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The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - House delays Washington return; McConnell nixes infrastructure from COVID relief bill

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Happy Wednesday! 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. Tuesday, 56,253. Wednesday, 58,355.

 

The United States on Tuesday exceeded 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, a third of the total cases on Earth and more known infections than in any other single nation.



House lawmakers won’t return to Washington next week after all, citing the risks of COVID-19 infection in a city still seen as a virus hot spot. The abrupt decision, which does not affect the Senate, threw a wrench into plans for the next virus-related relief package.

 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Congressional leaders present Biden, Harris with flags flown during inauguration LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing MORE (D-Md.) made the announcement on Tuesday after consulting with the Capitol physician, who advised that the number of cases in the D.C. region has not flattened.

 

“We will not be meeting next week,” Hoyer told reporters. “The House physician's view was that there was a risk to members that was one he would not recommend taking” (The Hill).

 

The Maryland Democrat indicated that rank-and-file House members will be called back to Washington when it’s time for a vote on the next pandemic relief measure, which some lawmakers have begun publicly discussing. Last week, Congress and the White House enacted an interim $484 billion bill to increase small-business funding after more than a week of horse trading.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE (R-Ky.) laid down another marker on Tuesday, telling his Senate GOP colleagues on a conference call that funding for infrastructure would not be included in an upcoming bill, breaking from what the White House has indicated in recent weeks. According to Axios, McConnell, who is married to Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine ChaoSchumer becomes new Senate majority leader FDA chief says he was 'disgusted' by Capitol riots, considered resigning McMaster: Trump running again would be 'terribly divisive' MORE, said on the call that “Democrats and the White House both need to get the message.”

 

“We have an equal interest in doing an infrastructure bill. We don't have an equal interest in borrowing money from future generations to pay for it. In other words, it's unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic,” McConnell told Fox News. When asked whether he was saying he did not want the upcoming package to include infrastructure, McConnell added, "Yeah, I'll be clear. Infrastructure is unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic that we're all experiencing and trying to figure out how to go forward” (The Hill).

 

McConnell also reiterated on Tuesday that any package must include changes in the liability law to protect businesses and other entities from a slew of lawsuits. He called it his “red line” for negotiations.

 

While lawmakers stake out territory for new legislation, concerns simmer over the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the small-business lending system enacted in March whose recipients have sparked controversy.

 

As Sylvan Lane writes, the disbursement of a second round of PPP funding began this week with misstep after misstep, including technical glitches that locked out thousands of applications through banks. The overwhelmed system forced business owners to seek other ways to try to secure federal funds. The Small Business Administration has also infuriated lenders after changing guidance as the program’s application process ramped up and was replenished with $320 billion this month after an initial $350 billion allocated for business lending ran out. 

 

The Hill: Replenished small business program could be exhausted of funds next week.

 

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinPence delivers coronavirus task force report to Biden Treasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' Treasury Department sanctions inner circle of Russian agent Derkach for election interference MORE warned recipients of PPP funding that small business loans above $2 million will be audited by the government to assess whether the funds were necessary for companies to afford to retain workers. 

 

“This was a program designed for small businesses. It was not a program that was designed for public companies that had liquidity,” Mnuchin told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday (The Hill).

 

The Hill: Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerNRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader US Chamber of Commerce to Biden, Congress: Business community 'ready to help' MORE (D-N.Y.) called for hearings on what he called President TrumpDonald TrumpIran's leader vows 'revenge,' posting an image resembling Trump Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Justice Dept. to probe sudden departure of US attorney in Atlanta after Trump criticism MORE's “abject failure at implementing” coronavirus relief.

 

Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedSenate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee Senate panel advances Biden Pentagon nominee Overnight Defense: Biden inaugurated as 46th president | Norquist sworn in as acting Pentagon chief | Senate confirms Biden's Intel chief MORE (D-R.I.) called on Tuesday for congressional investigations of a reported $10 billion in fees racked up by banks through the new lending program. Reed, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, said he is concerned after reading an analysis by NPR reporting that banks were able to rake in $10 billion in processing fees as they administered the first $349 billion in PPP assistance.

