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Pelosi says GOP still doesn’t recognize ‘gravity’ of coronavirus crisis

Unemployment benefits for millions of American expired last week and Congress and the White House are still struggling to come to an agreement on the next coronavirus relief package. 

After another day of negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff that while they’re making some progress, Republicans and Democrats have different points of view on key issues. 

“We’re far apart in terms of our values,” Pelosi said. 

With the pressure building to get to an agreement, Pelosi accused the White House of not accepting “the gravity of the situation,” but did indicate that the plan is to have a deal by the end of this week with legislation passed next week. 

Highlighting the Democratic priorities — money for state and local governments, funding for testing and tracing, a strong OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) law to protect workers, extra money for SNAP, the postal service and unemployment benefits — Pelosi said “let’s find out what we can afford, what is a figure that we can agree to…so that we can get it out there.” 

But what a solution looks like is hard to picture at this point in the negotiations. 

Other highlights from the interview: 

Pelosi is not in favor of a “piecemeal” solution, knocking Republicans and the White House for proposing a short-term fix to the issue. “Are we determined to find an agreement? Yes. We will find our common ground. But we don’t — we won’t find it on the slim reed of a piecemeal bill that doesn’t — that says to our workers, ‘you used to get $600, you’re now going to get $200, because the virus has intensified in its spread,’” she said. 

Pelosi is also against a compromise figure on unemployment insurance checks. Republicans have been proposing cutting the $600 weekly unemployment checks to $200, which would later transition to total unemployment benefits totaling no more than 70 percent of a person’s prior income. But Pelosi has rejected a change in that number, saying there is “no inbetween” on unemployment insurance.

On the subject of food assistance to Americans, Democrats are proposing $67 billion, of which Pelosi said $60 billion would go to food assistance for families. Republicans have proposed far less, but argued that sending children back to school would help with food assistance, with a heavy reliance on school meals providing for families dealing with food insecurity. Pelosi said that both need to be done. 

Money for state and local governments has long been a divisive issue for Republicans and Democrats, since the early coronavirus relief packages. Pelosi and Democrats are proposing $915 billion for state and local governments, but Republicans are rejecting any additional money outside of school funding, instead proposing more flexibility for the use of previously allocated money to states. 

 

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To give us a sense of where things stand, I'm joined by the Democrats' top negotiator. She is the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

    Madam Speaker, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, in brief, where do things stand? We just heard that Secretary Mnuchin is saying you're aiming for a deal this week. What does it look like from your perspective?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Well, Leader Schumer and I said at our earlier availability with the press that we all have agreed that we need to have an agreement.

    We have to have an agreement, though, that faces the reality of the situation. We do believe that the White House has not really accepted the gravity of the situation. And that's why they're thinking in smaller ways than they need to.

    We have a situation where we're trying to save the lives, the livelihood, and the life of our democracy.

    We are making some progress. We are understanding each other better, exchanging paper to see in writing.

    Chuck Schumer and I, Leader Schumer and I, are legislators for many years. We understand, when we have a challenge to face, and we want to have a legislative solution, we have to know what we're talking about. And that's why we have to be precise about what we say and the impact it has.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, are you…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    And, really, we have a different point of view than the Republicans on this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, are you coming closer together on that all-important unemployment — federal unemployment benefits number?

    Democrats were asking for $600 a week to continue.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Republicans were saying $200.

    Are you somewhere in between? We were told maybe you're…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    No, there's no in between. There's no in between.

    The fact is that, since we passed our bill, which was 11 weeks ago tomorrow, 3.3 million more people have gone on to the infected list; of those infected, 70,000 more people have died.

    And the Republicans said they were going to push the pause button. And they did. And then, last week, they came up with some piecemeal thing.

    So, the — we're not saying to the American people, more people are infected, more people are dying, more people are uninsured, more children are hunger-insecure, or food-insecure, and guess what? We're going to cut your benefit.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Madam Speaker, the — I mean, with all due respect, you called it piecemeal, and yet what the Republicans were offering was a short-term extension that would have allowed these extra unemployment benefits to keep flowing. Democrats said no.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    Well, it would have been finished by now.

    They were talking about a few — actually, the fact is, they didn't have anything that they could pass in the Senate on their own side. So, if the press wants to say, well, they offered this, they offered that, they — you can't offer something you don't have.

    We have a bill. It's called the HEROES Act. It passed 11 weeks ago tomorrow. It would have saved lives.

    They have nothing. They can't even pass — they have said, we have 20 members who won't vote for anything. So, what, we're talking rhetoric, or are we talking reality about what one side or the other is offering?

    And if they wanted to offer some piecemeal thing for one week…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    … that does not — you only do that when you're on the verge of closing, of passing a bill and having it signed into law. Otherwise, it's just showbiz.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, I'm trying to understand if — where the two sides are coming together.

    For example, the Republican argument is that, if — the $1, 200 they would give to millions of Americans who need help right now would make up for some of that — that lesser amount in unemployment. So, is that…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    That's exactly what we had in the CARES Act. We had the $1, 200 in the CARES Act, and we had the $600 in the CARES Act.

    So, how does that make up for subtracting something? That doesn't even make sense, on their part.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Madam Speaker, what…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    I mean, really, we have to get something done, but it doesn't help — we have to get something done.

    This is the gravity of the situation. We want to honor our heroes by supporting state and local government. We want to end this virus by having testing, tracing, treating. They said, testing is overrated. Tracing, they don't even believe in.

    And we want to put money in the pockets of the American people. And we also have some other things we want to do to protect our democracy with voting, to protect the post office, and what that means to our country, we have got strong OSHA law, and to feed our children.

    So, these are largely our priorities. And what they are saying is, well, we can't afford to do that. Well, let's find out what we can afford. What is a figure that we can agree to? Let's get it done as soon as we can, so that we can get it out there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    But let's not be misrepresenting about what we're presenting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Excuse me for interrupting.

    What about with regard to food aid?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Democrats do have money in the HEROES Act proposal for food.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Republicans don't.

    But, when I talked to Leader McConnell last week, he said the money they have in there that goes to schools would provide at least school meals for children, so that would make up a significant portion of the food assistance that Democrats are talking about.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    Let me tell you this.

    In our bill, we have $67 billion for food, and then a small percentage of that what is called food and utility, food, utilities, water, like that, $67 billion. Over $60 billion of it is for food.

    In their bill, they have $250, 000 for food.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And his point was that the money that they have for schools would pay for school meals for many children. And, in his words, this may be the most important…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    But we have to do that anyway. We have to do that anyway. We have to do that anyway.

    So, I mean, let's — we're far apart in terms of our values, quite frankly. We're far apart in understanding the gravity of the situation.

    Do we — are we determined to find an agreement? Yes. We will find our common ground. But we don't — we won't find it on the slim reed of a piecemeal bill that doesn't — that says to our workers, you used to get $600, you're now going to get $200, because the virus has intensified in its spread.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The other point Republicans are making is, they are now showing flexibility in money for state and local governments.

    This is, again, a difference. Democrats want more money. Republicans want a lot less. They are saying they are willing to show flexibility, and they're also saying, a lot of the money that was passed in the spring, Madam Speaker, has not even been spent yet.

    So, is there…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    Well, if you want to be an advocate for them, Judy — if you want to be an advocate for them, let's know what the facts are.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No, I'm — I'm playing devil's advocate here…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    No.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … to ask you for your position.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    You know, I mean, the point is, we have a bill that meets the needs of the American people. It's called the HEROES Act.

    They have not even — they don't even want to do state and local. And, when they do, it's very meager, and they want to revert to money from before.

