What to Know in Washington: Pelosi Sets Marker With Virus Vote

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing ahead with a vote on a $3 trillion Democratic-only virus relief bill today despite the misgivings of some liberals and moderates in her party and the fact it has no chance of ever getting signed into law.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) is counting on key parts of the bill — aid to states, more payments to individuals and extending unemployment insurance — to generate enough public support that the White House and the GOP will be forced into negotiations on another round of stimulus for a hobbled U.S. economy.

“I am optimistic that the American people will weigh in and make their views known,” the speaker said yesterday, deflecting questions about pressing ahead with a partisan vote without any active negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or President Donald Trump’s administration.

McConnell previously said Congress should wait and see the impact of $3 trillion in stimulus already passed before acting on another package. But last night on Fox News he said “there is a high likelihood that there will be another bill.”

McConnell said he’s spoken with Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about the next phase of stimulus but they’ve set no date for getting it done. He dismissed the House Democratic legislation, known as the Heroes Act, as “a $3 trillion left-wing wish list.”

The White House said Trump would veto it if it ever got to his desk.

The toll of the coronavirus pandemic continues to mount even as some states begin rolling back lockdown orders, allowing businesses to slowly reopen. More than 1.4 million people have been infected and more than 85,000 have died. And since businesses began shutting down in mid-March 36.5 million people have applied for unemployment insurance.

Adding to pressure on lawmakers and the White House is the prospect of an autumn election campaign with the economic hardship continuing. Read more from Billy House and Erik Wasson.

Read an in-depth analysis of the measure in the BGOV Bill Summary.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Pelosi at the Capitol on Thursday,

House Plan Bars Lobbyists From PPP: House Democrats added provisions to their proposal to bar lobbyists and political groups from coronavirus relief for small businesses under the popular Paycheck Protection Program. Changes in an amendment to the Democrats’ plan reflect concerns that the aid money could go to lobbyists while Democrats seek to expand eligibility for the loans to an array of nonprofit groups. It would also disqualify groups that have or intend to spend money on elections or political advocacy in the current election cycle. Ben Brody and Mark Niquette have more.

‘Stealth Bailout’ for Oil Companies: Dozens of oil companies and contractors took advantage of a little-noticed provision in the stimulus bill Congress passed in March to claim hundreds of millions of dollars in tax rebates. They are employing a provision of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law, called the CARES act, that gives them more latitude to deduct recent losses. The change wasn’t aimed only at the oil industry. However, its structure uniquely benefits energy companies that were raking in record profits in 2018 as crude prices reached $76.41 per barrel, only to see their fortunes flip a year later. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

School Choice Groups Seek Tax Credits: Almost 50 school choice groups are calling for lawmakers to provide special tax relief for K-12 private schools that they warn are at risk of closure because of the pandemic. The groups want a 50% tax credit on private school tuition for both the 2019 and 2020 tax years and they want to have tuition payments labeled as contributions to nonprofits for tax deduction purposes. They also calling for emergency grants that states could use for scholarships for private school tuition. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.

Also Happening on the Hill

House Democrats Set to Approve Proxy Voting: Democrats are set to push aside more than 200 years of House precedent with a vote today to let lawmakers serve as proxies for colleagues quarantined or otherwise stuck at home by the coronavirus pandemic. This low-tech version of remote voting is the Democrats’ temporary answer to health and travel concerns raised by dozens of lawmakers. It would alter House rules to let individual members cast votes on behalf of as many as 10 colleagues. It’s been dismissed by Republicans as a way to let lawmakers stay home while other Americans are going to work and as a move that would have constitutional implications. Read more from Billy House.

Senate Passes Uighur Human Rights Measure: The Senate gave unanimous consent to legislation that would impose U.S. sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses against Muslim minorities, an action sure to anger Beijing as anti-China sentiment grows at the Capitol. The bill from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would condemn the internment of more than 1 million Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region of China and calls for closing the camps where they are being held. It would require the president to impose sanctions on and revoke the visas of any officials found to be responsible for the oppression of the Uighurs. Daniel Flatley has more.

