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A Democrat And A Republican On Trump's Reaction To Pandemic Relief Bill

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The deal was done. After months of fighting, Democrats and Republicans had finally come up with a coronavirus relief bill they could agree on - billions of dollars for things like unemployment benefits, help for small businesses, direct payments to many Americans, vaccine distribution.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The package made it through both houses of Congress comparatively easy this week. For many, that was a huge relief. Then...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple.

SHAPIRO: In a video posted on Twitter last night, Trump called the relief bill a disgrace. He demanded Congress fix it or else.

KELLY: Well, let's bring in two House members who have spent a lot of time working towards a bipartisan compromise - Republican Representative Tom Reed of New York and Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. They are the co-chairs of the House Problem Solvers Caucus.

Welcome to both of you.

JOSH GOTTHEIMER: Thanks for having us.

TOM REED: Well, thank you for having me on.

KELLY: So, as noted, you two both spent a lot of time trying to solve the problem and kickstart these negotiations. You had finally just passed a bill. I want to hear from each of you. You may go first, Congressman Gottheimer. What went through your mind when you watched that video last night?

GOTTHEIMER: Candidly, total shock - you know, this is a last-minute coal on the Christmas stocking that none of us were expecting. And as you pointed out, we had Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate get behind this. The administration was on board, at least we thought so. And this was critical support for so many people who are hurting right now, so many families and small businesses. So I - you know, I'm kind of shocked right now.

KELLY: Congressman Reed, how about you - shock?

REED: Yes. Obviously, it caught all of us by surprise, so many of us were blindsided by this action by the president. But I will tell you that we have to focus on the fact that this COVID-19 stimulus bill, emergency bill that we were talking about is separate and distinct from the issues that the president was bringing up his objections to. I mean, we negotiated this $900 billion deal, which on its own is not really related to the major objections that the president was citing in his video. So I hope we can find a solution to these two issues. And that's where Josh and I are working together. I'm confident we can, as proud Republicans and proud Democrats, still deliver this relief to the American people at home.

KELLY: Really? You remain confident that you're going to get this done and get it done - when? - before the end of the year?

REED: I am because the COVID-19 relief bill is broadly supported on both sides of the aisle. We negotiated this over months. And I will tell you, when you focus just on the relief bill, those provisions themselves are widely agreed to. And any remaining dispute, I think, can be bridged.

KELLY: Although they were packaged together in order to try to get them through. So there was a reason for that, which is now complicated. I mean, let's look at what specifically the president is balking at. What he says - he wants these bigger direct payments to Americans, $2,000 instead of the 600 that was agreed to. Democrats are mostly onboard with that. They have said they would hold a unanimous consent vote this week to pass exactly what the president is calling for. But it does not appear that the Republican leadership in the House is on board with that. So how might this end, Congressman Gottheimer?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, I also want to agree with Tom and what he said about us getting this done this year. We have to, so let me start there given how many people are hurting. Unemployment benefits roll off on the 26. That'll affect 14 million people. People will be evicted from their homes. We know that people are in food lines for the very first time. So we've got to get these benefits out to people, especially as COVID is spiking and affecting so many of our communities and small businesses. So...

KELLY: I hear your determination. The question is, how? I mean, you've been...

GOTTHEIMER: I support the larger, more direct payments. It's something I've been behind. Tom and I backed bipartisan legislation for the direct payments. And if the president wants to add more, my position is that's fine. But we can't leave out the rest of the package. And I think we're going to have to force them both together. And I know that we'd be behind that. And - but you can't leave pieces out like food - help for people who are hungry and vaccine deployment and support for small businesses with PPP loans. You can't leave that out just for the direct payments. You've got to do both.

KELLY: Well, Tom Reed, what are you hearing from your leadership, from Republican leadership in the House?

REED: Well, I think as we were just updated, I think you're going to see the arguments on the floor tomorrow about increasing the check. And I think our leader, Kevin McCarthy, will go to the floor and offer a counter to that position. But at the same time, as you increase the checks, I think you're going to see then groups - as we've put this deal together, we saw these fights back-and-forth. And they're going to say, well, unemployment at $300 increase needs to be reduced because everyone's going to get that additional money. And then that's where this thing starts to unravel. And that's where I think at the end of the day - one of the solutions I put on the table right now for folks to consider and take a deep breath is maybe if the concern is you put them all together, let the merits of the bill stand on their own and you do a unanimous consent where you split them out. And if you split them out, I can tell you the work that's been done across the aisle on the 900 billion relief to the American people - and the American people demand that that relief flows to them - I think then you easily get this taken care of. But there are other issues, I think, that are afoot here that caused this decision last night to occur because this is the last vehicle leaving this year. And I think there's other legislative items that may have to be resolved outside of what we're talking about just out of COVID-19.

KELLY: Just briefly, tell us what you're suggesting there. What else do you think was afoot?

REED: Well, you know, you now have the defense bill that's been vetoed. And so you're going to have to take care of the defense authorization and the issues that have been raised there. So, you know, I think what's happening is December 28 is becoming the date where these legislative loose ends have to be resolved. And because the defense bill was clearly going to be vetoed, I think you're now seeing all of these issues being tied together. But we shouldn't hold the American people hostage. I'm tired of that. And I know Josh is tired of us always putting politics and getting that being the motivation out of D.C. It's time to put the American people first - $900 billion worth of relief of the COVID relief bill is ready to go. Don't stand in the way, D.C. Get it done.

GOTTHEIMER: Agreed.

KELLY: We have time just for a quick parting thought from each of you. I do hear the determination in both your voices to get it done. I also am guessing your heart must be sunk a little bit just at the thought of reopening negotiations. You all had gotten this done. Most of Congress had left town and gone home for the holidays.

REED: I'll echo that from your mouth to God's ears. And thank you, Josh. I mean, frustration is - but we don't give up. That's why I love Josh Gottheimer as a proud Republican. And I will tell you because he has that determination just like I do. We're going to put the American people first, not only in this deal but going forward in the next Congress. It's time to change Congress for the good and put the American people first.

GOTTHEIMER: I'll tell you, the 50 of us got on the phone last night - on a Zoom late last night, 25 Democrats, 25 Republicans coming together in the Problem Solvers Caucus. And we - all we started figuring out was, how are we going to get this done? And if it's splitting it up, if it's addressing the direct payments, whatever it takes to make sure we get food on the table right now, keep people in their homes, get the vaccines out and keep our small businesses up and running - the people just can't handle this right now. So we've got to get it done. We got to figure it out. And no more games.

KELLY: So many people waiting on the money allocated in this bill. And again, we will watch and wait. That is Congressman Tom Reed, Republican from New York, and Congressman Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, both co-chairs of the House Problem Solvers Caucus.

Thank you, gentlemen.

REED: Thank you.

GOTTHEIMER: Thank you so much. Happy holidays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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