March 5, 2021 Covid-19 stimulus bill updates

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 9:02 a.m. ET, March 6, 2021
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6:00 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

GOP senators accuse Democrats of denying bipartisanship in standoff over relief bill

From CNN's Ryan Nobles

From left, US Sens. Joni Ernst, Lindsey Graham, Roy Blunt and Cindy Hyde-Smith hold a news conference at the Capitol on Friday.
From left, US Sens. Joni Ernst, Lindsey Graham, Roy Blunt and Cindy Hyde-Smith hold a news conference at the Capitol on Friday. Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of Republican senators called out their fellow Democrats, President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for being unwilling to allow a vote on what they called a bipartisan amendment that would change the standards for unemployment benefits in the Covid-19 relief package. 

The senators claimed that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was stalling progress on the vote because there were enough Democrats willing to cross party lines and vote on the GOP proposal instead of the Democratic version.  

“We believe we have some Democrats who read the bill yesterday and found some things they didn't like sat down with some Republicans to find a better way. And the result is, we've done nothing for four hours and 20 minutes,” Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said. He then accused Biden of being part of the hold up. “President Biden, is this the new way of doing business? There's nothing new about this. He's been on the phone trying to talk democrats out of working with Republicans to change the unemployment insurance benefits.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, claimed there could be multiple Democrats willing to support the amendment, proposed by Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, but Schumer was preventing the vote from being taken. He also claimed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had warned Democratic senators that if the Portman amendment is included, the package will not pass the House.  

“Because there was an amendment that we were prepared to offer they actually had bipartisan support. The Democrats have gone back behind closed doors, and as Senator Graham pointed out, tried to get the President on the line to pressure a couple of people not to work with Republicans.” 

Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Roy Blunt pointed to the prior successful bills passed to deliver Covid-19 relief prior to Democrats taking control of the House, Senate and White House and said they were disappointed this process had become so partisan.  

“Today we are witnessing a very very unfortunate exercise in partisanship exactly what President Biden preached against on his inauguration day, stating that he would be a president for all Americans. And that bipartisanship would prevail. And yet, we have seen absolutely none of that,” said Ernst. 

5:47 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

GOP senator who left DC is going to his father-in-law's funeral

From CNN's Manu Raju and Kristin Wilson  

Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images/File
Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images/File

GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan left Washington for Alaska earlier today due to the death of his father-in-law. 

His office released a statement saying, "Due to the recent passing of his father-in-law, Senator Sullivan had to depart on a Friday afternoon flight to make it back to Fairbanks, Alaska in time for the funeral."   

The statement also says, "Senator Sullivan intended to vote against final passage of the bill and made his opposition clear in a statement on Thursday, after his vote against the motion to proceed with consideration of the bill."

Before leaving, Sullivan did vote Friday against the minimum wage amendment put forward by Sen. Bernie Sanders.  

His departure adds to the challenges facing the GOP in trying to delay and amend the Covid-19 relief bill championed by the White House and currently stalled in the Senate. 

5:06 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Democratic leaders are "trying to find common ground" with senator who could back GOP proposal

From CNN's Ted Barrett 

US Sen. Joe Manchin is seen at the Capitol on Friday.
US Sen. Joe Manchin is seen at the Capitol on Friday. Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA

Democratic leaders are “trying to find some common ground” with Sen. Joe Manchin, who is balking at supporting a fresh unemployment insurance proposal offered by Democrats as part of the Covid-19 relief bill that is on the floor now, according to Democratic Whip Dick Durbin. 

Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, may back a Republican proposal from Sen. Rob Portman that is not as generous as the Democratic plan but that also would not cause as much government debt. Durbin said it’s not clear if they could find a compromise between the two proposals and pass that.

Manchin’s vote is critical in the 50-50 Senate, and Durbin said he did not know Manchin’s current position on the two bills, indicating he had not talked to him directly in about two hours.

Durbin also said it’s unclear if House Democrats would pass the Portman proposal if it was adopted by the Senate and sent back to the House for final approval.

