WASHINGTON, DC -- A call between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Thursday did nothing to break the ongoing impasse over negotiations for a new coronavirus stimulus, leaving talks stalled as the pandemic continues to take a dire toll on public health and the economy.
Pelosi made clear to reporters after the call that negotiations over the next coronavirus relief legislation won't start again in earnest until the White House comes up on its topline offer, saying that there's "no reason" to continue talks until the Trump administration moves.
Pelosi, in the call with Meadows, did offer to drop the Democratic demand on the topline to $2.2 trillion, from $2.4 trillion. But she made clear to reporters that Democrats are unwilling to go lower, even as that leaves the two sides roughly $1 trillion apart on the topline.
"We can't go any lower because we have to meet the needs of the American people," Pelosi said. "We will not shortchange them."
The impasse comes amid increased uncertainty about the state of the US economy as the pandemic continues to spread throughout the country. The initial $2.2 trillion CARES Act was, according to economists, instrumental in keeping the economy afloat even amid tens of million of job losses that stemmed from virus-driven shut downs. But the trillions in direct payments, unemployment insurance and small business loans aided consumers throughout the past four months. Those programs have now all lapsed, leading to significant concerns that the economic rebound, to the extent it's occurred, will fizzle out without additional fiscal aid from Congress.
In another indication of how far apart the two sides remain, the speaker said in a statement released after the roughly 25-minute call that the "conversation made clear that the White House continues to disregard the needs of the American people as the coronavirus crisis devastates lives and livelihoods."
Prior to Thursday's phone call, Pelosi and Meadows hadn't spoken since talks imploded weeks ago and negotiators walked away without a deal intended to bolster the economy and help struggling Americans pay their bills amid the pandemic.
The phone call represented the first tangible step toward restarting negotiations since they broke down, but it concluded with talks stuck in the same place they have been for weeks: nowhere.
There is little optimism on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue that there will be any progress on stimulus talks before lawmakers return to Washington in September, as the two sides remain far apart on even the general scope of a package, let alone the granular policy details of one.
Senate Republicans, who have remained outside the negotiations up to this point, have drafted their own scaled back proposal that is expected to draw more attention when lawmakers return to Washington from the August recess next month. But even that proposal lacks the support of the Senate GOP conference -- let alone any buy in from congressional Democrats.
The differences between the top negotiators themselves, which to this point have been Pelosi, Meadows, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have also continued to flare publicly in recent days.
Pelosi, before the call with Meadows on Thursday, said the conversation was only happening to respect the fact that President Donald Trump's representative -- "not even the lead negotiator" -- has reached out, she said of Meadows. She said she views Mnuchin -- with whom she has struck several major deals over the last two years -- as the lead negotiator.
"We do not have shared values. That's why it's very hard to come to an agreement on this," she said.
Pelosi has faced some public pressure from Democrats about restarting talks, particularly from frontline Democratic members. But to this point the caucus has remained unified behind the California Democrat.
Pelosi, on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, insisted that her caucus is standing together in its approach to negotiating another round of coronavirus relief legislation with the Trump administration.
Meadows on Wednesday told Politico that he's "not optimistic" a deal will be reached until after September, and predicted that Pelosi would run the clock out until the fiscal year deadline at the end of September to get Democratic priorities into a funding measure.
Pelosi has been resistant to the idea of rolling relief efforts into a funding measure, arguing that an agreement is needed now.
Democrats have also rejected a piecemeal approach, making clear they won't agree to anything that doesn't address their full view of the current needs.
But on Saturday, House lawmakers returned early from August recess and voted largely along party lines to allocate $25 billion to the US Postal Service, a bill which the White House has threatened to veto.
The vote prompted Meadows to tweet at Democrats, arguing, "If you really want to help Americans, how about passing relief for small businesses and unemployment assistance ALONG with postal funding?"
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.