- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2020

Capitol Hill lawmakers across the political divide agree that reopening schools is a top priority for the next coronavirus relief package, though they are butting heads over how and when to get kids back in the classrooms.

President Trump is demanding that students be in the classroom by next fall, a stance House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called dangerous. The president accused Democrats of trying to keep schools closed to help them get an edge in the upcoming election.

“Children in many cases — the immune system is powerful, so strong,” Mr. Trump said. “We have to get our schools open and stop this political nonsense.”

“They [Democrats] don’t want to open because they think it’ll help them on November 5. I think it’s going to hurt them,” he added.

Mrs. Pelosi countered, arguing it was endangering children and teachers to put them in an environment where social distancing or other precautions may be impossible.

“Everybody I know wants to open up the schools … but it has to be safe for the children. And to be safe for the children, we must attack this coronavirus. We must kill it off. We cannot ignore it and we cannot call it a hoax,” she said. “We don’t want our children to take risks to go to school. We’re supposed to mitigate for any damage, we’re supposed to keep them safe.”

The president criticized his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday, saying their guidance for schools was too cumbersome. Others have argued that the CDC guidelines, as written, could be used as an excuse for some not to reopen when they can.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said Thursday that the CDC is both sticking with its guidance for teachers and schools, and providing additional resources.

“So our guidelines are our guidelines. But we are going to provide additional reference documents to aid basically communities that are trying to reopen” schools, he said.

Part of CDC’s official recommendations is to keep students six feet apart, and eliminate communal spaces.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy didn’t defend or rebut the president’s criticism of the CDC on Thursday, but argued that Congress needs to be physically present on Capitol Hill to work out what policies will work best and what flexibility different districts will need.

Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, has called for child care and schools to be one of the top priorities for the next coronavirus package.

Part of his proposal would ensure that the Department of Health and Human Services specifically study how the coronavirus affects children and spreads among them, as well as provide resources for state governments so schools have access to antibody testing.

Republicans also want liability protection for business owners, which Mr. McCarthy argued would benefit these kinds of child services.

Mrs. Pelosi said the funding is part of the $3 trillion Heroes Act the House passed in mid-May and is stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The Democrats’ package would provide for a surge in state and local funding, an additional round of direct payments to the public, with additional funds for vote-by-mail initiatives and the struggling Postal Service.

It appears that the Democrats are eyeing an even bigger figure for state and local government than the initial $800 billion proposed.

“Trillion with a ‘tr,’” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Let’s put it this way. $1 trillion for state and local that is half of the cost of the Republican plan in their tax scam.”

Congress is set to start working on its next coronavirus relief act by mid-June when the Senate returns from recess, running up against a deadline for expiring coronavirus benefits including the $600 unemployment aid.

⦁ David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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