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Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid

House Democrats, increasingly anxious about leaving Washington without acting on coronavirus relief, are amping up the pressure on Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHoyer: House should vote on COVID-19 aid — with or without a bipartisan deal Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose at Supreme Court McCarthy threatens motion to oust Pelosi if she moves forward with impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) to bring emergency aid to the floor before Congress heads home next week. 

Pelosi has held firm that she will not lower her demand for a $2.2 trillion package, but a growing number of uneasy centrists are clamoring to vote on some new stimulus legislation — even without a deal — before Oct. 2, when the House is scheduled to recess for the final leg of campaigning ahead of the Nov. 3 elections.

“There's an awful lot of concern amongst members that things be done,” said Rep. John Larson John Barry LarsonAARP endorses Democrats' measure to overturn Trump payroll tax deferral GAO clears way for Democrats to try to overturn Trump's payroll tax deferral Trump payroll-tax deferral for federal workers sparks backlash MORE (Conn.), the former head of the Democratic Caucus.

The pressure is emerging in different forms. 

Moderate Democrats have taken the remarkable step of threatening to endorse a Republican effort to force a floor vote on a single provision of the relief blueprint — help for small businesses — even against the wishes of their own leadership. 

The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of centrist lawmakers, continued this week to press leaders in both parties to act immediately on a package topping $1.5 trillion. 

And Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 | EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities | House energy package sparks criticism from left and right House energy package sparks criticism from left and right Hoyer: House should vote on COVID-19 aid — with or without a bipartisan deal MORE (D-Md.) aired a rare public split with Pelosi on Wednesday, saying in no uncertain terms that Democrats should vote on a partisan relief package before the chamber leaves Washington next week even if there’s no deal with the White House — a strategy the Speaker has long resisted.

“I think we ought to be taking up COVID-19 legislation before we leave here, and I don't think we ought to wait,” Hoyer said. “People are really hurting.”

Complicating the debate for the Democrats, rank-and-file lawmakers have been all over the board when it comes to specific strategies for pressuring Republicans to return to the negotiating table — and providing themselves political cover as they return home to voters crushed by the health and economic devastation caused by the deadly pandemic. 

Some lawmakers want a vote on a massive package topping $3 trillion, akin to the HEROES Act, which the House passed in May. Others are hoping for consideration of trimmed down legislation — something in the range of Pelosi's last offer of $2.2 trillion. Still others are backing Pelosi's decision to hold the line and wait for a bipartisan agreement that can win President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE’s signature. 

“It's kind of all over the map,” said Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarRep. Robin Kelly enters race for Democratic caucus vice chair Pelosi seeks to put pressure on GOP in COVID-19 relief battle Races heat up for House leadership posts MORE (D-Calif.), a leading figure in the New Democrat Coalition.

Still, Aguilar is among the lawmakers itching for a House vote in the next eight days, even if it has no Republican buy-in. That, he said, would send the message to voters that Democrats are still fighting for emergency aid months after passage of the HEROES Act, even if Republicans have ignored the legislation.  

“It should send a signal to the public as to where we are, and it's more recent than [the HEROES Act]. It represents where you think things should be,” he said. “We hope that something happens.”

Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellRaces heat up for House leadership posts Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell easily wins House primary Court orders release of Black Michigan teen who was jailed for missing schoolwork MORE (D-Mich.) said the angst is only growing with each day that passes without a deal.

“Yes, yes, yes,” she said when asked if the House should vote on some form of stimulus. “Members feel very strongly.” 

Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Hillicon Valley: Dems seek to expand DHS probe after whistleblower complaint | DHS rejects House subpoena for Wolf to testify | Facebook rolls out new features for college students Democrats call for narrowing digital divide to help students during pandemic MORE (D-Fla.), a former Health and Human Services secretary under President Clinton, is siding with Pelosi. She said the only option for her is a substantive bipartisan deal, describing how the virus has wreaked havoc on everyday residents and the hotel and cruise industries in her Miami district.  

“I’m just holding out for a deal. My district looks grimmer and grimmer, so I’m just praying for a deal and I’m just not willing to hypothesize what it’s like to go home without a deal,” Shalala told The Hill.

“I just want to go home with something. I’ve got to go home and help people. … my district is just devastated and in Little Havana, the unemployment is very serious and the sickness is serious.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezWells Fargo CEO issues apology after saying there was a 'limited pool of Black talent' Brand responds to Trump claim protesters throw tuna cans at police: 'Eat em, don't throw em' CNN's Don Lemon: 'Blow up the entire system' remark taken out of context MORE (D-N.Y.), whose Bronx district has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, echoed that message, blaming Republicans for the long impasse.

