It’s usually not a good thing when President Trump weighs in on legislative negotiations, given his limited capacity for comprehending details and his tendency to contradict himself from one day to the next. But at a time when he is the only one in a position to thaw deep-frozen COVID-19 relief and stimulus negotiations, he’s playing his assigned roles by nibbling at a compromise proposed earlier this week by the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, as the Washington Post reported:
President Trump on Wednesday called on congressional Republicans to support a massive economic relief bill with “much higher numbers” and stimulus payments for Americans, abruptly proposing an entirely different plan from what the Senate GOP sought to advance in recent days.
To be sure, he signaled his interest in his customarily confusing way:
But he later made it reasonably clear he liked the Problem Solvers Caucus approach and bottom-line numbers. And he’s very consistently liked those STIMULUS PAYMENTS included in the proposal, which means a new round of $1,200 checks to 160 million Americans, presumably bearing his signature:
Speaking at the White House on Wednesday evening, Trump expressed support — but not an explicit endorsement — for a $1.5 trillion plan unveiled Tuesday by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House. The proposal includes a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks to individual Americans, a provision omitted from an approximately $300 billion plan Senate Republicans tried unsuccessfully to pass last week.
“I like the larger amount, I’ve said that,” Trump said. “Some of the Republicans disagree, but I think I can convince them to go along with that because I like the larger number. I want to see people get money.”
Trump stopped short of saying he would approve every detail of the Problem Solvers plan but said, “Something like that,” and, “We’re getting closer.”
Trump’s sudden intervention in the stimulus debate comes at a time when (typically unnamed) electorally vulnerable House Democrats are beginning to make unhappy noises about Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hard-line negotiating tactics. The Post is now reporting that Pelosi responded to Trump’s comments by telling Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, “Great, call me when he’s at $2.2 trillion.” Some of her troops are now restive enough that they are threatening a revolt over the vote on a stopgap spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month, as Roll Call reports:
[T]here’s even some talk among rank-and-file House Democrats about withholding their votes on the [Continuing Resolution] unless the House takes up coronavirus relief, despite a White House-leadership deal to keep the two issues separate.
It wasn’t clear how much traction that push was gaining. But one Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was an option as nervous lawmakers seek to put pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to cut a deal on virus aid, or at least give them something new to vote on before heading home to campaign.
But it’s likely the bulk of congressional Democrats support Pelosi’s position and credit her hard line for forcing Trump to split with Senate Republicans who really don’t want to do anything at all on COVID-19 stimulus, the Post notes:
Some Democrats are happy with Pelosi’s positioning. Trump’s insistence that he is willing to increase the price of the package, they argue, is proof that her tactics are having results.
“It sounds like it’s working pretty well,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), praising the speaker for her tough line.
Everyone agrees the ball is in Pelosi’s court and that congressional Republicans are largely irrelevant in what has always been a game of chicken between the White House and Democrats led by Pelosi, with Chuck Schumer not allowing any distance to emerge between himself and the Speaker. Does Pelosi need to send a conciliatory signal now, or will Trump, becoming frantic as Election Day nears, make further concessions? And is it possible Pelosi would just as soon withhold a deal that could help Trump and wait until after a presumed Biden victory in November for the kind of stimulus bill she really wants? These are all questions that will be answered very soon.