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Trump’s call for ‘higher numbers’ in stimulus fight undermines Republican strategy

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Trump said on Wednesday: “Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans,” in a tweet referring to the coronavirus stimulus payments – a message that flies in the face of the strategy Hill Republicans have pursued to s’ oppose democratic efforts to negotiate a higher-than-one figure GOP lawmakers have so far advanced.

The president’s message privately frustrated Republicans, who wanted the focus on the Democratic House’s infighting over their party’s response to the pandemic and the Democratic leaders’ refusal to support a relief effort more restricted and refined. Instead, the tweet immediately put Republicans in the spotlight and prompted questions about whether they would join Trump’s call for a higher price tag.

So far, senior Republicans have not accepted the president’s call. Some GOP lawmakers pushed back on Trump’s suggestion to go for “higher numbers” on Wednesday, while others dodged questions of whether they would support such a move.

South Dakota’s Senate Majority Whip John Thune, reacting to Trump’s tweet urging the GOP to support more stimulus money, warned that Republican support could deteriorate in the face of a more expensive proposal.

Asked if Republicans would support higher numbers, Thune replied, “I don’t know what a higher number means … but I kind of know what the threshold is for what we can (get) from the Republican votes in the Senate, and if the numbers are too high everything that has been passed in the Senate would be passed mainly with Democratic votes and a handful of Republicans. ”

In late July, Senate Republicans unveiled a roughly $ 1 trillion stimulus proposal, which Democrats criticized as inadequate because they remained united around a more expensive $ 3 trillion proposal. Since then, Democrats have offered to lower their primary demand to $ 2.2 trillion, but Republicans in the White House and Senate have rejected that. Instead, Senate Republicans tried unsuccessfully to push through a scaled-down proposal, worth around $ 500 billion last week, a measure Democrats blocked.

Asked about the highest number Republicans would support, Thune said on Wednesday: “I mean initially it was a trillion dollars, and we had a lot of resistance to that, so I think our members are probably in that range, “adding,” but as you move up from there you start to lose Republican support pretty quickly. ”

GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy of California ducked when pressured by reporters over Trump’s tweet. When asked if Republicans would support a higher number than they have offered so far, he hijacked the question and instead blamed Democrats for delays. “I don’t think Democrats really want one. I think the speaker is late with that,” he said before entering the House chamber.

House GOP chairperson Liz Cheney of Wyoming said Wednesday, “I would hesitate to commit to such a high level,” adding, “I am really concerned about the funds that have been earmarked and that are not. ‘haven’t been spent yet. I think the real solution to this is that we need to get the economy going. ”

A House aide familiar with the talks said there had been no major progress in a phone call Wednesday between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and that Pelosi was continuing to push for the administration to hit the Democrats’ all-time high of around $ 2. one thousand billion.

A spokesperson for Pelosi said the conversation also included discussions of an ongoing resolution, which would provide an interim solution as the government funding deadline approaches, but so far there is no no resolution on this front either.

Earlier Wednesday, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, told reporters they had yet to agree on a timeline for the current resolution. The GOP wants him to go in mid-December, but some Democrats are pushing for the New Year when a new Congress and potentially a new administration come to power.

In a statement, New York’s Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Pelosi seized Trump’s tweet on Wednesday.

“We are encouraged that after months of Senate Republicans insisting on neglecting the massive needs of the American people, President Trump is now calling on Republicans to ‘go for the much higher numbers’ in the next coronavirus relief, “the two leading Democrats in Congress said.

“We look forward to hearing from the president’s negotiators that they will finally meet us halfway through with a bill that equates to the massive health and economic crises plaguing our nation,” they said.

When asked to clarify exactly what the president was asking for in his tweet, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a briefing on Wednesday: “What the president was referring to was the $ 500 billion bill that was passed by the Senate. … does include direct payments. So he wants more than the $ 500 billion, and he is very keen to see those direct stimulus payments and we hope Nancy Pelosi will work with us in good faith. ”

While some Republican senators have suggested they may be able to live with a proposal that cost more than their meager plan of around $ 500 billion last week, moving to a number that would satisfy Democrats would divide the conference and risk that McConnell loses more than half of its limbs. .

Senator Mike Braun, a conservative Republican from Indiana, told CNN he doesn’t see much of an appetite to go much further than where members last week said more than $ 1.5 trillion would be “a bit of an acrobatic feat”.

Asked about Trump’s tweet urging Republicans to support more stimulus money, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican Senate leadership team, said he believed “the number is going to be higher than our trillions of dollars “.

“I think there is a deal to be made here,” Blunt said. “My concern is that the window probably closed at the end of this month and we need to deal with what we can all agree on. And I think the number is going to be more than our trillions of dollars.”

GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Wednesday to “count me in the camp trying to do something” following the President’s tweet, but added that he thought “we can do this thing well under $ 2 trillion and meet the need. “

Meanwhile, some Democrats continue to express their frustration at the lack of progress in the negotiations.

“I want everyone to come back to the negotiating table first and foremost,” said Representative Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia facing re-election in a district won by Donald Trump in 2016.

Representative Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat from Florida who chairs the Blue Dog Caucus, said: “I am concerned that we are not making progress in getting help for the American people right now, and it is at the feet. leadership in both chambers. “

This story was updated with additional developments on Wednesday.

CNN’s Lauren Fox, Ali Zaslav, Phil Mattingly, and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.

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