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House Dems, Senate GOP at odds over fifth coronavirus stimulus bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. Capitol

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. Capitol on Friday. Credit: Bloomberg / Sarah Silbiger

'Hunger doesn't take a pause'

The $3 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by House Democrats on Friday has been called “dead on arrival” by some Senate Republicans, and it has been panned by the White House as a Democratic “wish list.”

President Donald Trump has left the door open for supporting a so-called “Phase 4” stimulus bill, but congressional Democrats and Republicans remain at odds on how fast to push through a new massive economic recovery bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday said “time is of the essence” and called on Republican-led Senate to take up the measure saying “people are hungry across America. Hunger doesn’t take a pause.” Senate Republicans and White House officials contend there should be a pause on new relief legislation to gauge the impact of the current rounds of stimulus dollars, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

“People are jobless across America. That doesn't take a pause,” Pelosi said during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation." “People don't know how they're going to pay their rent across the country. We have ... to address this with humanity.”

Pelosi acknowledged that the current bill was subject to change in negotiations, telling CBS: “No bill that is proffered will become law without negotiation.”

Trump, who spent the weekend in Camp David huddled with some House GOP lawmakers, has called for any future package to include a payroll tax cut for employers, and Senate Republicans have been pushing for liability limits to protect employers against lawsuits filed in response to conditions in post-lockdown workspaces.

Trump, speaking to reporters Sunday after returning to the White House, declined to go into detail on the nature of the meetings, saying only: "It was a working weekend, it was a good weekend. A lot of very good things have happened."

Fight for local aid

Nearly $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments stands at the core of the $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill House Democrats approved Friday, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune.

Lawmakers say that aid also will be a bone of contention when Democrats negotiate with Senate Republicans and the White House to shape the fifth major spending bill in three months, which now proposes to more than double the money already approved to address the pandemic.

Yet more funds for state and local governments staggered by revenue losses and pandemic expenditures are widely expected to be in the final aid package, but only after a fight over how much, how soon, under what rules and at what political price each side will pay.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he believes Congress will approve aid to state and local governments, but not at the level that Pelosi’s bill proposes. “You’re including more money than anyone's asking for, like on the high end,” he said. He voted no on the bill Friday.

A key priority for Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) is to protect and retain a $49 billion pool of money he proposed that would be distributed based on the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, which he said would bring about $12 billion to New York.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he voted for the bill because he wants to get badly needed federal funding flowing to New York. He said, “The Senate should do its job and get it back to us by next week.”

Operation Warp Speed

Trump has tapped a former pharmaceutical company executive and a four-star Army general to oversee the country’s development and distribution of a vaccine to combat coronavirus.

At a White House ceremony on Friday, Trump introduced Moncef Slaoui, a venture capitalist and former chair of the vaccines division at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, and Gen. Gustave Perna, head of the Army Materiel Command, to lead what Trump calls “Operation Warp Speed.”

Their mission is to deliver a successful vaccine candidate by the end of the year, but experts have said it realistically could take until 2021 to develop and mass-produce a viable vaccine.

"We'd love to see if we can do it prior to the end of the year," Trump said. "I think we're going to have some very good results coming out very quickly."

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, said it was likely the U.S. wouldn’t be in a position to mass-produce a vaccine until 2021.

“I would say that's probably more likely a 2021 event that we're going to have the vaccine available in sufficient quantities to mass-inoculate the population,” Gottlieb said. “Remember, there might be 200 million people who want this vaccine who are eligible for it. That might take 400 million doses. And so it's probably a 2021 event. I do think we'll have the vaccine available in the fall for use, maybe to ring-fence an outbreak if you have an outbreak in a large city or to inoculate a certain portion of the population on an experimental basis to protect them because they're at high risk of a bad outcome.”

Obama: Pandemic has torn back curtain

Former President Barack Obama took aim at the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, asserting in an online graduation speech that some officials “aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

“This pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Obama said Saturday in a virtual speech to students graduating from historically black colleges and universities.

Obama, who has largely avoided publicly criticizing Trump, did not mention his successor by name in his speech but denounced the current federal response. Later Saturday, Obama said there are leaders who act based on “what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy — that’s how little kids think.”

“Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way — which is why things are so screwed up,” Obama said in a televised commencement address for high school seniors. “I hope that instead, you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others.”

Trump, asked about Obama’s remarks by a reporter on Sunday, said: “Look, he was an incompetent president. That’s all I can say.”

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Vera Chinese and Matthew Chayes. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

Janison: Nothing behind the ’gate

What is "Obamagate"? For a term Trump has thrown around loosely recently, even he has not defined what crime he is accusing his predecessor of committing.

On Mother's Day, Trump accused Obama of "the biggest crime in American history." Later last week, he was asked at a news conference what this crime is supposed to have been. “Uh, Obamagate. It’s been going on for a long time," he said. “It’s been going on from before I even got elected, and it’s a disgrace that it happened, and if you look at what’s gone on, and if you look at now, all this information that’s being released — and from what I understand, that’s only the beginning — some terrible things happened, and it should never be allowed to happen in our country again.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also dodged the question when asked to detail what’s behind "Obamagate" at Friday’s White House news briefing, telling reporters they should “look into” actions by top administration officials leading up to the Justice Department’s Russia probe.

Newsday columnist Dan Janison writes more on Trump’s latest diversionary effort.

Another ousted IG

Steve Linick became the latest federal inspector general ousted by Trump. Linick, who served as inspector general of the State Department, was fired by Trump late Friday, prompting congressional Democrats to raise concerns over the move.

Linick was reportedly looking into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was improperly using a taxpayer-funded political appointee to conduct personal errands for Pompeo and his wife.

Pompeo, according to The New York Times, pressed Trump to remove Linick.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a letter to the White House blasted what they called “politically motivated firings” of inspectors general and announced they would open an investigation into Linick’s firing. (Read the letter here.)

In the past year, Trump has taken steps to remove Christi Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, after her office released a report detailing the shortfalls of the federal response to coronavirus. He also fired the inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, who notified lawmakers of the whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to the impeachment hearings. Trump removed Glenn Fine as acting inspector general for the Defense Department after Fine was appointed to lead a panel charged with oversight of the trillions of dollars in coronavirus relief funding.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a Trump critic, said on Twitter: "The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday he will not be “crying big crocodile tears over this termination. Let's put it that way.”

"In the end, they serve at the pleasure of the president," Johnson said.

What else is happening:

  • Trump tweeted his support for reopen-advocating protesters on Long Island who heckled News 12 reporter Kevin Vesey, reports Newsday's Brune.
  • Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview that aired Sunday that the U.S. could start showing signs of recovery in the summer, but he cautioned that a full recovery was likely not possible until a vaccine is developed. (Read the transcript here.)
  • Trump may be launching attacks on presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden left and right, but so far the Biden campaign strategy has been to not engage outright, reports The Washington Post.
  • The president called in Sunday to an NBC Sports broadcast of a professional golf event, telling the sportscasters: "We want to get sports back. We miss sports. We need sports in terms of the psyche, the psyche of our country."

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