U.S. House passes coronavirus response bill; 2 Ariz. Republicans dissent

March 14, 2020
In The News

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House early Saturday morning approved an emergency stimulus package to combat the coronavirus pandemic after President Donald Trump signaled his support for the bill.

However, Trump’s support wasn’t enough to sway Arizona Republican Reps. Andy Biggs and Debbie Lesko, both of whom voted against the measure.

The multi-billion dollar package aims to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, and mitigate its economic effects as fears of recession loom.

The bill — the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — passed 363-40, with overwhelming bipartisan support. The 40 votes against the bill were all Republicans. The House’s only independent lawmaker, Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, voted “present” on the bill. Another 26 lawmakers did not vote.

Arizona Democratic Reps. Ruben Gallego, Tom O’Hallern and Greg Stanton voted for the bill, as did Republican Rep. David Schweikert. Three Arizona legislators weren’t present for the vote: Republican Paul Gosar and Democrats Raul Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick.

Passage came hours after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the pandemic, freeing up as much as $50 billion to help the country weather the pandemic and waiving restrictions on health providers and facilities.

The House bill would provide free access to tests for the virus, including for those without health insurance. It would also give workers affected by the virus paid family and sick leave, boost unemployment benefits, strengthen government food programs for children, older people and those with low incomes and help states meet expenses for Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor.

“The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a news conference ahead of the vote. “We can only defeat this outbreak if we have an accurate determination of its scale and scope so that we can pursue the precise, science-based response that is necessary.”

Pelosi was engaged in intense negotiations over the bill with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and congressional Republicans ahead of the vote. Trump tweeted his support for the measure ahead of its passage.

“I fully support H.R. 6201: Families First CoronaVirus Response Act,” he wrote. “I encourage all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES! … Look forward to signing the final Bill, ASAP!”

But Trump’s support didn’t assuage Lesko, who said in a statement that she couldn’t “in good conscience” vote for the emergency spending package because “neither I nor my staff had an opportunity to read or review” the legislation.

“We all want to help Americans as we face the spread of coronavirus, but this complete rush job is not the way to do it,” she said.

Biggs didn’t say why he opposed the bill, but this is the second time this month that he has opposed emergency spending to combat the coronavirus and COVID-19. When the House on March 5 approved $8.3 billion for public health agencies, vaccine research and other efforts, Biggs called it politicized and “bloated.” He was one of only two lawmakers — both Republicans — to vote against the spending.

Biggs’s most recent comment on the pandemic on Twitter blames China for the illnesses and sought to pin shortcomings in the Trump administration’s response to the spread of the coronavirus in America on Democrats.

“They focused on impeachment, distracting this administration from doing its job — and, yet, the administration did a great job on slowing this down,” he said in a video posted on Twitter. “Don’t be mistaken on where this started, and don’t be mistaken on why you didn’t hear about what the Trump administration was doing early on to slow down the spread of the virus.”

The legislation will now move to the Senate, which is expected to take it up next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted Thursday that the Senate would cancel its scheduled recess next week to consider “bipartisan” stimulus legislation.

McConnell said Thursday the package Pelosi introduced earlier this week didn’t meet that standard, calling it “an ideological wish list” on the Senate floor.

But he signaled in a statement Saturday that Senate passage of the final bill was likely.

“Of course, Senators will need to carefully review the version just passed by the House. 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,” McConnell said.

In a letter sent Thursday to members of the House, Pelosi urged quick congressional action as schools and businesses shut down and shifted online to slow the spread of the virus.

“Time is of the essence,” she wrote. “During this time of crisis, the strong and steady leadership of our members working together is urgently needed.”

On Friday, CDC’s website cited 1,629 confirmed and presumptive positive coronavirus cases in the United States, and 41 deaths caused by the virus. The CDC reported that COVID-19 had been reported in 46 states and Washington, D.C.

In Arizona, there have been 12 confirmed cases. State public health officials say only 183 people have been tested, and 50 test results are still outstanding.

Trump signed an $8.3 billion spending package last week to combat the virus, and Pelosi said the House is poised to take up a third emergency response bill soon. Also last week, House lawmakers rebuffed a Trump administration request to cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention amid the coronavirus crisis.

States Newsroom reporter Robin Bravender and Arizona Mirror Editor in Chief Jim Small contributed. 

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