Mnuchin, Meadows Draw GOP Lawmakers’ Ire in Virus-Relief Talks

Congressional Republicans are growing frustrated with the two Trump administration officials leading stimulus negotiations, saying Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has made too many concessions to Democrats in earlier stimulus talks and that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is indecisive.

The lawmakers are concerned that Mnuchin gave away too much to Democrats in previous stimulus packages, particularly a blanket $600 a week in unemployment insurance, according to people familiar with the matter. The Republicans say Meadows’s indecision has delayed the process, the people said.

A broader rift between President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers has already delayed introduction of a plan for another $1 trillion in pandemic relief. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had initially said he would release a collection of proposals last week, but that deadline slipped after the GOP failed to reach a consensus.

McConnell unveiled the proposal when the Senate convened Monday. Mnuchin and Meadows are slated to return to the Capitol Monday evening to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to help jump-start talks.

The expanded unemployment benefits that were part of the March economic rescue began running out Saturday, adding urgency to negotiations on the next round of relief. There are signs, including filings for unemployment benefits, that a nascent rebound from pandemic shutdowns is stalling.

McConnell’s legislative package will mark the starting point for negotiations with congressional Democrats, who say McConnell delayed introducing a GOP plan until jobless aid and eviction protections are expiring. Congress has only two weeks before lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington for an August break.

Republican Disunity

But at the same time, even some Republicans say they can’t back McConnell’s $1 trillion plan because the country can’t afford the spending.

The Republican disunity and finger-pointing over the handling of the GOP proposal comes as the party faces the possibility of losing both the White House and the Senate in the November election.

Trump’s approval rating has plummeted as coronavirus cases surge in some states, prompting some to pause or reverse plans to reopen their economies. Americans filed another 1.4 million applications for unemployment insurance under regular state programs in the week ended July 18, more than double the worst week in the 2007-2009 recession.

GOP lawmakers grew unhappy with Mnuchin in April. They said the unemployment insurance measure created a disincentive for Americans to return to work because many were able to collect more from the government program than from their jobs. They also say he gave in too much to Democrats’ demands on paid leave.

McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told White House officials they were displeased with the number of concessions that the Treasury chief made in earlier stimulus negotiations, three of the people said.

“This is categorically false,” said David Popp, a spokesman for McConnell.

“Since Congressman Meadows became White House Chief of Staff, he and Secretary Mnuchin have worked in close coordination as a team, and they review everything with the president daily,” Treasury Department spokeswoman Monica Crowley said.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did McCarthy’s office.

Pelosi Friction

Republican leaders also don’t want Mnuchin to meet with Pelosi without other White House officials or GOP lawmakers or staff present, the people said. Mnuchin negotiated earlier stimulus deals with Pelosi, maintaining a relationship with her even as she and Trump traded criticism.

But the GOP lawmakers also have grown frustrated with Meadows, saying he strikes deals and then reverses his position, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Though Meadows was a congressman from North Carolina before joining the Trump administration, he was less known for his work on legislation than as leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Despite the complaints, both Mnuchin and Meadows have continued to play central roles in negotiating with lawmakers.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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