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Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid

House Democrats, increasingly anxious about leaving Washington without acting on coronavirus relief, are amping up the pressure on Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Democrats deals to bolster support for relief bill | Biden tries to keep Democrats together | Retailers fear a return of the mask wars Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief Biden urges Democrats to advocate for rescue package MORE (D-Calif.) to bring emergency aid to the floor before Congress heads home next week. 

Pelosi has held firm that she will not lower her demand for a $2.2 trillion package, but a growing number of uneasy centrists are clamoring to vote on some new stimulus legislation — even without a deal — before Oct. 2, when the House is scheduled to recess for the final leg of campaigning ahead of the Nov. 3 elections.

“There's an awful lot of concern amongst members that things be done,” said Rep. John Larson John Barry LarsonCOVID-19 damage to Social Security to extend beyond pandemic It's time for a grand agreement on Social Security What we need to do next to defeat COVID and unify the country MORE (Conn.), the former head of the Democratic Caucus.

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The pressure is emerging in different forms. 

Moderate Democrats have taken the remarkable step of threatening to endorse a Republican effort to force a floor vote on a single provision of the relief blueprint — help for small businesses — even against the wishes of their own leadership. 

The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of centrist lawmakers, continued this week to press leaders in both parties to act immediately on a package topping $1.5 trillion. 

And Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats introduce bill providing citizenship to Dreamers On The Money: Democrats deals to bolster support for relief bill | Biden tries to keep Democrats together | Retailers fear a return of the mask wars Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief MORE (D-Md.) aired a rare public split with Pelosi on Wednesday, saying in no uncertain terms that Democrats should vote on a partisan relief package before the chamber leaves Washington next week even if there’s no deal with the White House — a strategy the Speaker has long resisted.

“I think we ought to be taking up COVID-19 legislation before we leave here, and I don't think we ought to wait,” Hoyer said. “People are really hurting.”

Complicating the debate for the Democrats, rank-and-file lawmakers have been all over the board when it comes to specific strategies for pressuring Republicans to return to the negotiating table — and providing themselves political cover as they return home to voters crushed by the health and economic devastation caused by the deadly pandemic. 

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Some lawmakers want a vote on a massive package topping $3 trillion, akin to the HEROES Act, which the House passed in May. Others are hoping for consideration of trimmed down legislation — something in the range of Pelosi's last offer of $2.2 trillion. Still others are backing Pelosi's decision to hold the line and wait for a bipartisan agreement that can win President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE’s signature. 

“It's kind of all over the map,” said Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission AOC v. Pelosi: Round 12? Maloney to lead Democrats' campaign arm MORE (D-Calif.), a leading figure in the New Democrat Coalition.

Still, Aguilar is among the lawmakers itching for a House vote in the next eight days, even if it has no Republican buy-in. That, he said, would send the message to voters that Democrats are still fighting for emergency aid months after passage of the HEROES Act, even if Republicans have ignored the legislation.  

“It should send a signal to the public as to where we are, and it's more recent than [the HEROES Act]. It represents where you think things should be,” he said. “We hope that something happens.”

Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellLawmakers offer gun control bill to end 'boyfriend loophole' Michigan Democrat Dingell on violent rhetoric: 'I've had men in front of my house with assault weapons' Dingell 'very concerned' about lowering threshold for stimulus MORE (D-Mich.) said the angst is only growing with each day that passes without a deal.

“Yes, yes, yes,” she said when asked if the House should vote on some form of stimulus. “Members feel very strongly.” 

Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaIt's time for a second Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health Biden's new challenge: Holding Trump accountable Trump, Florida complicate Biden approach to Cuba MORE (D-Fla.), a former Health and Human Services secretary under President Clinton, is siding with Pelosi. She said the only option for her is a substantive bipartisan deal, describing how the virus has wreaked havoc on everyday residents and the hotel and cruise industries in her Miami district.  

“I’m just holding out for a deal. My district looks grimmer and grimmer, so I’m just praying for a deal and I’m just not willing to hypothesize what it’s like to go home without a deal,” Shalala told The Hill.

