WASHINGTON — President Trump called Thursday for more stimulus spending than the $1.8 trillion that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin proposed in his talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, injecting more chaos into the negotiations as the election nears.

“I would take more. I would go higher,” Trump said in an interview on Fox Business Network, repeating his directive from earlier in the week to “go big or go home!!!”

Trump said he has communicated his views to Mnuchin.

“I’ve told him. So far, he hasn’t come home with the bacon,” the president said.

Trump’s latest comments illustrate the fluid and disorganized state of affairs in the stimulus talks at a time when the economic recovery appears to be stalling less than three weeks from the election. The upshot of all the discordant views is that it’s unlikely a deal will be reached that could become law before the November elections.

Mnuchin and Pelosi, D-Cailf., have negotiated for days even though Trump keeps changing what he is willing to offer, often in Twitter posts or media interviews. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., meanwhile, is distancing himself and Republican senators from the White House’s rapidly growing spending package and plans to try again next week to advance a smaller-scale $500 billion plan that Democrats previously blocked.

At several appearances in Kentucky on Thursday, where he is campaigning for reelection, McConnell made clear that he and GOP senators will not accept a stimulus bill of the magnitude Trump is discussing.

“He is willing to go higher than my members are,” McConnell said of Trump while speaking at a medical center in Princeton, Ky., on Thursday afternoon. McConnell added that he doesn’t think the Pelosi-Mnuchin talks will get an outcome anyway because “even the president’s higher number she’s not willing to match.”

“I think a better way to do it is to try to more narrowly craft it and make the argument to the speaker and everyone else that just because you can’t have all you want, why not do what we can agree to do, which I think argues for a smaller package,” McConnell said.

Trump seemed unaware of or indifferent to the GOP objections to big new spending.

“The Republicans are very willing to do it,” Trump said, insisting that Pelosi is standing in the way and that “she’s got a lot of mental problems.”

“Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to give anything. She thinks it helps her with the election. … We’re not holding it up. She’s holding it up,” Trump said.

Trump added that Pelosi is “asking for all sorts of goodies – she wants to bail out badly run Democrat states and cities. … She wants money for things you could – your pride couldn’t let it happen.”

However, Trump did not raise the issue of stimulus talks during a rally later in North Carolina that lasted more than an hour, instead riffing on a wide array of other topics.

Trump’s uneven posturing appears to have strengthened Pelosi’s determination to hold out for a bigger and better deal despite pressure from a number of House Democrats to reach an agreement now.

On a private call with members of her caucus Thursday afternoon, Pelosi said that House Democrats have “maximum leverage” now, and that it’s “not the time to say ‘let’s fold’,” according to several people on the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it. She said the Mnuchin proposal remains inadequate and questioned why she would accept something that the administration can’t sell to the Senate.

Amid the dissonant messages, Mnuchin appeared to be moving in Pelosi’s direction in their ongoing talks. He said Thursday that the administration was basically prepared to accept language Pelosi has insisted on to establish a national coronavirus testing strategy.

“When I speak to Pelosi today, I’m going to tell her that we’re not going to let the testing issue stand in the way. That we’ll fundamentally agree with their testing language, subject to minor issues,” Mnuchin said on CNBC. “This issue is being overblown.”

It was not immediately clear, however, what if anything was being agreed to. Mnuchin and Pelosi had yet to speak, and a Pelosi spokesman said they had not yet heard specifics from the Treasury secretary on what he was agreeing to.

After a huge wave of layoffs in March and April, there has been a noticeable increase in the past few weeks as well, following the expiration of a number of federal aid programs. The airline and travel industry has been particularly hard hit, while restaurants and other businesses continue to close around the country.

Congress passed roughly $3 trillion in emergency aid in March and April, but a number of those programs have run their course.

The White House and Democrats have agreed on several different measures to include in a new stimulus plan, including a desire to send another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, more small business aid and help for the airline industry. They have also sought to extend emergency unemployment insurance, though there have been differences on how to structure such assistance. And a number of other issues remain unresolved, such as corporate liability protections Democrats oppose, money for cities and states and child care.

Defending his call for higher spending, Trump repeatedly asserted without evidence or explanation that China would pay for the nearly $2 trillion stimulus package. “I’d like to see more money – because it comes back,” Trump said. “We’re going to take it from China. I’ll tell you right now: It’s coming out of China.”

The president has repeatedly made false claims about foreign nations paying for domestic spending projects, for instance claiming that Mexico would fund construction of a border wall along the southern U.S.

Asked how he would get China to pay for the stimulus package, Trump asserted: “Well, there’s lots of ways. OK? There’s a lot of ways. And I’ll figure all of them out. I already have them figured out.”

The talks continued amid a rise in coronavirus cases across the U.S. and a downturn on Wall Street.

More than 20 states hit new highs in their seven-day case average, while 40 states have seen week-to-week increases in infections. The Dow Jones industrial average fell sharply Thursday morning before recovering some of its losses.


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