WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden is pushing Congress to approve billions of dollars in emergency COVID-19 assistance before he takes office, saying in a meeting Friday with the top Democrats in the House and Senate that such a package should be approved during the lame-duck session.
Biden met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, hosting them at his makeshift transition headquarters in a downtown Wilmington, Delaware, theater.
Biden is just days away from unveiling the first of his Cabinet picks, which are subject to Senate confirmation.
Biden sat with Schumer, Pelosi and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, all wearing masks and spaced out around a bank of tables.
According to a readout of the meeting later released by Biden’s team, the group “agreed that Congress needed to pass a bipartisan emergency aid package in the lame duck session,” which is the period after Election Day but before Congress adjourns for the year.
It added that the “package should include resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, relief for working families and small businesses, support for state and local governments trying to keep frontline workers on the payroll, expanded unemployment insurance, and affordable health care for millions of families.”
But prospects for new virus aid this year remain uncertain. Pelosi said talks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP leadership on Thursday did not produce any consensus on an aid package.
Friday, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, proposed that Congress shift $455 billion of unspent small-business lending funds toward a new COVID-19 aid package. The offer had been proposed to Pelosi before the election but she declined to pursue it.
Biden, Pelosi and Schumer also discussed the agenda for the first 100 days of the Biden presidency, “including taking aggressive action to contain COVID-19, providing resources to small businesses, families, schools, and state and local governments to power our economic recovery, and investing in the middle class,” according to the readout.
The president-elect has also promised to work closely with congressional Republicans to execute his governing agenda, but so far, he has focused his congressional outreach on leading Democrats.
The meeting came two days after House Democrats nominated Pelosi to be speaker. She seemed to suggest these would be her final two years in the leadership post.
President Donald Trump continues to wait until the election is certified before allowing formal access to Biden’s transition team. His attorneys have registered concern about signs of major ballot counting improprieties citing evidence most in the national media have ignored.
To bypass the Trump administration altogether, Biden on Thursday met virtually with a collection of Republican and Democratic governors.
The Trump administration’s Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Friday on “CBS This Morning” that Biden’s charge that the transition delays would cost American lives is “absolutely incorrect.”
“Every aspect of what we do is completely transparent — no secret data or knowledge,” Azar said.
About the election, the Associated Press editorializes, “Trump, meanwhile, is intensifying his brazen attempts to sow doubt on the election results. The outgoing president’s unprecedented campaign to spread misinformation now includes pressuring Michigan officials to block the certification of their state’s election results.”
—AP stories contributed to this report.