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The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead

The Hill logo The Hill 5/22/2020 Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver
Steven Mnuchin wearing a suit and tie: The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead © Getty Images The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead Presented by Facebook Steven Mnuchin wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera © Provided by The Hill

Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report. TGIF! 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, 89,564. Tuesday, 90,369. Wednesday, 91,938. Thursday, 93,439. Friday, 94,729.

Congress should act soon to extend a key coronavirus relief program enacted in March, even as lawmakers debate whether there's support in Congress to send President Trump a fifth major coronavirus measure to boost the economy, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday.

During an interview with The Hill, the secretary said there is bipartisan backing to extend the eight-week statutory duration of the Paycheck Protection Program to 10 or 12 weeks (The Hill). "That's something we definitely want to fix. It doesn't cost us any more money and there is bipartisan support," he said. The program, he added, has saved about 50 million jobs to date and could save an estimated 10 million more.

The National Restaurant Association prefers an extension to 24 weeks, but Mnuchin said 10 to 12 weeks is a time frame that could clear both chambers. The secretary spoke just hours after the government reported another 2.4 million people filed for unemployment insurance benefits last week, bringing the total since March to nearly 39 million during the pandemic-triggered lockdown.

Mnuchin declined to predict how dire the unemployment situation will become in the second quarter, which began in April, but he echoed Trump in forecasting a robust bounce by the fourth quarter. Economists and business analysts on Thursday suggested U.S. employment is unlikely to recover to pre-coronavirus levels for years.

READ The Hill interview excerpts: Mnuchin talks with editor-in-chief Bob Cusack during a virtual "Advancing America's Economy" event.

WATCH the 18-minute interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=se4corUFM_0

Separate from the PPP fixes, the secretary said there's a "strong likelihood" that additional federal intervention will be needed to help businesses and workers as states start to reopen and the economy struggles to stabilize (The Hill). But the administration and most Republicans in Congress want to first gauge the effect of trillions of dollars already appropriated. "We're going to step back for a few weeks and think very clearly how we need to spend more money and if we need to do that," he added.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week led her Democratic colleagues to pass another $3 trillion in recovery spending, which Republicans have labeled a "liberal wish list."

"If we do another bill, it won't look anything like the House Democrats' bill," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told House Republicans on Wednesday. McConnell said Senate Republicans will talk next month about what may be needed. On Thursday, the senator hastened to add on Fox News that another stimulus measure is "not too far off."

The Wall Street Journal: The Senate on Thursday was unable to finalize a deal to extend the amount of time companies have to spend PPP loans putting off the likely passage of revised small-business aid rules to June.

As the GOP-led Senate prepared for a weeklong recess, the Speaker repeated during an interview on Thursday that hunger, rent bills and the stress of unemployment do not "pause" during a crisis. "I'm optimistic because the American people fully support what we're doing," she told Bloomberg News. "It's bipartisan across the country." The political dynamics of the 2020 election year and the ravaged condition of the economy have left some Republican lawmakers uneasy about a strategy of waiting weeks to take additional action. "It's just a matter of time," Pelosi said, while making light of GOP resistance.

As Alexander Bolton reports, a battle over additional unemployment benefits has begun; conservatives object that some workers are temporarily receiving more generous federal benefits than their customary earned compensation, creating a disincentive to return to work. Mnuchin, Trump and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell have each said they do not view the CARES Act benefit bonus as a significant issue in the context of the unprecedented fiscal boost the government is trying to provide.

Lawmakers' policy-wish lists go beyond jobless assistance and patching up anemic state and municipal budgets during the contagion. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, has talked with the Treasury Department about adjusting the PPP to help business owners with criminal records gain eligibility for loans (The Miami Herald).

Many Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), say business liability protection must be in the next measure. Because Congress and the White House will take no new legislative action this month, states and some employers are taking steps to protect themselves from lawsuits in the coronavirus era (The Hill).

Trump's private advice to Senate Republicans early this week was to get "tough" with Democrats and to stick together. The president flew to swing-state Michigan on Thursday, reveling in the closest thing to a rally he could create during a public health crisis. He said the country will not close if there's a second wave of COVID-19, as his public health advisers expect this fall (The Hill).

Trump walked along an elevated stage, stood in front of a giant American flag, piped in rock music, and at a Ford Motor Co. plant in Ypsilanti, admired gleaming new vehicles - a "made in America" backdrop.

The headlines, however, covered a mask clash. Trump declined to wear a mask in public as a precaution in a state hit hard by the coronavirus. Face masks, which are a federal recommendation, are part of the Ford company's policy at the plant and were a specific precautionary request made to the White House under the aegis of the company's executive chairman, William Clay Ford Jr. (pictured below).

