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For Americans waiting on aid amid the ongoing pandemic, no new relief in sight

WASHINGTON (AP) — With talks on emergency coronavirus aid having stalled out, both sides played the blame game Thursday rather than make any serious moves to try to break their stalemate. Official Washington is emptying, national politics is consuming the airwaves and the chasm between the warring sides appears too great for now.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed the case for funding for the U.S. Postal Service, rental assistance, food aid and rapid testing for the virus at her weekly press event, blasting Republicans as not giving a damn and declaring flatly that “people will die” if the delay grinds into September.

“Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gave a damn,” Pelosi said when asked if she should accept a smaller COVID-19 rescue package rather than endure weeks of possible gridlock. “That isn’t the case.”

All of the chief combatants have exited Washington after a several-day display of staying put as to not get blamed for abandoning the talks. The political risk for President Donald Trump is continued pain in U.S. households and a struggling economy — both of which promise to hurt him in the September campaign. For Democrats, there is genuine disappointment at being unable to deliver a deal but apparent comfort in holding firm for a sweeping measure instead of the few pieces that Trump wants most.

A modest Trump administration overture on Wednesday generated nothing but stepped-up carping and accusations of bad faith.

“It’s a stalemate,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Thursday.

Across a nearly empty Capitol, the Senate’s top Republican sought to cast the blame on Pelosi, whose ambitious demands have frustrated administration negotiators like White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

“They are still rejecting any more relief for anyone unless they get a flood of demands with no real relationship to COVID-19,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell has kept the talks at arm’s length, nursing deep divisions among Republicans on the topic — and assorted pieces — of the foundering relief measure.

The White House and congressional leaders are far apart on the size, scope and approach of aid for shoring up households, reopening schools and launching a national strategy to contain the virus, which has infected more than 5.2 million people in the United States and has killed at least 166,000, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Trump’s top negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, tried to revive stalled talks Wednesday, but Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer dismissed the overture, saying the Trump administration was still refusing to meet them halfway. Congressional Republicans are largely sitting out the talks.

With the House and Senate essentially closed, and lawmakers on call to return with 24 hours’ notice, hopes for a swift compromise have dwindled. All indications are talks will not resume in full until Congress resumes in September, despite the mounting coronavirus death toll.

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