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McConnell: Coronavirus relief deal unlikely before election

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Hawley gets boisterous ovation at CPAC for Electoral College objection   Why Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment now MORE (R-Ky.) signaled on Friday that he does not expect Congress and the White House to reach a deal on a coronavirus package before the elections, citing steep political headwinds.

McConnell, speaking to reporters in Kentucky, called the dynamics around the months-long, off-on negotiations "murky," adding that he didn't expect it to get resolved before Nov. 3.

"I think the murkiness is a result of the proximity to the election, and everybody kind of trying to elbow for political advantage. I'd like to see us rise above that ... but I think that's unlikely in the next three weeks," McConnell said. 

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Talks between House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Budget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: 'Hold me to it' Capitol review to recommend adding more fencing, 1,000 officers: report MORE (D-Calif.), Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinOn The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Mnuchin expected to launch investment fund seeking backing from Persian Gulf region: report Larry Kudlow debuts to big ratings on Fox Business Network MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE have been seesawing for months between weeks-long stalemates divided up by brief chatter that the negotiations could be revived.

The latest curveball came this week when President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE appeared to pull the plug on a large agreement before the Nov. 3 elections. He then walked back his comments, saying he was open to specific pieces like another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) small-business aid, help for airlines and a second round of direct checks to individuals.

But Pelosi has been opposed to the idea of doing a slimmed down or piecemeal package, and the two sides remain far apart on the price tag — Democrats are at $2.2 trillion and Republicans around $1.6 trillion — as well as key policy areas like legal protections against coronavirus lawsuits, state and local government aid and how to structure a federal unemployment benefit.

Talks between the two sides are still ongoing. According to a Pelosi spokesman, Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke for 40 minutes on Thursday afternoon to determine “whether there is any prospect of an imminent agreement” on a bill, with Mnuchin reaffirming that is what the president wants.

Trump, during an interview with Fox Business, said that the two sides are “starting to have some very productive talks.”

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However, McConnell, on Friday, called the differences between the two sides "pretty vast."

"We do need another rescue package, but the proximity to the election and the differences of opinion about what is needed at this particular juncture are pretty vast," McConnell said in Kentucky.

"Hopefully sometime soon we'll be able to deal with our differences and come together. I can't tell you exactly when that might happen," he added.

McConnell's comments come as he's been more circumspect about the chances of a deal. He has warned that just because Pelosi and Mnuchin reach an agreement doesn't mean it can pass the Senate.

McConnell told reporters late last month that if there was a deal, "I'll take a look at it and see if I can sell that to Senate Republicans."

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Republicans have made it clear that they do not want a deal with another large price tag after spending roughly $3 trillion so far on coronavirus relief.

Senate Republicans initially offered a $1.1 trillion bill in late July that McConnell warned could lose up to 20 GOP votes. A second bill, offered in September, that totaled about $500 billion garnered 52 of the 53 GOP senators.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents Cruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director Senate GOP works to avoid having '22 war with Trump MORE (R-S.D.), McConnell's No. 2, also appeared skeptical that there would be 13 GOP votes, the number needed to pass a bill in the Senate if every Democrat supported it, if Pelosi and Mnuchin agree to a higher price tag.

"Could you pass it? Maybe. But you’re going to pass it with 47 Democrats and 13 Republicans, and that’s depending on what that number is. I don’t know where the 13 Republicans would come from," Thune said late last month when asked about a deal between $1.5 trillion and $1.6 trillion.