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Trump Puts An Abrupt Halt To Coronavirus Relief Bill Talks

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington, where hopes for a new round of coronavirus aid evaporated today. President Trump put an abrupt halt to the ongoing conversations when he tweeted he is rejecting more than 2 trillion in stimulus funds proposed by Democrats. He is instructing Republicans to walk away. Trump says he wants Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to focus entirely on the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is covering this. She's here.

Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: So there have been so many twists and turns to this. Does this mean they are done? There is no hope for more coronavirus relief this year.

SNELL: Well, basically, yes, though, I will say that, you know, the president could change his mind. But it would be very hard to get Democrats back to the negotiating table right now. You know, the reaction to this has been swift. The stock market plunged on the news. And, you know, it comes on the same day that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell warned that more stimulus is needed to keep the economy going. He said the lack of help could lead to bankruptcies. He talked about falling productivity. And there's also talk of a spike in unemployment as we're seeing layoffs starting. We're seeing layoffs in all kinds of sectors, from movie theaters to the airline industry.

You know, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in the midst of talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when all of this happened, and they were attempting to get to some sort of agreement. But they've been pretty far apart on the numbers so far, particularly on things like state and local government money and funding for how much unemployment funds should be given to people as the additional money from the federal government.

KELLY: All right. And just to question whether this really is the final nail in the coffin of these talks, the president, I noted, said, no more talks; I want my team to walk away from the negotiations until after the election. Does that mean there's some tiny window that something could get done after the election?

SNELL: I mean, technically, it's possible that something could happen after the election, but it's really unlikely. You know, the dynamics of a post-election time is always strange in Washington. It's always rocky no matter who wins. But - plus, they really do have a lot on their plate this time around. They have to pass a spending bill to avoid another government shutdown at the end of the day on December 11. And that could be its own kind of heavy lift.

KELLY: Well, where are Republicans on Capitol Hill on this? Do they support this call to walk away?

SNELL: Well, just a little bit ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that he supports the president's decision. We have some tape, but I'll warn you - it's a little bit hard to hear.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, I think his view was that they were not going to produce a result and that we needed to concentrate on what's achievable.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So do you support him, his decision?

MCCONNELL: I do.

SNELL: What you hear there is reporters talking to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he walks through the halls of the Capitol. And, you know, it's not clear that all Republicans agree with him. The co-chairs of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, who had their own version of what should be done here in terms of coronavirus relief, said that they can't overstate how important it is for leaders of both parties, along with the president, to return to the table. So there is pressure from both parties to get something done because there is an immediate need.

KELLY: And I have to point out that we are in full election season. What are the political risks here for the president? This is a president who has said, I deserve another term, in part because of my record on the economy.

SNELL: Yeah, absolutely. And that is something that, you know, will be weighed here. He's taking responsibility for cutting off the talks, and it's a gamble that voters will see it any other way. Republicans had hoped that Democrats would be the ones to take the blame if talks fell through. And, you know, it's - the Senate will be back in session, and they will notably not be talking about coronavirus. They will be talking about the Supreme Court. And that will be in great focus for everyone to see.

KELLY: Thank you, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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