Mnuchin says Main Street U.S. companies need grants, not loans

By Andrea Shalal and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday defended his decision to end several of the Federal Reserve’s key pandemic lending programs on Dec. 31, saying Congress should use the money to help small U.S. companies with grants instead.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans have criticized the Treasury move, saying the programs – while not being used extensively – provided an important backstop for the economy.

Mnuchin told Powell in a letter Thursday that the $455 billion allocated to Treasury under the CARES Act last spring, much of it set aside to support Fed lending to businesses, nonprofits and local governments, should be made available for Congress to reallocate.

Speaking on CNBC, Mnuchin said Congress had always intended for the lending programs to end on Dec. 31, and sought to reassure markets that the Fed and Treasury had many tools left to support the economy.

“Markets should be very comfortable that we have plenty of capacity left,” Mnuchin said, adding that the Treasury could reactivate the facilities by tapping the Exchange Stabilization Fund, a seldom-used fund housed at the department.

“To the extent these need to be reactivated, we have over $800 billion of capacity so I consider that to be a pretty good bazooka,” he said. The $800 billion would be combining the ESF and capital in remaining Federal Reserve facilities.

Mnuchin denied the move was intended to handicap the administration of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office on Jan. 20.

“We’re not trying to hinder anything,” Mnuchin said, adding that his department would work closely with the incoming administration “if things get certified.”

He said he and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows would speak with congressional Republican leaders later Friday and would redouble their efforts to pass further stimulus measures.

“We want Congress to reappropriate this money,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and David Lawder; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. airlines urge relief as White House signals possible piecemeal aid

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. airlines urged top lawmakers on Wednesday to advance a standalone bill that would extend $25 billion in payroll support through March, as the Trump administration signaled possible piecemeal legislation a day after walking away from broad COVID-19 relief talks.

“We are disappointed that negotiations between Congress and the Administration over additional COVID-19 relief were suddenly suspended yesterday,” Airlines for America, the main industry trade group, and a dozen airline unions wrote in a letter on Wednesday seen by Reuters.

“Now, in the absence of an overall COVID-19 relief package, we urge you to advance standalone legislation to extend the PSP (payroll support program),” it said.

The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Earlier, White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told reporters that stimulus talks were off but that negotiators were looking at standalone bills on 10 things that “we agree on.”

The idea of airline relief has so far enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Washington, though last week Representative Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, failed to win approval of a standalone bipartisan measure for airlines under unanimous consent after some Republicans objected.

Airline shares jumped on Wednesday after sinking suddenly a day earlier on remarks by President Donald Trump that his administration would abandon talks with congressional Democrats over proposals to spend at least $1.6 trillion in additional coronavirus relief funds.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum)

White House says ‘not optimistic’ about COVID-19 aid, talks with Congress are off

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Wednesday said he was not optimistic that a comprehensive deal could be reached on further COVID-19 financial aid and that the Trump administration backed a more piecemeal approach, even as he said negotiations with Congress were over.

“We’re still willing to be engaged, but I’m not optimistic for a comprehensive deal. I am optimistic that there’s about 10 things that we can do on a piecemeal basis,” Meadows told Fox News in an interview.

Meadows did not say what 10 items the administration wanted to tackle, but reiterated President Donald Trump’s position tweeted late Tuesday night that he would back separate legislation addressing airlines, small businesses and stimulus checks for individuals.

Trump called off talks with lawmakers on pandemic aid in a tweet on Tuesday, rattling Wall Street as U.S. stocks sank. He later pulled back saying he would support a few stand-alone bills.

U.S. stock indexes appeared set to open higher on Wednesday, and airline stocks were also higher.

“The stimulus negotiations are off,” Meadows later told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “Obviously we’re looking at the potential for stand-alone bills. There’s abut 10 things that we agree on and if the Speaker is willing to look at it on a piece-by-piece basis then we’re willing to look at it,” he said referring to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Democratic-led House has already passed full legislation seeking a wide range of aid as the novel coronavirus continues to spread, infecting an estimated 7.5 million Americans and killing more than 210,600 — the highest in the world.

Pelosi on Tuesday said lawmakers would pass more aid, despite Trump’s refusal to negotiate.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Editing by Alex Richardson and Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. House Speaker Pelosi to meet with top U.S. airline CEOs

By David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will speak on Friday afternoon with the chief executives of top U.S. airlines, who are urging Congress to approve another $25 billion in assistance to keep tens of thousands of U.S. workers on the payroll past Sept. 30, sources said.

Pelosi and House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio are expected to hold a 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT) call with the chief executives of United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and others, a Democratic aide told Reuters.

