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House approves $3 trillion coronavirus relief package

May 15, 2020
In The News

The House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package Friday evening, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi working late into the day to shepherd the behemoth bill to passage, overcoming opposition from almost all Republicans and some Democrats.

The massive bill was approved via a 208-199 vote, with only one Republican — moderate Rep. Peter King of New York — joining most Democrats in backing the legislation.

"Crazy day, crazy day. But it passed because it needed to pass," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said shortly before leaving the Capitol after 9 p.m. "Now the Senate needs to act."

The final vote capped off a busy day for the House, which also adopted a historic rules change to allow members to vote and convene committee hearings remotely. The change, while temporary, will allow House lawmakers to cast their votes via proxy for the first time in U.S. history.

The GOP-controlled Senate is not expected to take up the coronavirus aid bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has dismissed as a “totally unserious effort.”

Since early March, Congress has passed four coronavirus bills totaling nearly $3 trillion in federal funds to address the ongoing pandemic. But most Republicans have refused to negotiate further, saying they would like to see how those dollars are spent before taking more action.

“Mitch McConnell has tried to bluff his way into the Senate guiding the manner in which we are going to work on behalf of the American people and he’s repeatedly failed,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Friday, dismissing the GOP strategy. “But at the end of the day, the president is likely to recognize the need to get relief to the American people sooner rather than later.”

This was only the third time since mid-March that the full House has met but the chamber is not done with its work this month. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced immediately after the stimulus vote that the House would next be in full session on May 27-28 to take up the amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed by the Senate on Thursday. That will be the first major piece of legislation considered under the new proxy voting procedure for the House floor.

But Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) suggested that Republicans may mount a legal challenge to the rule change, arguing it violated the Constitution's requirement for a majority of the chamber to be present for a vote. The House would actually have to use proxy votes before a lawsuit can be mounted, so that may take several weeks to unfold.

The coronavirus passage vote ends a hectic week for Pelosi and her leadership team as they worked feverishly — including on Friday — to corral Democratic support for the relief bill. Pelosi stood sentry at the entrance of the chamber for hours leading up to the vote, clutching a list of members and grabbing certain lawmakers as they entered.

Still, more than a dozen Democrats opposed the package – mostly moderates who complained of partisan gamesmanship and the bill’s hefty price tag. One liberal lawmaker, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), also voted against the bill after an unsuccessful effort to get Pelosi to delay the vote to continue negotiations into next week.

Jayapal and other liberals were upset that some of their top priorities — including Jayapal’s “Paycheck Guarantee” proposal that would allow the government to cover payrolls for struggling businesses for several months — were left out of the final bill.

Many other Democrats made clear they were holding their nose and supporting the bill despite their concerns. "This begins and ends with being there for New York," said Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), one of the many moderates who was unhappy with the scope and process. "This doesn't pass, we don't get those funds.


Just before the vote, Pelosi and her leadership team were forced into a last-minute whipping operation to prevent moderate Democrats from defecting on a GOP procedural vote, which would have jeopardized passage of the $3 trillion bill.

Republicans attempted to split the Democratic caucus by forcing a vote related to undocumented immigrants — a tough issue for those in Trump districts.

But the gambit didn’t work after a personal lobbying effort by Pelosi, who buttonholed more than a dozen centrist Democrats on the floor ahead of the vote. In the end, only 14 Democrats joined with Republicans and the GOP motion was defeated.

In some ways, Pelosi took a huge gamble by pushing through a massive messaging bill that will be ignored by the GOP-controlled Senate, while opening up the most vulnerable Democrats to nasty attacks from Republicans over some of the bill’s most controversial provisions.

Pelosi has countered that it is Republicans — not Democrats — who should worry about the response back home after they vote against this latest aid bill, which would deliver nearly $1 trillion in relief to struggling state and local governments, expand food assistance and unemployment benefits, offer student debt relief for some Americans and provide another round of stimulus payments.

"Some of the members say, ‘Let's take a pause.’ Let's take a pause? Do you think this virus is taking a pause?" Pelosi said in a floor speech, making a final pitch to her caucus ahead of the vote.

"Do you think that the rent takes a pause? Do you think that putting food on the table or the hunger that comes if you can't takes a pause?"

Pelosi has worked hard to soothe discontent within her caucus, fielding complaints from members about changes to pension programs and from members who wanted to provide greater financial security for the 36 million people out of work.

In one particularly tense moment earlier this week, Jayapal confronted Pelosi on a caucus-wide call, decrying the fact that her popular proposal was left out of the final package.

Progressive leaders also debated a floor strategy that would temporarily block the bill from coming to the floor, but did not ultimately use the tactic. In a sign of Pelosi’s hold over her caucus, most Democrats have relegated their complaints to private calls with colleagues and leadership, declining to criticize the speaker publicly.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said he understood members' critiques but added the uniqueness of the current situation makes drafting bills even more complicated.

Neal’s staff worked with Jayapal to try to turn her idea into legislative text but say they ran out of time to incorporate it into this bill. Still, Democratic leaders haven’t ruled out adding Jayapal’s proposal to a future coronavirus relief bill.

"We’re just up against this pandemic and we’re all doing the social distancing, we’re all doing the zooming,” Neal said.

"I invited all members to talk to either me or the Ways and Means staff and many of them didn’t take advantage of it. I understand the critique but there’s also a competing reality here and we’re living in it."