“That’s always the final calculation, but I can’t say,” Durbin said.

4:54 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

GOP down a vote after senator leaves DC for Alaska, source tells CNN

From CNN's Manu Raju

US Sen. Dan Sullivan walks through the Senate subway at the US Capitol on Tuesday.
US Sen. Dan Sullivan walks through the Senate subway at the US Capitol on Tuesday. Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images/File

Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, has left Washington, DC, to return to his home state, according to a GOP source familiar with his travel.

He did vote earlier Friday on the minimum wage amendment. 

CNN has reached out to Sullivan’s office for comment on the decision to travel. 

His departure adds to the challenges facing the GOP in trying to delay and amend the Covid-19 relief bill championed by the White House and currently stalled in the Senate.  

4:07 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Senate has been at a standstill for hours as Democrats try to win Manchin's vote on jobless benefits

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett 

As Democratic leaders furiously try to win over Sen. Joe Manchin, a key Democrat from West Virginia, behind their last-minute deal on jobless benefits, the Senate has been at a complete standstill.

The vote over increasing the minimum wage is still open, even though it started at 11:03 a.m ET. They have left it open to prevent further Senate votes until they sort out their internal problems.

By now, the Senate would have had at least eight amendment votes — maybe more.

Republican leaders, meanwhile, are growing confident that all 50 of their members will back Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman's alternative plan to extend jobless benefits at $300 per week through July, according to senators and aides.

Manchin has signaled to Republicans he will back the plan, senators say. 

If the Portman amendment is adopted, it would upset the fragile Democratic coalition aiming to speed passage of the bill to President Biden's desk next week.

Manchin has concerns about the last-minute deal reached between the White House and Democratic leaders to extend jobless benefits at $300 per week through September in addition to ensuring the first $10,200 of jobless benefits are not taxed.

That tax-free provision has prompted Manchin's concern.

The underlying bill includes $400 a week in benefits through August, but it does not have the tax-free benefits provision.

Also moments ago, CNN spotted Portman walking out of Senate Minorty Whip John Thune’s office and told reporters he could not talk because he had Manchin on the phone that he was holding to his ear. 

4:06 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Biden touts Covid-19 relief as Senate debates bill: It will provide "immediate relief for millions of people"

From CNN's DJ Judd

President Joe Biden takes part in a roundtable discussion Friday about the Covid-19 relief plan.
President Joe Biden takes part in a roundtable discussion Friday about the Covid-19 relief plan. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden touted his administration’s Covid-19 relief package, telling participants in a White House roundtable that the American Rescue Plan, “is going to provide immediate relief for millions of people that are going to be able to use it in a very constructive way and also grow the economy in the process.”

The Senate's version of the bill is being debated now. If the bill passes in the Senate, it will have to go back to the House for a separate vote before Biden signs it into law.

“This isn't some academic discussion, it's about you, it's about people like you, and families I grew up with, all over America.” Biden told the group Friday at the White House.

Biden was joined by Alma Williams, a WMATA driver who provides paratransit to disabled individuals, George Kerr, a veteran and LGBTQ advocate who’s faced housing instability, and Lyda Vanegas, who works for the DC-based non-profit Mary’s Center.

“You've all lived lives of service, not only have taken care of yourself and your families, but you've lived lives of service to help other people as well,” Biden told the group, adding he “wanted this to be a conversation about what the impact of the $1400 that our plan has for every American out there, and to make sure that I understand what you think is important about it, if you think it's important.”

“People are hurting right now,” Biden said. “The American Rescue Plan, I believe, and according to polling data, the vast majority of Americans believe, is essential to giving them some help, and to turn it around. 

Some more context: Biden and the Democrats are racing to enact the legislation before millions of Americans start losing pandemic unemployment benefits on March 14.

