McConnell aims for unity amid growing divisions with Trump

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome Pelosi vows to avert government shutdown McConnell calls Trump a 'fading brand' in Woodward-Costa book MORE (R-Ky.) is aiming to unify his caucus in the final stretch before the elections amid increasingly public divisions between President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe 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 BarrettSupreme Court low on political standing Graham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet Are COVID-19 vaccine mandates a strategy to end the pandemic? 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 ThuneSchumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff 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 SassePresident of newly recognized union for adult performers boosts membership Romney blasts Biden over those left in Afghanistan: 'Bring them home' Progressives breathe sigh of relief after Afghan withdrawal 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 FauciOvernight Health Care — Presented by Indivior — CDC panel approves boosters for some, but not based on jobs Fauci: 'Worst time' for a government shutdown is in middle of pandemic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in 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 AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism 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 SchumerDemocrats' do-or-die moment Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Progressives push for fossil subsidy repeal in spending bill MORE (D-N.Y.).

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSchumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook 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 PelosiOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda MORE (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Former Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report Menendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS 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 CollinsCollins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase 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.