Coronavirus Report

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 McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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 Pelosi (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 Trump is all over the lot. …. The president seems to endorse a different policy every time he finds a microphone,” Schumer said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows 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.”

Tags Charles Schumer Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Mark Meadows Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Steven Mnuchin Unemployment
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