Pelosi pushes to unite party on coronavirus bill despite grumbling from left

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is plowing ahead with a vote Friday on House Democrats’ $3 trillion coronavirus relief package, bucking progressives who are calling for a delay to give lawmakers time to secure additional liberal priorities in the bill.

Pelosi and her allies are putting on a show of force as they try to unite the sometimes-fractious caucus and get their troops in line ahead of this week’s roll call on the 1,800-plus-page bill.

No Republicans are expected to back the package, so Democratic leaders want to limit defections to increase the pressure on President Trump and Senate Republicans who are in no rush to negotiate another costly rescue package.

The Speaker on Tuesday night forwarded to rank-and-file members a letter from 13 committee chairmen urging quick passage of the bill, dubbed the Heroes Act, which would provide nearly a trillion dollars for states and cities, hazard pay for front-line workers and another round of $1,200 relief checks for most Americans.  

“As Members of Congress, we have no greater or more urgent responsibility than to deliver bold, effective relief to families and workers in need. Lives are on the line, and time is of the essence,” the 13 chairmen wrote in the “Dear Colleague” letter. “We urge you to support the legislation and to be present on Friday.”

Outside liberal groups are also helping Pelosi tamp down any rebellion bubbling up from members on the left. A dozen influential progressive groups and unions — including Indivisible, MoveOn, SEIU and the American Federation of Teachers — issued a joint statement endorsing the Heroes package.

“This is a historic, once-in-a-generation crisis. It requires a historic response. This proposal is an important step,” the groups said, citing the grim statistics of more than 80,000 dead, 1.3 million infected and 33 million out of work from the coronavirus crisis. 

And on Wednesday, Pelosi began forwarding rank-and-file members individual letters of support from liberal groups like Community Change Action and Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.

“The push for progressives is on,” said one Democratic lawmaker who received the emails from Pelosi. 

Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) sent a letter to Democratic leaders on Tuesday asking that the vote on the package be delayed until next week and called for a caucus meeting “to discuss the bill and any amendments that might be needed to ensure that it truly reflects the priorities and the work of the entire caucus.” 

But notably, Jayapal and Pocan did not explicitly threaten to vote against the bill if leadership doesn’t delay it until next week.

Jayapal has been pushing a proposal that would provide grants for businesses to fully cover workers’ wages and cover expenses like rent. A Jayapal spokesman confirmed that her proposal would cover salaries up to $90,000, in addition to benefits such as health care.

But her bill has still not yet been formally introduced with legislative text, which presented an obstacle to including it in the latest relief package. 

Democrats instead included an expansion of an employee retention tax credit that would be 80 percent of up to $15,000 in wages paid by an employer impacted by the pandemic, up from the current credit that covers 50 percent of up to $10,000. 

A Democratic aide familiar with why Jayapal’s proposal wasn’t included in the legislation said that using tax credits would deliver the relief faster than a new grant system as her plan suggests. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that Jayapal’s proposal has “great merit to it,” adding that “her proposal is certainly under great discussion.”

For now, there doesn’t seem to be any real threat of the package failing, despite grumbling from some progressives. Pelosi can pass the bill with as many as 17 Democratic “no” votes if all members show up on Friday, but given COVID-19 safety concerns there certainly will be some absences.  

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) was the only Democrat to vote against the previous coronavirus relief package on April 23 that provided additional funding for the small-business loan program, complaining it didn’t provide enough funding for front-line workers.

Democratic leaders are bullish that they will similarly have minimal defections on Friday, with leadership aides on a conference call with Pelosi on Wednesday predicting five or fewer. 

“House Democrats will deliver the Heroes Act with overwhelming support,” an aide on the call said. 

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), a former 2020 presidential candidate who backs progressive policies, will vote “yes” on the package but told reporters Wednesday he was “disappointed” about the provision giving most Americans a second $1,200 relief check, calling it insufficient. He was pushing for recurring monthly direct payments of $2,000 for American families during the pandemic.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), a Progressive Caucus member, said he’ll also back the bill on Friday, but acknowledged that those pushing for a delay have a “legitimate” argument considering the sheer size of the package. While Democratic leaders organized four educational conference calls with rank-and-file members on Tuesday, and another on Wednesday, it’s a lot to digest before Friday, he said. 

“We’ve had opportunities to ask questions, but to actually delve into the text is something that we haven’t had an opportunity to do yet. Maybe everybody can get through it by Friday, I’m not sure,” Yarmuth, the Budget Committee chairman, told reporters on a call Wednesday.

“It wouldn’t bother me if we waited until next week,” he added. “I agree there’s nothing sacred about getting it done this Friday, as opposed to next Tuesday. But that’s a leadership call.” 

Mike Lillis contributed.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Coronavirus Donald Trump John Yarmuth Mark Pocan Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal Steny Hoyer Tim Ryan

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