The Week in Review: June 1-4

Biden Calls Out Manchin, Sinema for Holding Back Democrats’ Agenda

During a June 2 event marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, President Joe Biden said “two members of the Senate who voted more with my Republican friends” is the reason why the Senate has been unable to advance a bipartisan voting rights bill.  The President was referencing Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), whose strong support of the filibuster means Democrats are unable to advance key proposals with a simple majority.  Notably, Manchin and Sinema’s record indicates they vote with other Democrats most of the time.

Biden’s All-Out Push to Get 70% of Adults Vaccinated by July 4

President Joe Biden on June 2 announced a “national month of action” to help his Administration meet its goal of having 70% of American adults at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19 by July 4.  Some of the key actions Biden outlined to spur more vaccinations include partnering with child-care providers to offer free services to all parents getting vaccinated or recovering from the shots and requesting pharmacies to extend their hours for the month of June.  The Administration also announced an initiative to provide vaccinations at Black-owned barbershops.  Currently, 63% of US adults have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot.

Moderna Files Application for Full FDA Approval of COVID-19 Vaccine

On June 1, Moderna began filing for a Biologics License Application (BLA) with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would allow full approval of its COVID-19 vaccine.  Full approval would allow Moderna to directly market its vaccine as well as make it easier for companies and government agencies to mandate vaccinations for employees.  Full approval is also seen as an important step in addressing vaccine hesitancy.  Pfizer became the first drug maker to seek full FDA approval for its vaccine on May 7.  However, FDA has yet to comment on the timeline for reviewing the BLA for either vaccine.

Administration Announces Plans for Sending 25 Million Vaccines Abroad

On June 4, the Biden Administration formally laid out a plan to send out an initial wave of 25 million COVID-19 doses to help countries that have been hit hard by the virus.  According to the plan, 19 million doses will be distributed via worldwide vaccination initiative COVAX to Central and South America, Africa, and Asia.  Additionally, the US will separately supply 6 million doses to over a dozen countries including Canada, Mexico, and Ukraine.  The first wave of doses is part of a broader Administration effort first announced on May 17 to contribute 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as part of a global vaccination effort.

ICYMI: DC Museum Features George Washington’s Whiskey Writing

Every Friday from now until the end of July, the Stephen Decatur House Museum in downtown DC will have on display a letter penned by George Washington in 1799.  The letter, which is on loan from the Distillery Spirits Council, focuses on Washington’s pre- and post-presidential career as a whiskey distiller.  In the letter, Washington asks his nephew to assist with purchasing with purchasing enough grain to produce 200 gallons of whiskey. 

The Week in Review: May 10-14

CDC: Vaccinated Americans Do Not Need to Wear Masks Indoors, Outdoors          

On May 13, the CDC announced people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors.  However, the CDC still recommends individuals continue to wear masks while in large crowds or while riding in planes, trains, or buses.  The update comes as US virus cases reach their lowest rate since September 2020 and COVID-19 deaths reach their lowest point since April 2020.  However, some warn the new guidance is likely to cause confusion, as there is no simple way for businesses or others to determine an individual’s vaccination status.   

House GOP Replaces Cheney with Stefanik as Conference Chair

Republican members of the House of Representatives voted to remove Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from her role as House Republican Conference on May 12 in a closed-door meeting.  The effort to remove Cheney from her House leadership role follows the Wyoming Congresswoman’s public criticism over former President Donald Trump.  On May 14, House Republicans voted to install Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) as Cheney’s successor. While Stefanik has the backing of former President Trump, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), some Republican members including Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) have raised concerns over Stefanik’s moderate voting record.

Over 100 Republicans Threaten to Form Rival Party

Over 100 former Republican officials issued a joint statement on May 13 threatening to create an alternative party if current GOP elected officials continue to espouse falsehoods about the 2020 General Election.  Among the influential Republicans to sign the letter are former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, and former Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock.  The statement also outlines 13 core principles based on preserving democracy, supporting market-based economics, and maintaining ethical governance. 

Nominations for HHS Deputy Secretary, CMS Administrator Advance

On May 11, the confirmed 61-37 Andrea Joan Palm to serve as Deputy of Health and Human Services.  Palm previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Obama Administration and had most recently served as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.  Two days later, the Senate voted 51-48 to advance the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to serve as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Brooks-LaSure’s nomination was previously stalled due to a hold from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) in protest of the Biden Administration’s decision to rescind Texas’s Section 1115 Medicaid waiver.  The procedural vote to advance Brooks-LaSure’s nomination indicates she is likely to be confirmed soon.  Notably, Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Susan Collins (R-ME) joined Democrats in the vote to bring Brooks-LaSure’s nomination to the floor.

