Why House Democrats have good reason to be anxious about no coronavirus relief deal

Vulnerable House Democrats have to go home to conservative-leaning districts — places like Oklahoma, New Mexico and South Carolina — where they won’t be bearing unemployment help, or another stimulus check, or funding to help small businesses and schools and community hospitals. What they passed in May doesn’t put money in their constituents’ hands.

“The members are really concerned they have to go home and face voters who say, ‘This is my No. 1 need,’ and have nothing to offer,” said a Democratic strategist talking to vulnerable lawmakers and their staffs, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations.

That frustration is leaking out publicly. The Post’s Erica Werner reported that one vulnerable House Democrat privately told leadership “that she wanted to do her ‘goddamn job’ and deliver a deal for her constituents.”

Democrats passed a $3.5 billion package for all this, but it was back in May, and voters’ memories are short. Republicans dismissed it as wish list including things that have nothing to do with coronavirus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held firm on that legislation, eventually coming down to about $2 trillion, but strongly indicating that’s the bottom. She reportedly urged her members not to be a “cheap date.”

Now it feels like the ball is back in Democrats’ court, and Pelosi seems to know it. She said Tuesday she would keep the House in session until a deal is reached. (Although it looks like members will actually still be able to go home in October to campaign, knowing they may be called back on short notice.)

A bipartisan group of lawmakers came out with a bill this week for $1.5 trillion in aid that neither party’s leaders are taking seriously, but it further shows how anxious lawmakers are to at least try to come to a solution. Here’s one of those lawmakers pushing it on Twitter:

Absent a breakthrough in negotiations between Pelosi and the White House, many of the proposals you hear about will be more for show than action. One idea circulating in the House is to pass individual bills, like new business loans, or unemployment help, just to show to Americans that House Democrats are still trying to help.

But would that be enough to help House Democrats politically? The Democratic strategist again: “The hurt of coronavirus is so large that I’m not hearing from members they want to just pass one thing so they can run. They want to pass good legislation, because it’s not just a political messaging issue. People in their districts are going hungry and facing evictions and small businesses are crumbling.”

There’s not a lot of high-quality polling on how people feel about a lack of a coronavirus deal, and which party they blame. But it’s fair to say that suburban voters don’t like Washington dysfunction. And Republicans feel like they’re in a place this fall to argue its Democrats who are being intransigent.

“Ultimately Pelosi is speaker of the House, and she is choosing not to move forward. So that’s where the blame falls,” said one Republican strategist working on House races. “You can’t say, ‘Oh we’re going to make a deal,’ and then walk away from the negotiating table.”

House Democrats’ majority isn’t really in danger this November, but many of the individual candidates who won in 2018 to give them the majority are. In our rankings of top 10 House races most likely to flip in November, Democrats hold five of them — including three of the most vulnerable races.

Right now, the only major advertising happening against Democrats on coronavirus comes in Virginia against Rep. Elaine Luria in a competitive race. But Republicans say more could come if they sense an opportunity to pin this inaction on Democrats. They’re likely banking on the fact that voters don’t remember or care that Republicans waited months to start negotiating with Democrats on this.)

Which is why you’re seeing Democrats agitating to take action. This is a situation that they thought they had the upper hand on politically, but that now seems to be slipping from their control.

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