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Pelosi and McConnell hurtling toward coronavirus relief showdown – POLITICO

A few hours later Wednesday, Pelosi sought to claim an initial victory by arguing Republicans have significantly shifted their thinking since calling for a “pause” when the House passed its bill in May. But the California Democrat also made clear what McConnell is proposing right now isn’t nearly good enough.

“There’s a recognition that there’s going to be a bill,” Pelosi told reporters. “They went from zero to now $1.3 [trillion]. That’s not enough, we need more. But we see the public evolution of their thinking.”

Pelosi said Democrats’ behemoth bill largely doesn’t need to be adjusted, even as coronavirus cases have skyrocketed in a majority of states over the last month. But Democrats might make a push for extra education money in current talks as President Donald Trump continues to demand schools reopen in the fall.

“We put our marker on the table. It’s very disciplined, it’s nothing more than we need,” Pelosi said. “Although, I must say we may need more for education now that the president is making the demand that he is making.”

While Congress has already pumped more than $2.5 trillion in coronavirus relief into the economy via four bills — including a giant $2 trillion rescue package in March — McConnell has acknowledged that another bipartisan deal will be harder to reach given the political climate.

With 111 days until the election, McConnell must govern a divided caucus, with a number of Senate Republicans shunning additional government spending while vulnerable members up in 2020 are pleading to get something done before the August recess.

Both parties know that the forthcoming coronavirus package is likely to be the last before the November election, increasing pressure to squeeze in demands before going home to campaign amid a pandemic-induced recession.

“If McConnell has any hope of hanging onto his majority, he’s got to show leadership and responsiveness and he can’t do that by writing a Republican only bill,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) “We’re going to have to find bipartisan answers to these issues.”

Senate Democrats have spent weeks criticizing McConnell for not acting sooner. During a caucus call this week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told members that there’s been no outreach yet from McConnell and insisted that Senate Democrats will only negotiate if House Democrats are involved, according to a source on the call.

“Senator McConnell ought to be working across the aisle to prevent mass evictions, a new hunger crisis, and the layoff of more essential state and local government employees — all things that will happen if Republicans continue to delay action or act stingily,” Schumer warned in a statement to POLITICO.

One Senate Republican aide seemed stunned that his own party was blocking more coronavirus relief spending just over 100 days from an election where the majority is clearly in jeopardy and the economy is weak.

“It’s usually the minority that is blocking bills before an election, not the majority,” complained the aide. “It’s like they’re offering us cake, but we say, ‘No, we want the broccoli.’”

But Senate GOP leaders argue that much of the money allocated in the March CARES Act has yet to be spent and they want the next package to be more targeted.

While McConnell has told colleagues he wants to keep the price tag for the package at around $1 trillion, some in his caucus are open to spending more if needed.

In an interview, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted that the next package would “probably not” be as large as the $2 trillion CARES package. But Graham added that he wants to “go big” and consider proposals like infrastructure or a payroll tax cut, both of which appear to have limited support in the GOP caucus.

“What’s different with Phase 4 and Phase 3? Phase 4 needs to be about jumpstarting the economy, building on the momentum of going back to work,” Graham said. “Phase 3 was a rescue package, Phase 4 needs to be a stimulus package.”

In a sign of the difficulties facing Congress, lawmakers can’t even agree what round of relief they are currently negotiating. Some classify the last $484 billion relief bill passed in April as only an “interim” measure and describe the current talks as “phase 4.” Other members refer to this round as “phase 5” because it will be the fifth coronavirus-focused bill.

Among the key sticking points will be addressing the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits in the March CARES Act. Democrats want to see those benefits extended and are suggesting tying unemployment benefits to economic conditions. Senate Republicans, however, say the increase in unemployment benefits provide a disincentive for people to return to work.

A potential compromise could center around “return to work” incentives. Regardless, the additional benefits for most people are likely to lapse, at least temporarily, before a deal gets struck. While the March law authorizes the extra benefits through the end of the month, the money will effectively stop being paid out on July 25 under the way most state unemployment systems are set up.

House Democrats are also pushing for a boost in food aid, another round of stimulus checks to individuals and nearly $1 trillion in state and local assistance — non-starters for most Senate Republicans.

Adding to the uncertainty is what message the White House will send up to the Hill. Trump is making reopening schools a key focus, even going so far as to suggest that he’d withhold federal funds from schools that failed to reopen — a threat that has outraged Democrats.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said in an interview that he wants to see schools re-open, but he noted “the expenses of school don’t go away because you’re teaching at a distance, as opposed to teaching in a classroom.”

Blunt, who is also working with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on bills to fund the government for the next fiscal year, added that “100 days before a presidential election almost everything is a political sticking point.”



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McConnell Senate

McConnell says Senate ‘not quite ready’ to craft new stimulus: ‘It won’t be a $3 trillion left-wing wish list’ – Fox News

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told “The Story with Martha MacCallum” Thursday that the Senate is “not quite ready to intelligently” lay out the next coronavirus stimulus package, but added “it’s not too far off.”

“The [CARES] Act, which passed a month or so ago on a bipartisan basis, only about half of that money has gone out yet,” McConnell said. “I think there’s a high likelihood we will do another rescue package, but we need to be able to measure the impact of what we’ve already done, what we did right, what we did wrong [and] correct that.

