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McConnell: Coronavirus relief deal unlikely before election

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Trump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid 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 PelosiTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Health Care: CDC expands definition of 'close contact' after COVID-19 report | GOP coronavirus bill blocked in Senate | OxyContin maker agrees to B settlement with Trump administration MORE (D-Calif.), Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Trump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits 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 John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida 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 ThuneGOP coronavirus bill blocked as deal remains elusive Clyburn predicts action on coronavirus relief after elections GOP to Trump: Focus on policy 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.