Meadows ‘not optimistic’ about quick end to stalemate on coronavirus deal

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White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Wednesday warned he did not expect a quick breakthrough on stalled coronavirus relief talks, floating the possibility that they could drag into an end-of-September government funding fight.

Meadows, during a live interview with Politico, said he hadn’t had any recent conversations with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), beyond his staff reaching out to hers on Tuesday.

“I don’t anticipate that we’ll actually get a phone call,” he said.

Meadows added that he’s had “very productive conversations” with House and Senate Democrats, who he argued wanted a deal, but that he didn’t expect an agreement in the immediate future.

“I’m not optimistic. I think the Speaker is going to hold out until the end of September and try to get what she wants in the funding for the government during the [continuing resolution],” Meadows said.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said the Tuesday outreach referenced by Meadows came in the form of a text message that just confirmed the Speaker’s staff had the right number for Meadows and did not mention resuming negotiations on a coronavirus aid package. Hammill also noted that Meadows did not call Pelosi on Sunday, after indicating during an interview with ABC News’s “This Week” that he planned to do so.

Congress is expected to need to pass a continuing resolution (CR) by Sept. 30 to fund the government and prevent a shutdown just a month out from Election Day. Republicans have been quietly discussing trying to link coronavirus relief to a stop-gap funding bill if the COVID-19 talks get kicked into September.

Pelosi bristled when asked earlier this month about delaying coronavirus relief aid until the end of September to combine it with the government funding negotiations.

“People will die,” she told reporters at the time.

But coronavirus negotiations between Pelosi, Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) have gone basically nowhere since talks collapsed earlier this month.

In addition to specific policy differences, the two sides remain far apart on the price tag. Democrats offered to drop $1 trillion from their roughy $3.4 trillion package if Republicans would add the same amount to their roughly $1 trillion measure.

“Democrats have compromised in these negotiations. We offered to come down $1 trillion if the White House would come up $1 trillion. We welcome the White House back to the negotiating table but they must meet us halfway,” Hammill said Wednesday. 

Republicans and the Trump administration have balked at that offer. Instead, Senate Republicans are crafting a smaller package, expected to be around roughly $500 billion, that would include money for the Postal Service, federal unemployment aid, another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding, help for schools and coronavirus testing.

Republicans had been expected to unveil their new bill last week but appeared to still be finalizing the details. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), during a separate interview with Fox News, said Republicans were “going to take another shot at it.” 

“We’re very close to having a bill that Republicans are prepared to move on, hopefully as early as next week,” Rubio said.

Tags Chuck Schumer Continuing resolution coronavirus negotiations Coronavirus relief bill coronavirus relief legislation government funding bill Marco Rubio Mark Meadows Nancy Pelosi Steven Mnuchin

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