President Donald Trump said Thursday he now sees "really good" odds of reaching a deal with Democrats in Congress on a new round of coronavirus stimulus to boost the battered US economy, a sharp reversal from his stance earlier this week.
His comments marked a definitive about-face after he abruptly ended negotiations with Congressional Democrats on Tuesday, saying the stimulus package would have to wait until after the November 3 election.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been bargaining for weeks, raising hopes for a huge, new relief package, but Trump abruptly ordered Mnuchin to cut off the talks, accusing Pelosi of not negotiating in good faith.
But on Thursday, Trump told Fox Business, "We're starting to have some very productive talks" -- referring to proposals for assistance for airlines and $1,200 checks for workers.
"We're talking about a bigger deal than airlines," he said. "I think we have a really good chance of doing something."
However, White House Strategic Communications Director Alyssa Farah later in the day said the Trump administration still favors a "skinny package" over a larger bill, adding that loans and grants for small businesses were among their priorities.
That seemed to contradict what Mnuchin said in his discussions with Pelosi on Thursday afternoon, according to her staff.
"Their conversation focused on determining whether there is any prospect of an imminent agreement on a comprehensive bill. The Secretary made clear the President's interest in reaching such an agreement," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said on Twitter.
The twist is just the latest in a week of wild swings.
The sudden halt to negotiations caused an outcry from both parties and business leaders while sending the stock market plunging, prompting the president to shift gears and call for Congress to "immediately" pass standalone legislation to aid to airlines, small businesses and workers.
Pelosi said no such legislation would get through Congress without a deal to also pass a broader stimulus package.
"I have been very open to having a standalone bill for the airlines, or part of a bigger bill. But there is no standalone bill without a bigger bill," the top Democrat in Washington told reporters on Thursday.
The aim is to build on the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March as the pandemic hit, key provisions of which have expired, which economists credit with easing the damage the world's largest economy.
Pelosi acknowledged the two parties had found areas of agreement, but said Republicans "have walked away from the full package."
- 'Not anybody's fault' -
Trump called for a separate $25 billion airline relief measure and $135 billion to protect small businesses.
Democrats seized on the president's statement, pointing out that just last week Republicans blocked a standalone bill to prevent massive layoffs by airlines.
US air carriers are a particular concern for lawmakers. Facing a sharp downturn in travel demand caused by Covid-19, they received billions in aid under the CARES Act this year in exchange for refraining from layoffs until October.
But hoped-for additional aid did not come, and American and United airlines last week said they would begin furloughing 19,000 and 13,000 workers.
Trump struck a more conciliatory tone with Fox Business on Thursday, saying "it's not anybody's fault" the talks were not successful.
"It wasn't going anywhere, I shut it down. I don't want to play games. Then we reopened, and I see markets are doing well," Trump said, highlighting one of his favored measures of success.
The Dow ended the day 0.4 percent higher, building on Wednesday's solid gains.
Economists say a new round of government support is critical to prevent a wave of layoffs and bankruptcies and provide support for the unemployed.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications for jobless benefits held at the very high level of 840,000 last week, and more than 25.2 million people in the United States were receiving some form of government aid in the week ended September 19.