McConnell opens door to smaller coronavirus relief deal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power 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."

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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 Randall MeadowsAnxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid Pelosi hopeful COVID-19 relief talks resume 'soon' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - GOP closes ranks to fill SCOTUS vacancy by November 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.

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Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Vulnerable Democrats tell Pelosi COVID-19 compromise 'essential' Pelosi asks panels to draft new COVID-19 relief measure MORE have met each day this week with House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Trump signs largely symbolic pre-existing conditions order amid lawsuit MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish 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 John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance 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.

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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.