Asked about not wearing a public mask, Trump said he wore one in another area of the Ypsilanti facility, "where they preferred it." The company executives who wore face coverings exercised "their choice," he added. Trump said the news media cameras had a lot to do with his decision. "I didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it," Trump said.

The Hill: Trump and the mask controversy.

The Associated Press: Pandemic politics: Maskless Trump tours Michigan Ford plant.

The New York Times: Trump on Thursday night ordered flags flown at half-staff at the White House, on public grounds across the country and on naval vessels to memorialize nearly 95,000 people in the United States killed by COVID-19 to date.

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LEADING THE DAY

MORE IN CONGRESS: The Senate on Thursday confirmed Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to serve as the director of national intelligence, filling the position on a permanent basis after service by acting directors since August.

Senators voted along party lines, 49-44, on Ratcliffe's nomination to become the nation's sky chief in one of their final actions before the chamber broke for the weeklong Memorial Day recess.

Senate Democrats allowed his nomination to skip over procedural hurdles that could have delayed his confirmation until June as they were eager to have someone in the position confirmed rather than acting DNI Richard Grenell, who is deeply unpopular.

Ratcliffe's confirmation comes after he withdrew his initial nomination to the position in August following allegations that he inflated his résumé and was too much of a Trump loyalist (The Hill).

The Washington Post: Senate committee approves nominee to oversee U.S. media agency criticized by Trump.

> China: Pelosi said on Thursday that the House will review bipartisan legislation out of the Senate that would result in barring some Chinese companies from listing its shares on U.S. stock exchanges.

Pelosi told Bloomberg TV that the bill approved by the upper chamber will need to be examined in the House as it passed without debate. The Senate bill, authored by Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), which passed by unanimous consent, would require public companies to disclose whether they are owned or controlled by a foreign government and submit to audits that can be reviewed by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

"We'll review it in the House. I've asked my committees to take a look at what it is," Pelosi said. "We have to have a relationship with China and we judge every action as to what it means to us, as well as what it means to them. So I look forward to seeing that. It's interesting that it had such unanimous support, though, in the Senate" (The Hill).

The Hill: Schumer dubs GOP "conspiracy caucus" amid Obama-era probes.

> Senate break: The Senate departed Washington on Thursday for the Memorial Day recess, allowing lawmakers to go back to their home states. However, that is problematic for some, headlined by the situation Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) faces.

As Jordain Carney reports, Murkowski is set to go back to Alaska for the first time in more than two months, but will have to self-quarantine for the entire recess period. What Murkowski faces back home is one example of how senators are grappling with how to return back to their home states amid the coronavirus.

Since the chamber reconvened two weeks ago, senators haven't been routinely tested during their three weeks at the Capitol, leaving them in the dark about potential exposure as they head home for Memorial Day.

Lisa Murkowski standing in front of a window © Provided by The Hill

***

POLITICS: Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign has asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to undergo vetting to potentially become his running mate.

According to The Hill's Amie Parnes and Max Greenwood, it's unclear whether the Minnesota Democrat, a one-time opponent of Biden's for the Democratic nomination, has consented to vetting, which would dig deep into her private and public life to uncover any potential weaknesses or vulnerabilities as a vice presidential candidate.

Thursday's news also comes amid an intense jockeying effort by Democrats to be tapped for the position, with Biden saying that he is considering roughly a dozen women. Among the potential candidates are Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who said on Thursday that she is on the "short list."

A final decision for the spot is likely more than a month away as Biden told donors at a virtual fundraiser in late April that he expects the vetting process to be completed by July. A final decision will likely be made shortly after.

New York Magazine: Joe Biden's VP search is turning into an open audition.

As Niall Stanage writes in his latest memo, the case being made for each contender - beyond those listed above - goes far beyond individual strengths and weaknesses, and into demographic and ideological considerations as Biden, a 77-year-old white man, is firmly entrenched within the party's center-left establishment.

Some Democrats would be pleased if he chooses a more moderate candidate such as Klobuchar and argue that his focus should be toward winning key Midwest states the president carried in 2016. However, others believe Biden needs to go for the excitement factor and select an African American or Latina running mate.

An excitement pick also extends to ideology as some progressives are clamoring for him to pick Warren, another former primary opponent, as the faction feels the sting of Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) primary loss.

The Hill: Trump, Biden conserve cash ahead of fall battle.

NPR: Trump and Biden wage an uneven virtual campaign.

The Modesto Bee: California Republican Ted Howze loses GOP help after "disturbing" social media posts.

The Washington Post: Former first lady Michelle Obama will work to boost voter turnout for 2020 elections.

© Provided by The Hill

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CORONAVIRUS: Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said on Thursday that Washington, D.C. could start reopening next Friday as long as the district does not experience a surge of new infections in the coming days, with a final decision expected next Tuesday.

According to Bowser, the city needs three more days of declining community spread of COVID-19 before the stay-at-home order, which has been in place since March 30, can be lifted. Last week, Bowser extended the order through June 8 before indicating earlier this week that date could be bumped up.

