McConnell: Coronavirus relief deal unlikely before election

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: 'It never occurred to me' convincing Americans to get vaccinated would be difficult The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal 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 PelosiTim Ryan slams McCarthy for mocking Capitol physician, mask mandate McCarthy knocks Pelosi, mask mandate: 'This House has broken the country's trust' Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (D-Calif.), Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsWashington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Trump to Pence on Jan. 6: 'You don't have the courage' Trump said whoever leaked information about stay in White House bunker should be 'executed,' author claims 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 TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt 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 ThuneSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill 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.