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World News

Pelosi, White House call on COVID-19 aid ends without a breakthrough

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A telephone call on coronavirus economic relief between U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and an adviser to President Donald Trump ended on Thursday with no breakthrough, and Pelosi said talks would not resume until the Trump administration agreed to $2.2 trillion in aid.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks about stalled congressional talks with the Trump administration on the latest coronavirus relief during her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

Pelosi and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows spoke by phone for about 25 minutes, the first chance in weeks to resume stalled COVID-19 aid negotiations. But the two sides soon appeared to be as far apart as ever.

“This conversation made clear that the White House continues to disregard the needs of the American people as the coronavirus crisis devastates lives and livelihoods,” Pelosi said in a statement following her conversation with Meadows.

“We’re willing to come down - meet them in the middle - that would be $2.2 trillion, and when they’re ready to do that we’ll be ready to discuss and negotiate the particulars,” the top Democrat in Congress told reporters.

“But we can’t go any less because we have to meet the needs of the American people. We will not shortchange them, we will not nickel and dime them.”

Asked in an interview on Fox News about the talks, Meadows said he sought funding for enhanced unemployment benefits, help for small businesses and money for schools and daycare. “What did we get from her is 25 minutes of nothing,” he said.

Meadows and Pelosi are two of the four negotiators who were involved in talks on legislation to help Americans and businesses suffering from a coronavirus pandemic that has now killed nearly 180,000 people. The others are Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

The talks broke down on Aug. 7, with the sides far apart on major issues including the size of unemployment benefits for tens of millions of people made jobless by the pandemic, aid for state and local governments and funding for schools and food support programs.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in May passed a $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief bill, but Pelosi offered to reduce that sum by $1 trillion. The White House, which had proposed $1 trillion in aid, rejected the offer. Democrats have since demanded that the White House agree to “meet in the middle.”

The Pelosi-Meadows phone call came hours before Trump was due to accept his party’s nomination on Thursday evening for a second term. Some Democrats have said they did not expect the White House to resume negotiations in earnest until after this week’s Republican National Convention.

On Wednesday, Meadows said in an interview with Politico that he was not optimistic negotiations would resume soon.

U.S. airlines have warned that massive layoffs will be coming without further aid during the pandemic.

They are hoping a fresh stimulus bill will extend for six months $25 billion in payroll aid that expires on Sept. 30 under legislation approved earlier this year.

The head of the union representing American Airlines AAL.O pilots, who are facing 1,600 furloughs, sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday urging action to extend the package and prevent tens of thousands of layoffs on Oct 1.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Eric Beech and Richard Cowan in Washington and Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney

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