Mnuchin: Negotiators no closer to coronavirus deal than a week ago
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Senate Republicans Tuesday afternoon that negotiators are no closer to a coronavirus relief deal than they were last week, blaming Democratic leadership for the continuing stalemate.
Mnuchin told lawmakers that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have dug in and are holding firm, even after the $600-a-week federal enhancement to state unemployment benefits expired last week.
“I think the comment was he didn’t think they were any closer to a deal than they were this time last week,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), recounting Mnuchin’s report for the GOP conference.
“There’s growing skepticism that actually Democrats want to get a deal done,” he added.
Other Republicans emerging from the briefing with Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said it appears the bipartisan negotiations are at a stalemate, even though the Senate is scheduled to leave for the annual August recess Friday.
“I think we’re at an impasse,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who said the outlook for reaching a deal “doesn’t look good.”
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said Tuesday’s lunch “was the same discussion” GOP lawmakers had with Mnuchin and Meadows a week ago.
“No movement,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Mnuchin and Meadows told lawmakers that Pelosi and Schumer aren’t willing to come off their starting point in the negotiations, which is support for passing the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act that the House passed in May.
“The frustration really that’s building is that there doesn’t seem to be a willingness to really negotiate by the Democrats at this point. It’s still sort of maximum leverage stage, which I had hoped we would have passed by now but that’s where we still are.”
As Senate Republicans grow more pessimistic about the prospect of a broader deal, they’re wondering if there’s any smaller package centered on an extension of the federal enhancement to unemployment benefits that Democrats would want to accept.
Pelosi and Schumer want to extend the $600-a-week federal enhancement through January, while Republicans want to add a smaller amount per week to state unemployment benefits.
The stalled talks also have Republicans wondering if they’re going to go on recess as scheduled, stay in Washington to await a deal or leave with the expectation that they could be called back to Capitol Hill on short notice to pass a bill.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is up for reelection in November, said lawmakers should stay in town to focus on the negotiations, even though rank-and-file lawmakers are largely on the sidelines while Mnuchin, Meadows, Pelosi and Schumer try to hash out a deal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has kept close tabs on the talks, though he has not been in the room when White House officials and Democratic leaders meet.
“Basically what Mnuchin and Meadows said is Democrats do not appear to be serious about reaching a negotiated outcome so we’re prepared to be in session until we get one,” Cornyn said.
“We’ll be in session next week if we don’t get a resolution,” Cornyn added. “How do you think it looks for us to be back home when this is unresolved. This is the most important thing we need to be doing.”
Asked if Senate Republicans need to get more involved in the talks, Cornyn responded: “Sen. McConnell is directly involved in the negotiations.”
Meadows told reporters after the meeting that White House negotiators will attempt to reinvigorate the talks with a new offer but warned a deal is still nowhere close to being had.
“Secretary Mnuchin is prepared to make a few proposals that hopefully will be met with enthusiasm and yet we’re a long ways away from striking any kind of deal,” Meadows said.
Mnuchin then added: “If the Democrats are serious on negotiating we can do a deal quickly.”
The Treasury secretary floated the possibility of President Trump taking executive action to mitigate the economic impact of Congress’s inability to move another relief bill.
Trump told reporters Monday that he is prepared to act unilaterally to suspend evictions and payroll taxes.
“A lot of people are going to be evicted but I’m going to stop it because I’ll do it myself if I have to,” he said. “I have a lot of powers with respect to executive orders, and we’re looking at that very seriously right now.”