House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. | Mark Wilson / Getty Images
House Republicans have grown skittish about a coronavirus package negotiated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and are hoping President Donald Trump openly embraces the bill to provide them political cover.
The last-minute nervousness has stalled the passage of the package through the House. As of noon on Friday, there were open questions about whether Trump will support the multibillion-dollar bill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) Went to the White House to meet with Trump, GOP sources said.
A senior House Republican lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Trump’s demand for a payroll tax cut as part of this legislative package – which could cost hundreds of billions of dollars – is the sticking point right now. Congressional leaders in both parties have been lukewarm to Trump’s proposal at best, while also noting it would be something both chambers will take up in the next coronavirus initiative.
Trump will discuss the coronavirus crisis at a 3 p.m. news conference.
Without Trump’s endorsement, Democrats are likely to pass the bill along partisan lines, which would signal that it will not get through the Senate and, thus, is unlikely to become law. A number of top House Republicans huddled in House Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s office on Friday morning even as copies of the legislative language began to circulate.
Pelosi assembled her leadership team Friday morning after a long night of negotiations with Mnuchin on the aid package, which would guarantee access to food, affordable testing and paid time off for people whose lives are disrupted by the virus .
Intense talks on the package have spilled into a second day, with both parties determined to reach a deal before the weekend amid the intensifying national crisis, which has ground to a halt everything from corporate offices to sports leagues.
“The negotiations are going very well. This has been a bipartisan effort,” Mnuchin said on CNBC on Friday morning, adding that he has been “constantly” talking to Trump as well as Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, the two GOP leaders in Congress. “I think we’re very close to getting this done.”
Pelosi spoke by phone with Mnuchin – the lead negotiator for the White House – earlier Friday morning, as the two sides scramble to resolve lingering issues, specifically a provision on how much, and for how long, affected Workers would receive paid time off.
The conversations continued even as Pelosi and her leadership team huddled on Friday.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal said shortly after () that text would be released “in the next minutes, if not the next hour.”
“The speaker I know is going back and forth on a number of last-minute issues with the secretary,” Neal said.
“I think the package is basically ready,” House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) Said, leaving the nearly hourlong meeting in Pelosi’s office, but added that the two sides are still talking.
But Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Walking into a leadership meeting Friday, reiterated the feelings of anxiety.
“If we have to go to rules, we’ve probably failed,” Cole said, warning that a partisan deal would not become law.
“Every time they exchange papers, it’s, ‘Well, that’s not what we agreed to.’ It’s that kind of disconnect, “Cole said.
Pelosi told reporters Thursday night that she would ensure a measure reaches the House floor on Friday “one way or another.”
Both Democrats and Republicans say they must see the final language before signing off. But no deal can be official until Trump declares he is on board, further complicating the talks.
Trump Tweet on Friday that Congress should pass a payroll tax cut, something that is not part of the current package. Congressional leaders have said it could be part of a third package, but that would likely not be taken up for several weeks.
Democratic and White House officials, however, have remained steadfast that they will strike a sweeping accord that will deliver vast economic relief to suffering individuals and families while expanding access to key health measures that they hope will help contain the spread of the virus.
The House still plans to pass the package sometime Friday, with hundreds of members holding out in their mostly empty offices – with many staff opting to telework – as they await an announcement from party leaders.
The sense of uncertainty on Capitol Hill has been compounded by the growing numbers of lawmakers and aides who are intentionally isolating themselves after potential exposure to the virus.
A staffer for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) Has tested positive for coronavirus, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) announced Friday morning that he would be extending his self quarantine until March “out of an abundance of caution.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) Told POLITICO he is consulting with doctors on what he should do after news came out that a Spanish right wing politician, Santiago Abascal, he met with on March 2 tested positive for the coronavirus. He said he’s sure he shook Abscal’s hand but added he “feels fine.” He’s currently staying home and has canceled all events in his home state.
A spokesman for Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Who also met with Abascal, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what Smith is doing.
More than 1, 00000170 people in the US have been infected, though many health experts fear that number is dramatically undercounted given the lack of availability of testing.
Trump and congressional leaders are facing immense pressure to take unprecedented action to not only shore up the economy – which has faced turbulence unrivaled even by the 2008 financial meltdown – but to offer confidence to an American public that could face nationwide closures for weeks, if not months.
Daniel Lippman and Melanie Zanona contributed to this story.
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