Trump predicts Senate Republicans would back major COVID-19 stimulus
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump predicted on Tuesday that his fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate would support a major COVID-19 stimulus package, despite their stated opposition, if the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reached agreement.
"I want to do it even bigger than the Democrats," Trump said in an interview with Fox News. "Not every Republican agrees with me, but they will."
The president said specifically that he expected backing from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: "He'll be on board if something comes."
Trump spoke as talks between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin approached a Tuesday deadline for reaching a bipartisan deal that could pass Congress before the Nov. 3 election. The White House has proposed a $1.8 trillion bill, while Pelosi is pushing for $2.2 trillion.
But Senate Republicans have been focused on smaller initiatives and prepared to bring up legislation on Tuesday to replenish a program that helps small businesses slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.
A senior Senate Republican, John Thune, expressed doubt Monday that there would be enough Senate Republican votes to pass a comprehensive bill as large as the White House bid.
"It'd be hard," Thune, the Senate Republican whip, told reporters.
But Trump said he would be willing to accept a deal passed mainly with Democratic support: "I'd take all the votes you could get, whether it's Democrat or Republican ... I'm O.K. with that."
Pelosi and Mnuchin, who have been negotiating intermittently since August on a fresh coronavirus aid plan, planned to speak again on Tuesday after they "continued to narrow their differences" in a nearly hour-long call Monday, Pelosi's spokesman, Drew Hammill, wrote on Twitter.
Pelosi, the top elected U.S. Democrat, has set the end of the day Tuesday as a deadline for agreement with the White House, if a comprehensive coronavirus relief bill is to get through both chambers of Congress before Election Day on Nov. 3.
Trump accused Pelosi of not wanting to do anything before the election, a move he said would actually help his re-election chances.
"We want to do it but Nancy Pelosi doesn't want to do it. We'll see whether or not she changes her mind," he said. "They are talking. Let's see what happens. But I would rather go bigger than her number."
Any new stimulus would be in addition to $3 trillion in coronavirus relief that Congress approved earlier this year.
While Pelosi said on Sunday she was optimistic a deal could be reached on a fresh package, and a spokeswoman said Monday the White House was also "cautiously optimistic," many Senate Republicans oppose passing more coronavirus aid.
Instead, Senate Republicans will propose on Tuesday a new round of funding just for the Paycheck Protection Program, a popular program that was launched earlier during the pandemic with bipartisan support to provide loans to small businesses.
The measure is not expected to advance, because Senate Democrats have already given notice they consider such targeted efforts inadequate.
McConnell said the Senate also plans a vote on Wednesday on a $500 billion-plus Republican proposal to include unemployment benefits and aid to schools. It would provide people with $300 in federal weekly unemployment benefits, while the Democrats want to return to the $600 weekly level in a measure approved earlier this year.
Democrats blocked a similar Republican proposal last month and the measure on Wednesday is also expected to fail.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone, Rosalba O'Brien and Bernadette Baum)
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