House will stay until coronavirus aid deal, Pelosi says

Speaker says it's "silliness" to suggest Democratic leaders would prefer no deal if it would hurt Trump

Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with members of the press before stepping onto the elevator in the Russell Senate Office Building on Monday.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with members of the press before stepping onto the elevator in the Russell Senate Office Building on Monday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 15, 2020 at 11:11am

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday the House won't close up shop for the elections until congressional leaders and the Trump administration can negotiate another coronavirus relief package.

“I just got off a call with my colleagues; we are committed to staying here until we have an agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” she said on CNBC. "We're optimistic that the Repub — that the White House, at least, will understand that we have to do some things."

Pelosi was responding to charges earlier on the program leveled by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that she was willing to sacrifice her own members' reelection prospects if it meant denying President Donald Trump a legislative victory he could tout on the campaign trail. She called McCarthy's accusation "silliness that has no idea."

[House Democrats worry last legislative message before election lacks COVID relief]

Negotiations over a COVID-19 aid package have been stalled for more than a month after talks between Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows failed to resolve disagreements about total spending levels as well as additional aid to state and local governments.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., meanwhile told reporters that remaining in session might mean letting lawmakers go home next month, but with a potential quick turnaround to get back to Washington for votes if a deal is reached. 

“I think frankly giving people 24-hours notice means we’re not adjourned, we're subject to the call of the chair. Obviously we’re not going to negotiate this on the floor. Members don’t have to be on the floor to do this,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “What the speaker is saying and what I would reiterate is we will be voting on a piece of legislation as soon as we get a deal.”

Even if Pelosi keeps House members in Washington past their scheduled Oct. 2 departure date, it’s unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will delay his chamber’s pre-election break, currently scheduled to begin on Oct. 9.

Keeping her more moderate members away from their districts could be a risky move for Pelosi, especially if a final agreement on COVID-19 aid couldn’t be reached before the election. On Tuesday the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House was unveiling a $1.5 trillion package they say meets the two main proposals in the middle: the House Democrats' $3.4 trillion proposal, and a $300 billion offering from Senate Republicans.

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"I think the holdup, frankly, is we get into a fight over the overall price tag we can begin with instead of talking about programs one by one," Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., a co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus, said Tuesday on CNBC. The 50-member group looked at "what are the key things we've got to tackle now through the end of March."

[Bipartisan House group to release $1.5 trillion coronavirus relief plan]

Hopes had been dimming that lawmakers would be able to deliver more coronavirus relief before the elections. Pelosi and Mnuchin had agreed to leave COVID-19 relief items out of the must-pass stopgap funding bill needed to avert a partial government shutdown starting Oct. 1, to try to keep that measure free of drama.

Speaking separately on CNBC, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said he didn't expect a coronavirus relief deal prior to Nov. 3.

"The hope is we’ll still get to a deal; it may have to happen after the election because there obviously are politics involved," Kushner said. "This is Washington."