Senate narrowly approves $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill (LIVE UPDATES)


Senate passes Biden’s $1.9T coronavirus relief bill

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House, Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Washington.
AP Photos

WASHINGTON — An exhausted Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Saturday as President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies notched a victory they called crucial for hoisting the country out of the pandemic and economic doldrums.

After laboring all night on a mountain of amendments — nearly all from Republicans and rejected — bleary-eyed senators approved the sprawling package on a 50-49 party-line vote. That sets up final congressional approval by the House next week so lawmakers can whisk it to Biden for his signature.

The huge measure — its total spending is nearly one-tenth the size of the entire U.S. economy — is Biden’s biggest early priority. It stands as his formula for addressing the deadly virus and a limping economy, twin crises that have afflicted the country for a year.

“This nation has suffered too much for much too long,” Biden told reporters at the White House after the vote. “And everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation, and put us in a better position to prevail.”

Saturday’s vote was also a crucial political moment for Biden and Democrats, who need nothing short of party unanimity in a 50-50 Senate they run with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. They have a slim 10-vote House edge.

Not a single Republican backed the bill in the Senate or when it initially passed the House, underscoring the barbed partisan environment that’s so far characterizing the early days of Biden’s presidency.

A small but pivotal band of moderate Democrats leveraged changes in the legislation that incensed progressives, not making it any easier for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to guide the measure through the House. But rejection of their first, signature bill was not an option for Democrats, who face two years of trying to run Congress with virtually no room for error.

“They feel like we do, we have to get this done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the House. He said he’d spoken to Pelosi about the Senate’s changes and added, “It’s not going to be everything everyone wants. No bill is.”

Read the full story here.


9:19 a.m. Pritzker on losing streak with party leadership and tax battles, but COVID-19 likely to be game changer — or ender

Chalk up another loss on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s political scoreboard.

The latest defeat — backing the losing candidate in the race to succeed Mike Madigan as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois — has some on the sidelines questioning whether the billionaire governor is headed for a game-ending loss next year.

“It’s nice to have money, but you’ve got to make that money work for you, and you have to get some wins,” said one Illinois Democrat, who asked to remain anonymous. “He needed that win [Wednesday] night. … That never would have happened on Madigan’s watch.”

Pritzker hasn’t officially said whether he’s seeking reelection, but some Democrats see the losses, namely the thwarted move to a graduated income tax and the Wednesday night defeat, as troubling signs as he potentially gears up for a bid for a second term.

But the real game changer, of course, could be COVID-19 — and whether the governor’s response is seen as a grand slam or the final out.

The latest political hit for the governor came Wednesday, when U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly was narrowly elected Illinois Democratic chair by the 36 men and women who make up the state party’s central committee, beating Ald. Michelle Harris, 51.7% to 48.3%.

Pritzker backed the South Side alderman, and committee members said he personally lobbied on her behalf.

“I’m not going to pull any punches, and say it felt good — it’s disappointing,” said Quentin Fulks, the head of Pritzker’s political operation. “We had a preferred candidate, and they didn’t win, but at the end of the day, we are all Democrats, and the party did end up with a Black woman as chair and we are looking forward to a successful 2022 and electing Democrats up and down the ballot all across the state.”

Read the full story from Rachel Hinton here.

New Cases

  • Officials reported 2,565 new cases were diagnosed among 79,248 tests, to raise Illinois’ average positivity rate slightly to 2.4%.
  • The state also logged another 50 COVID-19 deaths, including that of a Cook County man in his 30s.

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