Washington Post: Pelosi urges GOP to ‘come to the table’ and continue talks on small-business funds
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held her ground Wednesday and refused to buckle to the Trump administration’s demand for swift congressional approval of $250 billion in additional funds for small businesses, urging Republicans to continue negotiations on more relief to minority-owned companies and others struggling to secure loans during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pelosi’s remarks, in an interview with The Washington Post, left the request by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in jeopardy, with the speaker prepared to wait on action in the House until Republicans move closer to her position. She is calling for changes to the GOP proposal plus an additional $250 billion that would benefit hospitals and states as they seek to increase testing and buy supplies.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) also expressed outrage about President Trump’s ousting of two inspectors general in the past week, a pattern that the president’s critics say is a direct assault on one of the pillars of good governance.
“He dishonors the Constitution. He degrades the environment of what our country is,” Pelosi said of Trump’s shattering of norms and use of executive power, including his dismissal of Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general, and removal of Glenn Fine, the chairman of the federal panel Congress created to oversee the administration’s handling of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package.
But her work this week has been dominated by the political tug-of-war with Republicans over support for small businesses.
“I have said very clearly: What they are proposing will not get unanimous consent in the House. There is no reason why they cannot come to the table and see the value of what we are offering,” Pelosi said, speaking by phone from San Francisco and referring to the Democrats’ counter to Mnuchin. “You cannot expect us to ossify inequality in access to capital as we try to fight the coronavirus.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nonetheless plans to move ahead on Thursday and will attempt to approve Mnuchin’s plan by unanimous consent, a dynamic by which legislation can pass as long as individual senators do not object.
When asked whether Senate Democrats should object, Pelosi said she always avoids meddling in the affairs of the other congressional chamber but reiterated that she finds Mnuchin’s request deeply flawed.
“I’m just telling you what the House will do,” she said.
While many Republicans spent much of Wednesday pressuring Pelosi to pass the $250 billion in additional funds as outlined by Mnuchin, Pelosi insisted that there is time in the coming days to broker a broader bipartisan agreement.
“They have a couple — several hundred billions of dollars to get through this, if they don’t do it by Easter Sunday,” she said, referring to the $349 billion fund known as the Paycheck Protection Program, a key element of the $2 trillion economic rescue package passed by Congress last month that has been inundated with implementation problems and overwhelming demand.
“Friday to Monday, or Tuesday, is not dispositive of whether this works or not,” Pelosi said. She then noted that as a practicing Catholic, she does not plan to be engaged in negotiations on Easter.
“Easter is a glorious occasion — the article of faith, Christ is risen,” Pelosi said. “I don’t intend to spend Sunday on something that should be so evident to them — to respect everybody in this country and how they aspire to meet their financial needs.”
On a conference call with House Democrats earlier Wednesday, Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested a deal could be reached by Friday.
Trump said on Tuesday that banks had processed $70 billion in taxpayer-backed loans for 250,000 small businesses since Friday. He did not say, though, how many of those loans had been approved or how many firms had received any of the money.
And his data suggests the program has reached a small fraction of U.S. companies: There are 30 million small businesses in the United States that employ 60 million people.
“We’ll be running out of money pretty quickly, which is a good thing in this case, not a bad thing,” Trump told reporters.
Pelosi and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the minority leader, unveiled their own list of demands on Wednesday, which included asking for half of the $250 billion sought by the administration to go through community-based financial institutions serving farmers and family-, women-, minority- and veteran-owned small businesses and nonprofits.
Their list also included $100 billion for hospitals, community health centers and other health systems to increase testing and needed protective gear and equipment; $150 billion more for state and local governments; and a 15 percent increase in food stamp benefits.
The federal government spent $55.6 billion on these nutrition assistance benefits last year. The sums Democrats are seeking for hospitals and cities and states are similar to how much they got in the recent emergency package, which would double the overall federal funding commitment in those areas.
Pelosi — who has sustained a solid negotiating rapport with Mnuchin in recent months as she and Trump have clashed and not spoken since October — said she has told the treasury secretary directly that his plan is unacceptable without changes, and she remains optimistic that he will eventually come around on parts of her proposal.
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t,” she said. “The discussion has to continue because the community-based financial institutions” support minority-owned businesses and other enterprises that need capital. “They should welcome this. This gives them a pass to help many more businesses.”
Looking ahead to another round of talks on follow-up legislation to the Cares Act, the largest economic rescue package in U.S. history, Pelosi said she will keep pushing to include funds and provisions for voting by mail in that bill, which some liberals have pleaded with her to make an ultimatum.
That clamor has only increased after Tuesday’s primary election in Wisconsin, where the state Supreme Court blocked Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s executive order suspending in-person voting.
“Shameful. Shameful and discouraging,” Pelosi said of what happened in Wisconsin this week. “We would want it to have some of what we had in our first bill, which was same-day registration, direct mailing of the ballot to everyone who is registered to vote — issues like that, that facilitate vote by mail. Again, that’s the discussion for the next bill, which we’re by and large ready for.”
Turning to oversight of the Trump administration, Pelosi said the select committee she launched last week to scrutinize the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and its management of the rescue law, is getting ready to begin its work.
Amid the pandemic and a limited congressional schedule, the committee, which would have subpoena power, has not yet been formally approved by the House.
Trump has removed Fine, who had been the acting Pentagon inspector general, and informed him Monday that he was being replaced at the Defense Department by Sean W. O’Donnell, currently the inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Late last month, Fine was selected by the head of a council of inspectors general to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, created by the March 27 law.
“The president is undermining it,” Pelosi said. “We’re going to have to make sure the public understands why he would do that.”
Trump also notified Congress on Friday that he was ousting Atkinson as the inspector general of the intelligence community, a sign that Trump’s conduct on this front is “bigger than the coronavirus,” Pelosi said.
“This is about a unitary view of government where the president’s voice is the only voice that matters,” she said.
When asked whether she would seek to pass new protections for inspectors general, Pelosi was encouraging but did not get into specifics. She called related legislation proposed Wednesday by Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, and Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the government operations subcommittee, a “good idea” but said it would be difficult to get Trump to sign any law that would curtail his power.
In closing, Pelosi, who has effectively served as her party’s leader in the Trump era, praised Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who ended his presidential campaign on Wednesday, for his efforts and his ability to excite young people. Sanders’s decision leaves former vice president Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“I really salute Senator Sanders for his values, his commitment to making sure everyone in our country has a fair shake,” Pelosi said, especially on promoting “access to quality and affordable health care.”
Pelosi said she and Sanders “may have a different thought on the viability right now of Medicare-for-all,” but she called him “boundless in terms of stamina and energy” and an ally to her and all Democrats.
Pelosi, however, declined to endorse Biden on the spot.
“Not on this call,” she said, with a chuckle. “This is Bernie’s day.”