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 McConnellMcConnell backs Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats insist budget consensus close as talks drag on Manchin backs raising debt ceiling with reconciliation if GOP balks 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.
“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 MnuchinMajor Russian hacking group linked to ransomware attack on Sinclair: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Former Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsAt least five Trump administration staffers have spoken with Jan 6 committee: CNN Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled Report: Rally organizers say GOP lawmakers worked on Jan. 6 protests MORE are able to break the impasse and votes are scheduled. Otherwise, the Senate will formally reconvene on Sept. 8.
Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyBipartisan lawmakers target judges' stock trading with new bill Another voice of reason retires Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter 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.
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 PelosiBiden to meet House Dems before Europe trip: report On The Money — Will the billionaire tax survive Joe Manchin? Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs 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."
"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 BluntSunday shows - Democrats' spending plan in the spotlight GOP senator: Best thing Trump could do to help Republicans in 2022 is talk about future It's time to make access to quality kidney care accessible and equitable for all 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.
Vulnerable incumbents in both parties have sent warning signals this week to leadership that they need to cut a deal.
Rep. Max RoseMax RoseMax Rose preparing for rematch with Nicole Malliotakis: report 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage MORE (N.Y.), a freshman Democrat in a district President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China WSJ publishes letter from Trump continuing to allege voter fraud in PA Oath Keeper who was at Capitol on Jan. 6 runs for New Jersey State Assembly 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 CollinsFunding for victims of 'Havana syndrome' to be included in Pentagon bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden makes his pitch as tax questions mount Emanuel defends handling of Chicago police shooting amid opposition to nomination 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 ClintonTrump to attend World Series Game 4 in Atlanta Pavlich: Democrats' weaponization of the DOJ is back Mellman: The trout in the milk 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.
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 KainePatience wears thin as Democrats miss deadlines Obama gives fiery speech for McAuliffe: 'Don't sit this one out' Biden injects new momentum into filibuster fight 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.’”