Senators holding behind-the-scenes talks on breaking coronavirus package stalemate

Several GOP senators said on Tuesday that they are holding behind-the-scenes talks with rank-and-file Democrats about how to break the stalemate on a fifth coronavirus relief package. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows have been negotiating a bill for roughly a week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) with little progress toward an agreement. 

“I’ve been talking to members on the other side of the aisle about what we might do as individual members to help facilitate a little more progress,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters as she headed into the GOP lunch.  

Murkowski said she felt “discouragement” at Congress being three days from the start of a recess without more answers about how a deal comes together. 

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) separately told reporters that he was “working behind the scenes, including now with some Democrats, on trying to get something done on UI [unemployment insurance], whether it’s a return to work bonus or something else.”  

How successful senators will be at trying to push their leadership closer to an agreement is unclear. Democrats have largely been unified in the negotiations over the fifth bill, and any deal would still need approval from Mnuchin and Meadows, as well as leadership.

A GOP senator said that Democrats are “floating different ideas” as part of the rank-and-file talks.

The push by senators not directly involved in the leadership-White House level negotiations comes as lawmakers are becoming increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of talks. 

The administration officials and Democratic leadership have both described talks held on Saturday and Monday as productive but have warned that they remain far from an agreement.  

“I believe we’re making progress. We came closer on several issues. However, we remain far apart on a number of issues, but we’re finally moving in the right direction,” Schumer said from the Senate floor on Tuesday. 

Tags Chuck Schumer Lisa Murkowski Mark Meadows Nancy Pelosi Rob Portman Steven Mnuchin

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