WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his fellow Republican members in a closed-door meeting Tuesday that he is “encouraging” the White House to wait until after the November 3 election to reach an agreement on a Covid-19 relief package with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to three sources familiar with the conversation.
McConnell was responding to a question from a GOP senator facing re-election who pressed the need to go home to campaign after next Monday’s full Senate vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
The Majority Leader indicated that he agreed that Republican members need to campaign, and that the unknown of a package is too unpredictable so close to Election Day. He added that the final price tag, policy specifics and timing of any potential deal are still far from clear.
Shortly after his private comments, McConnell told reporters that if there is a deal struck in the ongoing negotiations between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, he would bring that bill to the floor of the Senate, but he suggested too many steps remain and he didn’t indicate a timeline.
“If a deal is announced, then it would have to be written, and people will have a chance to take a look at it, then it will have to clear the House, and if all of that occurs, then of course, we would consider it in the Senate,” McConnell said.
The Republican conference is divided on their support for a large Covid-19 relief bill. McConnell is putting forward a much smaller $500 billion measure that the Senate will vote for on Wednesday. It’s a similar measure to the one that failed in September and is expected to fail again.
On the other side of the Capitol, Mnuchin and Pelosi continued negotiations on the outstanding issues in a bill that could total $1.8 trillion or greater after months of back-and-forth.
“Their conversation provided more clarity and common ground as they move closer to an agreement,” Pelosi’s Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hammill tweeted after a 45-minute phone call between the two, adding that both sides are “serious about a compromise.”
Democrats were quick to pounce on McConnell’s leaked comments from the lunch, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying, “whatever the reason, it is abundantly clear that what the Republican leader is offering this week is a stunt, designed to look real but designed to fail.”
Many Republicans on Tuesday, pressed by reporters about their willingness to support the bill being discussed by Pelosi and Mnuchin, said they would have to see what’s in the legislation before they can comment. But others were upfront with their disapproval. “I think it’s very unlikely that a number of that level would make it through the Senate, and I don’t support something of that level,” Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said.
Still, President Donald Trump continues to suggest that he could convince Senate Republicans to go along with a pricey relief bill, telling Fox News on Tuesday that “not every Republican agrees with me, but they will.”
Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said on Monday it would “be hard” to find just 13 members of his party to go along with a potential deal struck by Pelosi and Mnuchin — even with the President’s backing.
“I’m not sure that there would be” enough Republican support for a bigger bill, Senator Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told reporters.