An effort to resume bipartisan negotiations on a coronavirus relief package appeared to go nowhere Thursday, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi faulted the Trump administration for refusing to agree to more money.
The California Democrat spoke by phone for 25 minutes with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who had reached out to the speaker’s office earlier this week to see if there was interest in resuming talks that had been on ice for weeks. But there was no indication after the call that either side had given any ground.
“This conversation made clear that the White House continues to disregard the needs of the American people as the coronavirus crisis devastates lives and livelihoods,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The Administration’s continued failure to acknowledge the funding levels that experts, scientists and the American people know is needed leaves our nation at a tragic impasse,” she said.
While House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion relief package in May, Senate Republicans dismissed it as a “liberal wish list” that stood no chance of becoming law. They offered a roughly $1 trillion package last month that Democrats denounced as inadequate.
Pelosi also set a new red line for any more talks: an agreement by Republicans to provide at least $2.2 trillion — a rough midway point between the two partisan packages.
“When they're ready to do that, we'll be ready to discuss and negotiate the particulars,” she told reporters after the call. She suggested the proposed $2.2 trillion was a modest concession on the part of Democrats, since they had earlier offered to reduce the price tag of their May legislation by $1 trillion, which would have brought the cost down to $2.4 trillion.
“We’re willing to go to that place,” Pelosi said of the $2.2 trillion offer. “But we can't go any less because we have to meet the needs of the American people. We will not shortchange them. We will not nickel and dime them.”
Meadows had told reporters Wednesday that Democrats want a $2.3 trillion or $2.4 trillion package “without any guardrails or parameters.” And he dismissed the offer as partisan posturing.
“What [Pelosi] said to us in the room is, ‘You give us the amount of money, we’ll tell you how we’re going to spend it.’ That’s not how negotiations happen,” Meadows said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell likewise described the state of negotiations as being at an impasse, while on a tour of hospitals in his home state of Kentucky.
"I'd like to be able to tell you ... an agreement was just around the corner, but we're at a stalemate at the moment, and I'm hoping that we can come together once again because the coronavirus is not involved in the American election," McConnell said Thursday during a stop at Pikeville Medical Center.
Prospects for any breakthrough had soured even before Thursday’s phone call began.
Just a few hours earlier, Pelosi used her weekly news conference to belittle Meadows as an almost inconsequential junior partner in the negotiations. Meadows, a former conservative Freedom Caucus lawmaker distrusted by Democrats, joined Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to negotiate an aid package on behalf of President Donald Trump.
Referring to her scheduled phone call with Meadows, Pelosi appeared to even forget his name as she asked reporters at her weekly press conference for assistance.
“This is a conversation only to respect the fact that the president’s representative, not even the lead negotiator, that would be Mnuchin, we consider, whatever his name is — what’s the name? Meadows there — as staffing Mr. Mnuchin.”
Pelosi had described her willingness to talk as mostly a courtesy to the White House. “So this is, you called me, I’m returning your call,” she said. “Are you ready to bring much more money to the table, to honor our heroes, our state and local workers, our health care workers, our first responders, our teachers?”
Pelosi said Democrats would insist on “a flood of money for this. We have a pandemic. . . . And they’re coming in with an eyedropper. No.”
Lindsey McPherson, Chris Cioffi and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this story.