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House Democrats Approve Scaled-Back Coronavirus Aid Package

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Just hours before the news broke that President Trump tested positive for the coronavirus, the House of Representatives approved a new stimulus bill, mostly along party lines. The $2.2 trillion bill is the latest bid by House Democrats, who want an aid package passed before the election. Congress is still negotiating with the White House, but the House vote is yet another signal that a deal is still out of reach. The inability of Congress and the Trump administration to reach a bipartisan agreement comes as companies are announcing mass layoffs. The airline industry has been hard hit, and they have announced tens of thousands employees will be getting pink slips. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is with us. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: First, I do want to just ask if you've been able to glean any reaction from lawmakers to the news that the president and the first lady have tested positive for the coronavirus.

SNELL: You know, this - it's still very early. Many people were still asleep when the news broke. And so far, we've mostly seen bipartisan good wishes. And, you know, the people who have weighed in have commented that this is an unpredictable and deadly disease, and they spoke with hopes of full recovery.

MARTIN: So all of this is happening as Congress has really just struggled to address the coronavirus and get another aid package through, in large part because the president has just been out of the process, right? I mean, he has been focusing - talking a lot about how great the economy is doing. That's been his message all along - trying to focus on the stock market - and he's just been absent.

SNELL: Yeah, you know, it's hard to know how all of these - the news will change the dynamics of these talks because it's essentially a conversation between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They've been talking over the phone and had an in-person meeting this week. And, you know, the president has not spoken to Pelosi for nearly a year. And he's been, as you said, basically absent from this.

It's a situation where high-ranking Senate Republicans, including the Senate majority leader, are continually dumping cold water on the prospects for these talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin. And none of these coronavirus bills have come with Trump's endorsement, but his blessing really does carry a lot of sway with Republicans - though he's chosen to sit out the conversation so far.

MARTIN: So what about Democrats? Congress hasn't been able to pass any new relief for months. I mean, Democrats are in charge of the House. Are they worried about political blowback here?

SNELL: Oh, absolutely - and that's part of the reason that we saw them take the vote this week. They needed to be able to show voters that they're still working on this issue, even if they've had no success in getting anything into actual law in months. You know, they say that they've done everything they can to negotiate. They've reduced their original offer from $3.4 trillion down to this $2.2 trillion bill that passed yesterday. And they say that Republicans haven't tried to meet them in the middle.

Republicans in the Senate did vote on their own bill, but it was under a trillion dollars. And Democrats said that that was unserious and unable to meet the needs that people have in the country right now.

You know, it's a tension here, though, for Democrats who haven't passed anything since May. So they're faced with a situation where it was a really long time ago, and a lot of voters see just the lack of support, not that the House took a vote on something that went nowhere.

MARTIN: All right. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thanks. We appreciate it.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.