Coronavirus package hits roadblocks amid GOP opposition

The House-passed coronavirus package is quickly running into roadblocks, throwing into question the bill’s timeline for reaching President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools MORE’s desk.

House lawmakers passed the bipartisan deal early Saturday morning after around-the-clock negotiations between Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Trump signs T coronavirus relief package Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing MORE and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — US coronavirus cases hit 100,000 | Trump signs T stimulus package | Trump employs defense powers to force GM to make ventilators | New concerns over virus testing Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike MORE (D-Calif.) and a late endorsement from Trump.

But that’s done little to guarantee its smooth path to the White House as it faces eleventh-hour fixes and opposition from some Republican senators, either of which could complicate and slow the bill’s arrival and passage in the Senate.


The challenges facing the House bill are twofold. First, House Democratic leadership and the Trump administration had to iron out technical changes to the legislation. They had hoped to clear them in the House on Monday but as of 7 p.m. were still waiting.

With the House out of town, and its return date uncertain, any agreement will need to clear that chamber by consent, something it’s not clear leadership has at the moment.

Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertLysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House The Hill's 12:30 Report: What we know about T stimulus deal Democrats eye remote voting options MORE (R-Texas) wants a series of technical corrections to the House-passed bill to be read on the House floor before he will let it move to the upper chamber, according to House aides representing both parties.

"He's concerned and wants all of the changes to be made public before the vote," one GOP aide with knowledge of the situation told The Hill.

If Gohmert isn’t satisfied, he could stall the revamped House coronavirus bill until Pelosi is able to bring the chamber back to Washington to vote a second time.

“I cannot in good conscience give my consent to something that has not been finished or made available to members of Congress before it is up for a vote,” Gohmert told CNN about the holdup.


The measure, which passed 363-40 on Saturday, includes provisions that would ensure some workers can take paid sick or family leave, bolster unemployment insurance, and guarantee that all Americans can get free diagnostic testing for the coronavirus.

One potential hurdle was resolved Monday when Senate GOP leaders cut a deal with privacy hawks to extend three USA Freedom Act provisions for 77 days and allow for a handful of amendment votes once they take up the deal that passed the House last week.

The Senate had been expected to take up the House bill, which pairs an extension of the intelligence programs with some changes to the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). 

Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Trump signs T coronavirus relief package Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing MORE (R-Ky.) announced minutes before the vote that they had cut a deal. Without the agreement, opponents to the House bill could have dragged out the Senate’s debate until near the end of the week.

“We’re working on trying to process both of these measures. Those discussions have been underway over the weekend, and we’re hoping to move with dispatch on both the House-passed bill, once we get it, and some way to move forward with the FISA issue as well,” McConnell told reporters.

Senators in both parties had urged leadership to agree to a short-term extension so they can focus on the coronavirus package.

“The FISA program can also be extended with Senator [Mike] Lee’s [R-Utah] proposal for a 45-day extension and future consideration of the House bill with six amendment votes. That could all be done by [unanimous consent] as well. Given this pandemic, time is of the essence and we should not delay,” Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinLegal immigrants at risk of losing status during coronavirus pandemic Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill Senators pen op-ed calling for remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (D-Ill.) said in a statement.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Coronavirus deal includes funds for mail-in voting | Twitter pulled into fight over virus disinformation | State AGs target price gouging | Apple to donate 10M masks Senator sounds alarm on cyber threats to internet connectivity during coronavirus crisis Senator calls for cybersecurity review at health agencies after hacking incident MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, indicated that he could support a short-term extension.

“If the alternative is staying dark, I’ll take an extension,” Warner said. 

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyCruise lines excluded from Senate's trillion stimulus bill 7 things to know about the coronavirus stimulus package Five sticking points to a T coronavirus deal MORE (R-Mo.) added that the FISA program needs broader reviews and that the Senate should instead pivot to the coronavirus legislation.

“FISA needs to be carefully reviewed. That takes time. That can wait. The emergency response to #coronavirus should be the first order of business in the Senate tomorrow. There is no reason for this to take days & days,” Hawley tweeted on Sunday.

But the bigger hurdle for McConnell could be calls from within his own conference to make changes to the House-passed coronavirus package. Any amendments would bounce the bill back to the House, which left town on Saturday. House leadership told members on Monday that they should not expect to return to Washington on March 23, indicating they will stay out of town until a third coronavirus deal is reached.


But several GOP senators say they do not believe the House bill does enough to protect small businesses or provide an influx of cash directly to Americans who could struggle to cover short-term costs as coronavirus concerns have roiled the economy.

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonWhite House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Trump, Dems close in on deal Overnight Defense: Navy hospital ship heading to Los Angeles | Military field hospitals to deploy to New York, Seattle | Pompeo flies to Afghanistan to revive peace process MORE (R-Ark.) told Fox News on Monday that he doesn’t think the House bill will clear the Senate without changes.

“I and a lot of the other senators who I’ve spoken to over the weekend are worried that we’re not doing enough to get cash in the hands of affected workers and families quickly, so we’re going to be focused this week on how to do just that,” Cotton said. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP seeks up to 0 billion to maximize financial help to airlines, other impacted industries Dr. Rand Paul's prescription for combating the coronavirus crisis Senate passes House's coronavirus aid bill, sending it to Trump MORE (R-Wis.) also signaled opposition to the House bill during an interview with a Wisconsin radio station WTMJ on Monday.

“Nancy Pelosi is going to make businesses give paid leave when people aren’t working. The businesses are going to pay for that,” Johnson said.

And Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLessons from the front line — Florida's fight with sea level rise SNAP, airlines among final hurdles to coronavirus stimulus deal Senior State Department official headed to Peru to bring home stranded Americans, Rubio says MORE (R-Fla.) indicated he wants to get additional small-business provisions into the House bill.


Republicans are under pressure to pass legislation quickly. The stock market cratered on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping nearly 3,000 points.

But Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCoronavirus in Congress: Lawmakers who have tested positive Pennsylvania congressman tests positive for coronavirus South Carolina congressman tests positive for coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) said he wants a vote on an amendment to pay for the House-passed package.

“If they allow us an amendment, we’ll allow them to do it more quickly,” he said.

Democrats have spent days hammering McConnell for letting the Senate leave Washington late last week before waiting to see if House Democrats and Mnuchin would be able to strike a deal.

McConnell, in an apparent bid to tamp down the calls for changes, stressed in a statement and again on the floor Monday that the second coronavirus package would not be the last legislative action taken by the Senate.

“Senate Republicans are absolutely convinced that the House’s bill can only be the beginning of Congress’s efforts to secure our economy and support American families,” he said. I’ve spoken with countless colleagues and committee chairmen over the last several days.”


Trump appeared to add new fuel to calls for the Senate to make changes instead of waiting until the third legislative package. He told reporters during a press conference Monday that the bill might need to go back to the House.

Senate Republicans, Trump said, “may make” the House bill “even better.”

“We may go back and forth with the House a little bit,” he said.