Pelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump order on drug prices faces long road to finish line Overnight Defense: Dems divided on length of stopgap spending measure | Afghan envoy agrees to testify before House panel | Trump leans into foreign policy in campaign’s final stretch Pence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday announced that the House will remain in session until the parties have an agreement on another round of emergency coronavirus relief. 

In a conference call with the House Democratic Caucus — the first since the chamber returned from a long summer recess — Pelosi indicated she isn’t willing to accept a “skinny” legislative package, but told her troops the chamber’s calendar will be extended until an agreement is sealed, according to sources on the call. 

“We have to stay here until we have a bill,” Pelosi told lawmakers.

The surprise development reflects both the severity of the public health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the growing pressure Pelosi is facing from the moderate wing of her party, which is clamoring for leadership to vote on another aid package before Congress leaves town again for the elections.

The practical effects of the announcement, however, will likely be slight.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerRaces heat up for House leadership posts Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | ‘Markeyverse’ of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections Google, Apple, eBay to meet virtually with lawmakers for tech group’s annual fly-in MORE (D-Md.) acknowledged that most lawmakers will likely return to their districts when the scheduled session ends on Oct. 2, leaving party leaders seeking to hash out an agreement with the White House. If such a deal emerges, then members would be called back to Washington. In that sense, the dynamics would look very similar to those surrounding the long August recess, when the Capitol was all but empty.

“You could look at it as a distinction without a difference of the last few months,” Hoyer said on a press call. “But in another sense it tells members, ‘Look, we know the election’s coming up, we know you want to go back and campaign. But understand this is a priority … and that we are going to address it as soon as we possibly can.’ ” 

Leaders of the Blue Dog Democrats have, for weeks, pressed Pelosi and other party leaders to take up another relief bill preelection. On Monday, leaders of the New Democrat Coalition piled on, warning that lawmakers in battleground districts could be particularly harmed by congressional inaction. And leaders of the Problem Solvers, a bipartisan group, are set Tuesday morning to unveil a new aid package topping $1.5 trillion. 

“We are not in any way attempting to undermine the Speaker’s negotiating positions,” Rep. Ann KusterAnn McLane KusterLawmakers press CDC for guidance on celebrating Halloween during pandemic Chinese tech giants caught up in rising US-China tensions Democratic lawmakers introduce legislation to ensure US can mass-produce COVID-19 vaccine MORE (D-N.H.), a member of the New Democrats, said Monday evening. “Having said that we are taking the position that we want a deal and we don’t think we should adjourn until we have it.” 

Pelosi on Tuesday said she agreed, vowing to extend the House’s initial recess date of Oct. 2 if the sides haven’t reached a deal beforehand. 

“We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement,” she told CNBC’s Jim Cramer. 

What such an agreement looks like — or whether it’s even possible — remains unclear. Pelosi and the Democrats had passed a $3.4 trillion relief package through the House in May, and the Speaker has since offered to bring the price tag down to $2.2 trillion. But both proposals were roundly rejected by the White House and Republicans in the Senate, who were calling for legislation in the $1 trillion range. 

Highlighting just how far apart the sides are, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic Senate candidate ‘hesitant’ to get COVID-19 vaccine if approved this year Trump order on drug prices faces long road to finish line McConnell: Democrats would ‘disfigure’ Senate by nixing filibuster MORE (R-Ky.) last week offered an even slimmer proposal: a $650 billion package that excluded key demands of Pelosi and the Democrats, including hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for food stamps, the Postal Service, rental assistance and help for state and local governments struggling through the pandemic. 

The package was a non-starter with Democrats, who quickly shot it down. But that has only fueled the Republican attacks that Democrats are unwilling to compromise on another round of emergency aid, even as tens of millions of workers remain unemployed and tens of thousands of businesses are grappling to survive. 

Even as she vowed to keep the House in session, Pelosi did not back off her insistence that the next aid package must be robust, telling Democrats on Tuesday’s call that “a skinny bill is a Republican bill.”

A number of senior Democrats in the liberal-leaning caucus are racing to Pelosi’s side. Several committee chairs — including Reps. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersOmar invokes father’s death from coronavirus in reaction to Woodward book Business groups increasingly worried about death of filibuster Pelosi, Mnuchin talk stimulus but stalemate remains MORE (D-Calif.), Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOn The Money: Senate Democrats block GOP relief bill | Senators don’t expect stimulus until after election | Jobless claims plateau Top Democrat urges IRS to expedite letters to non-filers about stimulus payments Massachusetts proves Puerto Ricans are the secret key to Dem victory in November MORE (D-Mass.) and Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottThis week: House returns for pre-election sprint House to tackle funding, marijuana in September Congress is on recess while students struggle with food security MORE (D-Va.) — all spoke up during the caucus call to back the Speaker in her hard-line negotiations with the White House.

Still, not everyone is on board. Reps. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioTrump Jr. seeks to elect ‘new blood’ to Republican Party OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump’s pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat | White House pushed to release documents on projects expedited due to coronavirus | Trump faces another challenge to rewrite of bedrock environmental law NEPA White House pushed to release documents on projects expedited due to coronavirus MORE (D-Ore.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Kim SchrierKimberly (Kim) Merle SchrierWashington Rep. Kim Schrier wins primary US ill-prepared for coronavirus-fueled mental health crisis Gun control group rolls out House endorsements MORE (D-Wash.), a physician, also spoke up on the call urging passage of another relief package before the next recess. 

Extending the calendar will likely lead to grumbling from some lawmakers, who are eager to return quickly to their districts ahead of the Nov. 3 elections. Some of those members may opt to vote by proxy, a system Pelosi adopted earlier in the year to acknowledge the unique public health threat posed by the coronavirus.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesRaces heat up for House leadership posts Postmaster general earned millions from company with ties to Postal Service: report Hispanic Caucus campaign chief to mount leadership bid MORE (D-N.Y.) said the majority of the caucus is in agreement they should remain in session until a deal is reached.

“It’s clear to me, based on the calls that have taken place up until this point and the caucus meeting today, that the overwhelming consensus amongst the members is that we stick around until we get something done for the American people,” he told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday following the lengthy caucus call.

— Juliegrace Brufke contributed. Updated at 11:58 a.m.

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