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Window On Washington - September 21, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 38

Sep 20, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away last Friday, which has brought into question how the Senate will approach filling her seat with just six weeks left until the election and October recess around the corner. Senate Republicans could move to vote on her successor before Election Day or wait until immediately afterwards, when President Donald Trump will still be president until next January regardless of the Nov. 3 outcome. As of yesterday, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are the only Republican senators to have officially said they will not vote for the successor before the election. Sen. Murkowski did not indicate if she would vote on a nominee before inauguration, while Sen. Collins said whoever is elected on November 3rd should pick the nominee but that the Senate Judiciary Committee can start the nominee review process. The nominee needs 51 votes in the Senate, so Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can afford to lose three Republican votes and force a vote anytime he has 50 senators ready to back a confirmation, with Vice President Mike Pence serving as the tie breaker.

Congress. House Democrats have multiple votes this week, including on a continuing resolution to fund the government past Sept. 30 and a package of renewable energy initiatives. The Senate is scheduled to continue advancing judicial nominees. Additionally, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will testify tomorrow to the House Financial Services Committee and on Thursday in front of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Powell will also appear before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Wednesday. There are a handful of other hearings on Wednesday as well, including the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s hearing on the nomination of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to be DHS secretary, the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee’s hearing on NASA’s FY2021 budget proposal, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s hearing on the federal response to COVID-19 with Dr. Fauci, Dr. Redfield, Dr. Giroir, and Dr. Hahn as witnesses.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. President Trump urged that Republicans increase the size of the COVID-19 relief package, renewing divisions in the Republican party over how much spending is necessary for the next package. However, the impasse between congressional Democrats, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows remains. With the continuing resolution slated to exclude pandemic relief, Democratic leadership has indicated members will be brought back with 24 hours’ notice if they get a deal on a package during October recess. Republican senators say negotiations between the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are not likely to produce a COVID-19 deal before the election, but Speaker Pelosi continues to emphasize that the House is committed to negotiating a deal.

2020 Elections. With just 43 days left until the election, campaigns are in their final sprint. President Trump will travel to Ohio for two speeches today, to Pittsburgh for a speech tomorrow, and to Florida for a speech on Thursday. Former Vice President and Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden will travel to Wisconsin today, and vice-presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) will travel to Flint and Detroit, Michigan tomorrow. The first presidential debate is one week from tomorrow in Ohio.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Stopgap Funding Talks Bled into Weekend Amid Farm Aid Pushback: Negotiations on the stopgap bill, which sources said would extend current funding levels through Dec. 11, continued throughout the weekend despite a self-imposed deadline of noon last Friday. A House Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity said legislative text wouldn’t be finalized until today. (Roll Call)

Pelosi Says 'Hard To See' Democrats Supporting Less Than $2.2T in COVID-19 Aid: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last Thursday said that she's hopeful the parties will reach an agreement on the next round of coronavirus relief but suggested Democrats aren't prepared to accept anything less than her last offer — $2.2 trillion — in a deal. (The Hill)

Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus Unveils $2 Trillion Coronavirus Bill: A bipartisan group of 50 House members known as the Problem Solvers Caucus unveiled a roughly $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill last Tuesday amid frustration with congressional and White House leaders for failing to deliver aid to Americans. (Axios)

Health

CDC Tells Congress It Urgently Needs $6 Billion For Vaccine Distribution: During a Senate hearing last Wednesday, the CDC said it needs $6 billion that it does not currently have in order to distribute a coronavirus vaccine, highlighting a new hurdle in a massive logistical undertaking. The Trump administration released a distribution plan the same day that relies on states to choose the vaccination sites in their area. (The Hill)

Azar Agrees to Testify on Coronavirus: HHS Secretary Alex Azar will testify in front of the House Oversight’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis next month. The Oct. 2 hearing will be the first time that Secretary Azar has appeared before Congress since February. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

House Committee Subpoenas Labor Board Over Conflict of Interest Questions: The legal request comes after more than a year of attempts by the committee to acquire ethics related documentation from the NLRB — the federal body charged with upholding workers’ rights to organize and raise safety concerns — on issues that involve an NLRB board member’s former law firm. (The Washington Post)

