House speaker Nancy Pelosi beat a retreat Tuesday from the massive coronavirus wish list of Green New Deal projects, immigration measures and other non-virus changes she and fellow Democrats had proposed just hours earlier.
She signaled in several television interviews that her troops would likely accept the deal that will emerge from the Senate, while casting her own 1,404-page bill, with a price tag of $2.5 trillion, as more of a marker for future fights over the direction of American priorities on energy, the work force, elections and immigration.
“The easiest way to do it is for us to put aside some of our concerns for another day, and get this done,” the California Democrat told CNBC.
GOP lawmakers were incensed at Mrs. Pelosi’s legislation, released late Monday night, saying it threatened to undo the progress toward a deal with its focus on issues that went beyond the immediate coronavirus rescue effort.
It would have required airlines receiving bailout money to promise to go carbon-neutral by 2025, revoked several Trump executive orders on unionization within the federal workforce, imposed mandatory nationwide early voting and same-day voter registration, and forgiven $10,000 of student-loan debt across the board.
Also, any company taking coronavirus bailout money would also have to permanently raise their minimum wage to $15 by the start of next year.
“Everything we’re suggesting just relates to COVID-19,” Mrs. Pelosi told CNN. “It’s not about making long — for the future. It’s about COVID.”
Republicans immediately started to use the Pelosi bill against vulnerable Democrats, accusing them of holding struggling workers hostage to a left-wing wish list.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat, took to Twitter to point out that none of the offending provisions were part of the Senate negotiations.
And an administration official familiar with the talks said the Pelosi bill was a “dead letter” in the Senate discussions.
Mrs. Pelosi fanned out on television to say her goal now is to try to pass whatever emerges from the Senate as quickly as possible — possibly by unanimous consent, or a voice vote, which would mean she wouldn’t have to call lawmakers back to Washington, risking coronavirus spread.
House Republican leaders are on board that plan, too — though they believe a voice vote is more likely than getting unanimous consent from all members.
Republican Whip Steve Scalise, in a call with the whip team, said that would also head off any effort by House Democrats to try to amend the Senate bill — a possibility Mrs. Pelosi did raise several times.
Dissonant voices were making themselves heard.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, took to Twitter to call the emergency Senate bill “concerning.”
“It seems to give a *HALF TRILLION DOLLARS* away to big corporations, w/ few worker protections,” she wrote.
Mrs. Pelosi, while embracing the Senate negotiations, said the House lawmakers who put her shelved bill were an “intellectual resource” that did shape the Senate’s work. She praised new additions to the Senate deal, such as an inspector general to monitor the bailout money.
Releasing her bill may end up hurting Mrs. Pelosi’s efforts to sell the Senate legislation, after liberal advocacy groups rushed to praise House Democrats for their far-reaching vision.
Immigrant-rights groups were particularly pleased, saying Democrats went out of their way to ensure federal assistance could reach people regardless of immigration status.
“We are all in the same boat when it comes to the virus. The virus doesn’t check immigration papers, citizenship status, or ability to pay when it hurts our communities. Nor should our government response,” said Douglas Rivlin, communications director at America’s Voice.
But some of the immigration provisions went well beyond assistance and into major policy decisions.
The bill would automatically renew millions of foreign guest-workers’ work permits. It would also, for the first time, write a specific protection for illegal-immigrant “Dreamers” into law, ordering the Homeland Security secretary to renew hundreds of thousands of DACA permits.
Rosemary Jenks, vice president at NumbersUSA, which advocates for stricter immigration limits, said it struck a dissonant note amid coronavirus’s economic chaos to grant foreign workers permission to compete with Americans.
“In the face of massive layoffs of American workers and predictions of unemployment reaching 20 percent or more, it is unconscionable that Democrats would prioritize foreign workers over the American workers who will desperately need those jobs,” Ms. Jenks said.
The bill would have automatically renewed the immigration status of anyone whose current permits expired 30 days before the bill is enacted, and at least a year after it becomes law. It would apply to anyone here on Temporary Protected Status, DACA or another deferred deportation program, and regular guest-worker programs such as high-skilled H-1B visa-holders, farm workers on H-2A visas and seasonal non-farm workers on H-2B visas.
It would even apply to those here on short-term tourist or business visas.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said as much as 50% of the H-2B workers are in sectors deeply affected by coronavirus, such as hospitality or resorts.
The law requires companies to try to hire American workers first, but Ms. Vaughan said the requirements aren’t very strict and American workers are displaced.
And even if Americans do now compete for those jobs, she said the guest-workers, with renewed permits, aren’t likely to give up and go home.
“They are likely to try to find another job here, and with worksite enforcement almost non-existent, they are likely to find it,” she said. “This visa extension provision is more likely to exacerbate the economic fallout of this crisis, not repair it.”
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