Pelosi wrangles wary Dems ahead of vote on $3 trillion relief package

As late as Thursday night, Pelosi was working to soothe discontent within her caucus after fielding complaints from multiple members about pension provisions in the bill during a private caucus call.

Pelosi has also had to tamp down unrest from the caucus’ most liberal members, several of whom were outraged that the bill didn’t go far enough to provide financial certainty for workers, even as U.S. employment numbers soared past 36 million this week.

In one particularly tense moment earlier this week, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) confronted Pelosi on a caucuswide call, decrying the fact that her popular proposal to have the federal government cover payrolls for struggling businesses was left out of the final package.

Jayapal and fellow CPC co-Chair Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) even pressed Pelosi to punt the vote until next week to allow more time for negotiations but the California Democrat refused.

On Thursday, Jayapal and Pocan sent a survey to their members asking how they would vote on the final bill, as well as the procedural vote that sets up debate beforehand — a floor strategy that would temporarily block the bill from coming to the floor. Progressive leaders have still not signaled they will seek to block the package even as they have not publicly declared support for the bill.

“We must respond appropriately. This is no time for half-measures or to only help half the country,” Jayapal wrote in a tweet late Thursday. Jayapal said on Friday she planned to oppose the relief package but added she’s “not whipping on the bill.”

“People are disappointed, obviously. When you work hard on something, you want to make sure it’s in there,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), senior member of CPC said, adding that most in the caucus would ultimately support.

But in a sign of Pelosi’s hold over her caucus, most Democrats have relegated their complaints to private calls with colleagues and leadership, declining to criticize the speaker publicly.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), whose staff worked with Jayapal to try to turn her idea into legislative text before deeming it too costly and complicated, said he understood members’ critiques but added the uniqueness of the current situation makes drafting bills even more complicated.

“We’re just up against this pandemic and we’re all doing the social distancing, we’re all doing the zooming. And part of it is the obvious — it’s depersonalization,” Neal said. “I invited all members to talk to either me or the Ways and Means staff and many of them didn’t take advantage of it. I understand the critique but there’s also a competing reality here and we’re living in it.”

Many lawmakers had already completed their long treks to Washington by Friday morning, some opting to drive hundreds of miles rather than board a plane to reduce their exposure to the virus. Others had no choice but to fly, with some alarmed by scores of passengers on board.

The series of votes will stretch late into the evening on Friday as lawmakers vote in groups and the chamber is cleaned multiple times throughout the day, all in an effort to limit the possible spread of the deadly virus.

Lawmakers are also encouraged to don masks and frequently use hand sanitizer while in the chamber, now normal practices that further underscore how the pandemic has upended every aspect of American life, including its foundational norms.

The House is also expected to easily approve the resolution to allow for proxy voting, which would change the chamber’s rules only for the 116th Congress, which ends in January.

Lawmakers of both parties have privately and publicly voiced concerns about returning to Washington, where hundreds of their colleagues and even more staff would be gathered in the petri dish that is the U.S. Capitol complex. The Senate has been working in D.C. for two weeks.

A handful of lawmakers have tested positive over recent months, as well as some of their aides. Capitol staff, too, have become infected: More than a dozen Capitol police officers have tested positive since late March.

Hoyer — who has led talks with GOP leaders on the remote voting plans — has forcefully argued that the House should be able to vote, debate and hold hearings amid the pandemic. And he said many Republicans agree with him, even if they can’t say it publicly.

“I just had a couple of people tell me that they’re appreciative of what we’re doing,” Hoyer said Friday of GOP members. “I’ve not heard any angry response [from Republicans]. …Frankly, cynically thinking, it’s more about not wanting us to meet than it is about what rules we meet under.”