In about-face, Trump seeks to salvage parts of virus aid

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Wednesday tried to salvage its favorite items lost in the rubble of COVID-19 relief talks that President Donald Trump blew up, with his administration pressing for $1,200 stimulus checks and a new wave of aid for airlines and other businesses hard hit by the pandemic.

In a barrage of tweets, Trump pressed for passage of these chunks of assistance, an about-face from his abrupt and puzzling move on Tuesday afternoon to abandon talks with a longtime rival, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat has rejected such piecemeal entreaties all along.

Trump’s tweets amounted to him demanding his way in negotiations that he himself had ended. He called on Congress to send him a “Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200)” — a reference to a preelection batch of direct payments to most Americans that had been a central piece of negotiations between Pelosi and the White House.

“I am ready to sign right now. Are you listening Nancy?” Trump said on Twitter Tuesday evening. He also urged Congress to immediately approve $25 billion for airlines and $135 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses. The stock market fell precipitously after Trump pulled the plug on the talks but was recovering in morning trading Wednesday after he floated the idea of piecemeal aid.

Trump’s decision to scuttle talks between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Pelosi came after the president was briefed on the landscape for the negotiations — and on the blowback that any Pelosi-Mnuchin deal probably would have received from his GOP allies in Congress.

“It became very obvious over the last couple of days that a comprehensive bill was just going to get to a point where it didn’t have really much Republican support at all,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday on Fox News. “It was more of a Democrat-led bill, which would have been problematic, more so in the Senate than in the House.”

Pelosi told reporters that “all the president wants is his name on a check” for direct aid payments.

The unexpected turn could be a blow to Trump’s reelection prospects and comes as his administration and campaign are in turmoil. Trump is quarantining in the White House with a case of the coronavirus, and the latest batch of opinion polls shows him significantly behind Democrat Joe Biden with the election four weeks away.

Trump’s withdrawal from the talks came immediately after he spoke with the GOP leaders in Congress, Many Republican senators had signaled they would not be willing to go along with any measure that topped $1 trillion, and GOP aides had been privately dismissive of the prospects for a deal. Any Pelosi-sponsored agreement of close to $2 trillion raised the potential of a GOP revolt if such a plan came to a vote.

Pelosi and Mnuchin talked briefly on Wednesday morning about the chances for a stand-alone airline rescue, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted. Pelosi directed Mnuchin to a measure she had attempted to pass on Friday on short notice under fast-track procedures, but only after Democrats made a number of changes Republicans did not like.

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