WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats and White House negotiators remained far apart on Sunday on the attempts to secure a new round of coronavirus-related aid, with one top White House adviser questioning whether Democrats are rooting for economic collapse to hurt President Donald Trump and a top Democratic leader arguing the Republicans refuse to meet them halfway.
In an exclusive interview with "Meet the Press" a day after the president signed executive actions meant to sidestep the deadlock, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro questioned whether congressional leaders are serious about the negotiations, saying there is a “theory” that “Democrats would prefer to see the economy go into the tank for another 90 days because that harms the president.”
"I hope that Capitol Hill hasn’t become that cynical," Navarro said.
“It doesn’t help when Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi goes out after every day with her scarves flying and beats the heck out of us,” Navarro said earlier, maintaining that the White House has been “willing to bend" in the negotiations.
“This should be easier than it is," Navarro added. "We’ve got two sides, one’s at $1 trillion, another's at $3 trillion. The first thing you have to do is agree on some number in between. Once you do that, step two is figure out, within that, what you both agree on."
“And then, what you do is you trade off, go back and forth across the table on what you want, respecting each other’s red lines.”
In a separate interview, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., bristled at Navarro’s analysis, arguing that the White House is the side that’s digging in.
“If that is the standard, we have not only accepted it, we have offered it. We were at $3.4 trillion in the bill that Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats passed 12 weeks ago. And now we’ve come down to the range of $2 trillion. They were at $1 trillion, we asked them to come up $1 trillion,” Durbin said.
“We are ready to meet the White House and Republicans halfway. We’ve said that from the start. We have priorities that may be different from theirs, but in terms of dollar amount, we are exactly where Mr. Navarro has suggested.”
Trump’s measures, which he signed on Saturday, take a number of steps aimed at providing relief after weeks of stalled negotiations on Capitol Hill.
The actions defer payroll taxes for those making less than $100,000 a year, as well as student loan payments, both through the end of the year. They also discourage evictions and extend enhanced unemployment benefits, although at $400-per-week instead of the $600-per-week payments that Congress authorized in the early months of the pandemic but has since expired.
“The problem here is Capitol Hill, the swamp. The two Houses that are too far apart. The Lord and the Founding Fathers created executive orders because of partisan bickering and divided government,” Navarro told “Meet the Press.”
“But the president is taking action. His constituency, let’s be clear, his constituency is mainstream Republicans, blue-collar Democrats and independents who are sick and tired of the swamp. And he reached out and he took action.”
The president’s actions come after another week of tense and ultimately unsuccessful negotiations between Congress and the White House. The two sides had hoped to strike a deal that included many of the proposals Trump attempted to unilaterally address in his orders, as well as other issues like money for schools and whether to provide more aid to help bolster state budgets stressed by the coronavirus response.
Democrats warned Trump against issuing an executive order, arguing that the president doesn’t have the power to control federal spending to this degree. Trump has dared Democrats to sue, telling reporters Saturday that “Maybe they'll bring legal actions, maybe they won't. But they won't win."
Durbin called the debate over whether to sue the president over his authority to issue the executive orders a “moral dilemma” for Democrats, and criticized Republicans for looking to slash the enhanced unemployment benefits out of a belief it’s discouraging some from finding a job.
“We want unemployed people to receive benefits, we never wanted them cut off at all. I’m not going to suggest we run out to court at this point, but some will, there will be some challenges. This country-club fix suggested by the president is going to be a cut in the unemployment benefits for 30 million Americans,” he said.
"These people are not lazy people. We have five unemployed Americans for every available job. This urban legend, which I say is an urban lie, about people sitting at home, binging on Netflix and eating chocolate-covered cherries. Listen, I’ve met with these families, they are desperate to get back to work.”