Pelosi called it a “consequential meeting” in which the differences between the two parties were on display.
“They didn’t take the virus seriously in the beginning, they’re not taking the consequences of the virus seriously at this time,” she said. “And that’s why it’s hard to come to terms.”
Mnuchin said after the meeting that if they decide Friday that further negotiations are futile, Trump would move ahead unilaterally with executive orders to address things like unemployment aid. Schumer countered that Democrats were “very disappointed” in how the meeting went and that any White House executive orders could be challenged in court.
Pelosi said that Meadows pounded the table at one point, reminding her of the meeting where Trump did that in October 2019 — the last time she and Trump met in person. Meadows denied doing any such thing.
The political standoff comes as more than 30 million Americans are set to miss their second enhanced jobless benefits check in the next few days and millions of others are no longer protected by an eviction moratorium that expired last month.
Democrats have sought a $3.4 trillion bill to provide more economic relief, while Republicans have sought a much narrower package.
Negotiations have taken place for more than a week, and Mnuchin said that while they have made progress in certain areas, other issues — such as aid to states and cities — remain completely unsettled.
Now the White House and Democrats must decide how to proceed. Mnuchin said they would be consulting with the president and talking by phone on Friday to see whether it made sense to meet again in person.
Political negotiations can often drag on and have messy blowups before both sides compromise, but the current round of talks appears to be making little progress at all. Failure to reach a deal in the midst of a global pandemic just three months before an election could create major political issues for lawmakers. A group of endangered Senate Republicans whose elections in November could determine control of the chamber have expressed particular anxiety about the impasse.
Trump said earlier Thursday that he had instructed aides to prepare executive actions that would unilaterally distribute unemployment benefits, a payroll tax suspension, eviction protections and student loan relief. It’s unclear what legal powers he would use to achieve this. He said he might act as soon as Friday.
“The American public want action. So, again, we’re not going to just keep on coming back every day if we can’t get to a deal. We’ve said by the end of the week, we wanted to reach an agreement on the major issues,” Mnuchin said. “The president wants us to get a deal or he wants to move on and he’ll take other action.”
Any executive actions the president might take would likely provide much narrower relief than what a congressional deal could produce, even if they survived court challenges. Schumer said the Democrats are still urging more negotiations.
“We are very far apart,” Pelosi said. “It’s most unfortunate.”
Even before the meeting got underway, tempers were flaring on Capitol Hill. Pelosi alleged in a television interview that Republicans don’t give “a damn” about those in need, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of lying about GOP proposals.
In addition to the lapsed unemployment benefits and eviction protections, other parts of the Cares Act, which passed in March, will soon expire. The small-business Paycheck Protection Program is set to lapse on Saturday, and relief for certain student loan borrowers is set to expire Sept. 30.
Democrats are pushing for a large aid package, but Meadows and Mnuchin favor a smaller deal. Meadows suggested ahead of the meeting that the White House has shown willingness to move higher than its initial $1 trillion starting point while accusing Democrats of refusing to budge from their $3.4 trillion opening offer.
McConnell said he would be keeping the Senate in session “unless and until the Democrats demonstrate they will never let an agreement materialize.” However, multiple Republican senators said they were heading to their home states and would return if a deal came together.
The evening meeting was the ninth for this same group of four officials in 11 days. The meetings have yielded occasional signs of incremental progress but also much public posturing and finger-pointing.
The coronavirus pandemic has hammered the U.S. economy since February, and some of the largest provisions in the $2 trillion Cares Act have lapsed. Meanwhile, a new report on jobless claims on Thursday found that 1.2 million Americans filed jobless claims last week, the 20th straight week more than 1 million people have sought aid.
Despite the weak economic conditions and the continued spread of the virus, a compromise has remained distant. In an interview on CNBC on Thursday, Pelosi said Republicans’ refusal to recognize the needs that exist in the country is standing in the way of getting an agreement.
“Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gives a damn,” Pelosi said. “That’s the problem. See, the thing is, they don’t believe in governance.”
Speaking on the Senate floor a short time later, McConnell blamed Democrats for the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits because Democrats objected when Republicans tried last week to renew them on a short-term basis. The $3.4 trillion bill House Democrats passed in May would extend the $600 extra weekly benefit through January, but Republicans didn’t offer a counterproposal or start negotiating until recently, at which point the benefit expiration was imminent.
Republicans initially sought to extend the benefits at a lower level, saying that the $600 weekly bonus — coming on top of whatever state unemployment offices pay — acts as a disincentive for people to return to work. They have recently shown a willingness to extend the benefits for a period of time, but Democrats have insisted on pursuing a larger package.
McConnell also cited a Washington Post article that found Schumer had, at one point, wrongly described McConnell’s proposal to extend liability protections to businesses, health-care workers, schools and others. McConnell is insisting this provision be part of any bill.
“Instead of getting serious, the Democratic leaders have chosen instead to misrepresent and even lie about what’s at stake,” McConnell said.
White House officials began actively pursuing the executive order alternative a few days ago.
Although Democrats have rejected the idea that Trump could spend money without Congress’s approval, the Trump administration has asked federal agencies to identify all of the money they have not yet spent from the Cares Act. White House officials are trying to determine whether this money could be redirected and used for other purposes, such as temporary unemployment benefits.
One of the biggest sticking points remains what to do on aid for states and cities. Democrats want around $1 trillion in state and local aid, but Trump has dismissed that demand as a “bailout” for mismanaged states, and the administration put $150 billion on the table earlier this week.
In addition to the divide over unemployment aid, Democrats are pushing for money for food stamps and child care. The two sides are also arguing about money for schools and the Postal Service. Republicans have sought to link some of the school money to schools reopening, which Democrats oppose. There is a dispute about pensions, and other issues also remain unresolved.
McConnell has repeatedly acknowledged the divisions in his own conference, with some 20 GOP senators reluctant to spend any more money at all after Congress already approved four bipartisan bills in March and April totaling around $3 trillion. McConnell is not taking an active part in the talks and has said he’ll support any deal the administration officials and Democrats are able to reach. He left the Capitol long before Thursday night’s meeting broke up.
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.