By Jonathan Nicholson
Republican and Democratic party leaders in the Senate spent Monday much the same way they spent the prior two weeks before coronavirus talks collapsed Friday: Blaming the other side.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor after the day’s session’s began in a week with no votes scheduled and few senators in attendance, said Democrats were hurting Americans in order to get their way.
“Republicans wanted to agree on the things we could agree to. Democrats said ‘our way or the highway,'” McConnell said.
“Over the weekend, President Trump took steps to soften the blow of the Democrats’ hostage tactics on American families who need help most,” McConnell said, referring to an executive order and several memorandums President Donald Trump unveiled Saturday that Trump said will provide some relief.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer responded on the Senate floor: “After days of arduous negotiations, Speaker Pelosi and I continue to run into Republican intransigence. They didn’t see people’s needs the way we did. They didn’t see the depth and breadth of this crisis.”
In the wake of Trump’s actions, the dueling speeches by McConnell and Schumer gave little reason to think there was much movement imminent.
The picture McConnell and Schumer painted was in marked contrast to the one portrayed by Trump earlier in the day in a tweet, where he said Democrats are seeking a deal and Schumer and Pelosi want to meet. “They know my phone number!” he said.
Schumer said neither he nor Pelosi had reached out by phone to the White House.
“Fables from Donald Trump. Fables,” Schumer said in an interview on MSNBC when asked about Trump’s assertion that they wanted a meeting. “I didn’t call him. Speaker Pelosi didn’t call him. No, we didn’t call him.”
In an interview on CNBC, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration remained ready to deal, but only if a bargain made sense.
“When [the Democrats] are reasonable, we can get deals done. If they’re going to be unreasonable, we’re not going to get a deal done,” Mnuchin said. “If there’s a fair deal to do, we’ll do a fair deal.”
Mnuchin called Democratic demands for more than $900 billion in aid to states, localities and tribes to offset lost revenues and increased expenses due to the coronavrus “absurd” and dismissed the idea of splitting the difference in areas where the two sides disagree on policy.
But he noted two areas where there was widespread bipartisan agreement: Money to help schools and colleges reopen safely and a revival of the Paycheck Protection Program loan-forgiveness initiative for small businesses.
“The president will be more than happy to sign a standalone education bill. Well, let’s get that done. Let’s not hold up our kids,” Mnuchin said.
While the White House proposal called for $105 billion, more than the May Democratic bill’s $100 billion, Pelosi has said they need more than the May figure and that she disagreed with the administration’s desire to give more money to schools that reopened with in-person classes.
Asked when the two sides would get together again after two weeks of near-daily talks, Mnuchin said, “I’m not going to comment on the specifics of the logistics of negotiations. I don’t think that that’s helpful.”