 

The Hill: IRS gets coronavirus payments out quickly but imperfectly.

 

The Hill: Housing advocates sound alarm as May rents collide with coronavirus.

 

At the White House, Trump said on Tuesday that the “worst days” of the COVID-19 contagion are “behind us” as the confirmed number of coronavirus cases in the United States shot past 1 million. Speaking in the East Room to hail the government’s economic relief lending to small businesses through the PPP, the president said the United States looks forward to reviving the economy (The Hill). 

 

“We suffer with one heart, but we will prevail. We are coming back, and we’re coming back strong,” Trump said. “Now that our experts believe that the worst days of the pandemic are behind us, Americans are looking forward to the safe and rapid reopening of our country.”

 

The Hill: Public approval of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus emergency drops 10 points. Another survey conducted by Reuters/Ipsos turns up similar findings (Reuters).

 

The Hill: Trump orders meat processing plants to stay open using authority under the Defense Production Act.

 

The Hill: The U.S. Capitol staff extended visitor restrictions until mid-May.

 

 

 

 

Vice President Pence declined to wear a mask during a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on Tuesday, despite its policy that all physicians, nurses, patients and visitors must wear medical masks (The Hill). The vice president defended his decision, which was photographed and widely shared on social media. He said he is not infected with the coronavirus and therefore does not need a mask, noting that those around him are also tested for the virus (The Hill).



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LEADING THE DAY

STATE WATCH: The truest thing repeatedly written by medical experts and researchers about COVID-19 is how little they know about the pathogen after just four months. As Reid Wilson reports, scientists around the world who are intent on finding a vaccine are struggling to answer questions about how it would work and whether a vaccine would convey long-term immunity — or whether people might need booster doses, similar to seasonal influenza shots.

 

There are at least 1,012,583 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in this country.

 

States are embroiled in another area of deepening public health debate: testing. How much is enough? What kind of testing is necessary, and for what purpose and among what percentage of the 325 million people in the United States? Here are five things to know about where everyone currently stands on that thorny subject (The Hill).

 

> Florida: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida scientist who accused state of manipulating coronavirus data tests positive for COVID-19, turns herself in Overnight Health Care: Testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing | Health workers refusing vaccine is growing problem | Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 COVID deaths by mid-February COVID-19 testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing MORE, who strongly backs the president’s reelection in a must-win state come November, visited the Oval Office on Tuesday to describe the Sunshine State’s efforts to reopen its economy while weighing COVID-19 risks, especially among senior residents. DeSantis (pictured below) defended his delay in shutting down all regions of his state.

 

"What have the results been? You look at some of the most draconian orders that have been issued in some of these states and compare Florida in terms of our hospitalizations per 100,000, in terms of our fatalities per 100,000,” he said seated next to Trump, who is now a Florida resident. “I mean you go from D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois. You name it. Florida has done better” (Fox News).

 

 

 

 

> Maine: Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced Tuesday the extension until May 31 of Maine’s stay-at-home order and her administration's plan to gradually reopen the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking at an afternoon news conference, Mills announced she will extend a stay-at-home order set to expire on Thursday (NECN).

 

> Alabama: Gov. Kay Ivey (R) said Tuesday she will allow retailers, some businesses and state beaches to reopen on Thursday while conceding that Alabama’s number of COVID-19 cases is still rising. Ivey said she will not extend the state’s expiring stay-at-home order but will issue a new “safer at home” order, effective Thursday, that encourages but doesn’t require people to stay home (The Hill). 

 

> Texas: COVID-19 infections continue to rise in the Lone Star State, according to a county-by-county tally. Texas businesses have been told by the governor they can reopen on Friday, but will they? Some business owners say they’ll wait (Austin American-Statesman).

 

> California & 25 other states: Employees with reduced hours, not just those unemployed during the coronavirus emergency, can get $600 per week under the new federal relief law. It’s a happy surprise for workers and provides more money than some employees could earn if they worked full-time in their jobs, a situation that has attracted critics (Los Angeles Times).



IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS: Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSamantha Power's Herculean task: Turning a screw with a rubber screwdriver Beau Biden Foundation to deny lobbyist donations, make major donors public Whoopi Goldberg wears 'my vice president' shirt day after inauguration MORE endorsed former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenRev. Barber says best way to undercut extremism is with honesty Biden requires international travelers to quarantine upon arrival to US Overnight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 MORE for president on Tuesday in the latest of a string of key endorsements for the presumptive Democratic nominee. 

 

Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, threw her weight behind the former VP during a virtual town hall event focusing on the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on women. Biden introduced the former secretary of State as “the woman who should be president of the United States right now.” 

 

“I am thrilled to be part of your campaign — to not only endorse you but to help highlight a lot of the issues that are at stake in this presidential election,” she told Biden in a joint livestream. “I wish he were president right now, but I can't wait until he is.” 

 

Clinton also recounted her relationship with Biden from their time together in the Senate to their work in the Obama administration. Her endorsement comes roughly two weeks after Biden rolled out endorsements from former President Obama, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFormer Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Amanda Gorman captures national interest after inauguration performance Woman who made Sanders's mittens says she's sold out MORE (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden's Interior Department temporarily blocks new drilling on public lands | Group of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone | Judge grants preliminary approval for 0M Flint water crisis settlement Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Mass.) (The Hill). 

 

Niall Stanage: The Memo: Will Clinton's endorsement help Biden?

 

The Washington Post: Hillary Clinton endorses Biden as Democrats continue unity push.

 

 

 

 

Clinton’s announcement comes as Biden endures a period of tumult and faces an allegation from Tara Reade, a former aide who says the former vice president sexually assaulted her in a secluded part of Capitol Hill in 1993. 

 

Biden has denied the allegation and has not addressed it outside of the denial. 

 

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocrats torn on impeachment trial timing OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: 12 removed from National Guard inauguration security | Austin backs lifting transgender ban Biden Pentagon pick supports lifting transgender military ban MORE (D-N.Y.), a former 2020 opponent of Biden’s who sought to make women’s issues the hallmark of her campaign, told reporters on Tuesday that she stands by the former vice president, noting that he has denied the allegations (The Hill). 

 

“So when we say believe women, it’s for this explicit intention of making sure there’s space for all women to come forward to speak their truth, to be heard,” Gillibrand said during a conference call with reporters about the Postal Service. “And in this allegation, that is what Tara Reade has done. She has come forward, she has spoken, and they have done an investigation in several outlets. Those investigations, Vice President Biden has called for himself. Vice President Biden has vehemently denied these allegations and I support Vice President Biden.” 

 

The reporter followed up and asked if Democrats who were on the front lines for the hearing into Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault against Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughLIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing Harris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Why we need Section 230 more than ever MORE see any contradiction in not speaking out to address the allegation. Gillibrand said that she did not. 

 

“No and I stand by Vice President Biden,” said Gillibrand, who led the Democratic push to oust former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenHarrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans The Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots MORE (D-Minn.) over sexual harassment allegations in 2017. “He has devoted his life to supporting women, and he has vehemently denied this allegation.”

 

The Washington Post: Sanders’s campaign alumni create super PAC to support Joe Biden’s presidential run.

 

NPR: With the presidential election less than seven months away, more than half the country prefers that Biden handle the pandemic, and even the economy, over Trump, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll.

 

> Third party bid: Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashRepublicans eye primaries in impeachment vote Michigan GOP lawmaker says he's 'strongly considering' impeachment Newly sworn in Republican House member after Capitol riot: 'I regret not bringing my gun to D.C.' MORE (I-Mich.) said Wednesday that he is forming an exploratory committee to win the Libertarian Party nomination for the presidency. The Michigan congressman’s announcement came after weeks of speculation that he could take the step.

 

“Americans are ready for practical approaches based in humility and trust of the people. We’re ready for a presidency that will restore respect for our Constitution and bring people together. I’m excited and honored to be taking these first steps toward serving Americans of every background as president,” Amash said in a statement.

