House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) dismissed sharp criticism from President Trump and senior congressional Republicans as political theater that did not represent the real status of ongoing talks on the next phase of emergency legislation to deal with the impact of the coronavirus.
Pelosi described comments from Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who told The Washington Post on Wednesday that she should “stand down” on passing a relief bill in the House, as just part of “playing to their base” of conservative activists while behind the scenes negotiations moved along among the key players.
“That’s chicken feed,” Pelosi said in a brief interview Friday morning, explaining that the emerging legislation would be “big” and have bipartisan support. “You can’t pay attention to that stuff. And that’s the communication of it all.”
On Thursday evening, as Trump stood before reporters for the daily White House briefing of the coronavirus task force and complained about partisanship, the White House released a letter from the president to Schumer mocking the senator for being “missing in action” and too busy with the “impeachment hoax” to prepare for the covid-19 outbreak that has ravaged their mutual native state of New York. The president suggested Schumer would lose the Democratic primary election in 2022.
“We have given New York many things, including hospitals, medical centers, medical supplies, record numbers of ventilators, and more,” Trump wrote. “You should have had New York much better prepared than you did.”
Trump also wrote: “I’ve known you for many years, but I never knew how bad a senator you are for the state of New York, until I became president.”
On a conference call Friday morning, Schumer declined to respond to the president’s taunts.
“I am going to focus on the substance,” Schumer said, ticking through his suggestions to the president including invoking the Defense Production Act to get manufacturers to make medical equipment and appointing someone from the military to oversee production and distribution of medical supplies.
“That’s all I’m saying. I’m focused on the substance and getting this done,” Schumer said.
Trump, in the letter, pointed out that Rear Adm. John Polowczyk is in charge of the distribution of medical supplies.
After Trump’s letter was released, aides to Schumer released a background memo showing the two leaders have had many phone calls this week, including two Thursday, the last of which included the president saying he was sending a “very nasty letter” that he might apologize for after the fact.
In an interview on MSNBC on Thursday night, Schumer called Trump’s letter “appalling” and said, “Just stop the pettiness — people are dying — and so, President Trump, we need leadership. We need to get the job done. Stop the pettiness. Let get it done. Let’s roll up our sleeves.”
Pelosi said she never read Trump’s letter — “He wants to retract it, does he?” — so she would instead focus on the specifics of the ongoing talks about the next steps to combat the effect of the virus.
She said she spoke at length Thursday over the phone with McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), largely about the appointees to the five-person board who would serve as an oversight advisory group for the roughly $500 billion fund that the Treasury Department will use to prop up distressed industries.
In addition, she spoke to McCarthy on Thursday afternoon about her plans to create a House select committee to do its own oversight of the entire multitrillion-dollar effort at coronavirus recovery.
That call came not long after McCarthy, in his own conference call with reporters, dismissed the new committee as “redundant” because of other oversight groups and questioned whether it was a politically motivated effort to hurt the president.
On Friday, Pelosi said she understands that rivals such as McCarthy will continue to publicly attack her, saying a GOP group linked to the minority leader sent a political mail saying “we’ve got to stop Pelosi.”
“So yeah, it’s part of a plan, we recognize it,” she said.
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