WASHINGTON — Asked during Thursday’s final presidential debate about why another round of economic relief hasn’t been approved to aid unemployed Americans and struggling local governments, President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, pointed fingers at opposite ends of the U.S. Capitol.
Trump blamed U.S. House Democrats for the stalemate over another coronavirus stimulus bill, blasting the $3 trillion economic relief package passed in May by the House as “a big bailout for badly run Democratic cities and states.”
“It was a way of spending on things that had nothing to do with COVID,” Trump said, criticizing the bill as containing provisions that would encourage undocumented immigrants to enter the country.
Biden said Trump should be lobbying for support for additional economic relief among Senate Republicans, who have balked at the size of that House proposal and another being negotiated between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate failed to advance a narrow $500 billion relief measure.
Biden added that all states, regardless of the political leanings of their political leaders, are facing dire financial challenges.
“Every single state out there finds themself in trouble,” Biden said. “They’re going to start laying off, whether red or blue, cops, firefighters, first responders, teachers, because they have to balance their budget.”
Facing such a crisis, Biden added, the federal government should use its constitutional authority to increase the deficit and help states, which aren’t able to exceed their budgets in the same way.
The exchange came a little more than halfway through the second and final presidential debate of the election, held at Belmont University in Nashville.
Trump also made a reference to Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, although not by name, hitting on a theme on her COVID-19 actions that he did at his Muskegon rally on Wednesday.
“Take a look at what’s happening with your friend in Michigan where her husband is the only one allowed to do anything, it’s like a prison,” Trump said.
Claiming stay-home orders are a “like a prison” is false, as residents in Michigan were able to visit essential businesses, go to state parks and more. Furthermore, Michigan has not been under a stay-home order since early June and Republicans successfully sured Whitmer this month over her COVID-19 orders, thus lifting more restrictions.
At the Muskegon rally, supporters chanted “lock her up” about Whitmer, and Trump responded with “lock ’em all up,” referring to Democrats. That came after 14 men have been arrested in conjunction with a right-wing extremist assassination plot against her over her COVID-19 orders.
Whitmer did not address Trump’s attack, but criticized his COVID-19 response and praised Biden’s plan.
“Once again, Donald Trump has made it clear that he does not have a plan to protect the American people from COVID-19 or rebuild our economy after he plummeted it into the ground this year,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “Because of Donald Trump’s mismanagement, more than 8 million Americans have been infected by COVID-19, 12 million are unemployed, and one in five small businesses have closed their doors. And he is still in court trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, rip health care away from millions of Americans, and deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Whitmer added that Trump “has no plan to rebuild our country, but Joe Biden does. Joe Biden showed that he has a plan to build this country back better and contain COVID-19. Joe Biden understands the issues that are facing working families, and he has a plan to fight for them. He is the leader we need in the White House. Everyone: if you haven’t already, make a plan to drop your ballot at your local clerk’s office, vote early in person, or vote on election day. Your voice will be heard in November.”
Shortly after the first debate last month — a chaotic 90-minute event in which Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and the moderator — Trump tested positive for COVID-19. Another debate between the candidates had been scheduled for Oct. 15, but it was canceled after Trump declined to participate when that event shifted to a virtual format.
On the inability to reach a compromise on a new round of coronavirus relief funding, Trump accused Pelosi of not wanting to find agreement, arguing that she believes it would benefit Democrats in next month’s elections.
Pelosi told reporters during a news conference Thursday morning that she sees an “urgent” need to finalize a relief bill, and that she and Mnuchin had made progress this week.
“To protect the lives, the livelihood and the life of our democracy, we continue to be engaged in negotiations, and I am hopeful that we will be able to reach agreement,” Pelosi said.
She’s also suggested, though, that a deal may not be possible until after the election.
The Democratic-controlled House has passed two bills amid GOP opposition: the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May, and a slimmer $2.2 trillion version earlier this month.
The larger bill did receive some opposition from moderate House Democrats who said it was too broad and unlikely to gain enough support to become law. The HEROES Act also did include some protections for undocumented immigrants, including them in the direct stimulus checks sent to taxpayers and shielding essential workers from deportation.
Trump said Thursday evening that he wants to pass a relief bill. But it was the president earlier this month who abruptly ended talks between Mnuchin and Pelosi, before reversing course and saying he wanted a larger economic relief package than what was being negotiated.