WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded 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, R-Ky., told reporters in the Capitol. “But the American people in the end need help.”
Negotiations between congressional leaders and the White House over another round of aid that could top $1 trillion continue to crawl forward, with sticking points like whether to extend the expanded unemployment benefits that expired last month.
Democrats are eager to restore the jobless payments, but Republicans have remained divided over how large they should be, as well as the level of deficit spending the federal government should undertake to finance them.
“If you’re looking for total consensus among Republican senators, you’re not going to find it,” McConnell said after a lunch meeting with Republican senators. “We do have division about what to do.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were at the Capitol to attend the lunch and to meet separately with Democratic leaders.
While President Donald Trump has largely remained on the sidelines, his endorsement of a deal would likely help win over some Republican votes. Trump endorsed extending the $600-a-week jobless benefit Tuesday in an interview with Gray TV.
“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 said he expected that such a deal would be “something I’m prepared to support, even if I have some problems with certain parts of it.”
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., indicated that 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,” Blunt said. “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 child care, hopefully on vaccine. We’re pretty close.”
The sticking point continues to be unemployment payments, with Democrats holding firm on their insistence that the payments continue.
Many Republicans say they hope to lower the payments to ensure that people aren’t making more money staying home than they did 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.