House

Blame game heats up as Senate motion fails

The finger-pointing on Capitol Hill reached a fever pitch Sunday evening, as both sides rushed to blame the other after a Senate motion to move a mammoth coronavirus relief bill failed on the chamber floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) quickly took to the floor to hammer Democratic leaders, particularly Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), for what he characterized as petty obstruction that ignores the urgency of the crisis.

“We were doing a good job of coming together until this morning, when the Speaker showed up — we don’t have a Speaker in the Senate, that’s in the House — and when the leader [Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)] and the Speaker came in [they] blew everything up,” an agitated McConnell, his face flushed, said walking off the Senate floor.

Democrats quickly countered with accusations that it was McConnell who had abandoned the negotiations the night before, when the Senate leader announced that Republicans would begin drafting the massive stimulus package before Democrats had endorsed it.

“There was a good spirit of negotiation into early last night. And right about 8 o’clock, our side sensed a sort of change in attitude, an unwillingness to give and negotiate, for reasons we don’t fully understand,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

The tense back-and-forth came moments after Democrats blocked a procedural motion to advance Congress’s third round of emergency relief — a package approaching $2 trillion — in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated markets, sparked mass layoffs and ravaged businesses large and small across the country.

Democrats have raised a long list of objections to Republicans’ proposal, saying the bill does too little to protect the unemployed, feed the hungry, subsidize states and cushion students facing mounds of debt. They’re also up in arms over language to provide up to $500 billion in loans and guarantees for corporations, at the sole discretion of the administration.

“It amounts to a blank check for Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told MSNBC Sunday night. “That’s outrageous, and that’s not going to happen.”

Senate Democrats united to block the bill — a 47 to 47 vote — which fell far short of the 60 votes Republicans needed to advance the package.

The absences within the 100-member Senate reflected the grim new reality as lawmakers scramble to infuse the sinking economy with federal dollars: Five senators are under quarantine as the debate evolves, four of them as a precautionary measure and the fifth, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), because he’s contracted the virus.

McConnell quickly reversed his vote, allowing him to revisit the measure quickly if negotiators, who continued their talks Sunday evening, break the impasse. But he wasted no time accusing Democrats of exacerbating both the economic damage and the public health threat in the meantime.

“I want everybody to understand who’s responsible for slowing this down,” he told a handful of reporters. “And we’d better get an outcome, we better get it by tomorrow, or the American people are going to know who to blame.”

Democrats lashed back, accusing McConnell and Republicans of pushing a partisan bill that leans lopsidedly toward corporations over small businesses and the low- and middle-income workers who are most immediately affected.

“He knows darn well that for this bill to pass, it needs both Democratic and Republican support,” Schumer said on the floor after the vote.

A Democratic aide later piled on.

“In the midst of a pandemic, Senator McConnell’s partisan stunt today was a real disservice to the American people,” the aide said. “Democrats sat and met with Republicans in good faith over the weekend trying to hammer out a real bipartisan compromise, only to see all that work scrapped and replaced with a $500 billion slush fund with no accountability, no money for states, and no real help for hospitals.”

The debate is reaching a crucial point after several days of negotiations between Senate leaders, committee heads and White House officials in search of a breakthrough on the nearly $2 trillion package. The number of coronavirus cases in the United States topped 33,000 on Sunday, while the number of deaths rose to 417, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. And a growing number of businesses have been forced to shut their doors, prompting a spike in jobless claims and rampant fears about the ultimate economic toll.

While the House has been on recess for more than a week, Pelosi has been working closely with Schumer as the talks have progressed, and she joined the discussion directly — along with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — at a meeting in McConnell’s office Sunday morning.

It didn’t go well.

After roughly an hour, Pelosi left the gathering and told reporters that the sides remained far apart, and House Democrats would forge ahead with previous plans to introduce their own stimulus legislation.

“Hopefully it will be compatible with what they discuss on the Senate side,” she said.

Still, there were glimmers of hope that all sides could reach a deal by Monday, perhaps eliminating the need for Pelosi to reconvene the House amid growing lawmaker concerns about public travel and mass gatherings.

“We just need to come back and find that spirit that existed before 8 o’clock last night,” Carper said. “If we could find common ground [on the first two bills], and just use that spirit of consultation and cooperation, we’ll get through this.”

Having a Senate colleague test positive for the virus has only fueled the urgency to get it done.

“I do think this diagnosis today, that Sen. Rand Paul has tested positive, is going to have an impact on how many senators are willing to stay here all night, all weekend, all next week and hammer out the details of this bill,” Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) told MSNBC.

Jordain Carney contributed.

Tags Charles Schumer Chris Coons Chris Van Hollen Christopher Coons Donald Trump Kevin McCarthy Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Rand Paul Tom Carper
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