Stimulus deal before Election Day looks less likely as Pelosi pushes Mnuchin over virus testing

Key Points
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the White House over coronavirus relief talks as new infections in the U.S. hit record highs.
  • Pelosi plans to speak to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday as the sides continue stimulus discussions.
  • It looks all but impossible that Congress could send new aid to Americans before Election Day, Nov. 3.
Pelosi says she is optimistic deal can be reached before election despite continuing stalemate
Pelosi says she is optimistic deal can be reached before election despite continuing stalemate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi eviscerated the Trump administration on Monday as Washington fails to send more relief to Americans during a record spike in coronavirus cases.

The California Democrat's biting letter to House Democrats came only minutes before a nearly hour-long conversation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that appeared to yield little progress toward a stimulus agreement. The chances of Congress approving a relief bill before Election Day, Nov. 3, have all but evaporated.

Pelosi targeted White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for saying Sunday that "we're not going to control the pandemic." She also said the Trump administration has not accepted House Democrats' proposal for a national testing strategy even though Mnuchin said he would during a CNBC interview earlier this month.

"The Republicans' continued surrender to the virus — particularly amid the recent wave of cases — is official malfeasance," Pelosi wrote. She said she expects a response from the White House "on several concerns" during the conversation Monday.

"We must come to agreement as soon as possible," the speaker wrote.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., the United States, on Oct. 9, 2020.
Ting Shen | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

After Pelosi's call with Mnuchin, her spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted that "we continue to eagerly await the Administration's acceptance of our health language." He added that it is "clear that our progress depends on [Senate Majority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell agreeing to bipartisan, comprehensive legislation."

"The Speaker remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached before the election," he continued.

Later Thursday, Pelosi appeared to shed some more doubt on the proceedings. After MSNBC's Chris Hayes said, "There's no deal happening," the speaker responded: "That's exactly right, you're exactly right." Hayes then remarked that it seems like the core differences in how both sides view the crisis can't be papered over. "Well it could. And public sentiment is everything, the public weighing in," Pelosi said.

Spokesmen for the White House and McConnell did not immediately respond to CNBC's request to comment on Pelosi's letter.

The sides have failed to approve new aid money for months despite a climbing infection count and signs of a slowing economic recovery. Democrats have accused the White House of failing to grasp the gravity of the crisis, while Republicans have argued that Pelosi refuses to compromise.

Democrats and the White House have most recently proposed $2.2 trillion and $1.9 trillion relief packages, respectively. Despite the similar target price tags for legislation, the sides still have not resolved disputes over testing, extra unemployment insurance, state and local government relief and liability protections for businesses, among other issues.

The GOP-held Senate, meanwhile, adjourned until after the election following Monday's vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. In an attempt to show they could balance both issues, Republicans tried to advance their roughly $500 billion aid proposal last week. Democrats blocked it, calling the plan inadequate.

Congressional committee chairs have recently worked to start writing potential legislation. But lawmakers have not been particularly optimistic about the prospects of an agreement soon.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby, R-Ala., has told reporters in recent days that chances of a relief deal before the election are slim.

Crafting legislation that can pass both the Democratic-held House and GOP-controlled Senate in the lame-duck session before winners take office in January could prove challenging. Republicans have opposed spending trillions more on the virus response, while Democrats want a sweeping package to root out the pandemic and the accompanying economic damage.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump continues to downplay the severity of the pandemic despite a single-day record of more than 80,000 new cases on Friday. In a tweet Monday, he called the staggering number of infections a "Fake News Media Conspiracy."

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