“I just want to go home with something. I’ve got to go home and help people. … my district is just devastated and in Little Havana, the unemployment is very serious and the sickness is serious.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezBipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J vax rollout today; third woman accuses Cuomo 'Lucky': Inside Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement of Sanders MORE (D-N.Y.), whose Bronx district has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, echoed that message, blaming Republicans for the long impasse.

“I just don't think that Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks DOJ declined to take up Chao ethics probe Trump was unhinged and unchanged at CPAC MORE and Donald Trump have any respect for the human toll of COVID. We just passed 200,000 deaths and it felt like it didn’t even register with them,” she said. “Their basic disrespect over human life is going to make it difficult to come to the table. They feel no sense of urgency over the loss of life and that alone makes this extraordinarily difficult.” 

But she predicted the GOP is unlikely to waver unless public opinion polls show their party is likely to lose the Senate majority over the issue.

“It will have to continue to slide to the point where they feel they are in serious danger of losing the Senate,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Hill.

In July and August, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade A Biden stumble on China? MORE (D-N.Y.) conducted in-person talks with the administration’s top negotiators, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden cautious in making Trump tax returns decision Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE, but those discussions broke down almost seven weeks ago, largely over the size of the package. 

Senate Republicans had countered the Democrats’ offer with a $1.1 trillion proposal, but subsequently moved a much smaller $650 bill to the Senate floor. Democrats mocked the legislation as woefully insufficient — Schumer called it “emaciated” — and they voted unanimously to sink it.

Since then, the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgBill introduced to create RBG monument on Capitol Hill Kavanaugh dismays conservatives by dodging pro-Trump election lawsuits McConnell backs Garland for attorney general MORE has shifted the focus of Senate Republicans squarely on the process of filling the vacancy with a Trump nominee before the elections. That’s led to speculation that an agreement on coronavirus relief will be even tougher to reach than it was before. 

Still, Pelosi said Thursday that she’s hopeful the negotiations with Republicans will resume “soon,” adding that Democrats will be “very soon” unveiling the details of their spending package.

“I'm eager to hear what [the White House negotiators] have to say when they come,” she told reporters in the Capitol. 

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Unlike the government funding bill, the coronavirus stimulus has no real deadline; rather, it’s been the severity of the impact on health and the economy that’s driven Congress to act on four previous rounds of emergency relief. But there is an exception: the airlines are set to run out of emergency funding at the end of the month, and major airline companies are poised to furlough tens of thousands of employees the following day. 

“Sept. 30 is fraught with meaning for them,” Pelosi said Thursday.

Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioDOJ declined to take up Chao ethics probe Democrats offer bills to boost IRS audits of rich, corporations House Democrats call on Biden to fill Postal Service Board vacancies to pave way for ousting DeJoy MORE (D-Ore.), who heads the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he remains hopeful a deal is still possible before then.

“I have agreement with my leadership that it would be a part of a package — if we get a package,” he said. 

The parties cleared one major obstacle on Tuesday, when they struck a deal on legislation to fund the government beyond September, likely avoiding a shutdown. In a subsequent letter to House Democrats, Pelosi said she was able to secure that agreement because Democrats stuck together through the talks. She asked for similar unity amid the coronavirus negotiations, suggesting yet again that she’s holding out for a deal. 

“Our unity served us well yesterday,” she wrote Wednesday, referring to the government funding deal. “Our unity will again serve us well in the ongoing COVID-19 relief efforts.”

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That message is sure to disappoint the moderates fighting to secure the Speaker’s commitment to a vote on some form of stimulus before Congress recesses for the elections. But veterans of Capitol Hill said they’re confident Pelosi will find a way to bring the various factions together in the coming days — and ultimately win the bipartisan deal they all agree on.

“I don't know if we can get one before Oct. 2 — certainly every effort is gonna be made to do so,” said Larson. “But I've watched her [Pelosi] long enough to know that she's determined to keep us here — albeit subject to the call — until we do. 

“She's not going to go softly into the night.”