Top Democrat says Trump can’t solve the coronavirus aid problem by himself

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By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump cannot solve the need for coronavirus-related aid by himself, a top U.S. Senate Democrat said on Friday after nearly two weeks of lawmakers’ talks with the White House failed to make substantial progress.

The Republican Trump has threatened to pull White House negotiators out of talks with top congressional Democrats and instead issue executive orders to address the heavy human and economic toll of a crisis that has killed more than 160,000 Americans and thrown tens of millions out of work.

“The president can make all the claims he wants, he cannot solve this problem by executive order,” the Senate’s number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, told MSNBC.

“We have got to come together, we’ve got to do it in Congress. The president can make all the claims he wants, he cannot solve this problem by executive order,” Durbin said.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Bloomberg TV on Friday that Trump would take executive action if there was no compromise with Congress on coronavirus relief. Kudlow said talks were at a stalemate.

He said more talks were expected on Friday.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, have been meeting for nearly two weeks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Pelosi and Schumer urged the White House to join them again on Friday in talks on proposals for coronavirus relief.

After three hours of talks ended on Thursday without a deal, Mnuchin said that barring a compromise on the major issues, Trump could act unilaterally.

It was unclear how much the president could do without the approval of Congress, which has the spending power.

Reviving an expired $600 weekly federal payment to the unemployed is one of the top Democratic demands.

The White House at one point suggested $400 a week in federal benefits for the unemployed, but Democrats rejected it and have refused to do a separate deal on that, saying they wanted a comprehensive package that also included money for state and local government and other matters.

“We have five unemployed people for every job that’s open in America,” Durbin said. “Giving folks enough to get by until this economy starts to open up again is not only good for them, it’s good for the economy.”

Democrats have advocated for a $3 trillion-plus economic aid program, while leading Republicans have proposed about a third of that.

Congress passed more than $3 trillion in relief legislation early in the pandemic. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said a new boost is needed to help the U.S. economy, but some of his fellow Republicans oppose doing anything more.

Pelosi and Schumer have pushed for a comprehensive package of assistance for the unemployed, the poor, hospitals, schools, and state and local governments.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Writing by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)

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