House

Pelosi: 'Hard to see' Democrats supporting less than $2.2T in COVID-19 aid

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said that she's hopeful the parties will reach an agreement on the next round of coronavirus relief but suggested Democrats aren't prepared to accept anything less than her last offer - $2.2 trillion - on a deal.

"When we go into a negotiation it's about the allocation of the resources," she told reporters in the Capitol. "But it's hard to see how we can go any lower when you only have greater needs."

The comments come as both sides are voicing some optimism that, after weeks of stalled negotiations, a bipartisan deal on an emergency coronavirus bill is possible before the November elections.

President Trump on Wednesday urged congressional Republicans to accept more emergency funding - the very thing Democrats have been demanding. And Pelosi spoke by phone later in the day with the administration's chief negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in search of a path forward. Yet the sides still appear to be far apart on the top-line spending number.

House Democrats had passed the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act in May but have since dropped their request to $2.2 trillion. Republicans have called for much less spending, initially proposing a $1.1 trillion package, then trimming that request down to $650 billion - a proposal that was soundly rejected by Senate Democrats last week.

Pelosi pointed out the odd dynamics of the negotiation: Democrats came down $1.2 trillion and, in response, the Republicans went down, too.

"We asked them to go up $1 trillion, instead they went down, not recognizing the need," she said.

Pelosi noted that, because four months have passed since the HEROES Act was written, the nation's public health and economic conditions have changed. She's asked her committee heads to update the legislation to meet current needs, which in some cases are more severe than they were in May. She singled out the airlines, restaurants and other small businesses as particular targets for more emergency help.

"The needs have only grown since May 15. ... So we're going to have to reallocate some of that money so that we can meet the needs as we see them," she said. "The fact is, we shouldn't be going down because we have these needs, so that we can open up the economy."

The Speaker noted that the federal government has already propped up Wall Street to the tune of trillions of dollars and accused Republicans of being reluctant to meet the needs of struggling workers.

"We don't object to the stock market doing well, that's for sure," she said. "But why can't we spend what it takes to shore up the middle class in our country?"

Most members of the House Democratic Caucus appear to support Pelosi's hard-line negotiating demand for at least $2.2 trillion, noting that small businesses are flailing, millions of workers remain jobless and the number of coronavirus deaths is poised to hit 200,000 in the United States.

Yet a number of moderates are also agitating for a vote this month on another emergency aid package - even absent an agreement with Republicans. Such a vote, proponents say, would put pressure on GOP leaders to negotiate further while protecting vulnerable Democrats from campaign attacks that their party has done nothing since May to address the crisis.

Pelosi on Wednesday downplayed any internal divisions, saying all factions of the party simply want to unleash the funding to help their constituents.

When a reporter noted that some in her caucus are griping to the media about leadership tactics, she didn't hesitate.  

"Well, they don't say it to me," Pelosi said. "What they say is we need to have a solution."

She later added: "You hear different things, but the fact is we want to have an agreement, and we will stay until we have an agreement."

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