Rob’s Rundown: Week of March 16 – March 20, 2020

March 20, 2020 | Rob's Rundown

 This week, Senator Portman voted in support of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave, small business aid and additional help for individuals and families in Ohio and across the nation. The measure has already been signed into law by the president.  

Throughout the week, Portman hosted a number of conference calls with outside stakeholders, such as employers, hospitals and health care providers, foodbanks, small business owners, workers and more. Portman is using the ideas and concerns to help inform his discussions with his colleagues in the Senate as well as the Trump Administration as they work to finalize the third major legislative package to address this crisis, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. This legislation takes bold action to direct financial help for the American people; provide rapid relief for small businesses and their employees; take significant steps to stabilize our economy and protect jobs; and, most importantly, provide more support for the brave healthcare professionals and patients who are fighting the coronavirus on the front lines. Portman believes the Senate must stay in session until they pass another robust economic package to help workers, families, and our economy. 

Portman has been in constant contact with Governor DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Acton to ensure the federal government is providing everything they need. Portman joined his colleague Senator Brown in asking Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza to immediately approve Ohio’s application to qualify for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. The application, now approved, will help the state get critical resources to Ohio’s small businesses and non-profit organizations.  

In addition, Portman introduced a bipartisan resolution to amend the Standing Rules of the Senate to allow senators to vote remotely during a national crisis. On Thursday, Portman discussed the resolution on Fox Business with Stuart Varney and delivered remarks on the Senate floor highlighting the resolution.  

For a more detailed look at Senator Portman’s week, please see the following: 

 

Monday, March 16, 2020 

Portman Discusses Coronavirus Impact with Ohio Business Groups, Pledges Continued Support 

Portman hosted a conference call with Ohio business groups and leaders on the economic impact of the coronavirus health crisis. Portman released the following statement: 

“The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is not just a serious health crisis, but it is having a serious impact on Ohio’s economy, businesses both small and large, as well as their employees and their families. That’s why I’ve been working with my bipartisan colleagues in the Senate and with the Trump Administration to ensure that the legislation approved by the House last week truly helps not just our workers but also small and mid-sized businesses.  I’m hopeful we can pass this legislation this week.  Today it was important to hear from our businesses in Ohio so that I can understand how this legislation will affect them and how Congress and the administration can take further action to address their concerns, particularly regarding cash flows. 

“We also had an important discussion about additional significant relief that Congress can provide to help businesses weather the storm and protect our economy over the next few months. I look forward to sharing the ideas and concerns that these folks raised on today’s call with my colleagues in the Senate as well as the Trump Administration so that we can incorporate them into the next legislative measures taken to address this crisis.”

 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 

Portman Discusses Coronavirus Crisis with Central Ohio Business Leaders, Pledges Support for All Hard-Working Ohioans 

Portman hosted a conference call with Central Ohio business leaders on the economic impact of the coronavirus health crisis. This is the third in a series of conference calls Portman is hosting with outside stakeholders, such as employers, hospitals and health care providers, small business owners, workers and more. Portman released the following statement: 

“The coronavirus pandemic is having a serious impact on Ohio’s economy, businesses both small and large, as well as their employees and their families. Hearing directly from our business leaders in Central Ohio helps me understand their needs during these uncertain times, and helps me ensure that the legislation I’m working on with my bipartisan colleagues in the Senate and the Trump Administration actually addresses their concerns. We must do everything we can to keep hard-working Ohioans employed, assist those who lose their job because of this crisis, and help employers that are desperately trying to stay in business. Our goal is to ensure that individuals and businesses can stay afloat during this public health emergency so we can get our economy back to full strength as soon as the crisis subsides. I’m hopeful we can pass this legislation this week.  The ideas and concerns I heard on today’s call will help inform my discussions with my colleagues in the Senate as well as the Trump Administration, and I will work to incorporate them into the legislation we are working on to address this crisis.” 

 

Portman Discusses Coronavirus Impact with Ohio Restaurant Association 

Portman hosted a conference call with the Ohio Restaurant Association and some of their members from across the state on the economic impact of the coronavirus health crisis. This is the second in a series of conference calls Portman is hosting with outside stakeholders, such as employers, hospitals and health care providers, small business owners, workers and more. Portman released the following statement: 

“The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is not just a serious health crisis, but it is also having a serious impact on Ohio’s economy, including restaurants both small and large, as well as their employees and their families.  As a restaurant owner myself, I know that this is a very difficult time for the industry.  I believe Governor DeWine made the right decision by stopping in-restaurant service, but strongly agree that we should be promoting the industry and supporting our restaurants through take-out or delivery where possible. 

