Senate Republicans rip new White House coronavirus proposal

Senate Republicans on Saturday offered fierce pushback against the administration’s latest coronavirus relief proposal during a call with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Senate Republicans raised concerns about the $1.8 trillion price tag of the White House’s latest offer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), multiple sources familiar with the call told The Hill.

One source familiar with the call said that there were “significant concerns raised with the price tag.”

“There’s an openness to continue negotiating, but the current top line is an obstacle,” the source added.

Concerns about the White House’s offer came from across the conference, underscoring the work the White House and President Trump face to get any potential deal across the finish line in the GOP-controlled Senate even as the president has publicly urged negotiators to “go big.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Health Committee, told Meadows and Mnuchin that there was “no appetite” within the Senate Republican Conference for a $1.8 trillion bill, a second person briefed on the call told The Hill. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) warned that it could be a “death knell” for the party in November, and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) told Meadows and Mnuchin, “I don’t get it.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who recently tested positive for the coronavirus, also expressed concern that it would cost the party support in the election and would take the focus off of the caucus’s top priority: confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. 

“This bill makes sex look like church,” Lee said on the call, according to a source. 

In response to the GOP criticism, Meadows told Republicans that “you all will have to come to my funeral” once he delivered their concerns to Trump, who has appeared eager in recent days for a large deal on coronavirus relief, a GOP aide confirmed to The Hill.

The call with Republicans comes after Trump has yo-yoed this week about what he would accept in a fifth coronavirus relief package, from cutting off the negotiations at the start of the week to suggesting he wanted to go even higher than Democrats, who are sticking with their $2.2 trillion price tag.

The fierce pushback from Senate Republicans comes as Pelosi was also critical of the latest offer from the White House, calling it “one step forward, two steps back.”

“When the President talks about wanting a bigger relief package, his proposal appears to mean that he wants more money at his discretion to grant or withhold, rather than agreeing on language prescribing how we honor our workers, crush the virus and put money in the pockets of workers,” she added in a “Dear Colleague” letter

In addition to increasing their offer from $1.6 trillion to $1.8 trillion, the latest White House package also increased the amount of money it is willing to give to state and local governments from $250 billion to $300 billion and increased the amount of the direct payment per child from $500 to $1,000.

But Senate Republicans have warned for weeks that they would be opposed to a higher price tag on a fifth coronavirus relief package, with several appearing cool to the $1.6 trillion figure offered by Mnuchin last month.

Republicans initially offered a $1.1 trillion package in late July, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that up to 20 GOP senators could vote against it.

Fifty-two GOP senators later backed a scaled-down $500 billion bill, with several expressing hope at the time that the White House would use the legislation as the basis of its negotiations with Pelosi.

McConnell has not committed to taking up any deal struck by the White House and Pelosi, telling reporters during a recent press conference that “I’ll take a look at it and see if I can sell that to Senate Republicans.”

He also said on Friday that he believes it is unlikely that a deal could be wrapped up before the Nov. 3 election and that the Senate’s first “priority” is confirming Barrett to the Supreme Court.

“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, asked about the status of the talks.

Al Weaver contributed.

Updated 6:32 p.m. 

Tags coronavirus relief negotiations COVID-19 Donald Trump Lamar Alexander Mark Meadows Marsha Blackburn Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi senate 2020 election Senate GOP Steve Mnuchin Steven Mnuchin
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