Senators Urge Fed to Buy Long-Term Debt: A bipartisan group of senators want the Federal Reserve to buy longer-term debt issued by state and local governments to help ease the impact of coronavirus on municipal services. “State and local governments are on the front lines in the fight against Covid-19,” the senators wrote in a letter to Fed Chair Jerome Powell and Secretary Mnuchin yesterday. “These entities are quickly deploying desperately-needed funds to hospitals, public health departments, nursing homes, water and power utilities, public transit, and other essential services.” Read more from Daniel Flatley.

DeFazio Urges Airlines to Create Distance: House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) asked U.S. airlines to apply social distancing policies on their planes, citing reports of increasingly full commercial flights. In letters to two airline trade associations, he called on members to “ensure that their reservation systems leave at least one seat-width of spacing between passengers and to dynamically adjust fares as needed to account for the effect on load factors.” Read more from Ben Livesey.

The Path to Reopening

Business Is Split on Partisan Lines Over Recovery: The politicization of Americans’ views about the Covid-19 outbreak, including whether to wear a mask, extends to small businesses. Firms in the Northeast and in Democratic-leaning states are more anxious about the future than their peers around the country, with many expecting economic pain from the Covid-19 pandemic to last longer than six months, a new U.S. Census Bureau survey shows.

The survey of around 90,000 firms shows that, while every U.S. region is affected by the outbreak, the extent of financial damage and people’s attitudes toward it vary widely by state. About 40% of respondents in blue-leaning states of Vermont and Hawaii, as well as Washington, D.C., see it taking more than half a year for business to return to normal. However, only 18% of those surveyed in the GOP strongholds of West Virginia and Idaho see it taking so long, the data show. Read more from Michael Sasso and Alex Tanzi.

CDC Posts Reopen Advice for Restaurants, Offices: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published guidance yesterday advising states on how they should reopen bars, restaurants and workplaces. The guidance outlines a series of steps that should be taken to keep their workers and customers safe, such as requiring hand-washing, social distancing measures, and how to check for symptoms. An earlier version of the guidance was held back by the Trump administration for being too “prescriptive,” particularly for states that have had less intense outbreaks.

The White House’s task force issued broad guidelines for reopening the country on April 16 but largely left the specifics to states on how to restart economic and social activities. Around the U.S., states have begun moving ahead with plans to reopen, even as cases of the disease continue to circulate. But in the absence of guidance from the CDC, providing rules and advice had largely been left to state and local groups, or not dispensed at all. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs, Emma Court and Justin Sink.

Under the newly issued CDC guidelines, businesses would be encouraged to follow a series of steps.

  • Bars and restaurants shouldn’t reopen until they can follow applicable state and local orders, and until they’re ready to protect people who are at higher risk for severe illness, the guidelines say. Then they should encourage social distancing—add space between tables and stools; encourage drive-through, delivery and curbside pick-up; limit occupancy; avoid self-serve; and restrict employee shared spaces.
  • Mass-transit operators should limit routes to and from high-transmission areas before increasing to full service, as well as space out passengers by closing every other row of seats, according to the CDC’s guidelines. Youth programs, camps and childcare programs should change procedures and activities to limit shared toys and supplies, the guidelines say.

Trump Mulls Made-in-U.S. Order: The Trump administration is also preparing an executive order to require certain essential drugs and medical treatments for a variety of conditions be made in the U.S. The order comes in light of drug and device shortages during the pandemic. A draft of the order is circulating inside the government and was obtained by Bloomberg News. The order would limit any federal contracts for those supplies to manufacturers in the U.S. and would require that production be divided among multiple companies to ensure price competition. Read more from Shira Stein and Tony Capaccio.

  • Trump yesterday announced plans to resupply and maintain the U.S. stockpile of medical equipment, more than two months into a coronovirus pandemic that initially caught many hospitals with shortages of ventilators and protective gear. The U.S. will keep 90 days of supplies to gird against future flare-ups of the outbreak as the nation begins to reopen its economy, according to the Trump administration, Mario Parker, Justin Sink and Jordan Fabian report.

Top Court Rejects Texas Inmates on Covid-19 Prevention: The U.S. Supreme Court refused to reinstate a judge’s order that required a Texas prison for elderly inmates to take more than a dozen specific steps to protect against the coronavirus outbreak. The justices yesterday rejected calls by inmates Laddy Valentine, 69, and Richard King 73, who said the Wallace Pack Unit in southeastern Texas isn’t doing enough to protect them from possible infection. The case marked the first time Supreme Court intervention was sought in a dispute over the steps prisons must take to protect inmates from the coronavirus. Read more form Greg Stohr.

