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Pelosi, citing 'leverage' over Trump, holds strong to $2.2T in COVID-19 aid

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP operative installed as NSA top lawyer placed on administrative leave: reports Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Biden taps career civil servants to acting posts at State, USAID, UN MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday shot down entreaties from some Democrats to cut a $1.8 trillion deal with the White House on coronavirus relief, arguing that President TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE's pleas for Congress to "go big" have given her leverage to hold out for more aid. 

"I appreciate the, shall we say, a couple people saying, ‘Take it, take it, take it,’" Pelosi said in a phone conference with Democrats, according to source on the call. "Take it? Take it? Even the president is saying, ‘Go big or go home.’"

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinPence delivers coronavirus task force report to Biden Treasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' Treasury Department sanctions inner circle of Russian agent Derkach for election interference MORE have been in near-daily talks in search of an elusive stimulus agreement, even as the prospect of a deal before the Nov. 3 elections has grown dimmer by the day.

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Mnuchin last week had offered a $1.8 trillion package, up from an earlier proposal of $1.6 trillion, prompting a growing number of House Democrats to urge the Speaker to come down from her $2.2 trillion proposal, which the House approved on Oct. 1. That figure was already a reduction from the Democrats' $3.4 trillion HEROES Act, passed by the House in May.  

Most of those pleas have come from the Democrats' moderate wing, particularly from vulnerable lawmakers facing tough reelections next month. Yet even a few liberals have emerged in recent days to press Pelosi to accept the White House's latest offer. 

"Dems can’t wait for the perfect deal," Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHouse Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis House impeaches Trump for second time — with some GOP support Stacey Abrams gets kudos for work in Georgia runoff election MORE (D-Calif.), a prominent member of the Progressive Caucus, tweeted Tuesday. "We have a moral obligation to get folks relief, now."

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Yet Trump has fueled the notion that a larger relief package is both preferable and possible this month, urging Congress multiple times in recent days to seek a package even larger than both parties have proposed. 

"STIMULUS! Go big or go home!!!" he tweeted Tuesday morning.

That message runs counter to the statements coming from Republicans on Capitol Hill, particularly in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism MORE (R-Ky.) had introduced a $1.1 trillion package last month, only to face a revolt from conservatives opposed to a figure they deemed far too high. In response, McConnell brought a much smaller $300 billion package to the floor, where it was promptly blocked by Democrats.

McConnell on Tuesday announced that the Senate will vote next week on a "targeted" coronavirus stimulus, including new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) providing relief to small businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

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"The American people need Democrats to stop blocking bipartisan funding and let us replenish the PPP before more Americans lose their jobs needlessly,” McConnell said in a statement.

Trump, who has largely remained on the sidelines of the Pelosi-Mnuchin talks, quickly undermined McConnell's piecemeal approach in urging Congress to tackle a larger deal.

The president is also trailing Joe BidenJoe BidenKaty Perry and her 'Firework' close out inauguration TV special Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Tom Hanks: After years of 'troubling rancor,' Inauguration Day 'is about witnessing the permanence of our American ideal' MORE in the polls, and seems increasingly eager to secure a big legislative victory before Nov. 3.

Against that backdrop, Pelosi seems to smell blood. While expressing hope that an agreement is still possible, she's holding firm to her $2.2 trillion demand. 

"We really need to have an agreement, but we cannot have an agreement by just folding," she told her caucus. "I don’t think our leverage has ever been greater than it is now.”