(WASHINGTON) — Republicans and Democrats on Thursday expressed a shared desire to avoid partisan bickering and congressional dysfunction in efforts to pass emergency funding to address the coronavirus crisis, but lawmakers have yet to demonstrate much urgency or progress toward an agreement — as congressional leaders signal it could be two more weeks before a bill is on the president’s desk.
“This is not a time for naming calling or playing politics,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters at her weekly news conference in the Capitol on Thursday. “The first step the Congress must take is to ensure the government has the resources needed to combat this deadly virus and keep Americans safe.”
A short time later, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy echoed Pelosi’s plea for comity during his own session with reporters.
“What is certain here is that there’s just no time for politics,” McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed. “Diseases don’t know party lines and I would imagine members of Congress would drop the partisanship to coordinate efforts on keeping our country safe.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed hope that the emergency supplemental would be taken up by the Senate “within the next two weeks.”
“I hope they can work expeditiously so the full Senate would be able to take up the legislation within the next two weeks,” McConnell, R-Ky., said. “And I hope, as we move forward through this challenge, this body can put reflexive partisanship aside and uphold the spirit of cooperation and collaboration this will require.”
Nevertheless, after the president called her “incompetent” at his news conference Wednesday night, Pelosi blasted the administration’s response to the outbreak as “chaotic and opaque.”
Pelosi also said she expressed concern to Vice President Mike Pence in a phone call Thursday morning that Trump tapped him to lead the administration’s response to the coronavirus.
“We have always had a very candid relationship and I expressed to him the concern that I had of his being in this position,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters at a news conference in the Capitol.
“This is about resources, it’s also about personnel,” Pelosi said. “It’s also about respect for science, for evidence-based decision making, and it’s about having so much of that talent that we are so proud of in our public health sector be available in other countries so that we can get a true…and accurate assessment of what is happening in other countries.”
A senior House Democratic appropriations aide said that staff-level discussions were continuing for the second-day in a row Thursday, although there is no meeting scheduled among the principal appropriations lawmakers this week.
“This isn’t like border wall or even omnibuses where you need principals to hammer out a bunch of big picture items,” the aide says. “Each subcommittee that has a piece of this will be meeting as a four corners, and then staff directors are meeting and also in touch by phone.”
The aide also said there are no current plans for appropriators to meet with Pence, although “that could change.”
McCarthy said that appropriators should not off-set emergency funds for coronavirus, and that the forthcoming supplemental should be a standalone measure without any gimmicks or riders attached.
Pelosi said appropriators are “coming close to a bipartisan agreement in the Congress as how we can go forward with a number that is a good start.”
A Senate GOP aide also told ABC News that Republicans “are confident that they can reach an agreement.”
McCarthy said GOP appropriators are working with Democrats on “bipartisan basis to appropriate the adequate amount of money” but he refused to put a dollar amount on it.
“It’s not my place to sit here and pick a number,” McCarthy said. “The one thing I would say just exactly what the President said, we will do whatever is needed to make sure we keep this country safe.”
Pelosi signaled Democrats are negotiating to include restrictions in an emergency supplemental “to make sure that the President cannot transfer any of these new funds…to anything other than use for the coronavirus threat,” including the border wall.
She said Democrats are also aiming to ensure that vaccines are affordable and state and local governments are reimbursed for the cost incurred while assisting federal response for the coronavirus outbreak.
Pelosi called declines in U.S. stock markets “disturbing” but added Democrats “want to instill confidence present without panicking about this.”
“The market will do what it does with the invisible hand that it always does,” she said. “We don’t like seeing the market drop, that’s for sure. And we hope that this will have a turnaround. But it cannot affect how we address the issue. Our issue is public health issue is prevention, and we would hope that that would not lower the market but raise the market because we want to show that decisions have made to put this in good hands now.”
Several House Democrats on the Financial Services Committee wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Tomas Philipson, the acting chairman of the Council on Economic Advisers, and Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, urging them to protect the financial markets from the coronavirus.
“We write to express our deep concern regarding the federal response to the coronavirus, its possible impact on the stability of financial markets, and the overall economy,” noted Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II, the Financial Services Subcommittee chairman on National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy, Financial Services Subcommittee Chairmen Gregory Meeks and Reps. Al Green, D-Texas, and William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.
The quartet urged the administration and financial regulators to report by March 13 with “an assessment of the current impact of the virus on the domestic economy and international financial stability.”
“We further request a forecast of how the global and domestic economy would be impacted in the event of a protracted crisis if, for instance, a pandemic were declared by the World Health Organization, as well as all efforts the Administration has underway to safeguard the U.S. economy from the contagion,” they said.
McCarthy said that he trusts the president’s decision not to impose additional travel restrictions on countries like South Korea and Italy, where the coronavirus is rapidly spreading — despite CDC identifying a case where the contagion has spread without a known origin in California.
“I know the president has always been forward-looking at this and he gets the most up-to-date information. I would trust him on that judgment,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said. “He was right before on protection of America and gets the updated information and we’ll take that day by day to see where we need to be.”
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