“I’ve been working with my bipartisan colleagues in the Senate and with the Trump Administration to ensure that the legislation approved by the House last week truly helps not just our workers but also the restaurant industry.  I’m hopeful we can pass this legislation this week.  Today it was important to hear from our restaurants in Ohio so that I can understand how this legislation will help them and their workers, and how Congress and the administration can take further action to address their concerns. 

“I look forward to sharing the ideas and concerns that these folks raised on today’s call with my colleagues in the Senate as well as the Trump Administration so that we can incorporate them into the next legislative measures taken to address this crisis.”

 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

 

Portman, Brown Call On SBA Administrator to Approve Ohio’s Application For Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program Immediately 

Senators Portman and Brown (D-OH) wrote to Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Jovita Carranza urging the Administrator to immediately approve Ohio’s application to qualify for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. An approved application would help the state get critical resources to Ohio’s small businesses and non-profit organizations. A copy of the senators’ letter can be read here 

“While Ohio’s small businesses and nonprofits are resilient, it is critical we act quickly to ensure they have the necessary economic support to overcome the significant challenges created by this public health crisis. We urge you to immediately approve this application and determine eligibility for small businesses and nonprofits so that they can access the funding they need to survive the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the resulting economic fallout,” wrote the senators.

 

Portman Statement on the Passage of Families First Coronavirus Response Act 

Portman released the following statement after supporting the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act: 

“Today’s passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act is another important step forward in our efforts to help workers, families and employers impacted by the coronavirus. This measure provides free coronavirus testing for those who are ill, ensures hard-working Americans have access to paid sick leave, and paid family leave, provides additional food assistance to those who need it, enhances unemployment insurance, and increases Medicaid funding. There is no time to waste. 

“We must continue to act with urgency to protect our economy, and there is still more work to do. Applications for unemployment in Ohio have jumped from 6,500 last week to more than 70,000 in the first two days of this week alone. We must provide resources so that families and businesses across the country can stay afloat during this crisis so that we can get our economy back to full strength as soon as the crisis is over. This is especially true for individuals that have been laid off or have seen hours cut, and businesses that have had to close their doors due to the crisis. I am working with my colleagues to help provide much broader relief to the affected individuals and businesses all across our country that will be included in the Phase 3 package the Senate is working to put together. The Senate must stay in session until we pass another robust economic package to help workers, families, and our economy.”

 

Portman Discusses Coronavirus Crisis Response with Ohio Hospital Leaders 

Portman hosted a conference call with the leaders of Ohio’s hospitals about their response and needs as the coronavirus health crisis progresses. This is the fourth in a series of conference calls Portman is hosting with outside stakeholders, such as employers, hospitals and health care providers, small business owners, workers and more. Portman released the following statement:  

“The physicians, nurses and other health care workers at our hospitals in Ohio are on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic and I’m grateful for their exceptional work. It was important to hear directly from our health care leaders in Ohio to understand their needs during these uncertain times. We must all do our part to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus to ensure that we do not overwhelm our health care systems. Flattening the curve is important so that our hospitals have all the resources and personal protective equipment necessary to keep our hard-working Ohio health care providers healthy so they are able to assist those who need care. While there are potential shortages and challenges ahead, I’m glad that Governor DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Acton are taking decisive steps like limiting gatherings to promote social distancing and have issued orders to limit Ohio’s hospitals from conducting elective and non-emergency surgeries, in order to preserve access to masks and other personal protective equipment. My office has been working with some of Ohio’s hospitals already to connect them to needed resources and equipment, and we’ll continue to help and offer guidance as this crisis continues.  

“Access to testing and resources are, of course, not the only challenges that our health care system is facing.  I know that staffing will be a challenge as this progresses.  Some hospital staff may get sick and have to stay home.  In other instances, they may have to stay home to look after their kids who aren’t otherwise in school. These challenges are not lost on us, and I continue to work with my colleagues to find constructive solutions.  I also ask that our communities step up to help support the needs of our neighbors that are out there working to protect our health and to keep us safe.  

“Our goal is to ensure that hospitals across Ohio have the resources they need during this public health emergency so Ohioans get the care, testing, and treatment they need. I recently voted for an $8.3 billion package to steer additional funds and resources to our states and hospital systems, but there is more that we can and should be doing. The ideas and concerns I heard on today’s call will help inform my discussions with my colleagues in the Senate as well as the Trump Administration, and I will work to incorporate them into the legislation we are working on to address this crisis.” 

