McConnell works to lock down GOP votes for coronavirus bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Senate GOP aims to confirm Trump court pick by Oct. 29: report Trump argues full Supreme Court needed to settle potential election disputes MORE (R-Ky.) is working to wrangle his caucus behind a pared-down coronavirus relief bill, with top GOP senators predicting they’ll be able to win over at least 51 Republican votes this week.

The decision to force a vote on Thursday follows weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiating between the White House and congressional Republicans on a smaller package that could unify the party after high-profile divisions and with the elections looming.

But even if McConnell is successful, the GOP bill won’t get the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. Democratic leaders and Trump administration officials remain hundreds of billions of dollars apart on a new coronavirus package.

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Still, Republican leadership wants, and appears increasingly confident of getting, 51 votes, a stark turnaround from McConnell’s previous prediction that up to 20 of his 53-member caucus wouldn’t support any additional COVID-19 relief.

“I think our conference will be unified. ... We will have virtually the entire conference,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Liberal super PAC launches ads targeting vulnerable GOP senators over SCOTUS fight Senate GOP faces pivotal moment on pick for Supreme Court MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell. “Certainly we’ll have 51 or more votes.”

Asked if he thought Republicans could get 51 votes, Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyCollins says she will vote 'no' on Supreme Court nominee before election The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, GOP allies prepare for SCOTUS nomination this week Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year MORE (R-Iowa) said, “The answer is yes.”

“Everybody’s been working real hard because we want to get something that we can get on the floor,” he said. “I think just the feeling that we’re in the majority and people expect us to deliver.”

Others were more circumspect.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot Romney backs pre-election Supreme Court vote, paving way for McConnell, Trump Senate GOP faces pivotal moment on pick for Supreme Court MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, indicated talks could go down to the wire, saying they would know where the votes are when they’re scheduled to vote.

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“We’ll know by Thursday,” Thune said with a laugh. “We’re talking to a number of members, and you know those discussions have been productive.”

The GOP proposal includes a $300 per week federal unemployment benefit, another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding, $105 billion for schools and an additional $16 billion for coronavirus testing.

It does not include a second round of stimulus checks or more money for state and local governments, both of which were included in the record $2.2 trillion CARES Act from late March.

McConnell has had to balance competing factions within his caucus while crafting the smaller bill.

He previously indicated he wants to vote on a package to allow a slew of vulnerable Republicans to vote on a proposal they can tout back in their home states during the final weeks of the 2020 campaign. Some incumbents, including Cornyn and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP aims to confirm Trump court pick by Oct. 29: report The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Senate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot MORE (R-Maine), had previously indicated that they didn’t think the Senate should have left for the August recess without an agreement on a relief measure.

But the $1.1 trillion package introduced by Republicans in July sparked high-profile backlash from conservatives and fiscal hawks within the party, make it harder for the GOP to gain leverage in their talks with congressional Democrats.

McConnell declined to say on Tuesday whether he thought he would be able to get 51 Republican votes for the bill, even though it includes several concessions to conservatives.

The measure includes two years of education-related tax credits sought by Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump argues full Supreme Court needed to settle potential election disputes Press: Notorious RBG vs Notorious GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy MORE (R-Texas), as well as a one-time grant for scholarship organizations that could be used for covering educational expenses like homeschooling costs and private school tuition. Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySenate GOP faces pivotal moment on pick for Supreme Court Renewed focus on Trump's Supreme Court list after Ginsburg's death What Facebook's planned change to its terms of service means for the Section 230 debate MORE (R-Mo.) had been pushing for the inclusion of a tax credit for home-schooling expenses.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordMcConnell works to lock down GOP votes for coronavirus bill Charities scramble to plug revenue holes during pandemic Warren calls for Postal Service board members to fire DeJoy or resign MORE (R-Okla.) also got a provision included in the bill to expand the amount of charitable deductions that can be taken off the top of a person’s yearly income at tax time.

Some GOP senators who had opposed the first Republican package indicated on Tuesday that they were supportive of the new bill or at least inclined to back it.

“It’s something I hope 53 Republican senators vote yes on,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold Johnson CIA found Putin 'probably directing' campaign against Biden: report This week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg's seat upends Congress's agenda GOP set to release controversial Biden report MORE (R-Wis.), adding that Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Powell, Mnuchin stress limits of emergency loans | House seeks to salvage vote on spending bill | Economists tell lawmakers: Kill the virus to heal the economy Economists spanning spectrum say recovery depends on containing virus Powell, Mnuchin stress limits of current emergency lending programs MORE “accommodated” some of his concerns about the initial GOP bill.

“I do intend to support it,” added Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy MORE (R-Pa.).

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But there’s likely to be at least one GOP vote against the measure.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSecond GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus GOP senator to quarantine after coronavirus exposure The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Trump seeks to flip 'Rage' narrative; Dems block COVID-19 bill MORE (R-Ky.) indicated that he was a no, saying he wasn’t for “borrowing any more money.”Democrats panned the bill even before Republicans released the legislative text Tuesday afternoon, underscoring the significant stalemate that remains on getting a deal on another coronavirus relief package.

Talks between Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response Schumer interrupted during live briefing by heckler: 'Stop lying to the people' Jacobin editor: Primarying Schumer would force him to fight Trump's SCOTUS nominee MORE (D-N.Y.), Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare House lawmakers reach deal to avert shutdown Centrist Democrats 'strongly considering' discharge petition on GOP PPP bill MORE (D-Calif.), Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHouse moves toward spending vote after bipartisan talks House Democrats mull delay on spending bill vote Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE derailed in early August amid divisions on both the price tag of the bill and key policy provisions.

Schumer and Pelosi, in a joint statement Tuesday, warned that the so-called skinny GOP bill is “headed nowhere.”

“If anyone doubts McConnell’s true intent is anything but political, just look at the bill. This proposal is laden with poison pills Republicans know Democrats would never support,” they added.

The two sides are far apart on specific policy proposals, including unemployment insurance and more help for state and local governments, where Democrats want $915 billion and the White House has offered $150 billion.

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They are also deeply divided on the top-line dollar amount. Democrats have lined up behind the $3.4 trillion House-passed bill, but they’ve offered to come down to $2.2 trillion.

Senate Republicans introduced a $1.1 trillion package in July, but Meadows said late last month that Trump would sign a $1.3 trillion bill. The White House is reportedly preparing to support a $1.5 trillion price tag.

But Republicans are hoping to use Thursday’s vote to put pressure on Democrats by forcing them to go on the record against a relief package at a time when the virus has killed nearly 190,000 people in the U.S.

“We’re going to get the stonewalling of Democratic leaders out from behind closed doors and put this to a vote out here on the floor,” McConnell said. “Senators will not be voting on whether this targeted package satisfies every one of their legislative hopes and dreams. ... We vote on whether to make laws, whether to force a compromise.”