This week, the Senate plans to take up judicial nominations before heading home for a one-week Memorial Day recess.
On Friday, Democrats powered through a massive $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill through the House, an election-year measure designed to brace a U.S. economy in free fall and a health care system struggling to contain a pandemic still pummeling the country.
Friday’s 208-199 vote, with all but one Republican opposed, advances what boils down to a campaign-season display of Democratic economic and health-care priorities. It has no chance of becoming law as written, but will likely spark difficult negotiations with the White House and Senate Republicans. Any product would probably be the last major COVID-19 response bill before November’s presidential and congressional elections.
The enormous Democratic measure would cost more than the prior four coronavirus bills combined. It would deliver almost $1 trillion for state and local governments, another round of $1,200 direct payments to individuals and help for the unemployed, renters and homeowners, college debt holders and the struggling Postal Service.
“Not to act now is not only irresponsible in a humanitarian way, it is irresponsible because it’s only going to cost more,” warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “More in terms of lives, livelihood, cost to the budget, cost to our democracy.”
Fourteen Democrats voted against the measure. Nearly all are centrists and number among the party’s most vulnerable lawmakers in November’s elections: freshmen from districts Trump won in 2016.
Republicans mocked the bill as a bloated Democratic wish-list that was dead on arrival in the GOP-led Senate and, for good measure, faced a White House veto threat. Party leaders say they want to assess how $3 trillion approved earlier is working and see if some states’ partial business reopenings would spark an economic revival that would ease the need for more safety net programs.
Republicans are also sorting through internal divisions and awaiting stronger signals from President Donald Trump about what he will support.
“Phase Four is going to happen,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, using Washington insider-speak for the measure. “But it’s going to happen in a much better way for the American people.”
Yet, even as members of the Trump administration have called on lawmakers to do more to help Americans whose livelihoods have been devastated by the coronavirus crisis, Senate Republicans have not introduced a single plan to provide an alternative to the Democrats’ measure, named “The Heroes Act” for the payments it would provide front-line emergency workers.
McConnell has agreed that there is a “high likelihood” that Congress would need to pass another coronavirus aid bill, but it will be weeks before that happens. “In terms of what the timing would look like, I suspect that doesn’t happen until sometime after Memorial Day,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).
This week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to focus on judicial nominations before heading home for a one-week Memorial Day recess. On Monday afternoon, the Senate will consider the nomination of Scott Rash to be United States District Judge for the District of Arizona. McConnell has also teed up votes for for Anna Manasco’s, John Heil III’s and John Leonard Badalamenti’s nominations to be district judges in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Florida, respectively.
McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas have also dedicated their energy to legislation that would set up legal protections for businesses to protect them from liability lawsuits over coronavirus-related claims, so long as they comply with government guidelines.
Pelosi pointed out the urgency of addressing Americans’ needs during her final pitch to her caucus on Friday before the vote: “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. “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?”
Additional reporting from Kimberly Lawson.