2024 GOP presidential rivalries emerge on virus package

Bonnie Cash

Senate Republicans say some of their colleagues are already starting to jockey for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.

GOP lawmakers say those considered most likely to run for president in 2024 made their presence felt in the weeks of internal negotiations as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was trying to muster 51 Republican votes for a slimmed-down coronavirus relief bill the Senate will take up on Thursday.

“The next presidential election begins immediately after this presidential election,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “Since you know there will be a new Republican nominee regardless [of what happens on Election Day], most certainly there are folks in the Senate that aspire to that.”

Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Tom Cotton (Ark.) emerged as critical players in the internal GOP negotiations this summer, with each of them playing different roles.

“There’s presidential politics involved, 2024 presidential politics,” said a senior Republican senator who requested anonymity when asked why it was so difficult for McConnell to get his conference unified behind a relief bill.

The senator said jockeying by “the usual suspects” helped shape the bill, which is projected to add only $150 billion to $300 billion to the deficit, far less than the $1.1 trillion joint proposal the Senate GOP leadership and White House negotiators unveiled in July.

Thursday’s vote will be one of the last significant votes before the Nov. 3 election.


Ted Cruz

Cruz, who ran for president in 2016, won a big victory by successfully pressing Republican leaders to include two years of tax credits to encourage individuals and businesses to contribute to scholarship-granting organizations.

The language would help subsidize private school tuition and expand students’ ability to choose among schools, which Cruz calls “the civil rights issue of the 21st century.”

Cruz also successfully pushed for emergency appropriations for scholarship-granting organizations that administer scholarships for students to use for educational expenses, including private school tuition and home-schooling expenses.

“During August, we had daily conference calls with all of the Republican senators and Treasury Secretary [Steven]Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows,” Cruz said.

“I made clear to the conference if my legislation providing tax credits for school choice was included I would vote yes and if it wasn’t, I would vote no,” he added.

Cruz’s tactics worked and he got his provisions included in the bill, even while other senators were not able to get tax breaks they have been pushing for months.


Josh Hawley

Hawley, a rising conservative star, as of Wednesday said he remained undecided on the bill as he pushed for his own idea: a fully refundable tax credit for home-schooling expenses.

“I’m undecided,” he said. “I would like to see us do something for home-school parents and for parents whose kids are learning at home because their schools are all online — something to help them cover their out-of-pocket costs.”

Hawley said providing appropriations and tax credits for donations to school scholarship funds “are fine,” but leave out many families.

“Working families, a lot of folks don’t think they have the wherewithal to contribute to scholarship funds,” he said.

Hawley unveiled one of the boldest proposals of anyone in the Senate GOP conference when in April he called on the federal government to cover 80 percent of wages for workers at any U.S. business — up to the national median wage — for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

He was also an outspoken critic of the $1.1 trillion HEALS Act endorsed by GOP leaders in July, saying it lacked focus. The bill never made it to the Senate floor.


Rand Paul

Paul, another presidential candidate in 2016, helped spearhead conservative opposition to the $1.1 trillion HEALS Act in July.

“I find it extraordinary that I came from a GOP caucus meeting that could be the Bernie Bros, or progressive caucus,” Paul said after one lunch meeting to discuss the Republican coronavirus relief package.

Paul declared there was “no difference” between the two parties, putting pressure on his colleagues to rein in the price tag of their proposal.

After Paul’s loud public protestations, a group of conservatives worked with GOP leaders to slim down the Senate Republican pandemic relief package from $1.1 trillion to somewhere between $150 billion and $300 billion after an estimated $350 billion of unused funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which passed in March, is repurposed.

Paul, however, says he will still vote against the new, more targeted GOP bill on Thursday.

“We don’t have any money up here, we’ve already borrowed $3 trillion for this thing,” he said. “If we keep printing up money and giving it to people, no one has an incentive to open the economy.”


Marco Rubio

Rubio, who also ran against Trump for the GOP nomination in 2016, led the recent effort to include funding for another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) small-business loans in the revamped Republican bill.

The PPP loans would cover up to 2½ times a business’s monthly payroll costs, up to a maximum loan value of $2 million. The new language simplifies the loan forgiveness application process for current and future borrowers who receive loans under $150,000.

Rubio, the chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, will head into the 2024 presidential election cycle with one of the biggest legislative accomplishments of 2020 on his resume.

He was one of the main architects of PPP, which has been credited for saving tens of millions of small-business jobs and had near-unanimous bipartisan support when Rubio unveiled it in March.

Rubio helped create and pass PPP as part of the CARES Act in March and then worked on legislation to reauthorize and expand the program in April. He is now working to extend assistance further.

In recent weeks, he made several changes to the popular program to respond to concerns raised by GOP senators, such as expanding reporting requirements. Rubio also agreed to drop a long-term loan program for minority businesses that was attached to the PPP in the larger Republican bill introduced in July.

“We had some concerns about the ability to go back and audit companies that didn’t need the money,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that it was the single biggest hold-up. I think the overall cost and price tag was a much bigger problem.”


Tom Cotton

Cotton, a fiery conservative senator, played a key role in helping to unify the Republican conference behind a relief bill by urging colleagues to listen to the needs of vulnerable Senate Republicans in tough races.

Cotton argued that it would be better for Republicans to pass a moderately sized relief bill than risk Democrats winning control of the White House and Senate and passing legislation on the scale of the $3.4 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act that the House advanced in May, according to GOP senators who attended the meeting.

McConnell in a conference call last week said GOP senators in tough races wanted to get at least 51 Republican votes for a targeted relief bill. While the measure is expected to fall short of the necessary 60 to overcome a filibuster, vulnerable senators want to be able to blame Democrats for blocking a measure that would have the votes to clear the upper chamber.

Cotton told colleagues that it would be smart to listen to what GOP senators in this year’s toughest races are calling for.

“Tom’s been very good to work with on it. He’s been outspoken in terms of trying to find a way to move forward with a package,” said Rounds.


–Updated at 7:52 a.m.

Tags Josh Hawley Marco Rubio Mark Meadows Mike Rounds Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Ted Cruz Tom Cotton

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