 

Thursday, March 19, 2020 

Portman Discusses Coronavirus Crisis Response with Ohio Foodbank Leaders 

Portman hosted a conference call with the leaders of Ohio’s foodbanks about their work to provide food as the coronavirus health crisis progresses and impacts Ohio’s economy causing hard-working Ohioans to lose their jobs. H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed into law yesterday with Portman’s support, provides $1.25 billion in funding for nutrition programs and provides additional flexibilities to allow food to be distributed efficiently and with social distancing. 

This is the fifth in a series of conference calls Portman is hosting with outside stakeholders, such as employers, hospitals and health care providers, small business owners, workers and more. Portman released the following statement:  

“The foodbanks in Ohio are working to provide food to folks during the coronavirus pandemic and I’m grateful for their exceptional work. I am pleased that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides additional funding and flexibility to allow our foodbanks to provide critical meals to our children, families, the elderly, and workers across Ohio who have lost their jobs. Applications for unemployment in Ohio have jumped from 6,500 last week to more than 110,000 in the first two days of this week alone. We must ensure that our foodbanks have all the resources and necessary and I appreciated the opportunity to learn about the needs of our foodbanks on the call today to ensure that they can fill the increased demand during this national emergency.”

 

Portman, Brown Applaud SBA Administrator’s Swift Approval for Ohio’s Application for Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program 

Senators Portman and Brown (D-OH) applauded Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Jovita Carranza’s swift approval of Ohio’s application to qualify for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. This approved application will help get critical resources to Ohio’s small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Small businesses in Ohio can now apply for up to $2 million in low-interest loans at disasterloan.sba.gov.   

“This is good news for Ohio’s small businesses and nonprofits. This quick approval is critical to ensure that our small businesses and nonprofits have the necessary economic support to overcome the significant challenges created by this public health crisis. This funding is designed to help them weather this storm and the resulting economic fallout,” said the senators.

 

On Senator Floor, Portman Highlights Bipartisan Resolution to Allow Senators to Vote Remotely During National Crises 

On the Senate floor, Portman discussed a new bipartisan resolution he introduced with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) this morning to amend the Standing Rules of the Senate to allow senators to vote remotely during a national crisis. During certain crises, such as the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, guidelines from the CDC may advise against convening the full Senate in the Capitol. However, that should not prevent Congress from safely engaging in its constitutional responsibility to convene during a crisis, conduct its basic constitutional duties, and enact responsible legislation for the nation. Specifically, during a national crisis that makes it infeasible for the senators to vote in person, the resolution gives the Majority and Minority Leaders the joint authority to allow secure remote voting. Remote voting would then be allowed for up to 30 days. The Senate would have to vote to renew remote voting every 30 days. 

A transcript of his remarks can be found here and a video can be found here.

 

On Fox Business, Portman Discusses Bipartisan Resolution to Allow Senators to Vote Remotely During National Crises 

In an interview with Fox Business’ Varney & Company, Portman discussed his new bipartisan resolution he introduced this morning to amend the Standing Rules of the Senate to allow senators to vote remotely during a national crisis. During certain crises, such as the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, guidelines from the CDC may advise against convening the full Senate in the Capitol. However, that should not prevent Congress from safely engaging in its constitutional responsibility to convene during a crisis, conduct its basic constitutional duties, and enact responsible legislation for the nation. Specifically, during a national crisis that makes it infeasible for the senators to vote in person, the resolution gives the Majority and Minority Leaders the joint authority to allow secure remote voting. Remote voting would then be allowed for up to 30 days. The Senate would have to vote to renew remote voting every 30 days. 

Portman also highlighted the importance of the federal government providing assistance to businesses that are suffering because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday, Portman supported the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and is working with his colleagues to help provide much broader relief to the affected individuals and businesses all across our country in the next economic measure the Senate is working to put together. Portman believes the Senate must stay in session until we pass another robust economic package to help workers, families, and our economy. 

Excerpts of his interview can be found here and a video can be found here:

 

Portman, Durbin Introduce Resolution to Maintain Senate's Constitutional Responsibilities & Allow Remote Voting During National Emergencies 

Senators Portman and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a bipartisan resolution to amend the Standing Rules of the Senate to allow senators to vote remotely during a national crisis. During certain crises, such as the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, guidelines from the CDC may advise against convening the full Senate in the Capitol. However, that should not prevent Congress from safely engaging in its constitutional responsibility to convene during a crisis, conduct its basic constitutional duties, and enact responsible legislation for the nation. Specifically, during a national crisis that makes it infeasible for the senators to vote in person, the resolution gives the Majority and Minority Leaders the joint authority to allow secure remote voting. Remote voting would then be allowed for up to 30 days. The Senate would have to vote to renew remote voting every 30 days. 

