Trump threatens executive action if no deal is reached in coronavirus stimulus talks

Key Points
  • Another "disappointing" meeting between Democrats and the White House on coronavirus aid yielded little progress. 
  • President Donald Trump said that if the sides fail to reach an agreement, he will take executive action on unemployment insurance, evictions, student loan assistance and a payroll tax cut.
  • It is unclear when talks will restart on coronavirus aid legislation, as Pelosi said she will tell the White House to return when it increases the price tag of its relief offer.
President Trump again threatens executive action if no stimulus deal is reached
President Trump again threatens executive action if no stimulus deal is reached

After coronavirus aid talks between Democratic leaders and the Trump administration came to a halt Friday, President Donald Trump threatened to take executive action if the sides fail to reach a deal.

Negotiators emerged from a 90-minute meeting in the Capitol on Friday appearing to have made minimal progress toward bridging a gulf over spending to combat a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Both Democrats and White House officials pointed to fundamental disagreements over how to address the crisis, making it unclear when they could agree on legislation that could pass both chambers of Congress. 

Speaking to a ballroom packed with members of his New Jersey country club on Friday evening, Trump said he would "act under [his] authority as president to get Americans the relief they need" if Congress fails to strike an agreement with his administration. He said his pending executive orders would extend lapsed enhanced unemployment benefits through the end of the year at an unspecified level, continue an expired eviction moratorium and indefinitely suspend federal student loan payments. They would also suspend the payroll tax through December. 

Because Congress controls federal spending, it is unclear what power Trump has to extend those programs. Trump said he was "not at all" worried about the legality of the moves. Earlier Friday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it would "take us a little bit of time to finalize [the executive orders] and process them."

Negotiators House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows made minimal progress toward a relief deal over more than a week and a half of talks. It is unclear now when they will restart discussions on legislation. 

Leaving Friday's meeting, Schumer called the huddle "disappointing." He and Pelosi said the White House again rejected their offer for Democrats to cut the asking price for their legislation by $1 trillion and for the Trump administration to increase its proposed spending by the same amount.

"I've told them, 'Come back when you are ready to give us a higher number,'" Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), speaks next to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, August 7, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Mnuchin indicated he would not come to the table again unless Democrats changed their tune on pandemic relief. He said he and Meadows "will be back here any time to listen to new proposals."

House Democrats passed a roughly $3 trillion relief package in May, and Republicans last week proposed a bill that costs about $1 trillion. Schumer has said Democrats would not accept legislation that puts less than $2 trillion into the pandemic response. 

Pelosi has indicated that she could cut back spending by making some programs expire earlier than originally proposed.

Democrats and Republicans appear to have come closer to an accord on issues including direct payments of up to $1,200 to Americans and extending a moratorium on evictions from federally backed housing. They have failed to bridge a gulf on how to continue enhanced federal unemployment benefits, help schools reopen safely during the pandemic, and aid state and local governments facing budget shortfalls during the outbreak.

In a tweet Friday, Trump said he had "no interest" in Democrats' request for nearly $1 trillion in state and local relief. 

"We are going a different way!" he wrote. 

Donald Trump tweet

In a letter to colleagues Friday, Pelosi outlined several areas of disagreement. It notably did not mention jobless benefits. 

  • She said Democrats aim to put $75 billion into Covid-19 testing and treatment, while the GOP bill includes $15 billion. 
  • Pelosi wrote that the GOP has offered $150 billion for states and municipalities, far below the $915 billion Democrats proposed. 
  • The speaker said the sides are "a couple hundred billion dollars apart" on money to help schools reopen. Republicans included $105 billion for schools in their legislation. 
  • Pelosi called for more money for food, water and utility assistance than the GOP has proposed. 
  • She said Democrats wanted to secure more concessions on ensuring a complete Census and safe voting during the pandemic.

It would take a massive effort for Democrats and the White House to even reach the outline of a deal soon. But the clock is ticking: the expiration of both the $600 per week enhanced federal unemployment benefit and the eviction moratorium late last month have left millions of Americans scrambling to cover bills and remain in their homes. 

The U.S. added 1.76 million jobs in July despite a resurgence in coronavirus cases that forced many states to pause or reverse their economic reopening plans. The unemployment rate fell to 10.2%, but was still higher than at any point during the 2008 financial crisis.

In a joint statement after the jobs report release Friday, Pelosi and Schumer said the data shows "that the economic recovery spurred by the investments Congress has passed is losing steam and more investments are still urgently needed to protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar on why Democrats won't pass a 'skinnier' stimulus deal
Sen. Amy Klobuchar on why Democrats won't pass a 'skinnier' stimulus deal

Democrats have insisted on extending the jobless benefit long term at $600 per week. The White House has made several counteroffers, reportedly proposing extra payments of $400 per week into December. 

On Friday, Mnuchin said the Trump administration has not received compromise offers on either unemployment insurance or state and municipal relief.

With no agreement on Capitol Hill, Trump — who has not participated in face-to-face talks — has plotted how to act on his own. Pelosi told CNBC on Thursday that she thinks the president has the power to extend the eviction moratorium, and urged him to do so. 

Schumer, though, cautioned Trump on Thursday against taking executive action. He indicated an order could get held up in court. 

"An executive order will leave millions of people out. It will be litigated. It won't be effective, and things will get worse," the New York Democrat said Thursday. 

Speaking to reporters Friday, Schumer added that an executive order would be inadequate because it would not include money for schools and Covid-19 testing and treatment. 

Pelosi: Trump could extend moratorium on evictions with an executive order
Pelosi: Trump could extend moratorium on evictions with an executive order

Both the Senate and House left for the weekend after Thursday's sessions. The chambers have delayed their planned August recesses as they anticipate votes on a pandemic relief package. 

Complicating matters in Congress, the talks have taken on bitterness less than three months before the general election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., finds himself stuck between conservative senators who don't want to spend more money and swing-state Republicans who need to win their races in November for the GOP to keep its majority in the chamber. 

He will likely have to rely on strong Democratic support to get a bill through the Senate. 

For now, a moment of unity looks far away. Pelosi went as far as to say Meadows "slammed the table and walked out" of a meeting on Thursday. 

Meadows disputed the account. 

"It's fabricated," he said.

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Stimulus checks: How much you'll get
Stimulus checks: How much you'll get