Senate Joins House in Not Deferring Payroll Taxes for Staff: The Senate joined the House in opting out of the payroll tax deferral option touted by President Donald Trump. (Roll Call)

Education

A Last Push for Simplicity: As he nears retirement, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, is making a final push to bring about what he’s been trying to do for at least seven years — simplifying the form students have to fill out to get federal financial aid for college. (Inside Higher Ed)

Schumer, Warren Call for Canceling $50,000 of Student Debt: Though acknowledging that it likely won’t happen unless there’s a Biden administration, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said they are proposing a resolution that would call on the next president to use authority they believe he would have to cancel $50,000 in federal student debt from all borrowers, a move that would completely eliminate the balances of 75 percent of all borrowers. (Inside Higher Ed)

Banking & Housing

Calabria Says to Congress ‘If You Don't Like Crisis Fee, Then Fund GSEs’: Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria defended Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's controversial "adverse market" fee at a virtual hearing with House lawmakers last Wednesday. (American Banker)

Judy Shelton, Trump’s Fed Nominee, May Lack Senate Votes: Judy Shelton, the controversial nominee to an empty seat on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, may lack the votes needed to win support from the Senate, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) told reporters last Tuesday. (HousingWire)

Tax Reform

Senators Offer Disaster Tax Relief Bill: A bipartisan group of senators last Wednesday offered legislation that includes several tax provisions that would apply to individuals and businesses in regions that are designated as presidentially declared disaster areas from July 1 through 60 days after the bill's enactment. (The Hill)

Transportation

Congressional Inquiry Faults Boeing and FAA Failures for Deadly 737 Max Plane Crashes: A sweeping congressional inquiry into the development and certification of Boeing's troubled 737 Max provided a comprehensive analysis of both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration’s roles in two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people. (NPR)

Congressional Transportation Leaders Back One-Year Extension of FAST Act: A soon-to-expire federal law that governs the country’s highway policies appears to be headed toward a yearlong extension after Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the top transportation policy authorizers on Capitol Hill, have indicated support for extending the provisions in the 2015 FAST Act highway law for a 12-month duration, as many stakeholders have also called for recently. (Transport Topics News)

Airline CEOs Plead With Washington as Layoffs Loom: The race to prevent massive airline layoffs in October is heating up with CEOs and union leaders pleading with the White House and Congress to reach a deal for more industry aid, and saying that they will have to start cutting tens of thousands of jobs in a little more than a week without congressional action. (The Hill)

Trade

White House Blocks Navarro from Testifying to House Panel About Ventilator Deal: The White House blocked trade adviser Peter Navarro from testifying at a House oversight hearing last Wednesday about a partially canceled Defense Production Act contract to manufacture ventilators. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Five Years in the Making, Space Weather Bill Finally Clears Congress: Five years and many modifications later, Congress has finally passed bipartisan legislation to address how the U.S. government deals with threats posed by emissions from the Sun to critical elements of our infrastructure like the electric grid and satellites. PROSWIFT, S. 881, now awaits signature by the President. (Space Policy Online)

Climate Change Denialist Given Top Role at NOAA: A controversial researcher who rejects climate science was hired for a senior position as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Observation and Prediction. (Science)

Defense/Intelligence

Ratcliffe Reinstates Election Briefings for Intel Panels: John Ratcliffe, the Director of National Intelligence, said in a statement last Wednesday that he will continue to brief congressional leaders and the Senate and House intelligence committees, though his office will no longer conduct briefings for all lawmakers, citing the need to protect intelligence sources and methods. (Politico)

Six Defense Nominees Advance: The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a half dozen senior defense nominees last Tuesday and sent them to the full Senate. (Politico)

Homeland Security & Immigration

Democrats Slam DHS Chief for Defying Subpoena for Testimony on Worldwide Threats: Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, described the absence of the acting DHS secretary from his panel's worldwide threats hearing last Thursday as appalling. (The Hill)

