WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — A top House Democrat says no vote on federal coronavirus relief is expected in his chamber this week as negotiations continues to chug along. Any package approved by lawmakers is expected to contain a new round of direct relief payments to Americans.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer made the statement in reference to what he labeled, “the Trump administration’s failure to reach an agreement.” The Democrat from Maryland added it’s possible House members will be called back later in the month to vote if an agreement is reached.
Though headlines that President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have had conversations around relief might sound optimistic, Washington insiders warn a deal this close to Election Day is highly unlikely.
Over the weekend, Pelosi dismissed the latest White House offer as “one step forward, two steps back,” as the Washington Post reported top GOP senators had no interest in a bloated bill that could upset their constituents and threaten their upcoming races.
The Post notes a number of senators want the Supreme Court nomination process to be front and center as voters head to the polls and believe stimulus negotiations could serve as a distraction. Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said accepting a deal with Pelosi this close to November 3 could serve as a “death knell” for the party’s efforts to retain its majority in the Senate, according to the New York Times.
Last week saw a wild back-and-forth on negotiations over a relief package.
On Friday, the White House boosted its COVID-19 aid offer to roughly $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.
“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.
Earlier this week, Trump lambasted Democrats for their demands on an aid bill. On Tuesday, he ordered an end to the weekslong talks after being told that few Republicans in Congress would end up voting for a possible deal between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
After taking blowback for that decision, Trump sought to revive the negotiations Thursday. Yet even as Mnuchin was reengaging with Pelosi, staffers in the White House — working under chief of staff Mark Meadows, a key negotiator — were issuing demands for a smaller package stuffed with Trump’s priorities.
Normally, the high stakes and splintered politics ahead of an election could provide grounds for a robust package. But with other Republicans refusing to spend more money, it appears no relief will be coming with Americans already beginning early voting.
Democrats have made it clear they will not do a piecemeal approach until the Trump administration signs off on a broader, comprehensive plan they are proposing for virus testing, tracing and other actions to stop its spread. They have scaled back a $3 trillion measure to a $2.2 trillion proposal.
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.
While stimulus checks have been widely pushed by Democrats, they could also be viewed as a win for the president. When the first round of checks was distributed, Trump’s signature was on each of the payments. If Trump was able to get a second round of relief distributed as people are heading to the polls for early voting, it would certainly be something to brag about in a period where the president can’t publicly campaign.
“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. McConnell said later that “the first item of priority of the Senate is the Supreme Court,” suggesting there isn’t time to both process a COVID relief bill and the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett before the election.
All this comes as Trump is sliding in the polls and has been sidelined by his COVID-19 infection. The White House is also short-staffed and dealing with infections among its employees, and the president and Pelosi are attacking each other’s mental health.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.