In an interview with NBC’s “Today Show” on Friday, American Chief Executive Doug Parker urged lawmakers to “come together and get it done. … We just need people to do what’s right. I know we’re better than this, and our people deserve better.”

At the end of this month, the $25 billion in federal payroll assistance airlines received when the coronavirus first began spreading around the world is set to expire.

Airlines and unions are now pleading for a six-month extension as part of a bipartisan proposal for another $1.5 trillion in coronavirus relief, while simultaneously negotiating with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts that are expected without another round of aid.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with major airline chief executives on Thursday. He said President Donald Trump is also open to a stand-alone measure to aid airlines, though congressional aides say that is unlikely to win support given aid requests from so many other struggling industries.

American has said it plans to end service to 15 small communities without additional government assistance and furlough about 19,000 workers.

Air travel has plummeted over the last six months as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 196,000 American lives and prompted many to avoid airports and planes, seriously depressing airline revenues.

Congress also set aside another $25 billion in government loans for airlines, but many have opted not to tap that funding source.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Airline CEOs plead with White House to avert looming U.S. job cuts

By Jeff Mason and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with major airline chief executives on Thursday as the industry braces for thousands of job cuts in two weeks, and urged lawmakers to embrace a $1.5 trillion coronavirus aid package proposed by a bipartisan congressional group and endorsed by President Donald Trump.

Meadows told reporters said that if House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was willing to move a bill that would support airline workers and prevent layoffs, Trump would support it, noting the looming layoffs of thousands of workers set for Oct 1.

American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker said airlines would also be working with Pelosi.

​Meadows said the administration had examined executive action options, all of them less than ideal.

Airlines did not offer a new proposal but again made the case that helping avert airline job cuts was one good reason to pass a broad coronavirus relief bill.

After the meeting with Meadows, Parker said it was “not fair” that thousands of airline workers were about to be laid off. “We’re just here to plead with everyone involved to get to a quarterly package before October 1.”

Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Gary Kelly said the initial payroll support plan “didn’t go far enough and long enough.”

American has said it plans to end service to 15 small communities without additional government assistance.

At the end of this month the $25 billion in federal payroll assistance airlines received when the coronavirus first began spreading around the world is set to expire.

Congress also set aside another $25 billion in government loans for airlines, but many have opted not to tap that funding source.

Companies such as American are now pleading for a six-month extension while they simultaneously negotiate with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts that are expected without another round of aid.

Air travel has plummeted over the last six months as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 196,000 American lives and prompted many to avoid airports and planes, seriously depressing airline revenues.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

House Democrats call for U.S. postal chief’s suspension, launch probe

(Reuters) – The head of the House Oversight panel on Tuesday urged the immediate suspension of U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy following reports that he illegally reimbursed former employees for political contributions, and announced an investigation.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, in a statement, said if the allegations are true, DeJoy faced “criminal exposure” not only for violating the law with the transactions but also for lying to Congress when he denied making them at a recent hearing.

“We will be investigating this issue, but I believe the Board of Governors must take emergency action to immediately suspend Mr. DeJoy, who they never should have selected in the first place,” she said.

The move follows accusations by former workers at DeJoy’s company that he reimbursed employees for campaign contributions to his preferred Republican politicians, an arrangement that would violate federal campaign finance law. The Washington Post and the New York Times both reported the allegations over the weekend, citing multiple unnamed former employees.

President Donald Trump on Monday said he would support an investigation into campaign contributions involving DeJoy, a Trump donor who is already facing a political fire storm after changes he implemented ahead of the November election that critics said could delay mail-in balloting.

On Tuesday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows defended DeJoy and accused Democrats of launching a political probe in an election year.

“Louis DeJoy is an honorable man,” Meadows told reporters at the White House. “I’m sure he’ll cooperate completely, and we serve in a great country where you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

The House Oversight committee is already investigating USPS operational changes, including curbed overtime, and sent DeJoy a subpoena last week seeking related documents. New York’s attorney general has also separately filed a lawsuit over the issue.

Democrats have accused him of deliberately disrupting the Postal Service as millions of Americans consider whether to cast their vote by mail in the Nov. 3 presidential election, saying the changes could slow down mail delivery and delay ballots.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Steve Orlofsky)

White House says Senate Republicans may take up COVID-19 bill next week

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Republicans are likely to take up their COVID-19 relief bill next week offering $500 billion in additional federal aid, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on Tuesday, adding that the administration was still weighing help for U.S. airlines.

In an interview on CNBC, Meadows said he expected Senate Republicans’ legislation would be “more targeted” than House Democrats’ offer and could either be used as a building block or be passed on its own while negotiations continue.

Congressional negotiations on further federal intervention amid the novel coronavirus pandemic remain at a standstill after the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed its $3.4 trillion measure back in May.