“In times of a national emergency, the Senate must be able to convene and act expeditiously even if we can’t be together in person. It’s during times like this, when we have a pandemic affecting every corner of society and we are asking people to stay in their homes, that we should have the ability to convene the Senate and get our work done even if we can’t be in the Capitol. While I know there is resistance to changing a Senate tradition to allow for remote voting during national emergencies, I believe this is an important issue and worthy of robust discussion amongst our Senate colleagues,said Portman.

 

Friday, March 20, 2020 

Portman, Brown Call On Secretary of Veterans Affairs to Provide Extension for Filing of Claims and Appeals for Veterans’ Benefits 

Senators Portman and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) wrote to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie requesting an extension for filing of claims and appeals for veterans’ compensation benefits. Due to the Department of Veterans Affairs closing regional offices, Board of Veterans' Appeals hearings have been postponed until at least May 1, 2020. Under current law, an extension to the 60-day period for filing a Substantive Appeal or to the 30-day period for responding to the Supplemental Statement of the Case may be granted for good cause. 

Therefore, in order to prevent a burden on the system, the senators request that the Secretary approve a six-month delay for each of the phases of claims and appeals at the Department of Veterans Affairs for claims and appeals that are coming due during the current COVID-19 crisis until September 1, 2020. 

“We would like to ensure that our veterans will not be penalized for their inability to respond in the standard timelines due to the nationwide disruption caused by the novel coronavirus response,” wrote the senators. 

 

Portman Discusses Coronavirus Crisis with Ohio’s Nonprofit and Community Organizations 

Portman hosted a conference call with nonprofit and community organization leaders in Ohio on the impact of the coronavirus health crisis on their operations. This is the sixth in a series of conference calls Portman is hosting with outside stakeholders, such as employers, hospitals and health care providers, small business owners, workers and more. Portman released the following statement:  

“The coronavirus pandemic is having a serious impact on all aspects of Ohio’s economy, including nonprofits and community organizations, as well as their employees and their families. I appreciate the nonprofit and community organizations across Ohio for all they are doing to support families in our communities during this difficult time, and I want to thank their leaders for taking the time to share their needs with me today.  Our call helps me ensure that the legislation I’m working on with my bipartisan colleagues in the Senate and the Trump Administration actually addresses their concerns.  

“We must do everything we can to keep hard-working Ohioans employed, assist those who have lost their job because of this crisis, and help employers that are desperately trying to stay in business. We must act quickly, as applications for unemployment in Ohio have already jumped from 6,500 last week to more than 111,000 this week alone. Thankfully, the SBA has now approved Ohio's application for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan and most nonprofits are eligible to apply for up to $2 million in low-interest loans from the SBA. I urged the folks on today’s call to apply without delay so they can continue to keep their folks employed.  My goal is to ensure that individuals, nonprofits, and community organizations can stay afloat during this public health emergency so we can get our economy back to full strength as soon as the crisis subsides.”

 

Portman, Brown Urge Ohioans to Avoid International Travel During Coronavirus Pandemic 

Senators Portman and Brown released a joint statement encouraging Ohioans to avoid international travel during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the State Department, many countries are implementing travel restrictions, mandatory quarantines and closing their borders in light of health concerns. Airlines are also suspending operations or canceling trips. The State Department urged U.S. citizens in countries where commercial travel is still available to return to the United States as soon as possible. The senators released the following joint statement:   

“The health and well-being of Ohioans is our first priority and it’s important that we’re taking every precaution to keep our constituents safe. We encourage Ohioans to avoid international travel and for any Ohioans abroad to return to the United States, if possible. Our offices stand ready to offer assistance as we continue working together to help Ohioans during this difficult time.”

 

Portman Joins Bipartisan Letter Urging the President to Address Impact of U.S-Canada Border Closure and Quarantines on Medical & Other Essential Supply Chains 

Portman joined a bipartisan group of Senators representing states along the United States-Canada border in a letter to President Trump calling on him to consider necessary exemptions to protect public health and safety for businesses and individuals affected by travel restrictions from closing the U.S.-Canadian border, as well as enforcement mandated by quarantines. The bipartisan letter highlights concerns regarding the border closure’s effect on the supply chains of companies that produce or provide essential goods and services. The northern border closure begins tomorrow, March 21st. Their letter can be read in full here.

 

Portman Statement on First Coronavirus Death in Ohio 

Portman released the following statement regarding the death of Mark Wagoner, Sr., the first death attributed to coronavirus in Ohio: 

“Mick was a well-known attorney and community leader in the Toledo region, and I was honored to know him.  His family are close friends, and Jane and I are lifting them - as well as all of those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic - up in prayer during this difficult time.”

