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 PelosiWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Schumer declines to say whether Trump executive orders are legal: They don't 'do the job' Schumer: Idea that 0 unemployment benefit keeps workers away from jobs 'belittles the American people' 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 HawleyHillicon Valley: Facebook bans ads from pro-Trump PAC | Uber reports big drop in revenue | US offers M reward for election interference info Senate passes legislation to ban TikTok on federal devices Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing 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 SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Kudlow acknowledges executive orders may end up in court: 'We're going to go ahead with our actions anyways' Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders MORE (R-Neb.) said the negotiations were taking place between “two big government Democrats,” Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit 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 GrahamSeveral GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Graham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE (R-S.C.), a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE’s. “If Mitch [McConnell] can get half the conference, that'd be quite an accomplishment.”

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections 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 ThuneMeadows says he wants Trump nomination speech 'miles and miles away' from White House The Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal 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 McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) said Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMeadows says he wants Trump nomination speech 'miles and miles away' from White House Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit Pelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table 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 Coronavirus Report: iBIO Chairman and CEO Thomas Isett says developing a safe vaccine is paramount; US surpasses 150,000 coronavirus deaths with roughy one death per minute McConnell tees up showdown on unemployment benefits Senate panel scraps confirmation hearing for controversial Pentagon nominee at last minute 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 ToomeyDunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy NSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show MORE (R-Pa.). 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOn The Trail: Pence's knives come out Pat Fallon wins GOP nomination in race to succeed DNI Ratcliffe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline 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 PaulTrump-backed Hagerty wins Tennessee GOP Senate primary Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus 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 BraunSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts Lawmakers aim for COVID-19 relief deal this week 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Durbin blasts Trump's 'country-club fix' on unemployment 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 CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal 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.