Anyone who thinks that Donald Trump is sidelined while in the hospital should think twice. As long as Trump has a phone, a pen, and his Twitter account, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continue to haggle over a coronavirus relief bill that is rapidly approaching $2 trillion. But at least they’re talking. And those talks received a kick in the butt from Donald Trump from his hospital room as the president made it clear in no uncertain terms that he wants a bill and he wants it now.
There is some urgency that was added this week and Congress is butting up against a deadline for adjournment. But Mnuchin, who’s in constant communication with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has to be aware that Senate passage of any relief bill will depend heavily on Democrats, as many GOP senators have already indicated that they won’t support a multi-trillion-dollar stimulus bill.
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Sustained pressure from the president could make some Republicans, particularly in the GOP-held Senate, more comfortable embracing a stimulus deal. On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump’s diagnosis “kind of changes the dynamic” of her talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin because Republicans will see “this is a vicious virus.”
Writing to her caucus on Friday, the California Democrat wrote that she hoped the sides could strike a deal despite “significant disagreement in key areas.” She added that “we continue to work on the text to move quickly to facilitate an agreement.”
There are some Democrats who want to strike while the crisis is still upon us and not come down from the $3 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House in May. But the vast majority of Democrats and a sizable plurality of Republicans would likely vote for whatever Mnuchin and Pelosi (and Trump) agree upon.
The areas of disagreement are narrowing and now involve a matter of dollars rather than specifics.
The Democratic-held House left for the month Friday, but could return to pass legislation if Pelosi and Mnuchin can craft an agreement. The full Senate will not convene until Oct. 19 after three GOP senators, two of whom attended last weekend’s White House event announcing the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, tested positive for Covid-19.
I can guarantee that Senate Republicans will not go to the mattresses over $200 dollars in unemployment. They will almost certainly give in on that point. But Democrats are going to have to climb down from their position on aid to state and local governments. House Democrats passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May that contained a trillion dollars for blue state governors to bail out their state pension funds, along with making up budget shortfalls. Trump and the Republicans have strenuously resisted giving that much money to states that brought the crises on themselves.
Pelosi came down to $400 billion for states in the compromise proposal and Trump upped the GOP offer to $250 billion. If Trump really wants a deal, he’s going to have to raise that number.
If you think it appears that Republicans are giving a lot more than Democrats in these negotiations, you’d be right. Pelosi has the Republicans against the wall and she knows it. They’re all running for re-election with constituents hurting due to the pandemic and its aftermath. She knows that there are a lot of vulnerable Republicans pleading with the GOP leadership to cut a deal. And Trump’s support is no accident. The first stimulus bill proved to be very popular, so there’s no reason to think another one won’t get Trump some much-needed votes.