By Siobhan Hughes
WASHINGTON -- As a Republican congressman, White House chief of
staff Mark Meadows was a chief antagonist to his own party's
leaders, pushing one Republican House speaker from office and
roiling the GOP's efforts to devise an alternative to
Now, Mr. Meadows is bringing his personal style to negotiations
on a new coronavirus-aid package, giving Democratic leaders a
firsthand view of the dig-in-your-heels approach he sometimes
employed in the House. His addition to the bargaining team, joining
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, has changed the contours of the
trillion-dollar-plus negotiations, both sides say.
"Anybody who's covered Congress long enough knows that I
typically will not concede as readily as some might," Mr. Meadows
told reporters this week. He said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's
negotiation strategy -- which he described as "wear you down until
finally you say 'I've had enough" -- wouldn't work on him.
Mr. Meadows, who came to Congress on the heels of the tea party
wave and served as chairman of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus,
has long been skeptical of government spending and deficits.
"He's Dr. No," said Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), who along with
other Democrats has been kept abreast of the discussions through
briefings by his party's leader.
Mr. Meadows, joined by Mr. Mnuchin, has met daily with Mrs.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) to hash
out differences between a Senate Republican plan totaling $1
trillion and a House Democratic measure that cleared the House in
May totaling $3.5 trillion. Late in the week, Democrats proposed a
package somewhere around the $2 trillion to $2.5 trillion range,
but Republicans rejected it, and talks Friday showed no signs of
Many Republicans are supportive of Mr. Meadows's approach, which
they say increases the chances that any new assistance program will
reflect GOP priorities, in contrast to an earlier negotiation, in
which Republicans felt that Mr. Mnuchin had given too much
"Maybe he can keep an eye on the secretary and make sure he
doesn't make too many concessions to Pelosi," said Sen. John Cornyn
Mrs. Pelosi, who has maintained a good working relationship with
Mr. Mnuchin even as she feuded with President Trump, said Mr.
Meadows has mimicked Mr. Trump's tactics. "I've been in the White
House when the president has slammed the table and walked out.
Well, that's really what Mr. Meadows did," she said of Thursday's
talks. "His positions are quite hardened and non-compromising"
compared with Mr. Mnuchin, said Mr. Schumer.
Mr. Meadows said the notion that he slammed a table was
inaccurate, and he has accused Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer of
talking about him behind his back. When Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer
go before the cameras to complain that White House negotiators
don't understand the severity of the crisis, Mr. Meadows marches to
the cameras to say that Democrats are unreasonable negotiators who
aren't interested in compromise.
The White House has offered concessions from the initial
Republican opening bid, such as agreeing to a $400-a-week federal
jobless supplement, up from the Senate GOP proposal for an interim
$200-a-week supplement before shifting to a program in which the
federal assistance, when combined with state aid, would make up 70%
of lost wages. Democrats haven't budged on their demand for a $600
weekly federal supplement, or their demand for large-scale aid to
states and localities, although they have agreed to shorten the
duration of such assistance to lower the cost of their plan.
Mr. Mnuchin, who helped negotiate a $2.2 trillion package that
was enacted into law in March with bipartisan support, has
emphasized possible areas of compromise. Mr. Meadows has
highlighted the disagreements.
"Where is the compromise?" Mr. Meadows said on Friday as he
announced that Mr. Trump would circumvent Congress by using his
executive powers to take some actions on his own, such as by
renewing a federal unemployment supplement and extending an
eviction moratorium. "This is not a perfect answer; we'll be the
first ones to say that. But it is all that we can do."
Mr. Meadows has a record of building conservative power centers,
first in Congress and now in the White House, leveraging his
networking skills and knowledge of procedural minutiae.
In 2015, Mr. Meadows was a chief architect of a little-used
procedural move to force a divisive vote on ousting House Speaker
John Boehner (R., Ohio) from office, a prospect that within months
prompted Mr. Boehner to announce his resignation. Now, Mr. Meadows
is the chief architect of Mr. Trump's strategy of using executive
orders to renew a jobless supplement, provide student-loan help,
and ban evictions, overseeing the drafting of executive orders that
the president has said he'll sign if the talks don't yield enough
progress, people familiar with the matter said.
A spokesman for Mr. Meadows didn't respond to a request for
Mr. Meadows also revamped the White House's legislative affairs
office, following the departure of high-profile staffers including
director Eric Ueland, who played a major role in the March
coronavirus negotiations. He promoted Cassidy Hutchinson, who two
years ago was a White House intern, to legislative affairs
coordinator in the chief of staff's office, giving Mr. Meadows a
direct line to the legislative affairs team. Ms. Hutchinson has
accompanied Mr. Meadows to his meetings in Mrs. Pelosi's office,
congressional aides say, while Amy Swonger, the acting legislative
affairs director, hasn't participated in the meetings, people
familiar with the matter said.
Democrats say Mr. Meadows is prioritizing ideology over needed
aid, and highlighted that Republicans remain split in what they
want from the talks.
"Basically what's happening is Mr. Meadows is from the tea party
-- you have 20 Republicans in the Senate greatly influenced by him
and they don't want to spend the necessary dollars to help get
America out of this mess," Mr. Schumer said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who has stayed
out of the daily talks, has previously estimated that at least 20
of his colleagues may not support any new stimulus package, amid
concerns over mounting federal budget deficits.
Mr. Meadows "wants to make sure like I do we take care of the
people who have lost their jobs," said Sen. Rick Scott (R., Fla.).
"But you can't bankrupt the country."
Andrew Restuccia, Natalie Andrews and Kristina Peterson
contributed to this article.
Write to Siobhan Hughes at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 07, 2020 17:15 ET (21:15 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.