Pelosi calls U.S. senators vote to block new coronavirus aid a ‘stunt’

The Senate has twisted itself into knots over President Donald Trump’s new coronavirus aid request, as Democrats refused to rubber stamp his proposal for $250 billion more to boost small businesses, demanding modifications along with an additional $250 billion for health care providers and states. Republicans wouldn’t go along.

The standoff Thursday doesn’t end the pursuit of more rescue funds, but it came as the government reported that 6.6 million more people filed for unemployment benefits last week, increasing worries that the economy is sliding toward a severe recession. The small business program at issue is off to a rocky rollout.

GOP leader Mitch McConnell sought to keep Thursday’s debate limited to Trump’s request and wouldn’t accept Democratic additions. Even if the GOP plan had succeeded in the Senate, the Democratic-controlled House is determined to make changes to ensure small businesses in minority communities benefit from the burst of government funding.

Democrats and Republicans agree the aid is urgently needed and talks are sure to continue, but it reinforces that Congress and the White House will need to find bipartisan agreement — especially with lawmakers scattered in their states and districts and both the House and Senate unable to conduct roll-call votes.

“Nobody thinks this will be the Senate’s last word on COVID-19,” McConnell said. “Let’s continue to work together, with speed and bipartisanship. We will get through this crisis together.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the Senate vote merely a “stunt” as the country faces an “epic” crisis. She ridiculed the administration for trying to jam a $250 billion request through Congress with 48 hours notice with little data to back it up.

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“Really?” Pelosi said on a conference call with reporters.

The stall comes as communities across the nation strain to meet health care needs and salvage local economies pummeled by the crisis. A new jobless report shows a whopping 16.8 million Americans are now out of work.

The massive infusions of federal cash — the $250 billion sought by the administration would come on top of combined legislation already totaling about $2.5 trillion — are intended as a patch to help the $21 trillion U.S. economy through the current recession, which is causing an economic contraction and a spike in joblessness that is overwhelming many state systems for delivering unemployment benefits.

Another complication is lone wolf Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who promises to block efforts to pass such huge legislation through the House without lawmakers present and ready to vote. The Senate is used to passing legislation by unanimous consent, but the House is more typically driven by the majority party imposing its will.

Pelosi said McConnell’s request “simply can’t” advance through the Democratic-controlled House under unanimous consent.

The future of the legislation is likely to be largely determined by a small, familiar group of senior Washington hands, including Pelosi, McConnell and Mnuchin, along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Vice President Mike Pence convened another day of conference calls with lawmakers and the coronavirus task force, talking separately with Senate Republicans and Democrats, on the crisis and federal response.

The Senate convened for the brief pro-forma session with just four senators present — none in masks — to consider the dueling proposals.

Senate Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who presided over the brief session, told reporters it is “unlikely” the chamber will reopen April 20 as planned.

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