CHATTANOOGA – President-elect Joe Biden on Friday urged Congress to pass a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill during the lame-duck session as a starting point in public remarks notable for their care in dealing with GOP and Democratic objections to the emerging compromise.

Biden said it was critical to get a bill passed soon to provide relief to Americans hours after a new labor report showed slowing job growth as coronavirus cases spike across the country.

He repeatedly dodged questions about whether he’s spoken to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), while deflecting questions about progressive concerns that the legislation does not provide enough immediate help to families in need.


“We need more economic relief to bridge through 2021 until this pandemic and economic crisis are over. And then we need to build back better,” Biden said.

Those remarks reflected Biden’s emerging position, that the country cannot wait for some relief but that additional measures could be passed after he takes office Jan. 20.

Asked why he’s confident Republicans, who have thus far balked at the price of Democratic proposals, will be willing to go bigger once he’s in office, Biden replied: “Because the country is going to be in dire, dire, dire straits if they don’t.”

Asked then if he’d spoken directly with McConnell, Biden smiled but did not directly answer.

“We’ll be in dire trouble if we don’t get cooperation and I believe we will,” he said.

McConnell and Biden have a long relationship given Biden’s decades in the Senate. Biden helped in negotiating several end-of-year packages with McConnell as vice president to former President Obama.

Biden told CNN in an interview Thursday that he has received private congratulatory calls from “several” GOP senators, but he declined to name who they were.

McConnell is not among the handful of Republicans who have referred to Biden as president-elect, though earlier this week he made a reference to the “next administration.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are facing mounting pressure to get a deal on coronavirus aid done before the end of the year as infections and hospitalizations surge and unemployment benefits are set to expire.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke Thursday with McConnell seeking a strategy for passing both an emergency COVID-19 bill and legislation to fund the government and prevent a shutdown. Both sides emerged from that discussion in agreement that the two bills should be lumped together for the sake of expediency — a message Pelosi echoed Friday.