U.S. House Speaker Pelosi voices optimism about passing coronavirus aid bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday said she was optimistic about Congress passing coronavirus relief legislation before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“I’m optimistic. I do think that we should have an agreement,” Pelosi said in a CNN interview. “That’s what we all want.”

The U.S. Senate on Thursday killed a Republican bill that would have provided around $300 billion in new coronavirus aid, as Democrats seeking far more funding – around $3 trillion – prevented it from advancing.

Pelosi said she was proud to see Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer “reject that terrible skinny bill to a massive problem that we have.”

She did not refer to any planned negotiations with the White House or congressional Republican leaders on a new bill.

President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has become a focus of the 2020 presidential race, in which he trails Democratic rival Joe Biden in several opinion polls. The pandemic has led to the deaths of more than 190,000 people in the United States and more than 910,000 worldwide.

Earlier this year, Congress rapidly passed four bills providing about $3 trillion to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The Democratic-controlled House passed a fifth bill in May that would provide another $3 trillion in aid, but the Republican-led Senate did not take it up.

The Republican bill defeated on Thursday would have renewed a federal unemployment benefit, but at a lower level than Democrats sought. It also would have set new protections for businesses against lawsuits during the pandemic.

Other initiatives – including aid to state and local governments, a second round of direct payments to households, and bailouts for airlines – were not addressed in the Republican bill.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)