Washington — With the Trump administration and congressional Democrats still at an impasse over the next coronavirus relief package, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows warned Sunday he is “not optimistic” a deal will be reached in the near future.
In an interview with “Face the Nation,” Meadows said negotiators “still have a long ways to go” after he and Democratic leaders spent the last four days working to reach consensus on the legislative package, which would be the fourth phase of the federal response to the coronavirus crisis.
“I’m not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term,” he said on “Face the Nation.”
Transcript: White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on “Face the Nation”
Meadow and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin spent Saturday on Capitol Hill, where the pair met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for continued discussions about the next coronavirus measure. While Meadows said the lengthy meeting Saturday was a “step in the right direction,” the disagreements between the White House and congressional Democrats indicate a deal remains out of reach.
A major sticking point between the two sides is the extension of enhanced unemployment benefits, which expired last week and has left 30 million Americans facing an uncertain financial future.
Democrats want the $600 per week of additional unemployment benefits that was implemented in an earlier relief package extended, but Republicans believe the supplemental assistance disincentivizes some Americans to return to work, as they make more from unemployment benefits than wages. Instead, a bill from Senate Republicans unveiled last week — and promptly declared a nonstarter by Democrats — would reduce the additional weekly payment to $200 until states work out a system to replace 70% of a person’s wages.
Meadows said a proposal from Republican Senator Martha McSally of Arizona that extended the enhanced benefits for seven days was the “right move” and blamed Democrats for blocking its passage.
“If you have people that have lost their enhanced unemployment, they need to call their Democrat senators and House members because they’re the ones that are standing in the way of having those extended,” he said.
With an agreement elusive, the White House is pushing Congress to address the now-expired benefits in a targeted package first, which would allow for more time to work on a comprehensive measure. Democrats, however, have rejected taking a piecemeal approach and are pushing for a large package that addresses the economic fallout.
Meadows said Republicans and President Trump stand ready to craft a narrow bill that would extend the enhanced unemployment benefits and then begin negotiations on a broader package. But he said there continues to be a “stonewalling of any piecemeal type of legislation” from congressional Democrats.
“Hopefully that’ll change in the coming day,” he said.
Meadows said funding for the supplemental benefits is the only aspect of past coronavirus relief packages that is out of money. There is still more than $100 billion for state and local governments, more than $100 billion for small businesses, and more than $9 billion for testing, he said.
“The one area where we don’t have the money is for the enhanced unemployment benefits,” Meadows said.
Meadows also addressed Mr. Trump’s suggestion last week that the general election be delayed due to unfounded concerns mail-in-voting will invite more voter fraud. The president, however, does not have the authority to change the date of the November 3 election, as is set by Congress.
“He has not looked at delaying any election,” Meadows said. “What we will do is if we try to transform this and start mailing in ballots all across the country, all 50 states, what we will see is a delay because they’re just not equipped to handle it.”
He went on to note that “we’re going to hold an election on November 3.”