GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill

Republicans are increasingly saying they expect to pass a fifth coronavirus bill — just don’t ask them to agree, yet, on what should be in it. 

While a growing number of GOP senators say they should move quickly, deep divisions remain within the caucus on everything from key policy provisions and timing to if another bill should be passed at all. 

“I don't think there’s a consensus yet on a path forward,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

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Congress has already appropriated approximately $2.8 trillion, including a $2.2 trillion package that was signed into law on March 27 and an “interim” $484 billion bill that cleared in late April. 

Since then, members of GOP leadership hit “pause” on additional legislation as they reviewed the previous spending and privately discussed what they should do as the coronavirus continues to cause deep economic damage. 

“I don’t think we’re close at all,” said Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunThis week: Negotiators hunt for coronavirus deal as August break looms Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock MORE (R-Ind.). “We’d have to have sessions like we did on March 23, 24, 25, over that weekend, and there’s no dynamic like that going on that I’m aware of.” 

Asked if there was a proposal, besides liability protection, that had broad support within the caucus, Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHouse Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Pelosi to require masks on House floor MORE (R-Mo.), a member of leadership, said, “I truthfully don’t know that we’re to that point yet.”

“[We need] to figure out what we need in the second quarter ... the months of, say, July, August and September that would be different than what we needed in April and May and June,” Blunt added. “I don’t think we know, and I don’t think we should be expected to know right now.” 

The GOP brainstorming comes as Democrats have clamored for Congress to pass another large-scale coronavirus relief package. The House passed a roughly $3 trillion bill earlier this month, which has been declared “dead on arrival” in the Senate. It is expected to take up additional coronavirus-related legislation when it returns on Wednesday. 

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellProfessional sports players associations come out against coronavirus liability protections Democratic leaders report 'some progress' in talks with White House Top GOP senator urges agencies to protect renters, banks amid coronavirus aid negotiations MORE (R-Ky.) has advocated for a wait-and-see approach as some states begin to lift social distancing restrictions. When Republicans should move forward has sparked conflicting opinions from McConnell’s members. 

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott Gardner300 green groups say Senate has 'moral duty' to reject Trump's public lands nominee Obama announces first wave of 2020 endorsements On The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP MORE (R-Colo.), one of two GOP senators up for reelection in a state President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE lost in 2016, broke rank late last week to question why the Senate was leaving town for a weeklong Memorial Day recess without passing additional coronavirus legislation. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsObama announces first wave of 2020 endorsements Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  On The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP MORE (R-Maine), the other GOP senator on the ballot in a state Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump vows challenge to Nevada bill expanding mail-in voting Biden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman Juan Williams: The Trump Show grows tired MORE won in 2016, also threw her support behind staying. 

But the push to stay in through the recess specifically for the coronavirus puzzled other Republicans. 

Braun noted that he wasn’t opposed to coming back to Washington, but that wasn't a sign lawmakers would be ready to do coronavirus legislation.

“I think you’d have individuals scratching their heads ... because there’s been no basic platform thrown out there,” he said. 

Thune called the timeline “highly unlikely,” adding, “We could stay. ... We could continue to do nominations.” 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Timeline for GOP's Obama probe report slips as chairman eyes subpoenas MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, predicted that serious negotiations wouldn’t get underway until the third or fourth week of June. 

“What are we doing right now thinking about what we’re going to do in the next virus bill ... without knowing where we are now?” Grassley asked.

McConnell hasn’t said when he will move legislation, but he’s hinted the GOP holding pattern could soon be coming to an end. He told House Republicans during a conference call that they would maintain their current posture for “for a little longer,” according to a source briefed on the call. 

He added during a Fox News interview that there was a “high likelihood” that Congress would pass another bill but that time wasn’t quite ripe. 

“We're not quite ready to intelligently lay down the next step, but it's not too far off,” he said. 

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Bringing the next bill to the forefront is all but guaranteed to put a spotlight on GOP divisions, which have been percolating in the closed-door lunches and on the Senate floor for weeks. 

“I know there’s sort of a sense to do something, but I think that the question is what's that something, and there's not a broad agreement on that,” Thune said. 

One of the biggest points of division is help for state and local governments, which have been hit hard as businesses have shuttered, depriving them of a lucrative tax base. 

A bipartisan group of senators is pushing for Congress to provide an additional $500 billion to state and local governments, including allowing some of the funding to go toward revenue replacement. 

“Congress has a tremendous responsibility to help mitigate the impact of this crisis on our states and our local communities and on the families they serve. We must not wait. We should act now,” Collins said, pleading with her colleagues to pass legislation. 

But greenlighting more funding to states, or even providing more flexibility to the $150 billion Congress has already passed, is anathema to some Republicans who have warned about states trying to use the money to cover bad budget decisions. 

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Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has blocked an attempt by Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) to bring up legislation to give states more flexibility three times. 

“I know that some on my side of the aisle disagree with me,” Kennedy acknowledged during his third attempt to get the bill a vote. 

But GOP senators will also need to work out how to address unemployment insurance, which got beefed up during the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. McConnell told House Republicans, and reiterated during the Fox News interview, that the next bill will not continue the extra $600 per week implemented in the March bill. Nearly 39 million have filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic. 

Some powerful chairmen, including Blunt and Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: INOVIO R&D Chief Kate Broderick 'completely confident' world will develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine; GOP boxed in on virus negotiations Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers zero in on Twitter after massive hack | US, UK, Canada allege Russian hackers targeted COVID-19 vaccine researchers | Top EU court rules data transfer deal with the US is illegal Lawmakers zero in on Twitter following massive hack MORE (R-Miss.), are pushing to include an infrastructure package, something McConnell indicated late last month would not make the cut.

And even largely bipartisan fixes to the Paycheck Protection Program have hit snags. Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump putting TikTok ban on hold for 45 days: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Biden VP possible next week; Meadows says relief talks 'miles apart' Pompeo: Trump taking action on Chinese software firms 'in coming days' MORE (R-Fla.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCongress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help Senate passes extension of application deadline for PPP small-business loans 1,700 troops will support Trump 'Salute to America' celebrations July 4: Pentagon MORE (D-Md.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani says DC policymakers need to do more to support ventures and 'solo-preneurs'; Federal unemployment benefits expire as coronavirus deal-making deadlocks Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier Shaheen, Chabot call for action on new round of PPP loans MORE (D-N.H.) and Collins introduced legislation that would extend the period of time businesses have to spend the loans from eight weeks to 16 weeks. The bill had support from leadership in both parties, but Rubio disclosed on Friday that at least one office had objected and prevented the bill from passing without a vote.

McConnell has largely been tight-lipped about what he wants in the next bill except for his “red line” on including liability protections for employers. And he’s pledged that Senate Republicans will be in lockstep with the White House. 

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“There will be no space between the White House and Senate Republicans on the next bill,” he told Fox News. 

Trump was asked by Kennedy during a closed-door lunch last week what his time frame was for the next bill and what should be in it. 

“The president gave a very vague, artful answer,” Kennedy said. “That’s not a criticism. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a plan, but it was clear to me he’s not ready to tell us what it is.”