By LISA MASCARO and PADMANANDA RAMA Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended the stunning $3 trillion price of tag of Democrats’ pandemic relief package Wednesday as what’s needed to confront the “villainous virus” and economic collapse.
“The American people are worth it,” Pelosi told The Associated Press.
In an interview with AP, Pelosi acknowledged the proposal is a starting point in negotiations with President Donald Trump and Republicans, who have flatly dismissed the coronavirus relief bill headed for a House vote.
The White House immediately dismissed the proposal, which is anchored in billions to the states and cash rebates to jobless Americans, as a nonstarter.
“Unserious,” tweeted White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
As wary Americans wait on Washington, the stakes for all sides are enormous. The virus outbreak threatens the health and economy of Americans, posing a generational test of political leadership on par with the Great Depression.
House lawmakers are set to return to Washington for Friday’s vote, but prospects are dim in the Senate, where leaders say they won’t consider another aid package until June.
Trump has insisted any future coronavirus aid package “must prioritize Americans’ health and the nation’s economic prosperity,” McEnany said.
The bill provides nearly $1 trillion to the states and cities to avert layoffs of police, firefighters and other essential workers as local revenues tank during the shutdown. It boosts another round of $1,200 direct cash payments to Americans and provides $75 billion for more virus testing.
The White House particularly objected to new requirements for state election procedures during the pandemic for the November election and aid to people in families with immigrants living here illegally.
As the pandemic rages, Pelosi had just one message for Trump: “Tell the truth.”
“This is a biggest disaster that our country has ever faced,” Pelosi said.
“The president calls it a war — we’re all warriors, that people are dying in the war. No these are family, and people are dying in the family,” she said.
“We have to address in a big way,” she said. “The American people are worth it.”
The speaker and the president don’t talk much anymore. But Pelosi remains in contact with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and expects to begin negotiations with him on the next aid bill from Congress.
Pelosi warned Americans not to expect a speedy return to normal, despite some easing of stay-home orders. “It’s going to be a while,” she said. Schools businesses and large gatherings, including the Democrats’ presidential nominating convention, will not be business as usual.
“You just can’t say because people want to go to work, we should just take every risk,” she said. “In order to turn the economy around, we have to get rid of the pandemic.”
As the party’s presumed presidential nominee Joe Biden shelters at home, campaigning via video from his basement, Pelosi said he’s doing “just fine” in the new normal of an election year.
“It’s not as if he’s missing a big crowd someplace,” she said.
“We’re in a whole new world and I think he’s doing just fine,” she said. “Everybody knows he’s a person of great integrity, and a great authenticity and connects very well with America’s working families, which is what the Democratic Party is all about.”
As the fall campaigns retool for the new normal, she expects former President Barack Obama to play a larger role with a message of “hope and optimism for the future.”
“He’s not a very political person,” Pelosi said of Obama. “That’s really part of his strength.”
Pelosi is often seen as the de facto leader of the Democratic Party, the highest-ranked elected official, setting the agenda and message. But now she said of Biden: “He is the leader of the Democratic Party.”
As Republicans on Capitol Hill join the Trump administration to investigate China’s role in the virus outbreak, she calls it a “diversion” from the more immediate problems of stemming the health crisis and salvaging the U.S. economy.
“Yes, we want to know the source of this pandemic, but let’s focus on why we are not testing, how we can help people,” she said.
Pelosi shows up for work most days, masked in a scarf at the U.S. Capitol, and said she is reminded that “life is fragile.”
She repeatedly washes her hands and covers herself to protect others, she said.
“Let’s take it a one giant step at a time, as we go forward because what for what we’ve been doing for has been helpful, but not enough,” she said.
She said she has been “dismayed, frankly” by the way Trump’s is encouraging people to avoid the stay-home guidelines but said she “can’t dwell” on the president’s leadership.
“I mean, injecting Lysol, ‘magically go away,’ ‘hoax,'” she said, repeating some of Trump’s comments on the coronavirus.
“I believe in miracles. I believe in prayer. But again, we have to pray — and work — for the solutions to it all,” she said.