This story has been updated.
U.S. Rep. French Hill of Arkansas’ 2nd district said Friday he remained “cautiously optimistic” that Congress would pass a nearly $1 trillion coronavirus economic relief package. With talks moving slowly and lawmakers not able to pass a bill by a Friday midnight deadline, he joined a majority in voting to pass a two-day stopgap spending bill that night to avert a partial government shutdown.
The Associated Press reported negotiators said they were making progress Saturday, with House members standing by for a possible vote on the take-it-or-leave-it behemoth bill on Sunday. It would include more than $300 billion in aid to businesses, provide unemployed people a $300 a week bonus federal unemployment benefit, renew state benefits that would otherwise expire after Christmas, and give $600 direct payments to individuals.
Hill, a Republican of Little Rock, said in an interview with KUAR News that he is adamant about passing assistance before Congress takes its winter break.
“I think both sides know that this is what is the right thing to do for the American people. It’s something that many of us have talked about since July and we’ve tried to move constructive packages on the House floor about 40 times since that date, all of which have been blocked,” Hill said. “Now I think there’s consensus that it’s critical that we get COVID-19 relief and that there’s support for that both in the House and the Senate.”
But a key roadblock that emerged Friday involved Republican leadership working to rein in emergency Federal Reserve lending powers, which Democrats say would deprive President-elect Joe Biden of crucial tools to manage the economy.
If an agreement is reached, House leaders will likely only have a few hours to study it before voting on Sunday.
BEGINNING DISTRIBUTION OF VACCINE
On Monday, hours after Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Arkansas had received its first shipment of a new COVID-19 vaccine, the state began administering it to frontline health care workers. On Friday, a second vaccine made by Moderna received emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
Rep. Hill said he expects his opportunity get a vaccine along with other members of Congress will come early in the new year.
“The vaccines are critical to the long-term beating of this virus and the recovery of our economy,” Hill said. “My hat’s off to American innovation and to the Trump Administration for kicking this off first and foremost when they found out about the genetic markers of the virus in late January of 2020, and then Congress appropriating $10 billion for Operation Warp Speed. Those two efforts have allowed us to have not one, not two, but multiple vaccines in human trials that will help not only our citizens in the U.S., but help people around the world.”
ELECTORAL COLLEGE CONFIRMS BIDEN
Almost six weeks after Election Day, on Monday the Electoral College decisively confirmed Democrat Joe Biden had won the presidential race, as President Trump has refused to concede he lost and made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in swing states. The electors gave Biden 306 votes, a solid majority over 232 for President Trump.
The results will be presented to Congress during a joint session on Jan. 6. Rep. Hill said he recognizes Biden as the president-elect.
“That decision is made and President Trump is a fighter. He has done a job all across the country trying to assess election imperfections in these swing states and has taken that charge to court. But those judges, both at the state level and at the federal level have not found a systemic voting imperfection that would have changed the outcome, and so those court cases, I think, for the most part are now behind us,” Hill said.
As for how the nation can come together after years of bitter partisan division, Hill said, “We’ve been here before over the 244 years in terms of political vitriol and unpleasant elections that were very, very controversial.”
“I would hope that we all have a sense of proper tone here to respect our democracy, to respect our country, to make sure that our country has the ability to pull together and work for both domestic tranquility which we’re all promised and have the right point of view for protecting America’s interests around the world,” Hill said. “That will take leadership in the Congress, but also that President-elect Biden and his tone is very important I think going into the new presidential term.”
Reporting by The Associated Press contributed to this report.