U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 16, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters
President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged Republicans to embrace a larger coronavirus stimulus package as a top White House aide showed more optimism about striking a deal with Democrats.
In a tweet, the president told GOP lawmakers to “go for the much higher numbers” in legislation designed to boost an economy and health-care system struggling under the weight of the pandemic. Many Republicans have embraced limited relief — or backed no new spending at all — as the major parties struggle to break a stalemate over a fifth relief bill.
Asked later in the day if he backed roughly $1.5 trillion legislation put forward by a bipartisan House group, Trump said he supports “something like that” and likes “the larger amount” of spending. He added that “some Republicans disagree, but I think I can convince them to go along with that.”
Shortly after Trump first tweeted, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” that he is “probably more optimistic about the potential for a deal in the last 72 hours than I have been in the last 72 days.” The comment from Meadows, one of the two leading Trump administration negotiators in stimulus talks, followed the Tuesday release of the plan from the House Problem Solvers Caucus.
Democratic House committee chairs rejected the proposal Tuesday as party leaders call to inject at least $2.2 trillion into the coronavirus fight. Speaking to CNBC on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., again opposed a more limited relief proposal.
In a written statement Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said they were “encouraged” by Trump’s tweet. They added that they “look forward to hearing from the President’s negotiators that they will finally meet us halfway with a bill that is equal to the massive health and economic crises gripping our nation.”
Negotiations over more aid to Americans collapsed last month despite the expiration of financial lifelines including the extra $600 per week unemployment benefit and a federal moratorium on evictions. While the U.S. job market has recovered as states gradually ease public health restrictions, millions of people still feel sharp pain with a jobless rate hovering above 8%.
Pressure on officials in Washington to act has increased as they hurtle toward reelection fights in November. Some House Democrats have increasingly pushed Pelosi to relent and pass a smaller relief package than the party initially desired.
Meanwhile, Senate Republican leaders attempted to pass their own aid bill last week, both to put pressure on Democrats and ease the burden on vulnerable GOP senators. Democrats blocked the legislation, which they said was inadequate to address the crisis.
Trump’s tweet Wednesday, in which he pushed for “stimulus payments,” also showed the political benefit he sees in sending more relief before the election. The bill that failed in the Senate last week did not include a second round of direct payments to Americans.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump’s tweet referred to the need for a bigger relief package than the roughly $500 billion plan the Senate GOP proposed.
Speaking to CNBC, Meadows did not outright support the bipartisan House bill. However, he called it a “serious thought for consideration.”
“I think it at least provides a foundation for us to come back to the table,” he said.
Meadows said he was willing to stay engaged in talks but wanted to see a deal happen within “a week to 10 days.”
Aid to state and local governments has posed a stumbling block in negotiations. Democrats want more than $900 billion in relief for states and municipalities facing budget crunches because of the pandemic. The White House has pushed for $150 billion in new spending.
The bipartisan House bill released this week would allocate $500 billion for those governments. However, Meadows opposed spending that much, saying, “hopefully that number is closer” to $250 billion to $300 billion.
— CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report