WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded on Tuesday that he will lack Republican support to pass further coronavirus aid and instead will rely on Democrats to fashion a deal with the White House.
“It’s not going to produce a kumbaya moment,” McConnell told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday. “But the American people in the end need help.”
Negotiations continue to crawl forward between congressional leaders and the White House over another round of aid that could top $1 trillion, with sticking points including the question of whether to extend expanded unemployment benefits that expired last month.
Democrats are eager to restore the expired jobless payments, but Republicans have remained divided over how large the payments should be as well as the level of deficit spending the federal government should undertake to finance the cost.
“If you’re looking for total consensus among Republican senators, you’re not going to find it,” McConnell said after a lunch meeting with GOP senators. “We do have division about what to do.”
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Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were at the Capitol on Tuesday to attend the lunch with Republican senators and meet separately with Democratic leaders. While Trump has largely remained on the sidelines, his endorsement of a deal would likely help to win over some Republican votes.
“What we’re hoping for here is a bipartisan proposal negotiated by the President of the United States and his team that can sign a bill into law and the Democratic majority in the House that can appeal to a significant percentage of Republicans in the House and the Senate,” McConnell said. He added that he expected such a deal would be “something I’m prepared to support, even if I have some problems with certain parts of it.”
Trump on Tuesday endorsed extending the $600-a-week jobless benefit in an interview with Gray TV.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated he sees progress, and that he would look to take advantage of the need for Democratic votes to pass any legislation.
“We’re still far away on a lot of the important issues, but we’re continuing to go at it,” Schumer said after meeting with Mnuchin and Meadows, describing the issue-by-issue discussion as “slogging through it.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., dismissed reports that Meadows was exploring having the president sign executive orders to usurp the negotiations in Congress.
“I think the public view has been that there’s not much, a lot of discussion but not much real negotiating going on now,” said Blunt. “There are enough areas of agreement, I think, on testing, we’re close on schools, in reality we would be close if they wanted to be close on childcare, hopefully on vaccine. We’re pretty close.”
The sticking point continues to be on unemployment payments, with Democrats holding firm on insistence that the payments continue.
Many Republicans say they are hoping to see the payments lowered to ensure people aren’t making more money staying home than they did previously at their jobs. But the most common proposal, paying the jobless no more than 70 percent of what they were previously making, may be impossible because some states lack the computer systems to determine the payments.
“On the unemployment issues, we all know it needs to be solved,” McConnell said.