 

While he does not stand much of chance electorally, Amash could affect the president in his home state of Michigan, where Trump won by less than 11,000 votes over Clinton in 2016 (The Washington Post).

 

> House races: In a closely watched primary contest on Tuesday, Rep. Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds K Street navigates virtual inauguration week Urgency mounts for new voting rights bill MORE (D-Ohio) won against the Justice Democrats-backed Morgan Harper, taking 68.3 percent of the vote. The race pitted the congressional Black Caucus against the Justice Democrats (Reuters).

 

***

 

INTERNATIONAL: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte defended the delayed relaxing of restrictions and the longest nationwide lockdown in Europe due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

 

The Italian government announced that it would start easing restrictions on May 4 as parks, factories and construction sites are able to reopen, but much of the nation remains shuttered for longer. Some shops are able to reopen on May 18, while restaurants, bars and hairdressers are closed until at least June 1, with students not going back to school until September. But Conte has remained defiant despite criticism from businesses and political opponents, saying he would “do it all again” if he had the chance (Reuters). 

 

> Japan: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday that Tokyo will be unable to host a delayed version of the Olympics in 2021 if the outbreak is not contained. After the quadrennial event was postponed from this summer until the following year, there remain doubts that it can be held given that it remains an open question when a vaccine will be available to the masses.

 

“We’ve been saying the Olympic and Paralympic Games must be held in a complete form, in that athletes and spectators can all participate safely. It would be impossible to hold the Games in such a complete form unless the coronavirus pandemic is contained,” Abe told an opposition lawmaker (Reuters).

 

> United Kingdom: Downing St. announced on Wednesday that Carrie Symonds, the fiancee of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, delivered a baby boy. The news comes two days after the prime minister returned to work after recovering from COVID-19. Symonds also had symptoms from the virus, but recovered quicker than the PM (Reuters). 



The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!



OPINION

Congress must now address this international coronavirus threat, by Iain King, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/35eQv7f

 

Relying on foreign drugs is dangerous, by Scott W. Atlas and H.R. McMaster, opinion contributors, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3eW3TBM 



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WHERE AND WHEN

The House will convene a pro forma session on Friday at noon.

 

The Senate will hold a pro forma session on Thursday at 1 p.m.

 

The president will hold a phone call with food and agriculture industry leaders at 10 a.m. and will meet in the Oval Office with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). Trump will have lunch with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoJilani: China 'sending clear message' to Biden officials with sanctions that opposition could lead to 'future pay cut' New Israeli envoy arrives in Washington, turning page on Trump era Biden ousts controversial head of US Agency for Global Media MORE at 12:30 p.m. and will take part in a roundtable with industry executives at 4 p.m. to discuss reopening the U.S. economy.

 

The Federal Reserve releases a policy statement at 2 p.m. following a two-day meeting. Chairman Jerome Powell is expected to answer questions from reporters about numerous Fed programs initiated to support the faltering U.S. economy during the COVID-19 emergency. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Fed is changing what it means to be a central bank.

 

Economic indicator: The Commerce Department reports gross domestic product for the first three months of the year at 8:30 a.m. The report is expected to show that the U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter by 5 percent or more, but the data capture only a few weeks of the coronavirus emergency, signaling that GDP in the current second quarter, not reported until July, is in freefall (The Associated Press).

 

