Trump, Mnuchin push short-term virus aid package

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin listens as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the press outside the White House on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Trump is scheduled to visit Texas later today.


By NIELS LESNIEWSKI | CQ-Roll Call | Published: July 29, 2020

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WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — With prospects dim for a broader $1 trillion-plus COVID-19 relief package by the end of the week, President Donald Trump and his top negotiators are talking about a narrow package focused on continuing expanded unemployment benefits and preventing evictions.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has been leading negotiations on the part of the Trump administration with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, said a short-term bill could be on the table.

Mnuchin said Wednesday negotiations are “very far apart.”

“We’re looking at a deadline, obviously, of this Friday. The president’s very focused on evictions and unemployment, and if we can’t reach an agreement by then, the president wants to look at giving us more time to negotiate this,” Mnuchin said as he joined Trump for the president’s departure from the White House Wednesday morning.

“We’re focused on those two things, we want to take care of them now, the rest we can discuss later,” the president said with Marine One in the background. “They want big bailout money for Democrats that ran cities terribly. Their cities are going down the tube.”

The president referred to situations involving protesters in Portland, Ore., and Seattle, as well as the crime rate in New York City, as reasons he was against a broad aid package for state and local governments, which Democrats have prioritized.

“Democrat-run cities, whether you like it or not, they’re terribly run, and they’re always overtaxed,” Trump said. “What the Democrats want are bailout funds, and what we want is we want to take care of people.”

The president was flanked by Mnuchin and Meadows on Wednesday morning. The two men have been running point on Capitol Hill in meetings with lawmakers, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, whom they’re scheduled to meet with again Wednesday afternoon.

There’s no sense at the moment that the two parties can reach swift agreement on the unemployment insurance extension provisions, however. Democrats have pushed for a blanket renewal of the $600 added weekly benefit that lapsed this week, while Republicans want to cut that figure to $200 through September and then some amount that allows each state’s claimants to receive benefits worth 70% of prior wages.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted Pelosi for not being willing to budge on $600, which Republicans argue is too high and discourages a return to work.

“That’s what Speaker Pelosi apparently signaled yesterday: No money for schools, no money for households, no second round of the (Paycheck Protection Program), no more money for hospitals or testing, nothing at all unless we continue to pay people more not to work,” McConnell said. “That is a completely unhinged position.”

Members of both parties have also generally been skeptical about a “skinny” bill that accepts some areas of common ground and leaves more divisive items for later.

“I don’t see that as being very likely, certainly not at this point,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Tuesday. “You lose leverage when you start giving up things that most people believe in principle there should be some portion of it” included in an eventual deal.

“It’s hard to say we’ll compromise on one particular area of significance without seeing the entirety of the package,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York said Wednesday.

In Wednesday’s impromptu driveway remarks, Trump was also asked about the inclusion of $1.75 billion for a new FBI headquarters complex in the Appropriations Committee portion of the Senate Republican COVID-19 proposal.

“We have that in the bill. It should stay,” Trump said. “People have wanted a new FBI building now for 15 or 20 years.”

Even Senate Republicans who agreed to include the provision have since backed away from it, however.

The president, who made his name in real estate, had a message for them.

“Republicans should go back to school and learn. You need a new building. It’s a bad building. It’s a dangerous building, you have slabs falling off,” Trump said. “I would make sure we build a great building at a fraction of the cost.”

Lindsey McPherson and David Lerman contributed to this report.

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