The COVID-19 stimulus talk ship, steered by a mercurial and influenceable President Donald Trump, has careened from progress to near wreckage over and over again this week.
Now, days after a convalescent Trump proclaimed on Twitter that he was walking away from the negotiations, Politico is reporting that the White House is “completely set” on striking a deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow said Friday that the President had approved a “revised package.”
The ship again lurched towards open waters, only to ram into a sandbar minutes later with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) grim prognosis that a stimulus package is “unlikely in the next three weeks.”
That Friday stop-and-start mirrors the stimulus dynamic that’s been playing out all week: lots of movement, flurries of calls and meetings and Trump demands, but little progress.
Trump made the first big move this week on Tuesday, publicly walking away from the negotiations amid a manic post-hospital tweet storm.
Nancy Pelosi is asking for $2.4 Trillion Dollars to bailout poorly run, high crime, Democrat States, money that is in no way related to COVID-19. We made a very generous offer of $1.6 Trillion Dollars and, as usual, she is not negotiating in good faith. I am rejecting their…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2020
Pelosi jumped on the tweet at once, blasting out a statement bemoaning Trump’s willingness to abandon the talks, leaving first responders, teachers, children, out in the cold. For her, it was a blunder heaven-sent: a perfect way to take sputtering negotiations that opened up both parties to criticism and shift the blame solely to a President who made clear he was acting on political motives.
Pelosi’s spokesperson tweeted that she and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — her preferred negotiating partner (the Democrats find Chief of Staff Mark Meadows impossible to deal with) — spoke on the phone, and that Mnuchin confirmed that the President had walked away from the negotiations.
The stock market plunged.
BREAKING: Stocks slide to lows of the day after Trump tweets that he is rejecting the Democrats stimulus proposal and adds: “I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election” https://t.co/jn8limUSe7 pic.twitter.com/bdudqRotZm
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) October 6, 2020
Trump may have wised up to his 3D chess maneuver gone awry, and reversed his position hours later.
The House & Senate should IMMEDIATELY Approve 25 Billion Dollars for Airline Payroll Support, & 135 Billion Dollars for Paycheck Protection Program for Small Business. Both of these will be fully paid for with unused funds from the Cares Act. Have this money. I will sign now!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
The next day, Pelosi and Mnuchin held phone calls on airline relief. Airlines have been threatening tens of thousands of layoffs in recent weeks, saying they desperately need funding to offset huge losses from reduced travel during the pandemic.
During a Thursday morning interview on Fox Business Network, Trump sounded back in the game.
“I shut down talks two days ago because they weren’t working out. Now they are starting to work out,” he said. “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.”
But even that progress was muddied by mid-morning when Pelosi made clear that she would not green-light standalone stimulus bills without a larger, comprehensive package.
“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,” Pelsoi said at her weekly press conference. “We want to continue the conversation,” she added.
White House communications director Alyssa Farah staked out the opposite position soon after, saying that “we’ve made very clear we want a skinny package,” according to the pool report.
Pelosi brought up the contradiction on an afternoon call with Mnuchin.
The Speaker pointed out that, unfortunately, the White House Communications Director contradicted that assertion during their call. The Speaker trusts that the Secretary speaks for the President. (2/2)
— Drew Hammill (@Drew_Hammill) October 8, 2020
Mnuchin reportedly confirmed the President’s interest in a comprehensive relief package.
That brings the timeline to Friday, where quotes about Trump’s eagerness to deal and McConnell’s skepticism about anything coming to fruition fly around in equal measure.
The real sticking point is that Trump’s enthusiasm isn’t enough — the two sides have been miles apart on how much they want to spend and which pieces of relief to prioritize for months. If Trump really has signed off on a package Pelosi will accept, it will have to be many billions of dollars more expensive than what the Republicans have put forth so far.
And the runway for coming together on the deal is running short. The election is less than a month away, and Senate Republicans have already committed their limited pre-election floor time to getting Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett confirmed. That doesn’t leave a lot of latitude for the blood, sweat and tears that goes into dealmaking and bill writing — and all of this is predicated on the assumption that Trump doesn’t change his mind. Again.