Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended dropping her insistence on a $2trn coronavirus relief package, jousting with reporters about this week endorsing a bipartisan proposal that is half that size.
In her telling, embracing a $900m package introduced this week by a group of Democrats and Republicans is a reflection of new realities – and incoming Democratic chief executive and coming coronavirus vaccines.
“Don’t characterize what we did … as a mistake,” Ms Pelosi said of her months-long holding out for the kind of $2trn measure her chamber passed earlier this year but was blocked by the White House and Senate Republicans. “It was a decision, and it’s taken us to a place we can do the right thing. … I’m very proud of where we are.”
To be sure, Ms Pelosi and other Democratic leaders felt new pressure in recent weeks and as economic statistics took a turn for the worse. They were jammed by moderates in both chambers who either helped craft or quickly endorsed the $900m package.
With only a handful of days to come up with some kind of Covid relief measure, a massive spending bill to avert another government shutdown and a must-pass Pentagon policy bill that faces an uphill battle over protections for social media companies and military bases named for Confederate leaders, the bipartisan coronavirus proposal is simply the only game in town.
But that proposal will not look exactly like what the moderates rolled out, she said. It is being converted into legislative text. Once that technical process is over, it will become what she called the basis for a new round of talks.
She declined to say she reversed herself or erred in holding out for her initial demand of $2trn, including more aid for state and local governments, and families and small businesses. Instead, she declared a partial victory.
“This has simplicity. It’s what we had in our bills. But that’s okay now,” said said, because next month there will be a “new president” who says he will “depend on science” and “understands America’s working families need to have money in their pockets … without any of the entrapments the [Trump] administration was insisting on being in the package.”
Mr Trump and other Republicans – joined in lighter language by some moderate Democrats – have for months harshly criticized the speaker for, until now, refusing to endorse a smaller Covid package.
“I don’t want Republicans to think it’s a dream come true,” she said of a smaller bill. “It’s not.”