Alleged Unwanted Hysterectomies and Other Abuses at ICE Facility Prompts Investigation: Members of Congress are pressing the administration for further inquiries after the DHS announced last week it is looking into a whistleblower complaint that claimed federal immigration detainees underwent unnecessary gynecological surgeries — including full hysterectomies — without their consent. (USA Today)

Secretary Wolf's Absence from Hearing Should 'Appall' Congress, Panel Chairman Says: The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security condemned Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf's failure to appear in response to a subpoena last Thursday. (NPR)

Judiciary/Justice

McConnell Says Trump Nominee to Replace Ginsburg Will Get Senate Vote: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed last Friday night that Republicans will move to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. (The Hill)

House Postpones Vote to Decriminalize Marijuana Until After Election: Some of the more moderate Democrats in the caucus, including ones considered vulnerable for re-election in November, had expressed reservation about voting on the marijuana bill this month when Congress still had not passed another coronavirus relief package. (Roll Call)

Comey to Testify Before Senate Judiciary Committee: Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC), whose committee is conducting a review of the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, added that former special counsel Robert Mueller declined to appear before the panel. (Politico)

Cyber

House Passes Bipartisan IoT Security Bill to Fix ‘Glaring Gap’ in Cyber Infrastructure: A bipartisan bill setting minimum security standards for Internet of Things devices connected to federal networks passed the House last Monday. The bill now awaits a Senate floor vote before heading to the president’s desk. (Federal News Network)

Agriculture

Independent GAO Report Confirms Trump Administration Payments for Trade Damages Favored Certain Farmers: New data reveals the USDA Market Facilitation Program created deep inequities between regions and crops and benefited the largest operations over small farms. (Senate Agriculture Committee)

Environment & Interior

Intensifying Natural Disasters Do Little to Move Needle on Climate Efforts: Deep partisan divisions over climate change remain a significant obstacle. (The Hill)

Senate Passes Bipartisan Wildlife Conservation Legislation: The Senate unanimously passed America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act last Thursday, which aims to help improve species conservation, protect vital ecosystems, and ensure outdoor recreation opportunities abound for generations to come. The bill is now headed to the House. (Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Trump Undercuts GOP, Calls for Bigger COVID-19 Relief Package: President Trump last Wednesday shook up the high-stakes debate over coronavirus relief, undercutting the Republicans' long-held position by urging GOP leaders to go big. (The Hill)

CBO Says COVID-19 Rescue Packages Added 4.7 Percent in GDP: A string of emergency COVID-19 relief bills passed earlier in the year added 4.7 percent to gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 and will add another 3.1 percent to the economy in 2021, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). (The Hill)

Health/HHS/NIH/CDC

CDC Reverses Course on Testing for Asymptomatic People Who Had COVID-19 Contact: The CDC last Friday announced that close contacts of people with COVID-19 should be tested, regardless of whether they have symptoms — reversing controversial recommendations it made last month, reportedly over the advice of agency scientists. (Politico)

Trump Disputes CDC Director on Vaccine Timing, Says 'He Made A Mistake': President Trump last Wednesday repeatedly contradicted one of his top health officials, saying CDC Director Robert Redfield was wrong about the timeline for a possible coronavirus vaccine and the efficacy of wearing masks. (The Hill)

HHS Steered $700 Million From CDC to Fund Warp Speed Program: Trump administration officials steered $700 million from the CDC to fund Operation Warp Speed to develop COVID-19 drugs and vaccines, according to people familiar with the matter. (Bloomberg)

Top HHS Spokesperson Caputo to Take Medical Leave: Michael Caputo will take a 60-day medical leave of absence from his role as the HHS’s top spokesperson — a decision that came days after he accused government scientists of “sedition” and warned of coming left-wing violence in a Facebook video. (Politico)

Trump Signs New Executive Order on Prescription Drug Prices: President Trump signed an executive order last week that he says lowers prescription drug prices "by putting America first," but experts said the move is unlikely to have any immediate impact. The action comes nearly two months after the president signed a different executive order with the exact same name but held it back to see if he could negotiate a better deal with drug companies. (NPR)