    The money — much of the money that was allocated before is — has been spent or allocated. A small amount has not because they want to see what we're doing in this bill. But that approach is no reason for us not to recognize we have $915 billion for states, localities, counties, and the rest, tribal governments, and territories. They have very little money that they're offering.

    And it is — when we have a chance and when we're allowed to show you what the different numbers are. But our record is clear. Our record is clear. We're there for America's working families. We're concerned that tens of millions of people have gone on — the 19th straight month (sic) of people going on to unemployment insurance — 19th straight week of over one million people going on unemployment insurance.

    Children are food-insecure by the millions, and they don't want to spend the money necessary to feed the children. Families are in fear of eviction, and they say, well, we will extend the moratorium, but we won't put any money to help with that rent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    And in terms of the $600, we're going to cut your benefit, and that's how we're going to observe this.

    Now, again, we will find our common ground, but I don't think, in any way, as a legislature, what — legislator — that what they are proposing has any recognition of what is happening to the lives, the livelihood and the life of our democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

    So, what I was asking about was money that had already been appropriated that hadn't been spent, and whether that could be part of any solution here. As you know, another…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    No, that's money from before. That's money from before. And, as I said, their contention…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    … that it hasn't been spent, it's been allocated, and there's a small amount that they're waiting to see what we do here before they release.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, again, trying to understand where the two sides may be coming together.

    As you know, they argue, spending so much money, the Democrats, $3 trillion, is going to put the country into greater red ink, that that hurts future generations.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    They didn't seem to mind when they gave a big, gigantic tax cut that added $2 trillion to the national debt, so they could give 83 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent.

    It's amazing how free and clear of the national debt they are when it comes to their rich friends, and how exacting they are when a poor person who is out of work gets $600.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, is there any conversation about rolling back any of those tax cuts?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    We're not doing that in this bill.

    Well, there's one we would like to roll back. In the CARES Act, they put $150 billion for wealthy people in our country, having nothing to do with coronavirus. And it was retroactive for their taxes in the past. We would like to get rid of that. I don't think we will have that chance.

    But when we address the issue of taxation in our country, we will do that in a way that's bipartisan, has sustainability, fairness and transparency, so the American people can see what's happening, rather than, in the dark of night and the speed of light, a bill that gives 83 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent and adds nearly $2 trillion to the national debt for our children to pay, and then to come around to us and say, how can we do all this money for food stamps? It's going to add to the national debt.

    So, we have a big difference here. So, when they're — you're putting forth, with all due respect to you, as you respected me, their piecemeal, meager approach that doesn't even recognize the gravity of the situation, if they had recognized it, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in.

    Since our bill passed 11 weeks ago tomorrow, 3.3 million people, again, have gone on to the list of those infected, 70 million (sic) have died. That didn't have to happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, bottom line, are you saying there could be a deal reached this week, legislation passed next week…

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    I hope so.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … that that's a possibility?

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    That would be the plan, yes.

    We — in other words, our differences are, again, in our value systems.

    So, in terms of this legislation — and Chuck and I are master legislators. We have been here a long time, know how to get bills done. We know the devil and the angels are in the details. That's why we're exchanging papers to see what they actually mean and intend to do, rather than a conversation.

    But we have to have an agreement, and we will have an agreement. But we're not going to do it at the expense of America's working families, on the basis that, oh, it's going to add to the national debt.

    Everybody, the national — the chairman of the Fed, others have said, if we don't help now with the economy and stop the spread of this virus, the debt — the economic situation is only going to worsen, worsen.

    So, not investing in making it safe for our children to go to school, our people to go to work, our — the people we're giving this money to, to inject demand into the economy, so that the economy thrives, it's only going to make matters worse.

    So, again, we — we feel very proudful of the work that was done by our chairmen to bring us to this place to help, again — and I say it again — save the lives, the livelihood, and the life of our democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we thank you very much for joining us.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    Thank you, Judy. Thank you so much. Thank you.

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