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Democratic Caucus chair predicts 'strong support' for COVID-19 relief package

Democratic Caucus chair predicts 'strong support' for COVID-19 relief package
© Bonnie Cash

The head of the House Democratic Caucus predicted Wednesday that the party will rally behind an emerging coronavirus relief package, forecasting "strong support" from Democrats despite some liberal grumbling that the aid being discussed is insufficient.  

"It's my expectation that any ultimate agreement will have strong support within the House Democratic Caucus," Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesCapitol Police tribute turns political US Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots Lawmakers mount pressure on Trump to leave office MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters in the Capitol. "But of course each individual member has to make a determination based on what they view as best for their district." 

Leaders in both parties are scrambling this week to finalize an agreement on another round of emergency COVID-19 aid, with the principal negotiators — Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOklahoma man who videotaped himself with his feet on desk in Pelosi's office during Capitol riot released on bond House formally sends impeachment to Senate, putting Trump on trial for Capitol riot With another caravan heading North, a closer look at our asylum law MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses McConnell: Power-sharing deal can proceed after Manchin, Sinema back filibuster Budowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit MORE (R-Ky.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinOn The Money: Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary | Biden says he's open to tighter income limits for stimulus checks | Administration will look to expedite getting Tubman on bill Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary Biden administration will look to expedite getting Tubman on bill MOREnearing a deal on Wednesday, according to sources familiar with the ongoing talks. 

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Yet the package may be a bitter pill to swallow for liberal Democrats, who had demanded hundreds of billions of dollars to help state and local governments pay their front-line workers — the "heroes" in the Democrats' Heroes Act, which passed the House in May — only to see that funding stripped from the package altogether. 

Liberals, including Reps. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalPublic option won't serve the public The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history Rep. Adriano Espaillat tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Wash.), who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezBernie Sanders has been most-followed member of Congress on social media for six years Meghan McCain responds to Katie Couric: 'I don't need to be deprogrammed' Skepticism reigns as Biden, McConnell begin new era MORE (D-N.Y.), have also insisted that the legislation include direct payments to working-class individuals and families.   

The CARES Act, enacted in March, featured payments up to $1,200 for individuals. Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump, allies raise pressure on Senate GOP ahead of impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda MORE (S.D.), the Republican whip, said Wednesday that the payments in the latest package would be far less, somewhere in the $600 to $700 range. 

Jeffries, echoing recent statements from Pelosi, is framing the lame-duck relief bill as just a down payment on the emergency coronavirus aid that Democrats are promising when President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBudowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit DC might win US House vote if it tries Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman inks deal with IMG Models MORE reaches the White House early next year. Jeffries ticked off a host of Democratic priorities in the current package to argue that Democrats achieved most of what they were after, including new funding for unemployment benefits, hunger relief, housing assistance, child care subsidies and the direct checks.

The timing of the votes on the legislation remain unclear. 

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The COVID-19 aid is being coupled with an omnibus spending bill to fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, and negotiators are racing to move the package through both chambers before Saturday, when current government funding expires. A failure to do so would force Congress to pass a second temporary spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, to buy lawmakers more time to approve the larger proposal and send it to President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE's desk.

Jeffries on Wednesday said there's been no talk yet in the House Democratic Caucus about the need for another CR. On a call with the caucus that morning, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Congressional leaders present Biden, Harris with flags flown during inauguration LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing MORE (D-Md.), who controls the House schedule, told lawmakers to expect to remain in Washington until the legislation is passed, according to Jeffries.

"It's my expectation that if the progress that has currently been made continues to move in the right direction with respect to those areas, the American people can feel confident that meaningful help is on the way," Jeffries said.