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McConnell aims for unity amid growing divisions with Trump

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks DOJ declined to take up Chao ethics probe Trump was unhinged and unchanged at CPAC MORE (R-Ky.) is aiming to unify his caucus in the final stretch before the elections amid increasingly public divisions between President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE and GOP senators. 

McConnell is lining up two items as the final pieces of the chamber’s agenda before the Nov. 3 elections: A GOP-only coronavirus bill and Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettBill introduced to create RBG monument on Capitol Hill Supreme Court faces landmark challenge on voting rights The Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster MORE’s Supreme Court nomination, hoping to give vulnerable incumbents something to tout back in their home states. 

The pre-election sprint, Republicans hope, will allow them to draw a contrast with Democrats and paint them as obstructionist on both the global health pandemic and the court fight as the campaign heads into its last two weeks. 

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“We believe in it. We believe it’s a bill that represents the views of Republicans, and Democrats are attacking Republicans for not doing something on this coronavirus,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill Senate GOP will force clerks to read bill to delay COVID-19 relief vote Parliamentarian strikes down Pelosi priority in aid package MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 GOP senator. “What we’re basically essentially saying is work with us.”

The effort to focus in the homestretch on what unifies his caucus — both the Republican coronavirus proposal and Barrett’s nomination are expected to get the support of all but one or two of his members — comes amid increasingly public GOP divisions.

Frustrations with the president, which have simmered for years, are increasingly spilling into the public as Republicans are confronting the possibility of a bleak election night that could see them lose both the White House and the Senate majority. 

Republicans are having to play defense in a growing number of traditionally red and purple states, including Kansas, Alaska and South Carolina, as they are sounding the alarm that Trump could drag down the GOP majority. 

Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks Republicans, please save your party Mellman: How the Senate decided impeachment MORE (R-Neb.), who is in a safe red seat, told constituents in a call last week that he was worried about a “bloodbath” in the November elections. Trump fired back at Sasse, who is expected to win reelection, calling him a “person who truly doesn’t have what it takes to be great.” 

Republicans have repeatedly urged Trump to focus on policy — not personality — fights that routinely threaten to overshadow the GOP’s message. 

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But on Monday, Trump opened a new rift between himself and Republican senators when he railed against Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci donates personal COVID-19 virus model to Smithsonian Fauci warns of risks from single-dose strategy for Pfizer, Moderna vaccines MAGALand in Orlando MORE, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, calling him a “disaster” and that “people are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots.” 

The remarks sparked automatic pushback.

“Fauci is one of our country’s most distinguished public servants,” said Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.), who did not directly mention Trump. “If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we’d have fewer cases of COVID-19, and it would be safer to go back to school and back to work and out to eat.” 

The GOP’s fight over Fauci comes as Senate Republicans are already preparing to go their own way this week on two coronavirus relief bills.

The chamber will first vote Tuesday on a stand-alone Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) bill that would extend the window for businesses to get government aid to survive the pandemic.

The Senate will then vote on a slimmed down, roughly $500 billion coronavirus proposal. The GOP-only proposal includes a federal unemployment benefit, another round of PPP aid for small businesses, $100 billion for schools and new money for coronavirus testing, contract tracing and vaccine research and distribution. 

“Tomorrow and Wednesday ... the Senate is going to vote. We will see whether our Democratic colleagues in this chamber agree that families deserve nothing rather than something or whether they are ready to let the Senate make law across the huge areas where we do not even disagree,” McConnell said. 

The Senate is expected to turn to Barrett’s nomination on Friday, allowing her to be confirmed to the Supreme Court as soon as early next week. That would allow for a GOP victory lap on the judiciary — a key issue for the base — roughly a week before the Nov. 3 elections.

No Democrats are expected to vote for Barrett’s nomination and they’ve blasted the Republican-only coronavirus bill, which is less than a quarter of the size of legislation approved by House Democrats, as a “stunt.” Neither the PPP bill nor the slimmed-down coronavirus bill will get the 60 votes needed to advance.

“The Republican proposal was unacceptable a month ago. It remains unacceptable now even more so that the crisis has gotten even worse,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade A Biden stumble on China? MORE (D-N.Y.).

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role Senate coronavirus bill delayed until Thursday MORE (D-Ill.), Schumer’s No. 2, accused the GOP leader of responding to political pressure, an attempt that he predicted would fall short. 

“I can tell you this, he's getting the hell kicked out of him in this hearing over the Affordable Care Act and what America is going through with the coronavirus and the impact on the economy,” Durbin said during an interview with CNN. “McConnell wants some symbolic effort before we leave town before Nov. 3.”

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The administration is currently negotiating a larger coronavirus relief deal between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion with House Democrats. 

McConnell has been cool to the higher price tag, not explicitly committing that he would bring a deal worked out between House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Democrats deals to bolster support for relief bill | Biden tries to keep Democrats together | Retailers fear a return of the mask wars Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief Biden urges Democrats to advocate for rescue package MORE (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden cautious in making Trump tax returns decision Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears MORE up for a vote. 

“That’s where the administration is willing to go. My members think half a trillion dollars, highly targeted, is the best way to go," McConnell told reporters in Kentucky late last week. 

He added over the weekend that he would “consider” a bipartisan deal between Democrats and the White House. 

Republicans have been wary of another big spending package, with the GOP leader previously predicting that up to 20 members of the caucus would vote against a $1.1 trillion package that was introduced, but never brought to the floor, in late July. 

But McConnell also has vulnerable incumbents fighting for their political lives back in tough states that are publicly clamoring for another package beyond the $500 billion that the Senate will vote on this week. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy Republicans, please save your party Susan Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination MORE (R-Maine) said the $500 billion was “not enough” but indicated that she would support it as a starting point. 

“I think that I would vote for anything to get the negotiations started. ... We need to get the negotiations underway to get relief to American families and to health care providers municipalities, schools,” Collins said during a debate late last week against Democratic Senate nominee Sara Gideon.