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

 

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Congress weighs remote voting in wake of two lawmakers testing positive for coronavirus

Members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate are pushing to allow Congress to vote remotely as leaders work feverishly to hash out an agreement for a massive coronavirus relief bill and after two colleagues tested positive for the novel coronavirus Wednesday. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, on Thursday introduced a resolution to amend the chamber's rules to allow for remote voting in emergencies. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., also said in a letter to Democratic members that he expected the House to "adjust our voting procedures" in order to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations limiting the number of people in any one gathering. 

"I joined with Sen. Portman of Ohio in proposing that we take into consideration the fact that we have critically important work to do in the Senate," Durbin said in floor remarks Thursday. "But gathering in groups, as we've done historically, poses a health risk not just to us as members and our families, but to the staff as well as their families." 

He continued: "Why is it required that we be physically present on the floor closer to one another than perhaps we should be at this moment of a public health crisis?" 

The resolution introduced by Portman and Durbin would allow the Senate majority leader and the minority leader – currently Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. – to agree to allow "secure remote voting" in an emergency. The Senate would then be able to vote every 30 days to continue to allow remote voting. 

"In times of a national emergency, the Senate must be able to convene and act expeditiously even if we can’t be together in person," Portman said in a statement. "While I know there is resistance to changing a Senate tradition to allow for remote voting during national emergencies, I believe this is an important issue and worthy of robust discussion among our Senate colleagues." 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, on Wednesday were the first two members of Congress to announce they tested positive. 

McConnell, an old-fashioned Senate parliamentarian, panned the idea of remote voting Tuesday, saying he would work to keep senators from spreading the coronavirus among each other "without fundamentally changing Senate rules." 

The Senate majority leader said one of the ways this could be accomplished is by extending the amount of time each vote lasts, thus allowing senators to space out their time in the chamber and maintain social distancing. 

It is also unclear how "secure" remote voting from members of Congress would work under Durbin and Portman's proposal. 

In floor remarks Thursday, Portman also cited constitutional concerns as a reason why he thought the Senate should allow for remote voting. 

"It's important to me, and I think to all of my colleagues, that Article I be heard, that the legislative branch be heard, that we have the ability to convene for the continuity of government and not allow what we would normally do perhaps to shift over ... to the executive branch or not to be addressed at all," he said. 

Durbin, citing evolving national security threats worldwide, said it may be inevitable that the Senate figure out a way to have members vote remotely. 

"We live in an age where national emergencies, public health crises and terrorism can threaten the ordinary course of Senate business," he said in a statement. "We need to bring voting in the Senate into the 21st century so that our important work can continue even under extraordinary circumstances. Bob Dylan was right: ‘the times they are a-changin'.'"

 

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Portman calls for Senate to stay in DC to deal with coronavirus

Sen. Rob Portman on Tuesday called for Congress to stay in Washington to hammer out an economic package and other responses to the COVID-19 virus. 

The House and Senate have been scheduled to take next week off. 

With travel restrictions, closures of schools, bars and restaurants and other restrictions forced by the outbreak, the coronavirus is inflicting deep trauma on the global economy, Portman said, adding that countermeasures are needed immediately. 

“We need to, in my view, not leave,” Portman said on his weekly conference call with reporters. He added that whatever stimulus measures emerge won’t be perfect, but “we can’t make perfect the enemy of the good.” 

The Democratic-controlled House last week passed a stimulus bill that is now being tweaked. It would provide for free coronavirus testing, provide $1 billion in food aid and extend sick-leave benefits for some Americans. Portman said he supports many of those measures, “but it doesn’t provide as much help for employers” as he’d like. 

Perhaps those adjustments can be made in subsequent phases of stimulus, he said. 

Portman also was asked about proposals that the federal government simply send people checks — perhaps $1,000 apiece — to stimulate the economy. He said that is an option to look at, but that similar attempts to do that in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks took 10 to 12 weeks to get the money into people’s hands. 

“That’s too long,” Portman said. 

After government health officials estimated in February that COVID-19 could kill more than 1 million Americans, President Donald Trump made a series of statements downplaying the threat. 

In a news conference Tuesday, Trump denied that he had ever sought to play down the disease. 

“I thought it was a pandemic a long time ago,” the president said. “I’ve always viewed it as a very serious” disease. 

Despite the series of inaccurate statements by Trump, Portman again refused to criticize the president. 

Referring to Trump’s press conference Monday, Portman said, “I thought the team — including the president — did a good job,” he said.

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