The Senate bill would provide direct payments worth up to $1,400 per person to families earning less than $160,000 a year and individuals earning less than $80,000 a year. The payments will phase out faster than they would have under the House version of the bill, which set the income caps at $200,000 for couples and $100,000 for individuals.

That means that not everyone who was eligible for a check earlier will receive one now — but for those who do qualify, the new payments will top up the $600 checks approved in December, bringing recipients to a total of $2,000 apiece.

CNN's Tami Luhby and Katie Lobosco contributed reporting to this post.

3:17 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Rep. Omar: Trump's stimulus did more for Americans than Democrats' slimmed-down package

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

CNN via Skype
CNN via Skype

Rep. Ilhan Omar today said changes made in the Senate to the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed out of the House now means it will deliver less for Americans than the previous package designed by Republicans and signed by former President Donald Trump. 

Omar, a progressive Democrat, was referring specifically to a change made in the Senate that would narrow income eligibility for the next round of $1,400 stimulus checks, cutting off couples that earn $160,000 a year and individual people who earn more than $80,000 a year. The House legislation, which passed Saturday, set the income caps at $200,000 for couples and $100,000 for individuals.

"I see it as a really disappointing development," said Omar, speaking on CNN. "We obviously are now ultimately sending money to less people than the Trump administration."

When pressed by CNN's Brianna Keilar on whether she was saying that "Trump wanted to deliver more in the way of checks for Americans than Biden?" Omar responded affirmatively. 

"Yeah," she replied. "So the last checks that we were able to send had given … 17 million more people than we will ultimately do with the caps now. And that, you know, is going to be something that we're going to have to explain, and I don't know if many of us have a logical explanation on why we are delivering less."

By contrast, the federal government sent about 160 million payments worth up to $1,200 per person last year, reaching about 94% of families. Some households that earned more than $200,000 a year were eligible, depending on how many children they had.

"This is not the promise that we made," said Omar. "This is not who we are given the opportunity to be as majority in the Senate and have the White hHouse. So ultimately it is a failure when we compromise ourselves out of delivering on behalf of the American people and in keeping our promises."

3:10 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Biden warns "the gains are going to slow" if Covid-19 relief is not passed

From CNN's DJ Judd

President Joe Biden speaks at a White House economic briefing on Friday.
President Joe Biden speaks at a White House economic briefing on Friday. Patrick Semansky/AP

President Biden warned Friday that, without his administration’s Covid-relief package, some of the progress made could begin to slow, telling reporters gathered in the Roosevelt Room, “today's job report shows that the American rescue plan is urgently needed.”

“Our economy still has 9.5 million fewer jobs that had this time last year — at that rate, it would take three years to get us back on track,” Biden said in remarks before a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors Cecilia Rouse.

While the US added 379,000 new jobs last month, Biden warned, “Some of last month’s job growth is the result of the December relief package. Without a rescue plan, the gains are going to slow — we can't afford one step forward and two steps backwards.”

Biden pointed to the imminent expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits, telling reporters Friday, “the Rescue Plan is absolutely essential for turning this around getting kids back to school safely, getting a lifeline to small businesses, and getting the upper hand on Covid-19.

Biden and the Democrats are racing to enact the Covid-19 legislation before millions of Americans start losing unemployment benefits March 14.

2:42 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Senate GOP working to secure 50 votes for alternative plan on jobless benefits

From CNN's Manu Raju

Republican leaders are urging their colleagues to fall in line behind Sen. Rob Portman’s alternative jobless benefits extension, arguing that doing so could help pare back – or potentially scuttle – the overall relief bill, according to GOP sources familiar with the matter. 

There are several members who are philosophically opposed to enhanced jobless benefits.

But GOP leaders are trying to impress upon them that backing $300 a week could upset the delicate coalition between progressives and moderates — and throw a wrench into Democratic efforts to get the bill done quickly

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has indicated he would support the Portman plan, sources on both sides say, but he is facing enormous pressure by his colleagues to instead back an alternative deal reached by Democratic leaders and the White House instead.