Trump, GOP scramble to keep economy from derailing

The sudden plunge of the U.S. stock market from record highs and a wave of alarms about a possible recession has caught 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 and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill by surprise and sent them scrambling for proposals to restore confidence in the economy.

The strong economy has long been considered the GOP’s best argument going into the 2020 election, but it’s unclear if that will be the case this summer and fall. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Monday fell by more than 2,000 points, marking the worst trading day since the 2008 financial collapse, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq composite dropped by similarly large amounts.


Trump met with his senior economic advisers Monday to discuss how to quell the growing panic over how coronavirus may affect the global economy, a problem compounded by the outbreak of a war over oil prices between Russia and Saudi Arabia, two of the world’s biggest suppliers. A payroll tax cut, paid leave for people who get sick, another Fed rate cut and a rescue package for the airline industry and other industries affected by the virus were several of the options under discussion at the White House.

Trump will also meet with senior Wall Street executives this week to discuss how to restore some calm to the markets, which themselves could become a drag on the economy if the intense selling pressure on equities and buying pressure on bonds doesn’t let up.

The White House and GOP leaders hastily arranged for 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 and National Economic Council Director Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE to meet with Senate Republicans at lunch Tuesday to discuss steps to avert a looming recession.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyFinance Committee vote on Yellen nomination scheduled for Friday Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority Yellen champions big spending at confirmation hearing MORE (R-Iowa) announced Monday that his panel is already exploring a variety of tax-relief proposals, telling reporters “everything’s on the table.”

Grassley acknowledged he’s worried about the threat of a recession, something that would play havoc with Trump’s reelection and Senate Republicans’ efforts to keep control of the upper chamber.

“You’re seeing some industries shut down, some businesses shut down. And there’s three ways the federal government can tackle it. The Federal Reserve’s already done it by reducing interest rates. They may do that again. We’ve got tax policy that we can do through our committee, and we’ve got stimulus,” Grassley said.


The Fed announced an emergency half-percentage-point rate cut last week, but it failed to stop the sell-off.

GOP senators say the White House recommendations will lay the groundwork for what they do in Congress. However, it remains to be seen if the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled House can agree on any fix other than coronavirus spending bills. 

“Right now they’re just starting to give consideration to any type of menu of options,” Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism McConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment Yellen champions big spending at confirmation hearing MORE (S.D.) said of the Finance Committee’s consideration of stimulus measures.

“I think we’re going to wait and hear what the White House has on it,” he added.

Thune said there’s likely more support for “maybe some targeted stuff.”

“There are going to be certain sectors that are really feeling most of the economic impact,” he said, alluding to airlines, cruise ship companies and oil producing and transport companies.

Trump on Monday evening proposed a payroll tax cut and relief for hourly workers to counter the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

Oil prices plunged 24 percent on Monday in the biggest drop since 1991 after OPEC, the cartel of major oil-producing countries, failed to strike a deal on production cuts.

The stunning drop in oil prices has raised fears of a wave of bankruptcies in the domestic energy industry, where the cost of producing a barrel of oil is often higher than in Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting countries.

“On the oil front, my concern is that the supply glut gets so great at a time of shrinking demand because of the coronavirus and other things that this could be a fairly deep hole to dig out of,” said Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerMcConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism McConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment Impeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP MORE (R-N.D.), who represents an oil-producing state.

Republicans worry a sudden economic downturn might not only hurt Trump’s chances of winning a second term but also their chances of holding onto the Senate majority.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungLobbying world Biden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack MORE (Ind.) said he and his colleagues will be in close consultation with senior administration officials and other economic experts.


“The Federal Reserve already ticked down interest rates. That’s one way to stimulate the economy. It’s unclear whether fiscal stimulus will be necessary and appropriate, but we’ll all be consulting with economists and business leaders and our constituents as we make these decisions,” he said.

Young added the administration and members of Congress are preparing for “the absolute worst,” in case conditions break down even further.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Overnight Defense: Trump impeached for second time | National Guard at Capitol now armed, swelling to 20K troops for inauguration | Alabama chosen for Space Command home Space Command to be located in Alabama MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters last week that he’s open to a stimulus package and pointed to an infrastructure spending bill as something that could attract bipartisan support. But Shelby said he’d want a major spending package paid for, which would then put the onus on negotiators to find ways to raise revenue through taxes or fees, or savings through spending cuts.

“We’ve been talking about infrastructure a long time. That would be a popular stimulus,” he said. “The economy is still good but a lot of people are nervous all over the world, and they should be. We don’t where this virus will play out or how long it will take.”

“It will have some effect on the economy,” he warned.

Some Republicans, however, aren’t yet convinced stimulus measures are necessary.


“I think it’s premature to be talking about that,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats torn on impeachment trial timing McConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment Schumer: Trump should not be eligible to run for office again MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Finance Committee who is up for reelection this year.

He predicted there will be pressure on Saudi Arabia to reconsider its decision to ramp up oil production.

“I think the Saudis miscalculated and so I think that’s a conversation that needs to happen between either our State Department and the Saudi officials or the president with the crown prince,” he said, referring to Mohammed bin Salman.

When Senate Republicans held their all-day retreat last month, there was no talk about the need for a stimulus package, but now there’s a sense of urgency.  

Asked about the possibility of a recession, Grassley said, “I’m concerned about it enough that I think as far as tax policy is concerned we ought to be on top of it.”

Jordain Carney and Brett Samuels contributed.