coronavirus stimulus

Why Doesn’t Trump Just Tell Mnuchin to Take a Deal?

Last time we checked, Mnuchin worked for Trump, not the other way around. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Even though Nancy Pelosi and Steven Mnuchin continue to talk every day, and yesterday achieved a breakthrough on a “national testing strategy” Democrats have been insisting upon, there isn’t much optimism they’ll reach a deal over COVID-19 stimulus legislation before Election Day. Politico thinks they are simply out of time. Pelosi says there remain big differences on essentials, Bloomberg reports:

“Many other disagreements remain,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues Thursday evening. “These include but are not limited to funding for state and local government, tax benefits for working families, support for vulnerable small businesses, and child care funding.”

She also cited multiple so-called poison pills, “including their radical Liability Provision which forces workers to risk their lives in unsafe workplaces with no legal recourse.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been a strong advocate for liability protections for businesses to shield them from coronavirus-related lawsuits as they reopen.

Lots of observers seem to think the big problem is among Senate Republicans, who plan to vote on a second “skinny stimulus” bill next week that goes in the opposite direction of any deal with Democrats. Meanwhile, President Trump is expressing eagerness to sign a “big, beautiful” stimulus bill and is waving off the $1.8 trillion cap on spending that has been the White House’s most recent position. According to Trump, Pelosi doesn’t actually want a deal:

“She doesn’t want to do it because she thinks it’s bad for her election,” Trump said of Pelosi during an NBC town hall event. “The fact is, she’s wrong. She’s in our way. She doesn’t appreciate our people or, at all, our workers. We are ready to sign and pass a stimulus. I want it to be big. I want it to be bold.”

So what’s really going on here?

There’s something fundamentally incredible about Trump’s suggestion that mean old Nancy Pelosi won’t accept a deal on any terms. If he wants one, all he’s got to do is tell Mnuchin to get as much as he can in last-minute concessions and then just agree to the damn thing. The two sides are already within hailing distance on the overall price tag, so splitting the difference on particulars should not be impossible. If Trump is serious about an agreement, his public and private negotiating stances need to come together immediately.

As for this idea that even if mean old Nancy Pelosi cuts a deal then mean old Mitch McConnell will kill it … give me a break. It’s often perilous to credit Trump adviser Larry Kudlow with good sense, but he’s right about this:

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Friday that he thinks Trump could get a sufficient number of GOP senators to support an agreement struck by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) if they’re able to strike a deal before Election Day.

“The president wants a deal. Secretary Mnuchin is negotiating a deal. If Speaker Pelosi wanted a deal, I think we could round up enough Senate Republicans to get a deal,” Kudlow told Fox Business’s Stuart Varney in a Friday interview.

In all the hand-wringing over Senate Republican opposition to a robust stimulus bill, it is often forgotten that a deal with Pelosi means that most if not all 47 Democrats will likely support it. That means just a handful of Republicans would be needed to get to a majority, and no more than a fistful to get to a supermajority if someone like Rand Paul decides to filibuster all that horrible generosity. In theory McConnell could refuse to bring it up for a vote, but does anyone really think Mitch is going to throw down the gauntlet to Trump on the eve of the election after four years of craven obedience to the boss? I sure don’t.

The odds against a stimulus bill are now high and perhaps insurmountable, but if it doesn’t happen Trump needs to stop whining and shifting blame and look in the mirror.

Why Doesn’t Trump Just Tell Mnuchin to Take a Deal?