Pelosi bullish on COVID-19 relief: ‘We cannot leave without it’

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed optimism Friday that the parties will come together to secure a coronavirus relief package before Congress leaves Washington for the winter holidays.

Addressing reporters in the Capitol, the Speaker said party negotiators still have a number of disagreements to iron out to win such an agreement, but indicated the sides are making steady progress and all but guaranteed that a bipartisan deal will be sealed in the coming days.

“We’ll take the time we need and we must get it done,” Pelosi said. “We cannot leave without it.”

Pelosi had spoken Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seeking a strategy for passing both an emergency COVID-19 bill and legislation to fund the government and prevent a shutdown. Both sides emerged from that discussion in agreement that the two bills should be lumped together for the sake of expediency — a message Pelosi amplified on Friday.

“We want to have it on the omnibus, … and we’re hoping that that will accelerate the discussions on the omnibus,” she said, referring to legislation combining all 12 appropriations bills together in one package. “We are going to keep government open — we are not going to have a continuing resolution — but we need to take the time to do that.”

The comments arrive as the nation is experiencing yet another surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, forcing some state and local leaders to implement new rounds of lockdowns and intensifying the pressure on congressional leaders to secure another coronavirus-relief package before year’s end.

For months leading up to last month’s elections, Pelosi and White House negotiators had failed to reach an agreement on another round of emergency aid, which was then in the range of $2 trillion.

In a major breakthrough, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced this week that they’re prepared to lower their funding demand dramatically, agreeing to use a recently released bipartisan framework — in the range of $900 billion — as the baseline of the talks.

Pelosi defended that change of position on Friday, saying it reflected two dramatic shifts in the post-election landscape: Joe Biden’s presidential victory, and the emergence of several promising vaccines.

“That is a total game-charger: a new president and a vaccine,” she said, noting that Biden has vowed to enact more COVID-19 relief next year as needs arise. That new dynamic, she added, has freed Democratic leaders to accept a smaller level of funding this month, knowing more may be on the way.

“It’s for a shorter period of time, but that’s OK now, because we have a new president,” she said.

Indeed, shortly after Pelosi spoke Friday morning, Biden issued a statement vowing to move quickly next year to secure more emergency funding, citing Friday’s disappointing new jobs report as evidence of its necessity.

“Any package passed in the lame duck session is not enough,” Biden said. “It’s just the start.”

It’s unclear how quickly — or even if — the sides can come together to win a bipartisan deal.

The leading appropriators in each chamber — Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) — have been in frequent talks in recent weeks on the issue of government funding, but there remain disagreements on provisions affecting veterans health care, Trump’s signature border wall and funding for detention beds overseen byImmigration and Customs Enforcement.

Without an agreement, the government is scheduled to shut down on Dec. 12, and Shelby had suggested earlier in the week that a short-term spending bill might be needed to keep the lights on.

On Friday, however, Pelosi said the talks were bearing fruit, suggesting a stop-gap — known as a continuing resolution, or CR — won’t be necessary.

“They’ve made great progress, [but] more needs to be done,” Pelosi said.

There are also a number of outstanding sticking points preventing an agreement on coronavirus relief. McConnell, for instance, has insisted that any new aid package must include language shielding schools and businesses from lawsuits brought by workers and students who develop COVID-19 — a provision roundly rejected by Pelosi and the Democrats.  

Still leaders in both parties are facing increasing pressure from rank-and-file lawmakers to bridge their differences and win a deal this month. And President Trump has said he’ll sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

With the clock ticking down, Pelosi emphasized that there’s no time for partisan messaging bills, like those Democrats had passed through the House in May and again in October.

“I told members, I’m not bringing any more bills that are not bipartisan,” she said.

Tags Charles Schumer Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Nita Lowey Relief Richard Shelby

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