McConnell opens door to smaller coronavirus relief deal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: 'It never occurred to me' convincing Americans to get vaccinated would be difficult The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday appeared to open the door to a smaller coronavirus relief package than the proposal unveiled by Republicans earlier this week. 

McConnell, asked about soon-to-expire unemployment benefits, said that neither party wants them to expire, which is set to formally happen on Friday. 

"Many things around here happen at the last minute. This is only Wednesday, so hope springs eternal that we'll reach some kind of agreement either on a broad basis or a more narrow basis to avoid having an adverse impact on unemployment," McConnell told "PBS NewsHour."

ADVERTISEMENT

Asked if he was seriously looking at either a smaller bill or a short-term option, he added, "We're looking at all options."

McConnell's remarks, the first time he's appeared open to a smaller bill, come as top Trump administration officials and a growing number of Republican lawmakers have signaled an openness to getting a pared-down agreement as talks with Democrats have yielded little progress. 

What would be included in a smaller agreement has not been agreed upon, with GOP senators saying myriad ideas were being discussed as they try to break the stalemate. 

Some Republicans have floated doing a stand-alone vote on a short-term extension of unemployment benefits, but White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsWashington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Trump to Pence on Jan. 6: 'You don't have the courage' Trump said whoever leaked information about stay in White House bunker should be 'executed,' author claims MORE appeared to shoot that down, saying it had been ruled out by Democrats and that the enhanced benefits will expire on Friday. 

Under the March coronavirus deal, Congress agreed to a $600-per-week increase of unemployment benefits. As drafted, the enhancement will formally expire on Friday, but because of the calendar and how states distribute benefits, they began to expire on Saturday.

ADVERTISEMENT

Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer MORE have met each day this week with House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTim Ryan slams McCarthy for mocking Capitol physician, mask mandate McCarthy knocks Pelosi, mask mandate: 'This House has broken the country's trust' Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Pelosi, Schumer vow climate action: 'It is an imperative' MORE (D-N.Y.) to try to reach an agreement. But after their latest meeting on Wednesday, they were frank about the lack of progress being made so far. 

"We're still miles apart on a number of issues," Meadows said. "In fact, I would say there are more issues we're apart on than where we're closer to consensus." 

With that in mind, Mnuchin said, President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE is still pressing for a short-term extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits along with some kind of assistance for renters who would otherwise face eviction threats. 

"The president wants us most focused on this issue of enhanced unemployment," Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin also pointed to the Paycheck Protection Program, school funding, retention tax credits, rental assistance and a bipartisan proposal providing $10 billion to community development banks as areas where a deal appears likely.

ADVERTISEMENT

Meadows and Mnuchin also noted that areas where they remain far apart include liability protections for businesses and a new round of funding for state and local governments.  

"We are still very far apart on a lot of issues," Mnuchin said. "I do think there's a subset of issues that we do agree on, but overall we're far from an agreement."

Mike Lillis contributed.