WASHINGTON — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House traded blame for the latest stall in negotiations on a new coronavirus stimulus as pessimism built at the Capitol that anything could be accomplished before Election Day.
Pelosi said the burden is on President Donald Trump to push forward on stimulus talks and get reluctant Republicans to go along with any eventual deal reached with the White House on a nearly $2 trillion aid package.
“We could do that before the election, if the president wants to,” Pelosi said Friday in an interview on MSNBC.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Pelosi’s primary negotiating partner, said there’s been significant progress but blamed the California Democrat for holding up an agreement by not compromising on her party’s priorities.
“We’ve offered compromises,” Mnuchin told reporters at the White House. “The speaker, on a number of issues, is still dug in. If she wants to compromise, there will be a deal.”
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted Friday that members of the committees involved in stimulus legislation and their staffs would work through the weekend. Pelosi and Mnuchin “will speak again once additional progress is made,” he said.
With the talks slogging on, the Republican-controlled Senate is set to leave town on Monday after voting on confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. The House, where Democrats have the majority, is already out. Though members of both chambers could be called back for a vote with 24 hours notice, that scenario is increasingly unlikely a week before the election.
Despite White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows telling reporters he hoped an accord could be reached “in the next day or so,” Senate Republicans saw little chance for either a deal or a vote.
“At this point in time, Friday before the Monday we’re scheduled to leave, it’d take a colossal get-together, just a huge get-together, to put a stimulus package together, and I don’t see it happening,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby.
“That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen,” the Alabama Republican added. “Probability, no. Possibility, very, very slim.”
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 GOP leader in the chamber, said there probably isn’t enough time for the House and Senate to process and pass stimulus legislation before the Nov. 3 election, but it might be easier “once the dust settles and the smoke clears from the election.”
The talks have been hung up on many of the same sticking points that have bedeviled negotiations for months: Democratic demands for substantial aid to state and local governments and Republican insistence on a liability shield for employers on COVID-19 infections.
Trump again on Friday derided Pelosi’s insistence on including aid to state and local governments, and accused her of wanting to stall a stimulus package until after the Nov. 3 election.
“She wants to bail out poorly run Democrat states and that’s a problem, because you’re talking about tremendous amounts of money and we don’t want to reward areas of our country who have not done a good job,” Trump said at the White House.
With the pace of talks dragging, resistance from Senate Republicans is building, and Trump’s ability to twist arms into supporting a deal appears to be waning. Now some House Democrats are telling Pelosi that they don’t want to vote on legislation before the election if the Senate won’t do so, according to a party official.
Pelosi said in an interview at the Capitol Friday that she and Mnuchin are waiting for congressional committees to report back on lower-level talks before having another call. Aides to the relevant committees say that there is little they can do until they get clearer guidance from Pelosi and Mnuchin, however.
“The ball’s not moving much right now,” White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on Bloomberg Television. “The clock is ticking.”
He also questioned whether there needed to be a comprehensive stimulus bill now. “There’s no reason why we have to have this humongous bill, which covers so much ground,” Kudlow said.
Pelosi has said that the House still has time to vote before the election if the administration makes further compromises. But the Senate might not have time to act.
Putting off votes on a stimulus package until after the election raises the risk that the Trump administration will be less inclined or able to push a package through the GOP Senate. That likely would be amplified if Trump loses to Democrat Joe Biden and Republicans lose their Senate majority — leaving action on stimulus for the pandemic-stricken U.S. economy until late January at the earliest.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted that Trump would be able to persuade Senate Republicans to back a compromise deal, even though GOP leaders in the chamber have said there isn’t support for a package of the size being talked about in the negotiations.