The two negotiators, who continued to talk privately this week despite Trump’s very public declaration Tuesday, plan to work through the weekend to try to clinch a deal. The renewed negotiations are resurrecting hopes of a long-shot deal to inject billions of dollars into a pandemic-battered economy as voters have already begun going to the polls.
And Trump himself has continued to move the goalposts, even as his top GOP negotiator was preparing to deliver his offer to the Democrats.
“I would like to see a bigger stimulus package than, frankly, either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering,” Trump said on an appearance of the Rush Limbaugh Show on Friday, acknowledging it was “the exact opposite” of his initial demands.
But even if the two reach an agreement on a stimulus package, Pelosi and Mnuchin will be facing strong headwinds in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been skeptical of the prospects of muscling through a massive bill this month.
McConnell reiterated Friday that it was “unclear” whether a deal would get through before Nov. 3 and emphasized that the Senate’s priority is the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
“Even if an agreement is reached … the first item of priority in the Senate is the Supreme Court,” McConnell said at an event in his home state. He added it depends “on what the agreement is, how complicated it is, how long it takes to write it. I couldn’t tell you exactly when it would pass.”
Earlier on Friday, McConnell said that “we do need another rescue package” but added the fast-approaching election was only making it more difficult for Democrats, Republicans and the White House to find common ground, even as millions of Americans remain unemployed and more than 210,000 people have died from the coronavirus.
Any deal would likely need support from both Trump and McConnell to win the votes in the House and Senate.
McConnell, whose Senate majority is in jeopardy this fall, faces mounting pressure from his most vulnerable members to pass a bill quickly. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said Friday that she spoke with Trump and told him that “Iowans need additional COVID-19 relief.” But the Senate GOP conference also includes a strong bloc of conservatives who are anxious about the rising red ink, with several trillion dollars already spent this year.
A push for Congress to take up such enormous legislation this close to an election would be a highly unusual move, and is likely to cause angst among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. That could include Democrats, some of whom have already privately wondered whether an aid bill could help lift Trump’s reelection prospects in the final days of the campaign — especially after Republicans refused to budge in negotiations throughout the summer and fall.
The speaker and Mnuchin have spoken by phone almost daily over the last two weeks as they’ve pushed for a long-shot deal on a stimulus package. That includes a call this week, when Mnuchin floated the idea of standalone relief bills for the airline industry or for small business loans. But Pelosi rejected on Thursday any strategy that would deliver aid to the airline industry, which is facing massive layoffs, outside of a larger bill.
The flurry of action on Friday comes after several days of mixed signals from Trump about whether he wants Congress to pass a coronavirus relief package. Earlier this week, Trump tweeted that he told key negotiators for the White House that he wanted to wait until after the election to come to a deal — to the frustration of some members of his own party.
But hours later, Trump called on Congress to pass standalone bills for a range of issues, including airline relief and stimulus checks.
For months, Congress has struggled to agree on exactly how to deliver additional coronavirus relief, even as the U.S. jobless rate remains at record highs and businesses are shuttering around the country.
Among the biggest sticking points has been the price tag of the package: House Democrats earlier this month passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill — down from their initial $3.4 trillion proposal. But Senate Republicans are anxious about the nation’s ballooning deficit and most are unlikely to support a proposal that far exceeds $1 trillion.
Senate Republicans introduced a more narrow coronavirus relief bill in September, which received near unanimous support from the GOP caucus, but was blocked by Senate Democrats.
Jake Sherman contributed to this report.