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Pelosi on latest pandemic relief bill, expanding COVID-19 testing and Trump

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday lauded the Senate’s approval of a new $480 billion coronavirus relief package for small businesses and hospitals, resisting criticism from Republicans who had called for swifter action to shore up the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, that ran out of money last week.

The relief package, which cleared the Senate in a voice vote, includes $320 billion aimed at replenishing the PPP, which Congress created in the $2.2 trillion relief package passed at the end of March to provide emergency loans to small businesses. Faced with overwhelming demand for the loans, the program’s original pot of funding — $349 billion — dried up after just 13 days.

Recent investigations by the Associated Press and other news outlets also revealed that publicly traded companies and companies with over 500 employees were among the businesses approved for loans through the PPP. Pelosi told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff on Tuesday that she had rejected a Republican push that would have only refilled the program’s coffers, without taking any further actions.

“We needed to do more and adjust for those who were underserved by it,” Pelosi said. “We consider this very positive and a good use of the time that it took.”

Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also supported the relief package passed by the Senate, but they have been chiding Democrats for not taking a speedier, simpler approach to legislating additional relief funds.

“I am just sorry that it took my colleagues in Democratic leadership 12 days to accept the inevitable, and that they shut down emergency support for Main Street in a search for partisan ‘leverage’ that never materialized,” McConnell said in a statement.

Pelosi said the House would vote on the relief package on Thursday.

Other highlights from the interview:

  • Who else will receive aid in this proposal? Some of the new funding for the PPP will be set aside for smaller banks and credit unions, in hopes of ensuring that smaller businesses that struggled to access funding from the last relief package get money. “We want to see the data, to see how this is working … to make sure that we are reaching those who are the lifeblood of our economy,” Pelosi said.
  • When the House takes up this relief package on Thursday, Pelosi said members who want their votes recorded will have to appear in person, and will not be able to vote through proxies. She said voting through proxies would require a change to the House’s rules, which House members would have to vote on first. That means that House members currently scattered across the country will have to make the trip to Washington amid the pandemic and stay-at-home orders.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, with the bill on its way to the House for a vote, we bring in the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. She joins us from Capitol Hill.

    Madam Speaker, thank you very much for talking with us.

    We just heard Lisa lay out the main elements of this legislation. Tell us what you think the main difference this bill is going to make for people.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Well, as usual, Lisa did a very good job of putting forth the particulars of the legislation.

    Thank you, Lisa.

    What's important here, though — and let me begin — I always use temporal markers. Two weeks ago from today, this Tuesday, two weeks ago, the 7th of April, the secretary of the Treasury called me and said: I need $250 billion. That would be a quarter-of-a-trillion dollars. And it will be on the Senate floor in 48 hours.

    Quarter-of-a-trillion dollars in 48 hours. I said: I don't think so.

    The very next day, on April 8, House and Senate Democrats proposed an alternative that would reach the underbanked, so many of the small businesses, as well as expanding opportunities for those involved in the PPP, also with the recognition that we're only going to open up our economy if we can address the testing, testing, testing, contact tracing, and other issues that relate to science and health, in addition to the economy.

    They are so connected.

    So, that was two days later. On the 9th of April, Leader McConnell brought to the floor legislation that said, this is it, 250 for PPP, which we fully support, but, nonetheless, we needed to do more, and adjust for those who were underserved by it. This is it. This is all we're going to do, and the Democrats are holding this up.

    The fact is, he was holding up what came to the floor, and they just passed, under his leadership, with Chuck Schumer, the legislation that was proposed on that — on the floor that day, but he rejected, our legislation that is much fairer, much surer in recognition of the use of science in how we go forward.

    So, we consider this very positive and a good use of the time that it took. It could have been saved, if they accepted then what they're accepting now.

    What remains, though, is for us to go forward with another bill. And we can talk about that if you wish.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I do want to ask you about that.

    But, very quickly, what we're learning is that there was a smaller-than-expected percentage of small businesses who got money from this — from this last piece of legislation. And many of the businesses who got it were bigger businesses in great shape.

    How do you know that's not going to happen again?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Well, because we have a $60 billion set-aside for these very, shall we say, underbanked businesses, women- and minority-owned businesses, Native American, rural, veterans, just all kinds of businesses that wouldn't be, shall we say, on the first-come/first-serve basis getting these loans.

    That now is different. And that's thanks to Maxine Waters and Nydia Velazquez, who, as one a chair of the Banking Committee, the other chair of the Small Business Committee, put together this proposal, which was today voted unanimously on the floor of the Senate.

    And so that is our attempt. Now, we want to see the data to see how this is working, both what has happened already and what will transpire as we go forward, to make sure that we are reaching those who are the lifeblood of our economy, small business, all of it, very small, too, for creation of jobs and wealth in our country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much to ask you about, Madam Speaker. I'm going to move quickly here.

    We know that Democrats wanted money in here for state and local governments.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the president tweeted that that's a priority for him in the next legislation.

    Does this mean you're now on the same page?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Well, we have always had that assurance. They didn't want to do it in this bill, but they would do it in the next bill.

