House Demo­crat­i­clead­ers­ dis­missed­ a­ bi­par­ti­san ­$1.5­ tril­lion­corona virus­ re­lief­ pro­posal­ amid­ mount­ing­pres­sure­ for­ ac­tion­ af­tertalks­ with­ the­ white­House­ stalled­ last­month

Speaker Pelosi expresses frus­tra­tion at prospect of ad­journ­ing with­out bill

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ERICA WERNER erica.werner@wash­post.com Paul Kane con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Mul­ti­ple House Democrats ex­pressed anx­i­ety and frus­tra­tion Tues­day about the prospect of ad­journ­ing for the elec­tion with­out a new coron­avirus re­lief bill, with one vul­ner­a­ble House Demo­crat say­ing on a pri­vate call with lead­er­ship that she wanted to do her “god­damn job” and de­liver a deal for her con­stituents.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) an­nounced on a con­fer­ence call with House Democrats on Tues­day morn­ing that the House would re­main in ses­sion un­til a new agree­ment is struck, say­ing, “We have to stay here un­til we have a bill,” ac­cord­ing to Demo­cratic aides.

But within hours, Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD.) clar­i­fied that law­mak­ers would not ac­tu­ally re­main in Washington be­yond their sched­uled re­cess date of Oct. 2, and in­stead would be re­quired to be on call in case they must re­turn. This is the same arrangemen­t law­mak­ers have worked un­der for more than a month with­out any progress. White House of­fi­cials have re­mained open to a deal but have not ex­pressed an ur­gency to make con­ces­sions.

Pelosi has been un­will­ing to budge from the po­si­tion she’s held for months — that Democrats should hold out for a wide-rang­ing bill with a price tag of at least $2 tril­lion, cov­er­ing a mul­ti­tude of is­sues from un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance to test­ing to the post of­fice. In­creas­ing num­bers of rank-and­file Democrats are be­gin­ning to ques­tion that ap­proach.

Frus­tra­tion boiled over on a call the cen­trist New Demo­crat Coali­tion held with Pelosi and Hoyer on Tues­day. The coali­tion in­cludes a num­ber of fresh­man law­mak­ers who beat Repub­li­cans in 2018 and are now fac­ing tough re­elec­tion races in Gop-lean­ing dis­tricts.

At one point, pressed by Rep. Kath­leen Rice (D-N.Y.) about why mem­bers shouldn’t phys­i­cally stay in town to wait for a deal, Pelosi sug­gested Rice should poll fel­low law­mak­ers on the is­sue.

Af­ter Pelosi got off the call, Hoyer faced more push­back over the sit­u­a­tion, and ex­pressed sym­pa­thy but said re­peat­edly that he did not want to un­der­mine Pelosi.

Rep. Abi­gail Span­berger (D-VA.), re­sponded to a com­ment from a fel­low law­maker who said mem­bers should be fol­low­ing their con­vic­tions by say­ing: “My con­vic­tion is to ac­tu­ally do my god­damn job and come up with a solution for the Amer­i­can peo­ple. We have to bring some­thing to the floor.”

De­tails of the call were first re­ported by Politico and con­firmed by sev­eral Demo­cratic aides fa­mil­iar with them, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss them.

The de­vel­op­ments oc­curred on the first full day the House was back in ses­sion from its Au­gust re­cess, with law­mak­ers eye­ing a three-week sprint that must also in­clude pass­ing a stop­gap spend­ing bill to fund the govern­ment by Sept. 30.

Pelosi has not moved from the po­si­tion she has held ever since the House passed the $3.4 tril­lion He­roes Act in May, leg­is­la­tion Repub­li­cans and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­missed as they waited months to start talks that ul­ti­mately went nowhere.

On the morn­ing con­fer­ence call with the House Demo­cratic cau­cus Pelosi re­jected the no­tion of a slimmed-down bill, such as the $300 bil­lion mea­sure Democrats blocked last week in the Se­nate.

“A skinny bill is not a deal. It’s a Repub­li­can bill,” Pelosi said on the con­fer­ence call.

