Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise

House Democratic leaders scrambled Wednesday for a cohesive legislative and political strategy on emergency coronavirus aid.

The Democrats are seeking a bill that can provide broad-based relief to struggling Americans, energize the party’s progressive base ahead of November and appease the various factions of the caucus now feuding over the right path forward.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiJoining Pelosi, Hoyer says lawmakers should be free to trade stocks Budowsky: To Dems: Run against the do-nothing GOP, Senate Momentum builds to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks MORE (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerJoining Pelosi, Hoyer says lawmakers should be free to trade stocks Hoyer calls for 'clear and prudent firearms guidelines' from Capitol Police Board Desperate Dems signal support for cutting Biden bill down in size MORE (D-Md.) huddled in Pelosi’s office in the Capitol. Afterward, Pelosi spoke by phone with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinSuspect in Khashoggi murder arrested The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to tackle omicron risks with new travel rules Mnuchin and McConnell discuss debt limit during brief meeting MORE, who has led the stimulus negotiations for the administration, revealing that gears are moving even as the impasse persists. 

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Hoyer emerged from the earlier meeting promoting Pelosi’s preferred strategy: negotiate with the White House and bring a bill to the floor only when a bipartisan deal has been reached. 

Yet that design is sure to rattle the Democrats who want assurances of a fresh vote on some version of coronavirus aid this month even absent an agreement with Republicans — a promise leadership has declined to make. 

Centrist Democrats are leading that charge, but even some liberals are piling on, calling for a vote on legislation in the range of $2.2 trillion — Pelosi’s latest offer to the White House — to send the message to voters that Democrats aren’t sitting idle while the pandemic ravages the economy and continues to kill more than 1,000 Americans a day.

“That, to me, is a compromise that addresses the needs that we have at the scale that it needs to be addressed,” progressive Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSenate needs to confirm Deborah Lipstadt as antisemitism envoy — Now Overnight Defense & National Security — DOD watchdog to review extremism screening Omar calls for closure of Guantánamo Bay prison after 20 years of 'lawlessness and cruelty' MORE (D-Minn.) told reporters outside the Capitol.

Stirring the debate, President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE stunned Washington Wednesday morning when he pressed Republicans on Capitol Hill to seek “much higher” levels of funding in the next emergency package — a message that Pelosi reiterated to Mnuchin during their phone call a few hours later. 

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Senate Republicans had initially offered a $1.1 trillion package in emergency aid, but subsequently voted on a proposal providing just $650 billion — including just $350 billion in new funding. Trump, joining the Democrats, said it wasn’t enough. 

“Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!),” Trump tweeted.

It was unclear what higher number the president is ready to accept, but his shifting position quickly energized Democrats, who have hammered the Republicans for pushing “emaciated” proposals they deem insufficient to address the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. 

“We look forward to hearing from the President’s negotiators that they will finally meet us halfway with a bill that is equal to the massive health and economic crises gripping our nation,” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown DACA highlights pitfalls of legalization schemes The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Schumer tees up doomed election reform vote MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement.

GOP leaders, meanwhile, were pushing back, warning that a funding package in the $1.5 trillion range would likely lose support from a significant number of Republicans. 

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“We’d have to see what’s in it, but I think it’s difficult,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyJoining Pelosi, Hoyer says lawmakers should be free to trade stocks Budowsky: To Dems: Run against the do-nothing GOP, Senate Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE (R-Calif.), the minority leader. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown Sinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm MORE (R-S.D.), the majority whip, also saw red flags. 

“If the number gets too high, anything that got passed in the Senate will be passed mostly with Democrat votes and a handful of Republicans,” Thune told reporters in the Capitol. “So it's going to have to stay in a, sort of, realistic range if ... we want to maximize, optimize the number of Republican senators that will vote for it.”

Pelosi, meanwhile, is sticking with her last offer: $2.2 trillion, noting that that figure represents a $1.2 trillion reduction in the HEROES Act, which the House passed in May. She added that she has no intention of staging a vote on legislation if it lacks the bipartisan support to win Trump's signature.

“We could put a bill on the floor, but we want to put a bill on the floor that will become law,” Pelosi said in an appearance on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” program.

Front-line Democrats, those facing the toughest reelections this fall, have been begging leadership to get back to the negotiating table and strike a deal with the White House or pass a smaller package that would be more palatable to Senate Republicans. 

The leader of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats, Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Florida Democrats call on DeSantis to accept federal help to expand COVID-19 testing MORE (D-Fla.), voiced frustration with leadership’s inaction and pointed to the “anxiousness” of vulnerable members.

“I am hopeful that as leadership registers the anxiousness of the members, both Democrats and Republicans to get something done, that they will be responsive to that,” she said. 

“We can argue about what the specifics of a plan should look like,” she added. “But the important thing is that we get back to the negotiating table and hammer out a deal that can be passed into law.”