The Hill’s Virtually Live town hall, Safeguarding Seniors: Healthcare in a Health Crisis, takes place ONLINE at 1 p.m. ET today with help from the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Better Medicare Alliance. House Energy and Commerce Committee members Reps. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonUpton becomes first member of Congress to vote to impeach two presidents The Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? Kinzinger says he is 'in total peace' after impeachment vote MORE (R-Mich.), Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiOvernight Health Care: CDC panel recommends who gets vaccine first | McConnell offering new relief bill | Hahn downplays White House meeting on vaccines Cyberattack forces shutdown of Baltimore County schools for the day Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg and Dorsey return for another hearing | House passes 5G funding bill | Twitter introduces 'fleets' MORE (D-Calif.) and Bill JohnsonWilliam (Bill) Leslie JohnsonREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Jason Smith set to serve as top Republican on House Budget Committee OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Climate change a factor in most of the 7,000 natural disasters over last 20 years: UN report | Contentious pipeline can resume construction, regulators decide | California investigators seize PG&E equipment MORE (R-Ohio) will discuss supporting seniors, tackling disparities and the role of innovation in the age of COVID-19. They will be followed by a panel featuring Patrice Harris, M.D., president of the American Medical Association; AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond; Karen Freeman-Wilson, president of the Chicago Urban League; and Alliance for Aging Research President Sue Peschin. Registration info is HERE. Join the conversation using #TheHillVirtuallyLive.

 

The Center for Immigration Studies will livestream a newsmaker conversation at 11 a.m. featuring former Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Tom Homan, who served in government for more than three decades and wrote the book,Defend the Border & Save Lives: Solving Our Most Important Humanitarian and Security Crisis.” Homan will discuss detention, deportations, worksite enforcement and sanctuary jurisdictions. Find the event live on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

 

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!

 

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube



ELSEWHERE

Courts: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held oral arguments on Tuesday in a high-profile case involving former White House counsel Don McGahn's refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena and Trump's broad assertions of presidential immunity from congressional oversight. Can the judiciary resolve disputes between the political branches? It’s a threshold question for the federal judges (The Hill).

 

Boeing: Prosecutors and regulators are investigating Boeing 737 Max production for possible criminal and civil violations involving widespread quality-control lapses, potentially exposing the plane maker to greater legal liability than previously anticipated by industry and government officials (The Wall Street Journal).

 

Media: The Los Angeles Times on May 7 will launch a climate newsletter, “Boiling Point,” to focus on news about topics such as rising sea levels and temperatures, public lands and wildfires, water and drought, clean energy and fossil fuels. … The New York Times dismissed a Monday threat of legal action by an attorney for Fox News host Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityMcConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism Almost 7 in 10 oppose Trump pardoning himself: poll Can the GOP break its addiction to show biz? MORE in which he accused newspaper columnists of “mischaracterizing” Hannity’s on-air coronavirus commentary. The New York Times responded there was “no basis” to retract any of the columns (The Daily Beast). … Axios decided to return a $5 million federal loan it received through the Small Business Administration because it believes the federal funds are now too politically “polarized” and Axios is “nearing a deal for an alternative source of capital.”

 

Sports: North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) gave NASCAR the OK to go ahead with the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte for Memorial Day weekend, unless coronavirus cases across the state worsen in coming weeks. NASCAR released to teams its updated schedule for the season, starting with races on May 17 and May 20 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina before races at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24 and May 27 (The Associated Press). … ⚾ Major League Baseball is going to allow individual teams to offer refunds to fans who bought tickets for the 2020 season. Teams are expected to start announcing their ticket policies today (ESPN).

 

 

 



THE CLOSER

And finally … What’s known about pets that contract COVID-19? Not enough.

 

A pug in North Carolina may be the first confirmed U.S. dog with the virus after a 17-year-old canine in Hong Kong died in March after testing positive, but without an autopsy to determine a cause. And there have been multiple reports of felines testing positive, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

 

Veterinarians say family pets can exhibit symptoms of respiratory illness but so far, there’s no scientific evidence pets transmit the coronavirus to humans after apparently contracting it themselves from humans. But who knows? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges pet owners to be prudent: “Do not let pets interact with people or animals outside the household,” advises. “If a person inside the household becomes sick, isolate that person from everyone else, including pets.”

 

Ben McLean, a member of the North Carolina family that owns Winston the pug, said it made sense their pooch tested positive for COVID-19 because Winston “licks all of our dinner plates and sleeps in my mom’s bed.” Ben and his parents tested positive for the coronavirus, while his sister, another dog and a family cat tested negative. They were part of a Duke University study.