WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she talked with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for 25 minutes on Thursday but that they remain at a “tragic impasse” over another round of coronavirus relief.
Pelosi had maintained that she will restart negotiations when the administration is willing to raise its price tag cap by $1 trillion to $2 trillion. The speaker said she would drop her initial $3.4 trillion proposal to $2.4 trillion. On Thursday she said she reduced that to $2.2 trillion.
Meadows has not commented on the call.
Thursday’s conversation was the first time the speaker and the White House had talked since earlier this month when President Donald Trump signed executive actions to extend enhanced unemployment benefits, defer payroll taxes and student loan payments, and discourage evictions. Democrats say they’ll file a legal challenge to what they see as circumventing Congress, which has the constitutional authority to determine federal spending.
Pelosi told reporters that she was returning Meadows’ call “out of respect” but that it would be “very short” if he wasn’t willing to meet Democrats in the middle.
Meadows told Politico on Wednesday that he was not optimistic a deal can be reached and Pelosi wanted to drag talks out to use a relief bill as leverage for the showdown over how to keep the government funded next month.
“I think the Speaker is going to hold out until the end of September and try to get what she wants in the funding for the government during the CR (continuing resolution) or whatever funding mechanism happens to come up at the end of September,” Meadows said.
Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Meadows had met nearly daily for two weeks before talks broke down amid a stalemate over the price tag.
But trust has deteriorated between the parties. Pelosi, who has repeatedly called Meadows “What’s his name,” said on Thursday that he is “not even the lead negotiator” for the White House, saying that is Mnuchin’s role in the talks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not involved in the stalled talks between Democrats and the White House, but he said in Kentucky on Wednesday that a deal is necessary, though he didn’t budge on a trillion dollar cost.
“One of the reasons we need another package is because we need to deal with this unemployment insurance plus-up issue far beyond the next five weeks. And I recommend a proposal that would spend about an additional trillion dollars overall, which is no small amount of money,” he said.
Some rank-and-file Senate Republicans who are opposed to spending even a trillion dollars, meanwhile, are working on an even skinnier coronavirus relief proposal — around $500 billion. It is an attempt to corral divided Senate Republicans but will do nothing to appease Democrats or get negotiations back on track.