Politics

Trump reverses course on coronavirus relief talks, dangles new $1,200 stimulus checks

Allan Smith and Dartunorro Clark
U.S. President Donald Trump poses on the Truman Balcony of the White House after returning from being hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment, in Washington, U.S. October 5, 2020.
Erin Scott | Reuters

President Donald Trump reversed course Tuesday night and urged Congress to approve a series of coronavirus relief measures that he would sign, including a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans.

Earlier in the day, he had halted talks between top Democrats and Republicans until "after I win" the election, which appeared to have killed the chances of a new package. Both moves by the president, who was released Monday from the hospital where he was being treated for Covid-19, were made on Twitter.

"If I am sent a Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200), they will go out to our great people IMMEDIATELY. I am ready to sign right now. Are you listening Nancy?" Trump tweeted Tuesday night.

He said in another tweet that he would approve funding for specific struggling industries, such as airlines and small businesses, which is short of what House Democrats proposed.

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"The House & Senate should IMMEDIATELY Approve 25 Billion Dollars for Airline Payroll Support, & 135 Billion Dollars for Paycheck Protection Program for Small Business. Both of these will be fully paid for with unused funds from the Cares Act. Have this money. I will sign now!" Trump said.

A senior administration official familiar with the president's thinking said Tuesday that a "large-scale stimulus package is on the sidelines," as Trump made clear earlier, saying the president felt it best not to string people along. But the White House appears to be planning to push a series of smaller, individual packages on mutually agreed-upon items.

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"Nancy Pelosi is asking for $2.4 Trillion Dollars to bailout poorly run, high crime, Democrat States, money that is in no way related to COVID-19," Trump said earlier of the aid package passed by House Democrats last week, which was actually for $2.2 trillion, "We made a very generous offer of $1.6 Trillion Dollars and, as usual, she is not negotiating in good faith. I am rejecting their request, and looking to the future of our Country."

"I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business," he continued. "I have asked Mitch McConnell not to delay, but to instead focus full time on approving my outstanding nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett."

Trump then praised the state of the economy, pointing to the stock market, unemployment and recent job gains. In the minutes after his tweet, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by more than 400 points.

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Initial coronavirus aid expired at the end of July. Current negotiations had centered on a package that would have provided another round of direct payments to Americans, enhanced unemployment benefits and money for schools, testing, small businesses and the airline industry, which has begun substantial layoffs.

Trump had slammed the door on a pre-election deal hours after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said more stimulus to the economy is necessary, saying the recovery has "a long way to go."

Pointing to promising recent economic developments, Powell said easing up on added relief could "lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses."

"By contrast, the risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller," Powell told the National Association for Business Economics. "Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed, they will not go to waste. The recovery will be stronger and move faster if monetary policy and fiscal policy continue to work side by side to provide support to the economy until it is clearly out of the woods."

Pelosi, D-Calif., the speaker of the House, said in a statement that Trump "showed his true colors" in announcing an end to negotiations, saying that the decision "demonstrates that President Trump is unwilling to crush the virus" and that he has "contempt" for everyday Americans.

Trump's presidential rival, Joe Biden, said Trump's decision to pull the plug on talks showed that he doesn't care about the hardships that Americans are suffering.

"Make no mistake: If you are out of work, if your business is closed, if your child's school is shut down, if you are seeing layoffs in your community, Donald Trump decided today that none of that — none of it — matters to him," Biden said. "There will be no help from Washington for the foreseeable future. Instead, he wants the Senate to use its time to confirm his Supreme Court justice nominee before the election in a mad dash to make sure that the court takes away your health care coverage as quickly as possible."

Congressional negotiators have been deadlocked for months over a new stimulus package after having passed initial relief earlier in the year. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had recently resumed talks, but progress had been stalled.

Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill tweeted that in a phone conversation with Pelosi at 3:30 p.m., Mnuchin "confirmed that the president has walked away from Covid talks." He said Pelosi "expressed her disappointment in the president's decision to abandon the economic & health needs of the American people."

Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, criticized the president in a tweet Tuesday.

"With lives at stake, we cannot afford to stop negotiations on a relief package," Katko wrote. "The Problem Solvers Caucus has a proposal that both sides agreed on and can bring negotiators back to the table. I strongly urge the president to rethink this move."

While undergoing treatment for his Covid-19 infection at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Trump tweeted Saturday: "OUR GREAT USA WANTS & NEEDS STIMULUS."

"WORK TOGETHER AND GET IT DONE," he said. "Thank you!"

In a call with Democrats on Tuesday, Pelosi pointed to the drug regimen Trump has taken in recent days after he ended stimulus talks. The president's medical team said it placed him on a steroid therapy typically used in more severe Covid-19 cases.

"Believe me, there are people who thought, who think, that steroids have an impact on your thinking," a source on the call said. "So I don't know. I do practice medicine on the side without benefit of diploma, as a mother and a grandmother, but I hadn't gone into mental health yet. I haven't had to do that."