United States President-elect Joe Biden is pushing for Congress to enact billions of dollars in emergency COVID-19 assistance before the end of the year, as new infections are surging across the country.
Saying there is “a lot of work to do”, Biden met in-person on Friday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer for the first time since winning the presidential election, according to a media pool report.
The incoming Democratic president hosted the top Democrats in Congress at his makeshift transition headquarters at a theatre in downtown Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden transition aide Jen Psaki said the Democrats are “in lockstep agreement that there needs to be emergency assistance and aid during the lame-duck session to help families, to help small businesses”.
“There’s no more room for delay and we need to move forward as quickly as possible,” Psaki said.
But prospects for new virus aid this year remain uncertain, despite surging numbers of new cases and hospitalisations.
The US has now reported more than 11.8 million cases and more than 253,000 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Pelosi said talks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican leaders on November 19 did not produce any consensus on a new virus aid package. “That didn’t happen, but hopefully it will,” she said.
McConnell proposed that Congress shift $455bn of unspent small business lending funds towards a new COVID-19 aid package. His offer came after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
“Congress should repurpose this money toward the kinds of urgent, important, and targeted relief measures that Republicans have been trying to pass for months,” McConnell said in a statement.
Biden, Pelosi and Schumer are pushing for a pandemic relief bill before Congress adjourns for the year, a period known as a lame-duck session.
The president-elect has promised to work closely with Republicans to execute his governing agenda, but so far, he has focused his congressional outreach on top Democratic allies.
The meeting comes two days after Democrats nominated Pelosi to be Speaker of the House, the top leadership position in the US House of Representatives.
President Donald Trump continues to block a smooth transition of power to the next president, refusing to allow his administration to cooperate with Biden’s transition team.
My statement on the presidential election. pic.twitter.com/m4gXnhY8ZP
— Sen. Lamar Alexander (@SenAlexander) November 20, 2020
Specifically, the Trump administration is denying Biden access to detailed briefings on national security and pandemic planning that leaders in both parties say are important for preparing Biden to govern immediately after his January 20 inauguration.
Trying to bypass the Trump administration altogether, Biden met virtually with a group of leading Republican and Democratic governors on November 19.
“Unfortunately, my administration hasn’t been able to get everything we need,” Biden told the National Governors Association’s leadership team as he promised to rise above politics in a unified front against the virus.
Trump sowing doubt
Retiring Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said that the Trump administration should provide Biden’s team with all materials, resources and meetings necessary for a smooth transition.
“If there is any chance whatsoever that Joe Biden will be the next president, and it looks like he has a very good chance, the Trump Administration should provide the Biden team with all transition materials, resources, and meetings necessary to ensure a smooth transition so that both sides are ready on day one,” Alexander said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Trump, meanwhile, is intensifying his brazen attempts to sow doubt on the election results.
The outgoing president’s unprecedented campaign to spread misinformation now includes pressuring Michigan officials to block the certification of their state’s election results.
Biden won Michigan by more than 150,000 votes, a margin 15 times larger than Trump’s when he won the state four years ago.
Election law experts see Trump’s push as the last, dying gasps of his campaign and said Biden is certain to walk into the Oval Office come January. But there is great concern that Trump’s effort is doing real damage to public faith in the integrity of US elections.
Trump, meanwhile, will participate in a virtual G20 summit this weekend, a senior administration official said on Friday.