Trump Dismisses Virus Aid for Cities

(Associated Press) President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed Democratic demands to include aid for cash-strapped cities in a new coronavirus relief package and lashed out at Republicans, saying they should “go back to school” if they reject money for a new FBI building in downtown Washington, D.C.

Trump, speaking alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the White House, signaled his interest in preventing an eviction crisis as a federal moratorium expires Friday on millions of apartment units. But he and his top emissary to Congress portrayed an otherwise dismal outlook as negotiations drag ahead of looming deadlines.

“It’s a shame to reward badly run radical left Democrats with all of this money they’re looking for,” Trump said at the White House, complaining about the “big bailout money” for cities.

Trump was publicly critical of his GOP allies over the $1.7 billion for FBI headquarters that’s included in the bill, but which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell later said he opposes as not related to virus relief. The president wants to keep the building that sits across the street from his signature Trump International Hotel, which could face competition if the FBI moves and another hotel is developed there.

At the White House on Wednesday, Trump said the FBI building should remain in Washington, near the Justice Department. He added: “It’s the best piece of property in Washington. I’m very good at real estate. So I said, we’ll build a new FBI building. Let’s build a new FBI building, either a renovation of existing or even better would be a new building.”

“Republicans should go back to school and learn,” he said. “You need a new building.”

Trump’s comments came a day after he dismissed the GOP’s COVID-19 package as “semi-irrelevant.”

“We want to take care of the people,” Trump said. “We want to stop the evictions.”

As top White House negotiators returned for a third day of talks, stark differences remain between the $3 trillion proposal from Democrats and $1 trillion counteroffer from Republicans as millions of Americans’ jobless benefits, school reopenings and eviction protections hang in the balance.

“As of now, we’re very far apart,” Mnuchin said Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds sway because Republicans are so deeply divided over the prospect of big government spending that McConnell is left with a severely weakened hand.

Striking any agreement with Congress by Friday’s deadline for expiring aid will be daunting. But the outcome will be a test for the president and the parties heading into the November election as the health crisis and devastating economic fallout continue.

Key to the debate is the $600 weekly unemployment benefit bump that is expiring for millions of jobless Americans. Republicans want to slash it to $200 a week as an incentive to push people back to work. Democrats have shown flickers of willingness to curb the federal aid but held firm in first-round talks.

Wider disputes include funds for cash-strapped states and cities. Democrats proposed nearly $1 trillion to avert municipal layoffs, but Republicans prefer providing them with flexibility in previously approved aid.

Democrats proposed extending a federal eviction moratorium on millions of rental units that is expiring Friday. Trump hasn’t specified what he’s willing to do on that.

With the virus death toll climbing and 4.2 million infections nationwide, both parties are eager for relief.

But McConnell acknowledged Tuesday the limits with Republicans split: “We’ve done the best we can.”

McConnell insisted he would accept no package without a liability shield against COVID-19 lawsuits, his top priority from the start.

Pelosi called it “liability on steroids” — a sweeping ban on injury lawsuits — and she said McConnell “sounded like a person who had no interest in having an agreement.”

McConnell is coming to the negotiating table with half the GOP senators expected to oppose any virus relief deal, and the Democrats swiftly rebuffed his demand, telling the White House negotiators to ask if he was serious.

The two bills are widely seen as starting points in talks as schools to prepare for fall, virus testing and billions of dollars to shore up American households and small businesses facing potential ruin as the virus rages and stay-home orders resume

Republicans seek $16 billion for virus testing; Democrats want $75 billion.

For school reopenings, Democrats want four times the $105 billion that Republicans propose.

While McConnell insisted on the liability shield, Democrats want tougher federal workplace safety oversight.

An area of common ground is agreement on a new round of $1,200 direct payments to Americans earning $75,000 or less.

But Democrats also add a “heroes’ pay” bonus for front-line workers, money for food stamps and other assistance.

At a closed-door meeting Tuesday, several GOP senators vigorously questioned the White House team and warned against caving to liberal demands, said two Republicans who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting. Senators predicted the price tag will balloon past $1 trillion.

“It’s a mess,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. “I don’t know what we’re trying to accomplish.”