Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted Tuesday that the House will stay in session until she and other congressional leaders can reach agreement on a long-stalled coronavirus relief package, possibly cutting short the month-long recess in the run up to the presidential election.
Pelosi made the announcement on a private caucus call Tuesday amid mounting pressure from rank-and-file Democrats to deliver more pandemic relief money before lawmakers leave town at the end of September to campaign.
“We have to stay here until we have a bill,” Pelosi said, according to multiple Democrats on the call.
But Pelosi has roundly resisted calls from some of the most vulnerable House Democrats — many in GOP-leaning districts — to negotiate a smaller coronavirus deal or put targeted bills on the floor addressing specific aspects of the pandemic including testing, unemployment aid and small business loans. The House passed a $3.4 trillion relief package in May but the Senate didn’t act on it.
Pelosi has repeatedly rejected those ideas, saying it only undermines Democrats’ push to negotiate a massive coronavirus relief bill with Republicans.
“A skinny deal is not a deal,” Pelosi said on the call Tuesday. “It is a Republican bill.”
Pelosi made a similar argument to her leadership team in a private meeting on Monday night, where she again reiterated that Democrats should stand firm in their funding demands for the next package, according to people in the room. The California Democrat also told members that she is still working to negotiate, but didn’t offer details on the status of those talks.
Speaking moments after Tuesday’s private call, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) echoed Pelosi’s promise that they would remain in Washington until there is a deal.
“We expect to be here as long as it takes to get something done on behalf of the American people,” Jeffries told reporters. “The caucus remains unified, and committed to getting something done that’s meaningful and to remaining in town as long as it takes for that to happen.”
Senate Democrats blocked the GOP’s attempt to advance a “skinny” $500 billion coronavirus relief bill last week, leaving senators in both parties — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell himself — to speculate that congressional leaders wouldn’t get another coronavirus deal until after the election.
Talks between Pelosi and the White House, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have been stalled for weeks, even as the coronavirus continues to devastate the U.S. economy, leaving millions without jobs and at risk of losing their homes. More than 6.5 million Americans have been infected with the virus and more than 194,000 have died.
The prospect of failing to approve more coronavirus aid before the House leaves in early October has alarmed many House moderates, particularly those facing tough races in November.
Those centrist members, including members of the New Democrats Coalition or the Blue Dogs Coalition, have stepped up their calls both publicly and privately to vote on additional coronavirus relief bills.
Some, led by the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, have drafted their own long-shot compromise in an attempt to pry loose some kind of deal before November.
That group released a roughly $2 trillion plan on Tuesday that would renew now-expired programs like unemployment aid and small business loans, though it also includes billions in spending that Senate Republicans have already rejected, like cash for state and local governments or the U.S. Postal Service. Pelosi has indicated she would negotiate a $2.4 trillion package with Republicans but hasn’t been open to going below that number.
Pelosi didn’t address the Problem Solvers plan during Tuesday’s call, instead mostly defending her decision to hold out for a larger deal despite Republicans refusal to negotiate one thus far. Some of Pelosi’s allies, including House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), defended the strategy.
“For us, not to cave in is really important,” Neal said on the call, according to Democrats who dialed in.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) also spoke in favor of Pelosi’s plan, telling colleagues to “lean in and support the speaker’s position.”
“Stay the course,” Maloney continued. “We are in the right place on this, and we will get a negotiation that is better for your local competitive you know areas and in these Trump districts for a bunch of reasons.”
But not everyone was in agreement.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said it was clear Democrats would have to address the coronavirus again before going home for the election, noting it’s been four months since the House passed its $3.4 trillion relief bill that went nowhere in the Senate.
“We can’t leave town without a package,” DeFazio said. “We need to talk about all of our principles in a five month bill.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the No. 2 House Democrat, has also been vocal about passing some kind of new coronavirus deal ahead of the critical final weeks before the election.
Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), who flipped a GOP district in 2018, also pushed for a more targeted coronavirus bill during the caucus call.
“I think there’s a place here for us to have some sort of tailored down bill to get us to January 21 when we have a new president,” Schrier said, according to Democrats on the call. “That shows the American people where we stand and makes us look like the adults in the room.”