalling of our investigation, by Jeff Bezos or anyone,” Nadler said Saturday on Twitter. Read more form Ben Brody and Billy House.

The Path to Reopening

Azar Says Reopening Is a Health Equation: The question of when and how to end stay-at-home orders in the U.S. is a health-versus-health equation as well as an economic one, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. There is a “very real health consequence to these shutdowns” that needs to be balanced against possible illness from the coronavirus, Azar told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” That’s shown with regard to other medical procedures or regular screenings not being performed or postponed until the outbreak is further contained, he said, citing suicide rates, “cardiac procedures not being received, cancer screenings, pediatric vaccinations declining.” Read more from Ros Krasny and Tony Czuczka.

Scalia Added to White House Task Force: Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia is joining the White House coronavirus task force as the group of health, economic, and security officials shifts its focus to reopening American workplaces, the vice president’s office announced. Scalia’s addition to the administration’s high-profile team of virus responders is the latest signal of his rising influence as a central player in Trump’s efforts to rescue the economy and bring the millions of unemployed Americans back to their jobs. It also could expose Scalia to greater public scrutiny. Read more from Ben Penn.

Trump Says Return of Sports Essential: Trump said that the return of professional sports was essential for the “psyche of our country” as it rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic. The president promised robust virus testing for athletes and spectators as he called into the broadcast of a charity golf event yesterday. “The athletes will be tested very carefully,” Trump said during the skins game, which saw PGA professionals Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, and Matthew Wolff tee off, and maintain social distance, to benefit front-line health care workers. “And the people who want to go will be tested very carefully.”

Trump said he’s been in regular contact with sports commissioners, but signaled some impatience with early plans that would see games resume with few or no in-person spectators — as will be the case when the PGA Tour resumes in June. Read more from Justin Sink and Jordan Fabian.

TSA May Soon Screen for Fever: The Transportation Security Administration is close to starting a pilot program to check airline passengers for fever as a new layer of protection against the coronavirus. TSA Administrator David Pekoske supports the idea and the agency is awaiting approval from the White House, one person familiar with the discussions said. Read more from Alan Levin.

Pentagon’s Plan to Bring Back Workers: The Pentagon is weighing mass transit, schools, day care, and parking as part of a plan to begin reopening the federal government’s largest office building in the coming weeks, according to a draft of the plan and the department’s top spokesman. All those factors as well as decisions by Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., will help determine when 23,000 department personnel could begin returning to work as usual amid the pandemic, said Jonathan Hoffman, chief Pentagon spokesman. The finalized plan is expected to be released as early as this week but a draft version lays out a six-week, conditions-based process. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.

CDC School Reopening Guidance Falls Short, Educators Say: A national school superintendents group says guidance for reopening classrooms that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this week is inadequate and doesn’t address specific challenges facing school leaders. The CDC on Thursday released a one-page “decision tree” document that was less detailed than draft guidance reportedly sent to the White House last month.

Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, said in an interview that the newly released document is so vague that it’s essentially useless for school leaders. “There is no guidance here,” he said. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.

Fed Releases State Details on PPP Loans: The Federal Reserve on Saturday published a spreadsheet of thousands of loans to regional banks in support of the Treasury Department’s Paycheck Protection Program to aid small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. A breakdown of where the money went by state shows that as of May 6, the most recent date for which loan details were provided, lenders based in Utah and California had received the most, about $2.96 billion each. They were followed by New Jersey at $2.5 billion and Wisconsin at $1.75 billion. Craig Torres and Catarina Saraiva have more.

  • On Friday, small businesses concerned about how much they might have to repay in popular coronavirus relief loans finally got more guidance from the White House, though they didn’t get changes that many wanted. The Small Business Administration and Treasury Department unveiled step-by-step instructions to calculate the portion of PPP loans that can be forgiven. Mark Niquette has more.

Havoc Seen on Future of Immigrant Labor: The coronavirus crisis is reshaping the job market for millions of immigrants in the U.S. Consumers may be slow to return to the hotels, office buildings and manicure parlors where many of them are employed. Over time, the very nature of the work some U.S. immigrants do is likely to change as businesses enforce social-distancing measures. Reduced job opportunities, combined with Trump’s hard-line policies, mean the number of immigrants is likely to tumble, said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. Read more from Eric Martin.

Pandemic Exposes Global Tensions

While the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc across much of the globe, political and business leaders are already starting to think about what the world might look like once the worst of the outbreak eases. The forecasts aren’t good.

Collapsing governments, famine, crushed economies and emboldened extremists are all among the darkest post-pandemic scenarios. Yet even less dramatic outlooks have a gloomy tinge, with political alliances crumbling and economies unlikely to rebound fast enough to blunt the impact of hundreds of millions of lost jobs.

Seams that were opening before the virus emerged are tearing apart faster. U.S.-China bickering about the origins and response to the virus now threaten a trade deal that could help the world recover. A fight over distribution of an eventual vaccine is dividing allies. And the United Nations has been sidelined, while autocratic governments have stepped up attacks on civil liberties.

Hopes that nations might momentarily set aside their differences to combat the coronavirus have largely evaporated.

