BY: TRISH TURNER, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were scheduled to speak by phone Monday afternoon to try to reach a compromise on a coronavirus relief deal, after Pelosi – for the first time – set a Tuesday deadline if additional aid is to be approved before Election Day.
Pressed on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Pelosi put the ball in the administration’s court, telling ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, “We don’t have agreement in the language yet, but I’m hopeful,” referring to outstanding issues regarding a national virus testing plan – something on which Democrats have insisted. “I’m optimistic because, again, we’ve been back and forth on all of this,” she said.
“We’re saying to them we have to freeze the design on some of these things – are we going with it or not – and what is the language,” added Pelosi who has not met with President Donald Trump for more than a year but says there’s little point to doing so.
“You want to meet with him, you meet with him,” she told Stephanopoulos.
In his own weekend interview with a Wisconsin television station, Trump sought to one-up Pelosi, saying he is willing to go higher than what she was proposing, despite lacking support among those in his own party.
“I’d go higher than her number, who knows what her number is, but if you said a trillion-eight, two trillion, if you said two trillion-two, so many numbers – I’m willing to go higher than that, because it wasn’t the people’s fault,” Trump told Charles Benson of Milwaukee station WTMJ.
Pelosi’s new 48-hour deadline – just two weeks before Election Day – was met with mixed reaction by the White House. Even as White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah – in a Fox News interview – called Pelosi’s timeline “artificial,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows welcomed it.
“The 48-hour deadline is certainly welcomed by us,” Meadows told reporters Monday morning, though the former conservative congressman, whose prior role in COVID-19 talks Pelosi has dismissed out of hand, said the speaker “continues to be very rigid in her negotiation. You know, it’s her way or the highway; it’s all or nothing.”
Meadows said he and Mnuchin “had a number of very fruitful discussions over the last several days that give us a hope that we may be able to reach some kind of an agreement in the next 48 hours.”
“I can tell you the president has asked us to engage, if she’s willing to work in terms of some of the extreme policy initiatives that she’s put forth and work on those issues,” Meadows said.
Republicans and the White House have rejected hundreds of billions in aid to states that have poorly managed state pension funds, and many – if they support any further stimulus at all – have dismissed any package with a price tag in excess of $1 trillion, putting them distinctly at odds with the president.
Pelosi and Mnuchin have been negotiating for months to reach a deal on another coronavirus relief package. The Democratic-led House passed a $3 trillion measure in May that Republicans refused to consider in the Senate, and recently the White House offered a $1.8 trillion compromise at which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scoffed.
And though McConnell said on Sunday that the Senate would “consider” any Pelosi-Mnuchin negotiated compromise, the GOP leader just days earlier rejected that effort out of hand and noted that most of his GOP conference would take that position, too.
Asked if a compromise was to be had around the $2 trillion price range, McConnell said, “I don’t think so, because my members – that’s where the administration is willing to go – my members think what we laid out a half trillion dollars, highly targeted is the best way to go. And so that’s what I’m gonna put on the floor. It’s what Senate Republicans … feel like is an appropriate response,” adding, “There are discussions going on between the secretary of the Treasury and the speaker about a higher amount. Uh — that’s not what I’m gonna put on the floor.”
It was a moment of rare defiance for McConnell who said he would, instead, call up the same $500 billion slimmed-down GOP coronavirus relief bill that Democrats rejected last month, setting up a vote for Wednesday. The GOP bill contains more than $100 billion for education needs, billions for a coronavirus vaccine, virus testing and tracing, a replenishment of the popular small business loan program, unemployment assistance, and a litigation shield.
“I’m going to give them one more opportunity to quit saying give us everything we want or nothing at all. Narrowly targeted, contemporary – what we need now – and can we rise above these political passions,” said McConnell, R-Ky., at an event last Thursday in his home state.
Democrats are expected to reject that measure, once again, calling for a far more sweeping package in line with what has passed the House to include aid for hard-hit state and local governments, another round of $1200 stimulus checks, and greater amounts for jobless Americans, food security, child care, and health care.
The clash between House and Senate lawmakers – not to mention between Pelosi and the administration – meant that no deal was likely ahead of Election Day, something that has been apparent for weeks but none have been willing to say out loud ahead of a crucial campaign season that could flip the White House and possibly even the Senate.
— ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.
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