As Trump Undercuts Aid Talks, White House Says Extra Jobless Benefits Will Lapse

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WASHINGTON — The prospects for a quick agreement between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats on a new round of aid for the ailing economy faded on Wednesday, as President Trump undercut his own party’s efforts to negotiate a deal and a top White House official declared that a lifeline to unemployed workers would run out as scheduled at week’s end.

With negotiations barely started to find a middle ground between Republicans’ $1 trillion plan and Democrats’ $3 trillion package, Mr. Trump poured cold water on the entire enterprise, saying that he would prefer a bare-bones package that would send “payments to the people” and protect them from being evicted.

“The rest of it, we’re so far apart, we don’t care,” Mr. Trump said before leaving the White House for an event in Texas. “We really don’t care.”

The comments stoked questions about whether the president — whose re-election prospects, and his party’s hold on the Senate, could turn on the health of the economy — was willing or able to find a compromise to inject one last dose of stimulus before he faced voters in November.

“We’re nowhere close to a deal,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters after leaving talks with top Democrats in the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. He predicted that a $600-per-week enhanced unemployment benefit would lapse as scheduled on July 31 without any action to restore it.

Republicans have proposed slashing the payments to $200 per week, while Democrats want to keep it through the end of the year. It was just one of myriad issues dividing the two sides.

The breakdown reflects a predicament for Republicans that has placed Mr. Trump in a difficult negotiating position. After the enactment of nearly $3 trillion in pandemic-related stimulus in the spring, many Senate Republicans are opposed to additional deficit spending to fuel the economy, meaning that any agreement would need to attract significant support from Democrats to clear Congress.

But with the two sides deeply at odds over how to structure the package and how large it should be, the administration’s outreach to Democratic leaders has failed to produce progress toward a deal.

With time running out, White House officials on Wednesday renewed their calls for a temporary extension of the expiring unemployment insurance benefits and a moratorium on evictions. But Democrats quickly rejected that idea, which they have said would only sap momentum for other critical aid — including for states and cities, schools and health care — that must be approved quickly as Americans continue to suffer.

Senate Republicans did not include an extension of the eviction moratorium in their $1.1 trillion relief package, which Mr. Trump has dismissed as “semi-irrelevant,” even though it was the product of prolonged negotiations between Republican congressional leaders and his own advisers. But the president signaled that he did not believe they had driven a hard enough bargain with Democrats.

“The payments aren’t enough,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday, though it was not clear what payments he was referring to. “They’re not making them high enough. The Democrats are not taking care of the people.”

The Democratic measure includes $1,200 direct payments to Americans — the same level that Republicans proposed. The jobless benefits Democrats have proposed are three times as large as what Republicans are offering.

Mr. Trump also rebuked Republicans for their reluctance to provide $1.75 billion for the construction of a new F.B.I. headquarters in downtown Washington, a longtime priority of his, and one that could potentially increase the value of his own hotel nearby.

“Republicans should go back to school and learn,” the president said. “They need a new building. It’s a bad building.”

Mr. Trump’s insistence on including the money, unrelated to the coronavirus or the recession, in the aid package has rankled Senate Republicans and left many to wonder how serious the administration is about sealing a deal with Democrats.

Democrats were equally pessimistic on Wednesday about reaching a compromise, and they placed the blame squarely on Republicans for opting to wait until late July, just as the jobless aid was expiring, to start negotiations on a relief package.

“What short-term extension?” Ms. Pelosi asked after meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Mr. Meadows and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader. “There is no short-term extension. They don’t have anything.”

Several Republicans also appeared reluctant to embrace the prospect when asked on Wednesday. One Republican aide likened the idea of a short-term bill to paying a ransom twice.

“Our Republican friends don’t seem to come close to meeting the moment,” Mr. Schumer said.

Analysts in Washington said they saw a rising risk that lawmakers might not reach a comprehensive agreement before a scheduled recess early next month.

“These negotiations are in a bad, bad place,” said Jon Lieber, the managing director for the United States at the Eurasia Group and a former adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.

“There is no progress being made at the moment, which reflects the strong hand the Democrats think they have, the ineptitude of the administration and the lack of consensus within the Senate G.O.P.,” Mr. Lieber said.

Republican lawmakers acknowledged that the path to agreement appeared daunting, though some insisted that a consensus deal could emerge.

“There’s no agreement on anything — I’d call it an exchanging of views, part of the catharsis you’ve got to go through before we actually get to a position,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “People are frustrated, some people are scared, some people are worried — I mean, we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”

“And then you’ve got an election coming up, and almost everything is being seen through that lens, which makes it hard to find common ground,” he added. “We’re going to try everything else that doesn’t work until we finally get to what does work. It’s a process.”

The process this week has revealed deep divisions in the Senate Republican caucus. For instance, Mr. Cornyn said he opposed a short-term agreement like the one Mr. Trump floated on Wednesday.

Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, said such a stopgap bill “makes sense to me.”

“I asked the powers that be to take the spending porn out of the bills,” Mr. Kennedy said, echoing complaints about Mr. Trump’s F.B.I. project and other proposals in the Republican plan.

“I think it’s going to be difficult in the short term to get agreement on a larger package,” he said, “and people need help.”

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