House passes coronavirus response bill; Trump urges Senate to do the same

Measure passed with unanimous support from Nevada’s delegation

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Rep. Susie Lee speaking to the press with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Freshmen colleagues prior to a House vote on relief measures last week. (Photo: Lee's office)

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.

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. Nevada Republican Mark Amodei joined Democrats Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee to vote for the measure.

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.

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!”

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 not 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.”

In a statement Friday night, Horsford noted the legislation includes $5 million in unemployment insurance assistance “for Nevada immediately, with another $5 million and 100 percent funding for extended benefits if the state sees very significant job loss.”

Lee noted the bill includes family paid sick leave legislation she had co-sponsored earlier in the week. The leave provisions expand paid medical leave for workers and families affected by the virus, and provides those workers with wage replacement of two-thirds of their wages, up to $4,000 a month. The provision applies to employers with less than 500 employees.

Speaking at a press conference with Pelosi, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer and freshman colleagues before the vote, Lee said “I come from Las Vegas, which is a community that is already feeling the impact of coronavirus with cancellations and with travel restrictions. We are calling on workers to stay home because they’re sick. When they’re staying home we have to take care of their families.”

Titus issued a statement praising the House bill’s provisions, but adding “We believe that another emergency response package will eventually be necessary – and we will craft it in consultation with our nation’s leading health care professionals, scientists, and economists.”

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 contributed. 

Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens is a Washington D.C. reporter for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes Nevada Current.