“Let me tell you what it won’t be,” McConnell added. “It won’t be a $3 trillion left-wing wish list as it passed the House.”

STIMULUS CHECKS, STATE AID AND MORE: WHAT’S IN HOUSE DEMOCRATS’ NEW CORONAVIRUS RELIEF BILL

The majority leader went on to say that lawmakers “need to work smart here, help the people who are desperately in need, try to save as many jobs as possible and begin to open up the states, which are decisions by the governors that are going on all over America now and get this economy growing again.”

With that in mind, McConnell said any new stimulus package would not include enhanced unemployment benefits.

“The problem was by paying people more not to work than to work, it’s making it difficult to get people back to work. You can understand that,” McConnell told MacCallum. “We do need to continue unemployment insurance, [it’s] extremely important at a time like this.

“But to pay people more not to work than to work doesn’t encourage resuming your job. And that will end in July. And we think that in order to create jobs, we need to incentivize people to go back to work, not encourage them to stay home.”

The senator also reemphasized the need for businesses to receive liability protections in any future stimulus.

“You’re going to have liability protection in there so that people, or the plaintiffs’ lawyers are prevented from stealing, in effect, all of this public money we’re sending down to hospitals and doctors and non-profits as a result of the coronavirus,” McConnell told MacCallum. “And so that’s one of our red lines, that the next bill will need to have liability protection in there just to cover narrowly cover the coronavirus, not anything else.”

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

McConnell also responded to criticism that such liability provisions would shield nursing homes and care facilities where coronavirus victims died from legal action

“Well, the answer is it wouldn’t protect any nursing home from from a gross negligence or intentional misbehavior [claim],” McConnell said. “So it’s not an absolute protection against any kind of behavior. So those kinds of lawsuits would still lie.”

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McConnell admits he was wrong to say Obama administration failed to leave pandemic playbook – CNN

(CNN)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded Thursday night that he was wrong to claim that the Obama administration had not left behind a plan to deal with a pandemic in the US.

“I was wrong. They did leave behind a plan, so I clearly made a mistake in that regard,” McConnell said during an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier.
The concession comes days after he falsely accused the Obama administration of failing to leave the Trump administration “any kind of game plan” for something like the coronavirus pandemic during a Trump campaign online chat with Lara Trump, the President’s daughter-in-law.
“They claim pandemics only happen once every hundred years but what if that’s no longer true? We want to be early, ready for the next one, because clearly the Obama administration did not leave to this administration any kind of game plan for something like this,” McConnell had said Monday.
In reality, former President Barrack Obama’s White House National Security Council left the Trump administration a detailed document on how to respond to a pandemic.
The document, whose existence was publicly revealed by Politico in March, is called the Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents.
The playbook contains step-by-step advice on questions to ask, decisions to make and which federal agencies are responsible for what. It includes sample documents that officials could use for inter-agency meetings. And it explicitly lists novel coronaviruses as one of the kinds of pathogens that could require a major response.
Additionally, outgoing senior Obama officials also led an in-person pandemic response exercise for senior incoming Trump officials in January 2017 — as required by a new law on improving presidential transitions that Obama signed in 2016.
Last week, Obama described the Trump administration’s coronavirus response as “an absolute chaotic disaster” during a private call with people who worked for him in the White House.
Still, McConnell added Thursday that “as to whether or not the plan was followed and who’s the critic and all the rest, I don’t have any observation about that because I don’t know enough about the details of that to comment on it in any detail.”

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Mitch McConnell: Obama ‘should have kept his mouth shut’ instead of criticizing US coronavirus response – CNN

(CNN)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday slammed former President Barack Obama for criticizing the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic during a private call last week, asserting that he “should have kept his mouth shut.”

“I think it’s a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you,” McConnell told President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, during a Trump campaign live stream. “You had your shot, you were there for eight years. I think the tradition that the Bush’s set up — of not critiquing the president who comes after you — is a good tradition.”
His comments come after Obama described the Trump administration’s coronavirus response “an absolute chaotic disaster” during a private call on Friday with people who worked for him in the White House. The critique marked a rare break in custom for Obama who has occasionally criticized Trump — such as when he ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program and in the wake of the President’s first travel ban executive order.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has had a years-long fixation with Obama that predates his presidential campaign and has repeatedly disparaged his predecessor with unfounded conspiracy theories.
Earlier Monday, the President was asked about one of his Mother’s Day tweets where he seemingly accused Obama of some kind of conspiracy against his administration.
“Obamagate. It’s been going on for a long time,” he claimed at the White House, without offering specifics or evidence. “It’s been going on from before I even got elected, and it’s a disgrace that it happened.”
Speaking specifically about US response to the coronavirus outbreak, Obama said in his call with members of the Obama Alumni Association that the current administration’s actions serve as a critical reminder for why strong government leadership is needed during a global crisis.
The call was intended to encourage former Obama staffers to become more engaged in Biden’s presidential campaign.
“It’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty,” Obama said.
“It would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mindset is operationalized in our government.”
After formally endorsing his former vice president, Joe Biden, last month, Obama said he would be deeply involved in the campaign to help Biden win the White House.

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