Elections & Politics

Mail Voting Opens Door to Disenfranchisement: Minorities, young adults and those with disabilities face barriers to voting by mail as states rush to prepare for holding elections as safely as possible. The effects of long-existing issues with voting by mail wasn’t as perceptible in previous elections because only a fraction of the electorate in most states utilized absentee ballots. The coronavirus is expected to change that in November, but state officials are making decisions now on how voters will cast their ballots in the general election, as well as in dozens of primaries over the next several months. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Biden Says People Who Believe Tara Reade Shouldn’t Vote for Him: Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said yesterday that any voter who believes the sexual assault allegations against him shouldn’t vote for him, Jennifer Epstein reports. “I think they should vote their heart and if they believe Tara Reade, they probably shouldn’t vote for me,” Biden said during an interview on MSNBC. “I wouldn’t vote for me if I believed Tara Reade.”

Biden has denied Reade’s claim that when she worked for his Senate office in 1993, he pushed her against a wall in a Capitol Hill office building, put his hand up her skirt and sexually assaulted her with his fingers.

“Look at Tara Reade’s story, it changes considerably,” he said. Biden was referring to Reade’s changing descriptions of the episode in media interviews over the past several weeks. Her narrative has also shifted from her initial claims more than a year ago, when she said Biden touched her shoulders in a way that made her uncomfortable, but didn’t mention an assault. “The truth matters. This is being vetted, it’s been vetted,” Biden said. “This is just totally, thoroughly, completely out of character.”

Trump Revives ‘Obamagate’ Conspiracy: Trump has complained from the start of his presidency that Barack Obama and anti-Trump factions in the Justice Department and U.S. intelligence agencies misused their power to undermine him. Now, Ric Grenell, Trump’s acting spy chief, and Attorney General William Barr have taken highly unusual steps that are prompting accusations they’re using the same agencies to protect Trump and bolster his “Obamagate” conspiracy theory against Democrats in the months before the November election.

Amid the dire developments of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump is using the new actions to fire up his political base through renewed attention to what he described in a tweet Thursday as the “biggest political crime and scandal” in U.S. history. He’s also depicted Biden as a key player in those unspecified crimes. Read more from Chris Strohm.

Jordan Seeks Hunter Biden-Burisma Documents: House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) yesterday called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to turn over documents related to the Ukrainian natural-gas company where Joe Biden’s son served on the board. Jordan, a close ally of Trump, is seeking records specifically tied to Hunter Biden and to Burisma Holdings founder Mykola Zlochevsky. Read more from Billy House.

What Else to Know Today

House Moves May Expose More Trump Rules to Rollbacks: Publication of a new rule governing the divisive issue of sexual misconduct allegations on college campuses has been accelerated just in time to meet an estimated deadline of May 20—a move that could prove significant if Democrats sweep the November elections, Cheryl Bolen and Andrew Kreighbaum report.

Trump to Receive Space Force Flag: Trump will be presented with the Space Force flag at the White House today, his latest effort to herald the launch of the new branch of the U.S. military, Jennifer Jacobs and Josh Wingrove report.

Trump Pick to Lead Media Agency Is Under Investigation: Trump’s choice to lead the agency in charge of Voice of America is under investigation by the attorney general for the District of Columbia, a Democratic senator said yesterday. The nomination of Michael Pack seemed, after a two-year delay, to be on a path to be cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, followed by a likely confirmation vote by the full chamber. Then the D.C. attorney general’s office told the committee that Pack was under investigation. Read more from Daniel Flatley.

Virus Revives Worst-Case Scenarios for U.S.-China Relationship: The coronavirus pandemic has revived all the worst-case scenarios about U.S.-China ties, edging them closer to confrontation than at any point since the two sides established relations four decades ago. Read more.

Meanwhile, China said it did not know until Jan. 19 how infectious the new coronavirus is, pushing back against accusations that it intentionally withheld information about the severity of the outbreak in Wuhan from the world. Read more.

WTO Leader Search Begins: The U.S. and European Union signaled they want to move rapidly to replace the head of the World Trade Organization after Director-General Roberto Azevedo unexpectedly announced plans to step down Aug. 31, a year before his term expires. Read more from Bryce Baschuk.

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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