Meadows sees progress on relief talks, but keeps hard line on Pelosi proposals

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White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Tuesday touted “real progress” in talks with Democrats and Republicans on coronavirus relief legislation, but he continued to reject the broad proposal from Democratic leaders, calling into question the chances of a deal.

Meadows spoke to CNBC shortly after a Senate Republican leader indicated the conference hoped to vote next week on a “targeted” relief bill. The chief of staff expressed optimism that the two parties could reach an agreement on a more narrow set of issues, even as they have struggled for weeks to advance broader negotiations. 

“As we’ve had discussions with Democrats on Capitol Hill, as we’ve continued our discussion with Republican senators, we’re making real progress,” Meadows said. “I will say as we look at the number of things we actually agree to and the amounts of money allocated to those areas, probably the biggest stumbling block that remains is the amount of money that would go to state and local help.”

Meadows dismissed Pelosi’s request for $915 billion in aid for state and local governments reeling from the pandemic. And he waved off the $2.2 trillion overhaul figure, arguing “it’s not based on facts and it’s not based on reality.”

In lieu of a larger agreement, Meadows suggested the Republican proposal to be unveiled next week could provide an initial stepping off point. He said the legislation could amount to $500 billion, but did not elaborate on specifics.

“If we can add from that and use that as a foundation, or at least pass that knowing that we will largely agree on that targeted proposal coming from Senate Republicans, let’s go ahead and get what we agree to off the table, passed, signed into law and continue to negotiate on those things that perhaps might separate the two parties.”

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.) said Tuesday morning the “goal” is to vote on the legislation next week after the Senate returns from its August recess.

Barrasso said the legislation is “focused on getting people back to work, getting kids back to school.” He noted the plan to vote on what is being called a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill next week still needs to be approved by the broader Senate Republican Conference, which is meeting via conference call on Tuesday with Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Congress has failed to pass any coronavirus relief measures since early July, when it approved an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program to aid small businesses. In the time since, millions of Americans have lost their jobs or remain out of work as the coronavirus pandemic maintains a grip on the country.

Some Democrats have pointed to Meadows’s involvement in negotiations as a roadblock to progress, citing his history as a congressman in obstructing negotiations.

The chief of staff on Tuesday rejected criticism that his presence was deterring talks, noting he was part of successful negotiations to pass the CARES Act earlier this year.

“There’s going to be a whole lot of finger-pointing right now,” Meadows said. “I’m not trying to point my finger at anybody else, other than to say give me the facts, we’ll get there.”

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus relief COVID-19 John Barrasso Mark Meadows Steven Mnuchin

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