Jeffries on Senate coronavirus bill: 'Totally irrelevant'

Jeffries on Senate coronavirus bill: 'Totally irrelevant'
© Greg Nash

The head of the House Democratic Caucus said Wednesday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE was only partly right in describing the Republicans' latest coronavirus relief bill as "semi-irrelevant."

"The Republicans' coronavirus bill is not semi-irrelevant, it is totally irrelevant," Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it's her last Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters in the Capitol. "It is dead-on-arrival. It is a non-starter. Half the Senate Republicans don't even seem to support the Senate Republican coronavirus bill."

The comments highlight just how far apart the sides are as Democratic leaders and top administration officials are haggling over the fifth and latest round of emergency coronavirus relief.

In May, House Democrats had passed a massive $3.4 trillion package, providing hundreds of billions of dollars in expanded unemployment benefits, direct payments to individuals, medical equipment, coronavirus testing and help for state and local governments.

On Monday, Senate Republicans unveiled their counteroffer: a $1 trillion package that follows some of the broad contours of the Democrats' bill, but cuts many of the benefits far below the House level.

The GOP proposal, for instance, provides a $200 weekly enhancement for state unemployment benefits — down $400 from the Democrats' bill.

Additionally, Democrats had provided more than $900 billion for state and local governments, while the GOP bill provides no additional funding in that arena.

Democrats had also included funds for a host of safety-net programs, including housing subsidies, food stamps and child care benefits — issues not addressed in the GOP bill.

Jeffries said the absence of those safety-net programs makes the GOP bill inherently "inhumane."

"It should shock the conscience," he said.

Despite proposing the smaller spending package, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAs Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year MORE (R-Ky.) and other GOP leaders are facing tough headwinds as they try to rally fellow Republicans behind the bill.

A number of conservatives, for instance, are warning that the nation's deficit spending is already out of control following the initial four rounds of coronavirus relief, which have added up to nearly $3 trillion.

Those Republicans are lining up in opposition to any new spending that heaps more money on the debt, meaning McConnell likely doesn't have a simple majority supporting the bill in the Senate, let alone the 60 votes he'd need to defeat a Democratic filibuster.

Complicating the effort for the Republicans, Trump on Tuesday characterized the Senate GOP bill as "semi-irrelevant."

"We’ll be negotiating," he told reporters at the White House. "It’s sort of semi-irrelevant because the Democrats come with their needs and asks and the Republicans go with theirs.”

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.) huddled in the Capitol both Monday and Tuesday with the administration's top negotiators, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Initial jobless claims rise for 2nd week | Dow dips below 30K | Mnuchin draws fire for COVID-19 relief move | Manhattan DA appeals dismissal of Manafort charges Mnuchin to put 5B in COVID-19 relief funds beyond successor's reach The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump administration revives talk of action on birthright citizenship MORE.

Emerging from Tuesday's meeting, the Democratic leaders highlighted an early hurdle to an agreement: McConnell's insistence that liability protections for businesses be a part of the final package.

"It seems to me that Sen. McConnell really doesn't want to get the agreement made," Pelosi said.

Pelosi on Wednesday morning said there were no updates to the talks, but noted that the talks with Mnuchin and Meadows would resume later in the day.

They have little time to waste: the expanded unemployment benefits for millions of people expire at the end of the week.