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 TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE’s desk.

House lawmakers passed the bipartisan deal early Saturday morning after around-the-clock negotiations between Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer MORE and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries On The Money: Biden issues targeted eviction moratorium | GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal 'The Squad' celebrates Biden eviction moratorium 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 GohmertPress: Inmates have taken over the asylum Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness 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 McConnellOvernight Health Care: Florida becomes epicenter of COVID-19 surge | NYC to require vaccination for indoor activities | Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates McConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal Top House Democrat says party would lose elections if they were held today: report 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 DurbinDick DurbinMcConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal Congress should butt out of Supreme Court's business Inmates grapple with uncertainty over Biden prison plan MORE (D-Ill.) said in a statement.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response One officer dead after violent incident outside Pentagon Bipartisan bill would create NSC position to oversee 'Havana syndrome' response 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 HawleyOvernight Defense: Biden administration expands Afghan refugee program | Culture war comes for female draft registration | US launches third Somalia strike in recent weeks Up next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 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 CottonTom Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Biden administration expands Afghan refugee program | Culture war comes for female draft registration | US launches third Somalia strike in recent weeks Up next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Chuck Todd is dead wrong: Liberal bias defines modern journalism 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 Johnson Johnson suggests FBI knew more about Jan. 6 planning than has been revealed: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions Ron Johnson praises conservative author bashed by Fauci 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 RubioRubio presses DNI to investigate alleged unmasking of Tucker Carlson Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal Break glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change 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 PaulFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election Hillicon Valley: Senate report finds major cyber shortcomings in federal agencies | Gig firms seek Mass. ballot question to classify workers as contractors | Blizzard's president steps down after workplace protests 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.