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Leaders duel over coronavirus relief bill

Leaders duel over coronavirus relief bill 1

Top negotiators for a coronavirus relief bill couldn’t even
agree on what they agree on Sunday, indicating that Democrats and
Republicans are still a ways away from clinching a deal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said both parties have yet to come to
agreement on the fact that the U.S. must defeat Covid-19, the
disease caused by the novel coronavirus, an issue a bemused
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was adamant that there is
agreement on.

Pelosi also blamed President Donald Trump for “standing in the
way of” enhanced unemployment insurance for tens of millions of
Americans, the exact language White House chief of staff Mark
Meadows used to describe Democrats.

And the California Democrat suggested that Senate Republicans
are in disarray over unemployment benefits while Democrats are
united in support, but Meadows noted that only Democrats voted
against a weeklong extension of the $600 benefit in the Senate last
week.

The competing comments showed how far apart House Democrats and
the Trump administration are on sending a relief package to the
president, even as two major federal benefits — a $600 weekly
unemployment payment and an eviction moratorium — expired late
last week.

They also come a day after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
(D-N.Y.) said negotiators had “the best discussions we’ve had
so far.”

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“I would characterize it that way, but we still have a long
ways to go,” Meadows told CBS’ John Dickerson on “Face the
Nation.”

The White House chief of staff said he and Mnuchin have spent
the last few days trying to reach a consensus to “at least start
negotiating.” He characterized Saturday’s talks as “a step in
the right direction.”

Staffs are working Sunday, and the principals will meet again
Monday, according to Meadows, who admitted that “I’m not
optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term.”

Democratic leaders have similarly struggled to say when both
sides will reach a deal. “We’ll be close to an agreement when
we have an agreement,” Pelosi told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s
“This Week.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” House Majority Whip Jim
Clyburn (D-S.C.) told Dana Bash that while “they are in a better
place today than they were the day before,” “I don’t know how
close we are to a deal.”

Pelosi framed defeating the virus — which has infected more
than 4.6 million Americans and killed more than 154,000 people in
the U.S. — as “one of the contentious issues that we have to
deal with.”

“I was surprised that the speaker said we don’t agree on the
need to kill the virus,” Mnuchin said on “This Week,” moments
after Pelosi’s segment. “We absolutely agree on the need to
kill the virus.”

Asked what she would say to Americans who lost their
unemployment benefits, Pelosi responded: “Talk to President
Trump. He’s the one who’s standing in the way of that.”

Using identical language in a later interview, Meadows told
“Face the Nation”: “It’s important for your viewers to
understand that if you have unemployed people that have lost their
enhanced unemployment, they need to call their Democrat senators
and House members because they’re the ones standing in the way of
having those extended right now.”

In a pair of tweets Saturday, Trump accused Pelosi and Schumer
of blocking “desperately needed unemployment payments, which is
so terrible, especially since they fully understand that it was not
the workers fault that they are unemployed” — and claimed that
the Democratic leaders “have no interest in making a deal that is
good for our Country and our People.”

Mnuchin said Trump is “very concerned about the expiration of
the unemployment insurance” and that Republicans proposed a
one-week extension “so that while we negotiate a longer-term
solution, at least all those people don’t lose their money, and
I’m surprised that the Democrats won’t agree to that.”

“They are insistent on having this as part of a larger
deal,” he added.

Pelosi argued Sunday that Democrats are unified in their support
for the $600 benefit while Senate Republicans are in disarray over
an alternative $200 proposal, which she said fails to meet the
needs of working families.

“So the idea that they made a proposal is really not actually
factual,” she said.

Clyburn acknowledged that both sides are always trying to
maximize their leverage in negotiations but said it’s Republicans
who are “playing games with us.”

“I don’t know that this is an honest negotiation when you
want to leave town and not sit around the table and do what needs
to be done for the American people to have some security and some
safety in trying to live their lives,” Clyburn said. “That’s
what we are trying to do. This ‘every week, one more week, two
more days,’ that’s not the way you do things.”

Meadows lamented that Democrats are “stonewalling” piecemeal
legislation. “Hopefully that will change in the coming days,”
he said, highlighting another disagreement with Democrats, who want
a full package instead of a narrow, short-term solution.

He said his question to Clyburn is if he would encourage Pelosi
to consider a standalone bill for enhanced unemployment, bringing
that to the floor and encouraging the Senate to do the same.

“I can tell you, it’s the only thing that that we’ve run
out of money [on],” Meadows said, noting that there’s more than
$1.4 trillion left in unspent funds from previous legislation,
including $100 billion each for state and local governments and
small business aid, as well as more than $9 billion for testing.
“The one area where we don’t have the money is for enhanced
unemployment benefits.”

Trump wants a deal done quickly, but “there are different
things that are very contentious” on both sides, Mnuchin said.
The Treasury secretary cited Democrats’ push for more than a
trillion dollars in aid to state and local governments as an
example but maintained that “there’s definitely areas of
agreement” on issues like the Payment Protection Program and
direct payments to Americans.

“Mark Meadows and I will be back there every day until we
reach an agreement,” Mnuchin said. “We understand there’s a
need to compromise, but on the other hand there’s also a big need
to get kids into school, get people back to jobs and keep the
economy open and keep people safe.”

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