One of the first fights will be over access to any lasting treatment or vaccine. French officials erupted last week when the chief executive officer of Paris-based pharmaceutical giant Sanofi said the U.S. may get the company’s potential vaccine first because America helped fund the research. Many global leaders contend that any vaccine should be viewed as a “public good,” though inevitably some populations will have delayed access. Read more from Nick Wadhams.

China’s Xi to Address Key WHO Meeting: Chinese leader Xi Jinping will address the World Health Organization’s decision-making body as it commences its annual summit today in Geneva, amid rising acrimony over his country’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Xi was invited by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to give a video speech at the opening ceremony of the 73rd World Health Assembly, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The president will speak hours after China’s foreign ministry said the timing wasn’t right for an investigation into the virus’s origins, which is being urged by the European Union and Australia.

Xi said via video appearance at the World Health Assembly that China will offer $2 billion in two years to help virus-hit countries, especially developing countries. Read more.

  • Meanwhile, the Trump administration yesterday stepped up its campaign of blaming China for the virus after a senior White House aide suggested Beijing sent airline passengers to spread it across the world. “The virus was spawned in Wuhan province, patient zero was in November,” Trump’s trade aide Peter Navarro told ABC. China “for two months hid the virus from the world and then sent hundreds of thousands of Chinese on aircraft to Milan, New York and around the world to seed that.” Read more from Steve Geimann.
  • And, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned China against interfering with the work of U.S. journalists in Hong Kong, saying actions impinging on freedoms there could damage diplomatic relations. “These journalists are members of a free press, not propaganda cadres, and their valuable reporting informs Chinese citizens and the world,” Pompeo said in a statement. Read more from Todd Shields.

Elections, Politics & Policy

Obama Says Virus Has Torn Back Curtain on Government: Barack Obama told this year’s graduates at historically black colleges and universities that the coronavirus pandemic has “torn back the curtain” on the idea that those in charge of the country know what they’re doing. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” the former U.S. president said during the first of two virtual commencement speeches for Saturday.

Obama didn’t mention names, but his comments came after his recent blistering attack on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as “an absolute chaotic disaster” during a call with former members of his administration. Read more from Ros Krasny and Hailey Waller.

Biden’s Wall Street Pals Think They Have His Ear: Wall Street’s Democratic insiders, who have been cutting checks and winning access for decades, say they have plenty of sway in Biden’s orbit, despite his very public wooing of the progressive left. Some finance veterans have even begun to think about the spots they might land in Washington if Biden wins. Read more from Max Abelson.

Biden Reports Sharply Reduced Income: Joe Biden’s income dropped at least 80% since he began his presidential run. The former vice president and his wife, Jill Biden, disclosed earnings of no more than $924,000 over the last 17 months, according to a personal financial disclosure filed with the Federal Election Commission on Friday. The couple reported earning $4.6 million to the Internal Revenue Service in 2018. Read more from Bill Allison.

Amash Drops Third-Party Bid: Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) said Saturday he’s dropping his bid to run for president for the Libertarian Party. The Republican-turned-independent said on Twitter “that circumstances don’t lend themselves to my success as a candidate for president this year, and therefore I will not be a candidate.” Amash said he’s spent three weeks assessing the state of the 2020 race and watching the Libertarian Party’s plans unfold, as well as soliciting feedback from family, friends and others. Read more from Ros Krasny.

GOP Convention Still On for August: The Republican National Committee still plans to hold its 2020 convention in North Carolina in August, even with future mass gatherings uncertain in the face of the pandemic. The GOP’s convention committee sent an email on Saturday “celebrating 100 days until Aug. 24,” the meeting’s kick-off date. Nearly 50,000 people had been expected to attend the event, where Trump will be nominated for a second term. Ros Krasny has more.

What Else to Know

Trump Ouster of State Official Stirs Fear of War on Watchdogs: Trump’s move to oust the State Department’s inspector general has prompted bipartisan concern that the White House wants to muzzle government oversight amid the coronavirus pandemic and a tough re-election battle. Trump informed lawmakers late Friday night that he was dismissing Steve Linick, saying he no longer had “the fullest confidence” in the man charged with investigating possible corruption at the State Department. Read more from Justin Sink.

Kushner Task Force Shares Oscar Health Ties: As the coronavirus spread in mid-March, White House adviser Jared Kushner began assembling an ad hoc task force to combat it. One of his first calls was to a longtime acquaintance, Adam Boehler. In short order, Boehler called Nat Turner, a friend and health care angel investor. Boehler and Turner had founded successful health care startups, but they also shared a connection with Kushner not previously reported: All three have been investors at one time or another in Oscar Health, the company founded and run by Kushner’s brother, Josh, David Kocieniewski and Caleb Melby report.

Google Antitrust Road Map Heads to DOJ: Google’s dominance of the $130 billion digital advertising market is harming advertisers, news publishers, and consumers, according to a paper that outlines how the U.S. could bring an antitrust case against the internet giant. The report comes as the Justice Department’s is drafting a lawsuit against the company. Read more from David McLaughlin.

Afghan Leaders Sign Power-Sharing Deal: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, rivals in the country’s disputed presidential election, signed a power-sharing accord to end their quarrel over a vote tainted by fraud allegations. Read more from Eltaf Najafizada.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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