Trump, Pelosi say they’re back to negotiating broad relief package

President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that they’re negotiating on broad economic relief legislation, the latest twist after five head-spinning days during which the White House has whipsawed between demanding a stimulus bill, then shutting down talks—only to renew them again.

Speaking to reporters, Pelosi made her demands for a new package clear, nixing the idea of passing a stand-alone bill to help solely the airline industry. She said such aid would only be considered if its part of—or accompanied by—a larger relief bill to meet other economic needs. She and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had discussed a stand-alone bill for the airline industry on Wednesday, one week after the industry began large-scale furloughs when federal aid expired.

Pelosi, D-Calif., had appeared open to the idea of a stand-alone bill Wednesday, but by Thursday morning—with some Democrats questioning why airlines should get help when others weren’t—she disavowed it.

“The only point about negotiations is, ain’t gonna be no stand-alone bill unless there’s a bigger bill, and it could be part of that or it could be in addition to that,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference.

She said she and Mnuchin were still talking.

“We’re at the table. We want to continue the conversation. We’ve made some progress. We’re exchanging language. So we’ll see how we connect,” Pelosi said.

There appears to be a new sense of urgency from the White House and some congressional Republicans to reach some sort of agreement amid signs the economic recovery is weakening.

Trump said in a Fox Business Network interview that economic relief talks are back on and could include a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks. This announcement came two days after he abruptly declared them over and ordered his deputies to stop negotiating with Pelosi.

“Well, I shut down talks two days ago because they weren’t working out. Now they are starting to work out, we’re starting to have some very productive talks,” Trump said in an interview on the network.

He said he believes Pelosi “wants it to happen, because it’s so good for our country, we really need it.”

The developments appeared to leave the two sides roughly where they were Tuesday morning, before Trump abruptly announced that talks were over and that he was asking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to focus on filling the Supreme Court vacancy instead. McConnell, speaking in Kentucky on Thursday where he is campaigning for reelection, also talked about the need to approve additional aid.

“As soon as we can reach an agreement, whether that’s before or after the election—I mean the need is unrelated to the election,” he said. “The need is related to the aftermath of the impact of the coronavirus . . . the difficulty in getting together is related to the election but the need remains the same whether we get together before or after the election.”

Pelosi and Mnuchin had been negotiating for about a week on a relief bill with a cost between $1.6 trillion and $2.2 trillion. Even before Trump killed the talks on Tuesday, there was widespread pessimism about their ability to get a result, especially with the election just weeks away and scant legislative time to approve a deal even if one were reached.

The deal under discussion would include new $1,200 stimulus checks, renew enhanced unemployment benefits, and provide $75 billion for coronavirus testing and tracing, among other provisions. When talks broke off Tuesday, Democrats were pushing for language ensuring a wide-scale testing strategy. Pelosi said Thursday that they were still waiting to hear back on that and that she had reminded Mnuchin of that.

The labor market remains weak, with another 840,000 Americans filing for unemployment claims last week, more than six months after the coronavirus pandemic began in the United States.

“We’re talking about airlines, and we’re talking about a bigger deal than airlines. We’re talking about a deal with $1,200 per person, we’re talking about other things,” Trump said. “But it’s not anybody’s fault, they were trying to get things, and we were trying to get things and it wasn’t going anywhere, I shut it down. I don’t want to play games. And then we reopened, and I see the markets are doing well but I think we have a really good chance of doing something.”

It remains highly uncertain that any deal can be reached, on airlines or anything else. Talks have been on again and off again for months, but ultimately Congress and the administration have been unable to strike a deal since the spring when they passed around $3 trillion in aid.

Multiple programs approved at that time have since expired, including enhanced unemployment insurance for individuals.

“We ought to continue to talk,” McConnell said Thursday.

The Cares Act from March included a Payroll Support Program for airlines that expired Oct. 1. Democrats have been pushing an approximately $25 billion bill to renew the program, but it’s unclear if the administration supports the Democrats’ approach and Pelosi has now dropped the idea of advancing it on its own.

The developments Thursday were just the latest confusing events in days full of them. While hospitalized at Walter Reed over the weekend, Trump tweeted a demand for a new stimulus bill, only to abruptly pull out of talks on Tuesday, a day after getting released from the hospital.

He began backtracking within hours as a number of Republicans in tough re-election races criticized his move and urged him to re-engage.

Trump said Thursday he was hopeful the talks would bear fruit even though he commented that Pelosi is “not my favorite person, she impeached me for no reason.”

Pelosi returned the criticism, suggesting for the third day running that the president is mentally impaired in some fashion. Trump had been taking steroids among other medication.

“The president is shall we say in an altered state right now so I don’t know how to answer for his behavior,” Pelosi said on Bloomberg TV.

She also announced that House Democrats would be discussing the 25th Amendment on Friday, which provides for removing power from the president, though she declined to say whether she believed it should be invoked.

Trump administration officials and congressional Republicans have discussed a new legislative package they could try to advance separately, that could include $1,200 stimulus checks, support for small businesses, and financial aid for the airlines, according to three people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Those are the policies Trump cited as priorities in his tweets abandoning broader stimulus checks earlier this week, as well as on Fox News on Thursday morning.

It was unclear what would come of that new effort, given that Democrats are unlikely to support legislation that excludes aid for the unemployed and state and local governments. The push could aim to force Senate Democrats to take difficult votes to reject largely popular forms of financial stimulus. However, it could also be resisted by conservative Republicans who are skeptical of spending more federal funds fighting the virus.

Larry Kudlow, the president’s chief economic adviser, said on Fox News on Thursday that the administration needs Congress to approve additional unemployment aid and support for schools.

“The president believes we should shift into standalone bills to get the key points through,” Kudlow said. “These are vital, targeted assistance areas that would strengthen the economy.”

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