Capitulating to Donald Trump on COVID-19 is the dumb new 'progressive' idea


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not only has to negotiate with a erratic Republican president, but also petulant progressives in her own caucus.

Self-proclaimed gateskeepers of progressivism really are the worst armchair quarterbacks in Washington, DC.

Over the weekend and spilling into the early part of this week, Andrew Yang and Ro Khanna have come up with a suggestion that can only be characterized as the dumbest negotiating posture on the planet: they say Democrats should capitulate to Donald Trump on a COVID relief package that will quickly go nowhere in the Senate and when House Democrats clearly have the upper hand in the negotiations.

Yang and Khanna, both products of Silicon Valley where tech companies with more money than small countries are worried about their blue chip stock prices, are imploring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to accept an offer from the Trump administration of a seriously damaged stimulus package with almost no targeted stimulus.

Yang is one thing, because he has never held elected office and really is just a political pundit who sucks at punditry. Khanna, however, is a member of Congress and should know better.

The Speaker - who so far has been running circles around the Steve Mnuchen and the Trump administration on negotiating a second coronavirus relief package - is naturally not amused. She appeared on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, who treated her - the head of one of three co-equal branches of government and the second in line to the presidency - with discourtesy, contempt, and disrespect as he spoke over her, cut her off, and refused to let her complete her thoughts.

As Pelosi pointed out in the interview (when she could get a word out), despite the punditry's focus on the topline numbers - the House has reduced the size of its stimulus package from $3.4 trillion to $2.2 trillion, while the White House is offering a $1.8 trillion figure - the devil is in the details of what, not just how much, the administration is proposing. Through a series of Dear Colleague letters, the Speaker and the chairs of key committees identified the critical differences that remain. The administration's proposal:

  • demands that corporations be exempted from COVID-related liability if they put the lives of their employees and customers in jeopardy.
  • requires state legislatures to pass legislation to enter 'compacts' in order to receive any assistance for COVID testing and tracing (since Congress has power to control interstate commerce already, the provision is clearly meant to slow down the distribution of funds), even from an anemic $45 billion fund, down from $75 billion in the Democratic bill.
  • zeroes out the expanded child tax credit and earned income tax credit for middle-income families, critically needed targeted assistance for families with children.
  • provides less than half on child care $25B vs House Dem version of $57B.
  • nixes money for election safety.

Ro Khanna, who, in the interest of full disclosure, represents me in Congress, did say that testing needed to be fully funded at $75 billion before a deal should be struck, but it's doubtful that Khanna, in his rush to the undercut the Speaker, bothered to read and understand what the Democratic negotiators are fighting for and how seriously flawed the White House offer is.

As importantly, Yang and Khanna appear unaware that the Republican Senate will not take up a comprehensive package - even the badly flawed one offered by the White House, because a significant faction of Senate Republicans don't want any comprehensive deal at all, because they believe it will deflate their base at a time when a bunch of red-state senators are endangered incumbents.

Khanna calls on Pelosi to make a deal so the "ball" can be put in "McConnell's" court, completely oblivious to the fact that the ball has already been in McConnell's court twice: once after the Democrats passed the $3.4 trillion package in May and then when they passed the $2.2 trillion compromise measure this month. For his part, McConnell has turned his court into a legislative graveyard.

After all, there is nothing preventing McConnell from taking up one of the House bills, amending it wholesale with what the White House wants and challenging the House to act.

Even if the Senate were to find time to address coronavirus relief by some miracle, it won't happen for weeks, as the first order of business in the Senate is confirming Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett so that she can provide the fifth vote to strip health care protections away from hundreds of millions of Americans in the middle of a pandemic.

Because of the Senate schedule, there is simply no reason for the House to rush on a bill that will collect dust in the Senate for weeks even if it ever got a vote. The time is much better spent by Pelosi and House negotiators to try to get a better deal that meets the moment.

Yang and Khanna are as woefully unschooled at legislative dealmaking as the author of Art of the Deal. Nancy Pelosi is right. All Donald Trump wants is for checks to go out with his name on it for bragging rights right before the election. That's not a reason to stop the stimulus, but it does make Trump more eager to make a deal, worsening his negotiating position and strengthening possibility that Democrats can get a better deal. As I explained in a previous column, Speaker Pelosi is a maestro and wielding her power.

The one thing that gives me confidence is that so far, Khanna remains the only member of Congress to speak out of turn to undermine the Speaker.

Progressives - especially progressives in Congress - should learn to trust the woman who delivered the goods on priorities ranging from the Affordable Care Act to Donald Trump's impeachment. Undercutting her won't help anyone except Donald Trump. As Pelosi herself said in her interview with Wolf Blitzer, she does believe a deal is achievable.

If 'progressives' like Ro Khanna really want the best deal possible for the American people, they need to have the Speaker's back, not throw her under the bus.