- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said Congress is “coming close to bipartisan agreement” on a funding package to combat the coronavirus.

Lawmakers from both parties have signaled they will approve more than the $2.5 billion that President Trump requested for the fight.

Mr. Trump’s proposal calls for more than $1 billion in new funding and transferring the rest away from the Ebola fight and other accounts, though he’s willing to accept extra money if Congress wants to approve it.

In a statement with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, the House speaker did not reveal a final number but said the package must not take money from other initiatives and that Mr. Trump must use any new dollars for the coronavirus fight.

The package should provide interest-free loans to small businesses impacted by the outbreak and provide reimbursement to states that assist the federal response, they said.

Mr. Trump and Mrs. Pelosi have traded barbs over the administration’s handling of the response, as federal officials investigate the first suspected case of local transmission in the speaker’s home state of California.

Mrs. Pelosi said Mr. Trump’s response has been chaotic. In turn, the president called Mrs. Pelosi “incompetent” late Wednesday and said she’s trying to start a panic for political means. Mr. Trump says the situation is under control and that he’s tasked Vice President Mike Pence with leading the fight.

Mrs. Pelosi said she spoke to Mr. Pence, aired concerns about his record, citing the belief he exacerbated a 2015 outbreak of HIV/AIDS among injectable drug users in Indiana by slow-walking a needle-exchange effort while he served as governor.

Moments later Thursday, Mr. Pence announced he is tapping Ambassador Debbie Birx, a renowned HIV/AIDS experts, to serve as the White House coronavirus response coordinator.

Despite clear acrimony, Mrs. Pelosi said everyone needs to work together.

“Lives are at stake — this is not the time for name-calling or playing politics,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “The first step the Congress must take is to ensure the government has the resources needed to combat this deadly virus and keep Americans safe.”

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