Republican President Donald Trump and his administration have said they could support a $1 trillion bill. Democrats offered to split the difference with a roughly $2 trillion compromise, but there has been little movement.

Meadows told CNBC the administration “was nowhere close” to Democrats’ $2 trillion offer but added: “We’ll get there in the end.”

It was unclear whether Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell planned to take up the bill next week. Republican Senator John Barrasso said a conference call with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the White House was scheduled for later on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

Asked about efforts to aid airlines, which have furloughed or laid off thousands of workers and curtailed flights as the outbreak had upended travel, Meadows said any aid “remains an open question” and that the administration is “looking closely at a number of executive actions.”

Meadows said he and Mnuchin met with Trump late on Monday and that the president tasked them “to get as creative as we can within the confines of the law to put forth as much money as we can so we can keep this economy going.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Morgan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump willing to sign a $1.3 trillion coronavirus relief bill: Meadows

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is willing to sign a $1.3 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a top Trump aide said on Friday, marking a $300 billion increase from an initial $1 trillion offer from the White House and Senate Republicans.

Three weeks to the day after talks on Capitol Hill broke down without a deal on legislation to help Americans suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Trump was “right now willing to sign something at $1.3 trillion.”

But the new White House amount is still $900 billion less than the $2.2 trillion that House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has demanded that the Trump administration accept before negotiations can resume.

The $1.3 trillion has been offered in private, Meadows said. Negotiations have involved Pelosi, Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Meadows and Pelosi spoke by phone for 25 minutes on Thursday without a breakthrough, and afterward the Democrat said the conversation showed that the White House “continues to disregard the needs of the American people.”

Pelosi told reporters that Democrats could not go lower than $2.2 trillion, saying the figure would allow both sides to “meet in the middle.”

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and David Morgan; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

White House says Trump could act unilaterally to avoid U.S. airline layoffs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump could take executive action to avoid massive layoffs at U.S. airlines, while the coronavirus pandemic weighs on air travel and talks on a new COVID-19 stimulus bill remain stall in Congress, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Wednesday.

“We’re looking at other executive actions,” Meadows said in an online interview with Politico. “If Congress is not going to work, this president is going to get to work and solve some problems. So hopefully, we can help out the airlines and keep some of those employees from being furloughed.”

His remarks came a day after American Airlines said its workforce will shrink by 40,000, including 19,000 involuntary cuts, in October without an extension of government aid.

Meadows said he has spoken to American Airlines, as well as United Airlines, which has warned that 36,000 jobs are on the line, and to Delta Air Lines, which announced furloughs of nearly 2,000 pilots on Monday.

“So we’ve raised this issue. It would take a CARES package, I believe, to do it,” Meadows said, referring to a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that Congress passed earlier this year.

Talks between Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer ended in early August, with top Democrats and the administration far apart on new legislation. Meadows told Politico that he is not optimistic that negotiations will restart soon.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

Trump rebukes aide Navarro for attacking popular Fauci

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump issued a rare rebuke of his senior adviser Peter Navarro on Tuesday, saying Navarro should not have written a scathing opinion piece about Anthony Fauci, a top government coronavirus expert who is hugely popular.

Navarro, a trade adviser who at times has expanded his reach within the Trump White House, launched an attack on Fauci in an article for USA Today.

“Dr. Anthony Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on,” Navarro wrote.

The initial lack of a push-back from the White House for the article fed a belief that Navarro’s article was supported at the top levels of the White House.

But departing for a trip to Atlanta, Trump was asked whether Navarro had gone rogue.

“Well he made a statement representing himself. He shouldn’t be doing that. No, I have a very good relationship with Anthony,” Trump said.

A White House official said Trump did not endorse Navarro’s op-ed and that Navarro was told “explicitly in recent days to de-escalate the situation.” The official said that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is “fully engaged” on the matter and that Meadows thought Navarro’s article was “unacceptable.”

Fauci is a member of the government’s coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence. The 79-year-old infectious diseases expert aided the search to treat the HIV disease in the 1980’s and is a revered figure for not letting politics intrude on his judgment.

“We’re all on the same team, including Dr. Fauci,” Trump said. “We all want to get rid of this mess.”

Tensions between Trump and Fauci have emerged at times with the president focused on getting Americans back to work and school while Fauci has urged caution to prevent the spread of infection.

Fauci, in an interview with The Atlantic, said the White House’s recent attacks have been a “major mistake on their part.”

“I can’t explain Peter Navarro. He’s in a world by himself,” Fauci said.

He said he had not spoken with Trump “in a while,” but had been working with Pence on the U.S. struggle to gain control of the virus.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Howard Goller)