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Pelosi-Mnuchin talks intensify as mass airline layoffs arrive
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday made an unusually direct plea to airline executives to delay massive job cuts, vowing that Congress would deliver “imminent” relief even if she and the White House cannot reach a broader deal this week.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are still far apart on key issues in their sixth day of negotiations on a multi-trillion coronavirus aid package. The two have been in contact throughout the day on Friday, including a 65-minute phone call in the afternoon, but neither has offered concrete evidence that a sweeping bipartisan agreement is close.
House lawmakers were sent back to their districts without a deal in hand Friday afternoon, though Democratic leaders stressed that talks were ongoing. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told members to anticipate being called back on short notice — within 24 hours — to vote on a potential agreement.
Meanwhile, the U.S. airline industry is at a crisis point, with thousands of furloughs and layoffs going into effect Thursday after Congress failed to renew a pandemic aid program for aviation workers. Airlines had agreed to reverse those job cuts if Pelosi and Mnuchin could reach a deal in the next few days.
“Today, I am calling upon the airlines to delay their devastating job cuts as relief for airline workers is being advanced in Congress,” Pelosi wrote Friday.
The airline aid, which would cost roughly $ 28 billion, has broad bipartisan support, but has been unable to win approval from Congress amid more contentious disputes over coronavirus relief. Negotiations between Pelosi and Mnuchin intensified in the last week, but the two have remained at a stalemate for months and remain hundreds of billions of dollars apart in their offers.
In one sign of the growing desperation in the industry, a frustrated House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) attempted to force through his airline payroll support bill on the House floor Friday via unanimous consent. But Republicans objected to the motion.
“I am tired of the bureaucracy around here,” DeFazio said on the floor. “It’s time to do real things for the American people and this is real. These people’s lives are at stake.
DeFazio has repeatedly pushed to deliver airline aid, even breaking with Pelosi to call up additional relief bills, even if it falls short of Democrats’ demands, if it meant that some assistance would go out the door.
Senate leaders had also moved to fast-track their version of the standalone airline aid bill last week, but that effort was blocked by objections from at least three Senate Republicans.
“I hear from the airline industry every day, they need help,” Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) told reporters at the Capitol on Friday, noting that he’s hearing “a great deal of frustration” back home.
“We have a responsibility to pass additional emergency relief. I don’t even think we’re halfway through this pandemic,” Brown said.
The status of a broad coronavirus agreement between Pelosi and Mnuchin — who is negotiating on behalf of President Donald Trump — was unclear Friday afternoon as House lawmakers departed Washington for a pre-election campaign recess.
Pelosi did sound a note of optimism to her members in a letter Friday afternoon, telling members “I am hopeful that we can reach agreement” and noting that she is expecting further details from the White House on their latest offer later on Friday.
Pelosi also suggested on MSNBC that the stunning revelation earlier that morning that Trump had been diagnosed with coronavirus could shift the relief talks in their favor.
“This kind of changes the dynamic because here they see the reality of what we have been saying all along — this is a vicious virus,” Pelosi said on MSNBC. “We always have to find a path, that is our responsibility to do so, and I believe that we will.”
Many Democrats who left the Capitol on Friday — particularly those facing a tough reelection races back home — were furious that a deal still hasn’t been reached. One group of members, led by the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, began circulating a letter Friday urging Pelosi to continue negotiations “over the weekend until a deal is achieved.”
Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat, sought to assure members that the House would not be away for the entire month before the election, and that they would return as soon as there is a deal.
“We will not be leaving for the break that usually occurs in October,” Hoyer said on the floor Friday. “Negotiations are going on as we speak. Both here and across the Capitol… Hopefully those negotiations will bear fruit sooner rather than later.”
Hoyer told members that they could be called back to Washington with just one day’s notice in case of a deal. The Maryland Democrat also stressed that even if a deal was reached Friday, it could take several days to draft the mammoth legislation, and a vote wasn’t expected before Wednesday.
But as House lawmakers left the Capitol, the mood was grim. Trump had been diagnosed with coronavirus just hours before, with several Republicans who had been close to him in recent days also testing positive. That includes Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who had been voting and holding meetings throughout the week, including with Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Outside of Washington, despair is spreading as layoffs and firings begin to hit blue-chip companies such as Walt Disney Co., months after service-sector industries have been feeling the pain.
Airline labor unions have been relentlessly pressing Congress to take action for months, ever since it became clear that the companies’ fortunes would not turn for the better before a first round of funding from the CARES Act ran out.
“We’re at the verge of seeing our airlines shut down,” a visibly frustrated Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) said Thursday night, after rejecting her party’s latest relief bill on the floor.
“We’re at the verge of our state and local communities not having the funding that we need,” she added. “I’d be surprised if something gets done before the election, and that’s really too bad.”
Heather Caygle and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.
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