The major players in Washington's COVID-19 relief blame game lobbed familiar volleys on Thursday, marking time in the days before an election that promises to change the landscape for talks that have dragged on for months without producing results.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a scolding assessment, blaming Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for failing to produce answers to her demands for Democratic priorities as part of the approximately $2 trillion aid package. President Donald Trump again promised "a very big package as soon as the election is over" and faulted Pelosi for the pre-election standoff that has rattled markets and shows, at least for now, no signs of easing.
Pelosi sent Mnuchin a letter faulting Republicans for the failed talks, which ground on for three months and cratered in the final days before the election. Where the talks go after the election is wholly uncertain — a comeback win would award Trump with greater leverage but a loss could also make him less invested in an agreement and less willing to compromise to get there.
"I would rather do it now, but Nancy Pelosi does not want to do it," Trump said Thursday from Las Vegas on "The Jon Taffer Podcast."
Pelosi says remaining obstacles to an agreement include more than half a dozen big-ticket items, including a testing plan, aid to state and local governments, funding for schools, jobless benefits and a GOP-sought shield against coronavirus-related lawsuits.
Republicans, who say Pelosi has been unyielding in the talks, will control the White House and the Senate until January regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's election, and have pressed for a more targeted aid package that ignores key Pelosi demands.
They say items like refundable tax credits for the working poor and families with children are not directly related to fighting COVID-19 and charge that Pelosi has slow-walked the negotiations to deny Trump a victory in the run-up to Election Day.
Pelosi's letter to Mnuchin comes as markets are reeling from a coronavirus surge across the country and Washington's failure to agree on another virus relief package.
"As the coronavirus surges and the stock market plummets, we are still awaiting the Trump Administration's promised responses on multiple items of critical importance," Pelosi wrote. "Your responses are critical for our negotiations to continue."
Mnuchin shot back that Pelosi's letter was a "political stunt" for the media's benefit. He said in a response letter that Pelosi's "ALL OR NONE approach is hurting hard-working families NOW" by holding up more narrowly targeted legislation that could pass with little controversy.
The California Democrat has played hardball in the talks and has for months demanded a $2 trillion-plus COVID-19 rescue deal that's larger than the landmark $1.8 trillion CARES Act that swept through Congress in March. Legislation has twice passed the House, but the GOP-held Senate has been gridlocked.