House passes relief bill reached by Pelosi and White House

The House passed a coronavirus relief plan early Saturday after hours of talks between Democrats and the Trump administration on how to blunt the economic damage of the global pandemic.

The chamber approved the 110-page bill to provide relief to consumers and workers walloped by the outbreak less than an hour after text was released. The measure passed in an overwhelming 363-40-1 vote.

The legislation now heads to the Senate. The upper chamber left Washington for the weekend and will not have a chance to approve it until next week.

In a statement Saturday, after the House passed the bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said senators “will need to carefully review” the proposal. “But I believe the vast majority of Senators in both parties will agree we should act swiftly to secure relief for American workers, families, and small businesses,” he said.

It marks only one piece of the likely congressional response to the coronavirus, which has disrupted American life and economic activity. Congress already approved $8.3 billion in emergency spending to curb the pandemic’s spread. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has mentioned the need to pass a third measure to respond to the outbreak.

Confusion swirled around the economic relief plan’s fate throughout the day Friday as the coronavirus spread. Earlier, Pelosi wrote to colleagues that “we are proud to have reached an agreement” with the White House. But after 7:30 p.m. ET, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, said his party had not actually made a final agreement with the White House. 

Later, though, President Donald Trump voiced his support for the package – a key endorsement for House Republicans wary about supporting it. 

In a series of tweets, the president said “I fully support” the legislation negotiated by Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He urged Republicans and Democrats in the House to support the bill and said he looks forward to signing it “ASAP!” 

When Pelosi announced the agreement, she said the legislation includes: 

  • Free coronavirus testing for all who need it, including those without insurance 
  • Up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave
  • Stronger unemployment insurance for furloughed workers
  • Buttressing SNAP and other food programs for school children and seniors
  • More money for Medicaid, the joint federal and state insurance program for low-income Americans

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Sarah Silbiget | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Trump gave his own description of the deal designed in part to assuage GOP concerns. He wrote that it “will follow my direction for free CoronaVirus tests, and paid sick leave for our impacted American workers.”

The president also said he directed Mnuchin and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia “to issue regulations that will provide flexibility so that in no way will Small Businesses be hurt.”

Pelosi first announced a deal only about two hours after Trump indicated he would oppose a version of the Democratic-backed plan. On an earlier conference call, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also told GOP members he did not yet support the legislation. He eventually did back the bill.

The overarching provisions described by Pelosi largely matched adeveloping agreement she described Thursday night. Pelosi and Mnuchin had 20 separate conversations on Friday, including some after Trump’s White House Rose Garden news conference, according to Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

In a note to colleagues Friday night, Pelosi said that “because it was essential for us to have legislation pass the House by this weekend, it required intense and constant negotiations for what could have been an elusive agreement.” She said Democrats, who have a majority in the chamber, could have passed a plan on their own but wanted to show they could approve legislation to respond to the crisis with Republicans.

Not only did the House want to respond quickly to the crisis, but also it has a scheduled recess next week.

Asked by reporters Friday night if she spoke to Trump this week, Pelosi responded, “There was no need for that.” 

At the same news conference, Hoyer called the proposal a “good bill.” He added, “It is not as good as we thought it could be, but legislating is give and take.”

Trump took steps to try to mitigate damage on Friday as he faces backlash for his administration’s response to the crisis. He declared a national emergency, said he would temporarily waive the interest on federal student loans and directed his administration to buy oil for its strategic reserve.

The spreading coronavirus crisis has led to fears of widespread economic disruption and workers, either sick or laid off by businesses battered by the outbreak, unable to make ends meet. Major U.S. stock indexes all fell at least 8% this week despite a spike on Friday.

The U.S. has more than 1,700 cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, and at least 40 people have died from it, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The rapid spread of the coronavirus in other countries, and Trump’s public comments on its transmission here, have led to concerns about his administration’s ability to handle testing and the capacity of the U.S. health care system to treat patients. 

The outbreak has upended American life. States and cities have suspended school or banned large gatherings.

Louisiana became the first state to delay its presidential primary due to the virus, as candidates have effectively stopped campaigning in person because of it. Sports leagues such as the NBA and NHL have suspended their seasons, while the NCAA canceled its March Madness basketball tournaments. 

— CNBC’s Eamon Javers contributed to this report

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