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McConnell, Schumer trade accusations as clock ticks on unemployment benefits

Senate leaders traded shots at one another on Thursday with negotiations going nowhere on a coronavirus relief package and additional unemployment benefits for millions of people set to expire on Friday. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell: COVID-19 relief will be added to omnibus spending package Overnight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden MORE (D-N.Y.), speaking back-to-back on the Senate floor, described the talks with administration officials as largely stalled. 

McConnell blamed House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Houston will send residents checks of up to ,200 for pandemic relief MORE (D-Calif.) and Schumer, who he said had forbidden rank-and-file Democrats from negotiating with Republicans. 

"Either our Democratic colleagues come to the table or the American people won't get the help they need," McConnell said. "The House Speaker moves the goalposts while the Democratic leader hides the football. They won't engage when the administration tries to discuss our comprehensive plan. They won't engage when the administration floats a narrower proposal."

"They basically won't engage, period," he said.

Schumer compared trying to strike a deal with the administration as "trying to nail jello to the wall."

"It's clear that Senate Republicans don't have a unified position on anything. ... Who's holding things up? Who's standing in the way? Leader McConnell and his Republican caucus [are] certainly at the top of the list. And President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE is all over the lot. .... The president seems to endorse a different policy every time he finds a microphone," Schumer said.

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Overnight Health Care: CDC panel recommends who gets vaccine first | McConnell offering new relief bill | Hahn downplays White House meeting on vaccines MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Overnight Health Care: CDC panel recommends who gets vaccine first | McConnell offering new relief bill | Hahn downplays White House meeting on vaccines On The Money: McConnell offering new coronavirus relief bill | Biden introduces economic team, vows swift action on relief | Rare Mnuchin-Powell spat takes center stage at COVID-19 hearing MORE have met with Schumer and Pelosi three times this week, and are expected to meet again on Thursday. But Meadows and Mnuchin both described them as being "far away" and "nowhere near" an agreement.

Though Mnuchin said there were areas of potential agreement like Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding, schools and aid for community banks, he and Meadows also ticked off significant provisions where they say they are deeply divided with Democrats, including on unemployment insurance, liability protections from coronavirus lawsuits and aid to state and local governments.

The administration, and a growing number of Senate Republicans, have floated either doing a short-term extension of the unemployment benefits — something rejected by Democrats — or a smaller deal, though GOP senators have acknowledged there is not even cohesion among Republican senators about what would be included in such a bill.

"We are still very far apart on a lot of issues," Mnuchin told reporters after the latest round of talks. "I do think there's a subset of issues that we do agree on, but overall we're far from an agreement."