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Meadows "not optimistic" about deal on coronavirus bill before end of September

Washington — White House chief of staff Mark Meadows predicted Wednesday that the White House and Democratic leaders will be unable to reach agreement on the next coronavirus relief package before the end of September, and instead suggested House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will use a must-pass government spending bill to force Republicans' hand on federal assistance in response to the pandemic.

In an interview with Politico, Meadows said he does not believe he will hear from Pelosi, a California Democrat, to jump-start negotiations on a new coronavirus measure and accused the House speaker of requesting federal dollars "without any guardrails or parameters."

"If we got back in the room with some of their priorities, we could cut a deal, the president wants to do that," Meadows said. "But I'm not optimistic. I think the speaker is going to hold out until the end of September and try to get what she wants in the funding for the government during the [continuing resolution] or whatever funding mechanism happens to come up at the end of September."

Drew Hammill, Pelosi's spokesman, said Democrats "welcome the White House back to the negotiating table, but they must meet us halfway."

"Democrats have compromised in these negotiations," Hammill said. "We offered to come down $1 trillion if the White House would come up $1 trillion."

Lawmakers from both chambers of Congress are currently in their home districts and are not set to return to Washington until after Labor Day. When they do resume legislative business, lawmakers have until September 30 to reach a deal to fund the government or face a partial shutdown.

The House and Senate recessed for most of August after negotiations between the White House and Democratic leaders on another coronavirus relief measure collapsed earlier this month. The breakdown in talks led President Trump to take action unilaterally, with a series of orders designed to provide economic relief to Americans as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cripple the economy.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a $3 trillion package in May, while the GOP-controlled Senate rolled out a $1 trillion proposal last month, though both measures were viewed as nonstarters by each of the opposing parties. Instead, Democratic leaders said they would lower the cost of their plan by $1 trillion if Republicans would raise their price tag by $1 trillion, meaning a coronavirus relief package would cost around $2 trillion. But Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who led negotiations for the White House, declined.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this month that Mnuchin made an "overture" to meet, but said the White House was unwilling to move "from their position concerning the size and scope" of the next package.

Meadows, meanwhile, claimed Pelosi told Republicans "you give us the amount of money, we'll tell you how we're going to spend it."

"That's not how negotiations happen, and even if you're successful, that's not how they happen," he said.

Meadows, who served in the House before he was selected as White House chief of staff, said he has had "very productive conversations" with congressional Democrats and said "a lot of them want a deal and are being very, very reasonable in their requests."

"But it's really been Speaker Pelosi really driving this train as the conductor more so than anybody," he said. "I think she talks privately that she wants a deal and maybe even publicly that she wants a deal, but when it comes to dealing with Republicans and the administration, we haven't seen a lot of action. In fact, we've seen no action."

Meadows told Politico he had his staff contact Pelosi's chief of staff Tuesday. But Hammill said an aide for Meadows reached out to Pelosi's staff via text to confirm they had the correct number. The text, he said, did not mention resuming negotiations.

Hamill also noted that Meadows told ABC's "This Week" in an interview Sunday he would be calling Pelosi that day, but never did.

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