President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday said Senate Republicans’ “fear” of President Trump — rather than principled reluctance to spend money — may be the reason COVID-19 relief talks stalled.
Biden, a senator from 1973 to 2009, said he believes the Senate may be more willing to pass another pandemic package once Trump is gone.
“I’m hoping that the reason why my friends on the other side have not stepped up to do something is because of their fear of retribution from the president, and hopefully when he’s gone, they’ll be more willing to do what they know should be done, has to be done in order to save the communities they live in,” Biden said during a webcast with frontline workers.
But Biden also took unsubtle aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will be the most powerful Republican in Washington after Trump’s term ends.
Biden said, “Some of our friends on the Senate side are unwilling to spend the money, when we talk about states going bankrupt and having to lay off thousands upon thousands of people.” Referring to McConnell, Biden said, “One of the leaders on the other side said, ‘Well, let the states go bankrupt. Just let them go bankrupt.’ It’s not a responsible position.”
Republicans will have at least 50 seats after Biden takes office and will retain control of the Senate if they win either or both runoff elections in Georgia in January. The Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate passed massive relief bills this year after COVID-19 caused widespread unemployment, but have been gridlocked for months on next steps.
McConnell’s office declined to comment on Biden’s remarks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who will lead a narrower House majority after Republicans gained seats in the Nov. 3 election, said earlier Wednesday that “Joe Biden is a unifier, so that will make it easier for us” to pass legislation.
Many conservatives are wary of adding to the national debt and objected to a large new package, pushing instead for smaller bills to replenish small-business loans, revive a federal unemployment insurance supplement and fund health care and schools.
McConnell argued Wednesday that Democrats want a “multitrillion-dollar laughingstock” deal rather than passing broadly supported items. “We might lose the hardest-hit small businesses in the home stretch because Democrats have refused to let us continue helping,” McConnell said.
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Democrats object to a piecemeal approach and favor a grand bargain, and in May passed the more than $3 trillion HEROES Act as an opening offer.
Among the sticking points in talks is McConnell’s insistence that any bill include liability protections for businesses, which Democrats largely oppose. Republicans and Trump, meanwhile, opposed Democratic plans to generously assist state and local governments, which they say would unfairly bail out poorly run Democratic areas.