Trump says talks on COVID-19 aid are now ‘working out’

Two days after calling off coronavirus relief talks with Democrats, President Trump did a full 180-degree turn and said Thursday that he was now negotiating a “bigger deal” than a narrowly focused package to rescue airlines.

But there was no evidence that the two sides had restarted talks on a broader, trillion-dollar-plus stimulus package, and the timing of Trump’s bullish remarks came on the Fox Business Network just before the markets opened.

“I shut down talks two days ago because they weren’t working out. Now they’re starting to work out,” Trump said in the phone interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo.

“We’re talking about airlines and we’re talking about a bigger deal than airlines,” he said.

The comments came less than 48 hours after Trump abruptly derailed talks on another massive round of emergency COVID-19 aid, announcing that he had instructed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to halt his communications with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the principal negotiators who seemed to be making some progress on a bipartisan agreement.

“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday, a day after he left the hospital where he was being treated for COVID-19. 

Facing pushback from lawmakers and stakeholder industries, Trump hours later said he was ready to sign stand-alone bills that would provide funding for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, and help for small businesses and beleaguered airlines. But Pelosi has rejected that piecemeal approach. 

“If I am sent a Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200), they will go out to our great people IMMEDIATELY. I am ready to sign right now. Are you listening Nancy?” Trump said in one tweet

Trump’s erratic swings have frustrated Republicans facing tough reelection bids this fall. Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, urged the president to get back to the negotiating table on a larger deal.  

“I disagree with the President. With lives at stake, we cannot afford to stop negotiations on a relief package,” Katko tweeted after Trump walked away. “The Problem Solvers Caucus has a proposal that both sides agreed on and can bring negotiators back to the table. I strongly urge the President to rethink this move.”

Despite the pronouncement, Pelosi and Mnuchin have been busy fighting for an eleventh-hour lifeline for the decimated airline industry. The pair spoke twice by phone on Wednesday, and were expected to talk again on Thursday.

There’s been no indication, however, that they have continued talks on a broader deal.

Pelosi and Democrats have pressed for $2.2 trillion in new emergency spending, designed to address the health and economic fallout as the number of coronavirus cases are rising and the economic recovery of the summer is showing signs of slowing down. 

Trump and Republicans have rejected that figure as far too high, citing deficit concerns, and Mnuchin countered with a $1.6 trillion proposal, which Democrats maintain is insufficient.

Amid the impasse, the plight of the airline industry has gained outsize attention, after a host of companies this month have furloughed tens of thousands of employees, citing the absence of more federal aid. 

Pelosi has largely rejected the idea of plucking individual provisions out of a comprehensive relief package, yet last Friday Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, attempted to pass billions of dollars in new airline relief by unanimous consent. The gambit failed, and Pelosi, despite her resistance to piecemeal aid, was quick to blame Republicans.

“Again and again, Democrats offer legislation to save lives and livelihoods, only to be met by more Republican obstruction,” she said at the time. 

Pelosi is scheduled to appear before the press later Thursday morning. 

— Updated at 9:49 a.m.

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus relief COVID-19 Donald Trump John Katko Maria Bartiromo Nancy Pelosi Peter DeFazio Steven Mnuchin Stimulus

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