WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday he opposes the emerging bipartisan deal on coronavirus relief, objecting to giving "legal immunity to corporations" and the exclusion of a new round of $1,200 direct payments.
"Given the enormous economic desperation facing working families in this country today, I will not be able to support the recently announced Manchin-Romney COVID proposal unless it is significantly improved," Sanders said in a statement, referring to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, two key figures in crafting the package.
While many lawmakers in both parties have expressed optimism and support for the emerging deal, Sanders' statement indicates progressive resistance. Any successful legislation will need Republicans and Democrats.
Movement toward a deal began after a bipartisan group of lawmakers released a $908 billion plan early this week aimed at breaking the logjam that has stalled progress for months.
Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have prioritized enacting liability protections to shield companies operating in the pandemic from lawsuits.
"In my view, we have got to make sure that every working class American receives at least $1,200 in direct payments and that we do not provide a liability shield to corporations who break the law," Sanders said in a statement provided by his office.
Hours earlier, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., expressed some similar concerns in an interview with NBC News but remained open to voting for a package.
"Something is better than nothing but what I have real concerns about is the American people thinking 'Congress struck a deal, we're getting COVID relief,' and then their lives changing very little," she said, adding that she is "extremely concerned that it's not going to solve the immediate problems that people have."
"If you're on the brink of an eviction or if you're behind on six months of bills, you need that check, you need the check, and state and local funding isn't going to help you," Ocasio-Cortez said. "And so the millions of people who are most desperately impacted need a check."
President-elect Joe Biden has encouraged the bipartisan talks and signaled Friday that he also favors the direct payments.
"I think it would be better if they had the $1,200," he told reporters in Wilmington. "I understand that may still be in play."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and McConnell spoke this week and expressed optimism about reaching a Covid aid deal and combining it into government funding legislation.
The Covid-19 negotiations is making for strange bedfellows.
On Thursday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., — who represents the opposite side of the political spectrum from Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders — told NBC News he won't support a bill unless it includes a new round of $1,200 checks.
"I'm not sure why it's controversial," Hawley said. "I'm a little baffled by it."
The direct payments, a popular but expensive policy, were included in the March CARES Act. They were included in the recent $2.2 trillion package pushed by Democratic leaders and opposed by Republicans. The idea was omitted from the bipartisan plan to placate conservatives who object to a high price tag.
Hawley said Friday on Twitter: "I will gladly work w/ @AOC and anyone else who wants to help working families. Families and working people in need should be the FIRST consideration in COVID relief, not last."