White House floats new Covid deal to Pelosi as McConnell remains skeptical
President Donald Trump is back at the table a few weeks before the election to negotiate a multi-billion dollar economic agreement. This is the last sudden turn in the talks that have lashed back and forth for months.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made a $ 1.8 trillion proposal to spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi on Friday - the GOP's largest offer to the Democrats to date, just days after Trump said talks would last after the November elections completed.
Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke by phone for about 30 minutes on Friday afternoon. During that time, the secretary returned to the table with a proposal that sought to address some of the Democrats' concerns, according to a Pelosi spokesman. But the Democrats said they are still waiting for more details as the two parties continue to haggle over the overall price.
The two negotiators, who continued to speak privately this week despite Trump's very public statement on Tuesday, plan to work through the weekend to get a deal. Renegotiations raise hopes for a long-term deal to put billions of dollars in a pandemic-ridden economy as voters have already started voting.
And Trump himself continued to move the goal posts even as his top GOP negotiator was preparing to make his offer to the Democrats.
"I would like a bigger stimulus package than either the Democrats or the Republicans are frankly offering," Trump said on Friday's Rush Limbaugh Show, admitting that it was "the exact opposite" of his original demands.
But even if the two agree on a stimulus package, Pelosi and Mnuchin will face headwinds in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has been skeptical of the prospect of drafting a massive bill this month.
McConnell reiterated Friday that it was "unclear" whether a deal would hit before November 3, stressing that Supreme Court affirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett was a Senate priority.
"Even if an agreement is reached ... the first priority in the Senate is the Supreme Court," McConnell said at an event in his home state. He added that it depends “what the agreement is, how complicated it is, how long it takes to write it. I couldn't tell you exactly when it would go away. "
Earlier on Friday, McConnell said "we need another bailout," but added that the fast approaching elections were only making it harder for Democrats, Republicans and the White House to find common ground, even if millions of Americans remain unemployed and more than 210,000 people have died from the coronavirus.
Any deal would likely require the support of Trump and McConnell to win votes in the House and Senate.
McConnell, whose Senate majority is in jeopardy this fall, is facing increasing pressure from its most vulnerable members to pass legislation quickly. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said Friday she spoke to Trump and told him "Iowans need additional COVID-19 help". However, the Senate GOP conference also includes a strong block of Conservatives concerned about the rising red ink. Several trillion dollars have been spent this year.
Pushing Congress to pass such enormous bills so close to an election would be an extremely unusual move and would likely create fear among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. This could include Democrats, some of whom have already privately wondered if an aid bill could help improve Trump's re-election prospects in the final days of the campaign - especially after Republicans refused to negotiate over the summer and fall to move.
The spokesman and mnuchin have spoken on the phone almost daily for the past two weeks as they pushed for a long-term deal for a stimulus package. That includes a phone call this week when Mnuchin launched the idea of standalone auxiliary bills for the aviation industry or for small business loans. But Pelosi on Thursday turned down any strategy that would help the aviation industry, facing massive layoffs, outside of a larger bill.
The spate of actions on Friday comes after several days of mixed signals from Trump about whether Congress should pass a coronavirus aid package. Earlier this week, Trump tweeted that he told key White House negotiators that he would wait until after the election to reach an agreement - to the frustration of some members of his own party.
But hours later, Trump urged Congress to pass standalone bills on a number of issues, including airline relief and stimulus checks.
For months, Congress has been struggling to agree exactly how additional coronavirus measures can be put in place, even if the US unemployment rate remains at record highs and businesses across the country close.
One of the biggest sticking points was the price of the package: House Democrats passed coronavirus relief bill earlier this month for $ 2.2 trillion - less than the original $ 3.4 trillion. However, Senate Republicans are concerned about the nation's rising deficit and most likely will not support a proposal that is well over $ 1 trillion.
Senate Republicans passed tighter coronavirus alleviation law in September, supported almost unanimously by the GOP caucus but blocked by Senate Democrats.
Jake Sherman contributed to this report.
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