Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared on Tuesday morning to be close to a deal over a coronavirus stimulus bill, even as Donald Trump signaled his wish to reopen the economy and continued to attack House speaker Nancy Pelosi over her own stimulus proposal.
Mnuchin told reporters on Capitol Hill, just before midnight on Monday: “I think we’ve made a lot of progress. There’s still a couple of open issues, but I think we’re very hopeful that this can be closed out [on Tuesday].”
Mnuchin said he and Schumer had consulted the president and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on the details of the deal, which is believed to secure around $2tn in aid for workers and businesses.
Schumer said: “We expect to have an agreement tomorrow morning. There’s still a few little differences. Neither of us think they’re in any way going to get in the way of a final agreement.”
Schumer added that Trump seemed “very positive” about the talks.
But the president took aim at Pelosi, who introduced House Democrats’ own $2.5tn stimulus plan in a bid to shape negotiations. In a late-night tweet, Trump accused Pelosi of seeking to derail a Republican-sponsored Senate bill.
Republicans criticized Pelosi’s rival bill as a wishlist, saying it included politically charged spending add-ons and regulations on federal elections, minimum wage, union regulations and climate change. Democrats made similar charges about the Republican Senate bill.
Trump tweeted: “Republicans had a deal until Nancy Pelosi rode into town from her extended vacation. The Democrats want the Virus to win? They are asking for things that have nothing to do with our great workers or companies. They want Open Borders & Green New Deal. Republicans shouldn’t agree!”
The president returned to the attack on Tuesday morning. He tweeted: “This is not about the ridiculous Green New Deal. It is about putting our great workers and companies BACK TO WORK!”
At the same time, Trump was under fire from health experts for signaling in a lengthy press conference on Monday night that he could soon re-open the country for business. The US is just over one week into a 15-day self-quarantine and social-distancing initiative aimed at slowing transmission of Covid-19.
Speaking at the White House on Monday, Trump appeared to override his own health experts, including taskforce head and vice-president Mike Pence.
Trump said: “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this.
He continued: “America will again and soon be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting.”
Trump’s lack of commitment to following expert advice appears to be creating stress within the coronavirus task force. Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has contradicted Trump at White House briefings and given interviews containing measured criticism of the president.
Fauci was notably absent from the podium on Monday.
Asked why by the Guardian, Trump said: “I was just with him. He’s at the taskforce meeting right now.”
Asked if Fauci agreed about the need to reopen the economy soon, Trump said: “He doesn’t not agree.”
Later on Monday night, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner who served under Trump said opening America up for business too hastily could undo any progress that has been made to “flatten the curve” of infections and prevent the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.
Scott Gottlieb tweeted: “There’s a strong and understandable desire to return to better times and a functioning economy.
“But it should not be lost on anyone that there’s no such thing as a functioning economy and society so long as Covid-19 continues to spread uncontrolled in our biggest cities.”
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that although “the world market for face masks and ventilators is crazy”, his administration was “helping the states to get equipment” and had “just got 400 Ventilators for [New York mayor] Bill de Blasio. Work beginning on 4 hospitals in New York! Millions of different type items coming!”
At the same time, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo said his brother, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, had said he had been very clear with the White House about his state’s immediate need for 30,000 ventilators and other protective medical equipment and “there has been no response”.
Most people who contract Covid-19, a respiratory illness, recover relatively quickly. But it can be fatal, particularly among older people and those with underlying health problems.
According to figures collated by the New York Times, by Tuesday morning around 43,500 cases had been confirmed in the US and 537 people had died. Confirmed cases are increasing rapidly as testing increases, with New York state emerging as a leading hotspot.