White House aides downplay coronavirus aid chances; Pelosi blasts Trump, but discusses airline help

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top White House officials on Wednesday downplayed the possibility of more coronavirus relief, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disparaged President Donald Trump for backing away from talks on a comprehensive deal.

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

But in a separate interview with CNBC, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that approach would likely not work either.

“Right now in terms of the probability curve, this would probably be low low-probability stuff.”

On Tuesday evening, after having shut down the negotiations on a comprehensive coronavirus package during the day, Trump wrote on Twitter that Congress should pass money for airlines, small businesses, and stimulus checks of $1,200 for individuals.

Pelosi told ABC’s “The View” that Trump’s tweets were an effort to rebound from “a terrible mistake,” but she brushed aside questions about doing a slimmed-down aid package, still favoring a comprehensive version.

“It is really important for us to come to this agreement,” she said.

Pelosi, however, did ask Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday to review a standalone bill for $25 billion in aid to airlines that Democrats tried to advance last week, her spokesman wrote on Twitter. [L1N2GY0NM]

Mnuchin, who had been Pelosi’s negotiating partner as they tried to reach a comprehensive package in recent days, had asked her about the possibility of a standalone airlines bill in a telephone call Wednesday.

As for Trump’s suggestion about the stimulus checks, Pelosi told ABC: “All he has ever wanted in the negotiation is to send out a check with his name printed on it.”

Trump’s canceling of talks with lawmakers on pandemic aid rattled Wall Street on Tuesday, although Wall Street’s main indexes jumped on Wednesday as investors grew hopeful of at least a partial deal.

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 210,000 – 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. But that lower figure was likely to face staunch opposition from some Senate Republicans.

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

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Trump continues to downplay virus after returning to White House

Washington — President Trump left Walter Reed Medical Center on Monday evening, hours after the medical team treating him for COVID-19 cautioned that he’s “not out of the woods yet.” He got back to the White House shortly before 7 p.m., where he took off his mask and gave a thumbs up before walking inside.

He soon tweeted a minute-long video from the balcony, saying he’d “learned so much about coronavirus” and believes he might be immune to it. “One thing that’s for certain: Don’t let it dominate you,” he said of COVID-19. “Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it.”

In a tweet Tuesday morning, the president again compared COVID-19 to the flu, which is much less lethal and contagious than the coronavirus. He said Americans “have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid.” More than 210,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The president’s attitude alarmed many infectious disease experts, who said he should have stressed precautions Americans should take to try to avoid getting the coronavirus.

Earlier Monday, Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, told reporters Mr. Trump will be “surrounded by world-class medical care, 24/7” at the White House.

He’s being treated with dexamethasone, a powerful steroid recommended for use in severe cases of COVID-19. The drug can carry serious psychological side effects, but Conley said the president hasn’t exhibited any of them. He repeatedly declined to provide specifics about the president’s lung condition or the last time Mr. Trump tested negative for the virus, citing federal privacy laws.

President Trump Recuperates Amid Questions About His Health And Campaign
President Trump holds his protective mask on the Truman Balcony of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday, October 5, 2020.

Ken Cedeno/Polaris/Bloomberg via Getty Images


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White House Officials Pushed CDC to Downplay Risks of Reopening Schools

Top White House officials pushed the CDC to minimize the dangers of COVID-19 for young people and pressured schools to reopen this summer.

Two former CDC officials tell The New York Times that White House officials, like aides in Mike Pence’s office and Dr. Deborah Birx—the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force—were attempting to bypass the CDC to boost data that showed the virus’ spread was slowing down. While the identities of the former CDC officials remained anonymous, they confirmed to CBS News that The Times report was true.

Former Pence adviser Olivia Troye, who worked on the White House coronavirus task force, told The Times that Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, frequently asked her to create more data that showed a drop in cases among young people. Troye ultimately left her post in August and has now become a Trump detractor and outwardly critical of how the administration handled the pandemic.

According to The Times, Birx urged the CDC to promote data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—part of the Department of Health and Human Services—which said that prolonged school closings could impact children’s mental health and asserted that the virus’ spread in families was low. In an email from Birx to CDC Director Robert Redfield, Birx asks him to include the document as “background” in CDC guidance for school reopenings.

A second former CDC official said that Birx spearheaded the message for school reopenings, which centered on the dangers of kids staying at home rather than reentering the classroom. This official said that the White House was “slicing and dicing our data to fit its narrative.”

This official also said that CDC scientists were frightened by the “preamble” to guidance shared on the website, which emphasized the possible negative impact that delayed school openings could have. The CDC had used some of that data for its own guidelines, but it wasn’t the focal point.

Brian Morgenstern, the White House deputy press secretary, told CBS that the president “relies on the advice of all of his top health officials who agree that it is in the public health interest to safely reopen schools, and that the relative risks posed by the virus to young people are outweighed by the risks of keeping children out of school indefinitely.”

A White House official boasted about Birx’s close relationship with Redfield, telling CBS that “the notion that Dr. Birx was ‘pressuring’ Dr. Redfield to do something he didn’t agree with seems preposterous on its face.”

“A conversation or comments exchanged between friends and colleagues is hardly some sort of politically-charged demand,” the official added.

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