Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a $1 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Monday, days later than planned thanks to divisions within his own caucus. McConnell acknowledged this “embarrassing setback for the party at a critical moment,” Politico reports, conceding that not all Senate Republicans will vote for his bill, “which is as close to a tell as McConnell gets to admitting his cards aren’t very strong.” Other Senate Republicans were more blunt.
“At the end of the day, [McConnell] has to accept the reality that probably half of our members in the Senate won’t vote for it no matter what’s in it,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who helped negotiate the bill with the White House, told Politico. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in the “no” camp, told reporters “there is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are united behind a $3 trillion package passed under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month. That gives her significant leverage in negotiations, Politico notes, and “her majority is safe in November, something McConnell can’t say.” The White House started negotiating with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on COVID-19 relief Monday evening.
The pressure is building to pass a bill before supplemental federal unemployment benefits expire Friday. McConnell’s bill would cut those benefits to $200 a week, from $600 a week, until states created a complicated formula to ensure unemployed workers get 70 percent of their pre-coronavirus wages. McConnell’s other top priority is a COVID-19 liability shield for companies facing “an epidemic of lawsuits” that has not yet materialized, Politico reports.
McConnell’s bill also includes $1.75 billion for a new FBI headquarters and $29 billion for defense projects, including at least $7 billion for weapons programs. Asked about the FBI building funds Monday, McConnell told reporters they would have to ask the White House “why they insisted that be included.” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said it was a “good question.” Pelosi had an answer: Republicans “didn’t have money for food stamps, but they had money for an FBI building just so that they can diminish competition for the president’s hotel.”
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