With Repub­li­cans un­will­ing to agree to leg­is­la­tion any­where near the scope Pelosi wants, some Democrats have be­gun to dis­cuss other op­tions. There are roughly 29 mil­lion Amer­i­cans re­ceiv­ing some form of job­less aid, and many house­holds are strug­gling to pay their rent and other bills. State and cities are also un­der se­vere bud­getary strain, and many have cut large parts of their work­force as they wait for Congress to de­cide whether to ap­prove more as­sis­tance.

The stock mar­ket has mostly re­cov­ered its losses from March, how­ever, and Pres­i­dent Trump has sug­gested he thinks a ro­bust re­cov­ery is un­der­way. But Democrats around the coun­try, in­clud­ing many fresh­men who flipped GOP seats in 2018 and helped the party re­take the House ma­jor­ity, rep­re­sent dis­tricts where in­di­vid­u­als, small busi­nesses, lo­cal gov­ern­ments and schools re­main in dire need of help.

Some House Democrats in tough re­elec­tion races are un­der grow­ing pres­sure to take ac­tion to help their con­stituents. In one race in Vir­ginia, where Demo­cratic Rep. Elaine Luria is de­fend­ing her seat against the Repub­li­can she beat in 2018, an out­side group has run ads at­tack­ing her for in­ac­tion on coron­avirus re­lief.

Luria said in an in­ter­view Tues­day that she was pleased to hear Pelosi pledge ac­tion.

“The truth is that the bot­tom­line num­ber isn’t as im­por­tant as the fact that we need to as a coun­try re­spond to peo­ple who are in need dur­ing an un­prece­dented pub­lic health cri­sis,” Luria said.

An­other Demo­crat in a con­tested race, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA.), told re­porters Tues­day that ac­tion on coron­avirus re­lief was cru­cial for him and his col­leagues — even if it’s just to demon­strate to vot­ers that Repub­li­cans are the ones who are un­will­ing to com­pro­mise.

“I think that if peo­ple are able to see us stay here and of­fer a pro­posal that is easy to un­der­stand, sim­ple and tai­lored to the pan­demic, re­gard­less of what size it is, and it’s re­jected by them, then we will have done an im­por­tant thing, which is show peo­ple that we’re rea­son­able,” Lamb said.

Pelosi and her top lieu­tenants have shown scant in­ter­est in con­sid­er­ing a bill with a price tag un­der $2 tril­lion, how­ever.

The bi­par­ti­san Prob­lem Solvers Cau­cus in the House re­leased its own at­tempted com­pro­mise Tues­day morn­ing, a $1.5 tril­lion pro­posal that could grow larger or smaller de­pend­ing on in­fec­tion rates and vac­cine progress. Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have en­cour­aged the group’s ef­forts, but top Democrats re­jected it out of hand, with eight House com­mit­tee chairs is­su­ing a joint state­ment say­ing it “falls short of what is needed to save lives and boost the econ­omy.”

Congress passed four bills to­tal­ing about $3 tril­lion in aid in March and April, but has not acted since. Many of the pro­grams agreed to in the ini­tial round of spend­ing have ex­pired, in­clud­ing a $600 weekly en­hanced un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fit that ran out July 31. Trump stepped in last month with some limited ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions, in­clud­ing re­plac­ing the $600 ben­e­fit with one half that size, but the money for that is now run­ning dry.

White House ad­viser Jared Kush­ner sug­gested in an in­ter­view Tues­day on CNBC that a deal might have to wait.

“The hope is that we’ll still get to a deal. It may have to be af­ter the elec­tion,” Kush­ner said.

At the same time, if it be­comes clear in com­ing days that no com­pre­hen­sive deal is in reach, Pelosi may start hold­ing votes on in­di­vid­ual is­sues such as fund­ing for coron­avirus test­ing, to show that House Democrats are try­ing to ad­dress the prob­lem.

STE­FANI REYNOLDS/BLOOMBERG NEWS

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-calif.), seen Tues­day in D.C., has been adamant that any re­lief bill must in­clude at least $2 tril­lion.

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