Pelosi jousts with reporters over reversal on slimmed-down Covid relief package

‘I don’t want Republicans to think it’s a dream come true,’ speaker said of a smaller coronavirus bill. ‘It’s not’

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Friday 04 December 2020 18:09 GMT
Pelosi jousts with reporters over reversal on slimmed-down Covid relief package

Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended dropping her insistence on a $2trn coronavirus relief package, jousting with reporters about this week endorsing a bipartisan proposal that is half that size.

“Perhaps you missed what I said earlier: Joe Biden pledged to crush the virus,” she snapped at a reporter, saying unlike Donald Trump, the president-elect wants to pass an even larger economic stimulus package after he takes office next month.

In her telling, embracing a $900m package introduced this week by a group of Democrats and Republicans is a reflection of new realities – and incoming Democratic chief executive and coming coronavirus vaccines.

“Don’t characterize what we did … as a mistake,” Ms Pelosi said of her months-long holding out for the kind of $2trn measure her chamber passed earlier this year but was blocked by the White House and Senate Republicans. “It was a decision, and it’s taken us to a place we can do the right thing. … I’m very proud of where we are.”

To be sure, Ms Pelosi and other Democratic leaders felt new pressure in recent weeks and as economic statistics took a turn for the worse. They were jammed by moderates in both chambers who either helped craft or quickly endorsed the $900m package.

With only a handful of days to come up with some kind of Covid relief measure, a massive spending bill to avert another government shutdown and a must-pass Pentagon policy bill that faces an uphill battle over protections for social media companies and military bases named for Confederate leaders, the bipartisan coronavirus proposal is simply the only game in town. 

But that proposal will not look exactly like what the moderates rolled out, she said. It is being converted into legislative text. Once that technical process is over, it will become what she called the basis for a new round of talks.

She declined to say she reversed herself or erred in holding out for her initial demand of $2trn, including more aid for state and local governments, and families and small businesses. Instead, she declared a partial victory.

“This has simplicity. It’s what we had in our bills. But that’s okay now,” said said, because next month there will be a “new president” who says he will “depend on science” and “understands America’s working families need to have money in their pockets … without any of the entrapments the [Trump] administration was insisting on being in the package.”

Mr Trump and other Republicans – joined in lighter language by some moderate Democrats – have for months harshly criticized the speaker for, until now, refusing to endorse a smaller Covid package. 

“I don’t want Republicans to think it’s a dream come true,” she said of a smaller bill. “It’s not.”

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy this week said this about her previous stance: "The speaker, a number of weeks ago, said doing nothing is better than doing something. She's probably the only person in this country that believes that."

She said she is willing to budge now because Mr Biden already has his team working on a follow-on stimulus proposal he plans to send to Capitol Hill during his first 100 days.

Just how something based on the $900m proposal will get to Mr Trump’s desk is becoming clearer.

After speaking for the first time since Election Day on Thursday, she and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to a plan under which they would attach a coronavirus relief measure to a government shutdown-averting measure and send it to Mr Trump before Christmas.

“We have the time to do it. We want to have it on the omnibus. We have to have an omnibus,” she said on Friday. “We’ll take the time we need. … We must get it done before we leave.”

“President-elect Joe Biden has said this package would be, at best, just a start. It’s less money over a shorter period of time” than she and other House Democratic leaders insisted on for months, “with the hope that much more help is on the way.”

Mr Trump has, as always, sent mixed signals about a Covid deal before the holidays.

"I will, and I think we are getting very close," he told reporters on Thursday when asked about the bipartisan package. But aides later signaled he might have thought the journalist was asking about a measure Mr McConnell had floated with just GOP senators, which had some key differences from the $900m one – and lacks the Democratic support needed to pass the Senate.

As for Mr Biden, he was more clear that night when asked about the moderates’ proposal, telling CNN: “I think it should be passed.”

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