Trump pushes for major COVID-19 deal over Senate Republican objections, Pelosi optimistic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday pushed for a comprehensive COVID-19 relief package, and said he would accept a deal worth more than $2.2 trillion despite opposition to large spending measures among his fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

"I want to do it even bigger than the Democrats," Trump said in an interview with Fox News, as talks between House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin approached a Tuesday deadline for reaching a deal that could pass Congress before Election Day on Nov. 3.

The White House has proposed $1.8 trillion in coronavirus relief, while Pelosi is pushing for $2.2 trillion.

Pelosi said she was optimistic Democrats could reach a bipartisan deal with the Trump administration, but that more work needed to be done. She is expected to speak with Mnuchin at 1500 EDT/1900 GMT.

"I'm optimistic, because I do think we have ... a shared value that finally they want to crush the virus," Pelosi told Bloomberg TV. "Hopefully by the end of the day today, we'll know where we all are."

Pelosi said aid to state and local governments and Republican demands for liability protection for businesses remain sticking points. But she suggested the Democrats could find grounds to agree on liability protections if the administration agrees to eliminate certain language sought by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that she believes would overshadow protections for workers.

Senate Republicans have repeatedly stated their opposition to additional COVID-19 relief spending near the $2 trillion mark and have focused instead on smaller initiatives.

McConnell said that if Pelosi and the White House reach a deal and it's passed by the House, the Senate would consider it.

"I'm aware that discussions continue between the president and the speaker about a larger package," he told reporters. "Obviously, if that were to come over, we'd have to consider it. And would consider it."

However, several Senate Republicans were wary, non-committal or just plain negative about aid of $1.8 trillion or more.

"I think it's very unlikely that a number of that level would make it through the Senate, and I don't support something of that level," Senator Mitt Romney told reporters. "Something far more targeted to the people who really need help, I'd like to see done, and I'd like to see done as quick as possible."

FALL IN LINE

Senate Republicans prepared to bring up legislation on Tuesday to help small businesses slammed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 8.2 million Americans, killed over 220,000 and thrown millions out of work.

But the Republican measure to refund the Paycheck Protection Program was not expected to pass, with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer objecting that it was too narrow.

Trump predicted that Senate Republicans would fall in line if Mnuchin and Pelosi reach a broad bipartisan deal. He also said he would be willing to accept a deal passed mainly with Democratic support.

"Not every Republican agrees with me, but they will," he said. Trump added he specifically expects support from McConnell: "He'll be on board if something comes."

Pelosi and Mnuchin have been negotiating intermittently since August on a fresh coronavirus aid plan. Any new stimulus would be in addition to $3 trillion in relief that Congress approved earlier this year.

Pelosi said if a deal is agreed, the House would need to have legislation written by the end of this week so that both houses of Congress could vote on it by the end of next week.

The Senate also plans a vote on Wednesday on a $500 billion-plus Republican proposal to include unemployment benefits and aid to schools. It would provide people with $300 in federal weekly unemployment benefits, while the Democrats want to return to the $600 weekly level in a measure approved earlier this year.

Democrats blocked a similar Republican proposal last month and the measure on Wednesday is also expected to fail.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone, Rosalba O'Brien, Bernadette Baum and Sonya Hepinstall)

10/20/2020 19:06

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