Trump calls on Congress to pass COVID-19 relief after calling off negotiations

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President Trump (Getty Images via CBS News)

President Trump has called for Congress to pass relief for airlines, money for the Paycheck Protection Program and stimulus funds, after shutting down negotiations for relief between the White House and House Democrats.

Earlier Tuesday, the president blamed Speaker Nancy Pelosi for “not negotiating in good faith” after she rejected a $1.6 trillion proposal from the White House. The president sent a series of tweets announcing he had “instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election.”

But hours later, he urged Congress to pass coronavirus relief, though what he was demanding was not the same package he rejected.

“The House & Senate should IMMEDIATELY Approve 25 Billion Dollars for Airline Payroll Support, & 135 Billion Dollars for Paycheck Protection Program for Small Business. Both of these will be fully paid for with unused funds from the Cares Act. Have this money. I will sign now!” the president tweeted.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted Wednesday that the speaker and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had spoken that morning about a standalone airlines bill. Hammill said that Pelosi told Mnuchin that a standalone bill on airlines was blocked last week by Republicans.

Mr. Trump also tweeted on Tuesday evening about a standalone bill offering direct payments for Americans.

“If I am sent a Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200), they will go out to our great people IMMEDIATELY. I am ready to sign right now. Are you listening Nancy?” he tweeted minutes later, tagging Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his own chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

Earlier Thursday, Pelosi reacted to the president’s announcement with a statement saying, “Clearly, the White House is in complete disarray.”

“Today, once again, President Trump showed his true colors: putting himself first at the expense of the country, with the full complicity of the GOP Members of Congress,” Pelosi said. “Walking away from coronavirus talks demonstrates that President Trump is unwilling to crush the virus.”

Hammill also confirmed Tuesday that she and Mnuchin spoke on the phone earlier that afternoon.

“The Secretary confirmed that the President has walked away from COVID talks. The Speaker expressed her disappointment in the President’s decision to abandon the economic & health needs of the American people,” Hammill tweeted.

The president’s decision to cut off talks came just hours after Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell urged Washington to approve more federal aid, warning of “tragic” economic consequences and a “downward spiral” without it. “Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” Powell said in a speech to an economic conference.

In his tweets, Mr. Trump indicated that he was willing to pass a large stimulus bill to aid Americans affected by the coronavirus, but only after he wins the election.

“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Mr. Trump wrote. As recently as three days ago, the president implored both sides to “WORK TOGETHER AND GET IT DONE.”

Mnuchin has largely led negotiations with Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, along with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy joined Mr. Trump and Mnuchin on a conference call on Tuesday to discuss negotiations. Republican aides told CBS News that they were caught off guard when Mr. Trump tweeted the news that he is instructing Mnuchin and other officials to pull out of negotiations. While Republicans were already pessimistic about the chances of success, they believe it looks bad for Mr. Trump — and not the Democrats — to be the one to walk away from negotiations.

When asked why Mr. Trump opted to go this route, one Republican aide responded: “Are you asking me to explain the logic behind what Donald Trump tweets?”

Democrats have signaled that they believe the need is too great for any package that cost less than $2 trillion. Pelosi told reporters last week that Democrats and the Trump administration were still far apart on issues including funding for state and local governments, and there is “a stark difference not just of dollars, but of values.”

The bill passed in the House is a slimmed-down version of the $3.4 trillion relief bill the House passed in May. It would restore a popular benefit providing an additional $600 per week on top of unemployment benefits, deliver another round of direct payments and provide funding for schools and state and local jurisdiction. However, McConnell said that the $2 trillion proposal was “outlandish.”

McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that he supported Mr. Trump’s decision to cease negotiations. However, at least one Republican expressed opposition to Mr. Trump’s tweet. GOP Senator Susan Collins, who is locked in a tight reelection race, said in a statement that “waiting until after the election to reach an agreement on the next Covid-19 relief package is a huge mistake.” Collins said she had contacted Mnuchin and some of her fellow senators.

In another tweet on Tuesday, Mr. Trump also urged McConnell to instead focus on confirming his nominee to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett.

“I have asked…Mitch McConnell not to delay, but to instead focus full time on approving my outstanding nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett,” Mr. Trump wrote. Confirmation hearings for Barrett are scheduled to begin next week, even though two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have tested positive for COVID-19.

Biden blasted Mr. Trump’s decision to stall talks until after the election.

“Donald Trump ended the efforts to pass bipartisan relief that our nation desperately needs,” Biden said. “He ended talks that would get help for our businesses and schools, for families struggling and for those unemployed — that would have preserved hundreds of thousands of jobs. Make no mistake: if you are out of work, if your business is closed, if your child’s school is shut down, if you are seeing layoffs in your community, Donald Trump decided today that none of that — none of it — matters to him.”

All Democrats and two Republicans oppose holding a confirmation vote for Barrett ahead of the election, since Senate Republicans blocked a confirmation vote for Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court during an election year just four years ago. Democrats have also raised concerns about the safety of holding in-person confirmation hearings due to the virus. However, as Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, it is likely that Barrett will be confirmed by the Judiciary Committee and by the full Senate by a narrow margin.

Although Mr. Trump insisted on Twitter that “our Economy is doing very well,” markets turned sharply negative in the minutes following the president’s tweets, with the Dow plunging more than 400 points on the news.

“Our Economy is doing very well. The Stock Market is at record levels, JOBS and unemployment…also coming back in record numbers. We are leading the World in Economic Recovery, and THE BEST IS YET TO COME!” Mr. Trump wrote.

Hiring in the U.S. slowed sharply in September, with employers adding 661,000 jobs for the month, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday. So far, about half of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April, as the coronavirus pandemic spread, have returned.

Around 210,000 Americans have died from the virus, and over 7.5 million have contracted COVID-19. Mr. Trump announced last week that he had tested positive for the virus, and stayed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center over the weekend.

Although the president said he “learned a lot about COVID” in a video message posted to Twitter on Sunday, he then told people in a tweet on Monday not to let the virus “dominate your life.” A post from Mr. Trump downplaying COVID-19 in comparison to the flu was removed by Facebook and flagged by Twitter soon after the president posted it Tuesday morning.

Nancy Cordes contributed to this report.

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