The Journal Gazette
 
 
Saturday, November 21, 2020 1:00 am

Biden wants billions for virus relief quickly

STEVE PEOPLES and WILL WEISSERT | Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden is pushing Congress to approve billions of dollars in emergency COVID-19 assistance before he takes office, saying in a meeting Friday with the top Democrats in the House and Senate that such a package should be approved during the lame-duck session.

Biden held his first in-person meeting since winning the presidential election with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, hosting them at his makeshift transition headquarters in a downtown Wilmington, Delaware, theater.

Biden's new governing team is facing intense pressure to approve another coronavirus relief bill and come up with a clear plan to distribute millions of doses of a prospective vaccine. That comes as Biden is just days away from unveiling the first of his Cabinet picks, which are subject to Senate confirmation.

“In my Oval Office, mi casa, you casa,” Biden, who sat with Schumer, Pelosi and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, all wearing masks and spaced out around a bank of tables, said during the brief portion of the meeting journalists witnessed. “I hope we're going to spend a lot of time together.”

According to a readout of the meeting later released by Biden's team, the group “agreed that Congress needed to pass a bipartisan emergency aid package in the lame duck session,” which is the period after Election Day but before Congress adjourns for the year.

It added that the “package should include resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, relief for working families and small businesses, support for state and local governments trying to keep frontline workers on the payroll, expanded unemployment insurance, and affordable health care for millions of families.”

The sense of urgency in the meeting was echoed in comments earlier Friday by Biden transition aide Jen Psaki, who warned that “there's no more room for delay.”

Pelosi said before meeting with Biden and Schumer that she'd make clear “the urgency of crushing the virus,” and how to use the lame-duck session to approve COVID-19 relief and legislation that can keep the government funded.

But prospects for new virus aid this year remain uncertain. Pelosi said talks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP leadership on Thursday did not produce any consensus on an aid package.

“That didn't happen, but hopefully it will,” she said.

Also Friday, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, proposed that Congress shift $455 billion of unspent small-business lending funds toward a new COVID-19 aid package. His offer came after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Psaki said Biden, Pelosi and Schumer had already begun working together on COVID-19 relief even before Friday's meeting.


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