White House, Democrats at odds on virus aid but talking

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., during a news conference on on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 27, 2020, to highlight their proposal for the next coronavirus stimulus bill. McConnell is joined by, from left, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – Unemployment assistance, eviction protections and other relief for millions of Americans are at stake as White House officials launched negotiations late Monday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer on a new coronavirus aid package that’s teetering in Congress ahead of looming deadlines.

While Senate Republicans struggled to roll out their own $1 trillion proposal, Pelosi implored the White House and GOP lawmakers to stop the infighting and come to the negotiating table with Democrats. Aid runs out Friday for a $600/weekly jobless benefit that Democrats call a lifeline for out-of-work Americans. Republicans want to slash it to $200 a week, saying that the federal bump is too generous on top of state benefits and is discouraging employees from returning to work.

“This is wrong. We have to do what’s right for the American people," Pelosi said at the Capitol afterward.

With the virus death toll climbing and 4.2 million infections nationwide, both parties are eager for a deal. There is widespread agreement that more money is needed for virus testing, to help schools prepare to open in the fall and to shore up small businesses. Voters are assessing their handling of the virus crisis before the November election, and President Donald Trump’s standing is at one of the lowest points of his term, according to a new AP-NORC poll.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows met with Pelosi and Schumer for nearly two hours at the speaker's office. The two top negotiators would be back at it Tuesday.

“Good meeting,” Meadows said.

The Republicans come to the negotiating table hobbled by infighting and delays. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he wanted to hit “pause” on new spending after Congress approved a sweeping $2.2 trillion relief package in March. But Pelosi, D-Calif., took the opposite approach, swiftly passing a $3 trillion effort with robust Democratic support. In the intervening months, the crisis deepened.

McConnell, flanked by top GOP chairs Monday at the Capitol, unveiled his long-awaited proposal. It provides some $105 billion to schools and colleges, the K-12 funds tilted toward campuses that reopen with in-person learning. There's more money for virus testing, $15 billion for child care centers and benefits for businesses, including a fresh round of loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, tax breaks and a sweeping liability shield from COVID-19-related lawsuits.