No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks

No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks
© Bonnie Cash

The White House and congressional Democrats dug in deeper in their respective tranches on Monday amid the stalemate over a new coronavirus relief package.

The Senate was technically back in session on Monday, but there were no signs of a quick detente on the political and policy differences between the two sides.

Two senior Democratic aides told The Hill that there have been no contacts between House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMcCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCould Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? Democratic negotiator: 'I believe we will' have infrastructure bill ready on Monday DACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) and the White House since Friday.

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One of the aides added that there specifically had not been contact with White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsTrump to Pence on Jan. 6: 'You don't have the courage' Trump said whoever leaked information about stay in White House bunker should be 'executed,' author claims 'Just say we won,' Giuliani told Trump aides on election night: book MORE or Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer MORE, the two lead GOP negotiators.

Schumer, asked about next steps, put the onus on Republicans.

He said Republicans should "meet us in the middle," adding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines MORE (R-Ky.) should "tell the president's negotiators he is willing to meet us in the middle and we can get something done."

Instead, the two Senate leaders traded barbs during a brief Senate session.

McConnell, speaking from the floor, argued that Democrats said it was "our way or the highway," blaming them for the lack of progress and no clear path forward.

"From the beginning, our side has tried everything possible to find common ground and deliver more help. But Democrats said no. At least the American people know the score," he added.

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Schumer said the GOP negotiators needed to "meet us halfway."

"After days of arduous negotiations, Speaker Pelosi and I continued to run into Republican intransigence. ... Let's meet in the middle, we said. In the middle. That's how negotiations occur. That's how you get something done. The White House said no. It was difficult for us to offer that compromise," Schumer said from the Senate floor.

The Senate is expected to stay in session this week but won't hold a vote unless negotiators are able to revive the talks and get a deal on another coronavirus package.

Talks collapsed Friday after nearly two weeks of almost daily negotiations failed to make much measurable progress.

Democratic leaders said on Friday that they had agreed to drop $1 trillion off of their $3.4 trillion top line if Republicans agreed to add $1 trillion to their roughly $1 trillion package. The strategy, effectively splitting the cost difference, would have resulted in an agreement between roughly $2 trillion and $2.4 trillion.

But Mnuchin called that a "non-starter." He added during an interview with CNBC on Monday that he thought there could be a deal "if the Democrats are willing to be reasonable."

"I'm not going to comment on the specifics or the logistics of the negotiations because I don't think that's helpful," he told CNBC, asked about how the talks got restarted.

Mnuchin, during a briefing with Trump early Monday evening, said he had spoken with "several" Democrats since Friday — but not Pelosi and Schumer.

If "they are willing to negotiate, have a new proposal, we're more than willing to meet," Mnuchin said, asked if he was willing to reach out to them.

Trump over the weekend issued a package of executive orders to unilaterally extend enhanced unemployment benefits, defer payroll tax collection, and offer assistance on rent and student loan payments.

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTransit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal Senate falling behind on infrastructure Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (R-N.D.) argued that the decision by the president reset the leverage in the talks and questioned if legislation by Congress was still needed.

"Perhaps it brings them back to the table. The question, though, I think ... is, is it even all that necessary?" Cramer told CNBC. "You know, some people, I think ... are going to be looking at it and going, there's no longer a need to get back to the negotiating table."

Cramer, asked if he thought there would be an agreement by the end of this week, added, "I'm not so sure."

Brett Samuels contributed.