Pelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday announced that the House will remain in session until the parties have an agreement on another round of emergency coronavirus relief.
In a conference call with the House Democratic Caucus — the first since the chamber returned from a long summer recess — Pelosi indicated she isn’t willing to accept a “skinny” legislative package, but told her troops the chamber’s calendar will be extended until an agreement is sealed, according to sources on the call.
“We have to stay here until we have a bill,” Pelosi told lawmakers.
The surprise development reflects both the severity of the public health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the growing pressure Pelosi is facing from the moderate wing of her party, which is clamoring for leadership to vote on another aid package before Congress leaves town again for the elections.
The practical effects of the announcement, however, will likely be slight.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledged that most lawmakers will likely return to their districts when the scheduled session ends on Oct. 2, leaving party leaders seeking to hash out an agreement with the White House. If such a deal emerges, then members would be called back to Washington. In that sense, the dynamics would look very similar to those surrounding the long August recess, when the Capitol was all but empty.
“You could look at it as a distinction without a difference of the last few months,” Hoyer said on a press call. “But in another sense it tells members, ‘Look, we know the election’s coming up, we know you want to go back and campaign. But understand this is a priority … and that we are going to address it as soon as we possibly can.’ ”
Leaders of the Blue Dog Democrats have, for weeks, pressed Pelosi and other party leaders to take up another relief bill preelection. On Monday, leaders of the New Democrat Coalition piled on, warning that lawmakers in battleground districts could be particularly harmed by congressional inaction. And leaders of the Problem Solvers, a bipartisan group, are set Tuesday morning to unveil a new aid package topping $1.5 trillion.
“We are not in any way attempting to undermine the Speaker’s negotiating positions,” Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), a member of the New Democrats, said Monday evening. “Having said that we are taking the position that we want a deal and we don’t think we should adjourn until we have it.”
Pelosi on Tuesday said she agreed, vowing to extend the House’s initial recess date of Oct. 2 if the sides haven’t reached a deal beforehand.
“We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement,” she told CNBC’s Jim Cramer.
What such an agreement looks like — or whether it’s even possible — remains unclear. Pelosi and the Democrats had passed a $3.4 trillion relief package through the House in May, and the Speaker has since offered to bring the price tag down to $2.2 trillion. But both proposals were roundly rejected by the White House and Republicans in the Senate, who were calling for legislation in the $1 trillion range.
Highlighting just how far apart the sides are, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week offered an even slimmer proposal: a $650 billion package that excluded key demands of Pelosi and the Democrats, including hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for food stamps, the Postal Service, rental assistance and help for state and local governments struggling through the pandemic.
The package was a non-starter with Democrats, who quickly shot it down. But that has only fueled the Republican attacks that Democrats are unwilling to compromise on another round of emergency aid, even as tens of millions of workers remain unemployed and tens of thousands of businesses are grappling to survive.
Even as she vowed to keep the House in session, Pelosi did not back off her insistence that the next aid package must be robust, telling Democrats on Tuesday’s call that “a skinny bill is a Republican bill.”
A number of senior Democrats in the liberal-leaning caucus are racing to Pelosi’s side. Several committee chairs — including Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) — all spoke up during the caucus call to back the Speaker in her hard-line negotiations with the White House.
Still, not everyone is on board. Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), a physician, also spoke up on the call urging passage of another relief package before the next recess.
Extending the calendar will likely lead to grumbling from some lawmakers, who are eager to return quickly to their districts ahead of the Nov. 3 elections. Some of those members may opt to vote by proxy, a system Pelosi adopted earlier in the year to acknowledge the unique public health threat posed by the coronavirus.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said the majority of the caucus is in agreement they should remain in session until a deal is reached.
“It’s clear to me, based on the calls that have taken place up until this point and the caucus meeting today, that the overwhelming consensus amongst the members is that we stick around until we get something done for the American people,” he told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday following the lengthy caucus call.
— Juliegrace Brufke contributed. Updated at 11:58 a.m.