Coronavirus Roundup: TSA Sees Uptick in Travel; Census Bureau Will Resume Pandemic Surveys
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
President Trump signed four executive orders on Saturday to extend unemployment benefits, delay payroll tax collection, defer student loan payments, and call on the Housing and Urban Development and Treasury departments to try to find funds to prevent evictions, as the House and Senate have yet to come to a compromise on a coronavirus relief package. University of Chicago Law Professor Daniel Hemel said the orders are “likely infective,” but “not unconstitutional.” He explained potential issues and questions raised in a tweet thread on Saturday. Here are some other recent headlines from over the weekend and today that you might have missed.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Fox News on Sunday that the administration cleared the executive orders with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. “If the Democrats want to challenge us in court and hold up unemployment benefits to those hard-working Americans that are out of a job because of COVID, they’re going to have a lot of explaining to do,” he said. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would not say on ABC on Sunday if he thought the executive orders were legal, but stated they don’t “do the job.”
The Transportation Security Administration announced on Monday that the traveler throughput on Sunday topped 800,000 for the first time since March 17, which is around the time the country largely began to go into lockdown. TSA officials screened 683,212 individuals on Saturday and 762,547 on Friday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House coronavirus task force, would not say if he recommends voting by mail as a safe alternative during the pandemic “because that almost certainly is going to be used as a sound bite,” during an interview with The Washington Post on Friday. Although he shifted his tone on Florida and Arizona, President Trump has been a staunch opponent of vote-by-mail and his administration is reportedly considering taking executive action on it.
On Friday, Democratic Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub called on the president and Congress to provide more funding for states and localities to conduct elections in the fall. “In this year plagued by a pandemic, economic turmoil, civic unrest and death, the last thing America needs is to end the year with an electoral crisis,” she said. Election funding is one of the provisions over which the House and Senate have been negotiating in their discussions on the next coronavirus relief package.
The Census Bureau announced on Friday that it would resume its household and small business pulse surveys this month to learn about how the pandemic is affecting the respective groups, NPR reported. The purpose of these surveys is to collect “real time data” to help “inform federal and state recovery planning,” said the agency.
The Brennan Center for Justice launched an online resource tracker on Friday to compile all of the Trump administration’s attacks on science, conflicts of interest, norm violations and other issues in regard to the pandemic. For example, “Many federal workers have been ordered to come into work during the pandemic, in some cases to perform tasks that can be done from home. Federal workers have often had to work without protections that would allow them to practice social distancing in their work spaces,” said the report. This is “consistent with the longstanding antipathy towards federal civil servants among senior members of the Trump administration.”
The Trump administration is putting a hold on its $765 million loan to photography company Kodak to make pharmaceutical ingredients for generic drugs amid investigations by Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. The Trump administration awarded the loan under the 1950 Defense Production Act, which was the first of its kind.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said on Monday he was pleased with the decision to put Kodak’s loan on hold as his subcommittee is investigating the situation. “We need answers about why they planned to give a taxpayer-funded loan to manufacture drug ingredients to a company without pharmaceutical experience, and how Kodak executives acquired millions of dollars worth of stock and options at the same time they were negotiating this loan in secret,” he said. “Given that the administration admitted there are ‘serious concerns’ with the loan and said they ‘will not proceed any further unless these allegations are cleared,’ I expect both the administration and the company will fully comply with the committees’ document requests without delay.”
A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer and union member wrote in The Washington Post on Friday about recent struggles he and his colleagues are facing to protect refugees. “The past few years of executive orders, regulations and proclamations have made it virtually impossible for refugee and asylum officers to do our jobs and offer protection to those who need it,” wrote Jason Marks. “With the added danger of the coronavirus, and the Trump administration seizing the opportunity to impose even more restrictions, my colleagues and I fear that we won’t get to return to those desks — and that America has abandoned its promise to protect the world’s most vulnerable.”
Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany will hold a briefing at 1 p.m.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about the unsung civil service heroes of the pandemic.
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