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Trump, Pelosi Agree On Coronavirus Relief Bill. Next Hurdle: The Senate

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is questioned by reporters as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration negotiate an agreement on a coronavirus aid package.
J. Scott Applewhite
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is questioned by reporters as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration negotiate an agreement on a coronavirus aid package.

Updated at 12:54 a.m. ET

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House agreed Friday on relief legislation in response to the national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic.

The House passed the measure by an overwhelming vote Friday night.

The breakthrough followed hours of negotiations between the speaker and the administration, including more than a dozen phone calls on Friday between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about the priorities for the package.

President Trump was reticent about the deal until the last moment, but he intends to sign the legislation when it reaches him, according to a source familiar with the White House's plans.

The president also wrote on Twitter on Friday evening that he encouraged Republicans and Democrats to join together in supporting the bill.

Pelosi told Democratic colleagues in a letter earlier on Friday evening that the agreement she'd struck with the administration responded to what she called her top priority: "testing, testing testing."

"To stop the spread of the virus, we have secured free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured," the speaker wrote. "We cannot fight coronavirus effectively unless everyone in our country who needs to be tested can get their test free of charge."

Pelosi also told Democrats that the legislation would approve paid emergency leave; "enhanced unemployment insurance;" more food aid; and increased federal funds for health care.

She and House Democratic leaders had hoped to fast-track legislation they unveiled earlier this week but so far discussions with Republicans about possible changes hadn't gone smoothly enough to permit that.

National emergency

Trump declared a national emergency related to the pandemic in a press conference on Friday afternoon at the White House.

The president said then in response to a reporter's question that he thought Democrats needed to yield more ground in their negotiations over the relief legislation, although he didn't go into detail.

"We just don't think they're giving enough," Trump said. "We could have something but we don't think they're giving enough. They're not doing what's right for the country."

Separately, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., sent a letter to House Democrats Friday afternoon noting that the speaker has "literally been working around the clock" on a deal.

But he said if one was not reached "we will vote today on our bill, which incorporates nearly all of what the administration and Republicans have requested."

Opposition to "bloat"

Several Hill Republicans said they were worried that the latest version of the bill was "bloated" and were unwilling to make a final call on their support until the text is released.

There also were concerns among some GOP lawmakers that President Trump has not explicitly embraced the legislation, potentially leaving Republicans open to attacks if they voted for something Trump did not support.

The particulars in dispute included the economic aspects of any relief bill, including the prospect for emergency payroll tax cuts. President Trump wanted them; Democrats and a few Republicans didn't agree.

The president also faulted Pelosi and Democrats on Thursday for wanting "goodies" in coronavirus legislation that he said had "nothing to do with what we're talking about." Those details weren't exactly clear.

Also unclear on Friday is the legislation's fate in the Senate.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cancelled a recess planned for next week meaning that members would be in Washington to be able to vote — but it wasn't immediately clear how he and members might respond to the deal concluded between Pelosi and Mnuchin.

McConnell reacted coolly to the draft of the coronavirus bill as it stood earlier in the week.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: March 13, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the new coronavirus package is worth $8.3 billion. In fact, that was the amount for the response bill signed last week.
Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.
Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
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