WASHINGTON — Tensions flared Monday as Washington strained to respond to the worsening coronavirus outbreak, with Congress arguing over a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue package and an impatient President Trump musing openly about letting the 15-day shutdown expire.
As the U.S. braces for an onslaught of sick Americans, and millions are forced indoors to avert a spike that risks overwhelming hospitals, the most ambitious federal intervention in modern times is testing whether Washington can swiftly halt the pandemic on the home front. By evening, it appeared there would be no further votes Monday, and talks would push into the night.
“It’s time to get with the program, time to pass historic relief,” said an angry Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he opened the chamber after a nonstop weekend session that failed to produce a deal. “This is a national emergency.”
Fuming, McConnell warned Democrats — pointedly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — to quit stalling on “political games,” as he described Democratic efforts to steer more of the aid toward public health and workers.
Trump, who has largely been hands-off from the negotiations, weighed in late Monday from the White House briefing room, declaring that Congress should vote “for the Senate bill as written,” dismissing any Democratic proposal.
“It must go quickly,” Trump said. “This is not the time for political agendas.”
The president also sounded a note of frustration about the unprecedented modern-day effort to halt the virus’s march by essentially shutting down public activities in ways that now threaten the U.S. economy.
Even though Trump’s administration recommended Americans curtail activities starting a week ago, the president said: “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15-day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go.”
“Let’s go to work,” he said. “This country was not built to be shut down. This is not a county that was built for this.”
Pelosi attacked Trump, saying, “He’s a notion-monger, just tossing out things that have no relationship to a well coordinated, science-based, governmentwide response to this. Thank God for the governors who are taking the lead in their state. Thank God for some of the people in the administration who speak truth to power.”