White House defends size of $1.9 trillion Covid-19 proposal ahead of meeting with GOP senators

Hours before President Joe Biden was set to meet with a group of Republican...

Posted: Feb 1, 2021 11:45 AM

Hours before President Joe Biden was set to meet with a group of Republican senators proposing a drastically slimmer coronavirus relief package than the $1.9 trillion measure he is offering, the White House said the session would not be used to negotiate a new number.

"This meeting is not is a forum for the President to make or accept an offer," press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a midday briefing, defending the administration's figure as necessary to address the dual health and economic crises facing the nation nearly a year into the deadly pandemic.

The message appeared to signal to Democrats and Republicans alike that despite Biden's professed desire to achieve bipartisan consensus on a relief bill, he remains intent on pressing for his own proposal even as he hears out the views of Republicans.

The 5 p.m. ET meeting with the 10 GOP senators, led by moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, is Biden's first publicly disclosed Oval Office session with lawmakers since taking office last month. That it is occurring with Republicans and not Democrats advances the notion he is intent on at least appearing to foster "unity," the motto of his administration.

Psaki said Monday the session is an example of Biden's commitment to a bipartisan exchange of ideas.

"He felt it was, you know, an effort to engage and engage on a bipartisan basis, and that's why he invited them to the White House today," Psaki said. She sought to emphasize Republican support for a large relief bill by citing interviews West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice gave earlier in the day, including on CNN, when he urged against holding back.

"If we actually throw away some money right now, so what?" the Republican governor said on "Newsroom."

Psaki said Biden will engage with Democrats in the Oval Office in the future, and emphasized the need to move ahead. He spoke with the two top congressional Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on Sunday.

"It's incredibly urgent," Psaki said, citing access to unemployment insurance, food insecurity, and the need for funding for vaccine distributions and public schools.

At the same time, she downplayed the prospects of Biden approving of the Republicans' bill, which at $618 billion comes in at less than half of Biden's plan.

"There is obviously a big gap between $600 billion and $1.9 trillion. I don't believe any of us are mathematicians, but clearly the amount needs to be closer to what he proposed than smaller," Psaki said during Monday's press briefing.

Asked if it was more important for the bill to be big or bipartisan, Psaki said Biden believes he can have both.

"Well, I think the President believes we can, and there is a historic evidence that it is possible to take a number of paths, including through reconciliation, if that is the path that's pursued, and for the vote to be bipartisan," Psaki said. "But it's important to him that he hears this group out on their concerns, on their ideas."

The administration is facing a crucial test this week. In addition to the President's meeting, Democrats are beginning the reconciliation process to potentially pass legislation on their own, which could potentially poison the well for a bipartisan deal.

Many Democrats in Congress believe entertaining Republican counteroffers is merely putting off the inevitable, and would like Biden to proceed quickly to using reconciliation to pass a bill with only a 51-vote majority.

But though he insisted on Friday that Covid relief must pass soon -- "no ifs, ands or buts" -- Biden remains hopeful of fostering Republican support.

On Sunday, the White House said Biden had spoken to Collins and invited her, along with nine other Republicans, to the White House.

The other invited participants in the meeting are GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

The Republicans' plan places more emphasis on the health effects of the crisis, including by expanding funds for a vaccine rollout. It limits direct payments to Americans and does not include assistance to states and localities, which Democrats have insisted upon as part of any relief measure.

The White House is hoping to move quickly, both to stave off further economic pain and to launch his administration with a legislative win. Certain unemployment benefits also expire soon, lending urgency to the talks.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 190804

Reported Deaths: 2528
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah37830583
Washington25279229
Marion21739306
Clackamas17107209
Lane12799145
Jackson10716135
Deschutes866973
Umatilla814084
Linn479867
Yamhill441175
Klamath430861
Polk369952
Malheur349861
Josephine330268
Douglas322070
Benton302619
Jefferson216734
Coos204633
Columbia170526
Union144423
Lincoln137020
Wasco137028
Hood River117930
Morrow110015
Crook106520
Clatsop9738
Baker94614
Curry6459
Tillamook6363
Grant5065
Lake4447
Harney3378
Wallowa1825
Gilliam621
Sherman581
Wheeler281
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3757115

Reported Deaths: 62280
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles123542224008
Riverside2990644587
San Bernardino2965144697
San Diego2777593725
Orange2707055005
Santa Clara1188512085
Kern1089931373
Sacramento1041761672
Fresno1016251684
Alameda875851545
Ventura808421011
San Joaquin730091391
Contra Costa68503804
Stanislaus619161055
Tulare49554839
Monterey43563382
San Mateo41844568
San Francisco36616543
Santa Barbara34306453
Solano32752249
Merced31743458
Sonoma29975318
Imperial28352721
Kings22965246
Placer22550290
San Luis Obispo21282260
Madera16439242
Santa Cruz16188206
Marin14034228
Yolo13875209
Shasta12071226
Butte11943199
El Dorado10111112
Napa984981
Sutter9411111
Yuba622146
San Benito604863
Lassen569824
Tehama555358
Nevada470775
Tuolumne412364
Mendocino406149
Humboldt393539
Amador365147
Lake346743
Glenn238125
Colusa223016
Siskiyou218123
Calaveras212153
Inyo142638
Del Norte13678
Mono12804
Plumas7066
Modoc4954
Mariposa4457
Trinity3995
Sierra1120
Alpine880
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