House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were scheduled to have an important meeting yesterday afternoon on a possible economic aid package. Before they could connect, however, Donald Trump rendered their meeting moot: the negotiations, the president, were over.
Americans with economic concerns, Trump added, will have to wait “until after the election.” In the meantime, the Republican demanded that his team and its allies “focus full time” on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Not surprisingly, this has quickly become the official White House line.
White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told CNBC on Wednesday that there was a “low probability” of approving additional legislation in time for the election … “We’ve only got four weeks to the election, and we have a justice of the Supreme Court to get passed. It’s too close to the election — not enough time to get stuff done at this stage in the game,” Kudlow said.
Right off the bat, we know this is politically unwise: polls show the American mainstream is far more concerned about the struggling economy than filling the vacancy on the high court. For Team Trump to ignore these attitudes during the election season is to take an unnecessary risk.
But more important is the fact that we know Kudlow’s wrong, and not just in the abstract. In the spring, when policymakers were focused on a hearty response to the coronavirus crisis, the CARES Act came together rather quickly. It didn’t take four weeks; it barely took one.
What’s more, it’s not like officials would need to start from scratch to craft a plan between now and Election Day: the House has already passed two ambitious aid packages, and bipartisan negotiations have been ongoing for weeks. A concerted effort to reach an agreement — led, for example, by a president who claims to be a world-class deal-makers — could seal a deal.
As for the Barrett confirmation process, there’s no reason lawmakers couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time: D.C. is capable of focusing on more than one task at a time.
All it would take is a White House capable of prioritizing the economy and jobs. The president and Kudlow are effectively telling millions of unemployed Americans that their plight just isn’t that important to Team Trump: the Supreme Court needs yet another far-right jurist more than these struggling families need an economic lifeline.
I can think of smarter closing messages for an incumbent president already struggling in the polls.