    And his announcement, of course, is no surprise to us, because that's what we have discussed. We could relent on some of that because we know this next bill is going to happen very soon.

    But we don't even call it state and local. We call it our heroes bill. This is about our health care providers, our police and fire, our EMS, those transportation workers, those essential workers who are, in many ways, risking their own lives to save other lives, but are at risk of losing their jobs.

    And so we want this to be about them, our teachers and others, who are so essential to our society and our economy. So, we're glad to hear that the president said that, but it's no surprise to us, because part of moving on from this was to go to the next bill.

    In the previous — the CARES bill, we had $200 billion. They had 150. We went with the 150. And then we didn't know about the interim bill, until they called a couple weeks ago, because we were prepared to move on with a bigger allocation in the next CARES bill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just confirming, the House vote, we expect that on Thursday?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Thursday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Anything to say at this point about proxy voting or virtual voting in the House?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Not on that day.

    On that day, we will have a vote by members present and voting. As we go forward, though, any change in that would require a rules change. That would have to be voted on by the — at the House of Representatives, so we can consider that.

    But, for now, we don't have that rules change, but we do have the urgency of passing this legislation, which we will do in a very strong, bipartisan way. And all of our bills have been bipartisan, starting with our first one. This will be the fourth now. And then the fifth — the next bill will be the fifth.

    But the first bill that we passed on March 4 was testing, testing, testing. Here we are, a month-and-a-half later, and we're finally, in this bill, having to insist that the administration focus on testing. They have ignored this over the past weeks. And that has been a loss of life and opportunity in our country.

    Testing, testing, contact tracing, quarantining. Let's get it done. Science, science, science.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, can you put a number right now — I'm sorry to interrupt, but can you put a number now on how much more you expect Congress will spend on testing in the next round?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Well, in this round, we have $25 billion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    We will need more. And there are scientists who are coming up with estimates as to what it will really take for us to be able to test the number of people in any given day, far more than the Republicans — excuse me — the administration has plans for right now, by their own scientists saying, we have — can do this many in a day.

    The other scientific — rest of the scientific world said, that doesn't even come close. It's about one-third of what we need to do. So, hopefully, with this bill, which will call for a national strategy on testing, and to not only test, but to report on the demographics of it, the — how it is impacting different communities, is going to be very important.

    You cannot solve a problem unless you can define it. And we cannot define it until we test, test, test, and then do the contact tracing and, of course, the incubation — the isolation, in order to stop the spread of it, and to keep it out of the homes of those who are infected. We know what to do. Science tells us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Madam Speaker, we know that you and President Trump have had, I think it's fair to say, a difficult relationship with one another in recent months.

    Is it — how much is this impeding the ability of the federal government to address this COVID-19 crisis?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    What is impeding the federal government from addressing the COVID-19 crisis is the president's denial, delay in all of this. And that has been deadly.

    Science, science, science. He has refused. We are insisting on the truth. And the president is engaged in a series of misrepresentations to the American people. And that is the impediment.

    I have tried to act in a bipartisan way, as I said, three bills in March, bipartisan.

    Easter, I had sort of an epiphany, an epiphany on Easter, that said, we must call out the truth on this, because we cannot — it's one thing to overlook what happened in the past and be sad about that. It's another thing to let the misrepresentations continue.

    And so that's why I am saying that he's a poor leader. He ignores his own responsibility and assigns blame, instead of taking responsibility, paying attention to science, recognizing the word — the role of governance in all of this to get the job done for the American people.

    And so he's engaged in distractions like immigration, distractions like supporting people on the street. They are all distractions away from the fact, the known fact, that he's a total failure when it comes to testing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Something else I want to ask you about. That is the money, the billions of dollars that you wanted states to be able to spend on making sure their elections this fall, this November are safe.

    This is something Democrats are pushing. Leader McConnell has said this is — he is — this is not a priority for him. He's not going to let it happen. He does hold the upper hand on this, doesn't he?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    No, he doesn't.

    This is the same Mitch McConnell who came to the floor on April 9 and said: This is as far as we're going to go. The Republicans — the Democrats are holding this up. We're not going beyond this.

    And, today, he voted unanimously for the proposal that the Democrats put forward.

    No, this is about the lives, the livelihood of the American people, and the life of our democracy. And we do — as we did in Wisconsin, it was like saying to the people, you go to the polls, and that's — it's just the same as if we invited you all to go to the Mardi Gras.

    This is dangerous.

    And so, at this time in particular, we want people to be able to vote by mail and to be able to get an application — a ballot in the mail, to have same-day registration. We had some very positive initiatives there. We got $400 million in the previous bill, in CARE 1. And now we expect and need to get more.

    And there are Republicans who — I was a state party chair years ago. We would win on Election Day, and lose when the Republican votes would come in by mail, because they were always so much better than we were at voting by mail.

    So, I don't know why the president says, if the — if we have vote by mail, Republicans will never win any more elections. Maybe it's for other reasons, but it's certainly not by their ability and facility to vote by mail.

    But it's about our Constitution, to remove all obstacles to participation, so that our democracy can thrive with the fullest participation of the American people. And then let the chips fall where they may.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we thank you very much.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Thank you. Thank you so much. My pleasure.

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