Democrats, White House to Restart Talks on Virus Relief Bill

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference at the Capitol on Thursday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Ahead of renewed negotiations on a coronavirus relief bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Democrats refuse to compromise on the financial needs of Americans still struggling to make ends meet and protect their families during the pandemic.

“We’re not budging, understand this,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference. “They have to move. Why should there be a bill that has far less than what the public needs? We have that responsibility.”

Senate Republicans are offering an inadequate response to the more than $3 trillion relief bill House Democrats passed in May, she said, arguing the $1 trillion GOP-backed legislation doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of American families impacted by Covid-19.

The Democrats’ Heroes Act allocates $500 billion to states and $375 billion for local governments to confront the pandemic, in addition to another round of $1,200 checks to Americans. It also includes provisions for fortifying schools with protective equipment and other necessities.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who is leading negotiations with Democrats on behalf of the Trump administration, said in an interview with Politico on Wednesday that Pelosi has not tried to compromise on the total cost of the relief bill with Republican leadership during the stalled talks.

“I mean, what she said to us in the room is, ‘You give us the amount of money, we’ll tell you how we’re going to spend it.’ That’s not how negotiations happen,” Meadows said.

Meadows said office had reached out to Pelosi’s chief of staff on Tuesday and didn’t get a response. But a spokesperson for her office later told the Washington Post that White House aides only texted to confirm the House speaker had Meadows’ correct contact information.

Both sides are expected to continue negotiations Thursday for the first time since Aug. 7, but Pelosi said she would only entertain a conversation about a compromise and did not commit to one. While Democrats are meeting with Meadows, they consider Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to be the lead negotiator for another relief package.

“So, this is, ‘You called me? I’m returning your call. Are you ready to bring much more money to the table?’” Pelosi said. “That could be a very short conversation if they’re not ready to meet in the middle. … Hopefully it isn’t. Hopefully they understand that in order to destroy this virus, we have to have sufficient funds to do so in terms of testing, tracing and treatment.”

With children across the country returning to school, she said protecting them and ensuring schools have essential equipment is of chief importance. At an Aug 11 press briefing, Pelosi pointed to the differences between the two pieces of legislation and noted House Democrats’ bill included $300 billion to fortify schools, compared to $105 billion in the Senate GOP version.

Pelosi said the funding in the Senate package would only go to schools that are fully reopened — less than half the schools in the U.S. In fact, 62% of American schools have moved to all virtual learning as of last week, she said.

“I say to those who support the president … He is asking you to put him before your children,” she said, adding Democrats will hold a national day of action on Sept. 2 to bring awareness to protecting American children and their ability to learn safely.

The House speaker also made headlines at Thursday’s press conference when she suggested Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden shouldn’t participate in the three scheduled debates with President Donald Trump this fall.

She said Trump would “probably act in a way that is beneath the dignity of the presidency” and “belittle what the debates are supposed to be about.”

“I do not think that the president of the United States has comported himself in a way that anybody has any association with truth, evidence, data and facts,” Pelosi said. “I wouldn’t legitimate a conversation with him, nor a debate in terms of the presidency of the United States.”

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