WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's top allies on Capitol Hill adopted a combative posture on COVID-19 relief on Thursday, accusing Washington Republicans of dragging their feet in acknowledging Biden's victory while doubling down on a $2 trillion-plus relief bill that's a nonstarter with congressional Republicans.
The message from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — both of whom witnessed disappointing outcomes in House and Senate races last week — was that Republicans should concede the presidential election was won by Biden and immediately return to negotiations on COVID relief, with the Democrats' $2.4 trillion "HEROES Act" as the starting point.
"It's most unfortunate that the Republicans have decided that they will not respect the will of the people," Pelosi told reporters. "It's like the house is burning down, and they just refuse to throw water on it."
Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy of California, speaking just minutes later from the same podium, accused Pelosi of playing politics with COVID, deliberately dragging out pre-election talks on new relief to deny President Donald Trump a victory that could have helped him in the election.
The continued battling comes as caseloads are spiking across the country in a third wave of the pandemic that is threatening a dangerous winter, despite advances in vaccine development and treatments to fight it the disease. The rebound of the economy has been relatively strong so far, but both sides agree more help is needed — even as they spar over specifics like jobless assistance and the means to distribute treatments and vaccines.
Congress virtually unanimously passed a $1.8 trillion COVID rescue bill in March, but top leaders and the administration have fought for months over what another installment of relief should entail. Before the election, with Democrats riding high in the polls, Pelosi took a hard line in the talks, even as the administration made numerous concessions. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, shied away from concessions made by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as well.
"She sacrificed our economy and people who were hurting," McCarthy said.
The combative postures all around don't appear to bode well for a quick resolution or the smooth resumption of the serious talks that flamed out before Election Day. Capitol Hill is in limbo, frozen by the refusal of Trump and Republicans like McCarthy to accept Biden's victory and by two Senate runoff elections in Georgia that Republicans are favored to win to maintain control of the chamber.
Pelosi and Schumer, meanwhile, continue to press COVID relief proposals like more than $400 billion in aid to state and local governments that powerful Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., simply won't accept.
"What Joe Biden got in this election was a mandate, a mandate to address the challenges that our country faces," Pelosi said. "And in order to do that, we must address the COVID, the pandemic."