'Trump has abandoned them': 1.3 million unemployment claims loom after the president shot down stimulus

'Trump has abandoned them': 1.3 million unemployment claims loom after the president shot down stimulus
President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks during a press conference Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., following the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that resulted in the death of Iranian commander Qassim Soleimani. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Just two days after President Donald Trump abruptly blew up bipartisan coronavirus relief talks, the Labor Department reported Thursday that around 1.3 million additional Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as the U.S. economy continues to falter without the kind of stimulus that experts say is necessary to stem the crisis and relieve widespread hunger, housing insecurity, and joblessness.

"Terribly high numbers of jobless claims point to a slowing recovery, with over 25 million collecting benefits," tweeted Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). "Trump has abandoned them."

The president's sudden decision Tuesday to end coronavirus negotiations via Twitter a day after he departed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center imperiled the prospect that any additional stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, state and local aid, and rental assistance will be approved ahead of next month's presidential election.

In keeping with his erratic behavior since leaving Walter Reed—where he received a powerful cocktail of medications for his coronavirus infection—Trump suggested Thursday morning that relief talks are back on and floated a narrow package that includes relief for the airline industry and another round of stimulus checks, a non-starter for Democratic lawmakers pushing for a much broader relief bill.

The president did not mention unemployment relief for tens of millions of out-of-work Americans.

"I shut down talks two days ago because they weren't working out. Now they're starting to work out," Trump said in an appearance on Fox Business. "We're talking about airlines, and we're talking about a bigger deal than airlines."

But its unclear whether Trump's suggestion that stimulus talks have resumed with a more limited scope will amount to anything substantive, particularly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed the idea of moving any stand-alone relief bills.

"There is not going to be any stand-alone bill unless there is a bigger bill and it can be part of that, or it could be in addition to it," Pelosi told reporters Thursday. Last week, the House passed a $2.2 trillion compromise relief package without the support of a single Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to allow a vote on the measure.

Pointing to Trump's dizzying swings between supporting and opposing an additional stimulus bill, the House Speaker also raised questions about the president's mental and physical condition and vaguely announced that she will be discussing the 25th Amendment on Capitol Hill on Friday.

"The president is, shall we say, in an altered state right now," Pelosi said in an appearance on Bloomberg TV following her press briefing. "I don't know how to answer for that behavior."

With Trump throwing relief negotiations into chaos and sowing doubt that a deal can be reached before Election Day, a staggering number of people across the U.S. continue to face dire economic circumstances without any additional assistance from the federal government. According to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey, nearly 78 million U.S. adults are struggling to afford basic expenses such as food and rent.

"As Trump and his Senate allies prioritize advancing their radical judicial agenda over the ongoing economic and public health crises, millions of Americans remain jobless, families are battling food insecurity, and tens of thousands of small businesses are shutting their doors for good," said Kyle Herrig, president of watchdog group Accountable.US, referring to the GOP's unpopular decision to prioritize the confirmation of right-wing Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

"There should be no greater priority for lawmakers than addressing the worsening pandemic and its unprecedented impact on the economy," Herrig continued. "But it's clear that Trump and his allies' ruthless pursuit of power on the high court comes above all else and at any cost."

In a blog post on Thursday, Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute wrote that it is "terrible economics" to cut off the stimulus talks as mass layoffs continue at an unprecedented rate.

"The extra $600 in weekly [unemployment insurance] benefits was supporting a huge amount of spending by people who, without it, have to make drastic cuts," Shierholz noted. "Cutting off talks also means no additional housing and nutrition assistance, no Covid-related health and safety measures for workers, no aid to the Postal Service during this critical time, and no additional support for virus testing, tracing, and isolation measures, or virus treatment and support for hospitals and other health providers."

"All of these things would have helped our economy and the people in it recover from the Covid crisis," added Shierholz. "Cutting it off is unthinkable at a time like this."

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