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Coronavirus Relief Bill: No deal as clock ticks to Friday deadline

With no deal in sight on coronavirus relief legislation, President Donald Trump attacked Democratic leaders negotiating with his top aides and once again threatened to act unilaterally on cut payroll taxes and take other actions.

‘If Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage I will act on my authority as president,’ Trump said, resuming to attacks on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, as the two sides remain trillions apart on relief.

He also hailed new jobs number showing employment gains following steep drops this spring, and once again repeated his claim that the coronavirus ravaging the country will go away 

He said the virus ”is disappearing. It’s going to disappear.’

‘Tragically Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer continue to insist on radical left-wing policies that have nothing to do with the china virus,’ Trump fumed. 

He spelled out new details of an executive order he has been mulling – without yet clearly demonstrating what authority he will cite to do so. But the president did not immediately say for certain he would do so.

‘What we’re talking about is deferring the payroll tax for a period of months,’ the president said at a hastily-called news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. 

He said the payroll tax would ‘go until the end of the year’ and be retroactive until July, possibly indicating a short-term cut. 

‘At the end of the year it may be extended,’ Trump said, acknowledging that he might not be in office then. 

He also said he would act on ‘enhanced unemployment benefits’ – even with negotiators hung up on extending a $600 per month benefit.

He also said he would be extending a moratorium on evictions, something that is subject to negotiations with lawmakers.       

Democratic and Republican negotiators failed to come to a deal on coronavirus relief legislation that would provide millions of dollars in aid to American families and White House officials said they would recommend to President Donald Trump he take executive action this weekend. 

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin gathered for a last-minute meeting in the speaker’s office on Friday afternoon to try to come to an agreement.

It was their 11th sit-down and there was zero progress. The Republican negotiators said they would recommend to President Donald Trump that he issue executive orders over the weekend relating to unemployment insurance, student loans and evictions.

‘So, the chief and I will recommend to the president, based upon our lack of activity today, to move forward with some executive orders,’ Mnuchin said. ‘It’s going to take a little bit of time for us to finalize these and process them but we’ll do them as quickly as we can because the president wants action.’

Meadows agreed it was time for executive action.  

‘We’re going to take executive orders, try to alleviate some of the pain that people are experiencing,’  Meadows said. ‘This is not a perfect answer we’ll be the first ones to say that, but it is all that we can do, and all the president can do within the confines of his executive power.’

 The president is spending the weekend at his Bedminister, New Jersey, golf course and was spotted on the links by fellow players who posted images to Instagram. 

He indicated in a tweet he’d be following his advisers’ recommendation on the executive orders.

‘Pelosi and Schumer only interested in Bailout Money for poorly run Democrat cities and states. Nothing to do with China Virus! Want one trillion dollars. No interest. We are going a different way!,’ he tweeted.

The money Democrats are requesting for cities and states is to make up for shortfalls in those budgets caused by the coronavirus. Local budgets are the result of tax revenue, which has gone down during the pandemic and, additionally, emergency funds had to be spent to counteract the virus. 

Democratic leaders said after their Friday meeting that the Republicans rejected their offer to meet in the middle at $2 trillion. 

‘I told them to come back when they’re ready to do a $2 trillion bill,’ Pelosi said.

‘We’re asking them again, to be fair, to meet us in the middle, not to have my way or the highway attitude which they seem to have,’ Schumer noted.

But Meadows said Democrats need to come up with a new offer and criticized Pelosi for not willing to do a partial deal on some of the immediate issues like supplemental unemployment insurance. 

‘What they want is a two and a half trillion dollar blank check,’ Meadows said, arguing the Republicans came to Capitol Hill  in ‘good faith’ to negotiate but got no new offers on the table.

‘At this point I’m extremely disappointed that we came up here today, just to hear the same thing repeated over and over again,’ he noted.

The hold up is on extra unemployment insurance for those who lost their jobs in the coronavirus pandemic and on funding for cities and states who had their budgets hit hard by the virus. 

Mnuchin echoed Meadows’ words on needing a new offer from Democrats. 

‘The president would like us to make the deal, but unfortunately we did not make any progress,’ Mnuchin said. ‘The chief and I will be back at any time to discuss new proposals.’ 

‘I think if we can reach an agreement on state and local and unemployment, we will reach an overall deal. And if we can’t, we can’t,’ he noted. 

Signs were not looking good ahead of the meeting. Republicans made it clear they were rejecting a Democratic compromise to meet in the middle of the over all spending number for the legislation. 

Before talks began on Friday, Pelosi and Schumer pushed the blame onto the Republicans, saying they had offered a compromise on the overall number for the legislation. Democrats originally proposed $3.4 trillion while Republicans wanted a $1 trillion. 

‘I offered to them, we’ll take down $1 trillion if you add $1 trillion in,’ Pelosi said. ‘They said absolutely not. If we could do that, if we take down $1 trillion and they add $1 trillion we’ll be within range, but we must meet the needs of the American people.’

She called on Republicans to meet Democrats at that $2 trillion mark, saying lawmakers have a ‘moral’ responsibility to compromise. The extra $600-a-week in unemployment benefits for 30 million Americans expired last week after both sides failed to make a deal on an extension. 

‘We have a moral responsibility to find common ground,’ she said. 

