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Senate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag

A growing number of Senate Republicans are signaling an openness to putting forward a smaller coronavirus package as bipartisan talks on the next comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill appear to be making little progress.

Talk about either a pared-back agreement, or a short-term extension of expiring provisions, like enhanced unemployment insurance, comes as the Trump administration and congressional Democrats remain far apart on a larger bipartisan agreement. 

"That may need to happen," said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Trump's new interest in water resources — why now? MORE (R-Fla.). "I mean, ultimately ... we're not going to have a universal agreement in place by Friday, so there may be some things that have to be done that way." 

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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day Lou Dobbs goes after Lindsey Graham: 'I don't know why anyone' would vote for him  MORE (R-S.C.) added that he would be "okay" with a smaller package that would let negotiations continue on unresolved issues. 

"I'm OK with that. We got to fix the employment package because you're paying people 150 percent more than they were making and that skews the economy. But yeah, I don't mind doing some interim package," he said. 

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordMcConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a vote in Senate Senators push for Turkey sanctions after reports Ankara used Russian system to detect US-made jets McConnell: Plan is to confirm Trump's Supreme Court pick before election MORE (R-Okla.) said he would support a short-term package, adding Congress needed to deal with liability protections and other "essential" items. And Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSenate GOP's campaign arm releases first ad targeting Bollier in Kansas The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden hit campaign trail in Florida National Republicans will spend to defend Kansas Senate seat MORE (R-Kan.) added a short-term plan was "an option." 

"We're talking about all sorts of options," he said. 

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinSunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day Hillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting critical facilities | Appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must comply with labor laws | Biden: Countries that target US elections will 'pay a price' Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsSenate Health Committee chair asks Cuomo, Newsom to 'stop second guessing' FDA on vaccine efficacy Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day Trump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says MORE met with a core group of GOP senators — including Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyFinger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag | Company layoffs mount as pandemic heads into fall | Initial jobless claims drop to 837,000 GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag MORE (R-Ala.) and Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate Health Committee chair asks Cuomo, Newsom to 'stop second guessing' FDA on vaccine efficacy The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Two weeks out, Trump attempts to rally the base McConnell aims for unity amid growing divisions with Trump MORE (R-Tenn.) — a meeting senators characterized less as Mnuchin and Meadows pitching senators on a specific agreement than taking the temperature of lawmakers.  

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"They didn't match a pitch. They were just explaining where they thought we were and asking for ideas," a GOP senator in the meeting said. 

They added that Mnuchin and Meadows did not repeat Trump's pitch, which he floated as he was leaving the White House, of doing a smaller deal on an eviction moratorium and unemployment insurance. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPower players play chess match on COVID-19 aid GOP to Trump: Focus on policy Low-flying helicopters to measure radiation levels in DC before inauguration MORE (R-Mo.) questioned what a smaller deal would have to look like for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day MORE (R-Ky.) to agree to put it on the floor. 

"I don't think there's any consensus on what [a] smaller package would be to have the support it would need yet, but I think Secretary Mnuchin and Mark Meadows have done a good job and continue to do a good job of reaching out to be sure that everybody has to be a part of that discussion," he added. 

Blunt added, "I'm sure there are smaller combinations we would like, and smaller combinations we wouldn't like. It depends on what smaller means." 

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The talk of doing a smaller agreement or a short-term extension of expiring payments like federal unemployment benefits comes as bipartisan talks between congressional Democrats and the administration appear to be making little progress. 

And McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Trump announces opening of relations between Sudan and Israel Five takeaways on Iran, Russia election interference MORE (D-N.Y.) spent their morning trading shots over who was to blame for the lack of progress.

“But now, the Speaker of the House apparently signaled she rejects this bipartisan consensus and will not let a package go forward unless we continue paying people more not to work,” McConnell said, referring to the $600 per week unemployment boost that was included in the March bill.

Schumer fired back that “it’s abundantly clear that the Senate Republican proposal for the next phase of COVID relief is not a useful starting point” and that McConnell is “drawing lines” by insisting his liability reform proposal get in the bill.

But Republicans say they still want a broader package that would wrap all of the issues into one bill, and there is opposition from some for doing a smaller bill. 

Emerging from a closed-door Republican lunch, Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrAs Trump downplayed the virus publicly, memo based on private briefings sparked stock sell-offs: NYT Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs MORE (R-N.C.) said they were still discussing it as a larger package. 

"There's no short-term package," he said. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBiden's oil stance jars Democrats in tough races The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in The Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden MORE (R-Texas) added after the meeting with Meadows and Mnuchin that he did not support a short-term package. 

"We need to solve the problem," he said.