Coronavirus relief

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin listens as President Donald Trump speaks to the press outside the White House on July 29 in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump continues to move away from his own political party on COVID-19 aid, saying Thursday that he’s authorized his top negotiator to offer Democrats more than $1.8 trillion.

“Absolutely I would. I would pay more,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business. “I would go higher. Go big or go home.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had offered the roughly $1.8 trillion figure in talks with Speaker Nancy Pelosi late last week. But Senate Republicans have balked at anything close to that figure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that the $500 billion “targeted” relief bill he will put on the floor next week has the support of his conference.

“I’m proposing what we think is appropriate, Senate Republicans,” he said after casting his ballot in Kentucky. “This is very similar to the vote we had about a month ago that had everyone but one of Senate Republicans supporting it.”

Trump remains confident Republicans will support an agreement if one is reached. “The Republicans are willing to do it. I’d like to see more money,” he said. “We like stimulus, we want stimulus and we think we should have stimulus.”

But a separate event on Thursday, McConnell says he doesn’t believe there’s a compromise to be had between what the White House has offered and the $2.2 trillion Democrats are seeking.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “That’s where the administration is willing to go. My members think what we laid out, a half a trillion dollars highly targeted, is the best way to go. So that’s what I’m going to put on the floor.”

The widening gulf between what Trump wants and what congressional Republicans are willing to accept further reduces the likelihood the House, Senate and White House can clear another relief package before Election Day.

Mnuchin, speaking on CNBC earlier in the morning, said he is preparing to agree with Pelosi on national COVID-19 testing strategy language, which has emerged as a top unresolved issue.

“When I speak with Pelosi today I’m going to tell her that we’re not going to let the testing issue stand in the way. That we’ll fundamentally agree with their testing language, subject to some minor issues,” Mnuchin said.

Democrats have said the administration’s testing plan would delay the delivery of critical funding to states. They said the plan requires states to enter contracts and pass legislation to qualify for federal aid.

Pelosi has also criticized the White House for offering $45 billion in new testing and contract tracing funds, which she wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter Sunday was only 60 percent of what’s needed.

On Thursday, Mnuchin said the administration would back the full $75 billion Democrats are seeking, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether some of that money would be repurposed from unspent funds. He said the White House’s offer includes a total of $178 billion for health care agencies, including $28 billion for vaccine development and distribution.

Mnuchin said that given the pace of negotiations and the politics at play with less than three weeks until elections, it’s unlikely Congress can clear another aid package, though he didn’t completely rule it out.

“A deal would be hard to get done before the election, but we’re going to keep trying,” he said. “I don’t want to say that it’s not likely, it’s just that there are significant issues.”

In his Fox Business interview, Trump seemed frustrated that Mnuchin has not been able to clinch an agreement with Pelosi. “So far he hasn’t come home with the bacon,” he said.

Despite his desire to go for a bigger aid package, Trump said he’s still opposed to the $2.2 trillion measure Pelosi wants.

“Because she’s asking for all sorts of goodies. She wants to bail out badly run Democrat states and cities. She wants money for things that you would never, you just couldn’t, just your pride couldn’t let it happen,” Trump said.