ICYMI: Jurisdictions Use Cash, Beer to Urge Vaccinations

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) announced the state will give away $1 million each to five vaccinated Ohio residents as a way to entice more Ohioans to get vaccinated.  DeWine’s announcement comes as state and local governments are creating incentives to encourage more people to get their shots.  In Washington, DC, for instance, individuals who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Kennedy Center on May 4 were offered a free beer.  Additionally, West Virginia began offering a $100 savings bond for state residents aged 16-35 who receive a vaccine shot. 

The Week in Review: April 12-16

Survey Finds Drop in JNJ Vaccine Confidence

On April 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended the US pause usage of the Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) vaccine after six women ages 18-48 developed a severe blood clot out of the 6.8 million doses administered so far. According to a poll conducted by YouGov and The Economist in the wake of the recommendation, the number of people who felt the JNJ vaccine was safe declined from 52% to 37%, while those who felt the vaccine was unsafe jumped from 26% to 39%.  Critics of the government’s recommendation say the pause is directly contributing to an increase in vaccine hesitancy, while federal officials say demonstrating the safety of vaccines is paramount to maintaining public confidence.  Notably, the public’s views on the safety of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines remain unchanged.  

CDC Advisory Panel Punts Decision on JNJ Vaccine Pause

On April 14, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) declined to vote on recommendations to continue using the JNJ COVID-19 vaccine, just a day after federal officials announced a pause in JNJ vaccinations over safety concerns.  ACIP opted to maintain the pause to allow more time to gather additional data about the blood clots that occurred in six vaccine recipients.  The Committee will reconvene in 7-10 days to decide whether to continue the pause, allow JNJ vaccinations to continue with certain restrictions, or bar the JNJ vaccine from continued use altogether.  Until the committee votes on recommendations, the pause will likely continue.

Pelosi Has “No Plans” to Bring Bill to Expand SCOTUS to the Floor

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters on April 15 that she has no plans to bring to the House floor a bill from Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) that would add four seats to the Supreme Court, which would effectively tilt the Court in Democrats’ favor.  However, Pelosi said expanding the court is “not out of the question,” and she expressed support for the Biden Administration’s commission to study changes to the Supreme Court, which include adding seats or instituting term limits.

Top W&M Republican Announces Retirement

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), who currently serves as Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced on April 13 that he will not seek reelection to a fourteenth term in Congress.  Brady, who has represented the northern suburbs of Houston since 1997, was term-limited out of being the top Republican on powerful tax-writing committee in the next Congress.  Among the House GOP members eyeing Brady’s seat is Devin Nunes (R-CA), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Adrian Smith (R-NE), Jason Smith (R-MO), and Mike Kelly (R-PA).

Dem Pollsters Admit to Flaws in Predicting Outcome of 2020 Election

Sure, most polls were correct in saying Joe Biden would win the presidency, but hardly anyone predicted Democrats would lose seats in the House and the Senate would be split 50-50.  Six months later, a group of leading Democratic pollsters reconvened to find out what went wrong.  According to a memo they released on April 13, the pollsters underestimated the amount of Republican turnout on Election Day and the reluctance among Republicans to participate in surveys.  Going forward, the pollsters say they are less likely to use live-interview phone calls and more likely to use innovative methods like text messages to prompt survey participation.

ICYMI: Poll Says DC Is the Worst State

A YouGov poll released on April 13 found the District of Columbia – which is not even a state – last in a ranking of US states from best to worst.  The poll, which asked respondents to choose the better of two states in a series of head-to-head matchup, ranked states according to how often they “won” in the matchups.  Fortunately, the District’s neighboring states fared better in the poll – Virginia came in third, while Maryland was ranked 26.

5 Things to Know about In-Person Advocacy

Will we get back to in-person meetings on Capitol Hill?  When??  How?  COVID-19 is still around, even as the country’s mood is lightening about the overall impact of the virus.  And the safety and security of lawmakers and staff are of top-of-mind after the deadly January 6 riot and April 2 attempt at breaching the Capitol grounds.  Let’s explore  when in-person meetings might return and what those meetings could look like.

It is happening?

By and large, in-person advocacy isn’t happening, at least not on the Hill.  Since March 2020, advocacy has shifted online to videoconferencing like Zoom and telephone calls.  However, that doesn’t mean Members haven’t been yearning for a return to normal.  On March 10, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) requesting a timeline on when certain in-person activities can restart, including allowing visitors in House office buildings.  While Pelosi has not officially responded to the letter, many Democrats say it’s premature to relax restrictions, partially due to the fact that a number of Republican lawmakers have yet to be vaccinated.   

Any decision on when to loosen restrictions will ultimately be up to Democratic leadership in the House and Senate, in consultation with the Office of the Attending Physician (OAP).  While the Capitol complex and adjacent congressional office buildings are exempt from public health guidelines from the Government of the District of Columbia, leadership and the OAP are using local COVID-19 health guidances to inform decisions.  These guidelines were last updated February 23 and include masking, de-densifying Hill offices, staggered schedules, and teleworking.

What is open?

