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Trump pivots again on stimulus talks after bipartisan backlash

The administration’s latest demand is unlikely to make it through the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) rejected stand-alone legislation in favor of a comprehensive package to address the economic and health consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The administration’s $1.8 trillion stimulus proposal on Friday came under heavy criticism from lawmakers in both parties over the weekend, making its chances of success seem remote.

White House officials will ask Congress to approve legislation allowing companies showing declining revenue to apply for a second round of PPP funding, which they are not allowed to do under current law, according to a person familiar with the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s internal planning.

“Now is the time for us to come together and immediately vote on a bill allowing us to spend unused Paycheck Protection Program funds while we continue to work toward a comprehensive package,” Meadows and Mnuchin in a letter to congressional leaders. White House officials have previously expressed a desire to pass a stand-alone measure on the reallocation of PPP funds.

The White House shift in strategy spans a week in which the president and his negotiators have taken a dizzying array of different approaches to getting a relief package through Congress. On October 3, the president demanded that Congress approve a relief package, before abruptly calling off negotiations with Democrats three days later, then calling for action on just a handful of priorities, including the airline aid and $1,200 stimulus checks. On Wednesday, Mnuchin and Pelosi began discussing a standalone measure to provide relief to the airline industry, but those talks were scrapped the next day as President Trump pushed again for a broader deal.

President Trump announced Oct. 6 that he had ordered a halt to negotiations on an economic relief bill until after the election. (Reuters)

The confusion surrounding the administration’s position continued even as Mnuchin offered a $1.8 trillion deal to congressional leaders. On Friday, Trump said he wanted to see a “bigger” recovery plan than the Democrats or the Republicans had asked for. That same day, White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah told reporters that the White House wanted the final bill to cost “less than $2 trillion.” Democrats offered a $2.2 trillion bill as a compromise measure to their original offer, which cost more than $3 trillion.

The administration’s $1.8 trillion offer was heavily criticized on Capitol Hill, with Pelosi saying it fell short in key areas and some Senate Republicans warning it amounted to a ‘betrayal’ of priorities longtime member of the GOP. On a call with Mnuchin and Meadows on Saturday, Republicans such as Sens. Rick Scott (Florida), Mike Lee (Utah) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) strongly cautioned against the proposal.

Pelosi reiterated his objections to the Mnuchin plan in a letter to his fellow House Democrats on Sunday, stressing that the disagreement between the parties involves political disputes and that the two sides “remain at an impasse.” Pelosi notably demanded that the Trump administration adopt the Democrats’ plan for robust testing and tracing to contain the novel coronavirus, which was part of the Heroes Act passed by the House.

“The crux of the matter is this: can we let the virus rage and ignore science, as the administration is proposing, or will they accept the Heroes Act’s science-based strategic plan to crush the virus?” she said to her colleagues.

Lawmakers from both parties support an expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program. More than a dozen moderate Democrats in the House have signaled support for a GOP-led procedural decision that could force a floor vote on a standalone PPP bill, but it’s unclear whether the effort will win. enough support to demand a vote on the house floor.

Few Democratic lawmakers embraced Mnuchin’s proposal, though Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) called on Pelosi to accept the offer of a $1.8 trillion stimulus package on Sunday. “Make a deal and put the ball in McConnell’s court,” Khanna tweeted.

Meadows and Mnuchin said Sunday the House failed to negotiate in good faith and pointed to numerous concessions made by the administration, including on child care, broadband and rental financing.

A spokesperson for Pelosi did not return a request for comment on the letter.

White House officials dismissed Pelosi’s objections and alleged she was trying to avoid giving Trump a political victory ahead of the November election. Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, told CNN on Sunday that the Senate would approve a stimulus deal struck by Mnuchin and Pelosi, despite much caucus opposition.

“If a deal can be done here, they’ll accept it,” Kudlow said.

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