WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – President-elect Joe Biden is pushing Congress to approve billions of dollars in COVID-19 emergency aid before taking office, saying in a meeting Friday with leading House and Senate Democrats 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 Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, welcoming them to his makeshift transitional seat in a downtown theater in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden’s new leadership team faces intense pressure to approve yet another coronavirus relief bill and come up with a clear plan to distribute millions of doses of a potential vaccine. It 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,” said Biden, who sat with Schumer, Pelosi and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, all wearing masks and spaced around a bank of tables, said said during the brief part of the meeting reporters witnessed. “I hope we are going to spend a lot of time together.”
According to a reading from the meeting released later by Biden’s team, the group “agreed that Congress should adopt a bipartisan emergency aid package during the lame duck session,” which is the period after the polling day but before Congress ends for the year.
He 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 people. families. “
The sense of urgency of the meeting was echoed in the comments earlier Friday by Biden’s transition assistant Jen Psaki, who warned that “there is no more room for delays.”
Pelosi said before meeting Biden and Schumer that she would clearly explain “the urgency of crushing the virus” and how to use the lame session to approve relief from COVID-19 and legislation that can keep government funded.
But the prospects for further viral aid this year remain uncertain. Pelosi said discussions with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the GOP leadership on Thursday failed to reach consensus on an aid package.
“It didn’t happen, but I hope it will,” she said.
Also on Friday, McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, proposed that Congress transfer $ 455 billion in unspent small business loans to a new COVID-19 assistance program. 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 started working together on COVID-19 relief even before Friday’s meeting.
“They agree that we need emergency help and help during the lame session to help families, to help small businesses,” she said. “There is no more room for delays and we have to move forward as quickly as possible.”
Biden, Pelosi and Schumer also discussed the agenda for the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency, “including taking aggressive action to contain COVID-19, providing resources for small businesses, families, schools and state and local governments to fuel our economic recovery. , and invest in the middle class, ”according to the reading.
The president-elect has also vowed to work closely with Congressional Republicans to carry out his government agenda, but so far he has focused his congressional outreach on the main Democrats.
The meeting took place two days after House Democrats appointed Pelosi as president. She seemed to suggest that this would be her last two years as a manager.
President Donald Trump continues to block a smooth transfer of power to Biden, refusing to allow his administration to cooperate with the transition team. Specifically, the Trump administration is denying Biden access to detailed briefings on national security and pandemic planning that leaders on both sides see as important in preparing Biden for government immediately after his inauguration on January 20.
Trying to bypass the Trump administration entirely, Biden met a virtual group of Republican and Democratic governors on Thursday.
Trump administration Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on “CBS This Morning” Friday that Biden’s accusation that the transition delays cost Americans their lives is “absolutely incorrect.”
“Every aspect of what we do is completely transparent – no data or secret knowledge,” Azar said.
Trump, meanwhile, is stepping up his brazen attempts to cast doubt on the election results. The incumbent president’s unprecedented campaign to spread disinformation now includes pressure on Michigan officials to block certification of their state’s election results.
Biden won Michigan by more than 150,000 votes, a margin 15 times greater than Trump’s victory in the state four years ago.
Election law experts view Trump’s push as the last dying gasp of his campaign and say Biden is certain to step into the Oval Office in January. But there is great concern that Trump’s efforts are actually damaging public confidence in the integrity of the U.S. election.
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