In one of the more egregious double flip-flops of President Trump’s erratic career, he blew up months of negotiations over COVID-19 relief and stimulus legislation earlier this week, saying they could wait until “after I win.” But the next day, on the same medium (his Twitter account), he began trying to backtrack, tossing out examples of narrow deals he’d sign (all of them ignoring congressional Democrats’ refusal to cut narrow deals throughout this process), to general hilarity.
Axios has the back-story to Trump’s remorse:
Within a day of tweeting that he was calling off bipartisan talks for a coronavirus stimulus deal, President Trump phoned House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and indicated he was worried by the stock market reaction and wanted a “big deal” with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, per two sources familiar with the call.
Politico confirmed on Friday morning that the erratic president is now, suddenly, all-in on a deal, though the parameters of one remain unclear:
Trump’s surprise that Wall Street reacted so intensely to his talks-are-off announcement is…interesting. Markets have been gyrating based on prospects for another stimulus package for months.
After his 180-degree turn, Trump moved on to asserting that the talks he canceled weren’t actually canceled at all, as the Washington Post reported:
President Trump said Thursday that economic relief talks are back on and could include a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks, two days after he abruptly declared them over and ordered his deputies to stop negotiating with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“Well I shut down talks two days ago because they weren’t working out. Now they are starting to work out, we’re starting to have some very productive talks,” Trump said in an interview on Fox Business Network.
He said he believes Pelosi “wants it to happen, because it’s so good for our country, we really need it.”
To the extent that Trump’s assertions were rooted in reality, they were apparently based on a conversation his repudiated negotiator, Steven Mnuchin, had with Nancy Pelosi on relief for airlines, which led some observers to think there might be a stand-alone bill benefiting that industry, whose federal payroll subsidies just ran out.
At her weekly press conference, an angry and sarcastic Pelosi killed those prospects; she made it clear that while she and Mnuchin discussed the terms of an airline relief measure, it wouldn’t happen without an overall stimulus deal. And while she didn’t rule out a return to talks over a broader bill, she gave no indication it was happening, and seemed to be hardening her position on concessions beyond those already made in the latest House Democratic stimulus bill, passed last week. She also implied that the obsession over top-line numbers for a stimulus bill missed more fundamental differences where the administration has failed to move:
[W]e’ve been working on what the language would look like. We have our differences in numbers, but it’s no use having just a numbers discussion unless we know what that money is spent on. Otherwise, we’re just giving billions, hundreds of billions, more than a trillion, two trillion dollars to the president to spend any way he wants, but not to address the issues at hand.
This line seems to echo a remark Pelosi made yesterday on The View:
“All he has ever wanted in the negotiation was to send out a check with his name printed on it,” Pelosi said. “Forget about the virus, forget about our heroes, forget about our children and their need to go to school safely and the rest.
“He’s just again rebounding from a terrible mistake he made yesterday [in canceling the talks] and the Republicans in Congress were going down the drain with him on that.”
So is Pelosi willing to come back to the table? Probably not unless she first makes Trump crawl. In referring to the tweets in which Trump flushed the talks, she said he had “treated [the House] with disrespect.” She is probably alluding to Trump’s description of aid to state and local governments — the biggest sticking point in the negotiations all along, but one on which Mnuchin had already gone pretty far — as a matter of “Nancy Pelosi asking for $2.4 Trillion Dollars to bailout poorly run, high crime, Democrat States, money that is in no way related to COVID-19.” That, of course, is wrong in multiple ways; Democrats are asking for around $500 billion for state and local assistance at this point; the money would go to Republican as well as Democratic jurisdictions (there are, after all, 29 Republican-controlled state legislatures and 26 Republican governors, and they seem to want the aid as much as Democrats); and it’s absurd to claim that avoiding massive layoffs of public employees due to the pandemic economy is “in no way related to COVID-19.”
So it’s the incendiary language Trump used in calling off talks that bugged Pelosi, implying as it did that the interests for which she was negotiating were illegitimate and even corrupt. Beyond that, there’s no particular reason to assume Trump has moved an inch on the underlying issues, or for that matter, that he’s willing to dismiss the whining from Mitch McConnell and conservative senators who don’t want a deal at all.
Perhaps Trump wants to go all the way to Election Day pretending there are talks and alternating between public blandishments for a deal and insults against Democrats that make it impossible. At this point, though, Pelosi’s level of patience with Donald Trump is probably reflected by her announcement of the next topic on her agenda: “[C]ome here tomorrow; we’re going to be talking about the 25th Amendment.”