Labor & Workforce

Initial Jobless Claims Dip To 860,000: Initial jobless claims dipped to a seasonally adjusted 860,000 in the week ending Sept. 12, a decrease of 33,000 from the previous week. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Fed Weighs Changes to Main Street Program to Allay Banks' Concerns: The Federal Reserve is considering changes to its middle-market business rescue program in order to make it more available to borrowers, but the law limits how much additional risk the central bank can take on, said Fed Chair Jerome Powell. (American Banker)

Fed Holds Rates Steady Near Zero and Indicates it Will Stay There for Years: The Federal Reserve kept its pledge to keep interest rates anchored near zero and promised to keep rates there until inflation rises consistently. (CNBC)

Transportation/DOT

White House Backs $25B Airline Relief Extension: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows urged Congress last Thursday to provide $25 billion in payroll grants for airline employees for six more months. (Roll Call)

Trade

Trump's Tariffs on China Violated Law, Trade Body Says: The World Trade Organization ruled decisively last Tuesday that President Donald Trump violated global trade rules when he unilaterally imposed tariffs on what became more than $350 billion worth of Chinese goods. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Human Spaceflight Directorate Completes Reorganization: The NASA directorate responsible for human spaceflight efforts has completed a long-anticipated internal reorganization intended to better align activities ranging from the International Space Station to Artemis. Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk recently gave new AA Kathy Lueders formal approval. (Space News)f

Defense/DOD

Is the U.S. Navy Winning the War on Maintenance Delays?: The U.S. Navy, beset by maintenance delays, is making progress on getting its ships out of the shipyards on time, fleet officials say. Over the past three years, the Navy is on track to more than double the percentage of ships getting out of maintenance on time, according to Capt. Dave Wroe, the U.S. Fleet Forces Command’s deputy fleet readiness officer. (Defense News)

Space Development Agency Praised as Change Agent in Pentagon Procurement: The SDA on Aug. 31 announced it had selected two contractors to build the first batch of satellites for a military communications mesh network known as Transport Layer Tranche 0, four months after posting the final solicitation for bids – a much quicker turnaround than is typical in such procurements. (Space News)

DHS & Immigration

DHS IG Won't Investigate After Watchdog Said Wolf, Cuccinelli Appointments Violated Law: The DHS inspector general last Monday announced that the agency would not be investigating whether acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli are serving in their roles unlawfully, saying it would be “pointless” to get involved in an “inter-branch disagreement.” (The Hill)

Judiciary/DOJ

Trump Signals He Will Move to Replace Ginsburg 'Without Delay': President Trump on Saturday signaled he will quickly move to nominate a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (The Hill)

Barr Creates Firestorm with Comments that Appear to Boost Trump's Reelection Campaign: During an appearance in northern Virginia last Wednesday, Attorney General Bill Barr railed against state-issued coronavirus-related lockdown orders, declaring that they were surpassed only by slavery as a historic intrusion on civil liberties. (Politico)

Cyber

As Trump Holds Back, Tech Firms Step in on Election Cyber Security:  Facebook and Twitter give Congress regular briefings to the intelligence committees, issue frequent reports about malicious activity and are part of a group that regularly meets with law enforcement and intelligence officials in the administration. (Federal News Network)

Agriculture/USDA

Trump Announces $13 Billion in Additional Coronavirus Aid to Farmers: During a re-election rally in rural Wisconsin last Thursday, President Trump announced an additional $13 billion in coronavirus relief for U.S. farmers and ranchers that is supposed to be available starting this week. (Successful Farming)

EPA & DOI

EPA Takes Another Step to Fulfill Transparency EO: A final rule from the Environmental Protection Agency gives the public a platform to request changes or removal of agency guidance documents. This stems from an executive order President Donald Trump signed last year, calling for increased transparency in agency regulations. (Federal News Network)

Department of Energy

As Election Looms, Trump Alters Course on Offshore Drilling: President Donald Trump recently backed a federal freeze on oil and gas drilling off the coasts of Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, marking an election year departure from his administration’s previous efforts to significantly expand offshore fossil fuel extraction in the region and nationally. It marks a course change that could help Republican candidates from states with bipartisan opposition to offshore drilling. (Roll Call)