Moderate Democrats in the House push Pelosi to find deal with Republicans on COVID-19 relief

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is hearing increased complaints from Democratic lawmakers who want passage of a COVID-19 relief package after talks with the White House hit a deadlock.

On a conference call Tuesday with the New Democrats Coalition, a group of moderate members, several implored Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to keep the House in sessions until more COVID-19 relief is passed.

Pelosi had already announced she would not send lawmakers home without a deal. Traditionally, the House recesses for the month of October ahead of an election to allow lawmakers to campaign.

The frustration is coming largely from Democrats in competitive races who are having to face voters without recent success providing aid as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage. Some are concerned that voters will penalize them for failing to produce another round of assistance while the pandemic continues to suffocate the economy. The boosted unemployment payments that Congress approved in the spring expired in July.

In August, more than 100 House Democrats signed on to an effort to get Pelosi to vote on a bill that would only extend unemployment, an effort to gain enough Republican support to renew the program.

The prospects are not good that an agreement can be reached before the November election.

House Democrats have approved new relief legislation but talks between Pelosi and the White House produced no resolution to allow legislation to pass the Senate. Both sides have accused the other of refusing to bend.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a freshman Democrat from a Republican-leaning district in Virginia, said that she is hearing from constituents every day begging for Congress to help.

“My conviction is to actually do my goddamn job and come up with a solution for the American people,” Spanberger said, in response to another lawmaker urging members not to “give in” to Republicans, according to two people familiar with her comments.

Pelosi’s told the moderate members that the Senate has refused to take seriously the needs of the nation, according to a person on the call. But vulnerable members remain worried that blaming the Senate won’t satisfy voters, who are dealing with dual health and economic crises. The conference call was first reported by Politico.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wears a protective mask as she departs a television interview at the Russell Senate Office Building on Sept. 8, 2020.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pelosi continues to insist she won’t budge to Republican demands that an aid bill be smaller than she has proposed, but acknowledged in an interview Wednesday on Morning Joe that some in her caucus grow unhappy.

“Welcome to my world. I have a beautifully diverse caucus,” she said.

Pelosi announced earlier Tuesday on a separate conference call with all Democrats that the House would stay in session until a deal is reached. But Pelosi has not laid out a clear strategy for how she is going to advance any legislation.

She has rejected piecemeal measures and indicated that anything less than $2 trillion in unacceptable. She said on Morning Joe that she wants to put legislation on the floor that would become law, adding, “and so that requires a negotiation.”

Hoyer, who has been urging Pelosi to alter her hardline strategy, was sympathetic to the lawmakers’ concerns, according to a person familiar. But he told the members, “I don’t want to undermine Nancy in any way.”

“We can’t wait around forever for the proposal we think is the perfect proposal and that obviously won’t be helpful to anybody,” freshman Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., told reporters. “Time is of the essence.”

Hoyer indicated that they might not be required to physically stay in Washington, per Pelosi’s directive. Instead members could go home to campaign and return if a deal is reached.

But some think the optics of leaving town look bad. Plus most members are campaigning virtually, something that can be done from anywhere, including Washington.

A bipartisan group called the Problem Solvers Caucus released a $1.5 trillion “common ground” plan on Tuesday, but that was soundly rejected by most leading Democrats.

It’s not just vulnerable Democrats who are anxious for results. The Senate voted on a slimmed down bill last week to appease at-risk Senate Republicans.

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