Top negotiators for a coronavirus relief bill couldn’t even agree on what they agree on Sunday, indicating that Democrats and Republicans are still a ways away from clinching a deal.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said both parties have yet to come to agreement on the fact that the U.S. must defeat Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, an issue a bemused Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was adamant that there is agreement on.
Pelosi also blamed President Donald Trump for “standing in the way of” enhanced unemployment insurance for tens of millions of Americans, the exact language White House chief of staff Mark Meadows used to describe Democrats.
And the California Democrat suggested that Senate Republicans are in disarray over unemployment benefits while Democrats are united in support, but Meadows noted that only Democrats voted against a weeklong extension of the $600 benefit in the Senate last week.
The competing comments showed how far apart House Democrats and the Trump administration are on sending a relief package to the president, even as two major federal benefits — a $600 weekly unemployment payment and an eviction moratorium — expired late last week.
They also come a day after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said negotiators had “the best discussions we’ve had so far.”
“I would characterize it that way, but we still have a long ways to go,” Meadows told CBS’ John Dickerson on “Face the Nation.”
The White House chief of staff said he and Mnuchin have spent the last few days trying to reach a consensus to “at least start negotiating.” He characterized Saturday’s talks as “a step in the right direction.”
Staffs are working Sunday, and the principals will meet again Monday, according to Meadows, who admitted that “I’m not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term.”
Democratic leaders have similarly struggled to say when both sides will reach a deal. “We’ll be close to an agreement when we have an agreement,” Pelosi told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s “This Week.”
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) told Dana Bash that while “they are in a better place today than they were the day before,” “I don’t know how close we are to a deal.”
Pelosi framed defeating the virus — which has infected more than 4.6 million Americans and killed more than 154,000 people in the U.S. — as “one of the contentious issues that we have to deal with.”
“I was surprised that the speaker said we don’t agree on the need to kill the virus,” Mnuchin said on “This Week,” moments after Pelosi’s segment. “We absolutely agree on the need to kill the virus.”
Asked what she would say to Americans who lost their unemployment benefits, Pelosi responded: “Talk to President Trump. He’s the one who’s standing in the way of that.”
Using identical language in a later interview, Meadows told “Face the Nation”: “It’s important for your viewers to understand that if you have unemployed people that have lost their enhanced unemployment, they need to call their Democrat senators and House members because they’re the ones standing in the way of having those extended right now.”
In a pair of tweets Saturday, Trump accused Pelosi and Schumer of blocking “desperately needed unemployment payments, which is so terrible, especially since they fully understand that it was not the workers fault that they are unemployed” — and claimed that the Democratic leaders “have no interest in making a deal that is good for our Country and our People.”
Mnuchin said Trump is “very concerned about the expiration of the unemployment insurance” and that Republicans proposed a one-week extension “so that while we negotiate a longer-term solution, at least all those people don’t lose their money, and I’m surprised that the Democrats won’t agree to that.”
“They are insistent on having this as part of a larger deal,” he added.
Pelosi argued Sunday that Democrats are unified in their support for the $600 benefit while Senate Republicans are in disarray over an alternative $200 proposal, which she said fails to meet the needs of working families.
“So the idea that they made a proposal is really not actually factual,” she said.
Clyburn acknowledged that both sides are always trying to maximize their leverage in negotiations but said it’s Republicans who are “playing games with us.”
“I don’t know that this is an honest negotiation when you want to leave town and not sit around the table and do what needs to be done for the American people to have some security and some safety in trying to live their lives,” Clyburn said. “That’s what we are trying to do. This ‘every week, one more week, two more days,’ that’s not the way you do things.”
Meadows lamented that Democrats are “stonewalling” piecemeal legislation. “Hopefully that will change in the coming days,” he said, highlighting another disagreement with Democrats, who want a full package instead of a narrow, short-term solution.
He said his question to Clyburn is if he would encourage Pelosi to consider a standalone bill for enhanced unemployment, bringing that to the floor and encouraging the Senate to do the same.
“I can tell you, it’s the only thing that that we’ve run out of money [on],” Meadows said, noting that there’s more than $1.4 trillion left in unspent funds from previous legislation, including $100 billion each for state and local governments and small business aid, as well as more than $9 billion for testing. “The one area where we don’t have the money is for enhanced unemployment benefits.”
Trump wants a deal done quickly, but “there are different things that are very contentious” on both sides, Mnuchin said. The Treasury secretary cited Democrats’ push for more than a trillion dollars in aid to state and local governments as an example but maintained that “there’s definitely areas of agreement” on issues like the Payment Protection Program and direct payments to Americans.
“Mark Meadows and I will be back there every day until we reach an agreement,” Mnuchin said. “We understand there’s a need to compromise, but on the other hand there’s also a big need to get kids into school, get people back to jobs and keep the economy open and keep people safe.”