As House Democrats push virus relief bill, GOP candidates pounce

Some vulnerable Democrats say they’re voting against it

Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., wearing his New England Patriots mask, walks down the House steps Friday after voting on the rule for the House's latest coronavirus response package. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., wearing his New England Patriots mask, walks down the House steps Friday after voting on the rule for the House's latest coronavirus response package. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 15, 2020 at 12:45pm

House Democrats’ 1,800-page, $3 trillion relief measure aims to give voters a view of how the party wants to handle the coronavirus crisis heading into the November elections, but it’s the GOP that is pushing the political messaging around it.

Instead of putting endangered Senate Republicans on the hot seat for opposing it, the bill has become the target of unapologetic bashing by some Republicans — while some of the House’s most vulnerable Democrats, in districts that President Donald Trump carried four years ago, say they plan to vote “no.”

“We strongly urge vulnerable Democrats to support this partisan messaging bill that is dead on arrival in the Senate where actual adults are in charge,” Chris Pack, spokesman for the House GOP campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in an email to CQ Roll Call.  

[Budget reporters discuss what's in relief package]

Rep. Kendra Horn, an Oklahoma Democrat who is ranked as CQ Roll Call’s most vulnerable House member, said she would vote against it, as did Democrats Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. 

“Unfortunately, many Members of Congress — including some in my own party — have decided to use this package as an opportunity to make political statements and propose a bill that goes far beyond pandemic relief and has no chance at becoming law, further delaying the help so many need,” Spanberger, a freshman who flipped a seat in 2018, said in a news release. “Therefore, I will respectfully vote against this bill.”

The bill would provide almost $1 trillion to help state, local and tribal governments meet their payrolls for first-responders and other workers, such as teachers. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Democrats were “very proud” of the measure, “which addresses the urgent needs and the actions we want to take to meet those needs.”

But Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat who in 2018 won an Iowa district that had backed Trump over Hillary Clinton by 3.5 percentage points in 2016, said in a statement she was “deeply troubled” by parts of the bill that would send “large amounts of dollars” to people who are not being hurt by the pandemic at all.

“I could not in good conscience vote to accept this Washington gamesmanship, or vote to approve unrelated wastes of taxpayer dollars, while Iowa sees it COVID-19 case rates climbing,” she said.

Sticker shock

Republicans have blasted the bill’s high price tag as well as individual provisions that would would extend temporary immigration status or work authorizations that are set to expire and would allow for more elderly prisoners to serve home confinement during the pandemic. 

“This is Democrats’ wish list of priorities,” said Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, who is himself among the chamber’s most vulnerable incumbents. 

Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration panel that oversees many election-related measures, said he was particularly concerned about the bill’s roughly 70 pages dealing with election matters, including provisions to make mail-in balloting standard.

He said it would legalize “ballot harvesting,” a process of having volunteers collect ballots.

“They want to nationalize this process that has already been corrupted,” he said. “It just shows you where their priorities are.” 

Democrats argue that the federal government needs to do more, amid the pandemic, to ensure voters can access their ballots by mail, so they don’t have to show up in person and risk their health. 

New York state of mind

At least one House Republican, Peter T. King of New York, said he’d vote for the bill. King is retiring after this Congress. 

Max Rose, a vulnerable freshman Democrat whose New York district includes Staten Island, said he’d support the measure and noted that it would provide more than $100 billion in aid for his state.

“I do not support every provision in this bill, but let’s be honest and recognize that most, if not all, of the nonsense included will be stripped in negotiations with the Senate,” he said in a statement. “What remains will be what is most important: billions of dollars in relief for New York City and State, funding to ensure no first responder or teacher has to be laid off, unprecedented hazard pay for frontline workers,” among other provisions. 

Though some Democrats said the bill didn’t go far enough to meet the party’s more liberal objectives, most seemed poised to vote for it. Still, those intraparty divisions have made it harder for Democrats to seize the measure for the campaign trail. 

[House vote on aid bill set despite Democrats upset over omissions]

“The problem here is that the bill’s not going anywhere, and my concern is that Republicans are going to cherry pick individual sections of the bill to charge Democrats with opening borders and freeing prisoners,” said Democrat Jim Manley, a consultant who previously worked for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “This bill is going to give Republicans some good fodder to fire against.” 

Some House GOP challengers assailed the bill as soon as they caught sight of it earlier this week. 

Republican Young Kim, who faces a rematch with California Democrat Gil Cisneros in the state’s 39th District after narrowly losing to him in 2018, attacked her opponent and the bill in an email Wednesday.

“While even his fellow Democrats are voicing their concern over the lack of transparency in the drafting of this legislation, Congressman Gil Cisneros has once again blindly fallen in line with his party leaders,” Young said.

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