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Moderate Democrats voice opposition and unease over $3 trillion Covid package pushed by Pelosi

CNN logo CNN 5/15/2020 By Clare Foran, Manu Raju and Haley Byrd, CNN

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Some moderate Democrats in Congress are expressing unease over, or outright opposition to, the more than $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill that party leaders are bringing to the House floor for a Friday vote.

The pushback underscores how House Democratic leaders are being attacked on all sides over the legislation — by congressional Republicans, who have dismissed the legislation as a liberal wish list, as well as within their own ranks by both progressives and moderates.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, is calling members one-by-one to lock down votes for the recovery plan as a number of her most vulnerable members in frontline districts are nervous about getting behind it, according to a Democratic source involved in the whip effort.

Despite the criticism from both progressives and moderates, House Democrats leaders have expressed confidence that the package will pass the House on Friday. It is not expected to be taken up by the Senate, however, due to Republican opposition.

Progressives have expressed frustration that the bill does not go far enough to provide aid to Americans dealing with economic fallout, while some moderates are voicing concern over the massive price tag of the plan and the fact that it does not have widespread bipartisan support.

Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., leaves a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus at the Capitol on December 4, 2019. © Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., leaves a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus at the Capitol on December 4, 2019. Freshman Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn, a moderate who flipped an Oklahoma House seat from red to blue in 2018, strongly criticized the Democratic leadership's $3 trillion coronavirus response bill on Thursday, saying that she won't vote for it.

"Messaging bills without bipartisan support are a disservice to the American people, especially during a time of crisis," she said in a statement. "This is not the time for partisan gamesmanship, this is the time to find common ground and deliver help where it is needed most."

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a freshman from Michigan in a swing district, told CNN on Thursday that she has "concerns" with the $3 trillion price tag and said "I'm undecided" on whether she will vote for the plan on Friday.

Slotkin said that she's trying to weigh "the positives for my district against some of the negatives."

"What I wanted to see in this package is sticking to the very specific emergency need that the country has, and so I feel like there are a lot of things that I pushed for, and I believe in, especially money for our cities and towns. There's money for testing, like really critical things, and then there are some things that I don't feel like had to be in the bill, and what I'm trying to decide is does the net positive outweigh that negative," she said.

Moderate freshmen Democrats like Horn and Slotkin represent the kind of frontline, battleground districts that will be heavily contested in the fall as Republicans try to win back the House majority they lost to Democrats in 2018. The voices of these vulnerable Democrats carry outsized influence within the House Democratic caucus with Democratic leaders recognizing the importance of holding onto those seats to maintain their majority.

As concerns grow among moderates over the relief bill, Pelosi is still hearing frustration from the left wing of her caucus.

A statement from the office of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that the congresswoman "is continuing to review the 1,800 page, more than $3 trillion legislation. She continues to be concerned that the current version of the package fails to meet the scale of this crisis, one that has seen 36 million Americans lose their jobs and at least 27 million lose their health care."

Democratic leadership aides, however, are still signaling they are confident they will get the votes to pass the measure Friday.

Pelosi defended the bill against attacks that it is partisan during a news conference on Thursday, saying, "We're putting our offer on the table. We're open to negotiation."

Other moderate Democrats in both the House and Senate have also expressed reservations over the legislation.

Slideshow by photo services

Rep. Tom O'Halleran of Arizona tweeted on Wednesday, "While I recognize the many merits of the Heroes Act, I also know that this bill is over 1800 pages long, won't receive a hearing or markup, and hasn't passed through appropriate Committees of jurisdiction."

He added, "I'm concerned that there hasn't been enough accountability or oversight in this process. I will continue to review this legislation to ensure that the allocated resources directly aid #AZ01 families."

O'Halleran is a co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of centrist Democrats in the House.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, also had a dour assessment of the House Democrats' $3 trillion stimulus bill on Wednesday.

"That's a big number, $3 trillion is a big number, on top of about three we already spent. And we were going to be over a trillion dollars in debt when things were good before the pandemic. So now you're looking at seven plus. That's more than what my children and grandchildren can probably chew," Manchin said.

Congressional Republicans have argued that it is too early to pass another far-reaching measure and have instead urged waiting to see what the impact will be of the already-enacted relief packages so far.

And while GOP leaders and the White House oppose the Democratic plan, at least one House Republican intends to vote for the bill.

New York's Pete King plans to vote for the measure, according to his spokesman Kevin Fogarty.

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