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Election scrambles prospects for next COVID-19 relief bill

Election scrambles prospects for next COVID-19 relief bill
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The election results, both known and unknown, have scrambled the prospects for a new coronavirus relief bill after months of negotiations.

With no declared winner in the presidential race and next year's Senate majority likely in limbo until January, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress are preparing for outcomes in which they could gain or lose leverage in any COVID-19 talks.

Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBudowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit DC might win US House vote if it tries Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman inks deal with IMG Models MORE, who leads President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE in the vote counts in four key battleground states, is closing in on the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. Networks have not yet called the race for him, even though many woke up Friday morning with that expectation.

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The winner of the presidential race will have a profound impact on what kind of relief bill gets passed and when.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses McConnell: Power-sharing deal can proceed after Manchin, Sinema back filibuster Budowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit MORE (R-Ky.) said after Election Day that he favors a bill by year’s end.

“I think that’s job one when we get back,” he said. “Hopefully, the partisan passions that prevented us from doing another rescue package will subside with the election.”

But the election, particularly control of the Senate in 2021, might not be known by the end of December. That's because Georgia is likely looking at two Senate runoff races on Jan. 5. If Democrats win both of them, and if Biden wins the presidency, they also take control of the Senate.

If elected, Biden is likely to support a package carrying a price tag opposed by many GOP lawmakers.

But it's unclear whether a deal can be reached during the lame-duck session, and who would be the lead negotiator for Republicans, especially if Trump finds himself continuing to wage legal battles over the election.

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Negotiations so far have taken place between Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOklahoma man who videotaped himself with his feet on desk in Pelosi's office during Capitol riot released on bond House formally sends impeachment to Senate, putting Trump on trial for Capitol riot With another caravan heading North, a closer look at our asylum law MORE (D-Calif.), whose caucus will start next year with fewer members, and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinOn The Money: Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary | Biden says he's open to tighter income limits for stimulus checks | Administration will look to expedite getting Tubman on bill Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary Biden administration will look to expedite getting Tubman on bill MORE.

But White House adviser Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE said Friday that the Trump administration had opened talks with McConnell, not Pelosi, on coronavirus relief.

A spokesman for Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOn The Money: Treasury announces efforts to help people get stimulus payments | Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury | Judge sets ground rules for release of Trump taxes Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury Finance Committee vote on Yellen nomination scheduled for Friday MORE (R-Iowa) said Pelosi had overplayed her hand on negotiations before the election.

“What is clear is that Democrats lost [a lot] of leverage, perceived and real,” the spokesman said.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump, allies raise pressure on Senate GOP ahead of impeachment This week: Senate stuck in limbo Skepticism reigns as Biden, McConnell begin new era MORE (R-Mo.) said Pelosi will now have to give ground on some of her demands.

"Sure she does," Blunt said when asked about whether Pelosi would need to retreat somewhat. "The vast majority of her members also think she has to give some ground here."

Democratic centrists and progressives bashed one another in a Thursday phone call, reeling from the loss of several key House races in an election where they had expected to gain upward of a dozen seats, and adding pressure on Pelosi to hold the group together.

Rep. Brad SchneiderBradley (Brad) Scott SchneiderCapitol insurrection fallout: A PATRIOT Act 2.0? Democrats seize on GOP donor fallout The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (D-Ill.), a centrist who worked on a compromise COVID-19 proposal with the Problem Solvers Caucus last month, brushed off the infighting and said the caucus was still very much in support of a significant deal.

“[Federal Reserve Chairman] Jerome Powell said very clearly and has repeated himself that we can’t go wrong by overshooting, but we can cause serious damage to our economy by not doing enough,” Schneider said.

He suggested that focusing a smaller deal on a shorter time span could be a suitable compromise during the lame-duck.

Pelosi rejected suggestions that she take a more limited deal from Senate Republicans.

“It doesn't appeal to me at all, because they still have not agreed to crush the virus,” she said Friday.

“If we don't crush the virus, we're still going to be dealing with the consequences of the virus," Pelosi added.

But she left the door open to compromise.

"We have a responsibility to find a common ground, stand our ground where we can," she said.

While Pelosi suggested that a Biden win was an “opportunity” for the negotiations, there is significant pressure to get a deal done before January.

The U.S. has set a new daily records for coronavirus cases in the past week, and several key provisions from an early COVID-19 relief bill expired over the summer, with others slated to end before next year.

But Democrats see McConnell’s public embrace of reaching a deal as reason for hope.

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“The difference to me now is that McConnell seems to want to do one,” said a House Democratic aide. “I thought it was pretty telling that the first thing McConnell said the day after the election was the need to do a stimulus package."

Trump, however, is seen as the wildcard in any negotiations.

Before the election, the president had strong incentives to push for a big package to juice the economy, boost the stock market and potentially get stimulus checks with his signature out to voters.

But with the election over and Trump signaling he may not accept defeat, it remains unclear how willing he would be to strike a deal and sign legislation into law.