Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal

The Senate left Washington, D.C., on Thursday until September — the latest sign that a deal on a fifth coronavirus relief package is, at least, weeks away.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE (R-Ky.) had kept the chamber in session this week, which was technically the first in its August recess, as a last-ditch attempt to create space for the administration and congressional Democrats to get an agreement. 

But with talks stalemated, senators argue there is little reason for them to keep holding daily, roughly 1 1/2-hour sessions. The House already left town and isn't expected to return until Sept. 14. 

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“We will have our regular pro forma meetings through the end of the state work period. If the Speaker of the House and the minority leader of the Senate decide to finally let another package move forward … it would take bipartisan consent to meet for legislative business sooner than scheduled,” McConnell said as he wrapped up the Senate until next month. 

McConnell added that he hoped the Senate would be able to “act sometime soon.”

Senators will get at least 24 hours notice to return if congressional Democrats, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinLawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal United Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid House Democrats plan to unveil bill next week to avert shutdown MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump reacts to Ginsburg's death: 'An amazing woman who led an amazing life' Trump carries on with rally, unaware of Ginsburg's death United Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE are able to break the impasse and votes are scheduled. Otherwise, the Senate will formally reconvene on Sept. 8.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Biden says Ginsburg successor should be picked by candidate who wins on Nov. 3 MORE (R-Iowa) predicted during a conference call on Tuesday that if negotiators didn't restart by Thursday, the administration's executive orders would be the only action that takes place until early September. 

“If it doesn’t happen in the next 48 hours, I think this is all you’re going to see until Congress gets back into session after Labor Day," Grassley told reporters. 

There's little reason to think a deal will be reached before then. 

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The four key negotiators have not met in person since Friday, when the talks officially collapsed. 

And the only contact to take place this week — Mnuchin calling House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Ginsburg successor must uphold commitment to 'equality, opportunity and justice for all' Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Pelosi orders Capitol flags at half-staff to honor Ginsburg MORE (D-Calif.) on Wednesday — resulted in dueling statements that only illustrated how stalemated the negotiations on coronavirus relief have become. 

Democrats entered negotiations with a package of approximately $3.4 trillion to $3.7 trillion and have offered to reduce that price tag by $1 trillion. Republicans and the White House have refused to move from roughly $1 trillion. 

"We are miles apart in our values," Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. "Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gave a damn. That isn't the case. This is very far apart." 

Asked when her next talk would be with Mnuchin and Meadows, Pelosi responded, "I don't know. When they come in with $2 trillion." 

White House economic adviser Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE, speaking to reporters on Thursday, said the talks are at a "stalemate." 

"As Secretary Mnuchin said yesterday, the Speaker wants a $2 trillion commitment from us. We're not going to give it. There are too many things, too many asks on their side that don't fit, don't have anything to do with COVID, for that matter," he said. 

Beyond a top-line figure, the two sides haven’t resolved how much weekly unemployment benefits would be, how much money to give state and local governments or how to address McConnell’s red line of liability protections for businesses that open back up. School funding, both the amount and how it's divided up, remains a sticking point as well. 

The inaction comes as the unemployment rate is at 10.2 percent, down from a peak of 14.7 percent in April but still slightly higher than the peak during the Great Recession. And the country continues to report tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases per day, including reporting nearly 1,500 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday in what is the highest number of daily deaths since mid-May.

Mnuchin and Meadows have been providing daily updates to Senate Republicans, but senators have said there is little reason to think a detente between congressional Democrats and the administration is on the horizon. 

“Basically, not much new movement,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntCDC tells Congress it urgently needs billion for vaccine distribution On The Money: Trump undercuts GOP, calls for bigger COVID-19 relief package | Communities of color hit hardest financially by COVID-19 | Businesses, states pass on Trump payroll tax deferral Trump undercuts GOP, calls for bigger COVID-19 relief package MORE (R-Mo.) after a call this week. 

The stalemate is taking place less than three months before the November election, injecting more politics into the dynamic compared to the four previous coronavirus relief bills that passed the Senate with either no opposition or only a handful of “no” votes. 

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Vulnerable incumbents in both parties have sent warning signals this week to leadership that they need to cut a deal. 

Rep. Max RoseMax RoseLawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep Navy cancels training flight over NYC on 9/11 after criticism MORE (N.Y.), a freshman Democrat in a district President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE won in 2016, told CNN that "I share the concerns that I'm hearing from my constituents: I'm pissed. I'm angry. ... At this point, it's a middle finger to the American people."

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg Democratic senator calls for eliminating filibuster, expanding Supreme Court if GOP fills vacancy What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies MORE (R-Maine) — who faces a tough reelection bid as one of two GOP senators running in a state won by 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhat Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Trump carries on with rally, unaware of Ginsburg's death MORE — said on Thursday that she thought the Senate should reconvene next week to try to work on an agreement and force members to vote on coronavirus relief proposals. 

“Have people step up to the plate,” she told the Sun Journal.

But even though the Senate has been in session the week, the Capitol has largely slid into its normal summer routine with only a handful of senators spotted around the chamber. 

Instead, the brief sessions have largely been used for senators to trade blame over the inability to get a deal, providing a daily look at how far apart the two sides are. 

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McConnell on Thursday accused Democrats of holding an agreement “hostage” and “barely even pretending to negotiate,” while warning that voters were watching. 

“By now the whole country knows what I’m talking about, the absurd issues which the Democrats have turned into sticking points,” he said. 

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBiden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states Second GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (D-Va.) shrugged off the comments, noting the GOP leader is facing his own headache with, by McConnell’s own estimate, up to 20 senators prepared to vote against any deal. The GOP divisions captured the political spotlight for weeks, and undermined the negotiating hand for Meadows and Mnuchin. 

“He's gotta say something,” Kaine said. “And, you know, I think he's done what he can do with the Senate GOP. When he candidly acknowledged, ‘look, there's gonna be at least 20 members of Congress who won't vote for a single dollar’s worth of aid,’ he basically at that point is saying, ‘Dems, you gotta work it out with the White House.’”