Joe Biden is pushing Congress to approve billions of dollars in emergency COVID-19 assistance before January, saying in a meeting Friday with the top Democrats in the House and Senate that such a package should be approved during the lame-duck session.
Biden held his first in-person meeting since November 3rd with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, hosting them at his makeshift transition headquarters in a downtown Wilmington, Delaware, theater.
Biden’s new governing team is facing intense pressure to approve another coronavirus relief bill and come up with a clear plan to distribute millions of doses of a prospective vaccine. That comes as Biden is just days away from unveiling the first of his Cabinet picks, which are subject to Senate confirmation.
According to a readout of the meeting later released by Biden’s team, the group “agreed that Congress needed to pass a bipartisan emergency aid package in the lame duck session,” which is the period after Election Day but before Congress adjourns for the year.
It added that the “package should include resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, relief for working families and small businesses, support for state and local governments trying to keep frontline workers on the payroll, expanded unemployment insurance, and affordable health care for millions of families.”
The sense of urgency in the meeting was echoed in comments earlier Friday by Biden transition aide Jen Psaki, who warned that “there’s no more room for delay.”
Pelosi said before meeting with Biden and Schumer that she’d make clear “the urgency of crushing the virus,” and how to use the lame-duck session to approve COVID-19 relief and legislation that can keep the government funded.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, proposed that Congress shift $455 billion of unspent small-business lending funds toward a new COVID-19 aid package. His offer came after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
“Congress should repurpose this money toward the kinds of urgent, important, and targeted relief measures that Republicans have been trying to pass for months,” McConnell said in a statement.
Congress has been at a standstill as Pelosi is pushing for $2 trillion in new coronavirus aid, but McConnell insists on a more narrow $500 billion package. The availability of new funds could raise the pricetag closer to a compromise.
Psaki said Biden, Pelosi and Schumer had already begun working together on COVID-19 relief even before Friday’s meeting.
“They’re in lockstep agreement that there needs to be emergency assistance and aid during the lame-duck session to help families, to help small businesses,” she said. “There’s no more room for delay, and we need to move forward as quickly as possible.”
Biden, Pelosi and Schumer also discussed the agenda for the first 100 days of the Biden presidency, “including taking aggressive action to contain COVID-19, providing resources to small businesses, families, schools, and state and local governments to power our economic recovery, and investing in the middle class,” according to the readout.
The meeting came two days after House Democrats nominated Pelosi to be speaker. She seemed to suggest these would be her final two years in the leadership post.