WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is boosting its offer in up-and-down COVID-19 aid talks Friday in hopes of an agreement before Election Day, even as President Donald Trump’s most powerful GOP ally in the Senate said Congress is unlikely to deliver relief by then.
Trump on Friday took to Twitter to declare, “Covid Relief Negotiations are moving along. Go Big!” A top economic adviser said the Trump team is upping its offer in advance of a Friday conversation between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The two spoke for more than 30 minutes Friday afternoon, said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.
A GOP aide familiar with the new offer said it is about $1.8 trillion, with a key state and local fiscal relief component moving from $250 billion to at least $300 billion. The White House says its most recent prior offer was about $1.6 trillion. The aide requested anonymity because the negotiations are private.
“I would like to see a bigger stimulus package than either the Democrats or Republicans are offering,” Trump said on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show Friday.
But GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told an audience in Kentucky that he doesn’t see a deal coming together soon out of a “murky” situation in which the participants in the negotiations are elbowing for political advantage.
“I’d like to see us rise above that like we did in March and April but I think it’s unlikely in the next three weeks,” McConnell said.
He spoke after Trump apparently performed an about-face, empowering Mnuchin to resume negotiations with Pelosi, D-Calif., on a larger, comprehensive coronavirus relief package.
White House economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow told reporters Friday that “developments are positive” and that “the bid and the offer have narrowed” in advance of a telephone conversation later Friday between Pelosi and Mnuchin.
McConnell remains a skeptic that a deal can come together — and he has issued private warnings that many Senate Republicans will oppose a deal in the range that Pelosi is seeking.
“We do need another rescue package,” McConnell said. “But the proximity to the election and the differences about what is need at this particular juncture are pretty vast.”
Later Friday, during an appearance in Tompkinsville, Kentucky, McConnell said: “I don’t know whether we’ll get another (virus-relief) package or not.”
McConnell added that “the first item of priority of the Senate is the Supreme Court. We’ve got a stunningly outstanding nominee.” He later said: “We intend to put her on the Supreme Court in the next few weeks.”
McConnell says he is open to resuming the negotiations in a post-election lame-duck session, but that prospect is murky as well, depending on the results.
On Friday, Pelosi issued a downbeat assessment in a letter to her colleagues but expressed some optimism in an appearance on MSNBC.
“I do hope that we’ll have an agreement soon,” Pelosi said.
Written by AP reporters Andrew Taylor and Bruce Schreiner.