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Democrats and Trump officials had ‘productive’ meeting, but still don’t have a coronavirus relief deal

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, speaks as she stands next to Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020.

Susan Walsh | AP

Democrats and Trump administration officials left a Monday afternoon meeting touting progress toward an elusive fifth coronavirus bill, but said they still had issues to resolve. 

Negotiators House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows met for more than two hours at the Capitol. The discussions followed Sunday’s staff-level talks on a package to help rein in a raging pandemic and jolt a flailing U.S. economy. 

Following the meeting, Pelosi told reporters the discussions were “productive.” She said “we are moving down the track,” but “still have our differences.” 

Addressing reporters alongside the speaker, Schumer added that “we’re making some progress on certain issues, moving closer together.” The senator said “there are a lot of issues that are still outstanding, but I think there is a desire to get something done as soon as we can.”

Mnuchin and Meadows went to brief Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., about the talks after the meeting concluded. Mnuchin told reporters that discussions with Democrats were done for the day. 

The negotiators are expected to meet more this week.

As the White House pressures Democrats to accept a short-term fix, Trump also said he is exploring executive action to extend a moratorium on evictions from federally-backed housing. It is unclear what power he has to continue the policy, which expired late last month when Congress failed to pass a bill to sustain it.

“A lot of people are going to be evicted, but I’m going to stop it because I’ll do it myself when I have to,” he said during an event at the White House On Monday. “I have a lot of powers with respect to executive orders, and we’re looking at that very seriously right now.”

The effort to pass a relief package has gained urgency after a $600 per week federal unemployment benefit expired at the end of July. The extra aid has helped tens of millions of jobless people afford food and housing as the economy reels during the outbreak. 

Disagreements over how to structure unemployment insurance have stood in the way of a deal. Democrats have insisted on continuing the $600 weekly sum. They passed a House bill in May to extend the aid into next year.

Republicans, who questioned the need for more pandemic relief before they released a proposal last week, want to slash the extra benefit to $200 per week through September. They would then set the aid at 70% wage replacement.

Asked Monday if negotiators made any progress on unemployment insurance, Schumer responded that Republicans are “sticking to their position,” according to reporters at the Capitol. 

Pelosi insisted Monday that she wants to keep the additional insurance at $600 per week, at least until state unemployment rates start to fall. 

“As the unemployment goes down, the number can go down,” she told CNN earlier in the day. 

Unemployment insurance is not the only area where Democrats and Republicans need to hash out differences. Democrats oppose liability protections for corporations. McConnell has said a bill will not pass the Senate if it does not include legal immunity for businesses, doctors and schools.

Democrats have pushed for nearly $1 trillion in aid for cash-strapped states and municipalities. The GOP plan did not include direct relief funds for state and local governments, but would give them more flexibility in how they spend money approved earlier this year. 

Pelosi has also called for more funds to help schools reopen than the $105 billion proposed by Republicans. She has criticized the GOP for tying much of the money to schools physically holding classes in the fall even as the pandemic spreads. 

The sides do agree on the need to send another round of direct payments of up to $1,200 to Americans, Mnuchin said Sunday.

McConnell, meanwhile, took to the Senate floor Monday to contend Democrats have refused to engage in good faith in the talks. 

“The speaker of the House and Democratic leader continue to say our way or the highway,” he said, calling on Pelosi and Schumer to “get serious about making a law.” 

With no deal announced Monday, it appears unlikely Congress can pass an aid bill before next week at the earliest. Meadows sounded doubtful about a quick resolution on Sunday. 

“I’m not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term,” he told CBS. 

Republicans, who did not start negotiating with Democrats until days before the extra unemployment insurance expired, have offered a temporary extension while the sides reach a broader deal. Pelosi has rejected offers of a short-term bill, contending Congress cannot combat the outbreak in a “piecemeal” fashion. 

The inability to find consensus comes as the U.S. struggles to contain the coronavirus. The country has now reported nearly 4.7 million Covid-19 cases and more than 154,000 deaths due to the disease, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Meanwhile, the latest monthly jobs report due Friday will show how states dialing back their reopening plans in July affected the job market. 

On Monday, Pelosi again accused her Republican counterparts of lacking the needed urgency to address the crisis. 

“A building is on fire and they’re deciding how much water they want to have in the bucket,” she told CNN. 

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