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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 PelosiTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Health Care: CDC expands definition of 'close contact' after COVID-19 report | GOP coronavirus bill blocked in Senate | OxyContin maker agrees to B settlement with Trump administration 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 LarsonAnxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid AARP endorses Democrats' measure to overturn Trump payroll tax deferral GAO clears way for Democrats to try to overturn Trump's payroll tax deferral 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 HoyerTop Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate Trump orders aides to halt talks on COVID-19 relief This week: Coronavirus complicates Senate's Supreme Court fight 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 John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE’s signature. 

“It's kind of all over the map,” said Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarOn The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid Rep. Robin Kelly enters race for Democratic caucus vice chair 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 DingellCedric Richmond's next move: 'Sky's the limit' if Biden wins Pelosi, Mnuchin continue COVID-19 talks amid dwindling odds for deal Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair 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 ShalalaBritain to infect healthy individuals with coronavirus for vaccine trials 'Nodding Woman' behind Trump at town hall is former House candidate Shalala corrects Spicer on HIPAA: 'I should know, I wrote it' 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-CortezHillicon Valley: Threatening emails raise election concerns | Quibi folds after raising nearly B | Trump signs law making it a crime to hack voting systems Ocasio-Cortez draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch livestream OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes 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 McConnellOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Trump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid 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 SchumerTrump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Schumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (D-N.Y.) conducted in-person talks with the administration’s top negotiators, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Trump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits 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 GinsburgDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett 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 DeFazioDemocrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Trump says talks on COVID-19 aid are now 'working out' Trump gambles with new stimulus strategy 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.”