McConnell to Support White House-Democrats Deal, If One Can be Struck

August 5, 2020by Jennifer Shutt and Lindsey McPherson, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
In this file photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media after weekly policy luncheons on Capitol Hill July 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. The GOP coronavirus relief bill would erect almost insurmountable obstacles to lawsuits by workers who become infected with the coronavirus at their workplaces. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he’d support whatever agreement the Trump administration and congressional Democrats reach on a coronavirus relief package, even if he has “some problems with certain parts of it.”

The Kentucky Republican, who is up for reelection in November, said his definition of success in the stalled negotiations would be a package “that will actually make a difference” including liability protections for businesses, doctors and schools; money for testing, vaccines and other health care needs; more funds for Paycheck Protection Program loans; and money to help schools reopen this fall.

If the final bill renews a $600 weekly federal boost for unemployment benefits that expired last week — a top priority for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer — McConnell said it’s likely many Republicans vote against the proposal.

“I think I’m pretty safe to say that there are plenty of Republicans in the Senate who may not vote for a package if that’s where it ends up,” McConnell said following a closed-door lunch with Senate Republicans, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Meadows and Mnuchin were meeting with Pelosi and Schumer again Tuesday afternoon, another in a series of near-daily meetings since last week that haven’t yet borne fruit. The quartet and key staff plan to continue meeting daily until they reach a deal.

Mnuchin is expected to put forward a few proposals during the Tuesday afternoon meeting that Meadows hopes will be met with “enthusiasm,” though he conceded the sides are “a long ways away from striking any kind of a deal.”

Both White House negotiators said if Democrats continue to object to their offers they’ll urge Trump to provide some relief through executive action.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., believes the two sides are getting close to agreement on some of the big areas that are directly related to COVID-19, including funding for vaccine development and distribution, education funding, child care and testing.

“On the areas … that come first to mind when you deal with most of this, we’re pretty close. But not on the areas that don’t relate to COVID,” Blunt said. “We’re not close on their views of helping the state and local governments, but that’s the kind of thing that I think there’s some negotiating space on.”

House Democrats included more than $900 billion in direct aid to states and localities in their bill that passed in May; Senate Republicans didn’t include any additional funds, arguing only a portion of the initial $150 billion appropriated in late March has been spent.

If the impasse continues into next week, several senators have called for that chamber to stay in session instead of leaving Washington for the August recess.

“How do you think it looks for us to be back home when this is unresolved? This is the most important thing we need to be doing,” said Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., didn’t see remaining in Washington next week as making much of a difference. “I don’t know that we’d get much done other than be here and pound on each other,” he said.

The House is not in session this week and is not planning to return until there is a bipartisan deal for lawmakers to vote on.

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio told reporters he’s frustrated talks haven’t moved beyond what he characterized as Democrats trying to demonstrate their firmer negotiating hand.

“I predict that as long as the Democrats believe they can win a (public relations) war on inaction and have it blamed on Republicans, they’re not going to be willing to move,” he said.

Rubio expects GOP senators will go to the floor later this week to request unanimous consent to pass various proposals to show the party is trying to do something, though he would prefer the chamber vote on a bill that can actually pass.

Cramer said he expects Republicans to continue seeking consent for various coronavirus-related provisions to try to force Democrats to speed up negotiations.

“I think there’s a sense that going on offense late last week is helping, in forcing Democrats to object to unanimous consent bills to extend unemployment insurance,” he said. “And you know you wonder how long you do that.”

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Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.

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©2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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