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McConnell accuses Democrats of sabotaging COVID-19 relief talks

McConnell accuses Democrats of sabotaging COVID-19 relief talks
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Trump blasts Obama speech for Biden as 'fake' after Obama hits Trump's tax payments White House hoping for COVID-19 relief deal 'within weeks': spokeswoman MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday accused Democrats of purposefully derailing negotiations on another round of coronavirus relief legislation, arguing they see a political benefit to delaying additional aid until after the election.

McConnell asserted that Democrats have no real interest in a deal after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Trump says stimulus deal will happen after election | Holiday spending estimates lowest in four years | Domestic workers saw jobs, hours plummet due to COVID Hoyer lays out ambitious Democratic agenda for 2021, with health care at top CNN won't run pro-Trump ad warning Biden will raise taxes on middle class MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Graham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Lewandowski: Trump 'wants to see every Republican reelected regardless of ... if they break with the president' MORE (D-N.Y.) said this week that a new pared-down measure crafted by Senate Republicans is “headed nowhere.”

“The conclusion you can honestly draw from this is they don’t want to do a deal. They don’t want to do a deal before the election because they think that somehow that adversely affects their prospects in the election,” McConnell told reporters after the Senate Republican conference met for lunch to discuss a vote scheduled Thursday on their $500 billion to $700 billion bill.

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The GOP legislation would provide $105 billion for helping colleges and schools resume in-person classes, $16 billion for more virus testing, $190 billion for a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, and language protecting businesses, schools, nonprofit organizations and churches from coronavirus-related litigation except in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

McConnell said voters want Congress to act now and not wait until after the Nov. 3 election.

“The American people are not interested in those kinds of excuses. They’d like us to address the problems that exist right now and I believe the bill that we’ve crafted that we’ll vote on tomorrow afternoon … does exactly that,” he said.

The GOP leader predicted the overwhelming majority of the Senate Republican conference would support the measure.

“I’m optimistic we’ll have a good vote on our side,” he said.

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While McConnell said he hoped some Democrats would vote for the GOP measure, he conceded the legislation is likely to fall short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster. 

The next step, McConnell said, is for Pelosi and Schumer to resume negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Trump says stimulus deal will happen after election | Holiday spending estimates lowest in four years | Domestic workers saw jobs, hours plummet due to COVID Trump says stimulus deal will happen after election White House hoping for COVID-19 relief deal 'within weeks': spokeswoman MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsWhite House science office says Trump ended COVID-19 pandemic as US hits record cases Obama rips Trump's pandemic response: 'He's jealous of COVID's media coverage' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day MORE. The on-and-off talks have yielded little to no progress over the past month.

“The only way we get an outcome obviously is for them to come back to the table and for us to reach an agreement,” McConnell said.

Asked if Congress might wait until after the election to pass the next round of coronavirus relief, McConnell responded: “I don’t know, I hope that’s not the case.”

“It’s pretty obvious the coronavirus doesn’t care about the American election,” he said, noting that Republicans focused their bill on “things there should be broad bipartisan agreement on.”

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He added that the GOP bill would provide more money for schools than the $3.4 trillion CARES Act passed by House Democrats in May.

McConnell argued there’s no basis for disagreement “other than if you think it’s in your advantage not to do anything until the election is over.”

Democrats are firmly opposed to the provision in the GOP bill that would provide liability protections for businesses, schools and other organizations from coronavirus-related lawsuits. 

Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneEnsuring more Americans have access to 5G technology Pence won't preside over Barrett's final confirmation vote Gaffes put spotlight on Meadows at tough time for Trump MORE (S.D.) also accused Democrats of blocking a relief deal to gain a political advantage heading into November.

“The Democrats have decided it’s in their best interest to try and use this as a political issue and have been unwilling to come to the table to negotiate with Republicans on something that actually could get passed, could get signed into law that is a realistic proposal,” he said.

Senate Republicans say the demand by Pelosi and Schumer that the next relief bill spend at least $2.2 trillion is unrealistic.