Democratic congressional leaders and White House officials said Sunday they are willing to continue negotiations to reach an agreement on a new coronavirus stimulus package to take the place of the executive orders President Donald Trump unveiled the previous day that aimed to address the economic hardships sparked by the pandemic.
"We have to reach an agreement," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on "Fox News Sunday."
The California Democrat said Trump's executive orders failed to accomplish the administration's own stated goals and that the idea that they could "take the place of an agreement is just not so."
"We've got to meet halfway. We've got to do the best we can for the American people. But what they're putting forth does not meet that standard," she said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on ABC News' "This Week" that Trump's executive orders are "unworkable, weak, and far too narrow." He hopes "Republicans who hung their hat on these executive orders will now be forced" by the economy and the pandemic to "come to the table, accept our compromise to meet in the middle, and come up with an agreement."
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on "Fox News Sunday" that he is willing to continue negotiations with Pelosi and Schumer.
"Any time they have a new proposal, I'm willing to listen," Mnuchin said.
'An administrative nightmare': Trump's executive action is a scramble for unemployment aid
"The president has said, we can go back to the negotiating table," White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told ABC News. "We've not said no to that. We've been up there every day."
At a news conference from his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump signed four executive orders. One to provide an additional $400 per week in unemployment benefits, another that suspends some student loan payments through the end of the year, another to protect some renters from being evicted from their homes, and one that allows employers to defer certain payroll taxes through the end of the year for Americans who earn less than $100,000.
Pelosi and Schumer said there were many shortcomings to Trump's orders. Among their strongest objections were the reduction in weekly federal unemployment benefits from $600 to $400 and language in the executive order that leaves the states responsible for paying for 25% of the benefit. They argued that states' budgets are already strained because of the pandemic and that they don't have the money to cover 25%. And they said it could take weeks or months to get the assistance to Americans because of the way the order was structured.
Democrats have blasted the payroll tax deferment, arguing it potentially strips Social Security and Medicare of money because those taxes help fund those programs.
"What Trump’s selling you: A fake tax cut that has to be paid back. What Trump’s ACTUALLY doing: Draining your Social Security," tweeted Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. "This is more failed leadership from a failing President."
What Trump’s selling you: A fake tax cut that has to be paid back.
What Trump’s ACTUALLY doing: Draining your Social Security.
This is more failed leadership from a failing President.
— Sherrod Brown (@SenSherrodBrown) August 9, 2020
Mnuchin argued that states could use "the money we have already given them" to offset the costs, and he said the president might waive that requirement altogether. As for the time it would take to get the money to those who need it, Mnuchin said, "We have been told by the states they could get this up and running immediately."
Both sides indicated they were still far apart on several key issues in a potential new stimulus bill, however, including how much money should be allocated for state and local governments and food assistance.
"How do you justify tens of billions of dollars to feed the hungry to $250,000," Pelosi said of the difference between the Democratic and Republican bills. "You understand how far apart we are just by that example."
When asked what Democrats would be willing to give up, Pelosi said one area that is negotiable is the length of time unemployment and other benefits would be available.
Schumer and Pelosi both reiterated their willingness to reduce the price tag of the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act, which was passed in the Democratically-controlled House, by $1 trillion. But that proposal has already been rejected by the White House and Senate Republicans.
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on NBC News' "Meet the Press" that it was "unfortunate that these negotiations to date have failed" and that "it should be easier than it is" to reach a deal.
"We've got two sides, you know, one's at $1 trillion, another's at $3 trillion. The first thing you have to do is agree on some number in between," Navarro said. "And then what you do is you trade off, go back and forth across the table what you want, respecting each other's red lines. You don't make the Republicans pay for Planned Parenthood or pot farms, for example. This should be easy."
When host Chuck Todd pointed out the Democrats had been willing to meet halfway on a $2 trillion package, Navarro questioned "whether the Democrats really are sincere when they come to the table." He said he suspects "Democrats would prefer to see the economy go into the tank for another 90 days because that harms the president."
"It doesn't help when Speaker Pelosi goes out after every day with her scarfs flying and just beats the heck out of us for being cruel people," he said. Democrats had violated "the cardinal rule in negotiations," which "is you don't do them on TV," he added.
Navarro said that if a deal is reached, Trump's orders would be unnecessary.
"If Congress solves the problem, there's no need for the president to take executive action," he said. "We'll see what we get."
Though Pelosi quoted Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who called Trump's executive orders "unconstitutional slop," she declined to say if she would challenge Trump's actions in court, calling it a "separate matter" from the stimulus negotiations. Similarly, when asked about the legality of Trump's orders, Schumer said, "I will leave that up to the attorneys."
Mnuchin warned Democrats they "would have a lot of explaining to do" if they held up unemployment benefits through court challenges. He said each of Trump's orders was cleared by the Office of Legal Counsel, and that he was confident they would hold up in court.
When asked why Trump was at his golf club in New Jersey rather than taking the reins of the negotiations, Navarro said was Trump was "the hardest working president in history" and said the president could get things done outside of Washington. He said the failure to reach a deal lies with Congress, not the president.
"The problem here is Capitol Hill, the swamp, two houses that are too far apart. I mean, the Lord and the Founding Fathers created executive orders because of partisan bickering and divided government," he said.
Contributing: David Jackson and Michael Collins
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump executive orders don't kill Pelosi, Mnuchin COVID deal hopes