But many lawmakers are also anxious to be away from the Capitol for an extended period of time, perhaps for even longer than the currently scheduled week-long recess. Both the House and Senate were expected to return March 23, though those plans could change.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Republican lawmakers on a conference call Thursday morning that the GOP is going to oppose the Democratic coronavirus bill as currently constructed, according to sources on the call. At a press briefing shortly after, McCarthy said both chambers should remain in session until a deal can be reached.
“I think we stay here, we get it right,” McCarthy told reporters. “I think we can get this done in the next 48 hours.”
A senior administration official said Thursday morning the White House was “not likely” to support the House package.
“We continue to want to work with the Speaker, but if she’s choosing to pass a partisan bill then everyone needs to face that fact and what that means,” the official said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the House measure an “ideological wish list.”
The Kentucky Republican insisted the Senate was willing to consider a compromise package if it can be negotiated by Democrats and the White House, but said “left-wing political messaging may have taken priority over the needs of our country.”
“Instead of focusing on immediate relief to affected individuals, families and businesses, the House Democrats chose to wander into various areas of policy that are barely related if at all to the issue before us,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
President Donald Trump outlined his own proposals in a primetime Oval Office address on Wednesday night, which included paid sick leave, small business loans and delaying tax payment deadlines. Democrats say they plan to address any tax-specific measures in a later package, focusing instead on low-income families and vulnerable populations.
It’s unclear if a deal can be reached in short order, with Democrats signaling they will vote as swiftly as possible to approve the measure amid a rapidly intensifying crisis. Both parties’ leaders have indicated that Congress should provide some kind of economic assistance before leaving town for the recess.
The negotiations come at a dramatic moment on Capitol Hill, with senior Democrats and Republicans acknowledging that they had never before seen such a crisis, with no way of knowing the eventual scale in the U.S.
The uncertainty has been compounded by rising frustration among members of both parties about their inability to get clear answers from the Trump administration about the government’s capacity to test individuals for the virus.
Conservative Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) said Trump administration officials left “a lot of questions that are still not being able to be answered” after a Thursday morning briefing. “[There’s] frustration among members as a whole,” he said, particularly about why the United States can’t replicate successful testing regimes implemented elsewhere.
“I believe the CDC struggled to give a really strong answer on being able to duplicate some of the places like South Korea,” he said.
The Capitol is also grappling with its first case of the coronavirus in its complex. An aide to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has tested positive for the virus, and multiple congressional offices are now working remotely.
The response on Capitol Hill has been escalating rapidly in the last 24 hours, with party leaders and building security officials deciding to clamp down on public tours.
The sweeping package — crafted in about 72 hours by a handful of Democratic chairmen — took even some Democrats by surprise.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Col.) told Democratic chairmen at a middle-of-the-night meeting of the House Rules Committee that he didn’t understand why the vote couldn’t be slowed down slightly for all members to digest the package.
“This is about as far from regular order” as Congress gets, Perlmutter said early Thursday morning, challenging House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone.
Marianne LeVine, Heather Caygle and Jake Sherman contributed to this report.