By Gabriel T. Rubin
NANCY PELOSI TRIED TO BAN LOBBYING by firms that receive funds as part of the coronavirus stimulus package, but the provision tucked into page 728 of House Democrats' draft proposal quickly caught the eye of lobbyists who were assured by Hill contacts that the provision had no chance of being included in the final legislation hammered out by the Senate. "The corporation may not carry out any Federal lobbying activities," the House draft said.
It was one of several conditions on federal aid to corporations in Pelosi's bill. Others included bans on stock buybacks, restrictions on executive pay and a ban on paying dividends to shareholders until the federal assistance was fully repaid. Some of those corporate-accountability conditions were ultimately included in the Senate legislation.
Some legal experts saw the lobbying provision as a Democratic messaging effort that wouldn't have survived legal scrutiny. "It's highly likely to be struck down as unconstitutional under the 'unconstitutional conditions' doctrine," because it violates corporations' First Amendment rights to petition the government, said Robert Kelner, a partner at Covington & Burling who advises companies on lobbying-disclosure rules.
Lobbying by firms that receive bailout money was controversial during the financial crisis, too, and had uneven outcomes: Major banks continued to employ lobbyists, while American International Group took a yearslong break from lobbying after feeling pressure from Congress. It restarted in 2014 after it had repaid its $182 billion bailout.
BILL HAGERTY , the former ambassador to Japan now running for Senate in Tennessee, is following President Trump's lead and referring to the coronavirus as the "Wuhan coronavirus" or the "foreign virus," terms rejected by public health experts like Anthony Fauci. The Republican Hagerty was supposed to hold a telephone town hall meeting on Wednesday with White House adviser Larry Kudlow, and the event's press release referred to the "Wuhan coronavirus" numerous times in quotes from Hagerty and Kudlow. The event was postponed. Hagerty has ratcheted up his anti-China rhetoric since leaving Japan, including writing a Breitbart op-ed last week blaming China for the virus's spread.
Trump says terms like "Chinese virus" aren't racist, but told Fox News on Tuesday that he would stop saying it: "I decided we shouldn't make any more of a big deal out of it." Trump has taken issue with some Chinese government attempts to blame the U.S. military for the virus, which experts agree began its spread in Wuhan. Hagerty told the Journal that he believes the Chinese government was to blame for the crisis, and that the U.S. "cannot allow them to rewrite history by deflecting blame for this deadly illness." His former employer seems to agree: the State Department scuttled a G-7 joint statement because it didn't call the coronavirus the "Wuhan Virus."
DEFICIT CONCERNS have been thrown out the window in a time of crisis, and proponents of larger government programs feel vindicated. "It's actually a fascinating progressive moment, because what it's shown is that all of these issues have never been about how are you going to pay for it," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on a Bernie Sanders campaign livestream. Stephanie Kelton, a Sanders-backing economist, says there are plenty of other major programs that could be pursued without spending offsets, including canceling medical debt.
Fiscal conservatives say that current economic conditions are exceptional and akin to wartime, so normal spending rules don't apply. "Larger deficits are not only an inevitability, but are, unfortunately, a necessity," the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said.
CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT becomes a casualty of the pandemic. The House Judiciary Committee canceled a March 31 hearing with Attorney General Bill Barr. That hearing would have been Congress's first chance to question him about the handling of Trump associate Roger Stone's sentencing, which prompted all of the front-line Justice Department prosecutors to resign from the case. Many in Congress worry that oversight of the Trump administration's coronavirus response will be impeded by social-distancing measures that could keep Congress out of session.
RETAIL SECTOR expects large, but uneven, contraction. While some large retailers look for more workers to keep up with the demand for household essentials, the sector as a whole expects sales to plummet by around 30% a month as the pandemic continues, National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. Fiscal stimulus from Washington will be "critical not only for keeping [workers] alive, but also retailers," he said on a call with the National Association of Business Economists.
CORONAVIRUS ATTACK ADS from Democratic groups debut against senators accused of selling stocks ahead of the market's steep decline. Majority Forward is running spots in Georgia attacking the state's GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both up for election this year. Both have denied allegations that they profited from information about the virus's expected damage by selling stocks after they received a briefing from health officials. Republicans see the threat of coronavirus-related ads: a pro-Trump Super PAC has sent cease-and-desist letters to TV stations in swing states to try to block them from airing ads about Trump's response to the virus.
MINOR MEMOS: Sports betting site puts odds on Trump using words like "tremendous" and "not our fault" in coronavirus daily press briefings.... New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears on his brother Chris's CNN show, says "Mom told me I had to."... Senators struggle with work from home, too: Illinois's Tammy Duckworth forgets to mute conference call with Democratic Senate caucus, tells her toddler to "go potty and wash your hands then mommy will come downstairs."
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