McConnell, Senate GOP hit 'pause' on next coronavirus relief bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US This week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic For city parks: Pass the Great American Outdoors Act now MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Republicans are hitting the brakes on another coronavirus relief bill even as House Democrats are preparing to vote on a yet-to-be-unveiled bill as soon as next week.

"I think I can speak for our conference by saying we're not ruling that out, but we think we ought to take a pause here, do a good job of evaluating what we've already done," McConnell told reporters after a closed-door caucus lunch about the prospects for a new bill.

"The Senate Republican majority and the president of the United States are not irrelevant to the process, so we're going to keep talking to each other and decide to act when and if it's appropriate to act again," McConnell added.

ADVERTISEMENT

McConnell's comments come as the Senate returned to D.C. for the first time in five weeks with nominations — not the coronavirus — at the forefront of the agenda, which has sparked days of Democratic ire.

McConnell did not specify what he views as a timeline for any potential Senate action. The chamber is expected to be in session until a weeklong Memorial Day recess. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntWashington prepares for a summer without interns GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said he did not see this work period as a deadline for Congress passing additional legislation.

"No, I don't think so," he said. "I think we need to think about whether or not what we continue to believe was the right thing to do in March is still going to be the right thing for us to be doing in June." 

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns MORE (R-Miss.), an adviser to McConnell, also told reporters that the next bill was likely weeks off.

ADVERTISEMENT

"I think we're weeks away from that," Wicker told reporters after the closed-door lunch.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) added that after spending a total of nearly $2.8 trillion, Congress needs to "hit pause for a while, see what has worked, what hasn't worked, and let's see how much money — additional money — we need after the economy is opened back up."

But the decision to take a wait-and-see approach comes even as House Democrats are signaling they will move quickly to pass their own legislation.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyJulián Castro launches PAC to support progressive candidates Lawmakers call on VA to remove swastikas from headstones in veterans cemeteries House Democrats object to Trump sending ventilators to Russia MORE (D-N.Y.) said a bill would be released "in the coming days." Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerKey races to watch in Tuesday's primaries Overnight Defense: Democrats expand probe into State IG's firing | House schedules late June votes with defense bill on deck | New Navy secretary sworn in House scheduled to return for votes in late June MORE (D-Md.) told reporters that a vote could happen as soon as next week.

Democrats are expected to include hundreds of billions in new funding for state and local governments — something that has received a lukewarm response, and in some cases outright opposition, among Senate Republicans.

ADVERTISEMENT

McConnell, asked about more funding for state and local governments, told reporters that he didn't believe there was a "particular sentiment among Senate Republicans for a vast new rescue package for state and local" without first seeing how an initial $150 billion included in the March $2.2 trillion package worked.

How, or if, to provide help to state and local governments has emerged as a point of division among Republicans. Some, including Blunt, have said they are not supportive of letting them use the congressionally appropriated funds toward revenue replacement.

Others, including Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Burr decision sends shock waves through Senate Lawmakers move to boost federal cybersecurity in annual defense bill MORE (R-S.D.), would support allowing at least a portion of the money from Congress to go toward revenue replacement.

McConnell also sidestepped taking a position on President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE's demand for a payroll tax cut to be included in the next bill but signaled that litigation protection, not the tax cut, is his and Senate Republicans' "red line" for the bill.

"I'm not ruling in or ruling out anything except to say that if there is another bill that passes in the Senate it will include the liability protections," he said.