According to The Washington Post, a task force formed by the mayor has recommended no mass gatherings of more than 250 people until a vaccine or cure is available and that the first locales that should be reopened are barber shops, hair salons, outdoor restaurants and parks, among others. The task force does not recommend reopening pools or gyms yet.

"It's not an on-and-off switch. We will not be able to go back to life as we enjoyed in February," Bowser said. "But we are incrementally adding activities back in our lives which we all miss and we are all eager to get back to."

READ: The D.C. task force's report.

ProPublica: States are reopening: See how coronavirus cases rise or fall (data and graphics by state).

CNN: First lady Melania Trump, appearing in a pre-recorded video message for students aired during a coronavirus town hall Thursday night, said she was proud of the example young people set since COVID-19 changed everyday routines. "Your determination to get through this will define your generation for years to come." she said.

A timely eBook hit Amazon this week: "Virtual Advocacy During COVID-19 and Beyond: Best Practices When In-Person Communications Is Not Possible," edited by The Advocacy Association's Mike Fulton and Joshua Habursky, with other contributors. Proceeds go to The American Red Cross.

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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

Some Americans thought this kind of test was behind them, by Hugh Hewitt, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2ZoKsfC

State bailouts should come with strings attached, by Adam Schuster and Orphe Divounguy, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/36jlIHb

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WHERE AND WHEN

The House will hold a pro forma session at 11 a.m.

The Senate will meet for a pro forma session at 9 a.m. The full Senate will return to Washington on June 1.

The president hosts a ceremony on the Blue Room balcony at 11:30 a.m. to honor veterans and former POW/MIAs. Trump will receive his intelligence briefing in the Oval Office at 12:30 p.m.

Vice President Pence will travel to Atlanta to join Gov. Brian Kemp (R) for lunch. The governor may announce new guidance for business restarts in Georgia (WRDW). The vice president will participate in a roundtable with restaurant executives at Waffle House headquarters and return to Washington this evening.

The Hill's Coronavirus Report 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

INTERNATIONAL: China on Thursday made clear it was asserting control over Hong Kong through "improvement" of its governance, a crackdown brewing since pro-democracy demonstrations began nearly a year ago. China's Communist Party will impose a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong by fiat during the ongoing annual meeting of its top political body, officials said, criminalizing "foreign interference" along with secessionist activities and subversion of state power. The move is the boldest yet from Beijing to undercut Hong Kong's autonomy and bring the global financial hub under its full control (The Washington Post). ... World stocks today are rattled by China's actions (Reuters).

o Open Skies Treaty: Trump plans to withdraw the United States from the Open Skies Treaty, a major arms control agreement, citing Russia's violations of the pact. The treaty allows the pact's 35 signatories, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation flights over each other's territory with the intention of providing transparency about military activities to avoid miscalculations that could lead to war. Trump told reporters at the White House that Washington and Moscow could reach a new agreement following the U.S. withdrawal (The Hill). The U.S. decision may be viewed as more evidence that Trump is preparing to exit the one major arms treaty remaining with Russia: New START, which limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles each. It expires in February, weeks after the next presidential inauguration (The New York Times).

o Japan: Tokyo's state of emergency sparked by the coronavirus may end as early as next week, if new infections remain low (Reuters).

➔ LEGAL: Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, entered a guilty plea on Thursday and will serve time in prison due to efforts by the couple to have their daughters fraudulently admitted into college. Loughlin, of "Full House" fame, will serve two months, while Giannulli will serve five months. The couple pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud as part of an agreement filed in Boston's federal court. Giannulli will also plead guilty to a charge of honest services wire and mail fraud. Charges of money laundering and federal programs bribery were dismissed (The Associated Press). ... Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, wearing a mask, left federal prison on Thursday because of risks of contracting the coronavirus and will serve the remainder of his three-year sentence at home in Manhattan (NBC News).

THE CLOSER

And finally ... A big round of applause to all the quiz ninjas who knew all things aviation, including trivia about Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.

✈ Here's a list of those who went 5/5 on this week's quiz: Patrick Kavanagh, Daniel Bachhuber, Phil Kirstein, Terry Pflaumer, Candi Cee, William Chittam, Deb Antonini, Jacob Lyons, Pam Manges, Lori Benso, Rich Davis and John Donato.

They knew that Lindbergh's 1927 flight from New York to Paris lasted 33 hours (33 hours and 30 minutes, to be precise).

Only months before she began planning her 1937 flight path around the world, Earhart became a visiting faculty member at Purdue University.

The Spirit of St. Louis (the plane, not the ABA franchise) is currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Earhart was trying to reach Howland Island before her plane disappeared.

Finally, the pair of legendary pilots both did promotional work for Transcontinental Air Transport.

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