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Republican senators revolt over coronavirus proposal

Senate Republicans are deeply divided over their own coronavirus package, underscoring the uphill challenge for the party as they hunt for leverage in talks on the fifth stimulus bill.

GOP leadership and the White House unveiled their own approximately $1 trillion bill this week, in what was supposed to represent a unified negotiating stance by the administration and Senate Republicans as they start talks with House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.)

But just a day later, several GOP senators are trashing their own party’s proposal, which they expect will only get worse during talks with Democrats, and predicting mass defections on the final coronavirus bill. 

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“It’s a mess. I can’t figure out what this bill’s about,” said Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Rush Limbaugh lauds Hawley: 'This guy is the real deal' MORE (R-Mo.). “They’re going to go negotiate with Pelosi. We have no idea what the final bill will be, and we’ll be the last to know.”

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) added that among Republicans “we have unity in disagreement.” Meanwhile, Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseTrump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right Whoopi Goldberg blasts Republicans not speaking against Trump: 'This is an attempted coup' MORE (R-Neb.) said the negotiations were taking place between “two big government Democrats,” Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Initial jobless claims rise for 2nd week | Dow dips below 30K | Mnuchin draws fire for COVID-19 relief move | Manhattan DA appeals dismissal of Manafort charges Mnuchin to put 5B in COVID-19 relief funds beyond successor's reach The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience MORE and Pelosi. 

“This proposal is not targeted to fix precise problems — it’s about Democrats and Trumpers competing to outspend each other,” Sasse said.

Republicans say it's basically guaranteed there will be GOP defections on the fifth relief bill. Two GOP chairmen predicted that roughly half of the 53-member caucus could ultimately vote "no."

“You can see a bunch of people already pushing back that we haven't spent phase three yet and concerns about the deficit,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Spokesperson says Tennessee Democrat made 'poor analogy' in saying South Carolina voters have extra chromosome MORE (R-S.C.), a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE’s. “If Mitch [McConnell] can get half the conference, that'd be quite an accomplishment.”

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell wants deal this week on fiscal 2021 spending figures Graham becomes center of Georgia storm Republicans start turning the page on Trump era MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, added that “the previous COVID bills have passed almost unanimously, and I think that’s the exception rather than the rule.” 

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Significant Republican opposition would mark a U-turn from March’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill that passed the Senate in a 96-0 vote. Other coronavirus bills have passed with only a handful of "no" votes. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, said it was too soon to know how much GOP opposition there would be but that it wouldn’t be unanimous support. 

“I don’t think we know where our members are yet. I mean, it’s early on in a process that is probably going to take a while to fully conclude,” Thune said. “We’re not going to be able to write a bill that we get every Republican on, we know that.” 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (R-Ky.) said Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump administration revives talk of action on birthright citizenship MORE would take the lead in the talks but acknowledged that GOP senators were divided. 

“I think it’s a statement of the obvious that I have members who are all over the lot on this,” McConnell said. “This is a complicated problem. We’ve done the best we can to develop a consensus among the broadest number of Republican senators.” 

Republicans raised concerns during a closed-door GOP lunch about the price tag of the coronavirus deal growing. Republicans stuck to their goal of a $1 trillion top line, but GOP senators are worried that it will tick upward as Mnuchin and Meadows negotiate with Democrats. 

“There’s a lot of discussion, expressed concern, that we stick to the lower number of a trillion rather than start talking already about where we might land. ... Too much drift to the left, you lose more Republicans and pretty soon you’ve put the whole process in the hands of the Democrats,” said Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks Pressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday MORE (R-N.D.). 

Graham added that “people [are] worried about the top-line number” and “the amount to be spent is a concern.” 

GOP senators are publicly pouring cold water on either key provisions or the plan altogether, which came together during weeks of closed-door negotiations.

“I have problems with a number of provisions. I’ll wait and see what the final product looks like, but I’m pretty skeptical about the way it seems to be shaping up,” said Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy MORE (R-Pa.). 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE (R-Texas) said that he was “very much” concerned and there was “vigorous discussion” and “sharp disagreement” among Republicans. Meanwhile, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses MORE (R-Ky.) accused his colleagues of caring about election chances than the country’s fiscal health. 

“This was the big spending, big government meeting,” Paul said. “They’re bragging about how they’re going to spend more money than the Democrats.” 

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Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunMeadows meets with Senate GOP to discuss end-of-year priorities McConnell reelected as Senate GOP leader GOP faces fundraising reckoning as Democrats rake in cash MORE (R-Ind.) said he was “unlikely” to support the final agreement, adding, “I think the price tag is going to be a deal breaker for many of us regardless of the content.” 

With coronavirus cases climbing across the country, and a slew of bad poll numbers coming out for Trump and Republicans in critical Senate races, Democrats believe they have leverage to drive the talks closer to their top line of roughly $3 trillion. 

“We have the leverage of the American people,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Ill.). “I think Republicans are reading the polls. The president is slumping, their Republican Senate candidates are slumping in the polls. They have to show something.” 

The divisions aren’t just between Senate Republicans but also GOP senators and the White House.

GOP senators are critical of the decision to include $1.75 billion for the construction of a new FBI headquarters, saying it has nothing to do with combating the coronavirus. And McConnell and Thune both say they want the funding out of a final agreement. 

Trump, during a White House press conference on Tuesday, called the GOP proposal “sort of semi-irrelevant.” Asked if there were parts he opposed he said “yeah, there are.”

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Meadows and Mnuchin are both floating the idea of doing a pared-down coronavirus bill if negotiators aren’t able to get a deal quickly. Under that plan, Congress would pass a package that includes unemployment insurance, school funding and liability protections, and then continue to negotiate on other pieces like stimulus checks, state and local aid and money for testing. 

But Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Texas) said while people have floated it, "I don't hear any support for that."

When a reporter noted that Meadows and Mnuchin seem interested, he added that those are “people who are not in Congress.”

The inability to sync up played out in real time this week. Mnuchin and Meadows, after talking to Schumer and Pelosi, walked over to McConnell’s office. 

Surrounded by their detail and a gaggle of reporters, they knocked on the front door to his main office. No one answered. As they knocked again, a reporter asked if they had a meeting with the GOP leader or his staff. 

“We were just going to give the leader an update if he’s here,” Meadows told reporters, adding that it was an impromptu drop-by. 

McConnell, a staffer later clarified, had already left the building.