Presently, both the House and Senate office buildings are only open to Members, staff, and credentialed press, and while official business visitors are permitted in congressional offices, they must always require staff escorts.  House staff may only escort a maximum of nine visitors at a time, while Senate staff are limited to 15 visitors.  However, this does not mean that advocates have regular, unfettered access to congressional offices. 

What about off the Hill?

Over the past few weeks, some lawmakers and staff, mostly Republicans, have resumed some degree of in-person activities, including fundraising dinners, due to relaxations in local restrictions on event sizes as well as new CDC guidelines that allow small groups of vaccinated individuals to gather in-person.  Republicans are also hosting fundraising trips around the country.  Lobbyists and advocates are also interacting in-person with legislators instates and congressional districts where COVID-19 restrictions have been loosened more considerably. 

When will things get back to normal?

Anecdotally, some congressional staff and lobbyists are saying in-person meetings may not be permitted on Capitol Hill until 2022.  Whether this happens sooner or later depends on countless factors, including the pace of vaccinations, level of vaccination hesitancy, local restrictions in DC, and to what extent any COVID-19 variants impact the effectiveness of current vaccines. 

What will change permanently?

With most details about the future of in-person meetings on the Hill being speculative, one likelihood is the continued use of videoconferencing technology that can complement in-person meetings.  During the pandemic, teleconferencing has been used to great effect to connect advocates who normally wouldn’t be able to make a trip to Washington with lawmakers and staff, which leaves open the possibility for a “hybrid” approach that incorporates building relationships both in-person and virtually.

Furthermore, the aftermath of the January 6 riot on Capitol could serve as the basis for other permanent changes.  Even after the pandemic ends, some congressional staff and lobbyists feel that certain security measures could stick around, meaning limits on in-person meetings could persist.  For instance, limits on group sizes could continue, which would certainly impact large-scale fly-ins.  At the moment, however, both Members of Congress and lobbyists are more focused on removing physical barriers such as fencing and razor wire from the perimeter of the Capitol complex.  On March 15, for example, the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics sent a letter to the Speaker urging the removal of all physical barriers by July 1. 

The Week in Review: April 5-9

Senate Dems Have Two More Opportunities to Use Budget Reconciliation

The Senate Parliamentarian ruled on April 5 that Democrats may use budget reconciliation two more times this year to override a Republican filibuster and pass a major legislative package with 50 votes.  This sets the stage for Senate Democrats to use reconciliation to advance the Biden Administration’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure package if certain conditions on revenue and spending are met.  Senate Democrats already used budget reconciliation in March to advance the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (P.L. 117-2).

Administration Bumps Vaccine Eligibility Date to April 19

On April 6, the Biden Administration announced that every adult in the nation will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination by April 19, nearly two weeks ahead of the original deadline of May 1.  In a press briefing preceding the announcement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the new date can be attributed to an expedited supply of vaccine doses and improvements in distribution.  However, the Administration continues to urge Americans to remain vigilant and adhere to public health guidelines as parts of the nation see an increase in cases.

Florida Congressman Passes Away, Narrowing Democratic Majority

Representative Alcee Hastings (D-IL) died on April 6 at age 84 following a two-year bout with pancreatic cancer.  The Florida congressman’s death narrows Democrats’ majority in the House down to seven, leaving Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) with tighter margins to advance Democratic legislative priorities.  Voters in Hasting’s district, which stretches from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach, will have an opportunity to choose a new Representative in special election that has yet to be announced by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis

Poll Finds Largest Gap between in Party Affiliation since 2012

A Gallup poll conducted in the first quarter of 2021 found an average of 49% of US adults identified with  or lean towards the Democratic Party, while 40% identify or lean Republican.  The nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage is the largest Gallup has measured since the fourth quarter of 2012.  The poll also found 44% of Americans identify as political independents, compared to 38% in the fourth quarter of 2020.  Most of the gains in independent affiliation came at the expense of Republicans who saw a 4% decline in party identification since the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to Democrats’ 1% drop over the same period.  This data means Republicans’ hopes of retaking Congress in the 2022 midterms may hinge on appealing to independent voters.

CMS Begins Proposing FY22 Payment Rates

This week, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services began proposing Fiscal Year 2022 payment rates for the following prospective payment systems:

Comments for all four proposed rules must be received no later than 5 PM EDT on June 7, 2021.

ICYMI: Trump Weighs In on 2022 Senate Races

Former President Donald Trump has already begun endorsing Republican candidates ahead of the 2022 midterms.  Republicans face an uphill battle to retake the Senate in 2022 – while Democrats only have to defend 14 seats, Republicans must defend 20.  On April 8, Trump issued a statement urging the currently undecided Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) to seek reelection.  Democrats flipped Wisconsin from red to blue in the 2020 presidential election, and Johnson’s Senate seat is sure to be hotly contested in 2022.  A day earlier, Trump endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who has opted not to seek reelection.