Help is on the way, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, referring to the coronavirus relief package she’s been negotiating with the White House. But she acknowledged that a deal may not come together in time to be voted on before the November 3 elections.
“I'm optimistic, because even with what Mitch McConnell says — ‘We don't want to do it before the election’ — but let's keep working so that we can do it after the election,” Pelosi said. “We want to before. But again, I want people to know, help is on the way. It will be bigger. It will be better. It will be safer, and it will be retroactive.”
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke for 48 minutes Wednesday afternoon and continued to make progress toward a deal, Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for the speaker, tweeted.
“Today's conversation brings us closer to being able to put pen to paper to write legislation. With the exchange of legislative language, we are better prepared to reach compromise on several priorities,” he wrote. “Differences continue to be narrowed on health priorities, including language providing a national strategic testing and contract tracing plan, but more work needs to be done to ensure that schools are the safest places in America for children to learn.”
Hammill said the negotiators plan to speak again Thursday, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Fox Business that the administration’s goal is to reach an agreement in the next 48 hours. “The biggest issue remains state and local assistance,” Meadows said. “That remains a stumbling block.” Meadows said that the White House has proposed providing $250 billion in aid to state and local governments while Pelosi is pushing for about twice that amount.
Not making it any easier: President Trump weighed in on Twitter late Thursday afternoon. “Just don’t see any way Nancy Pelosi and Cryin’ Chuck Schumer will be willing to do what is right for our great American workers, or our wonderful USA itself, on Stimulus. Their primary focus is BAILING OUT poorly run (and high crime) Democrat cities and states....,” he wrote.
McConnell does his math: Senate Republicans remain another obstacle. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has warned the White House against a pre-election deal, which could put many of his members in the uncomfortable position of either opposing a roughly $2 trillion package backed by President Trump — and favored by voters — or agreeing to the kind of additional deficit spending they’ve warned against, potentially alienating some of their conservative base. Either way, they may risk losing some votes.
“The leader’s position is sort of dictated by the math,” said Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota, according to Axios. “I mean, he knows where the votes are and as much as we all want to get a deal, a deal that would pass in the Senate with all Democratic votes and a handful of Republicans is not something the leader would like to happen.”
McConnell also remains focused on the quick confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, which could be affected by a massive stimulus package suddenly landing on the schedule.
Pelosi reportedly suggested Wednesday that McConnell “might not mind doing it after the election.” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that at least announcing a deal before the election would be “very helpful to the economy and markets,” even if any congressional vote had to wait.
Meadows reportedly said that Trump is “willing to lean into this” to win the support of Senate Republicans, and the president has expressed confidence that those lawmakers will come along. That’s not assured. CNN’s Lauren Fox writes: “After years of sticking with Trump despite his antics and the fact that some of the President's policies flew in the face of long-established GOP orthodoxy, the stimulus bill is the make-or-break moment where Republican senators may finally throw up their hands and tell Trump ‘no.’"
Narrower Senate GOP plan again blocked by Dems: McConnell tried to move a narrower, $500 billion relief package Wednesday, but it was blocked by Democrats. That legislation, similar to an earlier plan that was also blocked by Democrats, would provide $300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits through the end of the year as well as funding for schools, coronavirus testing and vaccines. It also includes a liability shield for businesses and schools that Democrats oppose. The package was seen as a messaging maneuver with no chance of advancing, meant largely to buy Republicans some political cover on Covid relief efforts.