Trump urges reluctant Republicans to go higher on coronavirus relief

US President Donald Trump answers questions during a news conference at the White House in Washington September 4, 2020. — Reuters pic
US President Donald Trump answers questions during a news conference at the White House in Washington September 4, 2020. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, Sept 17 — President Donald Trump urged his fellow Republicans yesterday to go for "much higher numbers" in a coronavirus aid bill, as Washington remained deadlocked over economic relief from the crisis ahead of the November 3 elections.

“Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)” Trump wrote on Twitter yesterday. Later in the day he spoke favourably about a proposal for US$1.5 trillion (RM6.2 trillion) in aid made by a bipartisan group of centrist lawmakers.

“They're well on their way to suggesting some pretty good things,” Trump said about the centrist plan during an evening press conference. “I agree with a lot of it. The things I don't agree with, we can probably negotiate.”

Senate Republicans, whose last coronavirus aid offer was US$300 billion and some of whom would prefer doing nothing more, reacted cautiously to Trump.

But Democrats Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, said in a joint statement they were encouraged and hoped White House negotiators would now “meet us halfway.”

Pelosi spoke by phone yesterday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has helped negotiate previous coronavirus aid packages. They talked about a government funding bill, and at the end of the conversation, Pelosi reiterated the points she had made in her statement with Schumer, Pelosi's spokesman said on Twitter.

The Washington standoff over coronavirus relief dates to mid-May, when the Democratic-majority House approved US$3.4 trillion in new aid, including unemployment benefits, money for schools, the US Postal Service, and testing. Pelosi meanwhile offered to drop the demand to about US$2.2 trillion.

The Senate's Republican leaders countered with a US$1 trillion plan, but some of their own members balked at that. Last week they put a US$300 billion bill up for a vote that Democrats blocked as insufficient.

Congress and the White House approved more than US$3 trillion worth of coronavirus relief measures earlier this year.

The Senate's number two Republican John Thune said yesterday proposals should stay in a “realistic” range. Noting the original US$1 trillion Senate Republican plan, he said: “As you go upwards from there you start ... losing Republican support pretty quickly.”

The US$1.5 trillion compromise floated Tuesday by the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan centrist group, was attacked by members of both parties. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, however, said it deserved consideration.

The approaching elections increase the political stakes for Republicans and Democrats. Pelosi faces growing pressure from moderate House Democrats for more action on Covid-19 relief. Some of them welcomed Trump's tweet on Wednesday, including Representative Max Rose, from a competitive congressional district in Staten Island, New York.

Rose said leaders of both parties should “Stop the game, stop the stupidity and get to work” on a coronavirus aid plan.

Several Senate Republicans said their recent US$300 billion offer was about the right amount, signalling doubt they could go higher.

“So the president has his opinion, we have ours,” Senator Ron Johnson said. — Reuters

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