McConnell cancels Senate break over coronavirus
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Thursday that the Senate will cancel next week’s recess to stay in town to craft coronavirus legislation.
The decision comes after growing calls from within the GOP caucus to cancel the upcoming break. Senators had been scheduled to leave town for a weeklong recess as soon as Thursday afternoon.
“Notwithstanding the scheduled state work period, the Senate will be in session next week. I am glad talks are ongoing between the Administration and Speaker Pelosi,” McConnell tweeted.
Notwithstanding the scheduled state work period, the Senate will be in session next week. I am glad talks are ongoing between the Administration and Speaker Pelosi. I hope Congress can pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus and keep our economy strong.
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) March 12, 2020
The Senate is still leaving on Thursday for their normal three-day break. But instead of taking off until March 23, senators will now return on Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) knocked McConnell for letting senators go home at all.
“The Speaker is still negotiating with [Treasury Secretary Steven] Mnuchin. The House hasn’t even sent a bill over and Leader McConnell sends everybody home during a crisis. That is so wrong,” he told reporters.
By returning next week, GOP senators are hoping they will be able to quickly pass the House bill — if Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gets an eleventh hour deal with the White House — or propose potential changes to what Democrats send over.
“Hopefully if the White House and the House are largely in agreement we can either work out the differences or not. And if they’re completely in agreement, my guess is we’ll deal with that bill pretty early next week,” Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, added that he thought the Senate returning to work next week could help calm a jittery stock market.
“I think that there will be … some things that the administration will do on their own. But the fact that the Senate is going to be became next week and not go into recess I think, I would suspect some calm and reassurance,” Thune said as he left the Capitol for the weekend.
The Senate’s departure, and decision to return, comes as Pelosi has been negotiating language in the House coronavirus package with Mnuchin. Their fourth call of the day happened around 2:30 p.m., according to a spokesman.
“Third call of the day with the Secretary started at 11:26 a.m. Language discussions are continuing,” a spokesman for Pelosi tweeted earlier Thursday.
Senate Republicans have largely sidelined themselves in the current negotiations, deferring to Mnuchin. If the White House signs off on a deal, it’s expected that McConnell and most Senate Republicans would quickly pass it.
Even as Republicans are largely in a wait-and-see mode they were under pressure to stay in Washington, despite growing anxiety about preventing the spread of the coronavirus in the Capitol
Several members of GOP leadership had emerged from McConnell’s office earlier in the afternoon and said they were considering nixing the break.
“I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican.
McConnell has faced mounting calls from within his conference to work out a deal amid widespread concerns over the virus and the markets tumbling.
“Due to the need to work on additional efforts to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate should cancel its recess and remain in session next week,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) tweeted.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) added that “Congress needs to cancel its recess and stay in session so we can work together in a bipartisan fashion to address the coronavirus pandemic.”
GOP Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) had also called for the Senate to stay in town.
“The Senate ought to keep working on the people’s business — both addressing the obvious deficiencies in our diagnostic testing pipeline, and debating the President’s call last night for economic legislation. The Senate has work to do, let’s get to it,” Sasse said in a statement.
Updated at 3:47 p.m.