Pelosi, McConnell clash over next coronavirus bill

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiYellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Tokyo Olympics kick off with 2020-style opening ceremony MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHas Trump beaten the system? Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Tokyo Olympics kick off with 2020-style opening ceremony MORE (R-Ky.) are publicly at odds over a potential fourth coronavirus package.

The two leaders, whose public relationship has been tense in recent weeks, are taking different tactics on follow-up legislation and sparring through the media on next steps to address the devastating economic and health effects of the pandemic.

The mixed messaging, which comes as lawmakers are out of town until at least April 20, underscores the looming challenge of keeping the congressional response to the coronavirus bipartisan. The first three bills passed with overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle.


Pelosi has held near-daily calls with reporters and moved aggressively to outline what she views as top priorities for Democrats in the next measure: transportation, free coronavirus treatment, more money for states, and other issues such as worker protections and boosted paid family and sick leave.

“The coronavirus is moving swiftly, and our communities cannot afford for us to wait. House Democrats will continue to work relentlessly and in a bipartisan way to lift up American families and workers to protect their health, economic security and well-being today and throughout this crisis,” Pelosi said Friday.

But those ideas have run into a buzzsaw in the form of McConnell and other Senate Republicans, who have made the rounds over the past week advocating for Congress to take a wait-and-see approach after President TrumpDonald TrumpPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe Has Trump beaten the system? MORE signed into law a $2.2 trillion rescue package late last month.

"We're not going to be doing, in the name of an emergency, items unrelated to the emergency," McConnell told Fox News Radio when asked about talk of a "phase four" bill.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHas Trump beaten the system? Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi MORE (R-Calif.) backed up McConnell, telling reporters that while Pelosi “is trying to talk about a fourth bill, I don't think that is appropriate at this time.”

Some rank-and-file GOP senators say they are already informally discussing a fourth bill as the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. is expected to skyrocket in the coming weeks. As of Friday evening, there were about 274,000 cases in the United States and more than 7,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

But even as senators say they are having behind-the-scenes talks, Pelosi and McConnell have spent days trading barbs through the media.


McConnell, in one of several interviews, told Pelosi to “stand down” and argued that she was trying to “jam” Senate Republicans.

Pelosi later pointed to the GOP leader’s rhetoric, as well as a separate war of words between Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell pushes vaccines, but GOP muddles his message Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Schumer blasts McCarthy for picking people who 'supported the big lie' for Jan. 6 panel MORE (D-N.Y.), calling it “chicken feed.”

“You can't pay attention to that stuff,” Pelosi told reporters. “They're playing to their base.”

The administration has been careful to not get too involved in the public tug-of-war between the two congressional leaders.

Asked about the break between the two when it comes to additional legislation, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer MORE told reporters he was in touch with both of them.

“I've spoken to the leader. I've spoken to the Speaker. I've spoken to the president constantly. When the president is ready and thinks we should do the next stage, we're ready,” he said.

Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE, head of the National Economic Council, echoed McConnell by saying existing coronavirus measures should be given a chance to make an impact.

"I don't want to disagree with the Speaker. And I'm just saying, let this thing play out," he told reporters at the White House on Friday.

The back-and-forth comes as the two congressional leaders remained in Washington, D.C., to deal with the coronavirus crisis. But a spokesman for Pelosi said they have not begun negotiations on a fourth coronavirus bill.

They are, however, talking about an oversight board created as part of the last stimulus package to oversee roughly $500 billion in aid for hard-hit industries.

“I spoke to Mitch about that because he and I have to agree on who that fifth person is. And we set sort of our criteria as to how that would be,” Pelosi said Friday. “I really do think ... we can find common ground as we go forward.”

Control over the drafting of Congress’s coronavirus legislation has yo-yoed between McConnell and Pelosi, sparking frustration on both sides of the Capitol.

The Speaker and Mnuchin negotiated the second bill, estimated to cost $104 billion. But that measure, which expanded paid sick leave, sparked fierce backlash from Senate Republicans, who felt like they had been sidelined in the legislative talks.

“My counsel to them is to gag and vote for it anyway,” McConnell told reporters about his advice to GOP senators on the bill at the time.


In a course correction, McConnell then took the reins of the third coronavirus bill, crafting a GOP proposal before opening negotiations with Democrats. He also repeatedly lashed out at Pelosi, accusing her of flying back to Washington and tanking the negotiations during a Sunday meeting between the four congressional leaders and Mnuchin.

“She's the Speaker of the House, not the Speaker of the Senate. We don't have one. We were doing just fine until that intervention," McConnell said in one of several speeches torching the House leader.

Democrats dispute McConnell’s timeline, saying that the bipartisan progress made on the third stimulus bill was already unraveling when Republicans stopped negotiations late Saturday night and began writing the legislation without Democrats.

Some Republicans also appear fearful Pelosi could gain the upper hand by having her own proposal when Congress returns as soon as April 20.

“I do think that we need to start thinking hard about phase four. I think it would be a mistake to give the Speaker the pen,” Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanSenate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans China conducts amphibious landing drill near Taiwan after senators' visit MORE (R-Alaska) said in an interview with Hugh Hewitt.

Of the ideas floated by Pelosi, the biggest sticking point for Republicans is talk of doing a massive infrastructure package as part of the response to the coronavirus. Both parties have expressed interest for years in a substantial infrastructure bill but have been unable to get a deal on a way to pay for it.

Pelosi also sparked Republican ire after she suggested reversing the 2017 GOP tax law's $10,000 cap on the state and local tax.


"Last week: Carbon regulations. Now? A tax giveaway for wealthy people in blue states, panned by economists across the spectrum. This is a crisis. Let's act like it," McConnell tweeted.

But there appeared to be a slight thaw after days of snipping when McConnell acknowledged that there would be a fourth bill, though he said that he wasn’t rushing to draft it.

"[It] should be more a targeted response to what we got wrong and what we didn’t do enough for — and at the top of the list there would have to be the health care part of it," he told The Associated Press.

Pelosi also appeared to walk back some of her more expansive ideas and said parts of her infrastructure plan might not make it into the next bill.

But underscoring the partisan tensions, McConnell immediately used Pelosi’s comments to take a small victory lap, with his staff blasting out an email to reporters with the subject line “Pelosi Retreats Again After Senate Republicans Put Brakes On Liberal Wish List.”

“I’m glad Speaker Pelosi is again standing down from efforts to use this crisis to push unrelated left-wing priorities,” he added in a tweet. “The latest proposal had been a massive tax-code giveaway for wealthy people in blue states that was instantly panned by economists across the spectrum.”

Read more from The Hill:

Pelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor