Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed as an “excuse” claims from Donald Trump and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, that impeachment proceedings distracted the president from appropriately responding to the coronavirus pandemic during its initial outbreak.
“We have a life-and-death situation in our country, and they should not try to hide behind an excuse for why they do not take action,” the California Democrat said. “That’s an admission that perhaps the president and the majority leader cannot handle the job,” she said.
House Democratic leaders have targeted 20 April as the earliest they are likely to call members back to Washington to continue legislating the government’s response to the health crisis.
Senate Republicans, who control that chamber’s majority, have adopted a wait-and-see approach for calling senators back before considering new relief proposals.
House Democrats have promised to conduct aggressive oversight of the administration’s response to the health crisis once the virus’s impact abates. For now, Ms Pelosi is seeking to strike a more bipartisan tone to continue bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on the government’s response.
“Let’s put an after action review down the road,” Ms Pelosi told CNN Wednesday.
But Republicans have already sought to direct some of the blame for the president’s lagging coronavirus response towards Democrats, linking it to Democrats’ impeachment case against him.
The impeachment trial “diverted the attention of the government, because everything, every day was all about impeachment,” McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday.
Impeachment proceedings wrapped up when the Senate voted to acquit Trump on 5 February. Mr Trump announced restricted travel from China, where the virus originated, on 31 January, but the first death from Covid-19 in the western world wasn’t announced until 14 February.
Mr Trump initially admitted at his daily coronavirus press briefing Tuesday that impeachment “probably did” distract him from responding to the coronavirus. But he quickly backtracked.
“I don’t think I would have done any better had I not been impeached, OK?” the president said.
another round of funding for state and local governments, another round of cash payments to American taxpayers, expanded definitions of family and medical leave, and an expansion of free coronavirus health coverage to include treatment and hospital visits. Right now, only testing is free in the US
The president and speaker have both prioritised proposals to revamp US infrastructure, efforts that have failed repeatedly throughout Trump’s first term but, ironically, have been resuscitated in recent weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Pelosi has highlighted modernizing water systems and enhancing broadband Internet access for rural swaths of the country that suffer from poor web connection as key initiatives she wants to see in the next coronavirus relief package.
Ms Pelosi admitted Wednesday it would be “a number of weeks” before Congress can pass any new legislation because lawmakers aren’t physically present in Washington at the moment and there isn’t a remote voting mechanism in either the House or Senate.
But she stressed she wants to negotiate the next package with party leaders from both chambers at the table alongside the president’s advisers.
The roughly “$2.4tn (£1.9tn) phase three” relief bill was first negotiated between Senate Republicans and the White House before McConnell began negotiating with Democrats.
After weeks of downplaying the coronavirus as no more dangerous than the common flu – and seeking ways to keep the economy afloat during the pandemic – Trump appeared on Tuesday to accept the harsh facts that the crisis will inflict a steep death toll and economic damage on the US.
The administration’s initial focus on the health of the economy was apparent in previous negotiations, Ms Pelosi said.
The speaker kicked off one negotiating meeting with treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, last month with the prayer of Pope Francis.
When she finished the prayer, Mr Mnuchin had a follow-up.
“You’ve quoted the pope,” Mr Mnuchin said, according to Ms Pelosi. “I’ll quote the markets.”