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Is There Any Progress In Negotiations Over A New Pandemic Relief Bill?

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continue to negotiate a coronavirus aid package. President Trump says he wants it to be big, but not all Republicans are on board. In the Senate, the GOP is trying to move its own smaller aid package. Mnuchin and Pelosi ended their call today without a deal. And Pelosi says there's one day left to reach a deal for Congress to pass one before Election Day. Lawmakers, of course, are making their final pitch to voters about who should control Congress. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following the talks and joins us now. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

MOSLEY: So what's the latest on the talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin? They're the two principal negotiators.

SNELL: Yeah. As you said, they spoke again this afternoon after speaking over the weekend and repeatedly in the past couple of weeks. And Pelosi's staff is using a phrase that she often uses when things are definitely not done. They're saying she's hopeful that they can get some clarity soon. You know, both sides have been talking about nominal progress on some issues, but at the core, the big issues that have been holding them up haven't really changed. There are still problems with state and local funding, and they're still stuck on testing and tracing, which has been a top demand for Pelosi all along. You know, she's been asking for a national testing and tracing plan to stop the spread of the virus. White House officials said they were willing to accept that. But Pelosi said in an interview on ABC's "This Week" that the administration came back with a version of the bill that weakened the plan and took away really important language to make it binding.

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NANCY PELOSI: They changed shall to may, requirements to recommendations, a plan to a strategy, not a strategic plan.

SNELL: And Democrats say that's a big deal because it's representative of the disconnect between what the White House is saying on TV and what is actually happening in the talks.

MOSLEY: What does the White House need to see before they agree to a deal?

SNELL: You know, that is a really good question. There are some differences in what they say they've proposed and what the president is discussing publicly - same way that we're talking about these disconnects before. We've heard figures from the president and his staff that have ranged from a total of about $1.8 trillion to over $2 trillion. And the president has talked about doing something larger than the bill Democrats have already passed, but they haven't released any details of their demands. You know, they - the people in the White House generally point to state and local money as being a problem, at least publicly. And White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who was at one point a main negotiator in those talks, has blamed Speaker Pelosi for being too rigid and unwilling to bend. Here's what he told reporters at the White House this morning.

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MARK MEADOWS: And it's been really the speaker that continues to be very rigid in her negotiation. You know, it's her way or the highway. It's all or nothing.

SNELL: And, you know, Pelosi, for her part, has basically said that, you know, she isn't willing to change the demands of, you know, what they want to see done. She's willing to change the scope, how long that they want to spend the money, but not what needs to actually get done, particularly when it comes to this testing and tracing.

MOSLEY: Well, what are Republicans in Congress saying about these talks since they're not actually in the room?

SNELL: Right. Yeah. So there is a big split between Senate Republicans in particular and the White House on this. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been kind of skeptical all along that these talks between Mnuchin and Pelosi would be fruitful. He's even said that he doesn't have the votes to pass a bill as large as they've been talking about. In fact, the overall amount Senate Republicans are willing to approve has fallen. They're planning a longshot vote and about $500 billion, focus on unemployment insurance and small business. But this shows how serious divisions are between Republicans and the president with the election just two weeks away. It's a rift we almost never see.

MOSLEY: That's NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thank you.

SNELL: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.