WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to hold out hope Thursday for action on COVID-19 economic relief immediately after the Nov. 3 election — although they differed on what could or should happen.
Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters at her weekly news conference that she wants to get a deal done during Congress’ post-election “lame duck” session that begins in November. She expressed optimism that former vice president Joe Biden will win the election Tuesday, and suggested that she wants to clear the decks for him.
But Pelosi also said she would not accept a small bill with the idea of coming back for more if a Biden administration begins.
“We’re not talking size, we’re talking quality. We’re not going to take a small bill” that still has provisions Democrats deem unacceptable, Pelosi said. “I want a bill for two reasons. First and foremost, the American people need help. They need real help. And second of all, we have plenty of work to do in a Joe Biden administration. So we want to have as clean a slate as possible going into January.”
Trump, meanwhile, told reality television host Jon Taffer in a podcast released Thursday that the administration would reach a stimulus deal after the election and predicted Republicans will retake the House — a prospect political analysts on both sides view as exceedingly unlikely.
“Once we get past the election, we’re going to get it. It may be bipartisan, it may not have to be. Depending on — if we win the House, it won’t have to be. Right after the election, we’ll get it one way or the other,” Trump said.
Trump added of extending the small-business Paycheck Protection Program: “No matter who you are; no matter how cold; how mean; how nasty — and you have some beauties in Washington — it makes sense.”
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been negotiating on and off for months around an approximately $2 trillion relief bill. They remain far apart, though. Just how far was underscored earlier Thursday when Pelosi released a letter to Mnuchin outlining multiple areas that remain unresolved, including state and local aid, school funding, child-care money, tax credits for working families, unemployment insurance aid and liability protection for businesses sought by the administration but opposed by Democrats
She also said she was still awaiting a final answer from the administration on agreeing to the Democrats’ language on a national coronavirus testing strategy — something Mnuchin said on Oct. 15 that he was prepared to accept, subject to minor edits. Pelosi put the onus on Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for a deal to emerge in the lame duck session — if at all.
“Your responses are critical for our negotiations to continue,” Pelosi wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Politico Playbook.
There was no response to Pelosi’s letter Thursday from the Treasury Department.
The letter did not reveal any new outstanding issue that had not already been publicly known. But it summed it all up, casting everything in a newly negative light with the election imminent. Stocks have been falling as coronavirus cases rise and the president campaigns around the country accusing Democrats of focusing obsessively on “covid, covid, covid” in their quest to deny him a second term.
White House senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News Channel that the letter was leaked to the media before it was sent to Mnuchin, calling it “bad form” and unnecessary, given that Mnuchin and Pelosi are in close contact over the phone. A Democratic Party aide called that untrue, saying Mnuchin’s team was sent the letter at 12:05 a.m. — hours before it was made public.
“Our team now believes the speaker has no intent of compromising on key issues,” Kudlow said. “She is stringing us along and we think there is basically no hope.”
Asked if the decline in the stock market made the president more inclined to reach a deal, as Pelosi has suggested, Kudlow said: “Not at the present time. Not at the present time.”
In his podcast interview, the president insisted that the stimulus package would include expanded tax deductions for restaurants. That provision would give firms tax deductions for employee meals at restaurants. Economists have said those breaks are unlikely to do much to help the industry as long as diners are afraid to eat out due to the coronavirus.
“I love that you said [restaurants] are counting on me, because they can. I’m the one who got this whole thing started, that kept them going in the first place. I’m the one that’s fighting for deductibility, which will be such a big thing,” Trump told Taffer, the host of Paramount Network’s “Bar Rescue.” “That will be bigger — you’ll make everything up very quickly. That was a great business when you had deductibility. It was never the same after they ended up close to 20 years ago. But I remember it well.”
The president added: “This is the time to get things.”