Meadows, Pelosi trade criticism on stalled stimulus talks
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows chided Democrats for playing politics in coronavirus stimulus negotiations during an appearance in the White House briefing room Friday, criticism that was swiftly dismissed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Capitol Hill.
Meadows, addressing reporters from the briefing room podium, blamed Democrats for the failure to reach a short-term deal to extend enhanced unemployment insurance benefits and a federal moratorium on evictions. He said that, at President Trump’s direction, he and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made four different offers in negotiations to Democrats that were rejected without the other side offering a counterproposal.
“What we are seeing is politics as usual from Democrats on Capitol Hill,” Meadows told reporters. “The Democrats believe that they have all the cards on their side, and they’re willing to play those cards at the expense of those that are hurting.”
His remarks followed a tweet, sent late Thursday after another round of stimulus negotiations, in which he called Democrats a “politically motivated party that won’t take ‘yes’ for an answer.”
Pelosi, asked to respond to the tweet during a press conference at the Capitol on Friday, said Meadows and the entire Republican Party were “projecting” their internal squabbles onto Democrats, who passed a major coronavirus relief package in the House more than two months ago.
“Every time they say something, I say, ‘Perhaps you are characterizing yourself and think that that’s how we are,'” Pelosi said. “We’re not. We’re here. This is serious. This is life-and-death.”
Pelosi went on to argue that, while it’s not unusual for Congress to move short-term extensions of expiring programs, those Band-aids are useful only when the parties are on the verge of an agreement on a longer-term fix. In this case, the sides are so far apart on an expansive stimulus package, she said, that the temporary patch would be all but meaningless.
“A week would be a time for that — if we had a bill. What are we going to do in a week?” she asked. “They don’t even have the votes for it in the Senate.”
Pelosi said Democrats are waiting for Senate Republicans to come up with a counteroffer on unemployment benefits that can pass through the upper chamber.
“They’ve offered $200; we’re saying, ‘We have the HEROES Act, respond to us on that and we’ll go forward,'” she said. “But the $600 is essential in the lives of these families.”
The sharp exchange of words across the nation’s capital underscored the current gulf between White House and congressional negotiators on a fifth relief package, which economists say will be critical to boosting the ailing U.S. economy in the midst of the pandemic.
Meadows — who until March was representing North Carolina as a GOP congressman — and Mnuchin met with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) late Thursday evening for further negotiations, but the discussion did not bear fruit. It was one of several meetings of the group this week. Meadows said Friday it was possible that the administration would again return to Capitol Hill on Saturday for further negotiations.
“We call on Capitol Hill to get serious about their negotiations,” Meadows said, accusing Democrats of “playing politics” amid a dire pandemic.
Meadows left Friday’s briefing without taking any questions, leaving White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany to answer inquiries from reporters on the negotiations.
House Democrats in May passed their own $3 trillion relief proposal, but the White House and Senate Republicans delayed formal negotiations on the next package until this month. The Senate GOP unveiled their proposal earlier this week.
McEnany called the Democrat-passed bill “unserious” and said the White House was narrowly focused on passing an extension for expanded unemployment benefits. Asked what the White House’s message was to Americans who will lose their extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits, McEnany recommended that they call the offices of Pelosi and Schumer and tell them to “get to work and stop engaging in politics on the backs of Americans.”
The additional unemployment benefit passed by Congress in March is poised to officially sunset on midnight Friday. The federal moratorium on evictions for renters who participate in federal housing assistance programs expired last week, on July 24.
Trump has this week been pushing for an extension of each of the two provisions, as talks between the White House and Democrats faltered.
Lawmakers hoped the midnight deadline would result in an eleventh-hour agreement to extend the provision, but the Senate left town on Thursday, ensuring the benefits would expire without a deal.
Updated at 2:09 p.m.