‘Progress’ but no deal as coronavirus talks head into next week
Trump administration officials and Democratic leaders negotiating a new coronavirus relief package said they made “progress” during a rare Saturday meeting but aren’t yet close to a deal.
“We’re not close yet, but it was a productive discussion. Now each side knows where they’re at,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters after the meeting.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin added that the meeting, which at more than three hours was the longest yet for negotiators, was the “most productive we’ve had to date.”
The rhetoric following the weekend meeting marked a notable thaw between Democrats and administration officials following days of heated remarks, including on Friday when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows traded barbs during dueling press conferences.
Meadows — who had previously told reporters that he was not optimistic about the chances of a deal in the upcoming week — called Saturday the “first day of a good foundation.”
“We’re still a long ways apart, and I don’t want to suggest that a deal is imminent, because it is not. But like with any deal, as you make progress, I think it’s important to recognize you’re making progress,” Meadows said.
The meeting marked the first time Democratic leaders and administration officials have come out of a closed-door negotiating session and spoken positively about their discussions. It’s also their first meeting since the $600 federal unemployment benefit expired on Friday night, adding a new urgency to the discussions.
“Today was productive in terms of moving us forward,” said Pelosi, who elbow-bumped with Schumer before they parted ways in the Capitol after the meeting.
Both sides noted that they went through the laundry list of issues that are being discussed in the next package. Staff are expected to have follow-up discussions on Sunday, and then the Congressional Democratic leaders will meet again with Mnuchin and Meadows on Monday.
But they stressed that, despite the progress, they still were not close to an agreement on another bill.
The hurdles between the two sides are steep: Senate Republicans have introduced a roughly $1 trillion package, while the bill passed by House Democrats was roughly $3 trillion.
Mnuchin has pointed to the Paycheck Protection Program and help for community banks and schools as areas where they are closer to potential agreements with Democrats.
“I would just say that the four of us also agree the education issue is something that’s very timely. Schools are opening, and there are schools that want to open that will need more money for social distancing,” Mnuchin said. “So schools are also another important factor.”
But there are also serious divisions on other pieces, including additional money for state and local governments. Democrats are proposing an additional $1 trillion, while the GOP package includes more flexibility for the $150 billion already appropriated but no new funding.
In addition, the two sides are battling over how to replace the now-expired $600 per week federal boost to unemployment included in the March coronavirus package, and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made liability protections from coronavirus-related lawsuits a red line in the talks.
“There’s still a lot of open issues,” Mnuchin said. “We’re trying to narrow down the things we don’t agree on.”
Mnuchin declined to say if they had made any progress toward a compromise on unemployment benefits, state and local aid, or liability, which he had previously pointed to as major sticking points.
The two sides are also divided on the size of the package.
President Trump has signaled he wants a short-term deal that would address both unemployment insurance and preventing evictions, and Meadows and Mnuchin have previously, in the closed-door meetings, made offers to extend the federal unemployment benefit.
But Democrats have rejected the piecemeal approach, wanting one large bill that addresses all of the issues as part of the next coronavirus relief deal.
“They’ve made clear … a desire on their part to do an entire package. We’ve made clear that we’re really willing to deal with the short-term issues and pass quickly and come back to the larger issues,” Mnuchin said. “So we’re at an impasse on that.”