Senate Dems block Republicans’ narrow Covid relief plan

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said this week he would hold a vote on a package, but did not specify when. McConnell has been primarily focused on confirming Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the high court before the election.

McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) traded jabs ahead of the vote, with McConnell accusing Democrats of doing Pelosi’s bidding, and Schumer arguing that Republicans only care about confirming Barrett.

“If this relief does not pass, it will be because Senate Democrats chose to do Speaker Pelosi’s political dirty work rather than stand up for struggling people,” McConnell said.

“The games continue today,” Schumer said. “The Republican majority will bring up a bill designed to fail, their partisan, emaciated Covid relief bill. The bill we’re voting on today has already failed in the Senate, didn’t get a Democratic vote and we already know it lacks the votes.”

The GOP proposal provides $300 in weekly boosted federal unemployment benefits through the end of December, $100 billion for reopening schools, as well as money for testing and vaccines. The proposal also includes liability protections for schools and businesses, a key priority for McConnell that Democrats oppose.

Democrats are also seeking more money for unemployment benefits, hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to state and cities and another round of stimulus checks to individuals, among other provisions.

With Nov. 3 fast approaching, a coronavirus relief deal coming together before the election is looking increasingly unlikely. While Mnuchin and Pelosi are pressing forward with talks on a broader package, most Senate Republicans are not expected to support the $1.8 trillion price tag the White House is proposing. And McConnell told members at a lunch Tuesday that he discouraged the White House from a large stimulus deal ahead of the election that would further divide the GOP caucus.

But President Donald Trump is betting that he can persuade the GOP caucus to go along with a stimulus package if Pelosi and Mnuchin manage to reach an agreement. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday morning on Fox Business that he remains “optimistic” about reaching a deal in the next 48 hours and planned to speak with Senate Republicans about supporting it. He added that the biggest issue remains state and local aid.

“I can tell you that the negotiations have entered a new phase, which is more on the technical side of trying to get the language right, if we can agree upon the numbers,” Meadows said. “We’re still apart. Still a number of issues to work on. But the last 24 hours have moved the ball down the field.”

His comments come as millions remain unemployed and the death toll from the virus has exceeded 220,000.

Pelosi said Wednesday on MSNBC she was hopeful about reaching an agreement, but also suggested that a pact might not be reached before Nov. 3.

“I’m optimistic, because even with what Mitch McConnell says, ‘we don’t want to do it before the election,’ but let’s keep working so that we can do it after the election,” Pelosi said.

“We want it before, but again I want people to know help is on the way,” she said.

Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.

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