Senate

Senate GOP punts coronavirus package to next week

Senate Republicans will introduce their coronavirus relief package next week, as they work to lock down final details with the administration.

GOP senators expected to introduce the package of bills on Thursday after days of closed-door haggling among themselves and the White House and publicly struggling to get on the same page.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said key senators will instead unveil it Monday, pointing at the White House as the reason behind the delay.

"The administration has requested additional time to review the fine details, but we will be laying down this proposal early next week. We have an agreement in principle on the shape of this package," McConnell said from the Senate floor about the decision. 

The decision is a shift from just Wednesday, when two members of GOP leadership said they expected the coronavirus package to come this week. 

But most of Thursday came and went without an update on the timing of the legislation. 

Several Republican senators left the Capitol for the week saying they had received no update on the timing of the forthcoming package. Instead, according to Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), they were told by McConnell during a closed-door lunch that it was a "work in progress." 

The discussion, which was dominated with talk about the alligator soup served courtesy of Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), was just hours after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared that the administration and the Senate GOP caucus had reached a "fundamental agreement." 

"We talked about Louisiana and alligators. Honestly. We said 'Mitch what you got?' and he said, 'We're working on it. Not much to report yet, but we're working on it,'" said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). "So that's where it's at. So, I think it's being fleshed out."

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) added that "he expected it to be out today. I haven't seen it yet. But that's when I was expecting it to be able to come out." Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who was been working on the liability protection portion, added that he was "expecting it this morning." 

Other Republicans senators, on the way out of Washington until Monday, indicated that there were still behind-the-scenes talks taking place. 

"We're still developing the bill. It's not going to come out till Monday," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters. 

There had been signs earlier in the day that Republicans were likely to leave Washington for the week without unveiling the package, which will be their opening offer in negotiations with Democrats on a fifth coronavirus bill.

Negotiators overseeing the appropriations portion of the proposal, including money for testing and schools, had pledged on Wednesday night that they would be ready to unveil their portion on Thursday. 

But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters that it could be delayed until next week and, like McConnell, pointed to the White House as the hold up, which he said was still reviewing text. 

"Could be late today, could be Monday, but we're making progress," Shelby said.

The White House downplayed potential sticking points that would result in the package being delayed saying they instead wanted to be able to go through final bill line by line. 

"We're looking at text and trying to go through and go line by line to review some of the provisions in there in the proposal," White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters Thursday. 

The days of hold up have opened Republicans up to criticism from Democrats, who characterized them as "disorganized" and in "disarray" for returning to Washington knowing there was a tight timeline without a negotiating offer ready to go. 

"Our Republican colleagues have been so divided, so disorganized, and so unprepared that they have struggled to draft a partisan proposal within their own conference. This is before they talk to a single Democrat. This is before they even consider what the House has done," Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday. 

Republicans say they still believe Congress will ultimately get an agreement on the next coronavirus package, even if the talks go down to the deadline of the Senate's expected Aug. 7 departure date. 

"I think we'll get something done before it's all said and done,  but like everything else in this process ... it's gonna be loud, messy, appear to be almost doomed on many occasions," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) "It's just the way this thing works." 

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