President Donald Trump said Monday that he's taking "the high road" by not meeting with Democratic leaders as negotiations for another round of coronavirus relief remain stalled.
During a meandering Labor Day news conference at the White House in which Trump talked up the economy and attacked Democratic rival Joe Biden in personal terms, he was asked why he has not met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The prospect of additional aid for the people and the businesses hurting because of the pandemic has appeared increasingly slim since talks between the Trump administration and Congress broke down at the end of July.
"Don’t say there’s no hope," Trump said after a reporter suggested that there was little hope of an aid deal. "Why do you say there’s no hope? What do you know? What do you know? And let me just tell you, I know my customers, that’s what I do. I know Pelosi, I know Schumer very well. They don’t wanna make a deal, because they think it’s good for politics if they don’t make a deal. This has nothing to do with anything other than you have to know who you’re dealing with. I do."
"These are people that I don’t have a lot of respect [for]," he added. "I don’t think they have a lot of respect for the American people. And I know who I’m dealing with. And I don’t need to meet with them to be turned down."
Trump then reiterated his opposition to one of the Democrats' biggest asks in relief negotiations — substantial aid to cities and states that have seen tax revenue decline amid the pandemic, which Trump on Monday called a "bailout" for "badly run Democrat cities and states." The Democrats say that aid is needed to avoid state and local government layoffs, which would affect critical services.
Trump was asked if, as president, he should "take the high road" and meet with Democratic leaders in order to try and deliver relief to Americans still suffering from the economic fallout of a public health crisis.
"I am taking the high road," he said. "I’m taking the high road by not seeing them. That’s the high road. Yeah. And if I thought it made a difference or would make a difference, I’d do it in a minute."
Congress will return to session this month, with the Senate back Tuesday and the House back next week. The stalled negotiations have delayed or potentially ended the possibility of additional direct payments to Americans, aid for schools to get up and running, money to assist state and local governments and the continuation of a generous unemployment package, among other items.
Pelosi and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin have struck an informal deal to avoid a government shutdown at the end of September, NBC News reported last week. But the arrangement involves supporting the continuation of funding levels for existing programs, without any potential controversial changes.
Last month, Trump signed four executive orders for coronavirus economic relief in an effort to work around Congress.
The president spoke for roughly an hour Monday, standing outside the North Portico of the White House for what he billed as a "Labor Day News Conference" in a tweet but often sounded more like a speech delivered at one of his campaign rallies. He touched on a litany of topics, including China and the trade deals Trump has said hurt American workers, while repeatedly taking aim at Biden, at one point calling him "a stupid person."
Asked about The Washington Post's report alleging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy pressured employees at his logistics firm to make donations to Republicans that were later reimbursed through bonuses, Trump said he would support an investigation into the matter and that if DeJoy was shown to have committed any illegalities, he should be fired.
"Yeah, if something can be proven, always," Trump said.
The president also continued to push back on an Atlantic report that said he called dead U.S. service members "losers" and "suckers" in 2018, saying that only an "animal" would make such remarks. When asked if he understood why some people had difficulty believing his denial, based on previous public remarks in which he called the Republican Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, a "loser" and that he liked "people who weren't captured," Trump said: "No, I don't understand that."
"No, I don't understand it at all because I've always been on the opposite side of John McCain," he said.
Trump claimed near the conclusion of his remarks that "sophisticated" friends of his told him "you have to be the most innocent guy ever to hold this office."
Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, held a Labor Day event in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where he was joined by Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia and construction workers.
“I can't think of a better place to be on an American holiday where we celebrate America's tradition of hard work and the American dream," Pence said.
Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, also hit the campaign trail Monday with events designed to honor the organized labor movement. Harris made a physical stop in Milwaukee, where she toured an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers facility before participating in a roundtable with Black business owners, while the former vice president participated in a roundtable with labor leaders in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, ahead of an event at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Harrisburg.
Back at the White House, Trump said that Labor Day was the perfect time to discuss trade relations with China and other nations.
"And I talk about it because today’s Labor Day," Trump said. "It’s a good time to talk about when we’re getting ripped off by countries, but nobody’s even close to China."