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Pelosi teases plans for coronavirus relief, select committee votes

Only action expected this month is an interim funding bill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reminds photographers to practice social distancing after her television interview in Russell Building as Congress remains absent due to the coronavirus on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reminds photographers to practice social distancing after her television interview in Russell Building as Congress remains absent due to the coronavirus on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday other than passage of an interim bill to boost aid to small businesses, states and hospitals she does not expect Congress to pass additional coronavirus relief this month.

Before the need for an interim bill emerged, the California Democrat had set a goal of passing a large follow-up bill to the $2.3 trillion economic relief package by the end of the month.

“When I said that, we had an earlier return,” Pelosi said Thursday. “So we obviously won’t have it by [then].”

The House had been anticipated returning as early as April 20 but had not finalized plans for its next legislative session. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced earlier this week that the House will not return before May 4, unless needed to pass emergency legislation like the interim funding bill.

“If we have an interim package we may have that on the floor before the end of the month, but the CARES bill will probably be, will be beyond that,” Pelosi said, using a shorthand name for the larger economic package.

Negotiations on the interim bill are ongoing. Pelosi said Thursday that her staff, as well as staff for Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer, would be speaking with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s staff Thursday afternoon, following up on a similar meeting the staff had Wednesday.

“We’re hopeful they will come back with something that strikes a balance,” she said.

Mnuchin requested $251 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses to keep employees on payroll, and congressional Republicans pushed for a clean bill to provide those funds. The PPP ran out of funding Thursday, providing urgency for Congress to act.

Democrats are seeking changes to the breakdown of the small business funding to ensure smaller companies that don’t have relationships with traditional lenders can access the loans through community financial development institutions. They’ve also requested $150 billion for state and local governments and $100 billion as hospitals and health care providers.

“When we talk to [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell he says, well I think that we should do some of that but let’s see how the money that is out there is working for state and local hospitals before we do more but let’s not see how everything is working when we do the small businesses,” Pelosi said.

“It is very in our view self-evident that the need for state and local and hospitals is urgent now,” she added, asking why they wouldn’t agree to that if they are already planning to go to the floor to boost funding for small businesses.

Other votes planned

When the House reconvenes, Pelosi is planning to move a resolution to formally establish a coronavirus select committee she announced plans for two weeks ago.

“When we come in, we will be voting on that,” she said.

Pelosi has said the select committee will be chaired by Majority Whip James E. Clyburn and will oversee the $2.3 trillion economic relief package enacted into law last month, as well as any additional financial packages Congress passes to assist with coronaviurs relief and recovery.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and most Republicans have said they don’t see a need for the select committee because $2.3 trillion package included three oversight functions, including a panel to be appointed by congressional leaders.

Pelosi, who said she’ll be naming her pick for that panel soon, said she hopes Republicans will ultimately support the formation of the select committee because they want it to be bipartisan. She said she’s had one conversation with McCarthy about the select committee and will need to have another to see if they can agree on the size and scope of the panel.

“That will take bipartisan cooperation, though, to come in,” she said. “I prefer that it would be with bipartisan cooperation. We have the numbers to come in and have a quorum and vote it. But really we’d like — we view this is a very bipartisan initiative.”

Pelosi’s comments suggest that when the House does reconvene a large number of members may not be able to travel to Washington due to coronavirus restrictions or health concerns.

That’s why many members in both parties want the House to pass a rule allowing for remote voting. Pelosi has not been an advocate of remote voting but on Thursday softened her tone, insisting she wasn’t against it if a feasible option is found.

“It’s not as easy as you may think,” she said. “And I’ve not been negative on it. I’ve been negative on the status quo of it because so far we haven’t had a good option.”

Pelosi said she had tasked Rules Chairman Jim McGovern and House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren to work on options that would be feasible under the Constitution and House rules, as well as from a technology and security standpoint. McGovern provided a status update during a Democratic Caucus call Thursday afternoon.

McGovern’s update was that he had reached a recommendation for what he called “temporary, low-tech remote voting.” Specifically, he proposed a form of proxy voting in which any member unable to travel to Washington could write a letter to the clerk designating a specific member to vote on their behalf with written instructions as to how they want their vote to be recorded.

Pelosi earlier in her call with reporters seemed to know what McGovern’s recommendation would be, as she kept referring to proxy voting in addition to remote voting when asked specifically about the latter. She had suggested that if a viable option was found and members agreed on it that they could also vote on that when the House reconvenes.

“When people ask about remote voting or proxy voting and the rest, that requires a change in the rules of the Congress, so if we are to do that we have to come in to do that in order to change the rules,” she said. “At that time, I would hope that we could approve the [select] committee.”

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