Schumer drew a line in the sand at the Democrats number. He said the Republican team doesn’t have the votes in the Senate to pass their version and needs to come to the table and compromise. He also said House Democrats don’t have the votes to ‘go south of $2 trillion’ and Senate Democrats won’t go below that number either.

He claimed Republicans unilaterally rejected the Democrats proposal to meet in the middle on the top line number. 

‘You should have seen the vehemence: ‘No!’ You should have seen their faces: ‘Absolutely not!’,’ Schumer said.

He also cited Meadows by name as holding up the negotiations, saying the White House Chief of Staff was returning to his roots as a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus to object to the spending.

‘His positions are quite hardened, and non compromising, more so than Mnuchin,’ Schumer said. 

The Democratic leaders asked their Republican counterparts to return to Capitol Hill for another in-person negotiation after talks collapsed Thursday night.  

Negotiators are set to meet at 1:30 pm Friday at the Capitol building.

But, going into the meeting, Mnuchin said the $2 trillion compromise wasn’t an option. 

‘That’s a non-starter,’ he said.  

Pelosi denied Democrats have over played their hand in the talks.

‘No. We haven’t overplayed our hand. We aren’t overplaying our hand when we are factually presenting what the needs are,’ she told MSNBC.

Meadows and Mnuchin, negotiating for the administration, indicated on Thursday night they weren’t sure more talks would be helpful given the stalemate still in place after 10 meetings between the negotiators.

Both sides admitted Thursday night the odds of an agreement are uncertain.  

The deadlock shifts the onus on to President Trump and whether he will implement executive orders as he’s threatened.  The president has tried to put pressure on Democrats by saying he would issue executive orders on the insurance and a moratorium on evictions if there is no deal.

The tone on Capitol Hill Thursday night took a notable shift – going from hopeful talk that an agreement could be reached to who is to blame. 

After a three-hour meeting on Thursday in Speaker Pelosi’s Capitol Hill office, the negotiators emerged with no agreement and pointing the finger at the other side.

‘The differences are still significant,’ Meadows said after the talks concluded for the day. 

At one point, Pelosi accused Meadows of slamming a table and walking out during the talks, which he denied. 

‘I just would like to say that I saw something familiar in the room. You know, I’ve been in the White House when the President has slammed the table and walked out. Well that’s really what Mr. Meadows did — slam the table and walk out,’ she told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Meadows denied her charge. 

‘I don’t know what she is talking about. I didn’t walk out of any meeting all day,’ he said. ‘It’s fabricated.’

The tense exchange illustrated where talks are left – stalled in the dark with nothing but accusations from the two sides. 

‘There’s a handful of very big issues that we are still very far apart’ on, Mnuchin said, citing aid to states and local governments and renewing the supplemental unemployment benefits.

Republicans insisted they’ve raised their original numbers when it comes to the overall deal – they wanted a $1 trillion package while Democrats proposed a $3.4 trillion one – but did not give a specific number. Meadows merely said their side had moved ‘north’ on the top line figure.

Democrats countered it wasn’t enough to help out-of-work Americans and to counter the economic hit of the coronavirus pandemic. 

‘We asked them, would you meet us in the middle, and they said no, it has to be mostly in our direction,’ Schumer said. 

But Meadows claimed Democrats were being stubborn.

‘The compromises that Secretary Mnuchin and I put forth on behalf of the president are significantly greater than the compromises that we saw from the other side of the negotiating table,’ he said. 

‘We are willing to do a smaller deal,’ Mnuchin said. ‘We have been willing to do a short term expansion on the enhanced unemployment we’ve been willing to do a short term extension on other issues while we’re negotiating. We are very concerned that these issues exist and we want solutions.’

President Trump has threatened to issue executive orders on Friday on unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions.

But the White House has admitted his power is limited in those areas and Democrats said the orders would be legally challenged. 

‘Certainly there are limitations with what we can do from an executive order point of view but we will be as aggressive and robust as we possibly can be,’ Meadows said. 

‘The president is the one that always would prefer to work with Congress but if Congress proves themselves unable to actually make any kind of compromise and address this he is prepared to act by himself,’ he added. 

President Trump is at his Bedminister, New Jersey golf club on Friday. He was in Ohio on Thursday but called Meadows several times to check in on the status of the talks. 

‘These executive orders, which will leave most people out, will not cover the broad expanse of what’s needed, will be litigated in court and be awkward and difficult to implement. It’s not a good choice at all, and they admitted that in the room they said that’s not a good choice. So we plead with them,’ Schumer said. 

The group of negotiators has met daily since Monday but the talks remain stalled on the same issues: how much extra unemployment insurance (Democrats want to return to the $600 per week while Republicans want $400), how long to extend that extra insurance, and funding for states and cities that had their budgets decimated by the pandemic. 

Democrats want $1 trillion for cities and states but Republicans have put a $150 billion offer on the table. 

Republicans also offered a ‘skinny’ deal that would allow legislation to be passed on two critical issues – the unemployment insurance and a moratorium on evictions – and  leave the other issues to be negotiated in a later deal.

But Pelosi rejected that, saying the deal wasn’t skinny but ‘anorexic.’

‘It is so clear that we should do something, and we should do something big,’ she said.  

Democrats have stood firm on passing a full package of relief.   

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