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White House Aides Not Optimistic on Any Kind of US Coronavirus Stimulus

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Top White House officials on Wednesday downplayed the possibility of either a comprehensive coronavirus aid deal with the U.S. Congress or even standalone measures to help specific sectors of the economy.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters that “the stimulus negotiations are off,” echoing President Donald Trump’s proclamation on Tuesday, and said in an interview on Fox News that the Trump administration backed a more piecemeal approach.

But in a separate interview with CNBC, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in reference to chances for such a piecemeal package before the Nov. 3 presidential election, “Right now in terms of the probability curve, this would probably be low low-probability stuff.”

On Tuesday, Trump wrote in a tweet: “If I am sent a Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200), they will go out to our great people IMMEDIATELY. I am ready to sign right now.”

The seemingly contradictory tweets and statements from the White House came after Trump on Saturday urged fast action on a coronavirus stimulus bill only to shut down negotiations on Tuesday.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed pre-election jockeying for the deadlock.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in a call with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi early on Wednesday, asked about the possibility of a bill to aid U.S. airlines, which are planning large layoffs.

Pelosi aide Drew Hammill, in a Twitter posting, wrote: “The Speaker reminded him that Republicans blocked that bill on Friday” and asked Mnuchin to review the legislation “so that they could have an informed conversation.”

House Democrats have been pushing for $25 billion in additional aid to airlines.

Trump’s canceling of talks with lawmakers on pandemic aid rattled Wall Street on Tuesday, although financial markets recovered on Wednesday, with all the major S&P indexes up in early trading.

The Democratic-led House has already passed legislation seeking a wide range of aid as the novel coronavirus continues to spread, infecting an estimated 7.5 million people in the United States and killing more than 210,600 – the highest in the world. But the measure did not advance in the Senate.

In private negotiations, Pelosi and Mnuchin were unable to close a gap between the $2.2 trillion in new aid Democrats sought and around $1.6 trillion the White House signaled it could accept.

Even that lower figure was likely to face staunch opposition from Senate Republicans, however.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O’Brien)

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