By ADIA ROBINSON and ADAM KELSEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — After both Democratic and Republican negotiators expressed optimism Saturday about progress on a coronavirus relief package compromise, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tempered expectations Sunday, explaining that her party and the Trump administration still don’t see eye-to-eye on the “strategic plan” necessary to combat the virus and prop up the struggling economy.
“In our negotiations, we’re talking about dealing with some of the consequences of this pandemic, but the fact is, we must — we must defeat this virus. And that’s one of the points that we still have not come to any agreement on,” Pelsoi said in an exclusive interview on ABC’s This Week Sunday.
As evidence, the speaker pointed to earlier pandemic-focused legislation that emphasized virus testing, and blasted the administration for not implementing its expanded protocols. But in a later This Week interview, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin contested the characterization, arguing that eradicating COVID-19 was a point of unity.
“I was surprised to hear the speaker say we don’t agree on the need to kill the virus,” he told This Week Co-anchor Martha Raddatz. “We absolutely agree on the need to kill the virus.”
The mixed signals come as the pair are locked in negotiations on the new relief bill — at the center of which lies a disagreement about the amount of federal aid to be offered to unemployed Americans. Amid a standoff over the Democratic effort to extend for months the recently expired $600 weekly benefit versus the GOP plan to reduce that supplemental assistance to $200 — after a one-week $600 extension to accommodate negotiations — the speaker placed the blame squarely on her Republican Capitol Hill counterparts and the president.
“(President Donald Trump is) the one who is standing in the way of that,” Pelosi said. “We have been for the $600, they have a $200 proposal, which does not meet the needs of America’s working families.”
On Saturday, following a meeting with Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Pelosi told reporters that negotiations were “productive in terms of moving things forward.” But when Raddatz asked on Sunday when Americans could expect to see a deal, the speaker’s tone was markedly less optimistic, saying, “we will be close to an agreement when we have an agreement.”
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., floated a last-minute plan on Friday to give Americans one more week at the $600 rate, but the move was dismissed by Democrats — whose two-month-old House bill would extend it to January — as a political stunt. Mnuchin argued Sunday on This Week that the move could’ve bridged the gap in assistance as negotiations continued.
“We put on a table a proposal,” he said. “Let’s extend it for one week, at the same rate, white we negotiate so we don’t hurt the American public.”
Though Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have appeared unwilling to budge from their position that the amount of jobless assistance should go unchanged, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., took a different stance in a CNN interview Tuesday, claiming, “it’s not $600 or bust.”
“So, anything less than $600 is not a deal-breaker?” Raddatz pressed the speaker Sunday.
“The amount of money that is given as an enhancement for unemployment insurance should relate to the rate of unemployment,” Pelosi said. “So when that goes down, then you can consider something less than the $600, but in this agreement it’s $600.”
“We are unified in our support for the $600,” she added, while accusing Senate Republicans of being “in disarray,” after several spoke out about the high cost of their total proposal.
Republicans continue to argue that the amount provides a disincentive to work, as some Americans are earning more on unemployment, given the federal supplement, than they would be on-the-job.
“There’s no question in certain cases where we’re paying people more to work — stay home than to work — that’s created issues in the entire economy,” Mnuchin said later on This Week.
Pelosi characterized that position Sunday as condescending, and questioned the GOP’s priorities.
“To disrespect their motivation — (it’s) so amazing how insistent the Republicans are about a working family and their $600, and how cavalier they are about other money that is going out,” she said.
During the interview, the speaker also criticized one of the leading voices of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, taking aim at Dr. Deborah Birx’s role in Trump’s continued inaccurate statements about the pandemic.
Asked by Raddatz about a recent report from Politico, in which she called Birx “the worst” during a meeting with Trump administration officials, and accused her of “spreading disinformation,” Pelosi did not deny the comments and appeared to argue that the doctor should be doing more to rein in the president’s remarks.
“I think the president is spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee,” Pelosi said. “So I don’t have confidence there, no.”
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