Before the vote, Pelosi had ruled out any chance of reaching an agreement with Mnuchin, the main GOP negotiator, on Thursday night but said the two continue to talk and exchange offers on paper. Friday would be the sixth straight day of talks between the pair. It is also the final day the House is slated to be in Washington before returning home to campaign before Nov. 3.
“We’ll see where we go from there tonight, but I’ve spoken to him a number of times already,” Pelosi told reporters, stressing she was still reviewing the latest documents from Mnuchin. “Even if we came to some agreement, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to — it’s the language.”
Pelosi and other top Democrats believe a deal could still be reached Friday, and Democratic leaders made clear they would keep lawmakers in Washington through the weekend if a deal is imminent.
The vote Thursday night on Democrats’ $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill follows several days of back and forth negotiations between Pelosi and Mnuchin as the two raced to clinch a last minute deal before the House is scheduled to leave town. Talks restarted late last week after months of stalemate between the two sides.
Pelosi had been highly pessimistic throughout the day Thursday about the chances of reaching an agreement, leaving House Democrats on a path to approve their own stimulus package and head home to run for reelection.
But not all Democrats were eager to proceed to a vote on their bill — which has virtually no GOP support — while Pelosi and Mnuchin are still negotiating.
Many went into the vote with a grim outlook, frustrated at the months of stalled negotiations and anxious that voters back home will blame them for the failure to deliver more help while tens of millions of Americans remain out of work. Government relief programs — like extra jobless aid or eviction protections — have long since expired. Another program that helped keep tens of thousands of airline industry workers employed expired Sept. 30, and major airlines announced massive layoffs Thursday, despite new government loans.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) ultimately voted for the bill but has repeatedly voiced her concerns to Democratic leaders about the months spent waiting for more relief.
“I just feel frustrated that all parties are not living up to the moment,” Slotkin said, adding that Thursday night’s party-line vote “does not check the box.”
Slotkin was among about two dozen centrist Democrats who personally texted Pelosi on Thursday urging her to take the latest offer from the White House — around $1.6 trillion in health and economic aid — to deliver at least some relief quickly, according to three people familiar with the messages. Most sit in swing districts, including Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine), Cindy Axne (D-Iowa.), and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), and nearly all ultimately opposed the bill.
That included Axne, who complained that the vote did nothing to bring the two parties together.
“This is going nowhere, we know it’s going nowhere. This is just a vote to make people feel good,” Axne said. “I want to help people, and that means sitting at the table and getting the damn deal done.”
Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah), who also voted no, urged Pelosi to accept a deal with Mnuchin before the House can depart this week.
“Republicans have put forward a serious offer and I think leadership should stay at the table and get this across the finish line,” McAdams said in an interview Thursday night. “It’s a serious offer and a good faith offer, and it feels like we are close.”
Senior Democrats say they still expect to have the votes to approve the bill, which has broad support throughout the caucus.
And Pelosi herself seemed to reject calls by some of her members to take Mnuchin’s deal, saying on the floor that Democrats cannot reach a sweeping deal “if we take the path of least resistance, and just do whatever they put forth. That’s doing their bill, that’s not doing the people’s worth.”
Earlier Thursday, Pelosi cast serious doubt on the likelihood of an agreement during a private call with House Democrats, stressing multiple times that Republicans don’t “share our values” on the need to provide trillions of dollars in health and economic relief to Americans impacted by the pandemic.
The California Democrat outlined several key areas where Democrats and Republicans remained far apart, including a child tax credit, where she said Mnuchin has refused to approve even one dollar in new spending while Democrats have sought tens of billions of dollars for the initiative.
The two parties have also been at odds over additional aid for state and local governments — a Democratic push — and Republican demands for liability protections for businesses and schools.
Lawmakers and aides had hoped conversations between Pelosi and Mnuchin earlier Thursday would determine the fate of a bipartisan package. But throughout the day, both Democrats and White House officials telegraphed the enormous disparities that still exist between the two sides.
Still, Pelosi tried to argue that a vote on Democrats’ scaled down coronavirus bill doesn’t signal an end to the talks with Mnuchin and doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to reach some kind of deal before the election.
“It just says, you asked, here’s what it is. This is how we came down,” Pelosi said of her decision to move forward with the vote.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany shot back that Pelosi “is not being serious” in the negotiations.
“We raised our offer to $1.6 trillion,” she said. “It is a good proposal but is one she is not interested in.”
The stalemate much of the day Thursday followed several days of negotiations between Pelosi and Mnuchin as the two attempted to reach a deal before Congress was scheduled to depart Washington until after the election.
Pelosi and Mnuchin held several phone calls since Sunday and huddled in the speaker’s suite for a 90-minute meeting Wednesday, their first face-to-face discussion since the talks fell apart in early August. Mnuchin offered Democrats a $1.6 trillion deal but the GOP proposal was still far below Democratic demands in terms of state and local aid and education funding, among other issues.
And senior Republicans in both chambers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have remained cool to a deal, even as vulnerable Senate Republicans publicly pleaded for a break in the impasse.
“I’m wishing them well,” McConnell told reporters Thursday, one day after he called the Democrats’ proposal “outlandish” and signaling little hope for a deal.
“We’ve been trying repeatedly to get a bill out of the Senate,” McConnell said, referring to a much smaller package that Democrats blocked for falling short of a sweeping national response. “I’d like to see another rescue package, we’ve been trying for months to get there.”
The Democrats’ bill is a pared back version of the sweeping $3.4 trillion relief package that the House passed in May. It would restore the $600-per-week increase in jobless benefits, deliver another round of direct stimulus checks and shore up cash to state and local governments, schools, and nutritional programs.
Moderate Democrats had been pushing Pelosi for months to put another bill on the floor — one that could be used to further pressure the GOP into negotiations, while also demonstrating to voters back home that they were still seeking compromise with Republicans.
Some members of the caucus grumbled about the end result, arguing that Democrats were simply negotiating against themselves, and that there was no point in approving a bill that included even less funds than the May version. But other Democrats, including Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-M.D.), argued that it would help demonstrate that their party was still negotiating, while the White House and Senate Republicans were in no rush for a deal.
“If we’d reached [a deal] the day before, we wouldn’t have this bill on the floor. Because we know that we want to have a bill signed,” Hoyer said on the floor Thursday night. “But we also know we want to let the American people where we stand. We believe this bill is a reasonable compromise.”
Ally Mutnick, Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Caitlin Oprysko contributed to this report.