With benefits expiring, Trump and GOP are lost without a map

As the coronavirus crisis rages, Republicans are attacking Dems for being too generous, while Trump attacks Dems for not being generous enough.
President Trump Departs White House For Texas
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows before boarding Marine One at the White House on July 29, 2020.Sarah Silbiger / UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

It was 11 weeks ago when congressional Democrats, looking ahead to the expiration of the CARES Act, finalized a new economic-aid plan. The package, called the HEROES Act, was a $3 trillion proposal that passed the House on May 15.

Republican opposition was intense and immediate. For GOP leaders, Democrats were going too far to provide public support with an overly ambitious and excessively expensive blueprint. Republicans responded a few days ago with a counter-proposal that spent far less.

All of which led to yesterday, when Donald Trump said the real problem with the Democratic plan is that it doesn't spend nearly enough.

"We want to work on the evictions so that people don’t get evicted. We’ll work on the payments for the people. And the rest of it, we’re so far apart, we don’t care. We really don’t care. We want to take care of the people. The Democrats aren’t taking care of the people. The payments aren’t enough. The payments aren’t enough. You understand that. They’re not making the payments; they’re not making them high enough. The Democrats are not taking care of the people."

In the same unscripted comments, the president went on to say that there will be progress toward a solution once Democratic leaders "get together and take care of the people." The Republican added, "In the meantime, we ought to stop evictions because that expires very soon. So we want to stop the evictions."

Trump seemed wholly unaware of, well, every relevant detail. For example, the Republican plan, which his own White House team helped write, does not include the evictions moratorium that House Democrats included in their bill. The president was espousing the opposite of what his team and his party are fighting for.

The same is true on the economic benefits front: Republicans are saying Democrats are being too generous to struggling families, while Trump argues that Democrats aren't being nearly generous enough.

Part of the problem is that the president struggles to keep up with events unfolding around him. Another part of the problem is that Trump has a habit of saying things he believes will be popular with voters -- and since the American mainstream supports extended jobless aid and eviction protections, the president wants the public to believe he wants popular things, too, even if that means brazenly lying.

But putting aside motivations, the bottom line remains the same: Trump and his party are rejecting a worthwhile Democratic plan for completely contradictory reasons -- and no one in the party is even trying to address the incongruity. As I argue in my book, this is what happens when there's only one governing party.

The intra-GOP breakdowns in policymaking aren't just an abstraction. The CARES Act expires tomorrow. The evictions protections ended several days ago. The $600 in weekly unemployment supplement has already expired in some states, and it will disappear nationwide in 40 hours.

There have been some bipartisan negotiations in recent days -- talks that would've happened weeks ago if Republicans hadn't dithered and struggled to get their act together -- but there's a chasm between the parties. In theory, the president -- a self-professed, world-class dealmaker -- could try to negotiate a deal, but in practice, Trump doesn't know nearly enough about current events to even try.

So what happens now? The president signaled some interest yesterday in a short-term fix, but he and his party are at odds over this, too. The odds of a breakthrough by tomorrow night are poor, with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows conceding yesterday, “We’re nowhere close to a deal."

There will likely be renewed efforts next week, but let's also not forget that a week from today is the last day before Congress' August break, and there's a very real possibility that lawmakers will head home after having done nothing on a fresh round of economic aid.

With the nation facing multiple crises, Republicans in the White House and on Capitol Hill are being put to the test. As things stand, they're failing spectacularly to meet the moment.