“I just don't think that Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFEC flags McConnell campaign over suspected accounting errors Poll: 59 percent think president elected in November should name next Supreme Court justice Mark Kelly: Arizona Senate race winner should be sworn in 'promptly' MORE and Donald Trump have any respect for the human toll of COVID. We just passed 200,000 deaths and it felt like it didn’t even register with them,” she said. “Their basic disrespect over human life is going to make it difficult to come to the table. They feel no sense of urgency over the loss of life and that alone makes this extraordinarily difficult.” 

But she predicted the GOP is unlikely to waver unless public opinion polls show their party is likely to lose the Senate majority over the issue.

“It will have to continue to slide to the point where they feel they are in serious danger of losing the Senate,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Hill.

In July and August, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish Senate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response Schumer interrupted during live briefing by heckler: 'Stop lying to the people' MORE (D-N.Y.) conducted in-person talks with the administration’s top negotiators, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinHillicon Valley: DOJ proposes tech liability shield reform to Congress | Treasury sanctions individuals, groups tied to Russian malign influence activities | House Republican introduces bill to set standards for self-driving cars Treasury: Trump's payroll tax deferral won't hurt Social Security Treasury sanctions individuals, groups tied to Russian malign influence activities MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - GOP closes ranks to fill SCOTUS vacancy by November House moves toward spending vote after bipartisan talks House Democrats mull delay on spending bill vote MORE, but those discussions broke down almost seven weeks ago, largely over the size of the package. 

Senate Republicans had countered the Democrats’ offer with a $1.1 trillion proposal, but subsequently moved a much smaller $650 bill to the Senate floor. Democrats mocked the legislation as woefully insufficient — Schumer called it “emaciated” — and they voted unanimously to sink it.

Since then, the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgHarris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Club for Growth to spend million in ads for Trump Supreme Court nominee FEC flags McConnell campaign over suspected accounting errors MORE has shifted the focus of Senate Republicans squarely on the process of filling the vacancy with a Trump nominee before the elections. That’s led to speculation that an agreement on coronavirus relief will be even tougher to reach than it was before. 

Still, Pelosi said Thursday that she’s hopeful the negotiations with Republicans will resume “soon,” adding that Democrats will be “very soon” unveiling the details of their spending package.

“I'm eager to hear what [the White House negotiators] have to say when they come,” she told reporters in the Capitol. 

Unlike the government funding bill, the coronavirus stimulus has no real deadline; rather, it’s been the severity of the impact on health and the economy that’s driven Congress to act on four previous rounds of emergency relief. But there is an exception: the airlines are set to run out of emergency funding at the end of the month, and major airline companies are poised to furlough tens of thousands of employees the following day. 

“Sept. 30 is fraught with meaning for them,” Pelosi said Thursday.

Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioAirline CEOs, union leaders implore Congress and the administration to avoid Oct. 1 furloughs Airline CEOs plead with Washington as layoffs loom House report rips Boeing, FAA over mistakes before 737 Max crashes MORE (D-Ore.), who heads the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he remains hopeful a deal is still possible before then.

“I have agreement with my leadership that it would be a part of a package — if we get a package,” he said. 

The parties cleared one major obstacle on Tuesday, when they struck a deal on legislation to fund the government beyond September, likely avoiding a shutdown. In a subsequent letter to House Democrats, Pelosi said she was able to secure that agreement because Democrats stuck together through the talks. She asked for similar unity amid the coronavirus negotiations, suggesting yet again that she’s holding out for a deal. 

“Our unity served us well yesterday,” she wrote Wednesday, referring to the government funding deal. “Our unity will again serve us well in the ongoing COVID-19 relief efforts.”

That message is sure to disappoint the moderates fighting to secure the Speaker’s commitment to a vote on some form of stimulus before Congress recesses for the elections. But veterans of Capitol Hill said they’re confident Pelosi will find a way to bring the various factions together in the coming days — and ultimately win the bipartisan deal they all agree on.

“I don't know if we can get one before Oct. 2 — certainly every effort is gonna be made to do so,” said Larson. “But I've watched her [Pelosi] long enough to know that she's determined to keep us here — albeit subject to the call — until we do. 

“She's not going to go softly into the night.”

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