US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have held a meeting with 10 Republican senators to discuss the USD 1.9 trillion relief package for Americans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed over 443,000 lives and infected more than 26 million people in the country.
The meeting held on Monday in the Oval Office of the White House lasted for about two hours but ended on an inconclusive note.
"We have just had a very productive, cordial two-hour meeting with the president and the vice president and some of their key aides to discuss the next steps on the COVID-relief package,” Senator Susan Collins told reporters at the White House after the meeting.
"We outlined for the president the provisions that we have proposed as part of an approximately USD 600 billion package,” she said.
During the meeting, Biden explained in more depth areas that were not fleshed out as much in the USD 1.9 trillion packages. Biden has proposed a USD 1.9 trillion relief package that Democratic leaders want to move quickly through Congress.
The group led by Collins countered with a much narrower USD 618 billion proposal, and appealed to Biden to make good on his campaign promises to seek bipartisan unity.
"It was a very good exchange of views. I wouldn't say that we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that in a two-hour meeting,” Collins said.
"But what we did agree to do is to follow-up and talk further at the staff level and amongst ourselves and with the president and vice president on how we can continue to work together on this very important issue,” she said.
The group shared a desire to get help to the American people, who are suffering through the worst health and economic crisis in a generation, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
While there were areas of agreement, the president also reiterated his view that Congress must respond boldly and urgently and noted many areas which the Republican senators' proposal does not address, she said. According to Psaki, Biden reiterated that while he is hopeful that the Rescue Plan can pass with bipartisan support, a reconciliation package is a path to achieve that end.
"The President also made clear that the American Rescue Plan was carefully designed to meet the stakes of this moment, and any changes in it cannot leave the nation short of its pressing needs,” she said.
Psaki said that the president expressed his hope that the group could continue to discuss ways to strengthen the American Rescue Plan as it moves forward, and find areas of common ground — including work on small business support and nutrition programmes.
"He reiterated, however, that he will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment,” she said.
The US is the worst affected country due to the coronavirus pandemic, with 443,186 recorded deaths and 26,307,963 infections detected in the country.
The novel coronavirus which originated in China’s Wuhan city in December 2019 has claimed 2,236,559 lives and infected 103,378,964 people across the globe, according to Johns Hopkins University data.