McConnell, not Pelosi, balks at Trump's demands on economic aid

Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted this week that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is standing in the way of a pre-election economic aid package. It’s often difficult to know whether the president believes his own rhetoric, but in this case, Trump is clearly pointing in the wrong direction. As the New York Times reported:

President Trump clashed with his own party on Thursday over a stimulus package to stabilize the economy, calling for a big-spending plan of the kind envisioned by Democrats even as the top Republican leader declared that such a measure had little support within the party.

As of this morning, there are multiple plans on the table. Democrats have lowered the price tag on their proposal from $3.4 trillion to $2.2 trillion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has countered with a $1.8 trillion package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters yesterday, however, that GOP senators are so opposed to the White House’s current approach that he won’t even bring it to the floor for a vote. Instead, the Kentuckian said, Senate Republicans want a $500 billion package.

Ordinarily, this would be roughly the point at which some presidential leadership started making a real difference, but Donald Trump doesn’t seem to know what he wants.

The Tax Policy Center’s Renu Zaretsky explained the other day, “In just the past week, Trump has said he wants a big bill, then no bill, then a small bill, then a $1.8 trillion bill, and now, perhaps, an even bigger bill than that. Or not.” Yesterday, the president made matters a bit worse, telling Fox Business that he’s “absolutely” prepared to endorse an aid package larger than the $1.8 trillion plan being pushed by his own team. “I would go higher,” he added. “Go big or go home.”

The resulting dynamic is a mess: Democrats and Trump are both arguing that Mnuchin’s offer is too small, while Senate Republicans say it’s too big. All the while, Trump is blaming Pelosi, despite agreeing with her, as Pelosi faces media pressure to accept Mnuchin’s offer — the one the president dislikes — which McConnell won’t even consider.

“Pelosi is holding up STIMULUS, not the Republicans!” Trump tweeted this week, seemingly unaware of the fact that the one person who’s refusing to support his position is his own party’s Senate majority leader.

All of this also serves as a reminder of the consequences of the president’s current weakness. If Trump had a 70% approval rating and was cruising to an easy re-election victory, it’s unlikely that McConnell and GOP senators would be indifferent to the White House’s demands.

But with the president struggling with the electorate and behind in the polls, McConnell and his Republican brethren are content to look past Trump altogether.

Postscript: The president has been increasingly aggressive of late when criticizing his own cabinet members, and yesterday, Mnuchin found himself in the same dog house. “So far, he hasn’t come home with the bacon,” Trump said of the Treasury secretary.

Of course, Mnuchin might be better able to bring home the bacon if the president didn’t keep denouncing Mnuchin’s offer, and if Trump were able to convince senators of his party that the economy needs far more bacon than they’re willing to provide.