“We are very far apart. It’s most unfortunate.” That’s how Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi characterized her negotiations with the White House. It was typical of her often laconic style when she is in the driver’s seat. What she meant was that Donald Trump’s emissaries must be spending a lot of time smoking a crack pipe if they think she’s going to follow their directives.
White House officials and Democratic leaders ended a three-hour negotiation Thursday evening without a coronavirus relief deal or even a clear path forward, with both sides remaining far apart on critical issues.
“We’re still a considerable amount apart,” said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows after emerging from the meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. President Trump called into the meeting several times, but they were unable to resolve key issues.
Pelosi called it a “consequential meeting” in which the differences between the two parties were on display.
“They didn’t take the virus seriously in the beginning, they’re not taking the consequences of the virus seriously at this time,” she said. “And that’s why it’s hard to come to terms.”
Pelosi knows that the country urgently needs the federal government to offer more relief from the ravages of the COVID-19 crisis, especially with the moratorium on evictions expiring at the end of July. There are more than 30 million Americans who are relying on enhanced unemployment benefits, which have also expired. But the Republicans refuse to sign off on her House bill, so they now must convince her to provide something less all-encompassing. Yet, she’s feeling comfortable in her position.
Failure to reach a deal in the midst of a global pandemic just three months before an election could create major political issues for lawmakers. A group of endangered Senate Republicans whose elections in November could determine control of the chamber have expressed particular anxiety about the impasse.
The small-business Paycheck Protection Program will expire on Saturday, leading to more layoffs. Dealing with these lapses will cost money that Republican negotiators don’t want to spend.
Despite the weak economic conditions and the continued spread of the virus, a compromise has remained distant. In an interview on CNBC on Thursday, Pelosi said Republicans’ refusal to recognize the needs that exist in the country is standing in the way of getting an agreement.
“Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gives a damn,” Pelosi said. “That’s the problem. See, the thing is, they don’t believe in governance.”
Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is helpless. He doesn’t have the votes to pass anything unless it relies almost entirely on Democratic votes. That’s why Pelosi is just waiting for the White House to cave to her demands. She wants money for food stamps and childcare. She wants money for the post office, so it can handle all the ballots that will be cast by mail in the upcoming election. She wants generous unemployment benefits. She wants a huge package of aid for the states. And she doesn’t want to offer legal immunity against anyone getting sued for exposing their employees to the virus.
The Republicans’ best play is to give her what she wants, so she will either win substantively or politically. In fact, it’s possible she’ll get what she wants and also get the credit, although that’s usually too much to ask.